The first day is still extremely fresh in my mind- arriving to an apartment and greeted by the congenial Paul-Eric, whom I thought was named “Politic” due to accents. Everything looked like I was in the middle of an IKEA catalogue- simple, functional design that was user-friendly but clearly belonging to a different culture.
Suddenly I was lost in imagination, trying to place myself in the narrative of my parallel, French self.
What was a school day like on an average Monday? What path do I take walking home from school, and
who are my friends? What kinds of things would we be talking about? What worldview would I have and
would anything about my American identity remain among a French upbringing?
It became very clear that I was indeed a visitor to an alternate reality. Every day I spent in Atlanta, these
people spent in Toulouse. The gigantic world was always turning and meanwhile I pretend to be the only
one living on it. That thought alone guided a lot of my approaches toward French interaction…
So there we were, 7 Americans dumped into a foreign city and it was time to explore. As we began
to walk across the Pont-Neuf bridge for the first time I remember being in awe of my surroundings.
Their whole approach to city planning is so different yet works in such a better way. It’s built in a way
that people can actually use their city, and it encourages people to walk around, be outside, and shop
local. So many different shops, occupations, specialties… Everything they consume is made with artistic
Later that night I still needed to buy food and some basic toiletries, and I mistakenly went into Le
Pharmacie, which I thought would be like CVS but was actually a more expensive establishment with
healthy products. The lady tried to ask me if I was looking for anything in particular but she spat out the
words with such speed that all I could do was offer a blank stare and somewhat crumble internally. “Je
ne parle pas francais.” I slowly muttered, surprised at how odd this language sounded on my tongue,
despite sounding like beautiful French in my head. Slowly we found the items I needed, and I walked my
jet-lagged, haggard self back to the apartment.
That first day’s shower was life-changing and restorative,
but I was still overcome with feelings of displacement and having to assume the role of alien.
The next 48 hours were super weird because I felt myself to trying to acclimate but was also dealing
with an incredibly messed-up sleeping pattern. Although I knew how exhausted I was, nothing could be
done to quiet my mind. I still have no idea what is wrong with me in that regard, but you'll be happy to know that the insomnia subsided due to each day's hard work.