Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An American in Paris

EFLJ Alumna Lisa Crawford shares her journey in France:

A Month in France without French Fries

Leaving the Kansas City International airport on June 30, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, all I knew for certain was the bare basics: I was going to France, for an entire month, and all I essentially had to pay for was the plane ticket.
I had studied French in high school, but because of numerous battles with tonsillitis that eventually led to a tonsillectomy; I had missed much of the ground work. A year after I began my undergraduate studies at Missouri Western, I decided to start fresh and study French again. I ultimately received a minor in French with my English/Journalism degree in May 2010, but I was nowhere near fluent.

I had hoped and dreamed to study in France during the summer, but each year went by, and when summer came, I could never commit the large amount of money it costs to study three weeks overseas. So during my final undergraduate semester, when Madame Hennessy sent out an e-mail that said the International Lions Club and the Alliance Fran├žaise of St. Joseph would pay everything but the plane ticket for any student selected to attend an International Francophone Centers, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. I was so grateful to learn I was accepted to CIFRU: Centre International Francophone de Rencontres Universitaires.

When I arrived in Paris, I was completely overwhelmed. I had no idea what to do. All I could was say “Oui” and “Non” for fear of saying anything else, and instead I stared at everyone with the good old "deer in the headlights" look.

When my director, Paul Mason, found me, he began to ramble off happy greetings in French with a warm and welcoming smile, but I was so panicked by his quick-paced speech, I couldn’t translate anything, and I guess that scared expression was so apparent on my face, he just smiled and said “You look completely clueless. Don’t worry everything will be alright,” –in his friendly, ENGLISH, Australian accent.

I was one of only two Americans in Paris, but having that one other “familiar face” was very comforting—at least I wasn’t completely alone. On July 3, all 200 students marched through the streets of Paris and stood under the Arc de Triomphe, and sang the French National Anthem: Marseilles.

The next morning was the beginning of my adventures with CIFRU. For the next three weeks I had the amazing opportunity to spend time with and learn from 31 different students from 22 different countries—and an amazing experience it was. Each night a different country would present their traditions, history, symbols, etc., and normally we would give gifts of food, trinkets, or candy. But during the day, we explored Saint Etienne and the surrounding areas. By the end of my three weeks with my fellow CIFRUsiens, I can honestly say I had grown more confident in my speaking abilities, more confident in my French, and overall I was just more confident in myself. The 31 other students I befriended left an ever-lasting impression on my mind and heart. I will never forget any of them and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate. Whenever I doubted myself, or my speaking abilities, I was always reminded by someone that things would be okay, because I wasn't alone: there were 31 other students completely out of their element with me, exploring the language and exploring the world. If there is one thing in particular I had to choose to be the most important thing I learned from my trip, it would be this:

No matter how well you speak a language, no matter how well you read or comprehend a language, there is one thing that will be the same in every language—no matter the dialect or the accent—and that is a smile. I did a lot of smiling in France, and if it weren’t for my studies at Missouri Western State University and my wonderful French professor Dr. Hennessy, I never would have had the opportunity to see so many others smiling back at me.

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