Well I've arrived! This is my second week in France and I already feel like I've been here for a month. Exiting the Charles de Gaulle airport was a bit surreal. I was completely caught off guard by the large amounts of people of color I saw in the customs lines, on the metro, and in the city itself. I almost felt like I was back in Atlanta or LA instead of across the ocean in France. During my first moments in Paris I felt extremely ignorant. Crossing borders in order to search for more opportunities is common in the United States, so why did I not think it would be common in France as well? For the rest of my short stay in Paris I pondered over histories of border crossing, and how immigration struggles in France parallel those in the US.
My first few days in France were also intensified by the attacks on the satirical journal, Charlie Hebdo. The day I left Paris for Nantes, twelve of the journal's staff were killed by extremists. While getting acquainted with my host mother and unpacking I read a plethora of articles describing what happened and how these attacks will affect France's large Muslim population. Staying abreast of my political context is a must for me, as I am always thinking about my experience in terms of the multiple identities I navigate.
After all of this however, my time in Nantes has been wonderful. I'm 100% sure that studying abroad in a smaller city is the perfect choice for me, as I am not one to like the hustle and bustle of mega-huge cities like Paris or Los Angeles. Nantes is extremely French. There are boulangeries and crêperies everywhere. But I don't think I'll ever be able to understand how French women strut around in heels on cobblestone streets. People in Nantes are also extremely approachable. Every time I've looked at a map for too long and needed to pulled out my huge Plan de Poche in an attempt to figure out where I needed to go, a magical French person has appeared to help me. My host mother is also extremely easy to talk to and seems to find it amusing when I have to resort to using charades to get my point across.
Suprisingly I have experienced none of the 'culture shock' I read about compulsively during winter break. However, the hardest hurdle is certainly the language barrier. I've only taken the equivalent of four semesters of French and I'm always worried that store vendors and other French speakers won't be able to understand me. It's so easy to remain in an English speaking bubble and return home to watch American television or log onto Facebook and see what all of my friends back home are up to. But I've made it my goal to immerse myself as much as possible, even if it means embarrasing myself from time to time. It's become evident that speaking-even if your grammar is cringeworthy- is the only way to become semi-fluent in a four month period.
I start classes tomorrow, so I'm frantically trying to make sure I have purchased enough cahiers and stylos for the next couple of months. Wish me luck!