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Dive in! - Reflections on an immersion program in France

Julie, who stayed with my family in April, and me on Lac D'Annecy in her father's boat
It’s been two weeks since I’ve returned from my stay in France and there hasn’t been one moment where I don’t think about my experience. I never imagined living there for just a month would impact my life as much as it has. But let’s fast forward to how it all began; I woke up on my flight to Paris with only an hour left before landing, wanting to stretch out my legs and move around a bit so I went to the bathroom. After squeezing into the tight space, I rubbed my eyes, looked in the mirror and suddenly realized in my head, “I can’t do this.” I immediately thought, “there is no way I can live in a country away from my family for four weeks and communicate in a language that I barely can speak.” This speculation quickly sent me into a panic, I would be meeting a family that I didn’t even know in just a few minutes, how would I survive? Then, I knew I had a choice. I could dive in or back out. There was no question, I had to take the leap. With that decision, I felt a switch flip. That would be my motto for every moment during my time in France, “dive in.”
Rachel enjoying the view of the French flag and Eiffel Tour at the top of the Panthéon
From then on, my trip transferred into my adventure. This lead me to so many situations like riding a horse the first day with a whole barn of people cheering me on, hopping on trains by myself without thought, climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower despite my fear of heights, approaching a guard at Versailles to help me find my group after losing them, carrying my heavy suitcase and all my luggage across the Paris airport after having my transfer flight relocated, learning everything I possibly could about the players and matches of the French national team during the Euro 2016 Championship, wake boarding in the clearest lake in all of Europe and so much more. These events just touch the surface of the experiences I had using this philosophy during my stay in France.
The tour group at a lookout in Musée d'Orsay
One in particular that stands out to me was at the end of my journey, during my return flight to the US. I was seated next to a woman looking to be around twenty and I noticed she had a European passport. After taking off, the flight attendant came around to give out drinks and after she served me, she turned to the woman and quickly asked her what she would like. When the woman looked up with a blank expression, I realized she didn’t speak English. Now comfortable with taking chances, I turned to her and explained in French what the attendant was asking, suddenly she lit up, and told me she wanted a coffee. When the attendant asked me if she wanted sugar or milk I turned and asked, “Est-ce que vous voulez du sucre ou du lait?” I was shocked by how easy it was for me to work around the two languages. When she got her drink she turned to me and started asking questions. How did I know French? Where was I coming from? This started off a conversation that lasted the whole flight, with breaks in between as I translated for her whenever the flight attendant came around. I learned that she was traveling to the America for the first time, wanting to see as much of it as she could in the few weeks she was planning to visit. Speaking to her in French felt effortless and when I discovered that she lived in the village just next to the one I had stayed in and explained I had passed it every day riding home on the train, I knew my experience had made me more than just a traveler.
Now, that feeling has led me to return home certain that I want to pursue my passion for French after high school and sure I want to live there in the future. I continue to be surprised by how much my experience changed not only my love for the French culture but my perspective on the way I want to live my life. In the end, as I boarded the plane home, the tears running down my face weren’t out of sadness for leaving but for happiness, knowing I would be back.
Smiling among the trees at Versailles with others in the group ahead

- by Hannah Singleton


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