“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
When I first discussed going abroad to study, I often got mixed reactions and advice from others. However, one piece of advice remained constant with every interaction I had: “Go in having no expectations” and so that is what I did. I came to Paris, France with no expectations and two wishes.
The first wish, to learn to speak french better and more confidently and my second wish, to get from the Airport to my housing assignment successfully. Slimbach says “no matter how well prepared, broad minded or full of good intentions we may be, entering a new culture knowns our culture props down from under us” (Kindle Loc 2844) Leading up to my study abroad experience I felt a sort of peace, I thought I was ready. I packed light. I rehearsed my french phrases. I checked into my flight 24 hours before. I said my goodbyes, separating healthy from my family and friends(not without tears but we all got through it) and somehow I had the courage to get on the plane by myself. My journey entailed two different flights, from Kingston, Jamaica to Atlanta, Georgia then from Atlanta, Georgia to Paris, France.At first I was nervous, I was an hour late to the airport, then I forgot my coat at home, I was worried about the weight of my bag, and one of the ladies at the desk was now telling me I am unable to take my carry-on onto the plane as it is too big. All these things were causing panic within me and for a second I thought this was a sign that I shouldn’t go, but my family would not give into my uncertainty. The flight from Kingston to Atlanta, was smooth, I slept and even found a friend I knew to talk to. I felt very comfortable. And it gave me a little confidence to get on the plane to Paris.
When I arrived in Atlanta, everyone was pleasant, when the airport personnel say my final destination they all got excited sending me with best wishes and admiration for exploring the world so long, this made it even better, However when I arrived at the gate, I realized I was underdressed and lacking one important thing, fluency in french. French words swirled around my head, making me dizzy and nervous, I kept thinking “what if they speak to me?” what then do I do? “Everything seems so different, the.. pace of life, the intimidating stares, the strange language and much more” (Slimbach Kindle Loc 2861)
It was no better when I got off the plane, being an EU citizen I was directed with all the French citizens, them often asking question to which I could only reply, I don’t know and I don’t speak much french.
I was overwhelmed and quickly flustered, everything moved so fast, and this was just the airport. When I got to the arrival lounge someone from my program quickly greeted me, soon after sending me off in a taxi to where I would be living.
Currently I reside in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, it is a residential area with great open markets, many epiceries (small shops), always bustling with children running up and down the rues and the voices of Parisians fill the street. Culture shock is referred to as “a state of relatively short-term emotional, mental, and physical dis-ease that we suffer when transitioning from an environment in which we have learned how to function effortlessly and successfully to one where we have not” Just from exploring my personal neighbourhood, I quickly realized, I do not function effortlessly or successfully in this environment and indeed it is going to take some time.
We have had two days of orientation, and immediately there is a communitas amongst the students of the program forming. Everyone finds solace in one another seeing as though english is their first language, there are few who speak fluent french. we bring foreign qualities into our hosts’ cultural and natural world renders us “strangers”—displaced persons—who must now learn to live in a state of cultural and ecological limbo, between two worlds.” (Slimbach Kindle Loc 2926-2928) But as much as I love the support of others, I try not to rely on the big groups, talking loudly over one another on metros and in the streets. This is when we stifle our rite of passage by not engaging with what makes us uncomfortable. Instead we should be engaging with Parisians and each other in french. I have now made this my goal, to go out and explore my arrondissement and soon the other arrondissements all while engaging with native french speakers, and students from my program in french. I hope that one day (before I leave) that I will be able to go out on my own with no reservation, speaking great french and living like a real Parisian.