Alone in a Foreign Land
An excerpt from the book Unexpected Places
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Ma vie en France commence. My life in France begins.
I landed in France early one lifeless Sunday during the last week of September in 1999. The day was dreary both outside and inside me all at once. I was terrified to get off the plane and confront the new challenge that lay before me. How exactly was I to conquer this feat? For a long while, I just stood there at the gate, carry-on bag dangling from my shoulder as I clasped my pillow to my chest. My pillow held the signatures and messages of my teammates from college. Messages like "Good luck" and "We'll miss you", were written in purple and black ink in hopes of comforting me during my stay in France. Now the thoughtful words stood in stark contrast to the French words surrounding me as I turned in place, my Nikes squeaking on the dingy mosaic tiles that lined the terminal floor. I would miss my friends much more than they could possibly miss me. After all, they still had each other. As I stood surveying my surroundings, the caterpillars in my stomach (they had not yet changed to butterflies) grew to enormous proportions and began feeding on my insides. I stifled the urge to throw up. I had an undeniable desire to run screaming back to the plane but held that in check as well. I stared out the large windows in the terminal at the dismal, gloomy sky threatening to rain on my new surroundings. My first view of Paris was very gray and very cloudy—cold even—just as my expectations were at that moment. I just stood there and hoped that the experience I was about to take on would somehow be different from everything I was feeling at the moment. I wanted to experience something besides the anxiety, fear, and discomfort that this abrupt change in my life was causing inside me.
As if this were not torture enough, I also had to endure the in-flight movies in French. the flight attendants' smug grins suggested they had specially ordered these so I would lose all hope by the time we arrived in Paris. I accepted the challenge and tried to watch each of the programs, at least for a few moments. I don't recall the names of the programs, but judging by the action of my unkempt neighbor, each one was funnier than the last. How can she laugh at a time like this? I fumed.
That was when I decided I could not go to France. I didn't even know enough French to keep up with the dialogue in the movie. One thing was abundantly clear: either I had to abandon ship, or this plane had to turn around and get me back to where I was most linguistically comfortable. Panic-stricken, I asked myself, How am I going to get food or anything else that I need for that matter? What if I fail? What if this venture in France doesn't go as planned? Why don't they offer parachutes on that cart of duty-free items? I had never felt so alone in all my life. My skin was the only thing keeping me from going every way at once. After what seemed like an eternity of these panic attacks, the pilot announced we would soon begin our descent into Paris--whether I was ready or not.
The plane landed and taxied to our gate.
I tucked my last English-language magazine, the one I had taken from the seat pocked, into my pillowcase, along with the few items I had taken onto the plane. I climbed out of my seat and disembarked from the plane. Moments later I was standing in the terminal and looking out the window at a gray sky. I was alone, with nothing but my pillow, my carry-on bag, and countless emotions bombarding my mind. As the first raindrops began to hit the window, I backed away from the large frame. My reflection dissipated as I turned and followed the rush of people moving towards customs and baggage claim. My first visit to Paris, though I had dreamed about it many times in my life, was nothing like I had imagined. It was a very stressful place for me in the beginning. #UnexpectedPlaces #travel #France #international #journey #liveabroad