Monday, October 17, 2011
Why didn't I think this would be hard?
When people would tell me good luck, I didn't listen. When they told me I was brave, I didn't understand. And when they asked me why? I thought to my self, "Why not?". I still think that this is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it is no longer the walk in the park that I thought it would be.
For the past ten months I had thought of this moment. I arrived at the Marseilles airport and there they were. My host parents standing there with their little white dog and two huge smiles. Of course I'd planned on what to say and I'd "perfected" my French for this particular scenario, yet as they asked my how my trip was etc , I was speechless. I could barely mutter a clumsy "ca va" in response. how embarrassed I was but just so happy to finally be in France!
During the two hour drive home I couldn't help but continue thinking to myself that I was in France. The clouds I were seeing were French clouds, the air, French air, and the mountains, well the mountains are indescribable. I think I fell asleep for the majority of the car ride because when I woke up it was only because we had arrived at my house. Now, I had seen pictures before but real life is always so much better. It's such a beautiful Spanish style house with a pool and a garden that would put your grandmothers to shame.
So basically my first two weeks here were spent getting to know my host parents and spending a little bit of time with my future host sister and her friends. It was the longest summer of my life and I was really happy for school to start. Of course now that I'm in my second week of lycee I can only think about summer, but the grass is greener on the other side or so I've heard.
My current host family lives in the village of Peipin which is 7 kilometers from the city of Sisteron where my lycee is. Sisteron is everything you think of when you think of France. Little streets, archways and alleyways, cobblestone streets. It's beautiful and it's also surrounded by mountains! My first outing in Sisteron is one to be remembered. It was my first week here and my host sister asked if I wanted her to show me the town with some of her other friends. Happy to be invited anywhere I said yes. She was so nice about showing me the things of Sisteron and teaching me certain words and street names, but as it was, she was with her friends, and I spoke no French. I felt invisible. I would smile and nod and really really try to understand but my head was a mess. Every 5000 words or so they would repeat something slowly or try to translate into English. The latter usually ended in them giggling to each other about how funny it sounded. Although I didn't know what they were saying, I was grateful that I was socializing "more or less" and I returned to my house a happy camper.
Since that day it's been a whirlwind. I've experienced so much, so little. It feels like I've been here a second and a lifetime. There's really no point in me telling you that this month has been the funniest or happiest month of my life. It has been truly amazing, but amazingly difficult as well. Hearing people talk about how you're shy and quiet and "timide" when you are actually really outgoing and talkative is hard. Standing on the outside of a circle of teenage girls all talking so fast that you feel good when you can catch one word of the conversation is hard. It's human nature to have expectations and of course I had plenty of my own (though I tried not to) before I got here. It hasn't clicked as easily as I thought it would, but slowly and surely I'm finding my place in this beautiful country. I can understand much more now than when I first arrived and I'm slowly tweaking my accent
My first month has been better, and different than I expected, but hey, is life ever as we expect? I think being surprised day in and day out is what makes this whole thing worthwhile. A good exchange isn't having everyday be perfect and easy. It's what you make of it. And when I return to Florida, fluent in another language with friends from all over the world, when I return with a broadened perspective and a hunger for more knowledge and growth, when I return because I have to, and not because I want to, and feel as though I'm leaving this place that I already call home, THAT is when I will know that I put my all into this exchange and got even more out of it.
Thank you so much Rotary. My life is changes, my horizons endless, and my journey started thanks to you.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
I suppose my complete lack of motivation to write this blog is a good sign. I guess its all a part of integration. Regular old life isn't quite as exciting as the first month in a foreign country, though there are still "wow" moments for sure. One moment I find that everything is normal and the next I'm literally caught by surprise by something that I have never seen before. It's fascinating and exhausting all at the same time but slowly I'm getting used to not getting used to anything.
Over three months have gone by. Its strange. I don't know how to explain it because it feels neither long, nor short. Its just time. Time that I have spent away from my friends and family and time that I have spent trying to build this new life around people and things that are unfamiliar. At this point I find myself thinking often, "will it ever feel normal?" my only answer to that is that I wont know until I get back. In the same way that I didn't really know what my life was before until I got here. That's one of my biggest lessons that I've learned since I've been here. I now know how much my family means to me. I know more of what my values are. I know less of what I want to do with my life. I guess it's all about give and take. I've been given so much and I can't be more grateful. Although I complain and whine about my life here in southern France sometimes, I know that most of time I do it just to have something to do. Thank goodness I now have a guitar to take up some of my time.
Enough with all that. Lets talk about turkey!
My thanksgiving here was one to remember. I didn't have any plans originally which made me sad because thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! I tried to get in touch with some of the other exchange students near me to see if the wanted to try to get together. Chris, a boy from America told me that his host parents knew an American lady who owned a restaurant who was cooking thanksgiving dinner. He asked if I wanted to come with him and two other exchange students. I really really wanted to but the only problem is that they live about 45 minutes from me and it was a Thursday night. I asked my host sister if there was a bus I could take but she told me that they didn't run at night. I was really sad that it wasn't going to work out so I called Chris and told him. He was sad too but he said that we would definitely hangout another time soon. About five minutes after we hung up he called me back and told me that his host mother knew a couple (an American woman and a French man) who were going to the restaurant and who worked in my town! He told me that the couple were more than happy to give me a ride there and take me back in the morning. He also told me that I was welcome to stay at one of the exchange students houses that night. So I was going to be able to eat turkey on thanksgiving and miss school! It was too good to be true. I was scared to ask my host mom about missing school but when I finally got the guts she reacted better than I could have imagined. she said yes right away and told me that she was happy I was getting a piece of home on such an important holiday.
Anyways, the food was delicious and just like home. It was such a blessing to be able to have experienced such an American past time in my new country. Also, Chris was so nice and told me that he was happy to lend me a guitar for the year because he has three at his house now. I was honestly so happy! I have been searching for a guitar this whole year to no avail and finally in a perfect weekend it was just handed to me. I have been using it so much and I don't think he knows just how much he helped me out.
Since then I've been working hard in school (hardly working...?) and really focusing on learning my French. It is getting so much better which is an encouragement and I always catch myself thinking how much I would love to go back to my French 3 class and show off. I guess that can wait another eight months.
Coming up I have London in less than two weeks and then Belgium shortly after that. I'll keep you posted as best I can and I hope everyone is doing well back on that side of the pond. Love you all