A Scary First Meal

Linda L. is currently a junior at SYA France and a Campus Storyteller. She comes to SYA from St. Mark's School.

Fascination lit up my face as I stepped into the bus stop we tread upon during the 5-hour bus ride, the last little bit of break and preparation before we finally got submerged into a foreign and entirely French-speaking culture. 

Coffee, pastry and sandwich on a tray

My joy was quickly blown away by butterflies that took flight in my stomach. In this ginormous bus stop are little stores selling an array of sandwiches, pastries, fast food, and more. The problem came: I had no idea how to order in French. 

I have been learning French for two years before coming to SYA. Granted I was not the most focused in class on some days, or perhaps this unit was somehow missed by the curriculum, or maybe it was the fog of jetlag and the long bus ride. In that instant, as I ravaged through my brain, there was not a trace of how to purchase in a shop in France. Anxiously I hurried up toward the line, trying to remember what the customers in front of me were saying. Though when the brown eyes of the store clerk locked contact into mine, I could not put together a single phrase and just simply pointed to a sandwich and nodded my head. When the store clerk seemed to understand, I just repeated “oui” until she grabbed the sandwich. I proceeded to do the same for a tart and a cup of coffee, communicating mostly by a pointing finger. Purchasing was a bit easier, I just handed them a five-euro bill and took whatever change they dropped into my hands. Walking away, holding a white tray with my lunch on top, accomplishment rose but mixed with traces of doubt.

If I can’t even properly order lunch for myself, how am I supposed to survive a year here? 

64 days later. I have found myself a cell service provider, got through the first semester of school, with most of the classes taught entirely in French, got a gym membership and attend weekly pilates lessons, traveled to the south of France, easily move around the city with public transport, converse daily with my host family and teachers, planned trips to Paris, and found an array of scrumptious French restaurants and shops. All of these tasks might seem minute, but were things I did not dare to imagine myself capable of doing just a few months ago. They were difficult at times, and there will continue to be more challenges for me to tackle in this foreign land that is slowly becoming home.

There were challenging times, and there will continue to be. But I have started to take comfort in the “bonjour”s every morning, in the walk to the bus rides, in the rows of patisserie shops and cafés that line the streets, and in the small French talks exchanged. In these moments that once terrified me, I found relief and dependency. Though I’ve only been here two months, looking back at how far I’ve come, I can only imagine the pride and memories I will take with me by the end of this journey. 

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