SEPTEMBER 2011- THE ARRIVAL
I had been awake for almost a day and a half straight—exhausted and relieved, I hauled my suitcases out of the train thinking of what awaited me in the Provencal town of Aix-en-Provence, France. What I expected was a French family with my name on a card, a hot meal, and a comfortable bed. At that moment I couldn’t imagine anything better. Much to my surprise, when I entered the station, staggering under the weight of my backpack and suitcases, there was no one there with my name on a card. Or anyone’s name for that matter. In fact, the station was so small that there was almost no one there at all so I sat down on a bench and waited for someone to show up. After half an hour of waiting, I decided to try to call my host family on a pay phone; using the pay phone seemed easy enough— pay with a debt card, dial the number, wait for someone to pick up—but, of course, it was not really that simple. On the first phone I tried, a message came up telling me my card was invalid so I tried the other phone with the same result. What could have possibly gone wrong with my debit card? I called the bank the week before I left telling them that I would be in France for the next few months so that they would not put a stop on my card when I tried to use it in France so I didn’t understand why there was a problem. Eventually, after waiting a little bit longer, I asked one of the train station employees if there was a phone I could use and he asked me for the number and called my host family for me and about fifteen minutes later my host dad came to pick me up at the station.
After this somewhat trying ordeal, I was more than happy to have arrived at the apartment that would become my home for the next year. The next day, my host mom and I did some detective work to see what exactly went wrong at the train station. It turns out that at the Marseille station, there were two different trains going to Aix at the same time but to different stations and I chose the wrong one. I never realized I had taken the wrong train because I did not know that there was more than one train station in Aix and, to further complicate things, no one was in my assigned seat and no one ever came to check the tickets. Additionally, my mom told me on the phone that the bank had called my house in the US and informed my parents that someone had tried to use my debit card without authorization in France and, despite the fact that I had called them in advance, it was not in their records that I would be in France and that was why my card was blocked. It was through this bizarre series of circumstances that I arrived at the Aix-en-Provence SNCF station and not the Aix-en-Provence TGV station. Who knew? I know now that next time I take the train I will be much, much more careful when changing trains.
After all of the stress and worry of my first day in France, my host family did a lot to help me settle in throughout the next week. They took me on a tour of the town to show me the school and other important locations throughout the city, gave me advice on where to buy some of the necessities I had left behind in the United States, and my host dad even lent me his guitar to use until I bought one in France. My host mom also took me to a preview showing of Un Heureux Evénement-- my first movie in France and an overall fabulous experience. At the preview showings in Aix, there is a question and answer session after the film with the director and one or more of the principal actors so this was a really great way to experience French cinema for the first time.
The next week, classes began and, for the first couple of days, it was difficult to continuously speak in French all day long about subjects I didn’t really have the vocabulary to discuss the way I really wanted to. Towards the end of the week, however, I was already noticing a change, I was finding ways to talk around the words that I did not know and make myself understood and I know that it will only improve during my time here. I hope that my classes continue to challenge me and help me learn to organize my thoughts and ideas in French as well as help me to start to understand this new culture and lifestyle. We’ll see next month!