No Word for Nerd

There isn’t a good translation for “nerd” in French. In fact, I hear many French students jabber in French and pepper their conversation with Anglophone words like “nerd” or “geek.” I’m not sure if I’m cool enough to be a nerd, but I aspire to be one. Let’s take a look at some of my nerdy activities since I came to Nantes.

 

The library was one of the first places I visited on campus. Secretly, I judge a university by the quality of their library. Do they have a good collection of books? Are the books ranging in subject? Is the classification system easy to understand? Is it quiet? Do I feel comfortable here? Is the staff helpful and knowledgeable? The library, to me, is the heart of any university. So, when I came to Nantes, I walked into the library for the humanities with a critical eye.* It’s a big library with a significant collection of English texts and, of course, French works. In my opinion, the library in Nantes is a fantastic library and I love it. Today, I saw this English book on the shelf and, 165 pages later, I decided to check out my first book from the library.

 

“Bonjour. This is my first time checking out a book…” I said nervously to the librarian at the front desk.**

 

“No problem. I’ll activate your student card and you’ll be able to check out any material you’d like,” she said with a smile.

 

She explained how many materials I can check out and for how many days. I’m very excited. Okay, yes, this book is in English, but I couldn’t resist. I just wanted to read the first page and then I realized I had been standing in the stacks reading it for like an hour. I promise to read books in French. It is my intent to go back to the library tomorrow and find a French book to read.

 

There is also a library for foreign students. It’s a small room, but it has everything I need – computers, a photocopier (for all of the paperwork I’m required to do), a printer, books, magazines, dictionaries, DVD’s…and, most importantly, a kind and understanding librarian.

 

I am also looking to participate in the Quidditch activities at Nantes. For those of you unfamiliar with Quidditch, it is a sport from the mind of J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. It is usually played on brooms, but Muggles (non-magical humans) do not have the ability to fly. Luckily, a student in the United States was able to create a Muggle version of Quidditch. It’s an extremely fun sport to play with friends and I’ve been playing since my freshman year at WVU. Here in Nantes, I was able to participate in a few drills last week. This week, I attended their annual meeting. It was conducted entirely in French and it was quick, familiar and business-focused French. I admit. I didn’t understand everything, but I understood most of what was going on. It was a great listening exercise because, unlike speaking with other foreigners, French people talk fast. They talk over one another. They use complex phrases and idiomatic phrases. Most importantly, when I did need clarification, they were kind enough to repeat and reword sentences for me. The team is comprised of a good group of people and I’m excited for the rest of the semester.

 

Another nerd-like activity: I go to the English table at an Irish pub on Tuesdays. French students practice their English and I take the opportunity to speak English. Sometimes, after speaking non-stop French, I want to make sure I can still speak English! Yesterday, it was karaoke night at the pub. While it’s not really a nerdy thing, it is something worth noting. I watched an entire pub of French people sing “Barbie Girl.” It was…interesting.

 

My last nerd moment is my literature class. I adore my professor. He has such a passion for literature and he inspires me to look at French literature, and literature in general, in a new light. Here’s why. He hands us a poem or a short story and tells us to read it. That sounds pretty normal, right? Yes…except he cuts off that last few lines. He asks us to determine what is going on. He asks us to analyze what we have in front of us without knowing the ending. We spend class formulating hypotheses. Maybe the narrator is dying. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe… We come up with dozens of theories and everyone has a different perspective. Then he sends us home and we’re left with a burning curiosity.

 

Please. We beg. Please. Let us know what happens.

 

He smiles and then tells us that we’ll find out next time. The next time we meet, he has us read over the story again and recaps what we had discussed. Then, he hands us the last couple of lines. We are always stunned. It never ends the way we imagined it would. But, when we go back, we can find clear evidence that the author planted to justify the ending. When you know how the story ends, you can obviously see all of the foreshadowing techniques that lead to the ending. But when you don’t? It’s just a jumble of clues and you’re left to put together the puzzle to the best of your ability.

 

I feel like that my journey here in Nantes is a story that my literature professor handed out. I have all of these pieces, these lines of learning. I’m trying to put them together, but the puzzle isn’t fitting together quite right. I know when I have those last lines, when my time in Nantes comes to an end, I will see the puzzle in its entirety. And it won’t be anything like I imagined. It will surprise me, but when I look back at the individual lines, I will see that the image was there all along.

 

 

*The Université de Nantes has several campuses around the city and, as such, several libraries. Since I am studying French, I am only truly interested in what can be found in the humanities library. I am sorry to disappoint those of you curious about the quality of the chemistry journals in France – I don’t read chemistry journals in any language!

**For the sake of prose, just assume that everything in quotations is in French unless I specify otherwise.

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So, Kellene Walks into a Bar…

It sounds like the beginning of a joke. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t drink. I have never had a sip of alcohol in my life and I never intend to drink alcohol. It’s a personal choice, but one I believe in strongly. So, why then, would I walk into a bar?

 

The answer is quite simple. A group of international students invited me. In France, it is common for students to go out on a Friday or Saturday night to a bar. On the weekdays, these students go to cafés to sit and talk. Since it was a Saturday night and I am trying to be as active as possible, I went. We met at the tram stop downtown and discussed what we wanted to do.

 

The Belgians who study law (there were about four Belgians who are in France to study law) suggested a bar that serves…Belgian beer – what else would they suggest? The group I was with consisted of about twelve individuals from Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, France, and, of course, yours truly, the American. There was another American there as well. She is studying abroad through the same ISEP agreement and we live in the same dorm.

 

So, I walked into this bar. The first thing I noticed was the heat. It was extremely hot in the bar compared to the cool January night. The bar was small, but evidently popular. There were a good number of people crammed into the small space, include several other Americans studying through the ISEP program. As I sat down at a table (which we had some difficult ascertaining as there were a large number of people at the bar), I was a little nervous.

 

Travelling to Italy for the faculty-led trip my freshman year, I was consistently asked (and, to a point, I would say harassed) about my decision not to drink. It wasn’t just students. I was asked by adults constantly about my decision not to drink. I toyed with the idea of lying. I thought about saying it was due to religion (since some religions do not allow for the consumption of alcohol) or that I was allergic (is that possible?). But I don’t like to lie. So, I answered honestly. It is a personal choice. This answer, on the Italy trip, was not sufficient for some peers and adults. At every opportunity, they questioned my decision. I never questioned their decision to drink and I expected the same respect. I did not receive that respect and was quite miserable trying to defend my choices. So, walking into a bar in France was a nerve-wracking experience. I sat down at the table and expected everyone to ask me why I wasn’t drinking.

 

But they didn’t. Not a single person commented on my decision not to drink. If anyone thought it was strange, they didn’t comment. I was surprised and greatly relieved. The students were extremely respectful. I have never “gone out” in America so I can’t make an accurate comparison of bar experiences in France and America. However, I have lived in the Honors Hall at WVU, which is located on Grant Street (a street in Morgantown which is notorious for partying, excessive drinking and bad life decisions in general). Walking back to the Honors Hall at night, I have seen American students get drunk and go crazy. To be fair, I did see some students in Nantes like that, but, in general, drinking is a social and controlled event in France.

 

For several hours, we discussed our lives back home. We talked about the languages we knew and the cultural aspects of our countries. As I mentioned before, the students were extremely respectful and very friendly. We talked about the difficulties of living in France and of trying to integrate into French society. It was an intellectual conversation which was amusing and informative.

 

However, I get tired easily and I had to take the tram back to my dorm. So, before the stroke of midnight (okay, okay, it was more like at 11 PM, but still – it was late!), my American friend and I returned back to our dorm. We were the first to leave and I was very sad to leave the company of some amazing individuals. But my bed was calling me…

 

So, I slept.

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We had to wonder why they wrote this on the door to the bathroom. Only one person at a time. Had that been a problem before?

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One Classroom, One World

Hello. My name is Kellene. I’m from the United States. I’ve been in France for a week and a half.

 

That’s how I introduced myself in all of my classes, which take place at the IRFFLE (l’Institut de Recherche et de Formation en Français Langue étrangère) at the Université de Nantes. IRFFLE is the department where foreign exchange students learn French. For this first week, I took hours of grammar, phonetics, oral comprehension, oral expression, French literature, theatre and French cinema! During this first week, I’ve met so many foreign exchange students. Some are my age, some are older. Some are planning on living in France, some are planning on returning to their home countries. Some are from Africa, some are from Asia, some are from Europe, some are from North America, some are from South America. Some are against guns in America, some for guns, some don’t have an opinion. Some speak English, some don’t. But all are in one classroom. All have a passion for the French language and culture. Sometimes, it is our similarities that are stronger than our differences.

 

No matter what our countries believe or what our personal beliefs are, we are on an equal playing field in the classroom. In a classroom at IRFFLE, an American can discuss French literature with an Iraqi student, a Mexican student, a Chinese student, a British student. It is our common goal of learning the French language that drives us forward, not our differences. From these remarkable individuals, I am learning about the world, not just the French language. I love listening to their stories of struggles and triumphs of navigating the human condition. We often judge individuals by how different they are from us, but we should, instead, strive to see the commonalities that link us together.

 

Today, I had lunch with a student from Columbia and discussed French literature. I went to a Galette de Roi (King’s Cake) party hosted by the international student organization. There, I met many students from many different countries. I knew that the Université de Nantes had a huge international population, but I had no idea how incredibility diverse the program was. I truly enjoy conversations with other international students.

 

However, I am also striving to integrate myself into the French society and French language. Besides the long hours I spend in school, I am integrating French into my daily life. Every day, I read the regional newspaper. Hulu is blocked here in France, which is fine, because I am now watching several French TV shows. I haven’t found a French radio station I like yet and most of the French radio stations have American music anyway! I speak only in French. Sometimes, when people learn I am from America, they switch to English (especially international students – English appears to have become an international language meaning most people I’ve met speak English). I have to tell them to please speak in French. I’m here to practice my French.

 

Of course, English pops up everywhere. My computer is in English. I write my blog in English. I communicate with friends back home in English. I communicate with my parents in English. I think in English.

 

But I’m trying. My plan to immerse myself as much as possible is having some success. I was pleasantly surprised to be walking on the sidewalk and I had this thought come into my mind:

 

Okay. Let’s cross the rue now. Wait. Rue. That’s not English. What’s the English word for ‘rue’? Oh yeah. The street. Let’s cross the street now.

 

Yes, I talk to myself in my brain. My thoughts are strange, I know. But I do have moments where I can feel the French seeping into my brain…and it’s not just the French language either. It’s the culture.

 

I’ve kissed so many people! Let me explain. In France, to greet someone (or to say goodbye), you kiss them on one side of the cheek and then the other (and it’s more of an “air” kiss). This is called “bisous.” Everyone does it, but I was so nervous the first time someone tried to kiss me. Here were my exact thoughts…

 

He’s coming a little close to me. Oh gosh. No. No. No. Yep. He’s going to do that whole bisous thing. Oh dear. Do I go to the left? Or the right? How many times do we do this? What if I mess up? I’m so embarrassed. I think I’m blushing. Okay. Act natural. Here it goes… Right. Left. Done. That’s it? Okay. That wasn’t so bad.  

 

Depending on what region of France you are in, the number of bisous given can vary. Here, at least in my experience, it is only done twice and it starts on the right and ends on the left. I’m starting to get used to it, although I might need more practice…especially with some nice looking French boys. I’m kidding of course!

 

There you have it. My name is Kellene. I’m from the United States. I’m here to learn French, about the French culture, and about the world. So, what about you? What’s your name? Where are you from? Why are you here?

It Doesn’t Always Rain

It doesn’t always rain in Nantes, but when it does, it pours. This morning, I awoke to the sound of pounding on my ceiling. Those noisy neighbors…wait. I’m on the top floor. Is that…rain? I reluctantly crawled out of bed at six-thirty in the morning to look outside my window. Yes. It was raining. Again.

 

I was warned about the rain in Nantes. With three rivers and an ocean nearby, Nantes is a very wet place. Still, on my first day of class, I wanted to be dry. Instead, I arrived for my eight-thirty literature class wet and slightly irritated at the never-ending rain. After a week of running around from office to office, I was finally in a classroom. I was wet and exhausted, but the professor walked in with a smile. He asked a simple question…

 

What do you know about French literature?

 

Other students mentioned literary movements and authors. I was timid at first, but then I realized something. I know books. I know literature. I am a student. Something clicked inside of me and I was at home. It didn’t matter that I was thousands of miles away from my university or thousands of miles away from my home. A classroom is a classroom and, for me, that will always be home.

 

I raised my hand…and kept raising my hand with confidence throughout the day. Since I did not enroll in the university the first semester, I cannot take regular French classes. Instead, I must take French as a Foreign Language classes with other international students. During this first week, we are encouraged to try new electives (we can take two electives) and to try the level we were placed in. If we believe the level is too easy or too hard (or if we don’t like our electives), we can change. At first, I was upset that I wouldn’t be able to take French classes with other French students, but the IRFFLE department at the Université de Nantes is amazing. My professors are so interesting and they are passionate about teaching foreign students.

 

I started class at eight-thirty and did not end until five, with a break for lunch of course (many stores in France are closed between 12 and 1:30 for lunch). I ended my day with registering for Autour du Monde, the international student organization, and an English table at an Irish pub. There, I got to speak to French students who were trying to improve their English skills. They were extremely advanced and essentially fluent in the language. I don’t think I spoke French that well at the French table at West Virginia University! Of course, I have noticed that many of the students and adults here in Nantes are more globally aware and have a near-native language capability in one (or even more) languages.

 

It was a great day, but since my last post, I had a few adventures. On Sunday, I discovered that nearly everything in France shuts down. I don’t think I saw a single store open! It wasn’t raining on Sunday so I took tram line four (the last tram line I had to investigate)…and found it was actually a bus that acted like a tram! It had its own lane like the tram, but it was a bus. It was a little strange.

 

I walked around Nantes and found the following things:

 

-Château des ducs de Bretagne (I still haven’t gone in yet, but I will one day !)

 

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-Cathedral of Nantes

 

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-World War II memorial

 

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-I walked along the Erdre.
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-L’Île de Versailles, which is an island park designed like a Japanese Garden. It is free and open to the public. It even has a house which has lots of neat exhibits of fish, the rivers of Nantes and Japanese art! I plan to come back when the flowers are in bloom and whenever I need a study break! It’s so beautiful here.

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-A café called Caribou (which is also the name of my hometown of Caribou, Maine)

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-St. Félix

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-A trail by a creek that led me to campus!

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This is the building where I have my classes.

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This is the student center.

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This trail led me to campus.

It doesn’t always rain in Nantes. Sometimes, it is overcast, but you just have to know that the sun is behind the clouds. And, when the sun finally shines, never waste a ray of sunshine.

 

———

 

Note: I know you are all wondering about François (since he has become the star of my blog). François is doing well. He’s still sitting in the lobby and still receiving love from students who pass by and scratch his belly.

Five Days of François

François swatted me on my first day in France. He is a little temperamental. He smells like dirt and dampness, like after a cool rain. I pity him. I see him every day. He waits in the lobby of my dorm for warmth, but he’s not welcome. I saw the landlord throw him out yesterday. But today, François and I became friends.

François is a gray tabby cat with a green collar, but no apparent home. So, to stay dry in the rainy city of Nantes, he stays in the lobby of my dorm. Smart cat. I have no idea if François is his real name, or even if he has a name, but that’s what I call him. He was one of first individuals I met in France and after days of passing him in the lobby, he finally warmed up to me. He purred and crawled into my lap. I think I just made my first French friend.

 

Picture of François

François

Five days ago, I arrived in Nantes and started a journey to become a student in a foreign country. While many people may experience culture shock, I think I suffered from “paperwork shock.” I had no idea how much work was involved with registering with a new country and a new university. In five days, I’ve…

 

-Paid French social security

-Paid for renter’s insurance

-Paid rent and the security deposit (and for sheets! Les drapes, in case anyone wanted to know the French word)

-Registered for the university and received my student ID

-Bought food from a supermarket

-Took a written, reading and oral placement exam

-Put money on my student ID

-Figured out how to connect to the internet

-Opened a French bank account

-Found the library…and a bookstore! I felt right at home with the books, especially since there are so many books written in English in our library, everything from Shakespeare to the Norton Anthologies to Stephen King. The English section takes up about 1/4 of the Humanities library on campus!

-Found the student center (like the Mountainlair for those at WVU)

-Ate in a French dining hall

-Rode Tram lines one, two and three from beginning to end (I just have one more to investigate)

-Walked around Nantes and found a castle! I didn’t have time to explore properly, but I’ll go back!

-Bought a monthly tram pass after being stopped by the tram security (they do random checks to make sure people aren’t abusing the system and riding for free) and not having the proper stamp (oops – I didn’t know! Luckily, after seeing my passport and hearing my terrible French, the tram officer explained how the system worked and let me go. I made getting a monthly tram ticket a priority after that!)

-Went to a French café yesterday to drink a tea with other ISEP (international) students after an orientation

-Found a beautiful fountain and church

 

 

Place Royale

Place Royale

St. Nicolas

St. Nicolas

 

-Saw a kid “attack” the tram with a squirt gun as it passed

-Accidently walked through the middle of a Marriage Equality protest that stopped the trams and all transportation

-Saw someone riding a tractor in the street

-Saw someone on an ATV

-Asked “Où est…?” (“Where is…?”) about a million times

-Saw snow

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Snow from my dorm room window

-A lot more!

 

Here’s the crazy thing…I’m not done yet! I found out yesterday that I have more paperwork to fill out. It doesn’t stop…ever. But, here’s what I think…I did all of those things on my own, with no help whatsoever from anyone. And I did it all in French. I’ve heard stories of students breaking down and using English, but I’ve stuck it out and used French during all of these encounters. Did it take a while to explain what I wanted or needed? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely! It gave me confidence. I may not exactly say the right thing or I might not have the proper grammar, but at least I am understood. I have a roof over my head and food to eat. I must be doing something right.

 

I’m grateful for the patience of the French people I’ve encountered. I’ve stumbled through speaking, but they were willing to try to interpret my speech. They were willing to repeat and rephrase things several times for me to understand. Mostly importantly, I always received what I needed.

 

Next week, I will find out the results of my placement, my classes and my class schedule. I’m already looking to get involved with several student organizations and I can’t wait to be a student again…even if it means more paperwork!

 

Although I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing tomorrow, but I am almost certain of one thing. In the morning, when I go to leave on my adventure, François will be waiting in the lobby and he will watch me leave. And he will be there when I return, no matter how many times the landlord kicks him out.

 

France

France!

Au Revoir, America! Bonjour, France!

Part I : Au Revoir, America !

My father drove me three and a half hours through the foggy morning of January 13th to take me to the Bangor Airport. From there, I was to catch a plane to Philadelphia to Amsterdam to Nantes. However, this was not the case.

Bangor to Philadelphia, 3:30 PM. Canceled.

Well, that was a problem. But I had a long layover in Philadelphia. Maybe the next flight…

Bangor to Philadelphia, 6 PM. Canceled. 

 It was too foggy in Philadelphia for any planes to depart or arrive. Unfortunately, the airline in Bangor only flew to Philadelphia. I was stuck. My father talked to the man at the desk, trying to find a way for me to get to Nantes. It seemed impossible.

“Portland?” My father asked, thinking he could drive me the additional three hours to the nearest airport.

“No, that won’t work,” the man at the counter replied, clicking away at the computer.

After exhausting nearly all options, my father asked, “Boston?”

“Well…there’s a flight that leaves at 7:45 PM. It goes from Boston to Paris to Nantes. You would have to check-in at six.”

“How long does it take to get to Boston?” my father asked.

“Four hours.”

“What time is it now?” he asked.

I looked at my watch. “1:45,” I said.

“Let’s go,” my father said.

We had four hours to drive in the fog with no directions and no GPS. As I sat in the car, I was in utter disbelief. We weren’t prepared for a drive to Boston. I wasn’t sure if my father would have enough money for the tolls or if we had enough gas in the car. Besides, it was a Sunday and my father had to go to work in the morning. After he dropped me off at six, he would have to drive the seven hours back home in the dark and in the fog. What about traffic? How on earth we were going to do this? This task was impossible and crazy. Maybe it was a sign from the heavens…turn back now! France doesn’t want you.

With a little luck, and some help from my smartphone, we arrived in Boston with plenty of time to spare. I said goodbye to my father, almost hesitant to leave. I knew I would miss him and everything about America for the next five months of my life. I would miss my friends. I would miss free public bathrooms and free water. But, when my passport was scanned and I was through security, it was apparent that there was no turning back. I was going to France.

On the airplane, I was in the last seat next to the window. From there, I watched as the lights from the sky scrapers of Boston faded into fog and nebulous matter. I tried to capture the view, as it would be my last image of America for five months. But, high in the sky, Boston looked like any other city. My flight, itself, was pleasant. I watched a movie, I slept and I ate. About an hour before arriving in Paris, the older woman sitting next to me began to talk to me…in French. Are you staying in Paris?

 

Yes, I had ordered food on the plane in French, but I had ordered food a million times in French in Canada. But I had never spoken to an actual French individual in a real life situation. This was the moment I had been waiting for, the moment where fourteen years of French would either help me or hurt me. I took a deep breath and, in broken French, gave her my story. I told her I was a student studying in Nantes. She was a mother, living near Nice. She had been to the States to visit her son, who was studying abroad in America. Before, I knew it, I looked outside and saw the lights of Paris. On the horizon, a new day was breaking. The sky was a vibrant pink and orange.

As the flight landed, the woman handed me a piece of paper with her name on it and a telephone number. “If you are ever near Nice, or if you need anything, give me a call,” she said in French.

She looked outside at the airport. Charles de Gaulle was huge. With a smile, she said, in perfect English, “Welcome to Paris.”

Part II: Bonjour, France!

 

I walked off the plane with a sense of pride. I had made it to France. After years of planning and preparation, I was in France. But my feeling of elation did not last for long. I was thrown into a whirlwind of chaos. My flight had landed in Paris at 8:30 AM. I had to board for Nantes at 9 AM.

Charles de Gaulle is a large airport. Terminal was probably larger than the entire airport in Presque Isle, Maine. To make matters worse, I had to get to another terminal. I had to get out of that one large terminal, walk a million miles, catch an automated train to the correct terminal, go through passport control, go another million miles, go through security, get selected for a pat down (five minutes to go until my plane boards), run the last million miles and pray that I did not make a mistake. Luckily, I managed to navigate the maze of an airport to arrive at the correct gate, just in time. I was sweaty and tired, after asking several airport officials for assistance. They all reassured me that I would make it to my gate on time.

I did, but just barely. The woman scanning tickets looked at me. I was out of breath and probably looked in distress. She saw my American passport and smiled at me in pity. She spoke in English, “Be careful. It’s slippery outside.”

I was too tired to reply anything else, but the English, “Thank you.”

From there, I had to take a bus ride to the plane (which, knowing French bureaucracy, was probably at the same terminal I was originally at that I had rushed away from, just kidding! I hope it wasn’t!). On the plane, we had to wait for them to deice the plane, a regular occurrence in Northern Maine, but I had no idea that France got so cold. On this flight, I was on the emergency exit row and had an entertaining conversation with a flight attendant. He, in French, gave the best emergency instructions I have ever received on a plane before. He truly enjoyed his job.

I slept for the duration of the flight, which was surprisingly quick. It lasted no more than 40 minutes from take-off to landing. I arrived in Nantes and collected my baggage. I walked outside of the airport and on to the sidewalk. I was officially on solid French ground for the first time in my life.

Now what?

I had to get to the international house where coordinators would assist me. I knew it would be easiest to take a taxi. If only I could find them… I walked around. What does a French taxi look like? I saw a line of cars and figured they must be taxis. If not, I was going to be kidnapped and that was that.

The man at the driving wheel was not smiling. “Hello? Can you take me to this address?” I asked in French (although, this is probably not what I really asked).

He looked at the index card with the address of the international house. “Oui,” he said shortly and as if that was a stupid question.

I hopped into the back of the car and watched France roll by my window. It looked a lot like Italy (where I went for a spring study abroad trip), which looked a lot like America. The signs were in French, but for the most part, the trees of the highway were the same.

The driver missed my stop, but got me close enough. I walked into the international house and, just as I wanted to be done with everything, things got much more complicated. My coordinator was very understanding and let me call my parents on her phone. It was a good thing she did that because I still don’t have phone service and I just got access to the internet. She explained everything I needed to do, but all I wanted to do was get to my room.

Instead, I paid fee after fee for random requirements. I discovered that France is a very cash driven society, where even French social security (207 euros) must be paid in cash…no exceptions. Furthermore, the traveler’s checks that I had intended to use were virtually useless. No one uses traveler’s checks.

Finally, I was sent on my way to check into the dorm, but even that would not be easy. I had to navigate the tram system in France. Luckily, my coordinator walked me to the stop and showed me how to pay for my ticket. She told me the stop I needed to go to and I was on my way. When I arrived at the dorm, I had to pay for the security deposit and the first month’s rent before I enter my room. I couldn’t use my traveler’s check and I certainly did not have enough money. I was slightly panicked because I was told the only way to pay was in cash. However, I managed to convince the woman to let my pay in credit card. She seemed irritated at my lack of understanding, since I had to have her repeat things several times. I doubt I could understand half of the terminology in English…let alone French! At the end of the transaction, I apologized for my French. She looked more sympathetic, but she could have just been happy to have been rid of me!

Little did she know, that when I went to my room and saw no bedding, that I would be back to buy bedding. The set included a pillow, pillow cover, cover and two thin sheets. My room was freezing cold. I knew it was going to be a long night. I unpacked (after carrying my suitcases to the top floor – there is no elevator) and discovered the room had no toilet paper. I went on an adventure to find some and returned with pink toilet paper and pink hand soap (the choice of color wasn’t really mine – it was the cheapest they sold, although they did also sell green and blue for a higher price). I returned to my cold room and settled in for the night. I was exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed.

And cold.

Very cold.

I put on as many clothes as I could find and huddled near the heater. Then I tried going to bed. As tired as I was, I couldn’t fall asleep. My mind was processing everything the coordinator told me I had to do…by myself. I was alone. I was alone and cold. I let my emotions wash over me and told myself that this was normal. It was stress.

Sometime during the night, I closed my eyes and hoped that the next day would be better.