After an agonizing month of anticipation and doubt, I received the e-mail notifying me that I had been accepted into Ohio University’s Avignon, France study abroad program for spring quarter. I felt as though an immense boulder had been rolled off my chest. After five years of scribbling vocabulary on to note cards and clumsily attempting to emulate my professors’ careful syllables, I finally have the opportunity to learn French from the experts. Within five minutes of opening my e-mail, I began to fantasize about my life in France.
I pictured myself situated comfortably in a sunny café with a small cup of coffee and a tattered book in my hand, managing to look quintessentially French without even having to sport the stereotypical beret. I imagined a dashing, dark-haired Frenchman speaking English with a heavy French accent joining me at my tiny café table. In my self-indulgent fantasy, we talked of politics, religion, and love while gazing upon a glorious golden and fuchsia sunset. After months of evenings like this and days spent somehow absorbing French skills through osmosis, I pictured myself returning to the United States with flawless French language skills, an immaculate new fashion sense, and a somehow trimmer waistline despite the famed French cuisine.
Fortunately for me, my family was there to bring me back to my senses. After I told them I had been accepted into the program, they allowed me to have my fleeting moment of celebration before starting the expected onslaught of questions. They wanted to know how many items of clothing I would pack, which airport I would fly into, how much money would I bring, and a relentless series of other practical, grounding inquiries. The most bewildering aspect of these questions was that I didn’t know the answer to any of them.
My French fantasy became overcast. I pictured myself failing to order a coffee in proper French at my dream café and being chased out by the owner who was shouting incomprehensible French and furiously waving a baguette in his fist. In this fantasy turned nightmare, all of my feeble attempts at French were met with a sneer and an upturned nose. By the time I returned to the United States, my vocal chords had shriveled up to raisins from the unending scorn that their efforts were rewarded with.
After a few months spent preparing for my trip abroad, many of these questions that had seemed so terrifying have been answered. I have my plane ticket and I know who my host family is. All of my classes have been scheduled and I’ve managed to cram everything I’ll need into a suitcase. Looking back on my two imagined scenarios. I realize that they’re both extreme. I will not be chased out of the country for having imperfect French and I will most likely return to the states with a pants size that reflects my adoration of French food. However, I am excited to experience real France and to try out the language skills I’ve been attempting to hone for years. In France, I will meet new people, experience frustration, and learn new things about myself and about the French culture. France will be neither a nightmare or a fantasy, but it will be real. All I can do right now is hope for bonne chance.