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“I think you take a left up here!” My best friend Abby and I turn onto a cobbled stone road, our crêpes in one hand and our cameras in the other. Tutor houses tower over us, guiding our path as we explore the streets of Alsace. Every passing person I greeted with, “Bonjour! Vous sentez comme le cheval!” as I was excited to use my newly learned French.

While my first day in France was very much one to remember, let’s just say that it didn’t turn out quite like I had expected. That day marked the first two of the many mistakes I would make during my summer abroad in France. Turns out that instead of taking a left, we were actually supposed to take a right, and instead of returning to our tour bus on time like all the other kids, we ended up being two hours late. My second mistake was trying to speak French. What I believed meant “I love your city” actually turned out to be, “You smell like horse”, so that day I can proudly (and embarrassingly) say that I may have accidently insulted the whole population of Alsace. While yes, all of this sounds awful and one might justify these mistakes being that it was my first time ever in a foreign country, the next 60 odd days of my time in France continued to be marked by even more unexpected surprises, getting lost and awkward encounters with French natives. One could argue that my whole cultural abroad experience is so cliché. Everyone gets lost, and it’s basically required for someone to say something wrong in a foreign language, but, not everyone can do it as well as me. If I had to describe my experience in France in four words I would without a thought say: mistakes, confusion, surprises, and a whole lot more of mistakes. I wouldn’t give anything to change it though, because my various mistakes made it to be one heck of a trip, and certainly one that I will remember forever.

One of our first stops was the town of Rochefort-en-Terre, located in North West France. It is a must stop visit for anyone visiting the country. A small village, the cobble stoned streets are lined with a multitude of bright flower boxes hung off the sides of medieval-era mansions. Filled not only with history, but farmers markets, antique shops and quaint little vendors, the atmosphere of this village is certainly special. Upon our arrival, Abby and I were ecstatic to explore. Before leaving our group, we made sure to map out directions to and from the meeting point, and set an alarm to remind us when to start heading back. We weren’t getting lost this time. When we were this prepared, what could go wrong? Well for one, we didn’t get lost and we weren’t late, but I did have a pretty awkward encounter. When visiting charming little towns like this, one comes across some pretty unique people. While shopping in one of its many squares, I turned a corner and collided with a man, who happened to be riding a unicycle…naked. Okay, well not completely naked; he was wearing a man thong, but still I classify that as naked. I not only got an up close and personal view of his front, but to this day, I still cannot un-see the sight of his back as he rode away from the accident scene. My tip to anyone visiting a foreign country; watch where you’re walking, because it is possible to run into anything!

Every year le Musée du Louvre welcomes more than 9.7 million visitors a year through its doors. The famed inverted glass pyramid is a must see for anyone visiting France. Upon our arrival to the Louvre, with our track record and history of getting lost, we were given strict instructions before being set loose. Abby and I all but ran to find the Mona Lisa. While almost becoming swallowed by the swarms of crowds gathered around Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, we decided that the painting was overrated and began to search for something new and interesting. We found our way to the Ancient Egypt displays and became lost in history, figuratively and literally. We had once again succeeded at becoming completely and utterly lost. With five floors and an infinite number of exhibits, the Louvre is not an easy place to find your way out of. While yes, we could’ve asked someone for directions, we didn’t want to chance speaking in French again, because who knows what we could accidently say! So after wandering from painting to painting, sculpture to statue, we finally reached a gallery that we recognized and were able to find our way back to the meeting point before the appointed time! While although getting lost in 652,300 feet of museum was pretty scary, Abby and I discovered so many interesting and intricate pieces of art that we never would have thought to go look at. That day I learned that there’s a talent to getting lost; sometimes it’s a bad thing, but at times it can produce the best unexpected results.

Our next stop was la tour Eiffel. If there’s one thing in France that is the least easiest to mess up, I would’ve thought it was a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Standing 1,063 feet tall, the equivalent to a 81 story building, the Eiffel Tower is a staple tourist attraction. A visit is simple; buy a ticket, wait in line, go to the top, and come right back down. Take some pictures along the way, and “voila”, another thing crossed off on the bucket list. Well, turns out that it can be a bit more complicated than that. Abby and I had been going strong and since it had been a week since any unfortunate or awkward encounters; we were feeling pretty confident! We should’ve knocked on wood. It all started out fine; we got our tickets, and meandered on over to the elevator line where we hitched a ride all the way up to the top. Like all the other tourists, we inserted our Euro’s into the coin operated binoculars, took hundreds of stereotypical selfies and pretended to fall over the railings. After getting our fill, we inched our way through the crowd and assumed our positions at the end of a line. Turns out there were two lines; one for the crazy people, aka the stairs, and one for all the sane people who took the elevators. We unfortunately had chosen the former option. After 710 stairs we finally reached the ground. I had never been happier to step foot on a solid surface. Somewhere in a scrapbook next to the breathtaking photos of the Paris landscape, there is a picture of Abby and I practically hugging the pavement underneath the Eiffel Tower. While having to walk down half the Eiffel tower was an exhausting and scary experience, I will forever remember each and every 710 steps I passed to get down to the bottom. Even though the saying, “one step at a time” seems cliche, if actually applied to a real life situation, it can be a life saver, take it from me. Tip: If ever visiting an attraction that has a good amount of stairs, even if climbing them isn’t part of the plan, wear comfortable shoes, because anything could happen and believe me, blisters are the worst. I know from experience.
After our debut debacle in France, my best friend and I acquired a new nickname, “ceux muets”, which in English basically translates to the dumb ones. At the time, seeing that our French wasn’t quite up to par, we didn’t really know what it truly meant, but a French nickname had to be cool right? Or at least that’s what we thought. Now, looking back, I realize that it was all just a part of the experience. Everything that happened in France happened for a reason. If I didn’t get lost in the Louvre, would I have the appreciation for Eugène Delacroix, whose painting I happened upon while I was lost? If I hadn’t gotten lost a multitude of times, would I have the extremely good sense of direction I have now?
All the awkward encounters, forgotten routes, and lost time led to an ineffable amount of memories. I learned so much during my trip to France. For starters, I discovered that I was pretty much a professional at getting lost. I also learned that I have a knack for forgetting things. Every moment and experience I soaked up and took in with virgin eyes. I absorbed everything French; the culture, the food, and I even attempted the language. Through pictures, videos, and journals, I tried to freeze my memories as best I could from my summer abroad. I found though, that my best memories were captured in all those mistakes and awkward encounters. Those will truly stay with me forever, rather than just becoming a picture on a scrapbook page.

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