How a Community Forum Came to My Rescue in France

I’m often asked why I stay in this ‘Internet business’. It doesn’t take long for me to think back to 2004 when I was stranded in the middle of the night on a street in Lyon, France.

Heavy BagBefore I ended up on a cobble stone street with a large suitcase and over sized duffel, I must go back to the beginning and how I ended up in Lyon. I decided to leave my job and take a much-needed break. Since the moment I entered college, I worked. Whether it was an internship or volunteering, I had multiple jobs. My mind and soul needed a break. Being a big fan of French, I decided to continue my studies at the Alliance Françasie de Lyon. To make the experience even more traditional, I signed up to live with a ‘housemother’.

As I began my intense research, I did what most travel lovers do, read community forums and message boards . Virtual Tourist to the rescue.  For weeks, I immersed myself in all things Lyonnais, from the food to the places to visit to how much money I should budget for excursions and the trains to Paris and Marseille. I read the forums religiously nothing everything.  On the final day of my perusing, I decided to write down the name and the forum moderator, just in case.  Little did I know how important that moment was.

Now, back to that street. It was a long day.  I flew from Chicago to London, then had a lengthy wait to hop in the Channel Tunnel to France.  I was tired, sweaty, running on fumes, but excited to get to Lyon. Before I left the states, I used my best French (I was taking classes at the Alliance de Françoise in Chicago) and let the school know when I was arrive. From there, the school was coordinating my arrival with Marie, my housemother.

My train rolled into Lyon at dusk. I gleefully hopped in a cab and spewed out the address of the house.  Tumbling out of the cab and not knowing if I paid enough, I inched up to the door on Rue de Seze. Ring upon ring. No answer. I realized I was hungry and decided to wait things out and head to a local restaurant, baggage and all.

This is where I waited for Marie...and had too much wine.

This is where I waited for Marie…and had too much wine.

After accidentally getting drunk with my meal (the wine was truly like grape juice), I headed to a hotel to get some shuteye, thinking Marie would be home in the morning. I was wrong yet again.  Finding myself in a panic with a limited budget and not knowing what my fate was, I called the school. As it turns, out, Marie was on a field trip with her class and would be gone another few days. Terrific, now what? That’s when it dawned on me, I had a very magical phone number. But would it work?

I took a deep breath and called the Lyon Forum Moderator. Within seconds, she picked up.  I explained who I was, what my issue was and if she could help.  Without skipping a beat, this stranger, this person on the other side of the world said she would drive an hour from her home, pick me up and help me get settled for a few days until my housemother arrived home.

About an hour later, this little blue car pulled up to the hotel. Yso opened up her car door, sprang out and gave me a huge hug. From there, she helped me find an affordable hotel, walked me through the Lyon transit system, took me to a grocery store and then back to her home for tea.  I was in awe the whole time.

My walk to school

My walk to school

The ability for a digital communication experience, on a message board, to create a real life experience, rescuing me from losing a lot of money and time in a new city was tremendous. For the past 11 years, this memory stays with me and keeps me in the digital space. I made a promise to myself to do what I can to make the web as happy and helpful as it was for me that fall day in 2004. Connecting the online relationship with real, humans is the icing on the cake and why I love to do what I get to do every day.

Thank you, Yso.

Blagica Bottigliero

Vice President, Digital Media

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