Since arriving a week ago in Albertville we have known nothing but “bienvenue” (which means “welcome”). Driving from Lyon late in the day we saw the stunning pink colors of sunset reflecting off the clouds and snowcapped peaks of the Alps. Pictures from the car window don’t show this amazing sight but it was a beautiful welcome to the Savoie region, home of the 1992 Winter Olympic Games and our new home for the next year as we embark on the task of learning the French language for working in francophone Africa, specifically Burundi.
Albertville, site of our French language school, is a smaller community of about 20,000 in a broad valley ringed by mountains at the base of the Alps. Less than an hour from Grenoble and a bit more to Lyon, it retains the feel of a smaller town with a few larger stores but mostly small shops for daily needs of bread, meat, vegetables and groceries. There is even a local public market every Thursday just behind our apartment building that begins a 6am-noon (even in the winter!) and another one on Saturday, smaller but open.
Half of the forty students live on the school campus either in a three-story building of apartments or in the singles hall of the school. Most of these are families with children (minus the singles) because there is a nursery school on campus. The rest of us live in apartment buildings close by, within a 10-minute walk to school. This is a real pleasure to walk to school everyday and with a two hour lunch break we can walk back to our apartment for lunch. Our kitchen looks out on the mountains on each side of building behind us.
We live in a four-floor apartment building, in a 3-room apartment (not counting the kitchen). Yes we have an extra bedroom! There is only a single bed in it but there’s a blow-up air-mattress in the closet and some kind of a pump, so I’m sure we can figure it out if you get to this neck of the woods. Our new “home” is certainly adequate and roomy by European standards. All that being said, one week in and we still don’t have phones or internet service. Something about opening a bank account, getting money into it, then applying on line for an internet box and phone service. I don’t get it but since we can do internet at school it hasn’t been a big deal yet. With all the settling in, getting use to a new culture, pace of life, language, people and meeting new classmates we’ve been busy enough.
Classes began for us on Thursday, after a placement test. Of the 16 new students Randy was one of four put in a more advanced class, the rest of us are in the “debutes” or beginners class, which is just where I wanted to be. He says he feels like he is trying to drink from a fire hose! My class is “just right” for me! God is good to know our ways and our needs.
Our welcome has come from those at the school, teachers, administration and the on-going students who arrived last September, who have all been very gracious with our many questions and small needs. We have felt welcomed by the extended body of Christ that is present here and by the community around us as they are use to living with many transient “students” coming in and out of their community to learn French. More to come as we settle in, but for now “c’est tout” (that’s all)!