Found in Translaton

October 26, 2011
By tthorn127 BRONZE, Chandler, Arizona
tthorn127 BRONZE, Chandler, Arizona
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Hands shaking, heart racing, and mouth quivering, I stood at the edge of the rock that I was about to leap off into the water below. Well, it was not exactly a rock, but it was equally intimidating. Rather than jumping off and risking crashing into rocks hidden under the surface, there was a chance that I would face getting completely disoriented and lost in a city that I hardly knew and not be able to communicate with other people to find my way back to a safe place. Eventually, I took that step off the plane and into the Charles de Gaulle Airport in France.

The trip started off fairly well; my high school French textbook had done a sufficient job of preparing me in the “airport and transportation” chapter such that I could effectively navigate with the help of pictorial signs and basic phrases. Once I left the airport, though, I had leapt off the rock and landed in the unknown waters below. Being the only one in my group of Humanities students who spoke a drop of French, I was responsible for figuring out our orientation from a map with no English lettering and getting us to a hotel whose name I could barely pronounce. My high school French teacher’s voice whispered continuously, “Please don’t embarrass me by sounding like the ignorant American that butchers the beautiful French language.” Somehow, I did it; I had leapt, plunged beneath the surface of the water momentarily and had managed to pull myself, and my group, to the surface.

At the hotel, I checked us in, thanks to the fact that the receptionist spoke English. Later on, this little fact would not help me. It would hinder me. When I slipped into the comfort of English in the city and asked people, “Do you speak English?” they would simply fire back at me, as if by default, the French equivalent of “Yes, but do you speak French?” The answer to this question, much to my dismay, was yes and I struggled through daily activities with the effectiveness of a toddler. I felt myself start to sink a little, but was determined to put more effort into treading these unknown waters, and managed to keep afloat.

After I acclimated to the time difference and got some rest, I began to get more comfortable with my French, and decided to swim around in the city a little bit. I went down the Champs Elysees, talked to natives roaming the street, ordered food, bought souvenirs, and explored the mysterious waters. I ventured out with my group for casual walks, and that night we went to the Eiffel Tour. Seeing the glorious, sparkling lights that the French people pride themselves on reminded me why I chose to take French in high school (aside from the foreign language graduation requirement). I remembered my curiosity about a city so rich with history and culture that had produced so many great thinkers and artists. I fell in love.

The next morning, I awoke with a desire to do more than stay afloat. I wanted to swim everywhere, dive deeply below the surface, and explore the depths and beauty of the city. Treading water was no longer my goal. I wanted to push my boundaries, talk to as many people as I could even if I made some grammatical errors, and visit the places that make Paris the most romantic place on earth. I went to the Louvre and instead of asking in English for directions to certain artworks, I went for it and asked in French. The guides easily understood me, even praised me for my effort, and sent me towards the pieces I was looking for. Though at the Louvre I started by looking for specific pieces that I knew were there, I soon found myself scavenging for new (to me) and surprising treasures scattered within the underwater tunnels that served as the vaults of French culture at the Musée d’Orsay. I dove deep and explored artists I had never heard of before and stumbled upon artists I had only a vague awareness of. Seeing masterpieces in real life made me realize that I was standing in the midst of the masters who had created them, in response to their purpose in the world. That realization created a new connection between the language I was learning and the world and history I was experiencing. For that realization, I thank France.

I began to wonder what other doors into myself I could open through exploration. If France had already given me a great realization, what else did it have to offer? One night, some classmates and I lay on the rooftop of our hotel simply looking up at the stars and discussing the day’s events. This discussion under the sparkling sky spiraled into more enthralling conversations and an expansion of minds and possibilities. This made me wonder, how many other people had taken the opportunity to swim in the water I was just now discovering and how many great thinkers had surfed the ebb and flow of France under the starry skies? I knew that the things I could learn through exploration were unlimited, so I sought out the discoveries instead of passively treading the water.

I boldly talked countless people by finding excuses to strike up conversation, ordered exotic foods, and helped my peers get by. As I watched them fearfully struggle with the simple phrases I had taught them on the plane ride over, I realized how far I had come. The frantic emotion I had felt at the airport had dissipated into the comfort of an easy afternoon swim. I was no longer searching for safety, I felt strong and in control. I felt as if I could swim forever.

At four in the morning on our last day in France, we were to depart for Switzerland. The breakfast location had been changed from the normal venue due to the extremely early hour we had to depart. We were not told this in advance; rather, there was a sign in our usual dining hall written in French that said we were on our own for breakfast. I wandered down the narrow, cobblestone street outside the hotel and found a building with a light on. I asked the receptionist (using French this time) if this was where breakfast was, and she showed me into another room. There was only one attendant in the room, and he seemed frantic. I went up to him, conversed with him, and discovered that many things were broken and he felt awful. I told him it was no problem and we were capable of putting together some basics for a quick breakfast if he could just show us where things were. He showed me where to make hot water for tea, where the extra bread was, and I relayed the information to my peers. I felt as if I had saved the day, even though in the grand scheme of things I had only helped people eat a very simple meal. Still, I had full control of the waters around me.

It was not until that early morning breakfast that I fully made the connection of what shared words and shared meaning between people of different cultures could accomplish. What could have been uncomfortable and uncertain became a cooperative effort. I had unlocked a world that I knew nothing about and had brought myself into it by virtue of learning the language. I had opened a whole new world of opportunities that I never would have been able to experience. Without that jump of trust and free-fall into the uncertain waters, I would still be standing on the rock, fearful of what was below the water, trapped in my own need for safety. With many risks comes the reward to justify them. I had taken a risk, and the rewards were far beyond what I could have ever imagined. I had found a new passion, a new home away from home.

The author's comments:
I was reminiscing on my trip to Europe the past summer and recounting my experiences in my favorite city, Paris. I studied French for four years in high school, and being able to utilize it in France gave me a new found love and inspiration for the culture.

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This article has 1 comment.

KurtZie said...
on Nov. 8 2011 at 8:04 pm
This is nice use of metaphor. Love it i metto give it a 4.5 but my finger on the iPhone missed the mark and I gave it a one star on accident soooo sorry to the writer!!!


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