My son is traveling overseas for the first time, and I prayed that it would be a glorious, life-changing trip for him.
Surrounded by church friends and armed with a confident, likable personality, I doubt he will be homesick and I hope he will have a grand experience.
This morning’s happy bon voyage caused me to remember my first overseas experience, only 36 years ago….
When I left my Midwest suburb, I thought I looked totally acceptable — even cool — in my preppy boat shoes, wide-striped rainbow polo and Kelly green chinos. My hair was freshly home-permed into a bushy, easy-care halo around my pudgy face.
Our French teacher, Madame Fansler-Wald, headed up the trip to France, starting in Paris with a one week family stay. A series of pre-trip planning sessions told us what to pack and what to leave home: “Don’t pack too much! Leave lots of room for souvenirs.”
At that season of my life, I thought so little of makeup that I decided I would lighten my luggage by leaving makeup at home — all 3 ounces of it.
When it was time to leave, my whole family could stand at the gate and wave goodbye, because this was the innocent, trusting 1980’s.
Au revoir! See you in 3 weeks!
My hollow carry-on and I landed in Paris and each student was shuffled off for one week with their Parisian host family.
Pascale DuClosel was my teen counterpart in the host family — she was short, dark and aloof. She sported a fashionable, cropped hairdo and wore mini skirts and high-heeled pumps. She lived in a stylish flat with her mother and father, who were also aloof but pleasant, and spoke less English than Pascale.
That first night — and every night — I sat alone in the sparse European guest bedroom and drew out my Bible. Trying to ward off homesickness, I read big chunks of the comforting Psalms; they have been my best friend ever since.
For breakfast we bought fresh, long loaves of French bread and ate them slathered with real butter and exquisitely lumpy marmalade.
Pascale showed me her neighborhood and some days we sat at the sidewalk cafe with her friends. It didn’t take long to soak in the fashionable, French atmosphere, and I recall the moment I saw my frumpy reflection in a shop window and looked down at my sensible shoes.
Suddenly, I felt like a farm hand that had parachuted into an elegant, sophisticated party.
And, I must have missed the unit where Madame talked about French greeting customs. Pascale’s friend Stephen said goodbye to me one afternoon with a typical double side-cheek air kiss; I cringe when I remember how I innocently turned my face at the wrong time, getting an unintended smack on the lips from Stephen and a scornful look from Pascale.
I was relieved when the host week was over, and we gathered as a group again. The rest of the trip was like a magical dream, visiting giant castles along the Loire River, touring Monet’s charming pink cottage and day-tripping into Switzerland to eat ice cream at sunset.
Before leaving France, I bought those souvenirs that were supposed to fill up my empty luggage. They included: makeup, a light blue denim mini skirt, and one pair of pink and white leather pumps.