Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Language, and the Travel Bug

French, and France, really was my first love. Yes- despite my current love of Italian and Italy. As they say, you never really forget your first love.

The first time I went out of the U.S. it was to Quebec and Montreal, the French-speaking parts of Canada, in 8th grade with a group of my fellow French classmates. Then, in the middle of highschool I had the wonderful opportunity to do an exchange program and actually go to France with my French classmates, and have the French students we stayed with come to stay with us in the U.S. I wish I had more pictures of that first trip across the ocean to share, but, alas, that was in the days before I had a digital camera or facebook. I took the picture above with black and white film in the countryside near Albi, France, where we each stayed with our host/exchange family for a week.

On that trip, I distinctly remember sitting along the Seine river in Paris thinking I have to come back here someday. I think I even wrote that on a postcard to my parents, trying to describe how much I loved being in France. I don't think I was homesick at all that trip, which I learned was the norm for me and was probably a good indicator that I really do enjoy traveling. In fact, the only time I can remember being truly homesick was when I went to sleep-away Girl Scout camp in 4th grade and I wrote my parents a letter about how much I hated being there and how sad I was. I guess I didn't actually mail the letter, but my mom found it after I came home, and cried anyway when she read it! After a couple of years, I spent many more summers at Camp Horizons (not a Girl Scout camp), which I remember so fondly now (does using the word "fondly" make me sound old??). That's a story for another time, but one cool thing was that a lot of the counselors were from other countries, with a lot from the U.K.

When I was 19, I eventually did make it back to the Seine. But what my 15 or 16 year old self didn't realize back then was that what I really loved and felt a longing for was being in a new and different place, which I now know was not unique to Paris or France. It just might have been when the travel bug first really bit me.

Thanks to Mme. Pisano, my inspiring highschool French teacher, the French language came alive for me. Have you ever reached that point with a foreign language where you begin to understand it intuitively, get the phrasing, and feel comfortable in it? I can't even fully describe that feeling now because it's been a while since I've felt it, but by senior year of high school I had it.

When I went to college at Saint Mary's I had to make the decision of whether I wanted to continue with French or switch to Italian, as my mom had done. This also meant choosing between studying abroad in either France or Italy. By the end of highschool I decided that I was done with French and was ready to move onto something new. Afterall, I had been studying French for 5 years. With that amount of time it sounds like I would have made it even further with the language than just coming to the cusp of true understanding, but for the most part it was just something I practiced in school (and let's be real- America is not known for bringing its citizens far with languages). Also due to my mom's glowing reviews and memories of going on the Rome program, I decided to take Italian. After many semesters of Italian and a year spent studying in Rome, I eventually came to that exciting cusp of true understanding with Italian too.

Now of course I've lost that place with both languages, but wow, they were wonderful places to be. And so, for the time being, I'm satisfied with traveling giving me that sense of wonder, instead of the intimacy of a foreign language.

Image by Elise Blaha Cripe
P.S. The rest of the pictures I took when visiting France while studying in Rome.

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