2nd week of French school…
I felt happy way too soon.
The first week was usually unusual – I was the new kid and a bunch of people came to talk to me because they were curious. There was even once when one girl led me to meet her group of friends, and while I was chatting a bit with them, more and more people walked over to where we were standing, either to listen or to catch a chance to say a few words to me. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a huge crowd of students studying me intently and whispering to each other as if I were a rare specimen at the zoo.
I had trouble remembering the names of all the people that came forward to say hi. And I guess that’s one of the reasons that I was afraid to initiate conversations. I didn’t want to create awkward situations where I couldn’t even call the person by his or her name. Finding subjects to talk about was also a difficult thing because I’d only recently been involved in their daily lives and I was not updated on what happened in the past or what was happening at the moment. And the most important issue – I did not possess a high enough level of French to really get their conversations and jokes. I did not talk much either because chances were my grammar and vocabulary would be so bad that nobody could understand. Usually I sat with the same group and listened silently. When they laughed, I laughed along. Not because I found anything funny, but because I wanted to look like I fit in.
Soon I slipped into a void of depression. I felt like I was always hanging with the same group but I never talked. I contemplated if it was that I didn’t know what to say or we didn’t have things in common to discuss. Or maybe it was both. Personally I wanted to talk to different people and make more friends, but couldn’t find the courage. Besides, I’ve been hanging with the same people for such a long time already that I assumed others just categorized me into their group and decided not to change the situation.
I began to doubt myself. My warrior spirit from the day I left Taiwan all the way till the first week of school was nowhere to be seen. I questioned myself for the choice I made – was it a great decision or a massive mistake? What made me think that I could venture into this foreign world all by myself and survive?
When you blend in too much, you want to stand out. I did that by leaving home for a year. But when you really jump out of your comfort zone, you want to blend in again. This time, I couldn’t find a way. In this place where I catch attention just for my physical features, I hardly felt normal at all. And I desperately wanted to.
I thought I was never going to get myself out of this emotional mess. I was proved wrong again.
My third oldest host sister, Pauline, was an exchange student herself. When she was sixteen, she went to the United States for ten months. She understood completely what I was going through, telling me a few tales of her own “fitting in period”. She gave me a lot of advice and assured me that everything would get better soon. There were some important things to keep in mind though – exchange students shouldn’t stick with just one group and isolate themselves from other people. As hard as it may seem, it is always up to exchange students to take the first step and make friends. Students at school already had their companions and didn’t need more, so they wouldn’t make too much effort besides saying hello in the morning and goodbye after school.
Pauline also suggested that I talk to my host parents about the issue. And that I get some “me-time” over the weekend.
I did both.
And the result was amazing.
On the Saturday of the second week, Cassandre took me shopping in Sarrebruck, a German city just across the border. I was in need of warmer clothes, and I also wanted to relieve some stress by getting some new stuff. One always feels much better wearing new accessories!
Sunday, I binge-watched Shadowhunter episodes on Netflix until my host parents proposed the idea to go for a walk near the “schlöss” (german word for castle) in Forbach. I happily went along. It was chilly but I felt like I needed it. Perhaps the fresh air could give me a clear mind and a refreshed ego for the following week of school.
I wore a bright red top (that I bought on Saturday) the next Monday morning, without knowing that we would be taking class photos that day. When I got called to be placed in position, the woman gestured at me while saying, “jeune fille en rouge” (young girl in red).
During the free period we had at the end of the day, I saw a chance and snatched it. Elodie (the girl I previously mentioned who had long blonde hair and said hi to me on my first day) and Pertsh (an Armenian boy who makes a lot of funny jokes) were sitting on the couches talking and laughing. I knew both of them were very welcoming people, so I just headed over to them and sat down. They did not show any surprised expressions as to why I did that. Instead, they tried to talk to me in English because they wanted to practice. I’d do my best to reply in French, and it was hilarious. Soon, we were goofing around in the foyer, and before I knew it, I was rapidly making new friends (and adding more and more Snapchat contacts!). Julie and I shared the same taste in music; Rania and Sabrina were KPOP fans and it was something we could discuss on and on; I even got to know a girl named Elena, who was born exactly one year later than me, which meant our birthday was the same day!
Though I did feel a bit homesick during that depression week, the feeling quickly went away because I began to enjoy every day. Till this day, I haven’t shed a tear at all. I rarely cry, and even if I did, it is probably because I was laughing too hard. 🤣