Representations of Home Creative Journal

ROAM - Summer/Autumn 2023 - ROAM 3

Finding Home au bord du lac

Rachael Franke

Finding Home au bord du lac


“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Do you speak English? Oder Deutsch?”


The elderly woman shakes her head at me and continues speaking quickly, only louder now. 


Je ne parle pas français,” I carefully sound out, knowing that by now it shouldn’t be the only sentence I feel comfortable saying aloud. The woman mutters to herself angrily and walks away. Putting my earbud back into my ear, the upbeat music tempts me to catwalk to my regular bench au bord du lac. (Ah, see, I do know another phrase!) 


This is my favorite spot in the city. From this bench, I can see the snow-capped mountains outlining the shape of the pristine blue water, alone with my thoughts apart from the occasional jogger or dog walker whose dog I always attempt to lure over for a quick pet. I do not feel like an outsider here, listening to the gentle splash of the water against the rocks, the way I do when I walk in town and am confronted with my inability to speak the language or fully understand cultural norms. I can sit here for hours, losing track of time as easily as I get lost in my own thoughts. (I’ve never seen such clear water in my life. And listen - not a sound. It’s so amazingly quiet.) I remind myself that it’s only been a few months and surely things will get easier, surely I’ll manage to make a friend or two, surely I’ll learn how to order a coffee without tripping over the unfamiliar words. 


But what if I don’t? What if I can’t? What if this uncertainty and this loneliness become permanent fixtures of my new life?


I pull my phone out of my pocket and a long piece of chocolate wrapped in red foil falls out. (The best chocolate you’ll ever have, truly. They need these back home!) I absentmindedly lean over to pick it up while checking my phone for notifications. No messages, with the time difference my friends and family will be fast asleep for at least a few more hours. I click on a social media app before immediately swiping out of it, knowing that it won’t make me feel any less alone. The app I really should open is Duolingo, that little green owl’s constant guilt-tripping to continue my daily streak is an excellent marketing tactic. (C’est intelligent!)


Pardon, est-ce que c’est libre?


Drawn out of my thoughts, I look over my shoulder. A woman my age is smiling at me, gesturing toward the bench with a book in her hand. I recognize the title, a recent publication by an Irish author. It’s in English, I think to myself, as I nod and gesture back toward the space next to me. After a few moments I scrounge up the courage to speak, hoping she won’t mind the interruption. “What do you think of the book so far? I wasn’t sure about the main character.”




“I made a friend!” I shout as my partner walks into our apartment after work. “She likes to read and she said we can practice my French and her English together!” I blurt out as he takes off his shoes. “We’re going to meet tomorrow for a coffee! I mean, un café.” 


I can feel the giant smile on my face and I know it seems ridiculous to be this excited over the potential of conjugating verbs with a stranger. But it’s the optimistic potential of meeting someone new, of being the one who has plans with a friend, of being the one to do the introducing instead of always being introduced. 


It’s a scary, exciting, disconcerting, wonderful experience to embark on an adventure in a new country. There’s beauty in exploring an unfamiliar place and learning to call it home. I remember the first time I got off the train with my overweight luggage and saw the view of the lake. It took my breath away. I also remember being yelled at for entering the bus through the wrong door the first time I ventured out on my own. I certainly didn’t make that mistake twice!


Some days I walk down the street confident in my ability to communicate (avec du lait de soja, s'il vous plaît!) and others I feel extremely aware of my foreigner status. It can be a balancing act, adjusting to fit into a new mold while remembering who you are. But if you can find your favorite bench, and if you can be brave enough to start a conversation with a stranger, I promise that one day, eventually, you’ll find that this place that once felt so confusing and isolating is now what you call home.


Rachael Franke 


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