From Jacqui who spent the year in France
I find it next to impossible to explain the changes I have found in myself as a result of this year. I have grown so much – mentally – and, unfortunately, physically. I am much more patient, confident, and independent. I arrived in France as a very strong and determined person, but at the same time, I was shy and naive and not quite ready for what was in store for me. Luckily I had great friends, host families and a wonderful family back home to support me and get me through the tough times. When I burst into tears on the bus, I had a great friend to hold my hand and tell me everything would be ok. When I panicked on my first day of school because I couldn’t find the entrance to my school, my host mom walked me in to show me the way. And when I felt lonelier than ever, it was my mom who I called to ask for advice. All of these difficult experiences led me to become the stronger person that I am today. Each experience, good and bad, has shaped me as a person.
As a young American, I had gotten so wrapped up in “who said what” and what color my nails were that I never really realized that there was another world outside of my own. In fact, I had become bored with my teenage life. So, I decided to look for something more important to do. That is when I found the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. After talking with my parents, I decided that it would be a great experience and I would love to spend a year abroad. I thought that just making the decision to go made me a grown up, but I learned I still had so far to go. In preparation for this year, I pushed myself to become a more assertive person, but little did I know that so much more would be required.
When I walked off the plane in Luxembourg airport on August 27th, I was confident and proud and ready to get the party started; but after I walked out of the terminal with my luggage and I saw my host mom waiting there for me with my counselor, who spoke no English, my boasting confidence quickly vanished. I took some deep breaths and reassured myself that, yes, it was too late and I no longer had a choice. I had a great first week seeing and tasting everything, but in my second week, I learned what it was really going to be like. In the following month I became more independent than ever. Back home I thought I was responsible because I had a car and could take myself places, but in France I couldn’t drive a car, it breaks one of the 4 D’s. I had to rely on this nifty bus system to take me places. I had to look at departure times and arrival times in order to insure promptness to meetings and curfew’s. It was very important because if I didn’t take the bus, I would be walking most of the time. If I said I would be somewhere at a certain time, I had to follow through, I couldn’t call home making up excuses and blaming other people. It was all on me. I was in charge of myself here. Financially I have had to look at my money situation and watch my allowance carefully so that I didn’t run into any sticky situations. I have had to remember when I was supposed to be where and at what time because I no longer had my assistant (aka mom) to remind me of those things. I had to be smart in the decisions I made with my life because no one was around to tell me “no”. And while most might see that as a big freedom, it is very much a big responsibility. It is my life, and I am not about to ruin it, but to make a change for the better.
Another great leaf I have turned this year is I have grown to be patient. My first host family’s computer dated back to 1885 and the internet took at least 5 days to load up, so for me, that was a big challenge. There have been many miscommunications and weird cultural things that have left me sitting and waiting, mostly for no real reason. A year ago I would have been on the phone complaining and saying there is nothing to do, and that I am bored, but now I have learned that complaining accomplishes nothing. That is a statement I never thought I would make. I have grown patient in waiting for short term things and long term things. The infamous box at my house was a box sent out in early September that I didn’t receive until late November. I had to apply to college while I was here but I had computer problems and my parents had to do it for me. So for a month I waited to see if they had done it yet, and then I had to wait for the big envelope to arrive at my house and for someone to email me. Things happen and people are imperfect beings, so you have to be patient with people, they most certainly have been with me.
Over the course of the year I have been laughed at many times for saying things wrong. There was the time when I tried to say “I didn’t care” and I ended up saying that “I hung myself up on the wall”. They are big differences, but I can reassure you that in French they are very similar phrases and foreigners get them easily mixed up. Being laughed at in the past used to bother me, but now I am so used to it. I used to get easily embarrassed for falling or tripping, but I have realized that it doesn’t matter as much as I think it does, and that if I hid every time I had an embarrassing moment, I would spend half my life hiding, and that is no way to live. I have gained so much confidence in myself, maybe even a little too much. I love telling people where I am and what I am doing. The fact that I am now bilingual is one of the first things I tell people when I meet them. I am so proud of myself and what I have done, and I am ready to share it with the world. Before I wanted to be average because I thought I could never stand out, but I now realize that I can be anything I want. I am going to be great in life.
This year has been amazing. I believe that things happen for a reason and that I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t meant to learn and grow from this experience, but I also believe that you have to want it in order to change. I am the person that I am today because of all the people that I have met and all the experiences that I have had. There is a good possibility that I will never see half of my friends here again and I will never know the end of their stories on Earth, but I know in my heart that we will meet again in heaven or in another life where we can once again have a new adventure together. I wish so much that they could all be more a part of my future than they are of my present, but the world is a big place and we are all going in so many different directions. When trying to think how I can measure my year, only one word comes to mind, LOVE.