Mariah McDaniel

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite cartoon films was Thumbelina (1994). I fell in love with the singing of Jacquimo, the quirky French bird. I also was intrigued with his description of Paris. His first line still rings a bell in my mind, “Welcome to Paris, City of Love.” I wished with all my being to travel to Paris and see this phenomenon myself. Another verse imprinted itself into my brain as well. It is a lyric from the song, “Follow Your Heart”: “You’re sure to do impossible things, when you follow your heart.” These sayings resonated with me as I walked the streets of Paris, after my last day at my internship, confidently strutting along without using my Plan de Paris. 

Prior to that I spent endless days running along the city, lost and puzzled, trying to read the map. I felt invigorated and on top of the world, or shall I say, the Eiffel Tower, when I finally bested that perplexing map. However, the journey it took to finally become confident enough to utilize my own abilities required me to struggle through a bigger obstacle, the dreaded language barrier. 

I felt its effects within the first 24 hours of being in Paris. It seemed to me that every person in my group had developed strong French in school. They could waltz up to a friendly francophone and ask anything they desired, but I struggled to comprehend simple phrases. One fated night my group and I were having dinner at the best crêpe restaurant in the world, La Crêpe Dentelle. Breeze and Negina, our group leaders, challenged everyone to speak French for 20 minutes until our food arrived. I was mortified. It was as if I was the foreigner at the table. I grew more and more exasperated each second. Luckily, Negina saved me the embarrassment and took me outside before I cried an ocean. It took her a while to calm me down, but she assured me that I have to try speaking and trust in myself. The feat almost seemed impossible to hurdle, but miraculously, I felt a new change brewing within. After leaving La Crêpe Dentelle, I looked back upon the small, intricate restaurant and thought, “I am going to return and redeem myself.” With that declaration, I ran into my host family experience, head strong with muscles flexed.

Amusingly, my host family knew less English than I knew French. However, I stuck with my guns and successfully butchered many conversations with my semi-horrific French. Sometimes, my family understood me. Other times we had awkward moments of silence mixed with confusion and burst into laughter soon after. By the end of my stay, I can truly say I held true to my word. I was prepared to travel back to Paris and try to leave my native tongue during my internship. Coincidentally, my internship happened to be at La Crêpe Dentelle. It felt as if the universe heard my declaration and wanted to lead me to success.


During the three days at my internship, I connected with the restaurant owner and their granddaughter on a deep level. The granddaughter specifically was my biggest supporter. She forced me to share my life story with every single customer in French. Even though I messed up a lot, she still encouraged me everyday and became my personal cheerleader. By the end of my internship, I felt more at ease with the language. I didn’t care that I wasn’t fluent. I was proud that I survived that experience and established a sense of confidence in myself. I felt so exhilarated and motivated to tackle more challenges, that I decided to walk home that day without depending on my Plan de Paris. 


Thinking back to the classic movie that started it all, I now see that Jacquimo was correct. I could do anything that I deemed impossible if I followed my heart. The language barrier seemed unfeasible, but I followed my gut and never gave up. Now I feel that I can do anything I put my mind to, all thanks to my travels with Student Diplomacy Corps. 


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