After three months of facebook poking and emailing lists of questions and answers back and forth, R and I finally managed to meet up in person with the four Sciences Po students heading to UW next year.
Our rendez-vous was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so at 15h I was waiting in rain boots and a trench coat in the pouring rain outside of métro Odéon. I’d been there for less than a minute when Thomas (one of the Seattle four) came strolling out up the métro stairs with two unrelated French boys. One of them had apparently “visited Seattle once,” but other than that, they had nothing to do with Washington and were just along for the café. A few moments later Marie and Gabrielle (two and three of the SciPo in Seattle group) arrived simultaneously from opposite directions and the six of us decided to move on to les Étages, a student-friendly café on rue de Buci, to shelter from the rain and wait for the rest of our party.
We sat outside on the covered patio, and as we watched the rain pour off the edge of the roof and waited for R and Leila (number four) to show up, Thomas suggested that we might be getting a good preview of life in Seattle. Just then, Rachael and Leila arrived, and R and I settled into our usual pattern of her railing on the Seattle weather (she’s a California girl, what can you do?) and me defending it as forcefully as you can possible argue the virtue of 240 overcast days per year. It’s really not as bad as everyone says, I told them – Seattle weather is actually pretty pareil with Paris weather. I feel like it rains just as much in Paris as it does in Seattle – and the summers here are not nearly as pleasant.
We spent an hour answering questions and giving advice, trying to explain the Greek system (Just watch the movie Animal House, it’ll explain better than we ever could…), lauding the joys of the IMA, and telling them that they simply have to get tickets for the Apple Cup, give us their reviews of the French boulangerie in Pike’s Place Market and make sure they live close enough to campus that they’re still immersed in student life.
When we’d exhausted our list of must-dos in Seattle, we transitioned easily into other topics of conversation. We spent a bizarrely long time discussing the political ability of Arnold Schwarzenegger with the fascinated Victor, before moving onto the ever-important question of “Which Ninja Turtle is the coolest?” (Michelangelo, of course). The Frenchies quizzed us with names of small and obscure towns in the middle of France to find out which we’d heard of or visited. I won quite a few points for having been to Collonges-la-Rouge, a tiny, odd and completely red (hence the rouge) town in Limousin.
After we passed our obscure French towns test, it was only fair that we moved on to the Washington state name pronunciation quiz. Marie found a pen in her purse, I dug out an old envelope, and R and I chuckled evilly as we wrote out our list. Not surprisingly, all six Frenchies tripped over Sequim, Puyallup and Oregon, but they did unexpectedly well with Chehalis, Enumclaw and Tukwila. I forgot to grill them on Hoquiam, but I suppose I can save that one for another day, another coffee.
We finally split up after two and a half hours of talking in rapid-fire French (it was excellent practice) about anything and everything. As we headed for the metro, R and I had the feeling that the two of us might be a little more excited to show the SciPoers around Seattle than they actually are to be shown around Seattle, though that’s probably due more to age than anything.
R and I are here for our third year of university – and as all French Sciences Po students are required to spend their entire third year abroad, you’d think the four future Huskies would be just a year behind us. School in France is arranged a little differently than back home – instead of preparing to spend a year abroad at the age of 20, as R and I did, our new French friends are only 18 years old. As excited as they are to spend the year in the U.S., all four seemed kind of terrified underneath their anticipation – which I completely understand. This year has been hard enough, moving to a foreign country with nothing but an acceptance letter to the university and having to find an apartment, figure out school and learn how to build a life in French – and I’m 21. I don’t think I could have done this three years ago – at least not without a lot more crying.
These kids are brave though, and they’ve been learning English since middle school. They knew when they applied to Sciences Po that they’d be spending their third years abroad, and choosing a program that allowed them to travel was a big plus for most of them. As nervous as they are, I think the hour R and I spent trying to pump them up about Seattle actually worked. Not only are they anxiously awaiting a year of concerts, free movies, interesting classes, the resources of a 50,000-person university, outdoor sports, Starbucks and the best Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Japanese food that I’ve ever experienced, but Rachael and I are now completely psyched about going back. Especially now that we’ll have four Parisian friends to take camping, ply with lattes and Ivar’s, invite to authentic American college parties and practice our French with.