First Day, Many Emotions
Texas host sister holds "welcome" sign with French exchange student at airport

Budding writer Elise recounts trip to Texas

On Tuesday, August 24, 2020, at 10:27 p.m., my plane from Paris Charles de Gaulle landed at the San Antonio airport. The trip had been long, and even though I had been able to sleep during the flight, I felt terribly tired.

I had first taken a flight from Paris to Frankfurt, Germany around 6:00 a.m., then to Chicago around 10:00 a.m., and finally to San Antonio with a third and final flight to where I was going to live for a year. In the morning, I left my daily landmarks—my parents. I said goodbye to them in front of the boarding gates, and it was the hardest thing I’d had to do in a long time. I hugged them one by one; smelling them for the last time. It was one of the few times I have ever seen my father cry, and it upset me. One last goodbye with my hand, and I had walked down the stairs, losing sight of them little by little.

Twenty-two hours of travel later, when the wheels of the plane touched down, causing a strong jolt, I was both relieved to have finished the long trip and afraid to see what was waiting for me here. I had waited so long for this moment, and I had been tense the whole time. The coronavirus had decided to come out a few months before my departure, and my year seemed to be in danger. I had hoped every day that my flight would be scheduled. I checked my emails ten times an hour; I imagined the worst; and it all made me anxious. If I couldn't leave, it meant that all my plans had to be changed. I had to go to university this year and not next year, and I had to find an apartment there not even a week before the beginning of the school year. It was as much as saying that it was an impossible mission. I felt helpless in the face of this global pandemic, and the only thing I could do was wait.

Finally the waiting was over, because to my great relief I had been able to leave, and I would finally touch the dream I had been having for so long.

I felt helpless in the face of this global pandemic, and the only thing I could do was wait.

I retrieved my suitcase from the beige compartment above my head—a little too high for me—and waited for everyone to get out, one behind the other. As always, everyone gets up at the same time in a rush to retrieve their luggage, which creates a traffic jam in the central aisle and makes us all wait.

I had traveled alone and I felt like I had grown up on this trip, because before I had always been with my parents. I have to admit that I am only 17 years old, and to go on a 10:00 p.m. trip alone, changing three times in three countries, languages, and airports, was rather brave!

I was looking at the people around me waiting for the exit to be unblocked, and everyone seemed to be going home. So I said to myself, "Am I going home? Because this is not really my home, my home is in France, but since I'm going to live here for a year, I could call it my substitute home.” I think this is the moment I had the most doubts, my gaze plunging down to the gray carpet of the UA600 plane. I was trying to resist the nostalgia that invaded me.

I got off of the plane, and a long dark blue accordion corridor stretched out in front of me. I started walking, dragging behind me my little navy blue suitcase with a yellow label containing my contact information.

When I got out of the plane, strangely enough, I began feeling better and better, yet I knew myself well enough to know that my sensitivity would soon regain the upper hand. Everything around me was written in English, and that was the first thing that scared me, because I don't really know how to speak properly. The airport was rather empty. I think we were the last flight of the day. To my great surprise, there were no stores in the airport, not the kind of stores you find in Paris. No stores that want to sell you the latest trendy magazines, no stores that want to make you buy duty-free Chanel perfume. No place to sit and eat. No, there was none of that.

I was a little lost in my head. I didn't know where to get my second suitcase. I looked at the signs, but I couldn't understand what they were saying, it was like looking at blurred letters. I could read the words, but they didn't make sense to me. It was as if my brain was disconnected. I decided to follow the people who had gotten off the plane before me, thinking that they too must have to pick up a second suitcase. So I walked and walked again, with a ball in my stomach that I was going the wrong way and that I would have to ask for information in English.

I could read the words, but they didn't make sense to me. It was as if my brain was disconnected.

I finally arrived in front of some escalators. I put one foot on the first step and in front of me I saw a huge sign with "Welcome to Texas Elise" written on it. All my questions were gone, and I had taken the right path. At that moment, I couldn't explain my feelings, but I could only say that I was so happy and relieved to finally see my host family. It was the end of this adventure and the beginning of a new one. It was the unexpected, and I was left with a lot of mixed feelings—relief at having finished this long journey, impatience to meet my new family, sadness of having left my life in France, the hope for success of my adventure, and the total fear of my new life. It was just incredible to see all these emotions mixing in my head; how can one be sad and happy at the same time?

There was something warm about the airport with its golden and beige colors, so different from the design of the Paris airport. I felt really reassured. I already knew that I would feel good here. When the escalator came down, I took my suitcase and arrived in front of my family.

I was rather shy, but they quickly gave me a big hug to welcome me. I was really reassured, because I was no longer alone.

We went to the long black conveyors to get my second suitcase. As the wait grew, I became more and more afraid that my suitcase got lost, and while I was inventing a whole tragic scenario of losing the suitcase, I spotted it coming out of the small pieces of rubber cut into strips. I took a few steps, grabbed the bag and lifted it up. It weighed over 26 kg., but I had the idea that it weighed twice that amount. I turned to my host mother. I couldn't see her mouth because of the mask, but I could see in her eyes that she was smiling, and that warmed my heart. I put my suitcase at my feet; I grabbed the handle and rolled it behind me towards the parking lot.

I turned to my host mother. I couldn't see her mouth because of the mask, but I could see in her eyes that she was smiling, and that warmed my heart.

When I got outside I was surprised by the heat that was touching my cheeks, it was an intense heat that I wasn't used to having in France. This heat was like the Americans: very cheerful. It was only the beginning of my American adventure, but it was already going to be a crazy experience.

—Elise (France), hosted by the Hacker family (TX)