Ashley Phelps
2008-09 Outbound to France

Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Aurillac Rotary Club, District 1740, France

Ashley's Bio

 Hi! I'm Ashley Phelps from Palm Coast, Florida. I'm sixteen years old and a sophomore at Flagler Palm Coast High School, or FPCHS for short. I'm originally from Ohio, I moved to Florida about four years ago. And I must say it was a life changing move.

Most of my hobbies and interests lie in the creative field. I love photography, drawing, writing, music, and acting. I've been in plays, taken photography classes, and I plan to pursue a career in journalism after graduating from college. I hope to someday advance to becoming editor-in-chief for a popular magazine. I also would love to travel the world and experience different cultures. Everyone has a story to tell, you just have to be open to listening.

I'm also really interested in politics and current issues facing our world. I think if you want to make a big change, you have to be informed of the issues at hand. It's killing me that I won't be able to vote in the 2008 presidential election, laws are laws. But I still think young people can gain a lot from knowing and learning about what's going on in their own country and others. It's their future that will face the consequences of what we do today and I think the youth of the world has a responsibility to make sure the future is a place we will all want to live in.

Besides that I'm pretty much a normal teenage girl. I love to spend time with my friends and family. You'll almost always see me with a smile on my face. I give thanks everyday for three things, no matter how small they are. In a world filled with so much negativity, it's great to appreciate the positives in your life!

July 17 Journal

 5 Weeks, 6 Days till departure

It's kind of hard how to describe how it felt to know that the exchange process was truly a done deal, or when I actually felt it. Maybe it was when I got my visa (finally!) or maybe it was when I got my Rotary cards and pins. Maybe it was when I got my flight schedule and found out the tickets had been issued (no turning back after that). But I really think it was when I attended a Rotary meeting at my sponsor club, the Flagler Beach Rotary Club.

It was the day right after a 07-08 inbound, Laura, from Italy left. The mood at the meeting was fun, and energetic, but somber in a way. To make things more interesting, an 06-07 inbound from Brazil was visiting, and I think it made things all the more emotional. At the meeting, it was announced that Laura had left a letter, a message from herself to the Rotary Club who had hosted her. Meeting them, I could only hope my host club will be that wonderful. They were some of the most kind and warm people I'd ever met.

Laura had wanted the visiting 06-07 inbound from Brazil to present the message. But it was clear that it was difficult for her. By the second line, it was too much. The letter was handed off to another member of the club, who read it aloud to us.

Sitting there surrounded by my fellow 08-09 Outbounds, I couldn't help but feel connected to every word Laura spoke in the letter. She talked of the Rotary meeting, how everything would take place. It gave me chills as the letter was read. She described the proceedings of the club, action for action. This was my first time attending the meeting, and her letter was a play by play. Every person, every word, every motion.

It was obvious how connected the club was to Laura, tears flowed from every eye by the time the letter was done. I could not cry. I didn't want to. Not then. I felt almost as if I was intruding on something very personal. The connection the club had made with their host child, and the connection she had made with them, wasn't something I was part of. It was personal, intimate, and obviously, still very raw.

The meeting concluded only a few minutes after, and I rushed to the car. I didn't know how I felt, I didn't know what to say. And when my parents asked me how the meeting was, all I had for them was tears. They came from a place I had never tapped into, they were the strangest tears I'd ever shed. I couldn't explain to them why I was crying, I wasn't sure myself.

I tried to explain how it felt to see something so amazing. To see how much Laura had grown, from her own eyes and her host club's. I watched their faces swell with pride as they read the letter she'd written in almost perfect English. I watched them nod, smile, frown as she talked about the good things, the bad things, and the funny things that had made her exchange so special. I could feel, within those moments, about 20 hearts breaking, in two different places, thousands of miles away. Nineteen of those hearts belonged to the club. One to Laura. Her heart was breaking.

Just like my heart would about twelve months from then.

I knew right then and there that this experience is and will continue to be everything everyone has said it will be. I know it will be scary at first. Confusing, frustrating. I know there will be good times, amazing times. And I know in the end I will walk away with a life and love so much richer than the one I began with.

I cry every time I think about that meeting, I cry every time I think about leaving, I'm crying now.

Not because I'm sad, or happy, but because I am so amazed by this program. I cry because I know I can only imagine the relationships I will make, the bonds I will forge. I cry because I know it will not be easy. I cry because I want it so bad, it seems unreal. Like a far away dream that can't possibly be real. But it is real. It's so real.

I know we've all said it, but I have to say it any time I get the chance. I thank Rotary SO MUCH for this opportunity to experience something so life altering. I thank them with everything I have, heart and soul, for giving me the chance of a lifetime.

I promise you won't regret it.

October 19 Journal

 After two months in France, it has been exactly what I expected and nothing like I expected. I myself have been exactly like I expected and nothing like I expected. In many ways France has changed my mind, opened me up to a lot of different ideas about what’s important and what is not so important. It has also shown me a new side of myself, not afraid to take risks, or at least, not so afraid that I don't at least attempt to take risks.

Before I came to France I had a lot of silly fears. I was afraid of the dark sometimes, spiders, heights, being alone in social situation, being alone period. But all those fears went out the window when I came to France (well all except the fear of heights, that one is staying for good!). But when shoved into a situation where you have no choice, you either have to learn to adapt and roll with what life has given you or sit there on an island of fear, unwilling to move. For example, my first or second week in France I was laying on my bed watching a movie in French when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was a fly or moth or something because I had had the window open all day. So I simply shooed it away with my hand and kept watching my movie. But then I noticed I hadn't seen it fly away or anything, so I looked back down to get a better look. Crawling on my bed, inches away from my hand was a HUGE spider.

Needless to say, I freaked out. I screamed, jumped off my bed, threw off the covers, danced around wiping my hands all over my body in case it had got on me. And then I just stood there, in the half dark, looking around my room, shaking with fear wondering what I was supposed to do. At home I would've gotten my dad to kill it if he was awake, if not I would've just gotten the can of extra strength Raid and killed it.

But in France there was no dad, and no bug spray. Sure I had my host dad, but it was in the middle of the night and I didn't want to wake them up. And if they have Raid in France (which I have yet to see) I had no idea where to find it in the house. So I was stuck. What was I supposed to do? I stood there on the small throw rug, my island of fear, for five minutes. Just looking around, hoping for something to save me. And that's when I realized, there WAS no one to save me from this. I was going to have to take care of myself, for once in my life.

So I stripped the bed and shook out the sheets, checked under the bed and along the floor. The spider had disappeared. Then I remade the bed and went back to sleep. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Trying to sleep knowing it could be anywhere. I was terrified, I did it anyways.

A couple days later I saw the spider. I wanted to kill it, but I couldn’t bring myself to step on it. I was still terrified. I searched the room for something with a flat bottom to smash it with but I saw nothing. Then I saw a three footed bench that my host brother (who's in Indiana right now) used when he was drumming. It was a perfect tool for killing the spider because I could just tilt the stool back on two legs, position the third leg above the spider, and drop it. I did it, biting my lip to keep from squealing. And the spider was smashed and dead. Or at least it seemed to be. I went to bed and answered an email from a friend, and then I got up to go look at my achievement. The spider was ALIVE and moving. I was horrified. I feel a little bad because that spider got all my aggressions from the first couple of weeks in France that night. I stomped on it, until it was in pieces. I destroyed that spider and felt good. I was proud of myself because I had done something I would previously never do, without thinking, just reacting. Because I had to, I had to move off my island of fear and the only way to do that was to face the fear.

No spider has ever lived long in this room in France since.

I think this analogy applies to my whole time in France though. At first you are really afraid of even simple things, like ordering at a restaurant or taking a bus. But these are things that you have to do if you want to live your life, and even though they are difficult, you have to face them. Sure, I sometimes still make mistakes ordering or forget that the bus doesn't stop at a certain place on certain days, but that's life. Even in the US, I was bound to make mistakes sometimes. The difference between the US and here is that in the US I soon forgot my mistake and moved on, but in France I don't forget a single mistake, I learn from them. The better ability to learn from my mistakes is probably the first and one of the greatest gifts France has given me. Of course there are others, the better appreciation of things and people you took for granted back home, the greater knowledge of a world and a type of a life outside of yours. The better ability to be observant, because when you can't talk normally to people you begin to notice their actions, expression, body language, and begin to draw conclusions based on these things.

And of course the most important gift France has given me so far, the great admiration and appreciation for a little language I like to call Franglais (that's Franglish for you English speakers.) Franglais is amazing, and I literally would not be able to get on here without it. Of course when my French develops I won't need Franglais anymore, but right now it is my knight in shining armor and I think I may miss it a little when it's gone. I love you Franglais.

As for France, the country itself is absolutely beautiful, picturesque. Sometimes I just look outside my window and ask myself how I got so lucky to be in such a beautiful place. The scenery is amazing, and somehow, distinctly French, even though you could find small mountains and valleys like this in the US. As for my city, Aurillac, it's small, but equally as beautiful as the country that surrounds it. Walking its streets you can find just about anything. And although it is modernized, its cobblestone and narrow streets leave you with a sense of old worldliness. And in this bustling city and its suburban outskirts, there are these little pockets of beauty too amazing to ignore. For example, one day I had an hour or so to kill by myself, waiting to catch my bus. Since I had been here for about a month and knew my way around the city center pretty well, I decided to take a walk to this church I had been dying to see but had never gotten the chance to. I winded down the streets, using the steeple that rose above the buildings as my guide. When I approached the church I was amazed by not only its beauty but its obvious age, and, how simply the people of the town passed it by, like it was nothing to be too terribly excited about.

I was thrilled, I walked the perimeter of the church, taking in the details. And then there was the garden. You see lots of churches in France have these little gardens behind them, very quiet, serene, and beautiful. But this was the first one I'd ever been in. It was so amazing, I decided immediately that one day, after my year was over, I had to return and show it to someone. I just sat on a bench and sighed. It still to this day is my favorite place in the city, even though I've only been there twice.

But there are many great things to see and places to go in the city, so many that sometimes, walking with friends or family, they come up on me by surprise and I'm blown away by how architecturally beautiful France really truly is. And then there are the cafes that stand on about every corner, Le Milk, being a particular favorite, frequented by my friends and me. The atmosphere is super warm and cozy and you just want to settle down with your coffee or cappuccino and read a nice book, or have a nice talk with friends, both of which I have been lucky enough to do at Le Milk.

Oh and the food, of course, is to die for. Very rich and hearty, especially in these mountains, a lot of meat and potatoes. But the desserts, oh those are the best. The desserts and the pastries are my favorite thing about France. And when asked by a Rotary member, I told him just that, and he laughed but agreed with my choice. Even the French themselves know their desserts are magnificent.

So France is obviously much different from being at home, from school, to friends, and of course family. But I have found that while there are many differences, when you really get down to the heart of a country, which I believe is the people, the differences are hardly noticeable. Sure a few social graces, language obviously, but when you really start to look I think you see that people are just people. There are annoying brothers and sisters, strict moms and dads, boyfriend, girlfriends, best friends, and worst enemies. There is everything and every type of person you would find at home and I am starting to think, probably in the whole world.

I am enjoying my time in France a lot and while sometimes I am homesick (it does happen) I know that this is something that I can never repeat, a moment in my life that will never happen again, and I am going to embrace it for what it is - and unforgettable experience. I can't wait to see what it has in store for me next. Two weeks of vacation is around the corner, and I think we are going to get a little traveling in. Promise to take pictures.



P.S. Escargot tastes like…..snails.