Preparing to be a Stranger in a New Land


by Jacob Newell, Greenheart Travel Teach English in a Homestay participant in France

Hi, my name is Jacob, and I’m currently sitting at Gate S9 in SeaTac waiting to board a plane that is going to take me 4,597 miles away from the place that I’ve called home for 22 years.

On the exterior, I think I exude the indifference of a reasonably well-traveled college grad whose only contention is with the young, wide-eyed couple who spawned a small fleet of screaming, sneezing toddlers; on the interior, I’m a little numb. I’ve never traveled on my own, let alone overseas. I’ve gone through what may in fact be a well-studied series of emotions that began with mildly superficial elation, peaked at terror, and has now simmered down to mild apprehension.

I’ve been told numerous times by various friends and associates that I’m going at the most opportune time in my life: “you’re young, you’re single, you don’t have any kids, and you don’t have a career.” Ordinarily, the reality of those last three facts together would be more than a little depressing, but the spirit of what everyone’s been telling me is that there’s nothing I can’t walk away from; I’m free.

So despite the apprehension and the anxiety that I like to believe is normal in a situation like this (the situation being flying solo to Europe for the first time), I can take a small consolation in the evidently popular belief that I’m taking advantage of my freedom and my waning youth. Nerve-racking nonetheless? You bet.

I’m an introvert; I don’t particularly like standing out in a crowd, and new situations or circumstances I’m unfamiliar with intimidate me. More often than not, I can muster my social energy, muscle through the circumstances, and socially recharge later, but as far as “circumstances I’m unfamiliar with” go, this particular adventure will shake me to my gooey little introverted core.


The plane will take me to Frankfurt, Germany, where my American flag tank top that reads, “back to back World War Champs” will likely remain in my bag. From Frankfurt, I’ll take a train to Paris where I’ll stay with my dad in a hotel for the evening before taking a train to Nancy, where my family for the next 3 months will be waiting to take me to their rural home in Bainville Aux Miroirs.

Greenheart Travel has facilitated my host family placement in France, and I will be teaching/finessing my family’s English for the duration of my stay, hopefully with a little time on the side for an adventure or two. The four years of French I took throughout high school and college has been put to good use in the last couple weeks in my correspondence with my host family, and I’m excited for it to improve exponentially in these next few weeks of immersion. I’m very excited to come back to America with a passable French accent that will likely boost my stock amongst unsuspecting, bar-going suitors.

Many people have cautioned me against being “overly American.” I suspect they mean something to the effect of, “don’t be loud or obnoxious or disrespectful,” cuz that’s what “overly American” means, right? I like to think I’m none of the three, but it should be noted that that I am, in fact, an American. Sure, it’s not something to flaunt and, like any nationality, it doesn’t justify any disrespectful behavior, but being American is a part of me. I’m going to be a stranger in foreign nations; my American culture will likely serve as a lens to understand the world around me, and in all likelihood, I will probably be looking through the other end of my American lens from time to time and learn more about my own culture as well.

That being said, I thought it’d be fun to make a list of things that I think “make me” American. I am not overly proud of any one of these things, but for better or worse, I think they contribute to my stereotypical American-ness. I expect this list to be much different in three months.

5 Things That (I Think) Make Me American

  1. When people of other nationalities/languages walk into a room, it kind of catches my attention and curiosity.
  2. I have this funny feeling that most other nationalities either hate America or want to move here.
  3. I have this sense that it’s crucial to STAND OUT as an individual.
  4. I kind of feel like the route to the “good life” consists of going to college, making money, and raising a family.
  5. I have a vast, encyclopedic, borderline-useless knowledge of American movies.

My next blog post will come from somewhere in Europe (hopefully the town and/or country I’m supposed to be in). I know that, despite my apprehension, this journey is going to be life-changing, and I’m confident in saying I go forward with a positive, constructive perspective in what is arguably the bravest, most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Hmm, that might have said more about my life than I’m willing to admit.

Anyway…Europe, here I come.


One thought on "Preparing to be a Stranger in a New Land"

  1. Tiana says:

    All five of those things… I totally agree!

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