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.
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
-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
-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.