You know those four stages I talked about? Elation, Despair, Acceptance, and Adjustment? I think they’re supposed to happen over the course of a few months, but in classic Amy-fashion, I think I went through them all in my first week here. It happened on many levels, and for many different subjects, but I’ll focus on one. The Friend Conundrum.
Before you study abroad you’re excited and a little nervous, but your head is swimming with images of yourself making fast friends with people in the country, fully integrating, and becoming French (or Japanese, or Brazilian). You assume somewhere deep within your subconscious that friendly locals will approach you on the bus, or while you’re looking around a chic store, and you’ll strike up deep and meaningful friendships. Perhaps you’ll meet a nice boy/girl in a tasteful bar, or while staring at a centuries-old cathedral, and suddenly you’re picturing romantic riverside picnics and lots of motoring around on a Vespa.
No? Just me? What I’m saying is, whether you mean to or not, it’s hard not to have some expectations when you go to a new place. And when those expectations are not met, it can be really crushing. Like with the “making French friends” thing. Within the first couple of days here, almost everyone I met said the same thing:
French people are less friendly. People are cold where it’s cold. French people already have friends, and they don’t feel like they need new ones.
I started to freak out a little. Especially when we started classes, and I realized that I would be taking all my courses in the same room, with all American students; not exactly conducive to integrating into society. People on the bus looked grim. People on the street looked grim. Suddenly the “city of a hundred churches” became “the city of a hundred grim churches”.
Luckily for me, I’m inherently a fanatic optimist, and I don’t see roadblocks so much as I see large objects good for climbing over. I decided it was simply a challenge: I would have to put myself out there more than ever before, and break through the icy exterior to get access to the nice and potentially-a-friend interior. Like a board game, or a real-life pass to talk to people on buses. So I began:
1. I asked my host family for help. Voila! My host mother got me in contact with two jeunes (French for young people).
2. I took a “job”. Lots of English-speaking students give speaking lessons in English to French Kids. I was offered an extra night, and took it! It involved the wrong train station and a trek, but I met some really nice people.
3. I talked to people on the bus. I’m seriously making an art of this. Make friendly eye contact a few times, ask about the upcoming station…and you’re off!
4. I speak with anyone who will speak with me. I had a truly lovely conversation yesterday while perusing clothing in a vintage shop, with the shop owner. She helped me to pick out a hat, and let me know when the chartreuse one wasn’t exactly my color.
5. Sign up for lots of activities. I may not know how to play tennis or ballroom dance, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be at the lessons! Maybe the French will take pity on me when I’m lying on the floor, moaning.
And I think it’s happening! I have a whole little booklet of numbers to put into my phone once it starts working! Like that train said: I think I can, I think I can….