Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Last of the Last's

In this final hours of life in France as an exchange student, or better yet, in these final hours of life as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in general, there are so many 'last's.'
The last time I drink my favorite Capriccio Nespresso coffee.
The last time I run in the Combs with Leonie.
The last time I sneak some Nutella from the jar.
The last time I drink some delicious Gevrey-Chambertin premiere Crus wine in Gevrey-Chambertin.
The last time I laugh at my pain-in-the-ass host sister fight with her mom over nothing important.
The last time I write a blog about France while still in France.
The list goes on and on because with each passing moment, something ends. Something in my life ends suddenly, and very possibly for good.

The think is that, what most people have a hard time understanding is that it is a lot harder than most people give me credit for. I think some people look at my life and think, 'lucky brat has lived in Japan and pranced around Europe for a year.' Nobody seems to understand that every where I go I meet someone new, do something wonderful, or even fall into a comfortable routine or pattern. And then when it is time to leave as such, I have to just drop it all and go home. Sure this year has not been easy with every passing minute, but honestly, for how upset I am right now, it is hard to say that I am not going to miss France.

Today is my last day in France. My last day as a Rotary Yoth Exchange Student. My last day living with the R's, who have become more than just a host family to me. My last day in Fixin, France, a place I have spent a year calling home. My last day with Chacha, Ant, Coco, and Clem. My last run in the Fixin woods with L. My last evening to fall asleep on the Mezzanine above Coline's bed. My last time to indulge in Nutella, Nespresso, Cote d'Or chocolate, and authentic Bourgogne wine. My last day to turn on the radio or TV and hear just French. My last day with the damn Bisous (thank god!) Everything is a last, and it is really painful and tearing me up inside.

I have said this before, but it is true. It is not as easy as I thouhgt livin the life that I do. I know I am luckier than most people in the entire world, but most people have never had to leave behind everything they loved, their entire life, and family once let alone twice.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Final Letter To The R's

Over the course of my two-year tenure as a Rotary Youth Exchange student, I have had 4 host families in Japan and one in France. I am not into comparing, since I have spent the entire past year being compared to fluent and lovely Andrew. But as of right now, I am closest with my final host family, the French family, that I refer to as the R's. Just before I I made my way back home to America, I wrote them a letter.

Dear Everybody,

I do not know where to begin. Maybe a simple thank you would work, but I d not think that is sufficient. After all, thank you is just a simple three words. And three words do not come close to summing up an entire year in another country.

It all started that month of August 2008, when I arrived at your home on a hot and humid afternoon. I was so nervous because I knew almost nothin about you. I had spoken to L only once on the telephone and learned the following: Chacha, 18, was headed to India for a year with Rotary, Antoine, 14, and Coline, 10, the monster of Fixin. But the eveing, my first night in France, unble to speak a word of Frnehc, I felt relieved. I already knew how much I was goin to like you guys.

It is starnge to think about that first evening. It has thus been ten long months. And I am still here at the Robert's. I am still happy, of course, and for the most part, I think you all are too.


I know I am not very good at showing emotions, so I hope that you all realise just how much you have meant to me over this year. The saddest part about saying goodbye to you is not knowing if I will ever see you all again. My sincere hope is that we all continue to stay in contact over the years. But I know that I we all lose contanct, I am never goin to forget you all and all youhave done for me.

I hope that you all continue to stay in good health and happy with all that life gives you. Good luck for the future and know that you are always welcome wherever I am in the world.

Love Always,

Julie Garner

Monday, July 06, 2009

Rotary and Me

When someone says the dreaded dilemma, "I have good news and bad news, which first?" you know you are in annoying situation. Usually the good news is not that good, but something random that the other person has thought up to lessen the bad news. Like, "Good news is that the weather is nice, bad news is your Grandma fell down the stairs and broke her hip." So theoretically, you have to actually pretend to care that the good news is actually something good, while really the bad news sort of tears you up. It is one of those things we Americans have become pretty good at, that is, hiding our emotions in order to not let others catch our weaknesses.

Anyway, I want to start with the good news, or at least the good stuff. I can not even begin to say how thankful I am for all that the Rotary International has done for me, a middle-class, surburban, American teenager that has lived in Japan and France for a year each because of the Rotary's kindness and hospitality. The program accepted me, arranged schooling, host families, and other opportunities for me. If it was not for Rotary I can not tell you the person I would be today, after all, I never choose Japan or France. They were both given to me from Rotary. I would never have met the R's, had a big sister, Naoko, been fluent in Japanese, become a wine enthusiast, learned Tea Ceremony and the Koto, among a multitude of other things.

The Japanese Rotary was the most kind and wonderful oranization that I could ever imagined existed. They paid for all of my activities, including travel throughout the whole country, Koto lessons, private school, and even host families. For all that they have done for me, I suppose I came to France realizing nothing could be like Rotary Japan. But I have come to hope that nothing like Rotary France exists.

And now for the bad news, which is not exactly news, but more or less the blunt truth. The Rotary is France, while supplying with a host family that I very much adore, has done nothing else at all. I do not even know where to begin with my feelings towards this Rotary. Perhaps it is the fact that I have had to fight each and every month for my Rotary allowance, and have already been told I will not receive any money for June. Or maybe that no one ever calls to ask me if things are going okay with my host family, life in France, or anything in general. Sure their lack of 'care' has enabled me to jump on a train and explore Europe with no restrictions, but it is still ridiculous. It is unfair for my host family, who could very well have serious problemes with hosting me, to have no one to talk to. In addition, they have to pay for my lunch at school, which every Rotary in France for, except mine who said, 'she gets a monthly allowance, let her pay.' This would be fine, but my meanly allowance would not cover lunch everyday at the school. But no matter, I rarely ate at the school anyway.

In addition, my counselor refuses to do anything. Who picked me up from the airport when I arrived? Alex's counselor. Who drive us to the train station at 4 in the morning for Toulouse? Alex's counselor. He also refused to attend to required district conference, so I had to find me own ride. In addition, while Alex and Andrew have had lavish weekends skiing in the Val d'Isere or on the beach at Cannes, I have done not a single thing with my Rotary club. I met my counselor only one, in November in my birthday, whereby he required my presence at a meeting, did not speak to me a night, had someone else bring out a cake while everyone was leaving, and then drove me home.

But the worst part? The Rotary came to the hosue last night to discuss my departure and my year. This is normally done in a a big meeting with the club, but I was in Belgium at that time. Interestingly enouh when Rotary called and said I was required to be at this meeting, Leonie pretty much told them to stick it where the sun does not shine. She was going to require me to come home just for a couple of clowns who had ignored me the majority of the year. I did not know about this till last night when I was yelled at for not coming to the meeting.

At last night's discussion, they questioned me about my year. I gave a an answer and then they proceeded to make conclusions based on things they knew very little about.

"Did you like school?"
"Not particularily. I did not make very many friends."
"Oh so she integrated badly into French culture and school life, what a shame."

It continued like that.

"How do you feel about livin with the same family all year?"
"It worked out great for me, but of course there were some difficulties. Never the less, I loved them a lot."
"Difficulties? Hmmm.... well I knew we should have pulled her from Fixin and this family after Charlotte came home early. She messed up the dynamics of the family. Julie, you need to understand that they like you a lot, but I am sure they will be pleased to see you go home."

The entire meeting was bloody ridiculous. I would have been seriously offended and disappointer, perhaps even shedding tears but I have sort of given up on caring what Rotary France does in concerns with me.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Numbness to the Current Situation

I keep telling myself that the best thing I can do for myself is sit down and write a good blog entry for the future, and more importantly for the present. I'll thank myself in 5 years when I come on here and laugh about my hectic last few days in France, and feel better now getting everything off my chest. But I can not do it. Besides the fact that I have no idea what to say, I do not know what I really feel or think. There is also nothing amazing or even worth happening here to talk about it.

It's is my second to last fell day in la belle France. The Robert's are schemeing something drastic because instead of speaking in French, they have all reverted in German. If they speak slowly, I might be able to understanbd but they have no intention of letting me know what they are planning. They slipped only once last Saturday when Leonie whispered her plans to Coline, and then began talking out loud about her fear of heights and how getting a hot air balloon would not be a good idea at all. But apparently with the recent thunderstorms erratically striking Burgundy, Hot Air Ballooning is out of the question. Since then, they have been much more careful, which is driving me mad. If there is anything I hate it is surprises. Well, I actually really like surprises, but I act like a complete moron when I am surprised. Example: For my birthday, I received tickets for a weekend in Paris. I did not believe my host parents until after 2 glasses of champagne, and by then I was too out of it to really think what had just happened.

I hate surprises.

But I also hate my seemingly bitter but lack of grasp upon myself and the current situation. This year I have really begun to understand how little I know about myself, and how I do things often that surprise even me. Maybe that is one reason why I really can not account for my attitude. I feel so detached from the world, but it is my own fault. I think a part of me realizes that even though I might be rather pleased to get going home, things will and can never be the same. First, I will never be able to come back to Fixin the way I am now, which I suppose is a good thing because I am not so sure many people like me very much. Second, leaving France is truly the end of an era.

Two era's actually.

The first is my roller coaster in France, my odd love-hate relationship with the country and everything that comes with it. But the second era is a bit bigger, more complex, and kind of chilling for me. I spent my Junior in Japan, my Senior year afraid to grow up, and a Gap Year in France finally accepting that fact that it is time. It is time for me to accept that I am not a little kid anymore, and to move past that stage in my life. France was my final level, and the moment I leave, I feel as though I leave behind my last memory of childhood.

Right now all I can think about is everything that has happened. And also trying to bury it in a giant hole in my heart and not think about it these last few days. Trying to numb it, and doing a somewhat good job at it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Going Back

“It's know the end of something great is coming, but you want to hold on, just for one more second...just so it can hurt a little more.” -Anonymous

I wonder if they read my mind.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Finish Line In Sight

Another Sunday in France. My final Sunday in France, in fact, bt that does not excuse the fact that it is Sunday in France, which means as usual there was absolutely nothing to do. Nothing is ever open, no one ever works, and the only thing that ever gets accomplished is eatin and drinking. Sunday's are the day when the French sit at the table for hours without end gorging on everything from salad to cheese, always complimented with a fine bottle of wine. I hate Sunday's in France, I always have and suspect I always will.

Yet, unlike every other Sunday I have spent here in France, I was prepared for the boredom. I had purchased a book, okay, in English, against my own principles, but nevertheless it was a dose of medicine against Sunday in France, the disease. Due to the recent release of the film based on the Millenium series by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, along with it's enormous success, I decided to read the book before I sat down and watched the film. Even though I had bought the book to read on Thursday when my plane from Paris to America is in motion, I opened the cover and scanned a few lines and have been hooked ever since.

Thank god for the book because if I had to spend another Sunday cooped up doing nothing, I would definitely go mad. What is more, that as of recent, I have been a total basketcase, a wreck of emotions, a roller coaster of mood swings. I fear for those around that have to put up with my outburst of tears, followed of a slew of bubbly laugh fits. I am going home in a few days and I have to deal with that fact. But I am not going a very good job at it.

I may have dealt with this before, having come home from a year in Japan, but it has done little to prepare me for this. I was not ready to leave Japan, and I did not prepare myself in the slightest. I suppose that is why my basketcase stage came when I was back in America. But this time around, I al fully aware of the approaching departure date. The day runs through my mind with each passing moment, along with a million other things.

A part of my thinks that once my United Boeing 747 takes off from the runway in Paris, the roots I have planted in France, will come with me. A piece of me things that my erratic and loving host family will quickly forget about me as more than just a random American that lived in their house for almost 11 months. They are really my only tie to France, besides my love for Fixin and Burgundy in general, and my love-hate relationship with France. All the other friends I have made this year are Canadian, American, or Belgian. This theory of losing touch is somewhat backed by host mother, whom I love like a best friend, but is far too busy with her own troubles to worry about keeping in touch. I have shed quite a few tears in the past few days hearing about how she had not really kept in close touch with her host family from America, among other things. It has not been a very good experience in this respect.

But as much as I throw the things I regret or that have plagued me this year, on a scale, I can not bring myself to regret this year in France. Sure my minimal French, lack of friends, non-existant social life, empty schedule book, hardships with some cultural aspects, and constant boredom, will always remain a pittance when thinkin about this year. Yet my extensive travelings and good, well at least steady, realtionship with my host family, outweighs the bad stuff.

So I wonder if this can really be called a finish line. Is it really something I am racing to finish? Do I really want it all the end- that is- my relationship with the R's, my ties to France, my hatred for Sunday's, my minimal French language skills, among quite a lot of other things? I need to stop thinking about all this, back to my book.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


My second host father hated my passion of running. I could not give you an exact reason for it, I just do not think he liked me very much, which is fair enough. But those who know me know that I sort of slip into a cima without running. I sit on the computer and do nothin, whine, hide, hate my life, and whatever else. I need to run, it's my thing. Of course, my host father turned out to be an over-protective businessman that knew very little, but at the time, he never let me run. "Kochi is too dangerous for a young American girl," he would say.

His wife, however, could not bare to see my face fall everytime he would stand at the door, facing me, and wagging his finger. She could tell that I spent hours cooped in my room because I could not do anything else. She hatched a plan to let me run early in the morning, before her husband could awaken and stop me.

So almost three times a week, I would wake at 4 in the morning for a run that was often-much needed. The problem was that it was always pitch-black and I was alone. My solution was simple; and IPOD. That way I could run along the Kagamachi river in peace, alone, but still surronded by the voices of various Japanese artists. Since downloading was also forbidden in the household, I had to rely on the collection of my host mom, a menage of JPOP and Japanese folk music. Not really my cup of tea, but I dealt with it.

She was also a fan of the musical Mulin Rouge, a film which I found to be cute but nothing special. Still, with nothing else to listen to, and in desperate need of some English, I downloaded the music on my IPOD and listened to it as I ran along in the early morning hours. One morning in particular, I got the song Lady Marmalade stuck into my head. I must have even started singing it aloud, at least the French perverted part that is, because I passed a bakery with a hardworking man out front.

"Furansugo dekimasu ka?" he asked me. When I turned around to answer him that I could not speak a word of French to save my life, had no intention of learning, and felt ill at the sound of French, he caught a glimpse of my face. "Gaijin! Furansujin!" he exclaimed madly, trying to figure out why a foreighner, whom he assumed was French would be running in Kochi at 4:30 in the morning. Before I could correct him, he scurried off into the bakery.

Two things occured that made me feel annoyed. I had been mistaken for a French person, which was the ultimate crime against my American blood. Second, he had mistaken me for a French speaker.

After a full year in France, living amongst the French and speaking the language, I have yet to be mistaken for a French person in France. A piece of me is happy about that, but another part is sad about it. I really have not adapted all that well in France.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Back Home... in Fixin

"Back home, I always thought I wanted so much more
Now I am not too sure." -Yellowcard

When I left on May 26th, 2009, for my whirlwind tour of Belgium and Normandy, I was not completely positive, I would return. Besides the fact that everytime my host parents would ask for some sort of ballpark answer as to when I would return, and I would give them nothing, there was also a dozen other things telling me to not go back. What I mean is that I was sure I would return to Fixin, but maybe on July 1st, the day before I leave for America. In my mind, I was convinced that if I came back to Fixin too early, I would spend the days wasting away in dreary existance, hating myself for not setting my return date to America earlier, wondering how long my host family would tolerate me there, and most of all growing more and more annoyed with Fixin.

But that is so far from how I feel now, that I feel shocked having once felt that way.

I suppose even in those final days of May, at the very start of my travels, that weird longing feeling for Bourgogne should have foreshadowed my roller coaster of emotions that has thus far been the month of June. I could not stop thinking about the R's, Fixin, and my beloved Bourgogne, and I must have talked about my exchange quite often with Zoe. Then with Paule and Ronnie, it was confirmed how much I talk about my French adventure, when Paule said, "You talk about the R's more than you talk about your own family!"

And when we made the 12 hour journey from Normandy to Sainte Maxime, in the South of France, the motor way took us through Bourgogne. I was warmly welcomed back in Bourgogne with a brief rain shower and a mount of thunder. I smiled to myself knowing that something’s would probably never change. But as we drove closer to Dijon and then farther away, I kept getting the pressing urge to call out, "Stop! Drop me off here, I want to go home!"

I think it was then that I realized that I needed to go back. Back? Yes back home. A wise man once said that, ““Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” I do not think anyone will ever be able to understand me, not even myself. But I think my host parents have gotten a pretty good base during the course of this year. The more time goes on, the more I learn things about myself that I never knew. For example, I was sure I would want to spend the last month of my exchange traveling around France on a backpacking excursion. Yet, suddenly, I discovered that the only place I really wanted to be was with my host family in Fixin.
Yesterday, as the TRANSCO bus dropped me off in front of the Roberts, hauling my large sack on my back, I opened the gate for the first time in over three weeks. I saw the shadow of L and Coco on the back porch, so I snuck around the car and hide behind the bushes for a few moments pondering how I would say hello.

That always works.

Along time ago, well three weeks egos, practically in tears, as L and I ran through the train station trying to catch my train, I thought she would maybe be annoyed with seeing me again. I had just asked her that morning if she thought I had wasted my year in France, not having a good base in French, and not having a grad experience with high school. I did not think I would upset her having asked that question, but after the experience, I realized I probably did upset her enough.

I figured she would be surprised to see me- maybe a little happy if only to stop the menial worry about me- but not overly joyed. Especially since I did not call and tell her I was coming home. But seeing her surprise- a warm truly happy surprise- and Coco’s content smile to see me, and I knew I was back.
I missed Fixin so much.