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COLUMN: Reflecting on the struggles of being a foreigner



“What do you hate about Aix?”

If you asked me this question three months ago, I would have immediately answered, “Nothing!” without having ever stepped foot in the city.

Now, almost two months into my stay here, I have a whole list of answers waiting. And I know I’m not the only one — when our methodology professor asked us this question last Friday, all of eight of us couldn’t speak over each other fast enough to get our complaints out.

I’m not a hateful person by nature, and I try to live by the motto of making the best of your situation, so this is a fairly new reaction for me. I also know it’s a normal one.

In truth, I don’t hate Aix-en-Provence at all, nor do I hate France or French people. But after almost two months of semi-constant roadblocks popping up in my daily life, it’s all become a little overwhelming.

A little preview of my list of things I hate here: that everything useful closes by 7 p.m. and will also inevitably be closed Sundays, the tiny motorbikes that are somehow as loud as an airplane taking off, employees at stores either ignoring or being rude to you, and people making fun of my American accent.

Even now, I realize that in a few months, most of the annoyances on this mental list won’t even cross my mind, and I’ll be acclimated to life in France. But right now, I’m a little frustrated, and that’s okay.

Moving to a different country, especially one where a foreign language is spoken, is hard, and I can’t expect myself to seamlessly blend in after a few weeks. It’s also comforting knowing all the students in my program are experiencing the same frustrations to varying degrees.

Some of us have even reverted to our sleep-away camp days by telling our “peach” and “pit” at the end of the week. But even that helps, and it usually produces some funny stories, too.

For now, I’m trying especially hard to celebrate the little things.

I’ve found a favorite coffee shop that makes awesome cold brew (another thing hard to come by here), and the owners are even native English speakers. I read a great book last week on my day off (“Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes).

I’m in charge of planning a trip to Norway in November that I couldn’t be more pumped about. I don’t even have to wait for the weekend to visit the farmer’s market here — it’s every single day.

So while it’s still a little nerve-wracking to walk into a store or a class and speak French, I remind myself my French has already improved in two short months. Sometimes, people don’t even realize I’m American right away.

And while the first week of classes was hectic and confusing, the second week is already an improvement, thanks to some kind professors and well-meaning French classmates.

The first weeks in Aix were about taking huge leaps and bounds into a new life, and now that those are out of the way, I have to focus on the small steps towards true integration.

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