I came into my Spring Semester with many goals, like: become French-chic, eat lots of delicious food, bicycle around with a scarf flying over my shoulder…
But only one really mattered, and that was to LEARN THE FRENCH LANGUAGE. After all, that was the objective of my program – take near-beginners at the language, and turn them into French speakers. This idea really appealed to me, and was a driving force behind my decision to study abroad in France.
Why go through all the time and struggle of studying a language for years and years, slowly improving one’s ability and understanding, so that when one enters said language’s home country, one can slip into the language, like a well-fitting glove? Why not just dive in, immerse completely, and force the language on oneself? Ohhhh, that’s right. Because it’s the equivalent of diving into a pool filled with cement.
I knew it would be hard. What I didn’t know were the looks I would get, how tired I would be at night, how incredibly frustrating and difficult just asking for a glass of water would be. I didn’t know that I would collapse into bed, feeling like I had been digging holes all day, when I had in fact been conjugating verbs (quite badly, I might add). Or how terrible it would feel to say “Bonjou–” and have people already screaming “American!”
Or hamburger. Cowboy. Hollywood. GEORGE BUSH!!! Nice to know how my home country is perceived.
Thankfully, after about two months of understanding little more than how to interpret my host family’s eyebrows, I started to get it. And I continued to get it. I wandered into stores and struck up conversations with poor, defenseless salespeople. I began reading (painfully slowly) in French. I made a game of eavesdropping on the bus. This would have been much creepier if I actually understood what I was eavesdropping on.
Then, just as the program was coming to a close, things began to flow. Not always, but sometimes. I could make the occasional joke. Talk with my host parents about their plans for the week (and get it right). Read advertisements without thinking about it TOO hard. Sweet bliss. Semi-functionality!
And now it’s the beginning of July, and I’ve been traveling for seven weeks. I’ve seen many little corners of this country, and had to rely utterly on my speaking and reading abilities. And finally….finally….I’ve got it. Sort of.
I can converse. I can grocery shop. I can rent a bike, and order food, and people have started guessing I’m from Spain/Chile/India. Which says more about how I look than anything, but ALSO indicates that my American accent isn’t as loudly apparent. When I think about this for more than 10 seconds, it makes me giddily happy, and I start jumping around like a frog on sugar, so I’ll leave it at that.