Moving to Paris was one of the best things I’ve ever done, but it caused considerable anxiety. It took some serious over-thinking and analyzing, thanks to some fears and unfounded trepidation. But I’m so glad I did it because I learned a lot about myself and became fluent in French in just a few months. In order to learn french using the best method I know of, immersion, I had to overcome some mental roadblocks and push through some self constructed barriers.
In 2012 I was in my late thirties. Business was good, but my love life less so. I was starting to panic about not being married. Even by big city standards, the late 30’s is behind the curve. I was getting comments by well-meaning friends who I’d occasionally run into who would say things like, “So you never got married, did you?” As if to say, “you didn’t get married when you were of ‘marriage age’ and now that phase of life has passed.” There were many comments like that and they didn’t help.
My neurological clock was ticking
I started to feel like I needed to devote all my time and energy to dating and finding a wife. Just like a watched pot never boils or the intense pressure causes Shaq to miss all his free throws in the finals (or any other game), it just wasn’t happening. More than that, I wasn’t happy. I felt my life was on hold until I completed this quest. I can relate to girls my age who feel the biological clock ticking. My clock wasn’t biological, but maybe neurological. It’s an uncomfortable feeling which left me feeling stuck.
I felt stuck because on the other hand, I have always had a desire to learn and progress. School has always been fun for me. I would be a professional student if schools would pay me to attend, rather than charge obscene tuition.
My nieces and nephews are all in immersive French elementary schools and starting to get pretty good. I wanted to be like them, but remember my first experience with a foreign language was when my mom enrolled my siblings and I in French lessons and all I remember is we learned our alphabet and colors. I learned a little, but it didn’t stick.
Taking French again in 8th grade gave me serious doubts my teacher even spoke the language. He showed us a lot of videos with a dancing pineapple that wore a beret. Not the best way to learn. Later, I took an advanced french class in college to impress a girl. The girl may have been impressed, but no one in France would have been. I didn’t yet know the best way to learn a language.
So what do being single and learning French have to do with each other?
Having completed my MBA and some other self-improvement projects, I was ready for my next project and had decided learning French would be my next endeavor. The only problem is that I felt I should stay home and keep dating. I was torn between improving myself and advancing my love life.
I know many others my age felt the same things. It’s the reason so many older, single women have masters degrees. They don’t wait around for a guy to come calling – they progress on their own. I admire the drive it takes, especially given that some men find educated women intimidating (something I’ll never understand).
When I was a teenager, my mom went back to school to become a high school French teacher. Part of her preparation was to go to school in Paris at Eurocentre. I wanted to do the same thing, but something was holding me back. Was it selfish to jet off to Paris and leave my social life behind? Would I ever get married if I was in another country?
I soon found those fears to be ill founded and ridiculous.
I signed up for classes and got an apartment in the city center and instantly loved all of it, despite that fact I was there in winter and my heater didn’t work. 1 Winter in Paris is summer time in Brazil, so my school was full of Brazilian college students and grad students taking summer French classes to get college credit. Lucky for me, I lived in Brazil for 2 years and speak fluent Portuguese.
I was soon known as “the American who speaks Portuguese.” It’s not too common for Americans to learn Brazilian Portuguese 2. I made a lot of friends from all over the world and once again learned that people really appreciate when you make the effort to learn their language. Americans don’t think about this because so many people learn English. It doesn’t seem unusual that someone would learn our language. The more obscure a language, the more they appreciate it. It says you care about their culture enough to spend time learning it.
Of course, this is a generalization and not everyone will appreciate your broken French, especially not at the height of tourist season in Paris, in a busy shop, when the shop keeper is trying to help 8 people at once and you’re slowly looking up words in your dictionary in an effort to communicate.
At the end of my time in Paris, a new friend from my hometown suggested his desire to learn Italian and asked if I’d like to meet him in Italy to take Italian classes. We ended up living in Rome two different times and he became one of my closest friends. Yet another road I was able to travel because I got out of my comfort zone and chose adventure, rather than complacency.
Living and studying abroad taught me a lot about effective ways to learn a language. French was my third foreign language, but the first one I learned quickly. I learned how to learn and the most effective ways to learn a language. Skills that I would use to learn additional languages in the coming years. I wouldn’t have had those skills if I stayed in my comfort zone.
When we let fear take part in our lives it holds us back. I was holding on to the way I had always done things; afraid to try something new because I didn’t know where it would lead. By pushing through the anxiety I came out the other side a better, happier person and learned a valuable lessons.
Lifelong learning isn’t just about taking classes. The education we can get from doing uncomfortable things provides value for the rest of our lives and can lead to a more rich and incredible life. You never know what’s around the corner if you’re willing try something new and uncomfortable. I did and it took me down an amazing path that I’m truly grateful for.