I still remember my first day of school in France. I wore my FuHsing hoodie for good luck (FuHsing is the high school I go to in Taiwan). As excited as I was, I was also scared to death. I had absolutely no idea what French high school students would be like, what they usually talked about, what cool things to say to quickly become friends with them?
It was the only day that my French parents drove me and Cassandre directly to school. Papa and Maman wanted to accompany me on my first day, and meet with the secretary before I was led into the school grounds. During the car ride Cassandre was super at ease, listening to music and doing her makeup. I, on the other hand, was trembling even though the weather wasn’t cold.
Soon, I found myself waiting around in the secretary’s office with Papa and Maman. The secretary was a nice woman who welcomed me with a kind smile, and after a few more reassurings and “no need to worry”s from my host parents, another lady came to collect me and two younger new students. Parents weren’t allowed on school grounds, so I had to say goodbye.
Sainte Chrétienne is a small private school situated in the city of Sarreguemines. Yet while I was following the lady through corridors, up flights of stairs, passing by door after door, I felt like I was in a maze. Part of me hoped that she would never stop in front of a classroom. But in the end, she knocked on a wooden door and it opened to a laboratory. The Physics teacher was standing by the doorway, and as I peeked into the room, I caught sight of my class. Obviously, they had all their attention turned onto me, and little gasps of astonishment were heard from here and there. I guess they didn’t expect the new student to be an Asian girl.
The Physics teacher briefly introduced himself and informed me beforehand that he was a fast speaker. I nodded silently while smiling a little bit at the same time. He then gestured for me to settle down in my seat.
I was too timid to look around, especially at the classmate sitting beside me. That didn’t continue for long, though. As the class resumed, everyone proceeded to take out their notebooks and jot down some notes. The boy beside me, who later introduced himself as Maxime, offered me a piece of note paper.
With a small voice, I answered that I have my own notebook, but thanks.
What followed was a seemingly non-stop lecture from the teacher, which I did not understand a bit. I’ve learned French for almost two years before coming here, but at that moment it was as if I’ve never heard the language in my life.
The bell sounded, indicating the end of class. Everyone rose from their seats, packing up their school bags and heading towards the door. The girl who sat in front of me (and whose long, sleek blonde hair I’ve admired for the entire first period) turned around and smiled at me, saying “Salut!” (Informal French word for “hello”. It means more like “hey”) I didn’t know her name, but her action made me feel a lot better on my first day.
Maxime and his friend Marie were extremely nice to let me follow them to the next class. As we exited the laboratory, two other girls joined us – Zeynep and Semiha. I explained in terrible French that I was an exchange student who didn’t speak much of the language. They were very understanding and did not get annoyed when I (very often) needed them to speak slower or repeat again.
We continued through the day and the last period was a HUGE relief – English! When the teacher began speaking in English, I was so excited and happy that I was finally able to comprehend an entire lesson. First we began with writing down some principal information about ourselves on a piece of paper for the teacher to know a little bit about us (we did this for almost every class on the first day, and I wrote “I don’t speak French” in French on every paper I turned in). Then our English teacher launched into a lecture that I listened very intently. She had a British accent and I liked it quite a lot.
Overall, my first day at school wasn’t bad. It wasn’t glamorous either – I spent the day stumbling through crowds of students that turned to look at me even though I did not do anything to draw attention; when some people came over to introduce themselves and talk to me out of curiosity, I often answered with “huh?”; teachers in class noticed the new Asian girl and asked tons of questions about my origin and reason for coming to France, and half of the time Maxime had to translate into English for me. Yet, I enjoyed it. I could feel the challenge coming and I believed I was ready to face it.