Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Written 13 October 2009 at 9:14 p.m. Montpellier Time

My language class is split into two parts. Half of the time is devoted to grammar, the other half is designed to enrich our language comprehension skills. Grammar is self-explanatory, verb tenses, relative pronouns, and every other element of the french language. The language comprehension portion of the class is most entertaining, as well as, at times, the most painful. Often, we read a text, watch a television program, or listen to a recording and discuss the meaning of the passage. Our topics range from consumer products to politics and religion. It can be very dry, like last week's discussion on e-bay and how it has revolutionized the shopping world. I prefer the deeper subjects, politics, weighing in on theoretical laws, or gay marriage. It provides what I have come to value the most from France, learning about different cultures and how their environment back home has shaped the beliefs they hold. The conversation is contained within the boundary of our language skills. Nonetheless, if you take the time to piece together the broken french, you can learn a thing or two. Of course, there are sources that provide the views of distant places and people. I knew a thing or two about many of the cultures I have come in contact with before I arrived. From my experiences, I found this to be only half the story, the sum of facts and majorities. There is no back story, no way of piecing together why one thinks the way they do. Here, through daily interactions with several different shades and sizes of people, you get the real story, the backgrounds and influences that craft the religious views of someone from China and those coming from England or Sweden. I find it incredibly stimulating, far better than the beautiful buildings and castles lining french streets across this beautiful country. We have vast differences in the United States. If we take the time to research our history, our failures and victories, we can find the roots that lead to the flowering of our diversity in all its different forms and points of emphasis. On a much grander scale, the same is true of the global population. However, there is no common starting point to draw from. Each place has its own isolated story. We might share cultural similarities, we might practice the same religion or claim the same form of government. However, what did it take to get there? How has the past shaped our minds? How does it affect contemporary social structures? Each day, I keep these questions in the back of my mind. I am lucky, in Montpellier, the opportunities to crack these queries are all around me. It might be only one person's point of view from a land far away, but they know their home. They are a product of their environment and, like me, have an educated knowledge of what paints their country's picture. We, exchange students, have the privilege of being strangers. Our loneliness leaves us receptive and giving. We want to talk about things, we want to have friends. In this environment, we have no cliques to cling to other than ourselves, no security blanket of individuals who think and act in the same manner we do. We are united by our differences and have no problems sharing the stories of what separates us. For example, today, we continued our discussion on gay marriage. Mr. Gomez provided the topic, we had to choose whether we were against it or for it and state our reasons for the opinion. The conversation highlighted our differences with each, individual stance. Most people relate their opinions to home, to how such a subject is thought of and acted on by the cultures that make up their world. At times, I found my expectations of how one would respond disappointed. At other moments, I found them supported. Once class has ended and I have the benefit of hindsight, I always wish I could have said more, could have asked more questions, could have understood more of my friends' french. However, regardless of the difficulties, the conversation is always transformative, always expansive. Each one makes a dint in a generalization or two. Each stretches the sources of your opinions and beliefs, annihilating those that lean on falsity, ignorance, and prejudice, strengthening those supported by fact and feeling, and leaving unknowns, those social mores we accept because we find them all around us, yet claim no part of our spirit, a little more questionable, a little more uncertain and changeable. We become a little less american, swedish, or ghanese in thought and adopt a much more worldly outlook. An outlook concentrated and devoted to a certain region, yet can claim the influences of a dozen places. Perhaps, this is too dramatic. Maybe, this will fade with time and distance. Nonetheless, we have the chance to understand a little more about the lot of others. It would be disappointing to misuse this gift.

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