About a month and a half ago, my colleague from Switzerland, Kerstin, was here on Long Island for a business trip. We spent a good amount of time together, both working and hanging out. We were talking about my life on Long Island and the usual blah blah blah of how challenging I find it to meet people with similar interests as me when she suggested I try Meetup. She explained that Meetup is a website and an app that you can download that you plug your interests into and it finds groups of people in the area who come together around their shared interests.
I’d never heard of the app, and I was curious to find out more so I downloaded it and proceeded to tick off my interests in this order: hiking and outdoors, spirituality, yoga, reading, meditation, politics, and languages. Hundreds of Meetup groups around the area popped up and I could choose to RSVP to any of the gatherings.
One particular group that peaked my interest off the bat was the “Center Reach French Club,” which meets at Panera in the Smith Haven Mall every Tuesday night from 7-8:30pm. It seemed do-able and safe and if worst came to worst I could always get a soup and baguette and pretend that it never happened. I joined the group, RSVP’d, and then didn’t show. The other day on a Skype call with Kerstin, she asked me if I’d gone to a Meetup group yet. I gave her all my excuses and then told her that I planned to go to the French Meetup this Tuesday as long as nothing else came up. Today she sent me a friendly reminder via Skype and so I right then I pulled out my phone and RSVP’d before I could change my mind.
This evening I hopped in my car and drove 25 minutes to the mall, all the while telling myself that I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. I was welcomed by a small, yet diverse group of francophiles of varying language level, age, nationality, sex and race. To my pleasant surprise, everyone was dedicate to speaking in French, with the occasional Franglish sentence thrown in to make up for lacking vocabulary. We held a lively conversation that touched on subjects such as issues with the Common Core Curriculum, differences between American and French schooling theories, favorite places we’ve traveled, and then the usual stuff, like introductions, occupations etc. I was quite pleased that I hadn’t lost my French completely…though frustrated with how rusty it has become after being back in the US for over a year and a half. But I felt good about my grammar, conjugations and my accent….and in general I just felt SO good to be speaking French again.
Beyond the explicit function of this group being to practice and upkeep our French language skills, there is also a strong element of community involved. This small but mighty group has been in existence for over two years meeting once a week to speak in French. I immediately fell in love the idea of having a weekly friend group consisting of an Indian mathematician, a Guadalupian middle school teacher, an Italian immigrant police office, a retired high school French teacher and a young American woman who was also a former English teacher in France like myself–such a diverse group of people, all of whom shared my passion pour la langue Francaise.
I felt the accueil chaleureux (warm welcome) of the group as a whole, and also an immediate bond with the young woman, Audrey, who taught for a year in a French school near Versailles. We stayed after the group left and ate dinner together, getting to know each other a bit more and sharing our similar experiences teaching abroad in France. It was a monumental moment for me to connect with another female in general, let alone someone that I have something in common with! Honestly, I could snap my fingers and have a date with a dude around here in two seconds, but meeting girls to be friends with is another story completely.
Tonight was a homerun, and I’m super grateful for all of the pieces that fell together to make this night happen so beautifully. I’m grateful to Kerstin for introducing me to the concept and then pushing me to join a Meetup group. I am grateful to have spent an hour and a half using my brain and practicing my rusty (but functioning!) French. I’m grateful to the group for their warm welcome, wonderful conversation and diverse perspectives, and finally I am grateful to have met Audrey, a young, smart, and interesting woman with a brilliant handle of the French language and my newest official friend crush.