The year I turned 21, I went on an exchange program to Pau, France. With every intention of immersing myself in the French language and culture, I soon fell into the expected rut of hanging out with those most like myself – at least most like my nationality. I spent all hours of the day and night with Americans. A motley crew, to say the least. A hippie, a scholar, an angst-ridden socialist, a newly divorced and experimenting homosexual, a small town cheerleader, an anarchist, a hairdresser, a cross country runner, a white girl who preferred dating black men, … and here I was. A white bread goody-two-shoes from Boise who knew nothing but church, family, and a whole lot of conservative status quo.
My semester with this lot gave me an infinitely richer education than my Bachelor and Master degrees combined. I learned what it meant to be open-minded, to appreciate people for who they were, and the gifts and talents they each brought to the table. I learned about living in community – of filling in the gaps for a friend when necessary and having confidence they would do the same for me in my times of need. I was introduced to foods and beverages, card games and books I never would have found on my own, and they in turn were introduced to me and my quirks – namely my penchant for tea (and red wine, as it turned out).
On one overnight excursion toward the end of the semester, a trip set just for the American students, we went to Toulouse and Carcassonne. At lunch before the journey back to Pau, we all sat together, trying to translate American pop songs into French (we had crashed a karaoke bar the night before). As we sat at the end of meal with our cups of tea, we ended with, “Stop in the Name of Love,” (or, “Arret a la nom d’amour”) as captured here.
My heart was breaking as I anticipated the end of the semester and facing the world without these comrades, and yet my cup overflowed knowing I had changed because of them. For the better.