Being on this high school exchange in France is all about change. It’s not just about changing countries or changing families or changing traditions, but ultimately, it’s about changing yourself. And I don’t mean that you’ll lose who you are; on the contrary, you’ll learn things about yourself that you would never have expected. You’ll do things that you never thought you could do, and become absorbed in a way of life that you would never have imagined. Some days are easy, life is great, and you don’t have a care in the world. But other days are so ridiculously challenging that you ask yourself what you were thinking. Why would you do this? You make mistakes, you think you learn from them, you misunderstand, you make them again, you learn some more, you grow.
For example, my first week of school was pretty rough. The schools in France are different, to say the least. I went to the first day of school, was bewildered by how different it was, then got sick and missed the next three. So coming in on Monday, when everyone was already settled, I was pretty intimidated. Needless to say, it wasn’t one of my better days. I managed to fake my way through French Literature, and practically sleep my way through English class, then we had a 15 minute break. Two girls asked if I wanted to spend break with them, and I gladly agreed. They asked me questions about Canada, and I somehow managed to give semi-intelligible answers. But Spanish class was not at all what I was expecting.
As soon as I walked in, the teacher started giving instructions in Spanish, and everybody followed them like we were in Spain or something. I thought I was supposed to go to France to learn French, not Spanish? So I basically gave the teacher a blank stare the whole class and reluctantly copied down the homework. Then, I was sure that my host sister said to meet her at noon. And I was sure the bus left at 12:30. So I waited, and waited, and waited… 12:15- where is she? 12:20- did she forget about me? 12:25- I’m going to miss my us! So I ran outside, checked to see if she was in the cafeteria, but no such luck. Then I hurried back inside and waited. Finally, around 12:28, she wanders over. Apparently, we were supposed to meet at 12:30. Go figure. She still had classes that day, but she walked me to the edge of the school grounds and gave me simple directions to get to the bus stop. At least, I thought they were simple. But when she left I thought to myself… which street is the “main” street? Of course the girls I asked told me, well there’s a bus stop there, and one there, and a few down that road. Hmm okay… maybe not so helpful.
So I walked down to the very end of the first street and saw nothing resembling a bus stop whatsoever. And there was not a person in sight. Of course the teachers had given me all my textbooks that day, and I was wearing jeans, and it was about 30 degrees Celsius outside. I looked at the time- 12:39? Well the bus was scheduled to leave at 12:45. So I absolutely booked it back towards the school and thought okay, it must be the other road then. So I ran through the street, past an Elementary School… stop, catch my breath. Nope, nothing. Look at my watch- 12:44. Uh oh… keep running. I finally arrived at a bridge and a city centre. That’s when I realized I must have gone a bit too far.
So I gave up, walked back to the school, and managed to find my host sister in the cafeteria. I tell her, “I got lost”. She commented on my red face, and I didn’t admit that I had been running. She thought there was a bus at 1:30 that I could still make, so we walked up the first road I had been on for only about 5 minutes when she realized the bus stop was gone… it didn’t even exist anymore! So she asked some guys in the bar if they had any idea, since they were the only ones around, and of course they had no idea. Finally, she called her dad who had just got off work and came to pick me up. I felt kind of bad, but so grateful! I decided it wasn’t my day when I got home, prepared some food, went to get some water, and came back to the cat eating my yogurt.
Luckily, things improved quite rapidly. My second day back was 100 times better, and by the end of the week, I was understanding my teachers in most of my classes, could find the bus by myself, and had even made a few friends. It definitely wasn’t easy, especially at first, but it got easier every day. Now, I can even look back on it and laugh. And I realize that it’s all about how you deal with it. I talked to my Spanish teacher and told her my concerns, and she told me to just do my best, but that she wouldn’t expect too much of me. And she wouldn’t call on me randomly in class for the oral quiz. Which was nice.
The things that I was worried about most turned about to be trivial, but when you’re in a foreign country, and you’re having a bad day, small things like that can feel like the end of the world. The only thing you can do is grit your teeth, deal with it, and move on. Dwelling on it will just get you more rattled, and improve your chances of ruining the rest of your day. It’s all about learning from your mistakes (or if you’re reading this, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes) and never giving up. You’ll find that it was all worth it in the end.