Today was a beautiful day–it wasn’t raining, the birds were singing, and the early morning clouds hugged the upper half of the Alps as the reluctant sun rose from behind to start the day. I was unwilling to get up, but Felix’s friend from next door, Hélène (also Chinese) was coming to get me at 7am so we could ride the metro to school together.
The night before, I had stayed up maybe a little late talking to my French flatmates about school and life. They said that Swiss schools are actually really good compared to French schools, because the French universities like to go on strike and not do anything for a semester. We spoke in English with the X-Men movie on in the background in French, while their cigarette smoke perfumed the air and then escaped out the open windows. The mixture of my glass of wine, the French language, and light scent of smoke lulled me into a state of exhaustion, so after a shower, I went to bed with wet hair.
It might be an old wives’ tale that you will get sick if you go to bed with wet hair, but this time it worked. I woke up with my nose feeling like a river dam–all clogged up and nowhere to go, and my eyes felt like they were so far back in my head that the dark circles underneath were all that was left of my eye sockets.
After a Franglais-Chinese conversation with Hélène and over an hour of hurry-up and wait for the metro, we arrived at the exam for the school of French as a Foreign Language to see what level we should be placed in. The test was hard–it was multiple choice, and they gave you four different sentences and you had to choose which one was correct. My mind was racing so hard to think back to grammar class over three months ago, and I had made it halfway through the exam when the dam in my nose let loose all fluids like the Nile River. I was embarassed, I thought my life was over, that they would kick me out of the school and not care.
So I raised my hand, and all the proctor had to do was look at me and I said, with my heart racing, “J’ai besoin d’un kleenex…” and to my surprise, she smiled and handed me a bag of tissues.
Then it hit me–I communicated something I needed and someone who doesn’t speak my language helped me. I said that in French and she understood me! Maybe snot was flowing out my nose and she didn’t need to understand me, but it felt good to know that I could ask for things on my own.
Now you must know that I try not to sugar coat anything (it’s not the French way) but I do leave details out. It has been difficult adjusting to the language and the country and the weather, it’s been stressful dealing with a government I do not quite understand, and intimidating dealing with a Swiss bank. But, this here, is the good stuff. It’s the stuff that is worth the paperwork, and the foreign government, and the last minute shopping. It’s the stuff that studying abroad is about.
After the exam, Anna, from Italy, and I went to get our residence permits. We handled it by speaking French. I opened a Swiss bank account–in French. I bought a phone–in French! (But the phone ended up being in German…) I thought to myself–yes, I understand. And they understand me. There is no better feeling in the world between two people than understanding.
Anna was kind enough to come with me during all my errands and we spent the day wandering the City Centre. There were some beautiful photo opportunities, but unfortunately I left my camera at home today. It’s unfortunate because I found out how my university cuts their grass…they take a bunch of sheep and fence them in an area and let them eat all the grass and then when they are done, they move them to another area. It was a spectacle! À demain!