“I’m from Colombia!” is a phrase I´ve repeated quite often being a student at the ILA French immersion school in Montpellier where there are numerous international students learning French. No matter how many times I say it, is somehow always followed by “Oh! I love Narcos!” (Among other stereotypical sentences like “where´s your cocaine?” and even worse, the infamous “YES! Pablo Escobar!!!”). It is most of the time meant as an inoffensive joke off course, as people tend to ignore how harsh it may actually sound to a Colombian. Evidently, it is a result of the propaganda and commercialization of the world known drug dealer, Pablo Escobar, who is frequently portrayed as some sort of hero or “Robin Hood” when in reality, it has cost our country a deep, indelible pain. Though, we Colombians clearly do not stand-alone. There are also “the loud Italians”, “the Irish drunkards”, “Little Miss. (mr.) Perfect Swiss “, “so arrogant English”, “beer- bellied Belge”, blab la german … and the list goes on. Stereotypes everywhere. However, it is not always negative and I love it when someone answers me singing “Shakira, Shakiraaaa!” instead. When you start an immersion education, it is inevitable not to be followed by your background and it wasn’t until this French language stay in France that I´ve realized how important it is to be proud of it.
When you take residential French courses in France, you miss home, but in a good way
During my French immersion stay I’ve learnt that where you come from, defines you. It surprises me how I have gained a new sense of self by being able to truly identify with my country and feel passionate about it even when I´m more than a thousand miles away. When you take residential French courses in Montpellier, you miss home, but in a good way. A new way, that you would´ve not experienced before unless you came to study French in France among people of various nationalities, each with different ideals and culture and ways of living that can only be explained by their context, where they come from. You see other people´s roots and finally become aware of your own. When you first arrive to France, during your first weeks of your Long term Intensive French course for adults, you´ll catch yourself comparing almost everything with your home country. The architecture, the way people move around, the streets, the noise, the smells, the food etc. (God I miss the variety of fruits we have all year long and how we actually have 24 hour stores and lively streets on Sundays and Mondays because mostly everything is still open). I find it very interesting because in this process of adjusting to a new life in Montpellier and discovering France, you become aware of the details not only here, but in your home country as well, which to me, is one of the greatest things I have been able to experience during my language stay at ILA French immersion school.
During your French Intensive Course, cultural barriers will be broken, and it is amazing
Other than learning French in France, in each French course offered by the ILA French immersion school there is the possibility to get a glimpse on what other countries are like. You sit amongst students coming the opposite edge of the world, and have discussions where you are able to share characteristics of each country and also notice how opinions are in a way linked to the country´s politics, history and way of life. There was one particular activity during my intensive French course that drew my attention to this. In groups of around 4 people we where given the instruction to imagine our own country. What the economy would be like, the type of government, the population, the flag and any other factor that can be determining for a country. We where all very interested, discussing in French, until a Swiss student suggested we should not have an army in our country. I was immediately thrown a back. Right then and there I saw the contrast between us; she came from a neutral country, pacifist, where important peace treaties are signed and that has never taken part in any great massacre or war. Whereas I came from a country with a history of terror, where peace has been attempted several times but the fire has not cease, a war context. It is undeniable that we have our origins embedded in ourselves, in our way of thinking. This Swiss girl later became one of my best friends, it is astonishing how one can have so many things in common with somebody who comes from what seems like a different world.
As a foreign student in France, you must carry your country´s flag
For a long time I have confused being patriotic with cheering for La Sele (how we call the Colombian soccer team). This language stay has made me realize it means, in fact so much more. It means recognizing the determined and persevering spirit of my people, the mystery of the Amazon jungle and the power of the tribes that still live there. It means being optimistic, being joyful, warm and open. This French immersion stay helped me remember how much I love my country. I can see now that we all have a responsibility with our own nation. When one decides to take residential courses, one becomes a foreigner and thus, a representative of the place you come from. Once you´re able to recognize it, you find a new vision.
I love France, and a little piece of me is in Montpellier now, but home is home, and I have never been more proud to say “I´m from Colombia.”