Accord Ecole de Langues - Travis
As the end of freshman year (high school) approached, I spent more and more time studying French. Although I had just begun the language, I found myself motivated and learning it in great detail, well in an advance of what the classroom had to offer. I borrowed a 2nd-year textbook from the library and was done with it by the time finals rolled around. I was so motivated because my father's side of the family didn't speak English-- as Persians living in France they spoke Farsi and French. I was tired of being translated for, tired of not being able to tell my grandmother I loved her.
After my French 1 final, I passed the French 2 final, and qualified for French 3 in my sophomore year. I'd caught up with my friends who'd started French in middle school. At this time I was seeing my father less often due to the rigors of high school academics and social life, but after the semester was finished, I proudly told him I was skipping a year of French. "Speak to me in French, then," he commanded me, and when I did, he said, "Your accent is terrible. I'm sending you to a boarding school in France."
And that was the end of the discussion. A few weeks later we got onto a plane bound for Paris. We hung out for a few days with relatives, then he dropped me off at Accord Ecole de Langues and I didn't see him for a month and a half. I found myself suddenly alone for the first time in my life, living in a boarding school with a bunch of other students, most of whom had sharply limited English skills, in a foreign country.
Music unrelated, but awesome.
You see, my father understood what it takes to really learn a language. You don't learn a new language by sitting in a classroom reading conjugation tables (though that helps), and you certainly don't learn a new language by spending an entire summer not speaking it. Dad wanted me to learn French the way he did, but using it, by being forced to use it, to interact with friends in daily life. When his family fled Iran in his youth, he suddenly found himself surrounded by friends who only spoke French, and learned it quickly and well. An immersion program would be the best way for me to learn as well.
I had a lot of adventures and made a lot of memories and friends during that summer, but probably my closest friend was my roommate, Travis. He was from the Bahamas, and spoke English fluently. His father owned a fairly decent-sized company involved in the tourism industry (I think offering cruises and excursions to visitors) that Travis was expected to take over some day. He was a bit on the short side, but broad-shouldered and loud enough to make up for any perceived height inadequacies. He also came from a different walk of life than myself.
With a few exceptions, I had a pretty boring, nerdy childhood. I got into my fair share of fights, and I was friends with the neighbors in Oakland, but otherwise I had all the weakness and privilege a middle class upbringing in a California suburb grants you. Living with Travis, though, I gained an insight into another world. Travis was an outgoing guy who made friends easily and hit on girls immediately. I imagine by now he's quite the ladies' man (though we haven't kept in touch). I was an outgoing dude but definitely didn't have any moves, so to speak, but living with a guy to whom such things came naturally helped my aptitude a bit.
Travis was also a reader. Like me, he devoured books, reading for at least an hour every evening. We had both brought several books, and after a couple weeks, having read them through, traded books. It was sitting on my bunk in Melun that I really found my love for science fiction. I read a book whose name I forgot, and encountered truly interesting ideas. The book included novel (if you'll excuse the pun) concepts about truth, consciousness, and language. Eventually the contents and title of it slipped away from me, except for the concept of "grok", a term in the book that represented both deep understanding and drinking. It wasn't until several years later that someone brought up the term in conversation when I asked him what it was from, and rediscovered Stranger in a Strange Land.
In the end, Travis and I parted ways, and we didn't exchange addresses or phone numbers.We exchanged posters, though-- we had each brought decorations to our room. I took home a gorgeous "Islands of the Bahamas" poster, and he took my "Yosemite National Park" poster. I have his poster on my wall to this day, and like to think that he kept mine. We both knew that the summer together was a piece of our lives we wouldn't get back, and that staying in touch over the years would be difficult. A clean break at the end would be best with a memento to look back on the good times of youth. I still have his email address, though, saved and forgotten in my contacts list. Sometimes, I consider emailing him, to thank him for being a good friend, for teaching me new things, and for making me feel less like a stranger in a strange land during my stay in France.