Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Back Where It All Began

Usually, the trip going home from a fully-packed, foreign experience would be the time to admire photos, re-read journal entries (for the billionth time), and to laugh but bawl a thunderstorm of tears, obviously scaring the passenger next to you in the airplane...  It would be a nebulous explosion of realizing what a year you've lived.  It would force your hard-working brain to permanently store precious memories and to feel the triumphs that bury your regrets. 

Though this chunk of exchange is known to be the most emotional part for anybody, my return to Canada was definitely not like how it was explained above - though experiencing it would have been intriguing, I'm sure.

I safely arrived home over a week ago and everything was great except for an utterly, horrible stomach ache.  Therefore I spent a lovely an unpleasant time on my 12-hour plane ride coming home, reflecting not about my year in France, not my host families and friends... but unhelpfully, my poor stomach.  Nothing else.  Instead of scaring the man next to me with a thunderstorm of tears, he most likely thought that I had constipation as I was always up and moving around...

Of course exchange isn't perfect till the end, eh?

When I arrived at my last airport (thankfully with a better-feeling stomach), it felt like my whole exchange was nothing but a dream; like it never existed.  The moment I said good-bye to my family back in August rushed to my mind instantly in a flick.  The raw feelings of this flashback felt implausibly fresh; I couldn't believe it happened 10 months ago.  I seriously convinced myself that I left Canada that day before.  However, I stopped my mind from spinning in confusion by reminding myself what I was wearing:  My Canadian red Rotary blazer.  But instead, much heavier.

Collecting and attaching objects onto our country-colour-coded blazers is a Rotary Youth Exchange tradition.  Swarmed by homemade button-pins, mini-flags, city badges, bottle caps and random objects (like a spoon from my school cafeteria), they each symbolize an anecdote of my time in France.  Before leaving Canada, my blazer was naked so having it heavier this time proved that my exchange was no dream.

For us, the exchange students, one year is a long time away from home yet it goes by as quick as a snap, making exchange a very unique experience.  It's a certain period of our lives where we learn some of life's biggest lessons... all condensed in one year!  Without having our parents and friends to give us counsel, it only leaves us to make our own decisions.  Along the way, we learn how to make connections with new people despite the language barrier and cultural differences.  Those people whom we meet become our friends, and it's them who open doors for us and contribute to shape our vision of their society.  The longer the time we spend together, the more attached we become.  Therefore, our one year transforms into one life like a Rotarian once told me, "Exchange is not one year in a life.  It's a life in one year."

This kind of experience doesn't only apply to exchange students however; in a way, it is similarily experienced by many others too.  At least with travelling, being forced to step out of our comfort zone and to make first-hand discoveries, there is always growth.  Growing doesn't mean getting taller; it also defines the expansion of our knowledge, fed by the influences that touched us most.  It's when there's many of those influences around us at once that make us feel like we're living a completely different life.  And that my readers, is probably the most effective yet sophisticated process of truly understanding how to appreciate the world more.  With this appreciation, there's world peace thus living on this small planet becomes much, much more easier for all.

I'm extremely fortunate to have experienced a year abroad as it has showed me many things and changed how I see the world now.  You see, it's not possible to explain only in words how much exchange has impacted me.  Withal, it's better than nothing so that's why this blog exists from the first place; it's a chance for you to glimpse into a year of a certain exchange student... it's not the same and it will not be the same as other exchanges, but it leads you as a rough guideline of understanding what adventures exchange allows you to encounter.

I also began blogging because I wanted to send my deepest thanks to the Rotary for their organization and effort into this program; without them, I would have never had the opportunity to see so much.  Next, thank you to my family, friends, teachers and co-workers who supported me in keeping my spirits high.  You were all my back-bone that unceasingly encouraged me to keep having fun and observed my growth.  And last but definitely not the least, to you readers out there around the world.  Thank you.  Getting hundreds and hundreds of page views not only made me feel happy but motivated to keep sharing my experiences with you.  I certainly hope you will all keep following my blog as my adventure is not ending quite yet.  (I still have a weekend with the returning inbounds at the end of August and a big orientation weekend next March 2014 to share my experiences with future exchange students.)

Still adventuring,

ps: The photos of days that I spent before leaving
Farm Life with my Last Host Family

Eating loads of cherries right off of the tree

Helping my host family to make haystacks which required us to
follow a strict procedure and LOTS of physical labour...

According to what I learned with this host family, making haystacks (or at least good quality ones) is probably one of the most difficult tasks to do on a farm.  Imagine growing a field of grass with care during your entire spring and early summer and determining four sunny days that you will cut, dry, collect and store those dry, healthy grass.  Just deciding when to do it is the tough part; farmers have to be careful because there can't be any rain or moistness when those four-day work is followed out since water can rot the hay.  If it starts raining on any of those days, the entire project is busted and therefore becomes a big problem as the hay is important to feed their animals for next year. 

As my host father was a vigorously active man, he did the cutting, drying and collecting the first three days.  The rest of the family and I helped him do the storing which was exhausting travail.  We began hauling heavy cubes of hay onto the wagon which were driven to a roofed storage house which again we hauled off of and stacked three metres high.  Our hands were well scathed by the stiff-dry cubes and sweat trickled down forehead to jawline.  Unfortunately, our job became hastier as rain began sprinkling down.  At least with everyone's hands at work, the entire job was done in a few hours.

Golfing at Roanne, a city next to Lyon, with my friends

Striking a pose with our putters... a must-do when golfing?

Wandering at Parc de la tête d'or (Park of the Golden Head) in Lyon

My farewell party with 20 friends over! 
We played group games, roasted sausages, marshmallows and burned one's math homework... jumped on a trampoline, ate again at 3am and slept outside in tents!!

It was my chance to say thank you to my friends for the incredible year
as we enjoyed a party of a lifetime

In a long line-up with two host sisters towards JapanExpo,
an exposition of Japanese culture at Paris!!

Presentations about Japanese culture

A performance showcasing taiko drumming,
using traditional Japanese drums

A takoyaki stand where we ate lunch
(Takoyaki is a ball-shaped pancake snack that has a piece of diced octopus inside)
It is a famous snack in Osaka

Many visitors doing cosplay, short for costume-play,
of Japanese characters especially from manga

T'was a enjoyable last week in France. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013


Leaving Louhans was not a horrible and emotional experience as I have imagined in my dreams.  (I dreamt about my good-byes since the beginning of my exchange, and yes, it’s considered as a nightmare for an exchange student.)  Instead parting from the village with tears and uncountable tissue packs, it felt good to conclude at this moment of my year because I felt proud of myself for how much I’ve integrated into this French life and how much I enjoyed it, simply. 
For me, this place was not longer a remote, middle-aged Burgundian village; it was also where I considered as my home, made countless numbers of friends, connections with families and learned about their language and culture.  It was where I’ve done my firsts and lasts.  It was also a place where I made mistakes, had problems yet rebounded in full spirit.  Altogether, it was a place where it allowed me to venture on one of the biggest journeys of my life.   I’m saying that it’s “one of the biggest” because I know that adventuring is a hobby that I can never stop.  It has always been my passion to travel and discover new things, people and ideas so I know that there will be more journeys to come in my future.
I smiled when I left Louhans as I told myself that time’s up and I need to wrap up my year abroad.  It has been an incredibly fun experience but I feel prepared to head back to my Canadian home to share to my family, my friends and the Rotary about it.  Ready to shift back into my normal lifestyle.  Ready to say I did it.
This is finally it.  July 7th, the day I take my plane back to Canada is now within hours.   I have already left my host-village Louhans yesterday as my host mom, older host sister and I went to Grenoble, a city located below Geneva and Lyon, near the Italian frontier. 
Grenoble is surrounded three sides by 2000m to 3000m mountains despite the altitude of the city itself is 200m from sea level.  It is the most southern city in France I’ve visited during my year.  There, my host sister will do her first-year at a university from September so she and my host mom looked for an apartment which she’ll move in soon.  (In France, most public universities only allow less wealthy students to live in their campus unlike my host sister who needs to find her own lodgement.)  Therefore during their search, I was lucky to visit the city with her grandparents who lived nearby.

Gondola we took up to the Bastille, a medieval fortress

At the top with a panoramic view of Grenoble

Downtown of Grenoble

Ate my last lunch at a chic café where I ordered one of the city’s specialties, Ravioles au bleu de Sassenage (Raviolis with SUPER delicious blue cheese) and Diablo violet (tonic water with ‘violet’ syrup) which tasted like the drink Shirley temple but carbonated and without juice.  SO GOOD


At dusk, we strolled in a village near the city and the sky was so beautiful
My last day was a great conclusion of my stay in France and I wish to come visit this country again but with my family next time.  Nothing about my exchange could have been better thanks to everyone who’ve helped me along.
Anyways I better get going because you know, I’M COMIN HOME CANADA !!!
ps: I will update what I did since the last day of lycée when I arrive home!