I’ve already written to you about the village I grew up in and the mapped-out futures on offer for me and my classmates when we were kids. As I wrote, living in New York was not within my conceivable realm of possibilities as a child. And yet, I remember my first English class with Brother Roche–I was educated by Marist Brothers–and the sudden, unexpected, long-burning passion it ignited in me for the English language.
I know that for many, that lightbulb moment was math–ah, the number of prospective parents I’ve met in recent weeks who personify the extraordinary success story of French mathematics–but that was definitely not my case. In English, however, I was top of the class. At that time, English was introduced in 6th Grade, and while I practiced sticking my tongue between my teeth to pronounce “th” correctly, I began to dream that I was, in fact, American.
Or, more accurately, that my dad was, in fact, American. My dad was an anonymously born child (as they say in French, né sous X), never adopted, and abandoned instead to the throes of the social services in a remote corner of the Ardèche. He was born in 1945, so it didn’t seem too far-fetched to imagine a romance between a pretty young French girl and a brave, handsome GI from the liberating forces. The movies about the heroics of the American army ran back-to-back on TV. They were all magnificent; they were all impossibly cool. And my grades in English were inexplicably good. The only way I could explain my “gift” to myself was that it was genetic; I obviously had a genetic composition that predisposed me to speaking English well.
My dad never uncovered the real truth about his past. He picked up some clues here and there, but he never had a definitive answer. My theory of the handsome American soldier was definitely a red herring–a complete fabrication owing to my fascination with English. The truth is probably far less glamorous. I see my soccer-obsessed teenage nephews playing the same game today–inventing an exotic past for their grandpa. They dream that he’s from Algeria or, better still, Brazil. I guess we all need to invent stories sometimes.
I have no idea if those few months of convincing myself that I had American genes influenced my career path. But I did go on to study English in college and then to teach it for many years. My belief in the possibility of an American grandfather taught me how the power of imagination and dreams can change the course of a future we think is already mapped out. I developed a taste not just for English but for other places, for discovery, and for adventure. I was lucky enough to meet Andria (thanks partly to the fact I spoke English), who pushed us to travel light and often. I dreamed of myself as someone who is never at home but is at home everywhere. I dreamed of myself as someone who likes to speak several languages, who can switch from English to French without thinking, who can understand two different cultures and how they can help us grow, laugh, work, and share. I dreamed of New York to the point that I invented an imaginary family here.
In fact, without knowing it, and since I was very young, I dreamed of being a student at The École.
How lucky our students are that this is their reality.