Whether it’s freshman year of college or kindergarten, making new friends is a challenge everywhere you go. It’s a fluid process mixed with language, intuition, space and time, and there’s not just one way to go about it.
Because I’m studying abroad in Paris for a year, I’m focused on getting to know the local culture and the people who live within it, not just the other Americans in my IES Abroad program as they are returning to their home universities in December. I need to build friendships that will last the year, and maybe even a lifetime. I’m not just looking for sustainability in relationships though. I’m also pushing myself to venture into communities of young Parisians, and get a taste for how kids like me live halfway across the world.
Honestly, sometimes talking to the French feels like a social experiment for the both of us because we’re not only having a cross-cultural conversation–which requires me to figure out and reciprocate French social norms and mannerisms–but, I’m also using my second language. Reaching some sense of social “normalcy” with the French language has required a lot of time spent people watching at cafés and observing my host family. I do this in order to pick up on the intonation of phrases and even “thinking words”, such as “um” and “like” that we have in English, to make everything sound and feel more natural.
As someone that leans a bit on the shy side in big groups of people, this task has been an immense space of growth for me. It’s already challenging to sit down at a table of people you’ve never met and hope to become friends. It’s even more challenging when you have to listen diligently to understand the language, and craft an appropriate response within a relevant time frame.
Having a conversation in French can sometimes feel demanding and impossible. But, at other times it clicks like last night when a new friend of mine took me on a night drive through Paris. Conversation flowed so naturally that I forgot I was speaking French, and I felt like I had lived in the city forever. Sometimes when the person I’m speaking with wants to improve their English, we’ll use both languages. They’ll talk in English, and I’ll respond in French. This has been a really fun way to bridge the gap between our native tongues.
Learning how to communicate in a new culture and language has meant making many mistakes and not being afraid to laugh at myself, even in delicate social circumstances with people I just met and hope to build a friendship with. It’s exciting yet exhausting, but I know that with every trial and error, another chance to try again is just around the corner.