While going through the gargantuan stack of old middle school work the first few days of summer 2012, I came across all my work from my 7th grade French class. The one in particular that caught my eye was this one, likely from the first French test I ever took, sometime in 2008. (Well, it looks like I did well...can't complain about a 33 out of 28...) The words I couldn't help but laugh at were
"You're planning to spend a year in France as an exchange student."
Who would have thought.
I like to go around saying I first took French in 7th grade with the hope I would use it in "real life" one day. However, I only ever heard vague things about exchange because one of my friends, then a sophomore, went on short-term to Argentina. It didn't really register in my mind that that was how I ought to take advantage of my French skills (since I did seem to have a knack for the language...I mean seriously, 33 out of 28? What a boss!).
Well, that is, until I went on the France/Spain trip with 10 other 8th graders from March 18-27, 2010.
I waited 15 months from when I signed up (December 2008) till the day we left, so I figured I'd give it 15 months from when I returned to continue to excessively tell stories from the trip and think fondly of it. Insert wry laughter here, that was too little time. Every day since I got back, I thought of nothing but going back to Europe. It was almost agonizing, not knowing for sure when I would return. And when my mom and sister visited several European countries with my grandparents my freshman year, I couldn't help but sit at home crying wishing I was there with them instead of doing school work.
To say the least, I was enamored by Europe.
Summer 2010, my family and I took a month-long trip to the Philippines, the country I grew up in. One of my reading materials on the plane was a book written by Maya Frost called "The New Global Student."
|I highly recommend you read this book. Do it.|
Initially, I knew for sure that my goal for high school was to become a valedictorian with a full IB diploma. But this book showed a whole new tantalizing path I could full well take.
Throughout freshman year, I toyed with the prospect of going on exchange for junior year. It just seemed so distant that I didn't take it seriously right away, but by the end of freshman year, when my 15 months of obsessing about my trip to France and Spain were "up," I knew for sure that I wanted to go. It all just seemed so obvious. If I loved Europe so much, then why not take an exchange there? It took an eternity for the idea to become tangible in my conscious mind, and when I received a letter from the Tualatin Rotary Club the beginning of my sophomore year inviting me to come the informational meeting asking "Are you interested in going abroad as an exchange student?" I automatically knew my answer wasYES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
I don't feel like going through the application/interview process because I have far more interesting things to write, so I'll skip that and get to finally meeting all the other outbounds from District 5100, only the best district in the world!
My in-home interviewer Jeff told me that if I really wanted to go to France (Rotary doesn't guarantee you your first choice; you get one #1 and 4 alternates, and France had been my #1 right from the start), I would have to do something that would make me stand out and make the country officers (all volunteer Rotarians) remember me. So this is what I did:
In the January Orientation, the very first one where all the outbounds (American students from around northern OR and southern WA planning to go on exchange) were required to be at, I wore a red beret and went around saying "Hi I'm Amanda from Tualatin. I want to go to France. See my beret?" Terribly cliché, I know, but it worked. Even the outbounds came to know that I wanted to go to France, and some even guessed without me having to tell them. They thought I was pretty cute, too.
|Hence the name of this blog!|
I must say, throughout the January Orientation (January 6-8, 2012), there was a sort of tension between all the long-term outbounds. There was a competition to get the attention of the country officers of our number-one countries, and there was always a bit of awkwardness when we came across someone who wanted the same country as us. But despite that, we all got along right away and couldn't wait to all see each other again on the ski trip.
Right here, I'd like to recognize the first Rotary friends I became close to and who I have been friends with since that orientation -
Shank was an amazing inbound from India, and I really can't say enough about him; we were great friends from the start. Shank's passion and enthusiasm for letting everyone know India was the place to be changed my friend Chip's mind about his country selection, and Chip remarked, "If that kid doesn't go into business when he grows up, I don't know what he's going to do with his life." Robby was Shank's first host brother, and I find it funny that when I first met them, it was at the same time. Basically, they're two hilarious boys, and I am proud to call them my close friends. Arielle from Hermiston was just an amazing girl, and I admire her so much because she did not have a number one choice; she instead just checked the box for "ANYWHERE."
Between the January Orientation and February Ski Trip, the outbounds all got together on Facebook and researched our country choices. During the "Eastern Oregon Discovery Excursion," February 2-5, 2012, we all became closer as a group, outbounds and inbounds, and I made even more close friends. I also went skiing for the first time, and it was
...terrifying...I had to get rescued... quite the challenge, but I enjoyed the experience. During this day, we also made our final choices.
|Me at the top, at Anthony Lakes ski resort|
|The final choices!|
The last night of the ski trip was the night we had all been waiting for for months. We danced off some of our anxiety and excitement when some South American girls taught us how to salsa, but then all the country officers arrived and gathered their inbounds, telling them who ended up in which country. The outbounds all gathered together at the back of the room, and I stood freaking out with Robby and Jacob. After the country officers and inbounds had all segregated themselves according to country, the outbounds nervously stepped forward. They started off in alphabetical order, and then I knew I wasn't going to Austria or Finland. Then France came up, and I could feel my heart beating uncontrollably. Steve, the country officer for France, told his inbounds Aurore and Caroline to go into the crowd and pick the outbounds who had been selected to go to France. When Aurore (who I had known since the beginning of the school year since she was placed in Tualatin; I was a lucky outbound in that sense, and we were good friends) went and hugged me, I screamed in disbelief and immediately cried tears of joy for the only time in my life that I can remember. All of this waiting, and I finally, FINALLY had my definite chance to return to Europe! Not just that, but France. I knew I've been so committed to French all these years for a reason.
|From left to right: Aurore ~ Me ~ Steve ~ Betty ~ Laura ~ Caroline|
The other outbound selected was the beautiful and also well-traveled Betty Nelson from Newberg. Incidentally, she wasn't born in the United States either. I am so excited to have her as a travel buddy! We even have our own theme song...
My favorite event out of all of them was the District Conference, held at George Fox University on May 16-20. The highlight would have to be the talent show; I mean, we did run through the entire two-hour event nothing short of five times. But when we weren't practicing, we pretty much had free time with each other to hang out, talk, or...be crazy exchange students. I feel like this quote sums up all of our personalities and the exchange experience -
Funniest thing ever - I posted that image on Facebook, and one of my outbound friends, a girl going to Peru named Emily, used it as inspiration for her speech. Both she and I ended up being the two winning outbounds for the speech contest, and we presented our five-minute speeches for the topic "Reach Within to Embrace Humanity" in front of the entire conference. She then mentioned my name in her speech from having posted that quote on our Facebook group, without even knowing I'd be the other outbound to win. Along with two outbounds, two inbounds were selected - one was the adorable Paolita from Ecuador, and the other, much to my satisfaction, was Shank.
Now I'm just going to spam this post with my favorite memories from the District Conference!! Then I'll get back to the serious writing stuff.
|My two best friends - Rotary District 5100 offers countries from three different continents for exchange, and each of us will grace these continents with our presence: Arielle to Mexico, me to France, and Emma to Thailand.|
|THIS IS ROTARY YOUTH EXCHANGE. Zach (but I like to call him Buff Byrd - outbound to Finland) and |
|The jazz band! We played In the Mood, one of my favorite songs. From left to right: Johnny (outbound to Austria), me, Anton (inbound from Austria), Jacob, Amy (inbound from Taiwan), Zoe (outbound to Peru), and Zach.|
|Me with the Sexy Avengers: Tim (inbound from Germany), Otavio (inbound from Brazil), Dominik (inbound from Switzerland), and José (inbound from Brazil). They are hot.|
|The happy Rotary District 5100 family, inbounds and outbounds, 2011-2012!|
So where in France am I going, exactly? Well, the day after I got home from the District Conference, I received an email from Steve saying that my country officer in France placed me in a town called Parthenay.
|A street in Parthenay, image found on Flickr|
Once again I felt my heart beat uncontrollably as I immediately typed it into Google Search. From all my research, these are the facts that I enjoy the most about it:
- It is a medieval town. 2012 is its 1000th anniversary; records first speak of the castle (!!) in my town in the year 1012. The city also has walls.
Deux-Sèvres is the region of France Parthenay is located in, and the subtitle says "City of the Middle Ages"
- It's located in the French countryside, about 380 km SW of Paris, and there are only about 11,000 people there.
- Legend has it that the fairy Mélusine created Parthenay with a wave of her wand. Curious, I looked up images of Mélusine and found this:
which then made me think of this
which then leads me to conclude that Parthenay was created by the same two-tailed siren of the Starbucks logo. That's right. I'm going on exchange to the city that was created by the Starbucks Fairy. Beat that!
- The city is known for its cattle. Yummmm, I love beef!
From my wanderings around the internet, I found the Parthenay 2012 website and saw all the celebrations and events going on in my city throughout this year, the "millénaire." There's a spectacle happening in July, and I wish I would be there to see it! But in this image, you can really see the elements that make the city unique...
|Mélusine, a knight, and a cow!!|
A few weeks later, I finally heard from my second host sister (yes, I did hear from her before my first host family), a girl named Marie Courroux who will be an exchange student in India while I'm staying in France. I've already conversed a ton with her (en français), and I am super excited to meet her family! I am particularly looking forward to meeting my 13-year-old little host brother Paul, who seems like such a clown:
But enough about Parthenay. I will be there in good time.
I choose now to speak of the inbounds whose exchanges are ending and who have made such an enormous impact on my life. In case context clues are not your strongest reading skill, inbounds are teenagers from other countries who did their exchange here in the USA, in District 5100 (only the best district in the world!). This past weekend was the final event for all of the inbounds, and outbounds were invited to come as well. In order to spend as much time as I could with this fantastic group of people, I went. Previously, Robby and I planned on singing a duet for the outbound camp-out that would be held after the dance at the final event, but as we were practicing, he came up with the idea of singing it in front of everyone, including the inbounds. I liked the idea, and we performed for them as a sort of final gift for everything they have inspired us outbounds to do.
|So Robby, if you're reading this, thank you again for doing it with me! Also, do me a favor, no more dirty looks, okay? Heheheh...|
Surprisingly, when I said good-bye to all of them, I didn't cry. I thought for sure I would. But saying good-bye to them didn't mean that they would soon be going far, far away; it meant that distance would no longer mean anything because of how strong our friendships are. It's simple. No matter where we are in the world, as long as the memories and bonds we shared will be in my heart, we will be close to each other for always. And hey...it's never a bad thing when I'll be able to travel to 20+ countries and have a friend there who will welcome me and show me around! (And show me the good shopping deals...I am a girl after all...) Any excuse to travel, I will gladly take. Boy, are my plans for the future filled up.
As for my exchange...
I've already had so much fun and created so many wonderful memories, but the truth is, for me and my fellow outbounds...
THE ADVENTURE HAS YET TO START!
|Some Parthenay poster I found. I kid you not.|