by Valerie Wu

Paris seemed so close, yet so far. We had passed through the boarding gate, and were sitting in the airplane waiting for the plane to take off. One girl had brought French vocabulary flashcards, and the group of us huddled in the aisle (much to the consternation of others) to practice. Les toilettes, we murmured, almost like a prayer. Combien? J’ai faim. Language seemed to be taking a whole new shape of its own, one of necessity. We were still continuing this when a voice came over the intercom.

“Due to certain technical issues, the plane is unable to fly,” the intercom buzzed, “the flight is delayed for an hour.” There was some mumbling on the line, then: “Also, there are thunderstorms in Dallas.”

So here we were, the whole group of us Catholic-school girls, scattered around in various seats—21A, 37E, 12C. Those in front craned their necks around to look at those in the back with wide eyes, all of us thinking what we were going to do. Our layover was only one hour; there was no doubt that we would miss our next flight. Vaguely, I remembered one of the first lessons we were taught in French: how to say where you were going. Subject, verb, destination. Thomas va au restaurantVous allez au parc. Now it seemed to be that we were placing it in the negative tense. In front of me, I could see Mme Stampfl frantically making calls to the travel agency. Ms. Colvin, our chaperone, was occupied with Zoolander 2.

The plane took off in the afternoon, when it was supposed to have taken off in the morning. I slept for the next three hours, and when the plane landed, I thought—finally, we're in Dallas! But we weren't. Instead, we had landed in Amarillo, TX, what some called the "middle of nowhere." The plane, the crew told us, was actually unable to function. We had been flying on a dysfunctional plane for the last three hours. So we headed off the plane, sat around at the Amarillo boarding gates for a while (there were only about four of them, as Amarillo was that tiny), and attempted to find lunch. The two restaurants/bars had closed, though, so most of us were only able to find chips and assorted Amarillo goods.

American Airlines gave us a voucher to spend the night at Amarillo Inn & Suites. The travel agent had successfully re-booked our flights to Dallas, and then Miami. After that would be Paris. I noticed one girl staring despondently at the pictures of Paris she had saved on her phone.

The inn staff member that drove the bus to the hotel was an interesting character—a stereotypical Texan. He wore a flannel button-down, jeans, leather boots, and a cowboy hat. We called him Billy Ray Cyrus, and he told us that the hotel was "just around the corner." About fifteen minutes later, we started to get a bit nervous. "In Texas, it's a big corner," he said by way of explanation.

After arriving at the inn and getting our rooms, we took showers, organized our suitcases, ranted heavily about our "series of unfortunate events." Because our flight was before six a.m. in the morning, we had to leave at four. It seemed that we left just as we came.

Time was unclear at this moment; it felt like we had been traveling for days, when it had just been a few hours. Amarillo was an unexpected detour of our trip, yet it didn’t seem terrible. We were off to Dallas, Miami, and then Paris in what seemed like no time at all. By the time we landed in our final destination, everyone was saying that they wanted to meet their host families already. However, because of the strikes in Paris, public transportation wasn't available. The fastest train we could get was on Saturday (at the time of our arrival, it was Thursday in Paris.)

We ended up going to the nearest hotel, Hotel Ibis Charles de Gaulle, and eating a light dinner of pizza. And even though we were only minutes away from the airport, it was the first opportunity we had to practice our French—and also the most nerve-wracking. When the first girl ordered, she ordered a pizza, as it was the easiest thing to pronounce on the menu (la pizza). All of us followed suit.

All of us were so exhausted from our journey that Madame Stampfl allowed us to spend the rest of the day just sleeping in our hotel room and watching French television, including How I Met Your Mother reruns, translated. Yet, this marked the first of the many subtle linguistic experiences that were to come. Tomorrow, we were heading straight into the city.

— Valerie Wu is a student at Presentation High School in San Jose, California. She has been to more than seven countries, but her favorite one by far is England. Her work thrives at the intersection of ethnicity, migration, and human rights, and has previously been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Follow her on Twitter @valerie_wu.

Photo:  Paris, 2017 by Kat Neis, Co-Founder of Siblíní. Follow her on Twitter @katneis.