My displacement from one continent to another happened in what could only be described in a sleep-deprived haze. It seemed as if I awoke one morning not at home, but in a small hotel in London wondering where the entire past 36 hours had gone. Yet I found myself much more prepared than I thought was — winter hats were the only thing I’d forgotten, and I can find those anywhere. Apparently, my weeks of constant worrying about leaving something essential back in Texas had paid off.
This sense of inflated self-pride quickly dissipated once I arrived in France. While I may have been physically prepared to spend four months in a different country, I was neither mentally nor emotionally prepared to exist in a language other than English. One doesn’t quite realize how comforting their native tongue is until they no longer have the ability to effectively communicate with it.
Although I’ve taken at least one French class every semester for three years now, have listened to podcasts, and have watched French movies and television shows to aim for some semblance of immersion, nothing comes close to the real experience. The moment I was introduced to my host mom, any French word I’d ever learned flung itself from my brain through my ear and scrambled out the door. I would not consider holding a conversation using only “oui” as sustainable, nor interesting for either of the people involved.
There are small victories, however: standing in the tram and eavesdropping on conversations I can actually understand, reading advertisements and signs that I don’t have to guess at their meaning, ordering food off of a menu and knowing what will arrive in front of me. The longer I stay here, the longer the dialogue will become, peppered with words well beyond a single, three-letter affirmative. I will be able to hold my own eaves-droppable conversations on the tram. French will become a natural thing to hear constantly — even from my own mouth — and I look forward to it.