Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Three-Year Exchange: My Rebound Experience, in Full Swing At Last

This has been quite the eventful week.

On Wednesday the 21st, I went to the Tualatin Country Club to meet one of the two Rotary inbounds who'll be in my city this year. There was a Taiwanese boy named Rex, and I sure was glad to meet him! He just arrived last week to start his exchange. I found him to be a very sweet and enthusiastic boy.

Gotta love that thumb's up!
For the first time, Tualatin will actually be welcoming two inbounds! The other is a girl from Mexico named Mariel. Here is a picture of her with the two other Tualatin rebounds,  Derek (Argentina), and Cole (Mexico), greeting her at the airport.

What'll be so great this year is that since all exchange students placed in American high schools are seniors, I get to have them in my graduating class with me! I can't wait for my year with them.

The following day, Thursday the 22nd, was a day I had been anticipating. The three outbounds from my district in France, Lou, Océane, and of course Parthenay's outbound Matthieu, were scheduled to arrive after taking the exact same flight I took to get to Portland from Paris. This meant that I'd be at the international arrivals area of the Portland airport, and I couldn't help but feel a bit sentimental thinking of the last time I was there, having just arrived at the same time of day. This time, I was the one waiting instead of the one about to come out of the hallway into the crowd of greeters.
Betty stopped by my house that morning, and after having made posters, we went to the airport. There, we were reunited with our country officer Steve!

We met the host families of our outbounds. Betty and I were probably more anxious than they were for the Frenchies' arrival, however, as we waited against the edge of the rail barrier for what seemed like ages.
Finally, they arrived, and she and I just about screamed.
The three of them recognized us and immediately greeted us with the bisous and a big hug before they went to meet their host families for the first time.

The blur of Lou and me hugging each other excitedly
I told Matthieu's host family about how I just spent an exchange year in his town, and they were really glad to meet me. Oh the wonders of exchange!

Matthieu and me
It felt really, REALLY weird to see somebody I knew from my school in France again, this soon after having left. I sent this picture to our counselor in the Parthenay Rotary Club, and he was content to see that we had been reunited. It felt amazing to see him again; it was just unbelievable. I can't wait to see what this year will bring.

This past weekend of the 24th-25th has been a long-anticipated weekend...
An occasion where many familiar faces from the very beginning made a reappearance.
For instance, one of my best friends, a now rebound from Germany, came over on Saturday morning before the reunion to have a little jam session. We missed each other's company this year, so it was great to be able to sing together again!

Robby, my singing partner from our surprise song at the final event.
(Our parents still make references to the part of the song that goes "Let's get rich and buy our parents homes in the south of France"...)

The event started in the mid-afternoon.

One of the signs at La Salle Catholic High School directing the rebounds where to go
I was so stoked to see everyone again, in particular my two best friends - Emma and Arielle. As outbounds, we called ourselves the "Three-Continent Musketeers," as Emma spent her year in Thailand and Arielle in Mexico. I hadn't seen Arielle since district conference in May 2012, and being reunited with her meant so much more to me than I imagined. 

Emma, me, Arielle: Ski trip, February 2012, before we found out what countries we would go to

Us, happy to be home from our exchanges!

Because I love these girls too much and I'm too much of a sucker for before-after pictures, here's one more set.

From empty blazers... extravagant blazers! (My attempt at alliteration.)
(Also, I did not shrink, nor did they suddenly shoot up in height. In the first picture, I was wearing higher heels, and they were crouching down to accommodate my height. Just in case you were wondering.)
Here are some other rebounds (out of the 36 who did a year abroad) that I saw this weekend.

Hannah (Japan) and I looking deep into each other's eyes

Sam (Austria) and Katie (Taiwan)

Lauren (Finland) and Logen (Japan)

The happy Danes, Jacob and Kaitlyn!

...Torvald...or, Turk-vald

How could I explain what it was like to see these kids again? They have been with me since January 2012 and have gone through the entire outbound process with me. When I last saw most of them, they were nervous about starting their exchanges, barely knowing a thing about their host countries. But with that nervousness, there was also a determination, a determination to live their exchanges to the fullest. Now, the group was together again, almost as if it had only been a few moments since we said good-bye. The friendships were as strong as ever, but in all of us, the nervousness was replaced with a new-found confidence and appreciation. We were not the same as when we left, but the fact that we had all lived the same life-changing experience of exchange brought us closer together. It's an amazing feeling to know that we'll always be there for each other, after all we've been through. I eagerly shared and listened to stories of exchange for much of the night, and just simply delighted in the company of being in the presence of some of my closest friends again. How much wisdom we have gained, in the practice of everyday living, in our own minds, and especially in our language skills, was mind-blowing. I mean, hearing the Japanese rebounds speak in Japanese together was such a cool experience; they sounded adorable. I would practice my German with Robby, and he'd practice his French with me. Torvald would butt into the conversation saying random things in Turkish, a language that was alien to all of us since nobody else had gone to Turkey. I overheard Martha (Ecuador) and Emily (Peru) cheerfully chatting in Spanish with one another.
Of course, Betty and I found the time to speak to each other in French, awing those around us with our pretty-sounding language. We reminisced about our inbounds in District 1510, and then we sneakily gossiped about certain people from the rebound group, amusing ourselves when we'd stand next to them while talking about them on several occasions. That is a very French thing to do, just so you know.
The atmosphere was like being in a group of inbounds all over again, except we didn't share the same host country; we shared the same home country. But we weren't just any group of Oregonian teenagers randomly clumped together. Now, after our outbound and inbound years, we are rebounds, and we share with each other an unbreakable bond and a deeper understanding of the world we live in.
Meeting this year's inbound, seeing the Frenchies again for them to start their exchange, and finally being reunited with my rebounds... all these experiences signal the true start of my rebound year, the third and final year of the three-year exchange. 
So, let's conclude. While exchange has taught me that I am capable of anything if I really try, there are two things I can't do.
First of all, I can't believe it. I just can't. I'm a rebound, this is all happening. But you know what? I'm ready to go on. Because...
I really can't wait for what the future holds for me. 

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