Pre-departure Thoughts

Laura Plata
June 20, 2016

“Creo que te vas a encontrar con hispanos,” my mother says to me as I lay in bed reading, making a pointed decision to not pack. I had only thrown in three books of poetry, one collection of short stories by a favorite author of mine Luis Alberto Urrea, a watercoloring set, and two writing notebooks---clearly essential to survival in a foreign country.

“Que?” I respond, confused as to what she is referring to. The page I am holding mid-flip stands at attention, awaiting her response.

“I think you’re going to find yourself with hispanic people,” she repeats again. This time, she elaborates by saying “I was looking at some mapas. France is neighbors with Spain.”

I realized then that my mother, in the free time she doesn’t have, has been looking at maps. I imagine that with her her glasses perched on her nose as she peered owlishly at our computer screen, she googled “Arles, France.” From time spent googling Arles myself, I can clearly picture the ribbon of blue that threads through Arles and the Mediterranean Sea that cradles the town.

Perhaps my mother is right and I will find myself surrounded by other gente hispana. It wouldn’t be the first time either; I grew up in a Spanish speaking neighborhood, and the only other times I’d ever been out of the country were to visit family in Mexico and El Salvador. The difference now is that two terms I had thought were inextricably bound together, “hispana” and “Latina,” were somehow coming apart. Put simply, I had always linked hispanic with “Spanish-speaking” and Latino/a with “being from Latin America” (although this system of categorization isn’t without problems either). And behind both terms lies a history of conquest and the conquered, and imperial legacy that follows.

Thinking about historical legacies has made me pause to think about France’s own complex, multi-layered historical and socio-political systems which I admit I definitely need to learn more about.

One the one hand, I want to fling myself into obnoxious tourist mode as a study abroad student and visit classic tourist destinations, take an ungodly amount of photos, and spend entirely too long ogling at what I’ve come to believe will be beautiful French cuisine. Yet I know at heart that this isn’t what I want to take away from my experience--at least not entirely. I wouldn’t want to leave France without having a much stronger understanding of France’s colonial legacy, cultural pluralism, and political dynamics. I want to begin to build parallels between America’s struggles concerning race and socioeconomic class to those of France (which I’m hoping my class on French Immigrant Communities in the 20th century will help shed some light on).

France is not the Eiffel Tower; Chicago isn’t the Bean. I wouldn’t want a visitor to my city to only think that Chicago exists along the Magnificent Mile when there is so much more in terms of diversity that the city has to offer. I want to hold myself to a higher standard as a student who is here first, and foremost, to learn about France and not simply consume its attractions.

To be clear, however, I am still incredibly excited to be a study abroad student and looking forward to typical things like the food, the sights, the beach, my classes, and my host family. In my head, the south of France is a single unbroken landscape dotted with fields of flower and rolling green hills. I readily admit that this is probably a bit of a stretch, but I know there are pockets of peace out there, and I plan on finding as many of them as I can.

I had originally thought that I would comb through travel guides before heading off to Arles and create detailed itineraries of the things I wanted to see. After a bit of thought, however, I decided I wouldn’t do that (and thus, six travel guides sit on my bed and continue to go unread). Part of being in my “comfort zone” is knowing exactly what I’ll be doing and when I’ll be doing it. To not know where I’ll be going makes me a bit antsy. I need to pin things to calendars and check them off a to-do list with a self-righteous red pen. Letting things progress organically is much harder for me, but I wouldn’t want to spend my time in Arles any other way. I’ve found that when visiting new places, wandering the streets and stumbling into things is the best way to explore. I’m prepared to do extensive walking while in Arles, and I’ll make sure to report all the different places I’ll see here.

So here’s to late night French dinners that stretch on for hours. To drinking good coffee late at night with friends. To exploring cafes. To wandering in ruins. To the people I will meet. And finally, to all the things I can’t even imagine will happen to me yet.

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Laura Plata

<p>Laura Plata is a rising sophomore at Yale University. She is the first in her family to attend college and will soon be the first to study abroad as well. Laura is currently undecided as to what her major will be, but she is interested in race and migration, international development, and socioeconomic inequality. Laura&rsquo;s interest in French stems from a growing interest in refugee studies and immigration both within the U.S context and abroad. Two things she lives by are to always have dessert before dinner and to never end the day without feeling grateful.</p>

2016 Summer 1, 2016 Summer 2
Home University:
Yale University
Political Science
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