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Journals from American University Center of Provence, France

2010-10-05 After a month in Aix

It rained today. It is the best weather to write, isn’t it? The grey sky makes me down a little bit and my emotion just wants to flow out like the rain dropping down from the roof. I have the reason for being emotional: it has been exactly a whole month since we arrived in France.   

Today is my first day at work. It is a volunteering job I have at the elementary school Saint Joseph with ten- year-old children. I did not have a lot of idea about the kids or what I was going to do. But I thought of bringing an artificial flower to pass around. I found the flower I wanted. It fell off on the street when I was not paying attention. I walked all the way back to the bus stop looking for it but it was not there anymore.

We had three tests today, and some of the grades back. None of them made me happy. However, classes are really interesting. I love all of them and all the professors I have. I feel like I can understand them better now than the first time we met. I just wish I could talk and write better so they can understand that I really got what they taught in class. I hate the feeling of being unable to express myself and I know if I do not give up I will get it right eventually.

When it rains, everyone stays in the dining room or the library between classes. After lunch, the girls caught me looking hopelessly at my plastic leaves with no flower on top. Right after hearing my explanation, two of them started tearing the newspapers and turned them into a beautiful giant flower. I borrowed an umbrella from a girl to get to the elementary school. And yes, the students at the American Center are wonderful as we are here together and for each other.

It is hard not to develop a sisterhood here since we have thirty girls and two gentlemen. The size of classes ranges from five to fifteen and only one with all of us together. We do not have food for lunch and weekends, so we eat together a lot. In addition, we have an all-day field trip twice a month to discover the area together. And when one says, “I’m tired, I don’t understand, or my throat hurts…” there is always a simple response, “me too” from the corner of the table.

It may sound like I have hung out with Americans a lot while my reason to be here is to be with French people. In fact, an hour every day at lunch plus eight hours on Saturday are not a lot at all. All of us have at least one French language partner. We have to join a club in town every week, do things with our host family, something like the volunteer job I was going to and lots of other things.

I have a very cool French partner. She is an active leader, which is what we have in common. The beginning was kind of hard because I do not like big groups of friends nor partying. But we made it up last week by going out together two days in a row for seven hours in total through all kinds of shops. I was seriously dying for shopping since I did not bring a lot of things with me. I got to know different friends of hers as well. I was overwhelmed with French speakers more than I expected which is a good thing because I came here for that. I think she finally sees that I like her a lot and really want to be friends with her. It was not just about the language exchange program in which we can take advantage of each other. So, true love has won again and everything works out well between us.  

Although I am the only Vietnamese in the group, I do not have time to feel lonely. In fact, I was the lucky one. My host family is wonderful. I am always fed until I could not take in anything anymore. I go out with my host mom to do all kinds of things from dancing tango, salsa, and rock to Nomadic walking. I still find it weird to have someone clean my room, do my laundry and wash my dishes for me. But I get excited to tell her how my day has been because she would ask me everything even if Le has texted me today or not.

Okay, I have a million things to talk about Le, but I will try to make it short here. So, after coming to Aix for a week, my friends and I decided to spend our Saturday discovering the town. We started with eating to go to crepes on the street and got thirsty. So my friend had an idea of asking for free water in the Haagen Dazs ice-cream store on the Cours Mirabeau, the main street in town. I came with her to see if I could use the restroom as well.

My friend noticed the name of the ice-cream man looked like a Vietnamese one. I thought of making a conversation with him to make us less embarrassing asking for free water without buying anything. So I asked if he could speak Vietnamese. And by the time our eyes met each other, I swear that the world stopped for a whole second. The guests started coming in so I said goodbye and came out with my friend. The sun was really bright, and so was my face, according to the friend I was with.

So after a tour around Aix, I came back to the ice-cream store to give him my number. We talked a bit, in French. And he asked if he could save my number before I had a chance to give him my piece of paper. We went out on a date the evening right after, and then the cinema, library, book store, his university, and even church even though we are not Christians. But more than that, he asked if he could accompany my trip to Paris for the whole week of vacations. And if nothing changes, we are taking the train to Paris together in twenty days. La vie en rose is all I can see right now.

It is always good taking time to think about life this way. It brings me up after a bad day like today. I am not feeling sad anymore although I lost my flower this morning, messed up my clothes, could not do my tests, got some bad grades, could not understand the film I was watching for the cinema class, got home late when my host mom already left for her dance class, saved grandma from burning herself by turning the omelet in hot boiling oil with the lid which has a bunch of holes on top because she did not want to break it to smaller pieces, did the dishes, and got tired of waiting to hear something from Le since I bet his phone is dead. And guess what, I have been sick for the whole week and have not heard anything from home in Vietnam because everyone is getting ready for the huge celebration for a thousand years of history of our capital.

Anyway, my volunteering job was great. It was funny when I tried to help them with math and ended up asking them more questions like my dad used to do to me because I had no idea what they were learning about. I love the way they all looked at me and smiled wondering all kinds of things such as what was the thing on my hand which looked like newspapers growing out from a green stick. I had them passing the flower around introducing themselves in English. We learned the words for hobbies together and sang the song Hi, How Are You I’m Fine until the last minute of class. I greeted them on the way out giving the ‘flower’ to a girl who determined that it smelled so good. Oh, I love children.         

And that is it for today. I will try to do again tomorrow whatever I have not achieved today. There would be no rainbow if it did not rain. In other words, the rain reminds me of being patient to see the beauty of life after overcoming all the challenges I have in the present. And as long as I know how to appreciate what I have had, I can see all the colors of the rainbow- the present of life. 

Mai Doan

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