Monday, September 05, 2005

My day at the Part-Dieu point rencontre, or “You’re on which train?”

We’ve all gone through the process of meeting someone coming to visit. There’s the exchange of emails with flight plans, the telephone calls confirming arrival times, the last-minute checking of delays and finally the meeting at the airport. Imagine this process twenty-seven times over, once for every student on the program. Insane! Luckily, this wasn’t my job, it was Laurie’s. Ha! Every student, with a few exceptions, was told to arrive at the Part-Dieu train station in Lyon between 11am and 6 pm on a certain day. That meant that if they arrived in Paris they would need to take the train (and get off at the right station) and if they flew into Lyon they’d need to take the special airport bus to the station. My job, I figured, was easy enough. Hang out at the train station with Laurie and Rémé and talk to the students as they arrived.

Part-Dieu is huge. If you’re going somewhere by train from Lyon, then there’s a very good chance that you’re leaving from there (or the smaller and not-important-to-this-particular-story Perrache). We were going to meet students at the fated “point rencontre” (meeting point), findable by its blue sign with a dot and it’s proximity to two arrival tracks. If you’re going to Part-Dieu and lose sleep over the fact that it’ll be hard to find the point rencontre, don’t. It’s the only one. It’s not really that hard to find, especially when there are three people standing there with a huge pile of welcome packets and a bright red sign that says “Centre Oregon” (I made the sign using the most obnoxiously bright color I could find).

By the morning of the arrivals, I already knew that a lot of planes, trains and automobiles were running late (ok, not the automobiles. But just “planes and trains” doesn’t sound as good). But with such a large group, you just have to roll with the punches, so I agreed to stay late if the necessity arose. So off to the point rencontre I went, running into Laurie on the way, and arriving only to find students already there. I have to say, in the interest of pure self-promotion, that I had spent time looking through everyone’s pictures, and throughout the day I used my mad student-identifying skillz to correctly ID every single student, many before they even reached us. But I did have additional identifying resources- we were constantly on the lookout for people with lots of luggage who looked tired and slightly lost. It’s true! This is the easiest way to spot study-abroad students arriving- it’s like an international code. There’s nothing wrong with it- I’ve arrived in a similar manner before and we expected everyone to show up like that. We pulled in our jet-lagged kids, called their host families, and handed over welcome packets. I flitted around, talking to students, explaining the packets, chatting with their families, and answering questions (some easier than others). It was fun. But not oh-my-god-this-is-so-fun-that-I’d-like-to-do-it-for-10-hours fun.

Because of some ultra-late arrivals and us not knowing when these people were coming in, Rémé and I (and Zach, one of the students who arrived very very early and hung out with us at the train station for a very long time) were at the Part-Dieu until after 9 in the evening. The point in all of this is that if you’re going somewhere and meeting someone and you’re going to be late, or your travel plans change significantly, CALL THEM. By the end of the day, we didn’t know which flight some people were coming in on, or even when they would be there. But despite these little blips, everyone got in and is now roaming around the city.

After this day ‘o fun at the train station, I went home, collapsed, and the next morning went into the office, then took a part of the group on a jaunt around Vieux Lyon. We very nearly melted.


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