Off the train and onto the platform, I search for the stranger who will be allowing me to live in her home for the next two weeks. What I found is a small, raven-haired, effortlessly chic woman standing before me. I customarily (and with a surprising amount of finesse) double-kiss my host, Maryse, hoping she will greet me in English. She had been e-mailing me only in French so far and I expected (or prayed) it to be a ruse in order to allow me to practice her language. But it wasn’t just for show. It became very apparent, very quickly that Maryse could not speak two words of English. And so my adventure began.
We arrived in La Rochelle, France at approximately 10:30 pm on Saturday June the 14th. The moment I stepped off the train and onto that platform, I knew that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
It was incredibly surreal being there. Kind of like home, but in many ways like another world. I had quite a few moments where I’d forgotten that I was actually halfway across the earth and in a land where almost every person I spoke to didn’t understand me, nor I them. Hand gesturing became a necessity. It was scary. But also riveting.
I always thought I had a strong grasp of the French language. Being in La Rochelle made me realize how stupendously wrong I was. The french speak so quickly and so eloquently that it became a terrifying feat to even attempt to utter a sentence, let alone try to hold a conversation. It was difficult to try to articulate to Maryse that I was in fact not rude, just incompetent! But I learned. I began to understand the language much quicker than I thought I would. I began to have semi-real conversations with Maryse, my professor, as well as all the other wonderful strangers I met along the way. It was exciting to learn authentic french, the language that the people use everyday…not just what you hear in movies. And I’m still seeking to learn more now.
It really is beautiful in La Rochelle. The water, the architecture, the people. Everything is so elegant and effortless. So European. One night in particular, some of my fellow travelers and I sat (with wine, bien sur) on the harbor with a complete view of the city centre. Old world architecture, shining lights, sounds of laughter and music, people strolling hand-in-hand down classic cobble stone streets, all set next to glistening waters. We all took a moment to look at this stunning spectacle and I believe that was the first moment I realized how lucky I was to be there.
I made two friends along this journey who I know I will keep for a very long time. And if for no other reason, I cannot be more grateful to have experienced this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in La Rochelle.
By Shelby Morton