How does you know when it’s time to go to the dentist? Well, it’s when you’re in the middle of a dinner. You bite down on something, unfortunately the wrong way. The pain shoots through your entire cheek, your cheek is obviously trying to kill you. You hunch over and breathe through the pain. It’s at that point you say to yourself, “j’ai besoin d’aller chez le dentiste !” (I need to go to the dentist!)

It was time for me to go to the dentist. I could barely eat on the left-side of my mouth and couldn’t sleep on my left-side for too long or I’d wake up with a sore cheek. Only ever having gone to the dentist in the United States, I was not really sure what to expect or how to go about even finding a dentist. Luckily, the program has Patricia, who literally keeps us alive here, and she pointed me in the right direction helping me through literally every step.

First off, instead of just going to the dentist to get x-rays and a check up like in America, I had to first go to the doctor’s office to get a prescription to then go to a different place to get x-rays. This was the first time I went to the doctor’s office in France and I was honestly very surprised. It just seemed so informal and not even remotely like a real place. When I entered the room there was no reception, no person to tell you what to do, just a waiting room with five or six people waiting to see the doctor; you also had to figure out everyone’s order. Going in to see the doctor was equally strange. I told him what I needed. He took out a notepad and wrote me a prescription for the x-ray. I paid him in cash. He wrote me a receipt and I left. It was a 25€ ($30), ten minute appointment.

Luckily, my appointment at the radiologist was more of a formal adventure. This appointment had a reception, a waiting room, and formal medical equipment. This was also a very short appointment that also cost around $30 but that was for the cost of the x-rays.

My next appointment was with the oral surgeon to take care of my wisdom tooth. This office was as formal as an office in the States, but still, my entire experience with the French medical system seemed somewhat illegal, as compared to America, and none of it seemed remotely real, but I was already this far and I had to keep going because my mouth was still in horrible pain. This consultation was the most expensive and objectively the most useful. I found out that my wisdom tooth was not a problem and it could wait to be removed but I did have a nasty cavity that needed to be treated immediately. Unfortunately, this doctor couldn’t fix it that day, he was just a simple oral surgeon. Thus, I was forced to make another appointment at another dentist’s office a week later.

The biggest problem with getting this whole thing done was having to do it in French, not that I couldn’t express myself well enough but the overwhelming anxiety that the dentist gives me made it more difficult than it should have been. These last appointments to fix the cavity were horrifying. I was trying to describe what hurt while trying not to freak out about being there. This particular dentist is probably the nicest dentist I’ve ever had but being as she is French and we are in southern France, I was yelled at a couple times during the operation for moving too much, not opening my mouth wide enough, and even slightly made fun of for making a noise every time she did something. Again, the environment was not very formal and was honestly scared that she might not actually be a real dentist. Plus, even if she was, there seemed to be no oversight if she were to make a mistake. Then again, America might have a little too much formality and oversight.

As traumatising as the experience was, it was also a very proud moment. Having dealt with a medical issue entirely in French, it makes you feel like you can do anything, it just puts you on top of the world. It’s moments like this that make you feel as if this entire study abroad experience has actually been beneficial to your second language development but also your development as a person. Five years ago, I would never have dreamed of going to the dentist by myself, I truly despise going to the dentist, but a year abroad has forced me to take those leaps that seemed impossible and terrifying, especially when you have to do them in a second language. Being alone in a doctor’s office with nothing but your years of French classes to help you, really push that independence and self confidence that I think is a very important result of studying abroad.

This experience also gave me a first hand look at the way the French medical system works. How easy it is for anyone to make an appointment, pay for it, and get the basic medical treatment that they need to survive. I’ll admit, it’s not a perfect system but it offers all of the basic treatments at affordable prices to anyone of any nationality. Plus, it offers remboursement options for anything you pay, treatment or medication.

I don’t like the fact that I got a rather deep and painful cavity but I’m happy that I had the opportunity to use this mundane experience to use everything I’ve learned in the past seven months and come out on the other side victorious. Maybe being an adult won’t be that painful!