Marie-Jo, my host mom, is currently waltzing around the house to a version of the song “Hallelujah” by a French musician she loves. She talks on the phone to her daughter as well, her voice fluctuating beautifully with each change of phrase.
“Vraiment?!” she exclaims, as her dog, Groubille, watches her curiously from his perch on the stairs. “C’est tres bien,” she says to her daughter. Her voice is animated and sweet sounding.
The rain has not stopped since I came home from school. I opened my window, with its charming white and red curtains catching the wind, to let the smell of the fresh weather wander in. I haven’t heard such pleasant sounding rain in ages.
Today makes it two weeks since I arrived in France and I have learned more about myself and my ability to adapt than I could have ever anticipated. For one, I am not as timid and shy as I thought when it comes to getting the most out of my experience here. Le semaine prochaine, Marie-Jo was kind enough to drive two of my friends and I to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a gorgeous seaside town in Basque Country. Yesterday, my classmates and I went cheese-tasting at rural farm in the foothills of Pyrenees. How wild is that? The authenticity of these places has been wonderfully refreshing and incredible. This upcoming weekend, we are headed to San Sebastian. I can’t begin to contain my excitement about adding a new stamp to my passport and experiencing a new place.
As for my French-speaking ability, it’s been better and I can not wait to have a conversation with Marie-Jo without having to pause and think about how to conjugate a verb before I speak.
With the language and adventure aside, and all of the plans everyone wants to make to travel and get the most out of living here for three months, I have fallen hopelessly in love with this new hometown of mine.
I have also realized what it truly means to explore.
I may be abroad in a new country, but that doesn’t make me an explorer. I may have a passport, and speak a bit of French, and have a ridiculous desire to camp in the Pyrenees for the rest of my time here, but that doesn’t make me adventurous.
In an article from one of my favorite blogs, she-explores.com, artist Jess Gibbs, who is currently living on the road, talks about these same understandings.
She says, “‘I do have a van... but that’s not what you need to actually explore. What you need is open eyes and a desire to see the beauty that really does surround you.’”
I’ll admit, noticing the beauty around me has been tough lately with this whole culture shock thing making itself very real in my life. But with that, I discovered the joy of getting to know Pau better, and how to have an open mind about everything (including escargot).
The first step to becoming an explorer is to be open and understanding of the beauty in the different. It’s also harboring that longing to find the beauty in the seemingly insignificant things that surround you. You don’t even have to go to a different country to become an explorer or to be adventurous. Having the desire to simply notice the beauty in the mundane, or in my case, the culturally uncomfortable and new, makes you an explorer.
An adventure can do wonders for the soul, but to get the most out of that adventure developing the mindset of openness to see the beauty in the different or even in the challenging has to come first. Nothing is “worse” or “weird” here, it’s simply different. And with that kind of different comes beauty only if you have the desire to notice it.
I can hear the bells of a nearby church that seem to ring whenever they feel so inclined. Sounds of plates and silverware are coming up from the kitchen and Marie-Jo is still singing along to her music.
Groubille, her adorable dog, now sits on my feet, looking up at me expectantly, as I write this.
The rain is still falling and the curtains of my window are still billowing delicately in the cool breeze of a fast-approaching fall.
I am still figuring out how to be French and the world is still beautiful, even if I can’t see it all the time.