Lessons Learned Abroad This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I could tell you stories about Laeticia Trullu, my French sister, who didn't like the looks of me. I didn't drink Coke, couldn't tell her who played whom in "Gone With The Wind," and, as though that weren't bad enough, I had never even been to the Grand Canyon. I was an American cop-out, and Laeticia wanted a refund. But that was okay. So did I.

The Trullus had plastic furniture and coffee tables that looked like hourglasses - a sort of George-Jetson-Gone-French. They ate French fries, wore button-fly Levi's, and got more cable television than all of my home state.

I could tell you that a term abroad helps you to overcome your preconceptions about another culture. And that would be true. Likewise, I could tell you stories about Madame Trullu, my French mother, who wore a half-inch layer of make-up and who forbade me to walk alone in the little stone village of Gallargues Le Monteaux because she was afraid I'd be abducted by strange old men. And how I climbed into her car one Tuesday in March, two months later, the mistral wind blowing, lipstick on my face and tears in my eyes - and my French mother turned to me and said, "Don't be sad; now you know us. You can come back now because you are my daughter."

You've heard stories of weepy good-byes, of how a term abroad picks you up and drops you down unexpectedly into a strange family who, by the end of two months, you feel is your own. This is all true. But I am going to tell you a different story.

Last year, I walked into English class with a mouthful of stories, pen ready to rip. I wrote myself into a tangle of tongue twisters, sunk myself under the load of my own verbosity. My teacher wrote, "I get lost and think you care more about your words than me." While my classmates poked their heads out from under shells and sneaked reluctantly around the corners of written expression, I was flailing in it like a peacock stuck in the excess of his own feathers.

Then, as though truly struck by lockjaw, I shut up. Going to France to study at the Lyc"e, I had stepped on a rusty nail. It lodged itself in my foot and changed the way I think. At dinner and in the classroom, I had to listen to every French word. I hung onto individual syllables, trying to catch precious scraps thrown around with the nonchalance of a food fight. Riding the bus through the dark morning, I sat quiet, vulture-like, and listened to idle gossip, desperately trying to pick up their slang.

Leaving Nimes by train, I felt wise, but back in the U.S., in my English class, I felt wizened. I looked at my fellow students and had nothing to say. Or too much to say that, in my post-term- abroad bliss, I felt they would not understand. I was hibernating. Ralph Ellison defines hibernation as "a covert preparation for a more overt action." In my case, a self-imposed vow of silence was preparation for the act of writing, speaking and thinking more deliberately.

So, I am telling you that my term abroad in France taught me how to listen. To be equally responsbile for hearing what others say as I am responsible for the consequences of what I say. If I learned nothing else, that alone would be enough. fl


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Flying... said...
Jan. 30, 2011 at 3:48 pm

That was beautifully written!!

Which program did you go abraod with?

You are an amazing writer, please write another piece!!

 
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