Two weeks ago, Perpignan was a different world to me. I was like our circular, minimalist hotel, sticking out like a sore thumb next to all of the ornate, historic buildings. In Phoenix I had tried packing to fit the part. No matter how French I tried to look, the lost expression on my face was a dead giveaway. I was a tourist in desperate need of a map and a clue.
The independence that I had gained in the last three years at two universities was gone. I was back in elementary school where I needed a chaperone to walk to school. After three days I convinced myself that I knew the way to school, but my roommate pulled me along as I was about to cross a bridge—in the opposite direction of my school. I am not equipped with an inner compass.
Slowly throughout the next week walking from Point A to Point B became habitual. My feet carried me to my destination without too much thought and finally allowed me to appreciate my surroundings. I developed landmarks like a café where a French employee recognized me after I had struggled to order a sandwich two days in a row. I had also stopped attempting to ring a doorbell at a building that looks similar to the ALFMED language school where our classes are held. These were the breadcrumbs that guided me home.
I now have walked to school on my own. I have a favorite grocery store and I know where to find good shopping (I doubt this will surprise my family.) These steps may be small, but they are meaningful to me. I don’t feel like a tourist anymore. I’m not dining out for every meal and spending every day luxuriously. I’m working hard and blending into my surroundings. I am living in Perpignan.