As all of my friends and family know, and what you probably don't, is that I am studying abroad next year in Lyon, France. I've taken French classes throughout my school career with the hope that one day I would become fluent. I haven't reached that point yet, but when I heard that the University of Oregon offered multiple opportunities for studying abroad in France, I applied earnestly, and, to my surprise, was admitted. I was then one step closer to my goal of fluency.
That was back in November of 2010, and I was a sophomore stumbling my way through journalism back-credit classes. In the months following, I received updates to my application. It was in May that I found out I had to apply in-person for my student visa in San Francisco.
I was excited because my friends' initial reaction was, 'road trip!' Brett, Sam and Schwartz were pumped to get on the road and eat all the In-N-Out Burger they could find. I, however, was frightened by the prospect of sharing a room three college-aged guys who were all on the fast-food diet.
With my appointment on Monday, July 11, my friends and I left early on Friday, July 8, for a three-day romp through San Francisco. After a high-speed burn through Medford, Redding, and San Rafael, we rolled over a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and I caught my first glance at San Francisco. The bridge itself was larger than I imagined, and I thought all the pictures, movies and TV shows had never done it justice.
We stayed at a place called the Inn on Broadway, which was on Van Ness Avenue. It was a quiet part of town - as quiet as a city of 7.4 million people can get. In comparison to Oakland, which is a notorious crime-laden city, San Francisco seemed mild. However, with bums lining the street, San Francisco has problems of its own.
The next few days were spent sightseeing. We went to Haight-Ashbury where even now, in the pre-teens of the 21st century, a select few brave individuals keep the simple yet formidable mindset that was conceived there 50 years ago. These aging hippies, with long stringy hair and unwashed clothes, are paying the price for all those nights spent searching for consciousness expansion in a pill. Their faces are warped and disfigured, telling of the harshest struggle they fight day after day in an attempt to keep their incompatible philosophy. A philosophy many in Eugene still carry, but one that's been lost by most other cities.
We went to Fisherman's Warf on Sunday and spent $8.25 on a world famous Boudin Bakery sourdough bread bowls. It was at the behest of Brett, who told us, 'you haven't lived until you've tried this.' We believed him, but had to fight the crowds of tourists and locals to get in. Once we finally sat down, we all agreed it was a meal well earned and worth every penny.
Ghirardelli Square served the largest sundae I'd ever eaten. The place was so packed we had a hard time finding seats, but we ate quickly and left before claustrophobia could set in. Afterwards we perused the Pier 39 shopping mall, which included both a keychain and magnet store. My friend Sam said, 'Only at Fisherman's Warf would a keychain and magnet store actually turn a profit.'
Monday morning I went to my appointment, where the entire purpose of the trip was distilled down a short conversation with a 20-something year-old French girl. She took my passport, money, and fingerprints before waving me out the door saying, 'all done.' At that moment I realized I was going to France. I was going to become fluent in French. And I was going to be away from family and friends for a whole year. The feeling was bittersweet, a mixture of excitement and fear, similar to the first day of school.
All in all it was a great trip. If I had the chance, I would visit again in a heartbeat. San Francisco's variety is unmatched by any city, except New York City, maybe. However, San Franciscans tend to be more upbeat and interested and helpful to newcomers than their east coast counterparts tend to be.
As for the visa application process, I wouldn't have it any other way. It gave me a reason to explore a new city, and enjoy the company of my friends.
It also taught me that the way to approach a new culture is similar to the way you would approach a new person. You need to be outgoing but patient, interested but polite. Lyon will be the same way, and with San Francisco under my belt, I think I'm finally ready.
Bryan T. Robinson is a West Linn resident and an intern with the Lake Oswego Review and West Linn Tidings this summer.