The car came to a halt. I had arrived in Sandreau, the home of a Toulousian girl I had not seen since childhood. Sunflower farms stretched as far as the eye could see and surrounded three stately farmhouses. A group of people stood outside waiting to greet me. One by one, I was introduced to members of the de la Fage Family. Five years earlier, I had met Claire de la Fage when she came to visit Seattle as a French exchange student. Now, at seventeen, it was my turn to travel solo and experience a new, foreign way of life.
That evening, we had the first of many memorable feasts. Family members seemed to trickle in from the countryside and by 9pm dinner was served. We sat outside at long tables eating and talking for hours as we discussed politics, religion, languages, science, and philosophy. We compared religious credos and linguistic structures, moral values and political agendas, and covered everything from immigration to genetic engineering to a priori conceptions of reality. The policies and international affairs of Bush, Obama, and Sarkozy also consistently arose in our nightly conversations. I quickly fell in love with the French culture and its emphasis on large family meals, as well as the ability of French people to converse freely and deeply for hours at a time. I realized that such discussions allow for appreciation of diverse ideas, and facilitate a better understanding of varied world perspectives. I now see great value in the art of thoughtful conversation and, though a bit scarce in the hasty American culture of fast food and rushed interactions, I try to initiate it at any opportunity.
As the Sandreau days passed, I became more comfortable conversing in French. Forming sentences was challenging, but I noticed that I was actually beginning to think in French. I was able to speak without having to consciously concentrate on grammar and vocabulary. The French language was permeating my subconscious, and my thoughts started to come together in French rather than English. Undeniable evidence of this came during my last night in Toulouse when I dreamt in French. I had heard stories of people becoming so immersed in a foreign language that they begin to dream in that language, but I had always been skeptical of this. Despite my doubts, I had a vivid dream in which I was dining outside at Sandreau and conversing casually in French with Claire about the exquisite food. Quand je me suis reveillÃ©, j’Ã©tais Ã©tonnÃ© et j’avais faim!
After my summer stay in Toulouse, I returned to Seattle and reanalyzed my values and philosophical ideas. Many of my former values now seemed idealistic and even narrow-minded. After having been exposed to French perspectives on consumerism and mondialisation, I now understood the problems they cause. I feel the need to inspire changes in our nation’s outlook on such issues, and I find myself searching for things that could improve the condition of the world. Through experiencing another country and culture, I have come to understand that my view of the world is very limited. Living purely in one culture causes one to miss out on the issues and ideas that exist in the rest of the world. My perspective has become more global and grounded, while my outlook on life is open and ready for new ideas. As a result, I have a strong desire to explore the unknown, become immersed in other cultures, and examine world perspectives. I believe the key to understanding such diverse perspectives begins with a respectful understanding of others’ languages and cultures.
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