- New York, Paris, Lille
I stood with my backpack on and my boarding pass in hand, feeling on my face the many little gusts of wind produced by countless men and women rushing past me in crisscrossing paths, looking neither to the right nor to the left, their trim, rolling luggage in tow.
I pressed play on my cheap MP3 player and put it back in my pocket. Familiar piano strokes quickened my heart as I situated my earbuds.
"You don't know me,
and you don't even care.
You don't know me, and you don't wear my chains."
I was completely on my own in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport, the largest I had ever navigated. I was sixteen years old, and I was on my way to live in Northern France for six months.
My French teacher had given me the idea last year, in French II, in a roundabout way.
"Would anyone like to host a French foreign exchange student next year?"
I raised my hand. "Host? What if we'd rather be a foreign exchange student?"
"I guess that could work too," she said, cocking her head to the side.
To our knowledge, no one from my high school had done that before, at least not within the last thirty-five years.
I approached my mom about it one Saturday with a colorful study abroad catalog in hand.
"Hey, mom, so, there's this program, and, um, I could live in France for six months, and I would become fluent, and I really think it would help me with my college admissions. . ."
I fully expected to hear, "No way," in light of the cost, not to mention the risks.
Instead, in her quiet way, she said, "Okay, well, yeah, let's talk about it."
Bless her heart.
My French teacher then worked tirelessly to help me bypass the waiting list and get accepted to the program. I enjoyed staying after school and watching her talk me up to people on the phone. She wrote me a nice, long letter of recommendation and warned me to live up to her embellishments in the last paragraph:
"Sarah's value system is rigorous. She sets high expectations for her conduct and has little tolerance for deviant behavior."
We smiled at each other. It was common for her and me to spend an entire period talking to each other, only for her to realize later on that I should have been in one of my other classes the whole time.
I told her I would do my best.