James in Paris

James, a French and history double major, is returning to France in Spring 2009 for his second semester abroad. He is hoping to reconnect with old friends and his French family while working on his language and culture skills in preparation for graduation and a master’s degree program.

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Saturday morning wrap-up

Well, it’s about 2 AM here, and I’m very homesick. With most of my friends and family being seemingly unable to answer their phones in the United States, I figured it’d be a good time to reflect on all that has happened lately.

So, let’s start with winter break. Not much to say there really. I ended up only going to Nancy for a few hours. Basically, once in Nancy my camera broke and I decided to go back to Paris. Honestly though, I didn’t want to go anywhere.

When I got back to Paris I realized one important thing: I’m tired of moving around. I pretty much forced myself to go on my little two-day excursion because I felt I had to do something. But, I remembered two important things: 1) This trip is not like the last time I was here, I no longer have the desire to trot around the continent like a giant tourist, and 2) it is perfectly fine to spend as much time as possible in Paris. In fact, I’m beginning to learn what its really like to live in this city … and I like what I’m learning.

A day all in French

As expected I’m not really spending too much time with my American classmates. As a matter of fact I don’t spend any time with them outside of Reid Hall. I spend most of my time with my few French friends or my family, or with the person I’m dating at the moment (though that’s not going as well as I’d like … I won’t talk about it now though). Indeed, I feel like I’m in a completely different place than my classmates, which isn’t a bad thing at all. They are where I was over a year ago, and I came back so that I could grow even more. On that note, I would like to talk about the wonderful day I had, all in French.

I have been learning French for over seven years now, but I consider parissign.jpgthat I have only been able to speak French for about two years. In fact, I feel that I only really learned French after I lived here, because none of the other stuff in classes before ever stuck with me. It may have prepared me to live in France, but in no way made me fluent.

(In the photo right: This sign that is posted around any monument or place that was an important battleground in French history. The sign says “To all the French: France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war!” Referring to the 2nd World War, of course. At the bottom it says, “Long Live France” and is signed by Charles de Gaulle, the famous general who brought France out of the 2nd World War and was the first President of the 5th Republic. I just thought it was a cool little sign.)

I spent the day today with my friend Jeremy in the suburbs of Paris. He met me at the train station and we walked to the house of a family friend of his. I’m always nervous about meeting French people I don’t know at first because I worry that they’ll think I’m a poor speaker. Nevertheless, the whole thing went wonderfully. We probably spent five hours there, talking about every subject known to man, entirely in French.

I spoke to my friend later on that evening and he told me that his family friend was quite amazed at how well I could understand and speak French, and he told me that even he was surprised at how well I held myself during the conversation. And, well, that’s when I realized something … I’ve come a really long way in two years.

I mean, think about it. I look back at old journal entries from before I ever came to France and I talk about how scared I was to even say “Bonjour,” for fear that the other person might say something else that I wouldn’t understand. I spend almost my entire day, every day, speaking and thinking in French. While I am by no means 100% fluent, I certainly know my way around the language. In fact, I have learned so many more expressions and words over the last month (not to mention the last couple of years) that I feel totally confident and secure in speaking French.

It still amazes me sometimes, it really does. The fact that, here I am, little old James from Texas, sitting and conversing fluently in a foreign language in a place that is half-way around the world from where I came from. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m rather proud of myself for that achievement.

And on another note, things seem to be coming together for my future months in the city. I’m waiting to hear back about an internship I’ve applied for (I’m really crossing my fingers on this one) and I’m talking to SMU about how I can spend yet another semester here with a French university. I continue to meet new people here all the time, and I’m feeling more and more comfortable with being just an ordinary person living in Paris rather than an American student studying here for a spell. I feel like I know this city, this language, and this culture enough to provide solid input into any conversation about it.

A city on strike

Speaking of culture, let’s talk about the strikes! Suffice to say strikes.jpgthere are many going on right now, each in their own little way. From the random “Paris en gr’ve” sign in the middle of the train station to the massive demonstrations of thousands of angry students in the city’s busiest streets, the French are making it very clear that they are not happy with what their government is doing. Can I blame them? Well, not really.

While I do agree with many of the reforms they are trying to pass, I also agree with what Jeremy’s friend said today, that the reforms are simply coming too quickly and the French don’t have enough time to adapt. So, as usual, it makes for a very interesting political climate that is just wonderful grounds for a conversation! I have to say that there is nothing more frightening and exhilarating than coming out of a Metro station and seeing thousands upon thousands of people in the street protesting.

At home in Paris

So, in truth, I am very happy here. While I sometimes get very homesick and very lonely, I try as hard as I can to remember all that it took for me to get here, and all that it is going to take for me to fulfill my dreams and ambitions. I try to remember why I came here, why I love this country so much, and why I want to stay. BUT…don’t ever think for a moment that I will ever be anything other than an American. I’m very proud of my country and my heritage, and I will be the first person to tell anyone that.

My friend Jeremy told me tonight that one of the things that he liked about me was that, unlike most expats who come to live in France, I can be both critical of my country while being extremely patriotic. Well, that’s me in a nutshell. I can be critical because I’m an American, and I will never criticize the French government in front of a French person because I don’t feel it’s my right to do so. While I of course have my opinions, I keep them quiet for the most part unless I am directly asked to give them.

So, tomorrow, a busy day I suppose. I’m hoping to go to the national library (or, as I’ve come to fondly call it, the Fortress of Doom) and then having a drink with a friend later on that night. Dinner with the French family I suppose, which has been really nice lately. The parents are very nice and welcoming, and lately we’ve been having some wonderful conversations.

It took us all a bit to warm up to each other after not seeing each other for a year, but now we’re like old friends. In fact, it’s a little different this time because I think they view me more as an adult than they did before. We often talk about my future plans and they are very supportive of them. It’s nice really…I’ve noticed that they’ve begun to open up more about their personal life (jobs, interests, history, etc) as I begin to become an actual friend of theirs. I will always be indebted to them for both their hospitality and the amount of information I have learned from them.

In many ways I feel like I’m more adult this time around too. A lot has changed in my life in the last couple of years, a lot of things that have directed me to where I am now. I look back to my old journal entries from the last time I was in France and it seems to me that I was literally on a big French adventure. I didn’t want to leave the country because I was infatuated with how amazing it was. In fact, I was ready to hide my own American identity just for the sake of trying to “blend in” more.

Well, now I’ve learned a lot more about myself. I’ve learned the real reason why I want to live here and I’ve also learned how to be a proud American while still being an expat living in France. I know that I want to be here because this city and its people inspire me to do as much with my life as possible. I feel motivated and determined while I’m in this city, and in fact I am absolutely in love with it. I’m in love with it not from a tourist’s point of view (in that…”oh it’s so pretty, oh the Eiffel tower!”), but rather from that of someone who can go to a random bridge in the middle of the city, stand looking over the river, and think to himself that he is finally in a place where, for whatever reason, he feels like he belongs.

So, while I will always be homesick and while I will always miss my family and friends…for now I plan to stay here. There are so many opportunities for me here, and so many reasons why I should stay. As I’ve said before…America may be my home, but Paris is where I grew up :). ‘bient’t!

On a side note…I know my English sucks. After speaking French for so long I find it difficult to switch back to English sometimes…and I often have the tendency to form my sentences like I would in French. So, I apologize in advance if some of this doesn’t make sense!

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