Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's just about summer time

Today, the weather is over thirty degrees Celsius, the flowers are blooming and trees are spanning their healthy, green leaves towards the blazing sun.  A variety of birds are singing, occasional cries of roosters echo across the large, lively garden and a gentle breeze of wind carries the thick and humid summer air.

Despite this beautiful setting, here I am, in front of my laptop, dumbfounded, not knowing what to write on this blog post.  I'm stuck trying to express my mingled feelings of half wanting to stay here in France and half wanting to go home to Canada.

It doesn't mean things are going bad here; don't get me wrong!  Actually my exchange life has been incredibly exceptional as you can probably tell from my previous posts.  My time at lycée just ended a few days ago, resulting a wonderful conclusion of my academic year.  My teachers and classmates are so proud of how my French grew.

That last day of lycée, a personal reward that I've been vigorously aiming since the first day was finally reached: to become a real French student.  I didn't want to be an ordinary exchange student who would be isolated from the regular students.  I knew that the separation would largely reduce the learning potential of an authentic French student life.  I told myself that no matter what homework are thrown at me, I would at least try to do them while spending as much time with my host families and new friends.

Basically it was me who chose my own exchange to be a difficult journey.  There are no easy exchanges that exist anyways but I raised my own difficulty bar much higher.  At least under this French mentality that states that those who work must succeed, I had no other option than just to convince people that I can do it.

To truly participate in my French classes meant taking the national BAC (baccalauréat) exams at the end of the year (so like final diplomas).  And that, my readers, takes A LOTTA might and power for any student.  Me as an exchange student, I had another disadvantage (and a big, obvious one): basic language comprehension.  Dang.  This meant that I had to do twice the effort: to learn and understand the French texts taught over the year (like the regular students) AND learn the basic grammar.  No way in 10 months I'd grasp both very well.

Oh well, I told myself so I plunged completely blind into this death sentence ultimate mission.  Let me tell you, it was not easy at all.  The two acts of convincing people in the foreign language and succeeding to learn using that language were equally, and devastatingly, challenging.

Convincing consisted of me, begging my French professeur to get me applied for the BAC exams.  Though she didn't have the right to prevent me from doing it, she seriously discouraged me.  She told me that it's too difficult for even the French students and that I should rather work on basic grammar exercises at the back of the class with the other exchange students.  Even all my classmates said it would be a better decision.

You should know me well by now:  Without a glitch of hesitation, I said no to her and asked my first host mom (the current one at that time) to sign me up anyways.  No way I was gonna spend my year isolated, working alone on French conjugations!

After it became official, however, I became worried and stressed; not as seriously like last year in Canadian grade 11 since the grades actually counted... but enough to say that my year abroad was definitely packed with things to be learnt - if not, with a lot of difficulty.  I swear I have spent all my classes till January without understanding what the teachers and classmates were saying to me.  (Even more, I didn't realize that the short paragraphs we studied in September were not just random phrases but instead poems composed by famous French writers until a few months ago.  It was just THAT bad.)

But I am nowhere near of being regretful for choosing this pathway.  Like my father taught me, the challenges we put ourselves up to will make us stronger and ready to face even more demanding situations in the future.  I can see clearly now what he meant by that.  No matter how life can chuck us into scenarios that seem too hard and worthless to solve, we must always take it as a stage of growth and be cherished to have that opportunity to do so.

Anyways, like the other students, I behaved well in class and copied everything what my professeur wrote down on the board, in spite that I understood nothing and ended up with swollen fingers.  I reasoned that I'd understand these notes (hopefully) when I read them again at the end of the year.  And indeed I was right.  Even in December, I finally comprehended them (except for some odd words and entire paragraphs that were rubbish 'cause I assume that I didn't understand the professeur's untidy calligraphy.  Most of them write messy after all.  For example, they write their letter 'p' without the circle... so like an 'l' but placed lower, if you get what I mean).

As my classmates witnessed my dedication to lycée, they began to help me in many ways - even some students assisted me from the instant I told them that I applied to the BAC.  Like I mentioned earlier in my other posts, they've given me enormous courage throughout the entire year and I thank them so much for that.  On the other hand, I rarely got any praises from my French professeur until I did my first BAC Blanc exam (practice BAC tests) in January when I scored 9.5/20 which is extraordinarily good, considering where I started from.  After that, life at lycée was a lot easier.

So the last day of lycée swung by a few days ago, and wow.  How much I've grown.  After months and months of it, I feel like I've received my long-term reward of being a true French student.  Finally.  Every comrade and professeur congratulated me and my two other exchange friends who've also improved their French.  My French professeur even gave us a good-bye bisous (French cheek kiss) which NEVER happens between a prof and a student because it's such a personal custom!

All I was able to do on that last day was to just smile.  Smile really wide.  It wasn't sad at all.  It was an extremely gratifying day when I knew that I achieved the biggest goal of my exchange.  That day was pure satisfaction and I know that I can head home to Canada feeling fulfilled.  Although my BAC exams are this week and July 1st (I know, going to school in July is a horror), it doesn't matter if I succeed them because I know that I've tried my best and I gained the respect that I am just like the others.

Weirdly, the last day of lycée was a déjà vu of my first day.  It strikes me how the first students I've met are the exact same students I spent together for the last time there.

This is SO strange but in fact, the two boys who were in my first lycée day photo wore their EXACT SAME sweater on that last day.   Even more, we took these two photos in the EXACT SAME place without on purpose.  I mean... is this POSSIBLE?!!

June 2013

September 2012
I didn't realize this until later when I glanced at some early exchange photos on my laptop, and oh my, how much I laughed.  Such gentlemen they became and how much I grew.  Of course it's visible how exchange students grow during their year abroad but in my case, every one of my friends grew up too.  They told me that it was thanks to us, the three exchange students (Canadian, Mexican and German) that they've got a look at different cultures and learned something from our stories we shared.  Exchange students are proud ambassadors after all.

Au revoir, ma vie au lycée.
Tu vas me manquer beaucoup mais je n'oublierai jamais les souvenirs que tu m'as donnée.

Good-bye, my lycée life.
I will miss you a lot but I will never forget the memories that you gave me.
By any means, I should get back to why right now, I have such mixed feelings though I'm surrounded in French summer paradise.  Again, I'm sitting in front of my laptop, more dumbfounded than ever, staring at this unpublished post.  What on earth am I doing?

It's just a weird time of exchange.  Mentioning that I'm leaving in a few weeks, I feel good to head home, but at the same time I want to keep living this accomplishment that I've earned.   However, I CAN'T wait to see my family, my friends and my country (oh the mountains)!  By all means, I don't have a choice but to put my exchange to an end so I'm sticking to being optimistic for the return home... yet I could endlessly come up with reasons why leaving my host country is going to be a sad journey.

You see, there is no right or wrong, up or down, left or right, and yes or no.  It's both.  This is what the end of exchange feels like.  Being stuck.  That's where I am, struggling between two different lives, which are both astonishing.

Nevertheless, don't grieve my dear readers.  I didn't mean to post this to make you feel worried or to scare the future exchange students!  It's just an honest post that explains a passage during a year abroad that many experience.  On the bright side, I have unbelievably accomplished my biggest goal and I have days ahead to profit the heaven of exchange life.

I'm gonna go out to enjoy the sun while it lasts (^^)/
A bientôt,


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Days I'll Never Forget

samedi 8 juin, 2013: District 1750 Conference Meeting

This was the last time I saw most of my exchange friends of my inbound district at Beaune.  We participated in the morning meetings, the lunch and we chatted during the afternoon.  It felt odd to see everyone again this time with their blazers, swarmed by pins and other attachable memoirs, while our blazers were still light and fresh during our first inbound meeting.  It felt like our first encounter happened yesterday except we were here for the final time.

Rotary emphasizing the 2012/2013 theme: Peace through Service

Preparing for the balloon releasing event

Conclusion of the District Conference Meeting

The fellow Rotarians from my club, Louhans Bresse-Bourguignonne, and I

Mix of inbounds, outbounds and two Rotarians who made our exchanges possible
I'll miss being with the other Rotary exchange students and the love we all shared.  We weren't just normal friends but on a higher level, a family.  It really doesn't matter what country you come from, how good you speak the host language or if you don't have the same taste of music... when exchange students unite, there's no questions about bonding; as part of Rotary and having the common desire to discover the world, we're always family.

Vous me manquez trop, District 1750.  Merci pour l'année incroyable.

dimanche 9 juin, 2013: Hair Donation!

Because my hair was getting too long and I happened to have a sympathetic friend who took two years studying haircutting, I literally chopped 30cm of my hair for a good cause!  I decided to send my hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organisation that accepts healthy, non-colour-treated hair (at a minimum of 20cm) to create wigs for cancer patients.

My second host sister also joined me to donate hair!

Au revoir my three-year old hair!
(There's me, anxiously playing with the comb...)

VOILA!  Ready to be given to patients who need some beautiful confidence :)
To be honest, I can't send them yet until I return to Canada, so they're safely bundled in a plastic bag ready for the suitcase.  (I certainly hope customs won't think I'm doing some kind of illegal hair-trafficking...)

samedi 15 juin, 2013: ANOTHER day in the capital

Lastly but not the least, I took a train to Paris to meet my American Rotary exchange friend, Amanda, to enjoy a fantastic day in a city that has a world-wide reputation of it's beauty, history and popularity.  (I met her in Eurotour for the first time.)  We only had 6 hours to spend but we managed to do an incredible itinerary thanks to the métro and our impeccable organization.  Don't ask how, but here's what we saw and did:

The Parisien métro

At Gare de Montparnasse to pick up Amanda

Passing the (nowadays super expensive) café, Les Deux Magots, where famous writers and philosophes like Verlaine and Rimbauld came to enjoy their afternoon café

The Moulin Rouge that showcases the French Cancan

Café des 2 Moulins where Amélie works from the film
Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain

The tomb of Napoléon Bonaparte inside the Musée de L'Armée

Us going to enjoy a gourmet lunch on the Bateaux Mouches that took us along the Seine river the Tour Eiffel, Musée d'Orsay, Musée du Louvre, the Notre Dame
and many other landmarks.

I ate carpaccio de tomates au basilica et mozzarella (shown above), echine de porc marinée et grillée avec des pommes grenaille sautées, and le vacherin glacé à la fraise ♪
Let's be honest, French is the prettiest language when it comes to naming food. 

At last, we reached to Montmartre, probably Paris's most popular neighbourhood for visitors as you can see that thousands of people are engulfing the Basilique du Sacre Coeur
(Going up these stairs was not pleasant but the view at the top was fascinating!)

Behind the Sacre Coeur, there are rustic houses that bundle along narrow streets,
filled with artists, boutiques and restaurants that serve moules frites (mussels and fries).
Above shows a work of one of the many street artists.

That day with Amanda was too good to be true and like the many other days, these are the day's I'll never forget.  However hold on tight my readers, there are still a few more to come!
Always adventuring,

Friday, June 7, 2013

One Month Left

It's unbelievable.  In one month, I will take the airplane home to Canada like I started in the beginning.  Time to wrap up my exchange... where did my nine months go?!  The clock ticks simultaneously though it seems like its rhythm is speeding up.  Back in September, June was no where in my thoughts.  June meant the last full month.  June meant exams.  June meant the beginning of good-byes.  June meant so. far. away.

However reality decides to slap me awake from this dream-like, one-year fantasy and tells me that today is June 7th.  My plane ticket home is on July 7th.  Mon dieu.  Je pars dans un mois.  My Mexican and German exchange friends are leaving in one week already!  This is it after all.

Today after my Friday classes of the second last week of lycée, my French friends threw to the three of us a surprise good-bye party at the school grounds.  It surprised all of us incredibly how many friends showed up and how well planned and organized the event was.  Thanks to especially Marine and Tiffany, the two girls who've helped us since the very beginning of lycée life, they've done such an amazing one-month job of preparing this event.  (It was supposed to be a surprise but I already assumed there would be something as it was strange how my classmates were randomly whispering to each other.  I am so glad I was right because I would have been disappointed if not haha!  On the other hand, my other two exchange friends had NO idea.)

We each received a customized t-shirt that says "I ♥ Louhans" (my host village) with all of our friend's signatures and a huge poster that had our own respective country flag illustrated, covered with kind messages written by everyone.  I laughed hard-core and deeply appreciated each comment on the poster as I read them today, but I know that in a month, I would probably cry instead when I hang it in my room in Canada.  I would share to you all of them, but here's one that I found very thoughtful:

Quand on aime, on ne compte pas.
Reviens en France dès que tu peux.
Tu vas énormement me manques.
Je t'aime énormement et je t'oublierai jamais ma japonaise.
Tu m'as beaucoup étonné pendant toute l'année.
N'oublie pas ton passage chez nous.
Bonne continuation pour la suite et fais attention à toi, je t'aime.
(ps: reviens avec la famille!)

In English:
When we love each other, the love is immeasurable.
Return to France as soon as you can.
I will miss you enormely.
I love you enormely and I will never forget you, my Japanese girl
Never forget your time with us.
Good luck for the future and take care of yourself, I love you.
(ps: return with your family!)

The three of us also did a short speech to everyone and for mine, I ended it like always without on purpose: Crying  (Of course it's no surprise, you would say.)  Even though I explained that this year has been exceptional and I am grateful to be surrounded by so many kind friends, it is impossible to convey how much they mean to me.  They always look after me and are always curious about my life before in Canada.  When I have French homework that I don't understand, they help me immediately.  At times when there's one of those strict French professeurs who comes around and gives me a harsh feedback, they sympathize me and said not to worry (... plus adding that he/she was just an old bastard, which makes me laugh.)  They are the reason why my time at school has been much, much more than "worthwhile".  They are the ones who made exchange truly enjoyable.

Us three in the centre with two friends on each side

Stomach-squeezing laughable games
Unforgettable get-together

Thank you so much everyone for the amazing party today.  I will never forget it.
Merci beaucoup à tous pour la fête incroyable aujourd'hui.  Je ne l'oublierai jamais.

Avec amour,