On the Other Side

So, Middlebury was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It seems I caught the stomach flu yesterday, and as I was recuperating I was realizing how exhausted I am. Between all the miscommunications and other stresses, it’s amazing that The Frenchman and I are still in love — oh la la! Such overwhelming stress I’ve never known. It was particularly stressful for me because I wasn’t just a student. I was his companion and for lots of reasons I needed to accompany him to some of the various faculty functions. Not all, but a lot of them. I turned down lots of invites for excursions with his friends so that I could study and complete the homework. But I couldn’t just be a student. I had two different lives.

Finally, I cracked. I told The Frenchman that I wasn’t going to take the exams anymore. They were causing me an ungodly amount of stress (in addition to the horrific weather and being communicatively incapacitated). I wasn’t getting either a grade or credits, so it made no sense to do something that was making me sick and demotivated. Plus, it freed me up to do some of the things I needed to do with The Frenchman. When we approached my professors, they agreed; in fact, the wife of one of my professors did the exact same thing when she was with him as a debutante student two years ago. Also, the “French only” thing went out the window early with The Frenchman. We mostly spoke French but spoke English when I needed to understand the timing and coordination of events: an outing, a meeting, a romantic rendez-vous. All important stuff when you’re trying to manage a relationship in addition to school work.

There’s a reason Middlebury is so prestigious: it’s intense and it works. It’s like linguistic bootcamp. And largely the beginning students don’t realize what they’ve learned until they get out. It’s true for me, anyway. It wasn’t until yesterday as I was listening to “Sadeness” by Enigma that I suddenly realized that I understood the whole song (the French lyrics, anyway). It’s not a complex song, sure, but still. By the last night of the program, I was sitting with the 10-year-old daughter of one of the professors and she was explaining a famous French comic book (Asterix and Obelix) — but I didn’t need help with it. I understood it almost perfectly (and her as well). When I met her at the beginning of July, I could barely pronounce her name much less talk to her.

For me, the most significant psychological change was that, for just over four weeks, I didn’t know how to say “I should.” I could say “I need” and “I will (do something)”. But I had no idea how to say “I should do (fill in the blank).” We had the word “devoirs” which means both “responsibilities” and “homework,” but had not yet learned that “devoir” was the verb for “I am obligated” (that is, I should). Freaky mental reprogramming for a Type A like me. It probably helped my decision to overthrow the exams!

At my host’s house, they have lots of French literature and such. I’m indulging and studying when I can. I’m going insane without Internet access, not just because I can’t research as I’m writing like I’m accustomed to, but because the TV is the most obnoxious source of news on the planet. Fuck, man, it’s the most obnoxious thing in the universe. I fucking HATE IT. I’ve been scrolling through hundreds of cable channels and literally there is nothing to watch. The Frenchman calls me every day and says that tomorrow our DSL will be working at the house in Aix. I’ll be far away, but still connected.

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