Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Settling in to Malang

Today, I forgot to put on deodorant. On the equator, that's not a good thing. And when you're headed to a temple, orange grove and museum, that's really not a good thing. Just before reaching the campus gates, I made the executive decision to pop in one of the many little shops on my way to school. Not 5 minutes later, I left with deodorant, Q-tips and a huge smile. Not only had I solved 2 problems (I've been wanting Q-tips for awhile now), I'd also had a simple conversation, but conversation all the same, with the sales person. Quite the accomplishment if you ask me. 

I realize it may sound silly but in a new city with a new language, one must celebrate such small accomplishments. Going into a store and searching every shelf, fiddling through your wallet to find the right bills, even interacting with a real human, some days all of this would make for too much. Some days, I might've just settled with smelling like a dog. 

Beautiful Indonesia and lovely Indonesians aside, immersing yourself in new and totally different surrounding is mentally exhausting at times.

All jokes about my unfortunate habit of forgetting deodorant aside, the adjustment wasn't actually as challenging as I expected. I believe I have the US Department of State to thank for that. The amount of work and resources they put into the CLS program is incredible. I wrote in my last post about the many things that were making me nervous before leaving (I.e, illness, inability to communicate), I found them all to fade away as CLS took me under it's wing.

There have been a few moments during this trip where things actually just seemed... over the top. Checking in to a hotel I didn't make a reservation at was the first occurrence that struck me as odd. Needless to say, I enjoyed the fruity water in the lobby and fluffy pillow during our 2 nights in D.C. I also had time to get to know the people I would be spending the following two months with. (Not to mention following 3 days of traveling). 

I had said my goodbyes, packed my bags and sat through orientation. The only thing left to do was get on the plane, then the next one, then the next one.

I arrived in Malang two weeks ago. The last 14 days were a whirlwind, to say the least. The cattle, 26 American students, had been herded through airports, security, customs and were finally completing the last leg of their journey. We got off the bus in front of a building, that would become a safe haven for many, and were greeted with open arms. Even for a population known for their remarkable hospitality, the warmth of the people I met that day blew me away. They had all memorized our names and faces. For each of us, there were two of them, plus photographers there to capture the first moments of what would become strong friendships. I was feeling overwhelmed by all of this when I heard the words, "you must be Laura". I looked down to find a beautiful, tiny Indonesian girl, Te. She and Sylvie are what one could call my "paid friends". Every CLS participant is paired with a host family, 2 friends (tutors) and given a backpack with notebooks, a phone and a magical folder containing everything you could dream of. (My favorite of which, a map of Malang pinpointing where each student lives). In addition to weekend excursions, a buffet lunch at school every day and the security of having the State Department behind you. As if having the chance to live in beautiful Malang wasn't already enough..

School started our very next day. I'm in a class with four other students and we have four teachers ("gurus"). Embarking in intensive language class as a complete beginner is a beautiful thing. It's hard work and humbling work. I acknowledge that I have no idea what is going on most of the time, I acknowledge the ego that drives the need to contribute and from here there's nothing to do but learn. And learn I will, CLS has made sure of that. My every need is attended to here, ensuring the only space in my mind is reserved for all the new Bahasa Indonesia words. (And man will I be needing that space).   

Sunday, May 31, 2015

From AFS to CLS

The other day I was coming back from somewhere on campus, probably a class or the library, when I turned the corner of my building, pulled out my swipe and opened the door. I climbed the five flights of stairs and walked into the apartment I’ve called home for the past three semesters. It was such a routine; I could have done it in my sleep. This might seem totally normal and mundane to you and that's exactly what stood out to me. An alarm was going off in my head, waking me up, begging me to do something new and different. Get out of my comfort zone and mix things up. I mean come on, the same apartment for three semesters? Where's the fun in that? I must know every mark on the walls by now. 

I’ve had a timeline at the top of this blog since I wrote my first post the in June of 2011, the summer before leaving for my year in France. That timeline now reads 3 years, 9 months, 1 day...in other words, time to take another leap.

Today I have a new countdown in my head, this one reads 13 days. In less than two weeks time, I will begin a  72 hour journey to Surabaya, Indonesia. I was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, answering my yearn for change and new experiences. It is with eager fingers that I type my thoughts about what lies ahead and with determination that I attempt to spill this mixed bag of feelings and piece together something at least somewhat articulate.

I've experienced a variety of reactions to my plans for the summer. When I got the news, I was at my desk, interning at the Foreign Service Institute. My colleagues were incredibly supportive and happy for me, many of them having worked in Indonesia in the past and enthusiastic to share their indo knowledge with me. There really could not have been a better environment to soak in the news of a State Department scholarship than the State Department itself. When I returned back to campus that evening however, I was pinched out of a dream. My roommates, of course, all knew I had been waiting to hear back about the scholarship and therefore, had ample time to look at a map. Outside our apartment, it quickly became apparent how few people know where Indonesia is, much less what language they speak, or why someone might want to go and study it. It is mysterious how 17,000 islands are so quickly overlooked.

I'll be on the third largest island in Indonesia - Java - also the most populous island on Earth and home to more than half the country's people. That's an awful lot of people with whom I cannot communicate. See, critical language. 

Specifically, I'll be in Malang (The circle so conveniently connected to Jakarta) living with a host family and studying Indonesian at Universitas Negeri Malang.

The excitement of being selected for a fully funded State Department scholarship did eventually wear off and it dwelled on me how challenging these 8 weeks will be. First, I freaked out at the realization of the shower situation. My reaction to the idea of cold bucket showers honestly surprised me, I always thought I was cut out for that sort of thing but I didn't like the image one bit. Luckily, my friends calmed me down. Between the sheer number of them who had first hand experience with similar bathroom conditions who just shrugged it off saying "you get used to it" and my AFS friend, Kevin's, words, "if anyone can handle it, you can", I was feeling ready, almost exited to poor a cold bucket of water over my head. But then, the reality of my Indonesian engulfed me - I'm going in at 0. I was picturing how my first meal with my host family would go down, silent. A lot of AFS friends helped me with that one too. They did that at 15, I realized. I settled for the comfort of the words "you just get by" but also paid for some Pimsleur Indonesian lessons. In peek freak out, the program director sent an email asking us to set some goals for ourselves. What initially seemed like being served another piece of pie or even an entire cake, when your plate was already full to the brim actually helped, as cake usually does. I could focus on these attainable, measurable targets rather than whatever irrational worry would hit next. 

  • Push myself to improve and increase speaking abilities
    • Speak Indonesian whenever possible and as much as possible, without inhibition and with the willingness to make mistakes and laugh at myself.
  • Remain positive
    • Avoid frustration and feeling incompetent, remember that what you're doing is hard but rise to the challenge.
  • Have meaningful conversations
    • Engage others in conversation and express myself to the best of my ability.
  • Withhold judgment
    • With constant and conscious effort to think about why something is as opposed to what something is.
  • Transcend my own bias
    • Be less focused on forming ideas and opinions and more focused on understanding ideas and opinions.
  • Develop cross-cultural communication skills
    • Observe and understand differences in communication, paying attention to words, gestures and body language.

And with all that in mind I ask myself, when did summer become the hard part of the year? 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Returning to Reality

Even though I know I'll be back, the proof being that I have now, saying goodbye is rough. We don't know when, how, who or for how long it will be the next time we are all together. In a way I just traveled back in time for 10 days, I found my host mom on the same train platform where she met me on the first time I set foot in Franche-Comte and the one the whole family waved goodbye to me from with tears streaming down our faces. I slept in my own bed and found everything as it was when I left two years earlier. Besides the new shower and painted kitchen cabinets, it was all more or less the same. 
In another way however, it was all very different. The way I saw everything was from a new perspective, one that has grown, matured and evolved over two years. I walked into that home a fragile 16 year old girl who hadn't been in the company of someone who really cared about her for what had been five months. I left a mess, not wanting to leave the people I had fallen in love with and the home I considered my own. I flew home though, with all the other AFS kids, some feeling the same way I did, some feeling the way I no doubt would have felt had I not made the decision to change families. My year was up and from the moment that plane touched down, my life was in a whirlwind. It's so easy to get caught up in the movement of things, those two years flew by. I turned 18, got my license, fell in love with a boy, got accepted to university, had three visitors from France stay with me, went to prom, graduated high school, had that boy break my heart, flew to Thailand by myself, got my first apartment, got sick with mono for three months, made the Dean's list, declared a major...the whole time missing France but never finding the right moment to go back. How could I have with all that happening? 
This summer though, I made the decision to find the time. I hurt my best friend's feeling by canceling a cross country road trip for what seemed like the tenth time and I bought a ticket to France. All those things had happened in my life, I realized just as much was happening to those I love in Pesmes, it was time I go and see how their lives have changed too. 

I spent 10 days in Iceland and two weeks in France before heading to the village where my host family lives. I hugged my brother goodbye as he left for the airport. I knew I'd see him at Christmas but cried all the same. I recognize how lucky I am to be able to get a vacation with my brother in the south of France but sometimes the sadness that I feel about my family being spread far and wide across the Earth is bigger than I am. At about the same time he boarded his plane, I found my seat on my train to Pesmes. The train ride was long and uncomfortable, all of us in the car were at our wits end because a baby was screaming at the top of her little lungs.

Seven hours later, my host mom and sister surprised me by intercepting my trains and I was caught completely off guard. We cried and hugged and cried and hugged some more. I hadn't seen them since they came and stayed with my family in Maryland one year earlier but being in their arms, it felt like I'd never left and had woken up in their home that morning. 
It was hard to tell how much time had passed because our relationship is still the same, but you could see it in each of us. First I noticed how much my younger host sister had grown. she talked less than she used to (which is not to say she doesn't talk a lot) and was much more confident and mature in her ways. My older host sister was taking anti-stress pills when I left, as she prepared to take her baccalaureate test for the third time. This week she was inseparable from her new boyfriend and constantly smiling and laughing. My host mom has a new office and my host dad was elected mayor of our village. 

Things change in two years. Luckily, nothing could change how much everyone loves each other in this family. One night at dinner my host parents changed the tone from its usual light jokes to a little more serious. They wanted to make sure I knew that I'm always welcome there, today, tomorrow and in 30 years, "I'm family". But the part that moved me the most is that I already knew that. I love that they told me but it's the same thing I feel when I hug them and they don't let go. When my host mom asks me to do the dishes, when the cat wakes me up at 4 am to go outside, when my sister and I say something at the same time. I'm family. With life flying by, it's a comfort to know that my host dad will keep making jokes, that Pesmes can make you completely forget about city life and that you can always spend a day baking tarts from pears grew in the front yard. I'll always have my little gem of a village. 

I've been traveling for a long time now. This last plane is about to touch down and my mind is already on all that awaits for me on the ground. I'm making lists of what I need to pack, what groceries I need to get and how I'm going to decorate my new apartment. In a few days I'll be in lecture halls, spending nights in the library, my life is about to go back to normal. I can feel how much I'm going to miss Pesmes. I'm actually scared of forgetting how it is there and how much I love it. I'm going to forget how to be okay with not having three to-do lists and a million places to be at one time. How it really isn't that big of a deal to not have wifi every waking second of the day and the serenity of being an hour away from the closest town. How can I feel so at home in two places and how do I choose which one is right for me? All I know is that I can feel that I'm far away now.

The difference between this trip and my AFS year is that I can truly say that everyday of this one was amazing

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! 
The rest of this blog was written on my phone at several points throughout my three week stay 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 awesome, 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 amjet 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 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 three 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 Joshua 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. 

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 not so 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


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!