My confidence soared after I successfully navigated the Charles de Gaulle Airport after touching down in France last week, but it disappeared as soon as I stepped foot on the TGV from Paris to Nîmes en route to Arles.
Planes are pretty simple – you can't really go wrong there. But for some reason, the combination of heavy luggage, assigned seats, and a line of people forming behind me as I struggled to board the train led to a moment of pure panic. After a while (and the help of approximately 10 different people), I was finally settled in my seat, my luggage securely stored in an overhead rack, but I was still very frazzled and overwhelmed.
Suddenly, the old woman sitting next to me nudged my shoulder, leaned over and began showing me photos of her granddaughter on her smartphone. As I smiled and assured her, "Elle est très mignonne!" I soon forgot all about my nerves, and I started to feel more comfortable and confident as we continued our conversation. During our short time together on the train, the woman said something that really stuck with me. In relation to all the scary and sad happenings in Europe and all over the world, she said, "Dans cette catastrophe du négatif, il faut trouver la bonheur." For her, that "bonheur" was her adorable granddaughter.
And as for me?
Well, I adopted her words as my new motto for my time in Arles. No matter how nervous or uncomfortable I might be while I'm abroad, I need to focus on the good. Here's some of my own "bonheur!"
Even when I was having trouble figuring out the TGV and panicking a little, the woman's kindness helped me feel more at ease.
I may be scared to speak French and I may make mistakes sometimes, but I'm happy that I can understand so much of what I hear. I'm just happy to be hearing French everywhere I go – it's such a beautiful language! Plus, I like hearing phrases and words that I can use to make me sound more natural when speaking.
I was a little nervous to live with a host family since I had never done it before, but they're extremely nice and generous, and getting to know my host mom and her kids and hearing their stories (and being able to share mine) has been super cool.
Although I get lost in the streets of Arles sometimes, who cares! It's just an opportunity to see more of this beautiful town, which has such a rich history and is full of such interesting people.
I may not have come into this program with pre-established friendships, but that just means getting to know everyone and meeting a variety of cool people who are always down for an adventure (and to try new restaurants – my favorite activity).
I'm constantly hot and sweaty and itchy, but getting to enjoy the outdoors all the time is a welcome break from hiding inside, glued to a screen like in the U.S.
There have of course been some uncomfortable moments so far during my time in Arles, but overall, my experiences have been unbelievably amazing. Like relaxing by the pool at our hotel during orientation, watching the sunset on the banks of the Rhône, having a picnic in the park with sandwiches from my new favorite restaurant, going to the Saturday market to buy brie and a baguette, hitting the beach and enjoying delicious homemade meals with my host family, listening to reggae, rock and flamenco music during la Fête de la Musique, and exploring the museums, monuments and shops in the beautiful town of Aix-en-Provence.
But what I like most of all about the south of France is the different, more relaxed (re: BETTER) lifestyle. With all of these wonderful adventures already under my belt, I can't believe I still have five more weeks left in Arles. Who knows what I'll do next!
More Blogs From This Author
<p>Hi, I'm Aine! First of all, it's pronounced Anya. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'm an aspiring journalist and world traveler with a passion for food and all things French. I go to school in Chicago and I'm from Philadelphia (two cities with vibrant food scenes, of course). My dream job is to be a writer for Bon Appétit or a food magazine in France, and I'm on a mission to eat as much French food as I can in six weeks.</p>