Two entire months. I have lived in France for a full eight weeks. In that time, I have (or I feel that I have) completely adjusted to life here. I’ve picked a favorite cafe, I know how to get to a few places in town. I have plans and go-to activities. It’s so exciting for me to realize that this is my life now, and it’s taking place in FRANCE. How crazy is that?!? Things have ceased to pop out at me as strange; I am part of the culture too, a little. Yes, I still get funny looks and smiles when I speak in French with my backwards grammar and American accent, but I know how most things run around here. I know not to tip the waiter (it’s considered rude), to always say hello and goodbye when entering and exiting stores, to faire la bise (kiss cheeks) when meeting someone (this one was tricky for me to get the hang of, for a while I was always confused for a moment when people started leaning their face into mine so I could kiss their cheeks). The immersion, I daresay, has begun to work it’s magic.
This year holds such potential for me. I can’t wait to meet the person I’ll be by the end of the year! Having this experience, so far from everything familiar, has allowed me to take a step back and look at myself a little more clearly. I’m sure that I will grow and change much throughout the course of the next seven months, it’s going to be an adventure within an adventure.
My French, I’ve been told, is improving immensely. According to my friends who speak English, my voice entirely changes when I speak French because I try so hard to pronounce the French “r”. It doesn’t sound the way your brain is imagining, it sounds like “air” but as if while you’re saying it, you also have something stuck in your throat. Not the most pleasing sound. It is an enormous part of the language, however, so I do endeavor to say it correctly. My grammar and grasp of the masculinity or femininity of the articles (technical, I know, it’s just as fun as it sounds) are still sub-par, but improving. The most helpful thing so far for me has been trying to understand conversations, whether I’m part of them or not. Not trying to translate each word, that defeats the purpose. Just attempting to catch the subject and main arguments. It’s very entertaining, especially at the dinner table when everyone is telling stories about their day or something of the like.
Some tips for exchange students to-be;
- Know your limits. Make sure that you are able to gauge when you are becoming overwhelmed, and find outlets for your stress. Music, art, and sports are all great ones, since they do not necessarily involve language.
- Smile. Laugh as hard and often as you can. It sounds silly, but it makes everything seem a little more cheerful. Happiness is the same in every language, so grin and chuckle like there’s no tomorrow!
- Don’t worry too much about each sentence. If you spend 3 minutes translating everything you want to say perfectly, you’ll hardly have time for the actual conversation. Even if it sounds a little broken and backwards to whoever you’re talking to, they will be understanding. As long as you get your point across, it was a success.
- Speak with your hands. It may feel like you’re just flailing rediculously, but it does wonders for getting your point across. Also, notice that French people habitually use lots of hand motions anyway, which can be used to your advantage.
- It’s okay not to understand. Try not to just nod your head and say “je comprend” even when nothing makes sense. This can lead to crazy confusion, things left undone, etc. Most of the time, people will be happy to repeat things for you.
I hope that’s even a little bit helps even a little bit. This adventure will change your life, your prespective and your goals. Living in another country, completely immersed and surrounded by new people and things, can seem a little scary at first, but once you’ve gotten the hang of things, it’s quite lovely.