Once Upon a Lifetime

By: Ariel Tachna

Friday, June 21

I probably should have written that in French. I probably should be writing all of this in French, but this is still my personal journal, and English is still my native language, even if I’ve worked my butt off over the past year to get my French to a level that will let me live and work in Grenoble for a year.

It’s really here. I’m having a little trouble believing it, to tell the truth. When Dr. Kasinski first mentioned his collaboration with Dr. Besson and how he hoped to send one of his students to France, I never thought I’d be the one selected. I worked for it, but I didn’t really think it would pay off. I mean, I’m a bio major, not a French student, despite the six semesters I’ve taken, but it turns out Dr. Besson was impressed enough with my résumé that he accepted me even with my less-than-perfect linguistic skills.

He did, though, and he’s done more than I could have imagined to make everything come together. The paperwork went through in record time, I have a place to live for the year with a nice family who has a son close to my age at the local university, he got a hotel room for me in Paris for tomorrow night so I can sleep before I have to take the train, and I have the train ticket in my bag. I’m almost afraid to meet the man in person because I’ll end up babbling my gratitude until he fires me to get me to shut up.

At least I know I won’t miss my flight. Mom thinks I’m crazy, getting here three hours early, but I’d rather sit in the airport than risk missing my flight. I’ve got about an hour left until we start boarding. I thought about going to the bar and getting something to drink, just because I can, but I don’t like beer, I don’t know anything about wine (the French are going to think I’m such an ignorant American, but there’s nothing I can do about it since alcohol was strictly prohibited on campus and drinking off campus was a violation of the Honor Code), and mixed drinks give me a headache, so I’ll just have to sit here and write in this journal.

Here, where I can be honest with myself because no one else will ever see it, I can admit to being scared to death. I’m a small-town kid from East Texas who went to a conservative Christian college. I’m a barely out of the closet gay man with no idea what to do about it. I’m so out of my league here. Everyone keeps telling me this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they’re right. They’re so right. It’s why I’m sitting here in the Dallas airport despite the churning in my stomach. I just wish we’d start boarding so I could feel like I was doing something. Yes, I know, I said I’d rather be here early than miss my flight, but that doesn’t mean I like waiting.

I am totally rambling here, which I guess is okay since the idea is to record my thoughts about this whole year as it happens, but I think maybe I’ll go for a walk around the airport. It’s a long flight to Paris. Stretching my legs now is a probably a good idea.

I’m back. Not sure my nerves are any better, but at least I got some exercise. I’ll be glad of that when we’re halfway across the Atlantic. The other really cool thing? I heard a boarding announcement for a flight to Montreal in French and then in English, and I understood the French announcement even without hearing the English one! Maybe I won’t be as hopeless when I get over there as I thought I would be.

I know I won’t fool anyone into thinking I’m French, but on a flight to Paris, the stewardesses should speak French, so maybe I’ll try out my skills on them too. Sort of get my feet wet slowly before I get thrown in the deep end. You hear these stories, you know? About how the French all speak English, but they refuse to admit it because they don’t like Americans. My French professors told me that’s a pile of shit (well, not in those words, since cursing was as forbidden on campus as alcohol), that if I was polite and made an effort, people would respond even if I made mistakes, but I can’t help being nervous.

I’m taking a huge risk, deferring admission to Baylor’s PhD program for a year to work in France. It’s a calculated risk. The experience I’ll get with Dr. Besson should give me a leg up on the work I’ll have to do as a grad student and eventually as a researcher myself, but if I don’t get some good results out of it, enough to get a good recommendation anyway, I could lose my place at Baylor. I guess if that happens, I can apply somewhere less prestigious, but it wouldn’t be the same. Not when I’ve had my heart set on Baylor since I decided I wanted to do basic science research. I mean, I’d be crazy to pass up the chance to study with the likes of Huda Zoghbi or Hugo Bellen. Then again, speaking French might be an advantage with Dr. Bellen, since he’s from Belgium.

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