I come from a family of planners. On the eve of an average family outing we have a game plan and a plan B.
We know what time we will arrive and what time we will leave. We go about the day meticulously. In reality the planning and discussing is a way to try to mold structure over a world that is often overwhelming.
So now, naturally, before I leave for Aix-en-Provence, France, I am making a detailed list of what to pack and double-checking that I have all my documents and money in order.
Yet despite my familial predisposition toward micro-management, that is where the planning for my time in Aix stops. I have no highlighted maps, no penciled-in itineraries and no laundry list of to-do’s. OK, so maybe I have a few well-thumbed travel books as part of the old adage, old habits die hard. It is a feeling both terrifying in its brazen spontaneity and exhilarating in its possibility of serendipity.
The fact is that pre-planned expectations are impossible.
I have no idea whose faces I’m about to meet or what excursions I might go along on. The most I have to go on right now are the various romanticized fantasies I’ve had about a French adventure since I saw Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron swaying on the banks of the Seine in the film “An American in Paris” when I was in 7th grade.
When I was 13, I would imagine finding a French boy, preferably donned in an obligatory (or maybe stereotypically) black and white striped shirt with ascot and beret.
We’d fall madly in love, bien sûr, and I would follow him doe-eyed around Paris. These fantasies were always tinted in perfect cinematic lomography mist.
My Parisian dream. Lots of maturing, academia and conjugation tables later and many aspects of my ideal of a French escapade have changed, starting with an expanding French vocabulary and change of location from Paris to Provence.
The France dream is much more complex now. In lieu of scheduling, my mind is frazzled with anxious questions I have no means of answering at the moment.
Can I really speak French well despite having studied it in school for the past eight years?
Will my host family like me, and I them? Do I have enough money and will I blow through my budget?
One expectation I have is that the first couple of weeks will be the hardest.
I will be met with not only new people, but also jet lag and culture shock.
Yet when I think of how much I have wanted an experience like this and for how long, all of those insecurities and worries are dwarfed by the shear disbelief that I attained this. “I am going to France,” I mutter when I start getting worried about the future.
That sentence brings me back to this giddy place that just wants to travel and dream in a world untouched by disillusionment.
After all, the core of my dream still remains: explore a new culture and in doing so, explore a new sense of self. I’m off to find my own version of the Hollywood movie clichés, walking off into the sunset. I refuse to let go of romanticism, let the cynics say, “look at that sap, she will be eaten alive.”
For once, if only for four short months in my life, I will let the pre-meditation go and not get bogged down in the complexities of planning a future.
I am a vagabond breathing in the heady rambunctiousness of la joie de vivre and carpe diem.
Now let’s see if the plane can take off before I start hyperventilating.