Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Three-Year Exchange: The Apogee of My Inbound Experience

One of the many emotions I felt this weekend, my last weekend with my beloved inbounds of District 1510, and the main emotion I am feeling now as I am wondering how to start this entry, is confusion.

The confusion mainly is a result of the fact that our first inbound weekend together was at the beach, and our last one just happened to be at the beach as well. It really didn't seem like that long ago we were in Le Pouliguen when we first met, hopelessly confused about how to begin our new, strange lives. And there we were together by the sea again, hopelessly confused about where the time went. Throughout the weekend of May 31 to June 2, I could not stop thinking about my very first few days in France. I almost felt like the Rotarians did it on purpose. If we were anywhere else, my mind wouldn't have spent as much time being preoccupied with the first weekend.

When we first arrived, we went to Le Pouliguen (the sun in the map). This time, we were in Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez, represented by the swimmer.

The thing that was special about this weekend, however, was that the 40 or so outbounds would all be there too. Friday evening was essentially for everyone to assemble at the camp called Le Village au Bord de la Mer (The Village at the Seaside).

Nestled within those trees was our location for the weekend

 François, my counselor, drove Claire, Matthieu, Clara (another outbound from Parthenay, going to Taiwan!), and me there, and we arrived sometime past 1700. Little by little, the other inbounds arrived. As usual, it felt amazing to be reunited, but I couldn't help feeling a tinge of sadness knowing that that was the last time everyone would be reunited like that.
As for the outbounds, I was excited to see some familiar faces again and super excited to meet new ones. I spent a lot of time talking to them, getting to know them. They are such sweet kids. Some told me they pretty much thought I was French because of the way I spoke. Oh how I would love to be in their place, a fresh, unknowing, confused, anxious, thrilled outbound again! Speaking with them helped me take my mind off the fact that my exchange is about to end, for I felt like I was reliving my days as a District 5100 outbound all over again in the company of my fellow outbounds.
That night, we had free time. I played some cards with inbounds and outbounds alike. There was a game called Le Pouilleux that was exactly the same as a game I really enjoyed growing up still living in the Philippines, except the game there is called Unggoy-Unggoy (Monkey Monkey). The French name doesn't mean anything, but I just found it peculiar that the first time I've encountered that game in years had to be in France. Did the idea just come to two different people on different sides of the planet? Or did it originate somewhere and just spread around the world? One can only imagine...
Once I was done with that, I went and joined a few of my inbound friends in their room, signing notebooks and flags (an activity done throughout the weekend), before retiring for the night.

The following day, I was one of the first to get up and eat breakfast. Since we had some time before our first activity of the day, Brooke, Corrine, Maya (Turkey), and I decided to walk up the large sand dune to view the ocean, the sun shining in our eyes and the wind whipping against our faces. The coldness was invigorating.

Getting up there...
High School Musical-esque

The four of us!
The view from the other side
Later that morning, the inbounds worked with Julie (the music teacher who lives in Paris) on the show we were preparing for the outbounds. One thing I love about my inbound group that makes us very special is the fact that we have some very musical individuals. Thus, the nickname "Les Troubadours du Monde" (The Troubadours of the World) was bestowed upon us. In Le Pouliguen and in Rennes, my inbound group has put up spectacles which include such acts as skits, singing, and dancing. As a final hurrah, we had a show planned for our last night.
But before that, we had a lot of time to spend just being with each other.
For instance, we got to pass some of the afternoon at the beach.

Soundtrack here
With the realization that we had never gone swimming in an ocean in France before, Brooke and I immediately stripped down to our bikinis and ran into the ocean which, as we were expecting, was nothing close to warm. But we enthusiastically kept walking in anyway until we reached the point where the waves would roll over our heads as they came. This daring, insane act made me think of something I did with two of my 5100 outbound friends, not so long ago... Some of the outbound girls joined Brooke and me as we bathed in the Atlantic Ocean. We all stayed for quite a while, laughing, splashing, riding the waves. The sun continued to shine broadly above us; it was a perfect day.

Brooke and me after our swim
Once I was done swimming, I felt like warming up on the sand, so I joined some friends.

Sabrina, Shivani, Andy, Lucien (outbound to Australia), Betty, and me
Could we look any happier? :)
On the way back from the beach, I had a rather amusing conversation with Lucien in French, English (he speaks amazingly well for a French kid...), French with the American accent, and English with the French accent. Out-of-the-ordinary happenings such as this are why I'm so glad to be a part of Rotary!

Later that afternoon, the inbounds ran through the show before dinner. Our spectacle officially began at 2100. I of course participated, playing a piano piece called "Dedication," singing a cover of "Home" (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) with Brooke and my ukulele, and then "Il y a" (Jean-Jacques Goldman) with Julie. Other acts included a belly dance by Vivi the Brazilian, a song number by the infamous duo Leo and Evan with guitar and xylophone, the Harlem Shake, and Dana from Argentina and her host brother Nathan doing a musical number.

At the end of our first show together, we all sang Hey Soul Sister by Train and I'm Yours by Jason Mraz. Once again, those songs were to be the finale; we sat close together ready to sing our hearts out, but instead of performing to each other and a few Rotarians, we were singing to the future generation of exchange students. I was on my ukulele next to Leo on his guitar. As the last repetition of "I'm yours" faded and cheers rang out, the inbounds were very emotional. Beaming but with tears in our eyes, we stood up and just went around hugging each other. So much had changed in us since the first time we sang as a chorus and found ourselves in a beach side town, but one thing stayed the same- we were all there for each other, as we are now, as we always will be. I truly will never forget the lifelong friends Rotary has blessed me with.

Once that was all wrapped up, we had time to do whatever we wanted. I chose to spend it with my friends, inbounds and outbounds alike, outside. We were up late, chatting, taking photos, being crazy exchange students.

Night is coming...

Me and Virginie, an outbound to Taiwan
Me and Lucien
Aw yeah.
At some point, I found myself on the top of the sand dune with other exchange students, music blaring from somebody's iPod, us dancing to it in near total darkness. The moon and stars illuminated the clear night sky and the ocean, and in the distance we could see lights of a coastal town. We were all carefree and ecstatic to be in each other's company, and were more than enthusiastic to sing along badly to whatever song was playing. Oh, the world of exchange students. It's an endless party.

The next and last day, Sunday, was a special day for the outbounds. A ceremony was scheduled for them in the afternoon, where they would receive their Rotary blazers (in the bright French blue, known around the world). Before any of that started though, we had even more time to hang out and sign each other's stuff.

Some outbound girls and me!
Grégoire (outbound to Russia), Guillaume (outbound to Pennsylvania), me, and Vivi
You can find these two dashing young Frenchmen here ;)

Once the ceremony was about to begin, all the inbounds put on their blazers as well.

Leo (Brazil), Andy (my Asian-American buddy), and me

To start off, each country was called up, and the corresponding inbounds representing it walked up to show themselves.

And then, in alphabetical order, each outbound was called up along with the name of their exchange country. A Rotarian then handed them their blazer and business cards, and they walked back to take their seat. 

My outbound Matthieu, ready to represent France on exchange :')
I found the ceremony quite beautiful. Here are all these young, charismatic people, about to go on the most daring adventure of their lives. They have no clue what's in store for them, most have never been to their host countries before, much less speak the language, yet here they all are, unfazed, determined. I felt so incredibly proud of them. They were just so giddy and excited, wearing their blazers and handing out business cards, and then later updating their Facebook profile and cover photos... I remember exactly when I was like that. I remember exactly when I took photos like these ones with my outbound group.

They're so precious.   
The roles reversed... Betty and me standing with Louise, Matthieu, and Océane, lucky inbounds of 5100 for 2013-2014!
Soon after that, people started leaving. And good-byes began to be bid. Tears fell, streaming down my face and on the faces of my friends. My friends who have been with me since the very beginning, who understand me and this experience that I'm living, who I share some of the best memories of my life with. My friends who I can rely on no matter what happens, no matter how different we are, no matter how much we change. The inbounds of District 1510, 2012-2013. We are going to remember being a part of this group for the rest of our lives, and never stop feeling proud of it. After everything we have been through, saying good bye this weekend was extremely difficult. Somehow I brought myself to smile behind my tear-stained face, especially when the cheerful outbounds told me not to cry. I told them, "This will be you next year. Just wait." They understood. 
I felt like I was literally being ripped apart as I had to let go after every tight hug. My heart felt empty. I tried my best to tell everyone how much I loved them and how much their company meant to me, but sometimes, words in any language don't suffice to express certain sentiments. 
We will never be together as a group like that again. 
In weeks, we will all go our separate ways, leaving our exchange year behind us. 
But that's part of life. Nothing lasts forever. We can't always get what we want. I can, however, keep the memories of the times I've spent with my inbounds in my heart and relive them fondly whenever I wish. And with this flag I had everyone sign, I won't ever forget their names or where they come from.

Les Troubadours du Monde, inbounds District 1510 generation 2012-2013... thank you for being a major part of the best year of my life. I don't know what my exchange would have been without you all. See you in the future, on some other grand adventure. :)

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