Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beyond my wildest dreams

By Brett Williams

I have had a passion for the French language and culture since I was very young, so choosing to participate in the Normandy Exchange this year as a junior was a no-brainer. I didn’t for a second expect, however, the experience to be as surreal as it has proven thus far or as promising as the week seems now four days in.

Having never left the United States before, I knew I would enter a whole new world during the exchange. At the same time, I had studied Paris and all of its landmarks at such length that I assumed it would feel just like the glorious City of Love (or City of Lights) with which I had been familiar. Yet throughout my stay I could never quite grasp the reality of my long-awaited visit. Hiking up the Eiffel Tower, shopping my way through the Champs-Elysées, riding down the Seine; each moment, to use a far too common cliché, felt too good to be true. I made sure to savor all the wonderful times, but couldn’t shake their dreamlike aura.

Fortunately, I also managed to experience several facets of Parisian life that do not find mainstream exposure but in all truth exemplify French culture. For example, I bought a simple baguette au fromage at a roadside café early on and casually consumed it while strolling the city streets. I stopped at other cafés to end both nights in town with my fellow correspondents and enjoyed not only the glace and gaufres (notice a food theme here?) but also the immersion into conversational French with the staff (and Franglais with my friends, bien sur!). And I witnessed firsthand the nightlife of the busy Quartier Latin, complete with its lively customers and hawkish store and restaurant owners. It was these aspects which I believe once and for all defined Paris for me and created the most special memories.

Then came Bayeux. After three tiring days in the capital and a few technical difficulties during the exit trip, I found myself face to face with a new family and life which would assume me for a week—the real “exchange.” And immediately I knew I had found a perfect match.

The Deblangy clan, which is composed of Emma, my correspondant, two younger sisters, Monsieur et Madame, and two playful and energetic cats, brought me into its home with such warmth that all of my worries vanished from the first greeting on. We have discussed nearly every facet of one another’s lives, inserting jokes and words of wisdom. We have enjoyed several cultural standbys, such as eating bread and jam for breakfast and beaucoup de fromage after dinner (I promise, I will move on from food soon!). Most importantly, both the Deblangys’ life and my own have continued seamlessly. In fact, they maintain nearly the exact same morning and evening routines—time of departure for school, a long dinner with much friendly discussion, etc;--as does my family. Thus far I have found great joy getting to know this group, and I’m sure the fun will persist for the duration of the trip.

Countless unique opportunities have come my way this week, and countless more await. I have anticipated the visits to the historic D-Day sites and Mont-Saint-Michel since learning of them, and I look forward to further bonding with my American friends and with my new French ones. Time will tell if my expectations are met, but I believe they will be, as has proven the case so far, entirely surpassed.

No comments: