At four in the afternoon, under the hot sun, my boyfriend and I dragged our luggage through the paved streets of Aix-en-Provence, France. We had the amazing opportunity to study abroad together in the same location and semester, but we also had the amazing opportunity of getting lost together without any cellular coverage or WiFi.
A few hours before our adventure, we had taken a flight from Sofia, Bulgaria to Nice, France. I had spent a week in Bulgaria visiting his family and experiencing life in a foreign country while knowing only three words. After that week, I had an idea of how the next few months in France would feel like, although I thankfully knew more than three words in French.
After the flight, we took a bus from Nice to Aix. Unfortunately, the bus had no WiFi so we could not call to arrange our pickup. With broken French, we managed to find a librarian who gave us access to WiFi to call our study abroad program directors. Thankfully, our host families lived just a block from the library.
My host mom was very welcoming, but she spoke to me only in French. This was France. I was here to study French. Yet, I was taken off guard because I was not accustomed to having a regular conversation in French outside of a classroom.
To get to her apartment, my new home, she helped me lug a very heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs (I never thought I would miss an elevator). Once we arrived, I met my two host sisters and their lovely cat. I also saw my room and was utterly amazed by the view.
Regardless of the amazing city and host family, the first day was rough. The first night I cried after I called my family. I went out to explore Aix at night, but I tried to convince myself that I did not like the city. It was too under construction and thus walking was a nightmare. It was not home.
The next day, as I continued to explore and to talk to people, I felt more at ease. I started to love the small things about Aix like the very cheap, but very delicious crêpes from Crêpes à GoGo or the numerous fountains that await in every corner. I realized I had not been giving Aix a chance because I was too focused on what it was not, home.
Perhaps right now Aix does not yet feel like home and waiters will at times switch to English when I struggle, but the most important thing I have learned and the best advice I can give is persistence. If they switch to English, continue to address them in French and politely ask that they do the same. If it does not feel at home, find small places or things that you like. Enjoy this new experience like enjoying a crêpe: Savor each bite!
Andrea Vazquez is the Fall 2018 CEA MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is currently studying at Soka University of America.