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Parker: Je ne sais pas

February 9, 2011

I’ve been saying it a lot lately: I don’t know. From the moment I stepped off the train, I was in awe of this new place. Unlike any city I have seen before, you can feel the age and the history seeping from every corner of every street. It is overwhelming. The sounds, the scents, the people everywhere. I hardly comprehended what was happening as my host mom shuffled us from the train to the quiet bit of respite that is now my new home.

I could hardly keep up as a Parisian woman welcomed me to Paris by kicking my girlfriend as we exited the bus, as I memorized the code and was given the keys to my building, as I was shown my new room (with a fantastic view). I started to catch up as we sat down for lunch, only to realize that my hosts speak almost no English.

First reaction? WOAHWOAHWOAH WHAT?! I don’t know what I’m going to do how I’m going to communicate how I’m going to live like this get me out of here. Then I started to realize; my french isn’t so bad. Yes, I couldn’t always get exactly what I wanted to say across and by no means with as much eloquence as I could in English, but I could get close. And things could only get better as I continued to practice.

As my girlfriend left for her orientation, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What the HELL am I going to do for the next week until MY orientation starts.” Little did I know how fast that week would pass, and how much progress I would make.

Orientation came and passed in two days; I was left hoping I didn’t sound like a know-it-all. After all, I had done most of the things the students who arrive on the suggested day had yet to do; I had my phone, I had my metro pass, I had started to find my way around the city, and all was good. But I worried that I was giving too much input at orientation, and that I might not find friends. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and while I still have plenty of people to meet, I have met a great group of people that I enjoy sharing this experience with.

Now its about settling into the routine: starting to find my favorite places, sorting out my commute to school, and (gasp!) going to class. It might seem like class shouldn’t be that different from home, but coming from the 3rd largest university in the country, its a lot different. Classes with less than 15 students, frequent field studies meeting at places outside the two tiny classrooms of the IES BIA center, individual attention from the professors; it all takes quite a bit of getting used to. But this is the way that school works for most French students as well, and I am willing to accept cultural integration, in any form.

It is amazing how my French has progressed just since being here. I am able to string together sentences, enough to successfully communicate with my hosts and even, on occasion, be mistaken for a native speaker in public. The only trouble with that is the lightning fast stream of barely comprehensible French I get in return. But I am progressing, and the feeling is wonderful. It is amazing what immersion can do.

I have more thoughts and observations to share, but for now those will have to wait for later posts! Continue to check back as I hope to start updating a few times a week! Sorry this one took so long…

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