After 5 weeks here in France, it almost feels as if I have been here for months. I have gotten used to a lot of the same things–such as going through Les Halles each Sunday after my runs and walking through particular streets when I decide to go for walks. This week at the Institute was a bit different, as most people have left, with the intentions of returning next week. Friends from my class last session have gone to their respective countries–Iran, South Korea, Taiwan, and India, but with others departing and new students arriving, I have had the pleasure of fortifying new friendships once again.
This week’s classes were dedicated to oral comprehension. Often, we had class discussions about a particular topic such as the use of phones while driving. but we also had an activity where we were forced to go on a scavenger hunt inside a store to answer questions such as, “what are some foods that are exclusively French or exclusively found in Tours?”. Most people thought it was quite weird that we were approaching them with such specific questions, but that activity actually proved to be one of my favorites.
During the weekend, unlike most of my friends, I did not go to Paris, London, or Amsterdam, but I was actually fortunate to experience something that I did not initially anticipate. Saturday, after a nice stroll through Tours and time spent at a local bagel restaurant for a game-watch between France and Argentina, I had dinner with my host family and decided to take one last walk past the river and through Place Plum alone. My stroll actually led me to a group of men playing soccer and a group of children running alongside them playing a game of their own. After acknowledging what these children were running from, I noticed there was a celebration taking place inside a building. It became the perfect opportunity to use my French, and although this is something I would have never done had I been in the US, I decided to walk up to one of the people standing outside the building. Out of curiosity, I simply wanted to know what was being celebrated, as I heard a lot of the music and quickly recognized that those people were of African descent. He then invited inside, which would typically seem very weird and slightly unsafe, but my intuition did not steer me wrong that night.
The first person I met was a Senegalese woman who had been studying in Toulouse–a city in southern France, but we instantly became friends. She was a little taken aback by the fact that I didn’t actually know anyone at what I later learned was a wedding reception, but after informing the rest of her family members, they were delighted to have me. They were excited to come across someone who spoke English, but after learning I was a student who had the intentions of learning French, they made the decision to solely speak to me in French. Occasionally, I would ask them to slow down or revert to English and sometimes my previously learned Spanish, but my time with them was rather heartwarming–especially when I met a woman from Sierra Leone who was happy to find another person with whom she could speak English rather than just French. They asked about my time here in France and my perspective on Tours, and I then inquired the same. I later found that most of them did not even live in Tours, but in neighboring cities, cities in Belgium, or Paris. We talked about French cuisine and the more obvious cultural differences between the French, Americans, and Africans. When leaving, I talked to the woman I first met, expressing my appreciation for the way in which they welcomed me. She laughed and told me that this was quite common for them–that they would have easily treated anyone else in the same. This isn’t the first time I have really had an interaction like this, and perhaps it is based on context, but being abroad, I see that life here in some ways is not entirely different, but the values upheld are.
After returning home, I was still surprised that I had managed to truly go outside of my comfort zone–to speak French (which is actually a lot harder for me when I come across people I have never met) and to walk into a party alone in an entirely different country. Nonetheless, it was more of a growing experience for me than anything else.