by Jordan Trabue
The sun’s beams tip-toe slowly across the water’s surface on a cool, misty morning in Strasbourg, France. I rise early, as has become my custom, shower, and set off for the day’s class on my bicycle. I’m here on the Language Immersion Study Award, shortened to LISA. Two months of deep immersion in a language of the applicants choice. I chose to study French in this quaint town, barely a stone’s throw from the German Border.
I cycle through Park Heyritz. I live with a host mother, a gregarious woman named Edith and her roguish cat named Cartouche. Edith’s house is old and well-placed in a patch of green trees surrounded on all sides by urbanism, so nestled away that from my bedroom window I feel as though I’m in a cottage in the woods, not in the park of a mini-metropolis.
I cross a bridge on my bike. The river Ill bifurcates and branches and braids through the city like arteries. The lapping sounds of water are so characteristic that one can’t imagine the city and river as separate. One imagines that in prehistoric times the river sat, ancient and ageless, waiting for the city to be built atop it.
Passing the shops and cafes and workers (it’s too early for tourists) I arrive at my language school. Inside is a menagerie of students from across the globe. Each of us has our own unique path bringing us to this school: a spouse of a Frenchman, a tradesman hoping to learn from a French master, a brilliant biologist hired by the local university, a dreamer who’s always longed to live in France, and me.
We study for three hours a day. I get on well with my classmates. We frequently meet outside of class to sample Strasbourg’s scenery. A monastery in the mountains, deserted castles in the woods, and wineries in the countryside, to name a few. We’re a crew that one would not imagine meeting in most settings. We all vary in our age, gender, and backgrounds. Yet we’re all bound by our foreignness. We’re all strangers in a strange land.
When class ends I cycle through the streets again. It is alive with the bustling of meandering tourists, speeding cyclists, playing children, and old men chatting away happily. I try to catch bits of French as I pass, mostly without luck. The city center is filled with buildings crafted in the Edwardian style, with wooden beams visible and white walls. At night when it’s lit by the orange glow of the streetlights one can feel as though they’ve been transported back to a warm medieval summer night.
On my way home I reflect on these past two months. The adventure of experiencing a new country. The strange taste of new foods. The winding, labyrinthian streets of the old world. The towering cathedrals. The train rides through bucolic farmland. The alien grammar and clumsy syllables of a new language. The fields of purple flowers. The ever-present lapping of the river water on stone.
It’s been two months that I wouldn’t change for anything. Learning the basics of French can help me in my career goals. More than that, experiencing the world helps me grow as a person. I’ll come back from this trip the same, but different. I will have more appreciation for cultures outside of my own, and more experience about people who live in other parts of the world. We come to university not only for knowledge, but for growth. To that end, my Language Immersion Study Award has been a resounding success.