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Monday, August 25, 2014

Back at it

I'm not one for regrets or dwelling about how thinks could've been but I will say that I wish I'd kept writing after I got back to the U.S. I've looked at this blog a few times since being back and I love how it can take me back in time, but there's definitely a chunk of the story missing with my entire readjustment period and senior year missing.The only explanation I can give is that it was a very hectic time! I've been back two years now and am about to start my sophomore year at The University of Maryland, College Park. I'm taking the path well traveled and completing my bachelors. I haven't even studied abroad again, can you believe it? I think I definitely fulfilled a need to get out of my element and now I find a sense of comfort in doing what I'm "supposed to be doing" and having your run-of-the-mill college experience.
AFS may have filled a void but it definitely opened one as well. I have a relentless need to travel and stay busy. Since being back I went up to NYC at least a dozen times, San Francisco, Thailand, Iceland and now I'm in France again. 
Yes, you read that right, I'm in France! 

As soon as the plane touched down I felt an overwhelming sense that I was home. I couldn't help but smile through my tears of happiness. I slept most of the three hour plane ride from Reykjavik and was excited to put my feet back on French ground. Thinking I was following the hotel's directions, I headed for terminal 3 and went outside. After a little bit of wandering around outside in the dark with my bags I was sufficiently creeped out and went in the ibis to ask for directions to the citizenm hotel. The doors slid open for me and a major flash back of being in the lobby and eating area with AFS popped in my head. The beginning of many flash backs. I asked for directions in French and a really nice woman said "tu parles français? Tu me comprends?" Okay..." And explained I had gone in the totally opposite direction. That interaction made me so happy, it was the best way for me to feel like I was back and I still had it, just minutes into the trip. I continued speaking only French as I checked into citizenm. The room was like none I'd stayed in before, everything customizable with the touch of an iPad. Within minutes I had the lights set to party mood and "indie" music playing. I spent the next 
few hours washing clothes in the sink and reorganizing my luggage so that my cold weather clothes for Iceland would be out of the way. I took a shower and put on a movie but didn't fall asleep until 4 am. Ahh jet lag. 

The icelandic clothes came right back out the next morning when summer in Paris proved to  not be that different from summer in Iceland. The magic IPad woke me from a terrible 2 hour sleep and I dreaded the next few hours. I had to make myself presentable and find my way to the other side of Paris with my huge suitcase. Across the road at the CDG train station I bought the most expensive  metro ticket I could find - 34 euros for two days. I'm pretty sure you would have to ride the train all  
day and night to make that ticket worth it but for some reason, at the time, I thought it was the best option. I headed downstairs and completed the two hour, two change journey without any difficulties. I felt a little uncomfortable traveling alone, as if everyone was constantly looking and following me. Luckily, this feeling would go away after a few days of solo traveling as I got more comfortable with my environment. It was a huge relief when I came up from the Commerce metro and found a lovely neighborhood full of stores and French people running errands. At the hostel, the woman was pretty rude and told me to read the instructions for check out 3 times after I told her I already had. I checked in, paid an ungodly amount and left my bag in the reserve room to wait for me. Feeling accomplished and hungry I decided to explore the neighborhood. Right down the street I randomly stumbled upon one of the bakeries from my list of must eats in Paris and got a ham and cheese baguette and mineral water which tasted awful. I ate my first meal since the plane in a cute park with some bird friends. Not being able to wait another moment to see hotel de ville and Diwali, my favorite store from when I was living there, I hoped back on the metro and revisited my favorite spots. Later that night, at the hostel I moved my bags into my room and met Jonathan, an Indian Australian who switched bunks with me so I could have the bottom. We sat in the room and talked for nearly 4 hours. Paris was his last stop after 40 days in Italy and Spain. The rain had stopped and we were hungry so we went out and saw the Eiffel tower and arc de triumph and got dinner on the champs élysées. At one point I 
looked over my shoulder and saw the street and arc lit up and felt like this couldn't be my life. Back at the hostel we met Tony from Taiwan and a boy from Brazil, we all got a beer together and talked until the early morning.

I slept well until a man came in at 10 and said he had to clean the room so Jonathan and I got up and I spent the day playing tour guide. We started at the catacombs but the line wrapped around a park three time and it was raining so we decided to skip it and went to st. Michel, Notre dame, ile st.  
Luis, hotel de ville, le louvre and the Eiffel tower again. Exhausted we went back to the hostel where Tony gave us laduree macarons and we got a group together to go out for dinner. The three of us plus Kate from Australia and Jonathan and his sister from New Zealand picked out a great bistro right around the corner from the hostel and ate inside. We talked about where we had all been and where we wanted to go, sharing stories and wanderlust.  I'll note that this whole time I was playing translater, orderer and tour guide. It was always fun when waiters asked if any of us spoke French and everyone quickly turned and pointed at me!

In the morning, I showered and was delighted to find free baguettes and Nutella waiting for me downstairs. Everyone was sitting over maps of Paris plotting out their days of sightseeing sights I've already seen and so I decided to take a train to Giverny to see Monet's house and garden. Getting to the gare was no problem but I wasn't able to use the ticket machines since my credit card doesn't  have a chip. I ended up having to wait in the long line of people buying international tickets which made me miss the train I'd planned on getting and had to wait another hour and a half. Grrrrrr. Wishing I had wifi, headphones and a smoothie but none of the above, I walked around the gare and out front. Turns out, it's the gare I arrived at when I first moved to Paris with AFS. What a flashback. Monet's garden was really nice but full of tour groups and I spent 4 times the amount of time traveling and waiting in line as I did actually in the garden. 
I was hoping people would be around when I got back from Monet's and we would all go to dinner but the hostel was empty at 7. Starving, I decided to try out dining solo. I walked a few blocks but 
couldn't see myself sitting in a bistro alone so I decided to play up the American stereotype I'm so sick of heaving and headed for McDonald's. By 9 I was in the room wearing a ridiculous acne mask that Tony gave me after he opened the door wearing one himself (I lost the room key).

The next morning my alarm went off at 8. My apologies to the other 5 people in the room. I showered, sat on and zipped up my suitcase and unmade my bed. Tony, Christopher and I went down for breakfast and we huddled over a guidebook, talking about all we've seen and want to see in the beautiful capital of France. It was a little awkward afterwards as we parted ways; Tony to the champs élysées, Christopher to souvenir shopping at Notre dame and me to the Luxumburg gardens. I probably won't see either of them ever again but they were great company in Paris. I headed out and walked a mile or 2 to the 6th arrondissement. The garden and palace were beautiful and I got pierre hermé macarons. I also fell in love with the montparnass neighborhood and decided that it's where I would live if I ever become a permanent Parisienne. With the energy from three beautiful macarons I 
walked to the Tuileries metro and got home at 2. Right on time. I was starving but everything's closed in France on Sundays so I decided my best bet would be around the train station. Suitcase in hand, I left for gare du nord dreading all the stairwells I knew were ahead. I got to the station a safe hour early so I got a baguette and sat on my suitcase outside the station. Lucky for me, Paris's temperate weather was feeling brighter and the sun had finally come out.
Currently, the man on the train next to me smells awful. I'm sorry but some stereotypes really just are true.
I got off the train and quickly realized I had to idea where to go or even how to figure it out. My imagination has a funny way of running wild as soon as I'm in a situation like that. The man on the bridge quickly became a stalker, the man who asked if he could drop me off at the train station, a child abductor and the hostile, nonexistent after 30 minutes of wandering around blindly and breaking my suitcase on the cobblestone streets. When I did finally find the hostile I was tired and sweaty but 
so relieved. Once in my room, I settled in and took a shower, hoping this hostile would be as fun as the one in Paris. The bar at my hostile turned out to be a popular place for locals so I ended up hanging out with a group of kids from Lille that night. We went to a few other places in the city even though I was exhausted and I slept late the next morning. Luckily, as it turned out, I really didn't miss much since most of the shops were closed for either the holiday or Monday or simply because France is "a lazy fuck of a country" as one of the frenchies put so nicely the night before. I ate a giant crepe with more than a year's serving of Nutella and admitted I myself that I needed a rest day. Back at the hostel I did a load of laundry and took a nap. I woke up to 3 Australian guys in my room and we explored some more of Lille. We played cards with a québécois later and then all went out for dinner. A very fancy dinner at that, it took over an hour for our food to come and the portion sizes of lamb was smaller than my palm. After dinner we went out around the city with the two québécois and two Brits from the hostile. The English guys were biking from city to city, which I found rather 
impressive until they revealed they hadn't made it more than 10 km a day and were rather biking to train stations. We met three of the most strange men from the Netherlands and I stayed strong until 5  when I finally crashed and went to bed. Two hours later, I woke up and found the bus stop around the corner. I caught up on sleep during the seven hour train ride to Nice.

It's amazing how the most insignificant of moments can stay so fresh in your brain. As I entered Gare de Lyon the Paul took me back to my last day in France when I got off my train and found Kevin and Iris there and we ate sandwiches before being loaded into a bus to go to the ibis at the airport. I got a baguette there for old times sake and ate it as I waited for my next train to take me the rest of the way to the beach. 

I slept most of the train away but saw the countryside changing drastically as we headed further south. I walked from the gare to the hostel and found it pretty easily. I was checked in pretty early, maybe 7 so I walked down to the beach and explored a bit, finally ending up at the grocery store and decided to change things up by cooking my own dinner that night. I got ravioli and strawberries and shared a crowded kitchen back at the hostel with other tourists who were also avoiding the overpriced restaurants . My bunk mates were 4 english girls, 2 of which I didn't meet until the next morning when they ran in from the "monsoon" with a towel over their heads.

The girls were raving about "the best croissants they've ever had downstairs in the lobby" which turned out to be the worst I've ever had. I left before noon to get Graham at the airport and we waited in line for an hour to get our car. Luckily we were able to change from a manual to electric car, that could've been disastrous. Graham's license was expired and the tax for me to drive was crazy so basically we were both driving illegally, not to mention speeding. That first day we drove from nice to Montpellier, stopping at a random lake and eating pizzas and then in cassis- a gorgeous port town. We arrived in MP at 11 and hell broke out when the hotel couldn't find any record of our reservation and I had to fight with the security guard for an hour, finally giving up and eating Kabobs. They got us a room down the street at a pretty shitty hotel but we would've been happy in the car, so we shook hands and went to bed. 

The next morning we spent a good amount of time walking around the city, we got breakfast in a boulangerie and explored for a few hours before heading to nimes. Nimes turned out to be a great stop as we snuck a baguette, cheese and meat up to the top of a coliseum. We had a delicious picnic and a breathtaking view. With not much else to see in the city, we walked around a little and then continued on to Arles- where we would fall in love with the city and joke about staying forever. I'm not sure about graham, but I was really only half joking. Everywhere we turned it was more and more gorgeous. We met an aussi couple at a lookout point who offered us wine out of there coke bottle. We got dinner on the square and went to bed in a charming hostel we had all for the two of us. We woke up and spent some more time exploring the city, we ate croissants and an omelette and graham drew some houses. Ignoring the voices telling me to stay and start my life there, we got in our car and drove an hour north to the spot of the famous lavendar fields and although beautiful, the lavendar had just been harvested. Lucky for us the drive was totally worth it thanks to an absolutely incredibly village on a hillside that was along the road. We stopped in aix for dinner but were pretty disappointed with the city that didn't seem to offer more than shopping and eating. We had burgers after a long and unsuccessful hunt for raclette and then finished the road to marseille. Marseille was beautiful at night and we were able to park near to our hostel and walk around the port. Yet again, we had our room in the hostel to ourselves and the worker subtlety  offered us coke.

 The next morning we were totally ripped off paying 10 euros for 2 pain au chocolates and coffee. But I'm not even mad because we found the absolute best croissants shortly afterwards after walking around the port. Almond and chocolate, heavy and light, heaven. We walked in to a "concept" store and had a funny encounter with a cute family who owned the store and not out of character, graham proposed to the grandma. Excited to get to the beach we decided to leave marseille and drove south to the national parc of calanques. I didn't realize it would require so much physical activity but we had to hike an hour up and down and then up and down another mountain to reach the water. It was ice cold and the beach terribly crowded but for good reason, it was absolutely stunning. We picnicked on the beach and then headed east to st. Tropez. We stopped for gas and snacks and met two hitchhikers so naturally, we offered them a ride. An osteopath and engineer who has just spent a "discreet" night in the parc, fans of vampire weekend and heading back home to Grenoble. We dropped them off pretty soon afterwards as they were headed north. I was pretty disgusted with st. Tropez. I mean it was just ridiculously rich people with all their toys that cost a fortune. Good people watching and ice cream but nothing else there interested me. We continue driving and stopped in cagnes-sur-mer for dinner. It was 9 on a Saturday but the only place open for dinner was on the beach. Not a problem because we had a delicious Italian meal on the water and saw fireworks before finding our airbnb host in top of the mountains in a beautiful town full of art galleries an homes with million dollar views. Our host Celine was a total over achiever who came down to see us in but accepted a ride up the steep driveway and who had set flowers an water bottles out. Definitely not complaining. In the morning we drove down to nice where we were able to park our car no where but an insanely  expensive garage and spent the day in one city for the first time during the trip. We got croissants and biked up and down the coast. graham ate all the mussels in the sea while I enjoyed an unhealthy goat cheese salad that filled us up so the only option we had for dinner was crepes. We climbed up the mountain to where the castle presumably used to be and took stunning photos before eating crepes and sitting by the sea and watching a beach volleyball game until we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel. It didn't hit me how sad I was that it was all over until the next morning when our bags were packed and graham was leaving to the airport. I had an hour to kill before my train so I got a croissant and smoothie and ate my breakfast on the beach and then headed to the station. One baguette, 8 hours of train later, I'd be in Pesmes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The end

As I sit here and look at the blank page in front of me, soon to be covered in words, I yawn. Rub my eyes, and try to stay awake.
Coming home from 10 months abroad is exhausting. exciting. eventful. hectic. but mostly exhausting.
Although, I won't attribute the delay to this "I'm home" announcement post, to fatigue. No, it's more denial than anything else. Because as soon as I click the orange publish button, the main purpose of this blog will be complete. I'm home. I have no more day to day adventure to blog about, no more life lessons to report on. Just an American life to resume to.


But before we get into the present, I suppose I should tell you about the past. My past two weeks.


I ate my last dinner with my host family at the village pizzeria. The pizzeria that has "Laura's American cookies" on the menu. The one that treated me to my first frog legs. We ate a nice meal, seated closely to neighbors, who all wished me a safe trip home and expressed their hope to see me again in the future. I had a knot in my stomach throughout the evening and couldn't keep back the tears as we walked out the door. My host sisters enclosed me in their arms and hugged me for awhile and then we walked, hand in hand, to the car.
Before going up stairs that night, I cried again on my host mom's shoulder. We talked about the time we spent together and the things we learned about each other. 
I asked them if they would host again, hoping to share my new family with someone else. But they said no, they wouldn't host a second time because, "une perle comme Laura, on n’en trouve pas deux" (A pearl like Laura, you don't come across two), as my host dad put it. 
I barely slept that last night. Instead I looked up at my ceiling, memorizing every mark on the walls, every shadow sneaking in through the blinds. I tried to make myself understand that it was my last time sleeping in that bed, but it wasn't easy. 
I opened my eyes the next morning and ate my last nutella baguette. I zipped all my suitcases shut, put on the infamous blue AFS shirt and loaded the car with my host family. 
I still wasn't ready. 
As we pulled out of the driveway and drove past the soccer field where I would watch my boyfriend's games, past the bus stop where I stood every morning, and over the bridge that I canoed under, it still hadn't hit me that it was the last time I would be seeing those places for a long long time.
There was a pretty big elephant in the car as we drove. We talked about everything except what we were all thinking. My host sisters put their heads on my shoulder and we held hands the whole ride there. We got to the train station early and they wrote loving notes on the AFS shirt as we waited. 
The tears came back when my train pulled in to the station. My host dad loaded my suitcases on to the train, and I hugged and kissed everyone one last time. 
A part of me was happy though. I felt fulfilled. I went through some hard times during my year, but that morning was the end. And it was proof that the rough patch had paid off. It was so worth it to end my year with my real, second family. To have to say goodbye to people that I didn't want to say goodbye to... as twisted as that sounds. 

Two hours later, we pulled into the Gare de Lyon in Paris. My sadness morphed to pure excitement when I saw my AFS friends. We talked briefly about our sad mornings full of tears, but in each others understanding and compassionate company, we were okay.
We ate lunch at the station and then filed into a bus for the airport hotel.  






We sat through several hours of long talks and discussion. Thank god we were in France and got frequent smoking breaks. (I don't smoke but appreciate the interruptions).  
And it's not that I have something against discussion and long talks. I definitely recognize that it is necessary and helpful, especially before a big adjustment like we were about to go through. But I think that given time to talk amongst each other, we would have covered the same ground, and more effectively than with worksheets and questionnaires.  
Dinner was served and a slideshow of pictures, taken throughout the year at different AFS events, was projected. Afterwards, we had time to say goodbye to our friends who we wouldn't see the next morning.  
These goodbyes were almost as hard as those shared with host families. We were apart of the 2012 AFS kids just like we were a part of our families. And it is even more unlikely that we will all see each other again. We were like a graduating class. All year we'd experienced something together and were now heading off in our own directions. So caps off to the AFS class of '12!!


The next morning, we were herded like sheep out the door and into the airport. Everyone struggling with their suitcases, thuds being heard as they hit stairs after stairs. Problems with overweight suitcases and water bottles full of vodka were solved and at long last, we were at our gate. 
Our plane was late, I bought goat cheese for my family, and we drank a round together. 


Our plane's delay caused everyone to panic that we'd miss our connecting flight, including the flight attendant. I could barely walk with my suitcases, so running was out of the question. Yet that's exactly what we all did when we reached Zurich. We ran. And ran and ran. I don't think our gates could have been at more opposite ends. Finally, we made it and were allowed on to the plane, the last people before the door closed. 








Seven hours later, we land. I touch down in the United States for the first time in 10 months. And everything that I've been trying to get through my head for the past week, become reality. 
I'm not sure how I feel, while my friends freak out about seeing their families on the other side of customs. 
I got a wonderful surprise from my brother and his girlfriend, who live in the city, before boarding my second flight to D.C. 


I made it home safe and sound, and woke up the next morning at seven a.m for a drivers education class. The next ten days are a blur, life is so busy. I'm catching up on a year and adapting to my American life. 
I have to go now, I'm driving to the airport to pick of Pauline, my best friend from France whose staying with me for three weeks. 
I have so much more to write about, but so so so little time. 
I'll make sure to find it, and tell you more about this "I'm home" part of the blog. 


For now this little black curser will move up to the top of the page, and click that orange "update" rectangle, and I'll be out from my hiding grounds.
As with my host family and friends in France, we will meet again, you will hear from me, but never under the same circumstance.
This is the end of one story, the start of another. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Canoeing


I was eating my second to last dinner with my host family earlier this evening, when a group of friends knocked on my door.
They whisked me away and took me to the river that surrounds our village.
We went canoeing as the sun set. The cotton candy colored sky reflecting on the glassy water. Sublime.
We felt a storm coming and so did the jumping fish and mooing cows.
Under the moon’s light, we walked home, pass the old stone church and through the fields. I was thinking one thing: I am really going to miss being an exchange student.  

Photos from a week in Franche-Comte

The view of Besanscon from the Citadelle 
Just chillin'
My host sister and I are monkeys!



Champagne with dinner to drink to Melina's Bac, Myriam's birthday and my last night.
The birthday girl <3


Photos from a week in Tournon

My host mom asked me if I knew how to make pancakes, yes, yes I do.


Tickets to go to Tournon!
My host mom took me to the station!

First meal in Rhone-Alps!



My tattoo


Valence for the day with Pauline


Smoooooothies :P
That ice cream melted in .01 seconds

A good bye full of promises with Margaux <3
A big brunch that Eliza and I prepared for her host family.
Tain by night.
Day by the pool with Pauline <3


The tracks that have taken me away from this lovely town three times now.
We'll never say good bye!


Monday, July 2, 2012

goodbye Tournon


I have never been able to leave this town without tears. I don’t think I ever will. The beauty of the scenery and the beauty of the people here make saying goodbye incredibly hard. I arrive into open arms and leave with kisses and tears, in between new memories are made and laughs and good times are shared. I wonder if any random French town would have ended up so close to my heart, but something tells me no. Tournon is special, and it’s mine, forever.
Spending a week there with my friends and old classmates was my last wish for this year in France. It cost me a week away from my host family but honestly, I would have done anything to see Tournon again.
I left on Monday with a pretty impressive amount of traveling ahead of me. I took three different trains, changing twice with little time in between. In Dijon, I had just enough time to buy a sandwich and smoothie, and help an English couple out by giving them money for the bathroom. I ate my overpriced lunch on my way to Lyon, and then from Lyon to Tain, I watched Coco before Chanel on my computer. It was a long trip but went smoothly, a jump in my stomach and excitement to arrive accompanied me the whole way.

When I’m close to Tournon, I feel it. Out the window, the Rhone flows, with vineyards rising out of it and reaching the sky. Rooftops are orange and stone towers and castles line the hills.
My train came to a slow and my smile stretched from ear to ear as the view out the window changed from river to train station. Tears of joy came to my eyes when I read Tain l’hermitage at the station.
Four hours of solitude in trains came to an end when I jumped off the train and ran into my friends’ arms, all of them unchanged and as happy as ever to see me. They helped load my bags into the car and we all went to the house where I would be staying, to catch up. Over tea, we talked as if a matter of days had gone by instead of five months.
We went over to Pauline’s house later and swam in her pool, drank smoothies, and tanned. Her generosity and true friendship was shown when she gave me the most heartwarming present I’ve ever gotten. A scrapbook, telling the story of my year in France, page after page of pictures of me with friends and in front of sites all over France. The last page is my favorite, our class picture with notes written by my closest friends.
All the time and effort put into it was the nicest and sweetest thing someone has ever done for me. It’s a gift that I will cherish and look through for years to come.

I ate my first dinner in town with four friends, on the quay, eating goat cheese ravioli with red wine and laughing until well after dark. I spent the week with Eliza’s host family, and ended each day talking with Eliza about anything and everything, but mostly the fact that we would be home in one week, until our eyes closed and we drifted off to dream land.
During the days it was hot and we made good use of the pool, changing in and out of our bathing suits uncountable times.
I went to Valence twice with friends to shop the nationwide summer sales. I wasn’t in need of more clothes and rather in need of no more clothes, in order to keep my suitcases shut. However, I did buy a lot of French movies, crossing off a good amount on my list. And I spent money on a new haircut, my first in France and in the last 10 months!
And, drum roll…. I got a tattoo. To answer the question everyone has been asking me, no, my mom did not know about it beforehand! Haha This was my big rebellious move of the year, so I’m lucky that my family’s reaction wasn’t too bad. I got the silhouette of a delicate bald eagle on the side of my torso, signifying how I flew free this year. It's the souvenir that I won't misplace. I had thought about it for a while, and a tattoo parlor recently opened up in Tournon, where they conveniently don’t ask Americans how old they are. I had a group of friends in the room with me so even when it hurt a lot, they kept a smile on my face.

One night, Pauline’s family took me out to a delicious dinner. Her parents feel as though they owe me something for hosting Pauline this summer for three weeks. Pauline told me, “Laura, I don’t think you realize that you are making one of my dreams come true”. I answered to her parents that it is they who don’t realize that they saved me in the middle of my worst nightmare. (It was this family who took me in when I changed families and they who wanted to host me!) On top of that, having Pauline come visit is a gift for me as much as it is for her.
Afterwards I met up with three friends and saw the movie On the Road. It was in English with French subtitles. I hadn’t read the book and it had a little too much drugs and nudity, for my taste. I just realized that it was my first time seeing a rated R movie in theaters… except, not really since it wasn’t rated R here.
My favorite night of the week was in celebration of Eliza’s departure, at her going away party. Beforehand, Eliza and I took advantage of living in a wine-producing town and went to Tain’s cave. The employees, like at the tattoo parlor, either didn’t care how old we are, or thought we were older, because they treated us to a wonderful wine tasting. We both chose our favorite and bought some for the party, and for her host dad whose birthday was the following day. 
She invited around 50 people over for the night, including a lot of people from my class and people from school that I’d missed. For some, I was a nice surprise and for others, I was the reason to come from far away! We all had a really great time and stayed up late enough to watch the sun come up together.

After this jam-packed week of reuniting with the people I love, and having a great time, I found myself back at the train station this morning. A few friends met me there too, for yet another good-bye. My train ended up having a problem though and we left 15 minutes late. Which, if you ask me, just proves that my destiny is in Tournon! ;)  

the power of the internet


The other day, I received an email from a complete stranger. A stranger who knew all about the year that I just spent in France. A stranger, who sounded like a friend from the first email we exchanged. She is an American girl  me, two years ago. Considering leaving her home for a year, but nervous about all that that would involve. She's been reading my blog and emailed me with all of her questions and thoughts. 
While trying to soothe her worries, my number one goal was to get her to do this. I wrote her a truthful letter in hopes of promoting realistic expectations without reducing the real greatness of a year abroad. 
And now I hope to do the same for you by sharing my response:


      Hello! I'm so glad that you found my blog and enjoy it!! I love hearing from people that read it. When I first started it, a year ago, my mom told me that I needed to pick a voice. Who did I want to write to? She asked me. I knew that my blog would serve as email updates for my family and friends, but who I really wanted to address were those who would follow in my footstep. I hoped to impact someone else's experience in some way, hoped to encourage others  to have a year abroad of their own. 
As far as my dedication to writing goes, it's something that I love. I wouldn't write so frequently if I didn't enjoy it. It also helps that I have a lot to write about! When you're abroad, something crazy happens every day, so it makes for great material. 
Plus, you and your mind changes and as your ideas form, writing helps connect all the loose ends. It makes you realize all the things that are happening which could otherwise go right over your head!  
      Now on to you- do it. 
I'm going to be completely honest with you: no amount of research, or blogs will prepare you for leaving home for 10 months. It can't. It's an absolutely crazy thing to do, which I don't think I really realized when I decided to do this. It's pretty risky in that you have no idea what you're getting yourself into, you have no way of knowing. But what I can tell you is that you can handle it. You adjust, and you grow from every moment. The good, as well as the bad-and you'll have your fair share of both. 
What programs offer is a period of time in a foreign country, but every single experience is different. What you're referring to in terms of some people's experience having more appeal than others, may or may not be true. 
Yes, I've definitely done my share of traveling this year (I'm actually on a train traveling by myself at this very moment) but that came with a lot of instability crazy roller coasters of emotions. No matter where you end up, or with whom, your year is whatever you make it. You can have a terrible day on a sunny day and the best day of your life on a rainy day, if you will. 
My blog may appeal to you more because I have a very positive attitude and tend to write more about the happy parts of my experience, that's what I would prefer to remember. Even if it doesn't represent my year as a whole. 
It's not that AFS "just puts you out there" but rather that they put you where they can. They don't typically cater to what you wish for simply because they can't. I know that AFS France has a hard time finding families, and takes every single one that volunteers themselves. So no, you won't be able to choose your region of France. At my interview, the lady asked me what kind of weather and scenery I prefer, but really I don't think my answers changed anything. Your application gets sent out at random to different regions, and from there they try to find you a family. 
AFS is a good organization in that they're there for you, and you always have a number to call. But the job they do is very hard, and they can't guarantee that you will have a great family or town or school. It's a huge lottery, but no matter where you end up, what really matters is your attitude and your willingness to adjust. No one is going to "not accept you" but some will take longer to open up to you or leave all the effort up to you.
I have seen a lot of France, and a lot of different kinds of people. I can't generalize to answer your questions but I wouldn't change my country choice given the chance. France has become my second home and is very close to my heart. 
      So now it's my turn to apologize for the long email! When you give me a topic that I love I'll write for days. But I'm going to arrive in Lyon soon, and you have a long AFS application to start preparing! I hope I didn't scare you off in the least, I just don't want you to have this fairy tale in mind and be depressed, if your experience doesn't live up to it! Personally, I don't remember having a single expectation when our plane landed. And that way, I had no way of being disappointed. I've had a lot of rocks thrown my way this year, but I wouldn't take back anything, I've had a great time and you will too! 


I'm hoping this email persuaded her to embark on this amazing journey. And now I've shared it on here, in hopes of persuading you too!!! 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

making memories

Excuse this past week of silence, I'm back in Tournon to see my friends one last time and I'm having the time of my life!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Life In an Art Castle

   I'm not quite sure how, but I definitely claimed the throne of vacation this year. To the point of what amounted to what is likely an equal amount of holiday than school days, okay well maybe not quite that much. But I definitely did exhaust the joy that should be taken in days with nothing to do! Which is why I was very happy with my host dad's idea to find me an internship to occupy one of these last weeks of vacation in France. 
    He works at the town hall and organized for me to help out at an art museum in the town where I went to school. I had no idea what I had agreed to or what I would be doing, but was excited nonetheless. I wouldn't say that I'm not particularly interested in art or museums but we all know how I love playing these different roles and getting glimpses of different lives. So this week was round "life in an art museum!" (sorry for the unoriginal title...) 
   I think it's only fair to specify that this art museum is actually in a castle that belonged to Louis 16th brother, and has a tour that dates even further back, to the middle ages.  
Beautiful setting : check!
(I got these pics from ze internetz!)
   So I only worked there for one week, but I had quite the routine. I left to work every morning with my host dad. We listened to the news, and I nodded my head and laughed or smiled or frowned on cue as I tried to understand whatever the reporter was talking about and as my host dad half shared his opinion and half explained what was going on. If you ask me eight am is a little early for French political radio... 
   We left at that time for my host dad's work at the town hall, next to the castle. Otherwise, I wouldn't necessarily have to go in so early. Often, I was the first to arrive and was locked outside the gates. But it was never long before someone with a key to the castle arrived! Those keys are in the hands of three women who were my bosses for the week. 
Here are some of my own pictures of the museum: 
My favorite room of the museum, a mix between Versailles and English (IMHO)
A bench borrowed from the castle of Versailles 


Canons looking over Gray



   The first day was pretty awkward. When I walked in, I presented myself, and the three of them obviously had the impression that I didn't understand French. They started by talking to me incredibly slowly, and I tried very hard not to let a laugh out. Luckily, they quickly caught on that they could speak normally! 
   The first example of this was over morning coffee, which we would continue to take every morning at ten. We all stopped whatever work we were in the middle of and gathered upstairs. Through a narrow hallway, in a tiny attic room with creaking hard wood floor (possibly the original) we sat on our designated stool and drank a coffee, gossiping about the artists who were scheduled to come in that day to drop off their artwork. 
   Throughout the week, we had many artists come by as we were preparing for a big exhibit that would open on Friday. In other words, I arrived just in time for four days of total chaos! 
   I felt very useful and productive some days, doing legitimately helpful tasks (i.e, hanging up paintings, painting sculture stands, carrying artwork upstairs, applying text to the walls, making flyers...). While other hours went by more slowly, as I made photocopies, answered the phone and used the paper cutter for hours on end to cut said flyers. These tasks were occasionally interrupted by museum visitors. In the first few days we saw tourists from Switzerland, Germany, France and England! I was very keen on the English couple and even though they came by on my first day and I had only seen the museum once myself, I accompanied them on their visit and managed to give a pretty complete and entertaining tour. :)


   Friday day was spent between setting up tables outside and laying out napkins and plastic wine cups and unpacking the 400 catalogs that we had had delivered. The exhibit doors opened at six pm. And while there wasn't exactly a line of people waiting outside the door, we did get a decent amount of visitors. I took on the job of cashier for those buying the catalog and souvenirs, bartender for those in need of a drink, informed person, for those interested in the art, and photographer, for the press of Gray who were unable to make it to the event themselves. 



The mayor made a nice speech (he hosted an American from Colorado a few years back!) 
My friend, Adeline, pretending to be serious behind the counter!



   I discussed with many lovely people, and thoroughly enjoyed the night. (Not to mention the week as a whole!) It was an excellent idea on my host dad's part and he deserves a big fat thank you for arranging this for me! Art museum/castle added to my resume ;)