“I know all about Chicago,” Andreas announced proudly. “Basketball and Al Capone.” I was relatively content to discover that the reputation of the Windy City preceded me no matter where I went in the world. I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces and a totally foreign environment. The setting was the South of France, I was sixteen years old, and this was the first time I have ever traveled without my parents. After many years of French classes, I felt prepared to fully immerse myself in the language and culture. My experiences in the immersion program have laid the foundation for one of my strongest beliefs; I believe that sharing a common language is what unites people the most.
Since the beginning of high school I have been very passionate about the study of French. My fascination with the language began when I held a conversation entirely in French with a police officer. I explained to her the circumstances surrounding the theft of my mother’s wallet on the Metro. I left the police station thinking to myself, “Hey, that was pretty good.”
The two weeks I spent studying in Nice were heaven for someone like myself. The sun, the Mediterranean Sea, the food, and the people coalesced into an inspiring, and enlightening, experience. I had the pleasure of making friends with roudy Spanish students, friendly Egyptians, stuck-up Italians, and so on and so forth. I left France with unforgettable memories, a nice tan, and a profound understanding of foreign languages.
The finest lesson I learned during the time I spent abroad was not taught in the classroom. It had nothing to do with vocabulary words or conjugating verbs. It was simply the unifying power of language. English is my first language and the easiest for me to use, so unfortunately I sometimes speak without thinking about my choice of words. In French however, each sentence is carefully constructed in my head before my lips begin to move. Sometimes I even picture the words in front of my eyes while speaking. My Spanish roommate Pablo and I had many unforgettable, late night conversations in French. Some of the things he would ask were “Do you have a gun in your house?” or “Do you like Mexican people.”
The inquisitive nature of all humans in combination with the need to communicate ideas was without a doubt the driving force behind all of the relationships I made. It was difficult for me to effectively communicate all of my thoughts but the fact that everyone else was struggling made each conversation like the transcontinental railroad, and the golden spike was the French language.
My decision to study French has had an enormous impact on my life. For example, last summer I took a course at Alliance Française de Chicago where I met Francophiles both young and old. Two middle-aged doctors in my class named Stuart and John had nothing in common with me. However, I learned that I could laugh and converse with them simply because of our mutual love for French. I believe that sharing French as a common language with total strangers has allowed me to bridge cultural gaps and forge lasting friendships.