My high school voyage to Toulouse, France began as fifteen fellow classmates and I boarded the March 28th Air France Flight 27. Although I was familiar with the pressurized cabin of an airplane, this trip marked my first time traveling outside of the U.S. Fortunately, I had already met and housed my French correspondent Alexandre in the fall and we had become good friends.
The plane took us to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris and we transferred and flew south to Toulouse, where we would stay for the next week and a half. After landing at l’aÃ©roport Toulouse–Blagnac, I met my exchange student and his kind mother and learned how to greet with French bises. I was welcomed by warm weather, but Alexandre told me to expect colder temperatures throughout the week; nevertheless, thanks to our frequent e-mail correspondences, I had come prepared with plenty of warm clothing. We left the airport, and after racing down the tiny roads in a tiny car, we arrived at my host family’s lovely maison in Colomiers. I was shocked by its enormity and elegance, but also by its darkness. Traversing a dark, squeaky hallway wasn’t helpful with acclimatizing to the separation between the salle de bains and les toilettes, but I learned that the family strived to save electricity by keeping all lights off when not in the room.
During the week, our American group toured Toulouse and the surrounding country. We hiked up a steep mountain to the last Cathar Stronghold MontsÃ©gur, toured the Airbus factory (Toulouse’s leading industry), and roamed the enormous medieval castle Carcassone, but some of the most impressive places we visited were the churches. I had never thought of churches as architectural feats, but after visiting the astounding Basilica St. Sernin, the CathÃ©drale Sainte-CÃ©cile in Albi, and the Jacobins church and monastery, I gained a new appreciation for these beautiful buildings.
The week of tours was stunning, but the weekend spent with my host family was even more spectacular. For the holiday weekend, my host family took me Easter egg hunting at Le Chateau de Merville and we drove to BessiÃ¨rs to witness and taste L’Omelette GÃ©ante (the world’s largest omelet). After that, we went to an exhilarating zip line/rope challenge course in Rieumes called TÃ©pacap. In addition to new sights, my host family introduced me to wonderful French cuisine. For the first time, I savored cassoulet du canard, pain au chocolat, foie gras, fromage franÃ§ais, and more. Along with watching a comedy at a Toulousain CafÃ©-ThÃ©Ã¢tre called 3T, ice skating with Alexandre’s friends, and learning to play the French card game Tarot, this weekend was truly the highlight of the trip.
Even though our next stop was Paris, it was saddening to leave the wonderful city of Toulouse. In La Ville Rose, my eyes were opened for the first time to French culture, my ears to French language, and my palate to French cuisine. In the short stay, my world was expanded into a humbling and new vastness. However, I was most changed by the realization that the French language is not merely a textbook lesson; it is a way of life. Speaking French in a real-world context significantly strengthened my language skills, and even though I didn’t exchange enough Euros and forgot to take pictures of myself, the pride of hearing my host family telling friends “Il parle franÃ§ais” was worth the entire plane flight. This trip revitalized my interest in furthering my French language education and helped me decide to continue French next year as a senior.
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