As I’m sure is the case for many other IES Abroad students heading abroad this Spring, my mind is buzzing with nervousness, excitement, dreams, and fears. For the past few weeks, I’ve been dutifully adding to my small black suitcase, a hand-me down from my mum. I know that as a suitcase it has been through many airport terminals before me, and will only bring good luck and as I’m told reassuringly, “good angels on the journey.”
My mental check-list of items to pack is full of plenty of neutral and dark-colored clothes, per recommendation by previous students who’ve studied in Nantes. Their advice has been extremely helpful. I’ve made sure to buy a small gift for my host mother-- a small bottle of maple syrup, since I am a native New Englander and go to school in Vermont. And for me, I’ve packed a small black notebook in which I know I will write and sketch furiously for the months to come. Every chance of documentation I must capitalize on, for who knows when I might do this again.
As I go through my days preceding departure, my mind has been intuitively attempting to translate some of the things I do. It is, I think, a way that my brain is subconsciously bolstering my own confidence in my language ability, as that is by far the part I am most nervous for. I have taken French since 6th grade. My hope is that even in the instances of utter confusion, I can fall back on some of my well-rehearsed colloquialisms… “Je voudrais un croque-monsieur.” I laugh to myself at the idea of doing so, although thinking of the foundation I have in French I am hopeful that the semester will go well. It will be a challenge, and I could not be more excited for it. I’ve wanted, since twelve years old, to be able to speak fluently with my teachers whom I admired so much, to talk with my Quebeçois relatives who would deliberate over New Year's brunch, as well as with my distant second-cousins whose French seemed like a song to my young, monolingual mind. This next semester will be my chance, long awaited, to enter a place where I can step closer to that person. I know, realistically, that I will not gain fluency in a semester. But, I also know that being in Nantes for a semester will bring me to be a much better French speaker than if I were to stay in the U.S.
When I received a note from my host mother in Nantes a few weeks ago, I wrote back excitedly, including a photo of my family. She promptly replied with a photo of her own family, and it has delighted me to see friendly faces and kind words coming from a total stranger who I will soon reside quite closely with. I look forward to the food we’ll eat, the things I’ll learn about Nantes, and the small nuances I’ll be able to admire about Nantais life and French culture. My host mother’s apartment lies just a short walk from the IES Abroad Center, which gives me comfort and familiarity that I’ll at least know a few street names and have autonomy and direction in this new city. With a population of just over 300,000 people in Nantes, I am looking forward to absorbing as much as I can in all its exuberance. Much awaits in ways that I cannot even predict.
I’ve folded my favorite sweaters, pants, and shirts neatly; embedded my favorite pairs of fun socks into one another; prepped my Euros, passport, charging adapters, and the ever-important home mementos. As I leave behind my familiar purple puffer jacket, heavy winter boots, and plethora of warm knit hats, I await for life across the pond for the next four months. I’ve exchanged the puffer for a more reasonable jacket, heavy boots for shoes, and minimized the hat collection to one. The things that are so familiar about my life at home- the snowy, cold winters, my friends, favorite professors, and loving coworkers- make me excited for the ways in which I can bring back good news and new experiences. All these individuals, as is the case, have ensured me that “you’ll have a great time!” and I, now staring at my bulging suitcase and shaking hands, know this to be true.
Adventure is out there! On y va!