I moved to Montpellier recently for some french immersion. I had been studying the language for a while (coming from a country where French is the second language) but decided that to really learn french and reach the level of proficiency I desired it was necessary to spend some time living in another place where I could immerse myself completely.
The Plane to France
I chose to stay with a host family just outside of the city, and to take an intensive french course which included classes in the morning and afternoon, so that studying would occupy the majority of my time during weekdays. I figured that would help regulate my schedule and fill my days so that I did not get bored or unmotivated or distracted by other things. With all of that it still felt like a leap, I didn’t know anyone in the city and generally had a rather undeveloped idea of what to expect from it all. Change like that can be unnerving. I mean I think for any normal human being it is necessarily unnerving. I would venture enough to say that I am adventurous, I’ve travelled alone before and feel comfortable by myself, but sitting on the plane starring down at the Atlantic ocean I definitely questioned what I was doing. I had never moved to a new city without knowing a single person there, I had never made a decision like this based solely on research I had done myself online, and as the reality of leaving set in I began to wonder how it would all work out. I questioned how I would go about making friends. On top of that I was unsure about my french. I felt motivated and serious about not speaking english for a while, I had a base level of the french language but had never been forced to live in another language before. I had never had to make friends in a new language. I thought about the friends I had left behind, speculated on how hard it would be to make new ones, and began to feel more alone than excited.
The Train to Montpellier
On the train from Paris to Montpellier my nerves settled themselves. I was tired, they were probably tired also from having spent the last six hours running rampant. I relaxed into my chair and fell asleep for a while; I hadn’t slept during the flight and it was now early morning in the time zone I had left.
When I awoke I felt a bit more myself again. I began to reflect on where I was and what I was doing. I reviewed the messages I had exchanged with the mother of my host family, who had reached out a few weeks before to say hello, and re-read the description of each family member sent to me in my accommodation briefing. The mother had agreed to meet me at the train station, and I starred down at her picture on WhatsApp trying to imagine what she would be like in person. Then again I imagined how hard it would be to adjust to living solely in french. ‘How do I ask if the tap water is safe to drink?’ I asked myself. Turns out that was a silly question, but you never know. I had to look it up. I relaxed and told myself it would go how it goes and that’s it. Then I read a few chapters from the book my mother had gifted me, Le Petite Prince, and reviewed how the first conversation would go in my head as the train arrived at the station.
Meeting my Host Family
After a few minutes of searching and looking like a lost backpacker I found my host. We greeted each other (pro tip: it’s three kisses on alternating sides in Montpellier) and began to walk toward the car. The conversation was much easier than I expected, she spoke slowly and clearly and was nice enough to act like she understood what I was trying to say. We arrived at the home after a short drive, and she showed me around and into my room where I passed out for a few hours before dinner.
When I awoke I was still tired, but my hunger was surmounting the fatigue. I could smell the food from my room, and a few minutes later someone came to knock on my door and say that dinner was ready. I shook away the fatigue, but above the fatigue and the hunger was the uncertainty of actually sitting down with a group of strangers for a meal. I made my way into the kitchen and introduced myself awkwardly to the father and two children. They showed me a picture book of all the students they had hosted over the years (close to 200!) and I began to realize that this was much more routine for them than it was for me. They were smiling and excited to meet someone new, and that feeling was instantly contagious. They said my french was good, I said the food was great, and soon enough I forgot that I was away from home. In the end I was ready for my language stay in Montpellier after all.