Sunday, July 10, 2011

French Lessons

When I came up with this title, it occurred to me that it would be an excellent book title.  All I have to do is take a year off from school, move to the South of France and have tons of crazy life experiences that I can form into a book.  No prob.  Of course, when I googled this potential book title, I found that only a bazillion authors have already used it.  Darn.  I guess I'll have to come up with a new one...

Aaaaanyway...  I've been back home for a few days now and have been trying to get caught up on sleep, get back in the correct time zone, and digest everything that happened over the last week and a half.  To be honest, I'm not totally sure where to begin.  What I can say, though, is that every trip I take seems to provide me with a number of opportunities to learn important life lessons.  Maybe, instead of recounting the trip moment by exciting moment, I will share with you a few of the lessons I learned (or at least I hope I learned...).
1.  Travel can be stressful.  Losing your cool won't help anything.  In order to get to my final destination (Montpellier, France), I had to go through what seemed to be a major ordeal.  Drive to Omaha, fly to Minneapolis, fly to Amsterdam, fly to Marseilles, France, bus from Marseilles airport to train station, train to Montpellier, cab to bed and breakfast.  Phew.  I'm exhausted just typing that!  And the way home was more of the same.  At times, I found myself thinking things like, "What if I don't make my flight to Amsterdam?  What will I do then?"  Or, "I freaking HATE sitting in the middle seat!!!!!!!!!!!"  Or, "What happens if I get to Marseilles or Montpellier and no one speaks any English?"  But then I remembered that stressing out wouldn't do me any good.  If I missed a flight, I'd get the next one (and go out and explore Amsterdam a little).  When I was so cramped I could barely move, I tried to sleep, or I got up and walked around the plane.  If I couldn't find anyone that spoke English (an unlikely fate), I would pull out the trusty phrase book I bought (a real lifesaver!) and fumble through, word by word.  Bottom line?  I knew I'd make it there eventually; I knew everything would be ok.  Stressing out wouldn't have changed anything and would have gotten a fab trip off to a rocky start.  I kept my cool - for the most part - and the trip was better for it!

2.  Traveling alone can be good for the soul.  Traveling with a friend, significant other, or family member provides a buffer.  It helps you remain in your comfort zone.  When you're alone, you feel exposed and vulnerable.  With no one to walk with, to look in shop windows with, to eat with, you are left alone with yourself - your own thoughts and your own insecurities.  Sometimes it can take us years to face up to those things when we're living day in and day out in our own comfort zones, but little time in a foreign country by yourself can really speed up the process.  On this trip, there were times when I was all on my own (and many times when I was very much surrounded by friends and future colleagues).  I had time to read, write, think, and just generally enjoy being with myself.  I also had time to think about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to see.  I felt free and like this adventure was my own.

3.  When given the opportunity to have dinner with your idols, TAKE IT!!!!  This is an easy one, I know, but SERIOUSLY, this was the absolute highlight of my trip.  I met a lot of great anthropologists at this conference and a number of them came to my presentation on Sunday morning.  But, not only did I get to meet two of the women that I most admire (along with the wonderful Patricia Draper, one of my professors and mentors at Nebraska), I also got to have dinner with them!!!!  Sarah Hrdy is an anthropological icon.  She has written a number of books (3 of which I now own...) that have changed the way scientists think about women and female primates, in general.  She was also a part of a conversation several years ago that led to the idea I wrote about in my thesis.  Jane Lancaster is every bit as iconic, having written a number of very important theoretical papers that have helped shape my sub-field of anthropology.  If I have even a quarter of the professional success either of these women have had, I will consider my career an outstanding one.  But, that's not all.  On a personal level, I absolutely cannot gush enough!  If I have even half of the personal success they have had as academically accomplished women, again, I will consider myself lucky.  I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to sit across the dinner table from them.

4.  And finally, my last piece of advice is this:  don't be afraid to speak a little French.  What I mean by that is, step out of the box, be a little uncomfortable, put yourself out there.  These are things that I struggle to do in my everyday life.  When I meet someone new, I don't always put myself (my whole self) out there.  When I encounter a new situation I don't always plunge in headfirst, living in a state (even if ever so brief) of discomfort.  Sometimes, I take the easy route.  But it doesn't get my anywhere.  Just like being too embarrassed to try any French would have gotten me nowhere.  I don't speak French, and I didn't know much more than oui, oui! and bonjour before I left (although, admittedly, those long afternoons in Hastings spent watching The Food Network improved my vocabulary some...).  But, I did my best.  I learned to ask for a sandwich:  Un sandwiche, s'il vous plaît.  I tried to pronounce as much of my dinner order as I possibly could (and often failed quite miserably).  I put on my very best French accent and risked looking like a fool.  

This trip was worth every penny I withdrew from my savings account.  The conference was great, my presentation went very well (I think!), and I had a chance to do some sightseeing around town and even go to see the Mediterranean Sea.  Professionally, as well as personally, this was a good move on my part.  I learned some important things about myself.  

But the last lesson is one I very much hope to hold onto:  to put myself out there and take some risks.  I'll be better for it.


    1. Good for you, Katie. I am glad you had such a worthwhile trip. I appreciate all of your "lessons," but I especially like number four. One of my most memorable moments in Italy was ordering cheese at a market in Florence--in Italian. It wasn't perfect, but it was effective, and the patient smile on the counter woman's face as I ordered was unforgettable.

    2. What an incredible trip, Katie! It sounds like an amazing journey of self-growth and discovery. And probably a much needed vacation! Congratulations on your presentation and many new contacts! Can't wait to see you and hear more about it!

    3. I just began following you :)

      I visited France a few years back, and Southern France has got to be one of the most gorgeous places I've ever seen, hands down! But you're right- travelling can be very stressful, especially when things don't go as planned. I'm glad you had fun though!

    4. Hi Ash! Nice to have you! :) I LOVED Southern France and would love to go back someday - preferably after taking a few French classes so that I can say more than "baguette"... haha