The Getting There
I have been wanting to write for a long time, however it is quite a difficult thing to get around to. First there is school, homework takes me about 4 times longer than it usually would, and I often do a lot of extra work, having not quite understood the homework. Second there are Applications for American colleges, even those I have a hard time getting to because third, there is social life. One might think, and justifiable so, that my social life of France is, well, absent—especially considering my French really has a lot of improving to do. But someone must be looking out for me because luck is on my side. Having a sister my age, who she herself has quite an active friend group, has launched my social life. I would feel guilty that I spend so much time out with friends and such, but really it’s just as good for learning as is doing homework. J
Simultaneously, to finally getting to jot down these notes of France I am uploading photos to my computer, and of course to facebook of my previous travels of the summer. I am reminded of the adventures and good times I had, and am deciding I better start my story there. Man, it almost makes me tired thinking I participated in all that fun and excitement just to land here. Here where I am absolutely on my own and absolutely have to speak the other language… well figuratively speaking.
It started rather simply, I traveled with my father, and in a country I have been before. Baby steps. He was able to translate for me to buy things for me, to cook for me. I was completely under guardianship. From there I went to Portugal. I was dependably accompanied by a “bestie”. My visit in Portugal definitely didn’t lack in companionship. In the beginning I was welcomed by best friends from home. The four of us ventured around Portugal, and when we got worn out, were able to reside in the neat and tidy home a friend. Here home was equipped with a big flat screen TV and a mother who cooked wonderfully. Basically we were “not really roughing it,” to steal the slogan of Beaver Creek ski resort.
I was the last one of us four to leave Portugal, so I could say it was then that I had my first toddler leap. Truthfully, though, by the end of my stay in this country, I had acquired my new and adored amigos de Portugal. With them I spent my last week in the enchanting little village of Folgosinho concluding one of the best adventures of my life.
When it was finally—or more accurately, all to quickly—time to commence my journey to France, I was escorted to my train, not by my parents, not by my friends from home, not even from the family I had come to Portugal to visit; I was escorted by one of these new Portuguese friends. I was there in the train, stuck behind my enormous suitcase, only able to wave a good bye to a friend I desperately desired to give a big hug to, that I had my first stride into adolescents. From there I was on my own.
I would say I had a moment, a feeling of complete independence, I was finally completely on my own in this next adventure, and to an extent it is true. However I can’t seem to grasp the validity of it. I had a family waiting to welcome my arrival. So even if I was alone for the voyage, I would again be taken again under the wing of a family, I would have guardianship. But the independence of the voyage, that too was quickly swept away. In my first train there was a family that helped me a bit with my luggage, and later made sure I was awake when my stop arrived, (the time was different by an hour, so I might not have been quite prepared if they hadn’t). Throughout the rest of my journey of three trains, I was aided by a father to find food; a mother and daughter up and down the stairs with my baggage, and get into a train car (they were catching the same one as me); and finally a young man with a pure bred Jack Rustle Terrier, to catch my last train and order a salad. Over all I had rarely been totally alone, throughout the entirety of my journey there was someone willing to let me tag along, or help me out. Either I am just really lucky, or there actually are a lot of people willing and wanting to help others out… or maybe it’s just Europe
September 26 1012, Wednesday
Cloudy, and looks like it wants to rain
16 Novermber 2012
Today I noticed I am halfway through my stay and I… Well honestly, I don’t really want to think about it, but I also noticed I haven’t written in a while. Coincidently I recently stumbled upon an experience I find “bien bon” to recount.
I might briefly add that this is not my only exciting or notable experience since I arrived, but perhaps the one that can say the most through one moment.
Wednesday morning, the 14th. This week is “semaine A”, I start at 9:30.
The bus to arrive at school on time at this hour, 9:30 is a bit unreliable. The bus is scheduled to leave to leave at 9:15, and if it does we arrive with a perfect amount of time to get to our class “tranquille”. However if it is late, if the driver takes too long to smoke his cigarette or drink an espresso… well then we are either running to class, or late.
This Wednesday, though, there wasn’t even a bus.
I was making my way to the bus stop, having left good and early, as I was the last out of the house, and therefore absolutely couldn’t miss by bus. As I approached the corner store that’s on the route to the bus stop I neared a mademoiselle, walking in the opposite direction… the habitual smile appeared and said bonjour…
She replied…There wasn’t a bus, huh? She asked if I took the bus at 9:15… well yes, but what’s the matter…oh, I see…. Oh, well shoot!
She had explained, that there was another “grève de bus”, (a strike) so the buses weren’t running from 9 till 12 or something, therefore the bus that I normally take at 9:15—that is, in the first place erratic–wasn’t going to arrive at all… Or at least not until it was time to return home from school.
Well shoot. How was I going to manage?
But of course, how could I forget? Not only I am in southern France where the people are nothing but sweet and the regional culture is strong, but I was in the best little village of the province: Bernis!
Not long after presenting me with the bad news she, turned the whole situation around, offering to depose me at the high school herself. Not previously warned about the grève, she had been planning on the bus to get her to her own school at a college in Nimes. Milhaud was on the way.
“That would be awesome if you could” is somewhere along the lines of my reply.
From there we continued together, even full in conversation, to her house, and little red car that “bugged”. She commented on my accent—once the worries about the greve were set aside—and asked where I was from. I started my story, and from there we weren’t shy on discourse material. By the end of the 10 minute drive to school, I was filled with delight. Not only had this new comrade listened well to what I had to say, and was fully engaged to what I had to say, but she continuously complimented my French. My spirits were definitely lifted.
After hanging out with friends that love to give me a hard time about my language skills, and a Brazilian exchange student that is about 3 times better at French as I, her comments were awfully welcoming!
It was an introduction into the fourth stage of my stay, the “sunny side”…
I would say it was a miracle I ran into her and getting a ride to school, but honestly with all the warmth surrounding this town, I don’t think all hope would have been lost without having found her. However it did make things easier and definitely gave me a story to recount. Additionally, I have no doubt this memory and experience will stay with me well beyond my return home.
Two days later I ran into her again. While in conversation she revealed that the first time she saw me, her first impression was that I was French. Even hearing my accent she had just wondered from where I was from in France.
A big smile lit up my face. And I guess all the teasing towards my accent, is really just a bit of affection.
November 16 2012
We all know that the holiday season is most often enjoyed in the company of one’s family. I associate it with grandma’s cooking, the parents with wine glasses in hand and the noise of the younger cousins in the early morning with the holiday festivities.
Many say that it is this festive period that is one of the hardest during an experience abroad. The holidays spend away, away from your parents and all that you know. But I found that it doesn’t matter whether you are cuddled on the couch with your biological cousin, or you are dancing with your cousin of your life abroad. When you are under the roof of a warm welcoming house, between smiling faces, and even trapped in the embraces of open arms, it doesn’t matter to whom the house belongs, or whether those arms pertain to your grandma of birth or the grandma of your life abroad, because all the same, you feel the love.
Warm kisses, open arms, silly moments.
Accomplishing together, just us cousins, we struggle with ordering… and paying for the sandwiches for the entire family.
The Grandma, who hollers in her own silly and energetic character when I take second helpings, complementing her tartiflet, or when I try to help her do the dishes. The Grandma who is rosy cheeked Christmas eve, content with the celebration and the champagne.
The Grandpa, who shows me the secret of a slice of onion with your cheese, as how it intensifies the flavors. The Grandpa who spends the entirety of a song dancing with me Christmas eve.
The brother-in-law whom I accompany outside while he smokes a cigarette, just so I can release the gas that has built up thanks to the rich Christmas dinner; then laughing over the secret between us two, because apparently I wasn’t the only one who build up air in my digestive system.
The aunt who caused me to lose a bra strap after challenging me to a dance contest at the height of the Christmas festivities. And who later teaches me all about how to eat cheese and their different interesting facts.
The younger cousin who isn’t shy to tuck his feet under or over me, when there isn’t enough room for us all on the couch.
The older cousin who follows along as I try to teach what little I know of the swing dance during a song that isn’t even swing.
The uncle who I serve yet another glass of champagne to while he plays the DJ, and who was always is full of interesting questions.
The Mom ,who was always encouraging me to try the new foods and not be shy about taking seconds, taking time to describe each one entre, and convincing me I won’t gain too much weight.
And finally the Sister with whom I can snuggle up with at the end of each day’s adventure, with a nice Disney animation despite the fact we are both close to 18 years old.
This was my Christmas. This is the family with whom I had the blessing of sharing my holiday season.
Passing the week each day meeting new and incredibly kind family friends and/or family members and sharing conversation over grand French meals, overflowing with enchanting flavors, I didn’t have a single chance to be down. Although I might have eaten a bit too much each day, I was delighted with the delicious tastes of high quality compté, camanberge and goat cheese, homemade typical French dishes, and the new flavors of frog legs or froi gràs appitizers. I completely enjoyed the opportunities to participate in this classic French culture of sharing stories, and discussion over a 4 course, 3 hour meal. Although I have been living “un peu près” the life of a French teenager for the past few months, teens all over the world are not too much different. It was during the week of Holiday “fetes” that I was exposed to the typical French culture in full bloom. But even with all the excitement and exposure to a completely new way of celebrating the holidays, the best part of that made the particular Christmas of 2012 so memorable and joyous was experiencing the love from this family. I felt their affection not as though they were a family of correspondents for the short five months of my stay, but like they are the family who has always and will always take me in as their own. I have been assured that I am welcomed back with big kisses and open arms and am overjoyed with the idea of passing equally enjoyable moments with this family in the future.
Last Entry…Back Home
When an opportunity opens to travel across the world…
It’s hard to have expectations. I heard stereotypes, and I heard stories, but I was never fully convinced. With the good and the bad, I dismissed them, waiting to find out myself. But never would I have expected the warmth and generosity that greeted me. Not only in Madagascar where life is hard and people are struggling, but much further north in the “” France, and just as easily in Turkey, I found myself enveloped in an abundance of kindness.
When one captures a chance to travel through countries …
The importance of responsibility is realized. I grow within myself, understanding better with every turn you take and exposure I experience by living within an unfamiliar culture the responsibilities necessary to profit yet protect myself during such an adventure. But also realizations of those who are limited from such chances bring consideration to the representation of “chez-nous” I hold, and the stories I should express of “chez-eux”.
When one renders a return to the familiarities of home…
Nothing is lost of the cultures visited or the friends made. Bringing experiences and stories to the house only fill the home with more character and comfort. Yet no matter my admiration for my newly made friends, my love for the foreign food, or even the enormity of the adventure during my time abroad, the qualities of Home never loss their value.
No matter how strongly my travels have influenced my growth of awareness and stretched my knowledge, I appreciate no less the time at home and with my family. There are lessons you learn away, but it’s not until you arrive home that these teachings are allowed manifestation.