Granger, Outbound to France

Today is my second month in France, and while the past month has been one of plenty of adventures, and its ups and downs I wanted to just briefly touch this. At the start of the month I went with my district and about half of the other ones in France to Mont-St.-Michel, an ancient monastery and little village on top of a rock island in the English Channel off the coast of Brittany. Words cannot do it justice, all I can say is look at the fairytale like pictures on my page to start to understand. Also getting to meet hundreds of other exchange students was fun and it was a great time to get PINS PINS PINS!

The weekend after I went and visited a couple of exchange friends in Brive-la-Gaillard. To future exchange students, you’ll soon find that the other English speakers, Canadians, Aussies, and Kiwis particularly will become some of your greatest friends on the planet. You don't even have to spend a whole lot of time with them on exchange to form deep inseparable bonds. It also gives you an excuse to go visit your friends all over the world after exchange. (One quick note I’d suggest, while it’s incredibly easy to make friends with exchangies, also make sure you spend the majority of your time making friends with those of your host country)

The next weekend began my first break “Vacances de Toussaint” I have to admit 2 week long breaks here roughly every 6 weeks of school are much appreciated. They are also much needed because French school is a lot. I have a schedule with one of the least amounts of courses and I still take 4 hours more of courses than I did in the States. (For others they go to school from 8-6 almost everyday.) But more on the vast thing called “école” another time.

For a couple of days during break my family went on vacation to see some natural wonders in the south central part of France. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for the beauty of nature and small villages in France.

One main thing I wanted to talk about was how I view one aspect of exchange. There are plenty, perhaps infinitely many reasons why to go on exchange but one that really struck me recently was the concept that exchange is a what I like to consider the ultimate stage and transformation into adulthood. Although we as humans are constantly learning, if we simply break our education into two parts we have childhood and adulthood. In between, there is an awkward phase known as adolescence. While many people view this as a horrible phase filled with acne and plenty of awkward moments, it is in fact an incredibly crucial phase in our development. I believe exchange is one of, if not the best way to truly shape teens and tailor them into amazing adults that they want to be.

I’ll admit one of the big reasons I came on exchange was to explore a sense of independency, I so desperately desired. And what I found was that exchange is independency and also at the same time not. It’s breaking away from the family, school, and life where you grew up as a child, but at the same time its not the independency of a true adult. On exchange you’re still going to school and have a family and Rotary who are responsible for you. And this entirely unique environment that’s created is incredibly formative for exchange students, if they want it to be.

I’ll use what happened this morning as an example. I had my first dispute with my host mom. It was about me wanting to do something last minute. In the states I would have been able to do, but here in France it required permission from Rotary to ensure my wellbeing. The only thing is if I were to wait for Rotary’s permission I would have missed to opportunity. And while I know that I would be fine and nothing bad would happen, it was the concept that Rotary and my host parents were responsible for me that caused me not to be able to go. Now had something like this happened back home, I would have been upset, even angry with my parents for not letting me go. And a situation like this wouldn't have arisen in the adult world, because no parent would be telling em what I can and cant do. But in this environment on exchange, I knew I couldn’t be mad with my host mother. I could clearly see she only had my safety at heart and was following protocol. Plus would getting mad with her help me on my exchange or if another similar situation arises? So what was I left to do? I used it as an opportunity to learn, to think of what I would do if something happened like this as an adult. Sure I might not have a parent telling me what I can or can’t do, but there are plenty of things in the world that our out of our hands; that we can’t control. Instead of the natural human instinct to be angry and mad or even hate the person or thing preventing us from doing something, I had the ability to work and develop a beneficial response to scenarios like that. I turned it in to a good thing, was happy, and learned from it, instead of the opposite. And before long that will hopefully become second nature.

Exchange allows you to respond, develop, and practice those skills you learned from school, organizations, culture, and even Rotary Orientations in a real life situation. Until now all the things I had learned, I’ve only really gotten a chance to practice in made up controlled scenarios. When you learn something you tend to practice it right after and you know how to respond. But the correct response never becomes second nature. On exchange you are challenged with those same scenarios often times, but at completely random times when you’re not expecting it. Our nature is to respond with our instinct when were caught of guard and not with maybe a better practice that we’ve been taught. Exchange fosters us to make those best practices second nature and thus make us better adults and humans searching for a better world.

I’ll give a couple other examples. The smartest and most successful people say listening is perhaps the best skill you can develop. You want to learn how to listen? Well when your learning a new language you always understand the language before your able to speak it. When your forced to listen, because you can’t respond yet, you develop this ability to listen to others.

Or another one. When I desperately needed a haircut (and usually do once a month) but my host parents told me it was my responsibility to pay. I also found out that haircuts were about 20 euros more than my monthly allowance from Rotary. So I was forced to think what’s a way I can solve this? Maybe spend 20 euros on a hair clipper and cut my hair myself? I was a little nervous but it turned out great (see pictures). Not only were the problem solving skills used but doing things that are out of my comfort zone allow me to stretch and extend my comfort zone constantly. With more things I’m comfortable with I’m wont have as many problems trying different things and being flexible as an adult.

The vast majority of those who don’t go on exchange, are left to the change between childhood and adulthood when they move out of home and go to college. They never really get the chance to test out skills in a safe environment with parents but also with out your real ones, who your to comfortable with and know how they will respond. This unique environment creates incredible people who are truly changing the world and making strides towards peace.

Rotary’s goal in sending students on exchange is to foster world peace, and I couldn’t truly explain how well it works. I’m reminded of a metaphor for World Peace I like to use. Imagine the earth with a big chain and padlock on it. If we can unlock the lock we would have world peace. Well if you can imagine a chain and lock on the earth, it probably has to be massive. And if the lock’s massive the key must be too. The key to peace is not small or hidden away, we know where it is. It’s big and right in front of us. The key to peace is not some mysterious recipe that’s extremely elaborate that we have to do just right to achieve world peace. Its quite simple to achieve world peace we just need to understand others, to listen, and love them without reserve because of difference in thought or culture. So why don’t we already have world peace? Because we need every person on the planet to lift up that big key and turn it.

That’s the challenge. Trying to get people to actually practice those principals. Not just saying they’re practicing them but actually practice them. To the point where it’s second nature.

That’s what exchange allows.

So if your interested in exchange, know that you would be joining a family of teens (of course having fun and doing millions of things) but working to bring peace among the world. If your a current exchange student, don’t let yourself get down. Keep focused on using all of your challenges as learning experiences; it’s not going to come passively. And to the Rotarians and parents, know us exchange students are doing incredible things so let us do them, but please please also challenge, test us, keep us on our feet to improve. Wow, what an incredible program to be a part of!

À tout à l’heure

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