People say to trust your instincts because they’re usually right. Instincts, it turns out, aren’t as good when you’ve just arrived in a foreign country, sleep deprived, and in desperate need of food and a shower.
I took a flight from Minneapolis to Cincinnati on Sunday, January 6 and from there I took an overnight flight to Paris. Once the sun set it was hard to see anything from the window of the plane, although every once in a while we would fly over a city and get just a glimpse of what was happening down below. Just twenty minutes before we were to land in Paris, the sun peeked above the clouds and I watched the most beautiful sunrise from 30,000 feet which is most definitely a great way to start the day.
As soon as I was out of customs I was tasked with getting from where I was to where I needed to be, a feat that is greatly complicated when you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. After consulting a map I determined that I needed to go down a level; that was wrong. I ended up hauling my suitcases around for about five or ten minutes before I realized I was going the wrong direction, that and I definitely was not supposed to be in a parking garage. That aside, I went back upstairs into the airport which was definitely a step in the right direction and decided to go the other way since clearly my first instinct was wrong. This turned out to be a good idea because eventually I found myself at the airport door where I was supposed to meet up with other people from my program.
Here was where I found my second great obstacle: there was this massive group of people just standing around exactly where I needed to be. My instincts told me that this was not my group of people, there were far too many and I didn’t recognize anyone from my group chat of the ten total students in my program. So I did exactly what any other person my age would do: I checked my phone. I found that I was in the right place, but if that was true then why was there nobody else from my program?! I took one last look around and spotted my savior, it was someone I knew! Well, not really, but I recognized him from my program’s group chat so I walked right up to him and introduced myself and immediately explained my confusion. Turns out, he (his name is Nat) was extremely confused as well. We waited together for a few more minutes, looking around occasionally until Nat asked “isn’t that Brent Keever?” He pointed to a man, Brent Keever, who is the director of our program standing directly at the center of the large group. I sighed in relief.
Turns out, Brent was going to be meeting students from our program at the same time that he was meeting students from a different, larger program that he was running as well. We hauled our luggage over to Brent and introduced ourselves and within minutes we were handed lunch bags with baguette sandwiches and other orientation materials. Eventually everyone from our program arrived and we all got to know each other while eating baguette sandwiches and waiting for our taxis.
I got put in a taxi with three other students from the other program and none of them spoke any French which left it to me to communicate to the driver where everyone was supposed to go. At first I was quite apprehensive to start any kind of conversation with him because I’d always heard that Parisians were rude, but our driver turned out to be nothing like what I’d anticipated. Once he realized that I could understand and speak French he struck up a conversation with me about where and for how long I studied French, what I was doing in Paris, what I thought of Macron and the Gilets Jaunes (working class protesters who wear yellow safety vests to protest diesel gas tax and now other social issues). In turn I learned that he is actually originally from Algeria and knows French as a second language, that he’s visited his sisters in the United States multiple times, and that I should learn important grammar rules sooner rather than later. By the time he had dropped everyone off at their apartments and arrived at my homestay we’d covered so many subjects that it felt as if we were old friends. Even my preconceived notions about my taxi driver were wrong.
I exited the taxi and the driver, who never told me his name, left me and my suitcases to face my next task: my host mom. I was just a little proud of myself for making it all the way to her apartment with my French skills but I would be glad to speak at least a little English; after all, I’d heard that most Parisians knew the language. As I was approaching her apartment building she popped her head out of a window on the first floor and shouted down to me “Emma, ma chère! Bienvenue chez moi!”
I smiled up at her and she disappeared from the window only to reappear at the door of the building to help me with my suitcases. She pointed out the elevator with pride and somehow fit both of us and my suitcases inside, though it still remains a mystery to me how she managed to do it. All the while she was speaking to me in rapid-fire French that made my head spin, but I was able to understand one essential piece of information: she doesn’t know any English.