A Respite in the Pyrenees
Part of any immersion experience when learning a second language is to visit other regions where the language is spoken. I had the chance to do this last weekend as the students in our program took a trip to Roussillon, southwestern France, in the Pyrenees Mountains. This part of France at one time belonged to Spain in the 1400’s during the Aragon-Comte and therefore has a lot of Spanish influence. In fact Catalan (combination of French and Spanish) is still spoken here and many signs around the cities are in both languages. This area reminds me of the border region of El Paso; even though there are two distinct bordering countries, the cultures have still each retained their autonomy and primary language.
Roussillon is right along the coast of the Mediterranean and has many old fortresses and vineyards dating back to the 5th century. The Catalan culture is known also for their delicious figs, escargot, and olive oil. Roussillon was anexed back into France by Louis XIV in 1659 and had his architects build terraces into the mountains in order to support the vineyards.
Just as in the United States, there is such a contrast between the urban, fast-paced lifestyle and the laid back, coastal areas. Of course, the main industry is tourism and fishing so it is a great place to visit on vacation, but hard to maintain a lifestyle. My favorite city was Villefranche, a little village along the railroad which has a medieval fortress constructed in rose marble. There are only two narrow streets in this village with a little river running alongside it. If you climb the 800 steps up to the fortress, you are at the highest point of the Pyrenees Mountains and blessed with an incredible view (and noodle legs!)This trip was a nice little respite and a chance to get to know other students on the 5 hour train ride (each way!). One thing I discovered is that no matter what age of student you are or your place of origin, there are similar challenges to leaving home to go study abroad. It was nice to share our family stories and to know that we were not alone in this journey even though we come from countries from around the world. The greatest challenge of the weekend was returning back to the train station at 11:30pm Sunday night and trying to get back to my apartment. Of course, there were no taxis available so I ended up taking three different Metro lines to get back, lugging my bags up and down many flights of stairs and running to catch the few trains that are available this late at night! I’m sure I was quite a sight!
“Be it ever so humble”, there’s no place like my temporary home in another country!