Time is a weird concept. That’s what it is, a concept, created by humans to distinguish the difference between given moments, events, and occurrences.
It’s an odd thing, because while it can feel short, it can also feel really long at the same time, for the exact same measure.
And there is no length which determines what is deemed as ‘long’ or deemed as ‘short’, it just depends on what point of view you’re looking from, and it can very easily be both at the same time.
And that is exactly how I feel about the first six months of my exchange.
Six months feels like a long time since I’ve seen Kapiti Island, driven my car, eaten Four Square Chicken and Chips, been to Church, slept in my own bed, or hugged my mum and dad.
It also feels like a long time because this town is now so familiar, and so comfortable for me that it feels like home. And I can’t imagine leaving it.
But at the same time, six months feels like it has flown by, and sometimes I still have moments where I just realise: wait, I’m in France! And if those little “WOW” moments haven’t totally stopped happening and I’m already at six months, I don’t think it’s going to ever stop.
When I look at my exchange, I just think “wow six months has gone already, and I only have six months left”, and it seems like nothing at all. And it also seems like a very long time.
But I remember a similar feeling at the start of high school, thinking “Oh man, I have 5 years of this”, but getting to the end of my five years and realising that the time flies. Sure, one hour of maths can feel like a year when it’s fifth period and you’re tired, hot, and hungry. But looking back, those were the fastest five years of my life.
So, my revelation on time led me to an idea, which I already knew, but it just reinforces it. It’s that we really need to make the most of everything, and we owe it to ourselves to do so. Every year, month, week, day. I can’t keep putting things off, or not taking an opportunity because I don’t feel like it.
There is a quote that I absolutely adore which says: Ta deuxième vie commence quand tu comprends que tu n’en as qu’une.
That means: Your second life starts when you understand that you only have one.
And so, with that in mind, here are the things I’ve been doing during my sixth month, making the most of the one life I have.
I knew before my exchange that I would put on weight. I knew it. And when it started to happen, I didn’t care. I was eating well, I was healthier than I’ve ever been, and I was enjoying myself.
I decided not to weight myself much. I would do it every few months, just to know, enough that I’m not obsessing, but I am aware how many I’ve put on, and how it changes.
I started feeling pretty bad as my clothes stopped fitting, and as I started buying things one size up.
Then I flipped a switch, and I stopped caring about the weight when summer hit (I thought I’d do the opposite), and honestly, for the first time in my life, I was so happy with the number I saw when I weighed myself.
If I saw the same number 6 months ago, I would have cried. Three months too. And maybe even one month earlier, I would have been unhappy.
But I feel good in my own skin. I have learned to embrace the exchange weight, and love my body.
Even though I’m always the whitest one by the pool, I have a tan line on my feet from my sandals but that is the only place I have tanned, and with a few kilos extra.
I also feel like half the things I own look better now I’m a bit bigger anyway. It’s all a matter of perspective and a positive state of mind. I think.
That for me, is a nice big hurdle I jumped during month six.
I went to my first French party. It was nice. It was chill. I wanted to sleep by like 1am, and everyone else wanted to keep partying (I think it must be easier fuelled on alcohol, but I have no desire to ever try).
I also went to my second French party. Again, it must be more fun for people who are drinking, but I still have a great time until they’re all drunk. And then I want to sleep. I’m not really made for the party life, I don’t think.
Music and dancing however, that I can do. There was a one-night musical festival, where there were concerts in the streets and café’s and it was really nice. So many people came out for it, and it was honestly like all 50,000 people in Brive were in the cetre ville. It was crazy, but awesome!
I was walking with my friend Anastasia, and we came across a café, where they had a set up outdoors, and it was very tranquil, and she asked if she could play the piano, so she did! Then they asked if I wanted to do something, so I picked up the guitar and sang a song. Then they asked for another, and another. I enjoyed the spontaneity, and I really have missed singing and performing.
That same week, I experienced heat so severe I thought I was going to die. We had a week of 38-40degrees. I felt so sick the whole week and hardly ate anything.
I never thought I’d consider 31 degrees as ‘cold’ or like as a pleasing temperature, but after having 38+ for more than 7 days, 31 felt like a nice little trip to Antarctica.
I did however, in this plight, make peace with pools, despite a longstanding loathing.
I also moved from my second host family, which was very hard. I was close with them, and really felt like part of the family, but I am doing lots of cool things this summer with several Rotary members, so that will be good too. Like at the moment I’m in the country side with a couple who I’m staying with for two weeks. They have an apartment in Brive, with a gorgeous view, but also a family property in the country side. And when they said “we’re going to the little house in the countryside” a flippin chateau was not what I had in mind. But I’m not complaining about the 15th century ‘little country house’, with a pool, tennis court, and acres and acres of gorgeous land.
I went to the movies! The first film I saw was horrible. It was called “The Last Girl”, but I think it’s actually titled “The Girl With All The Gifts”. French people do funny things, like giving movies another English name that’s shorter, instead of just translating the original name. But they don’t watch the films in English either, and add French subtitles, no, they go the extra mile, and voice dub everything so it’s all in French. No subtitles. Just lips moving out of time with what they’re saying.
It was like…Zombie and apocalyptic themes, and quite…gross. So, I understood the story, but I spent most of the time hiding in Rowans hair and blocking my ears to actually see if I understood everything they were saying enough to enjoy the film. But it’s a bit hard to enjoy the film when it makes you want to cry and vomit. So evidently, I had to go back again.
This time, I knew I’d enjoy it, and I just hoped I’d understand.
It was Baywatch. Or BAEwatch, with my main man Zac Efron…
It took a while to adjust at the start of the film, getting used to the fact that The Rock was not sounding like The Rock, and then Zac Efron didn’t sound like Zac Efron either. BUT I understood like 95% of the film, and it was a good laugh. For me and Nora. French people don’t laugh at the movies.
The third film I went to see this month was Moi, Moche et Méchant 3 – aka: Despicable Me 3.
It was so good, and I understood everything, so that’s nice. To know that not only a) I can understand everything in day-to-day life, but I can understand movies too.
I also got quite good at walking home alone in the dark, something that I’ve never been good at, because I basically run the whole way because I’m scared of being murdered.
But seriously. Brive is a safe little town, and I’m smart enough to not take funny little side streets to get home, but I’m also becoming more independent.
However, I miss my car. A lot. I miss the freedom and not feeling dependent, and also, the ability to go where I want when I want.
I want to go to see friends somewhere else in my region. I have to take a bus, or a train, or both. Limoges, the big city close to me, is only one hour away, by car. So in my head, that’s like Paraparaumu to Wellington. So in my head I’m going, OK, it might cost a bit more than that, so say in NZD…$15 to $20 return. That is about 10€ to 13€.
No no no. The train is going to cost me minimum of 20€ (about $30) for the round trip, if I take the cheapest there one day, and the cheapest home the next. Then I would have to find somewhere to stay.
Or if I want to go first thing in the morning and come home in the same evening, I’m looking at 30€ (about $45) or 40€ ($60) for the roundtrip. Although it can be more, depending on the time.
If I were able to drive, it’d make life so much easier. But I can’t. I can’t afford a 40€ roundtrip ticket either. Voilà, I’m not going to Limoges any time soon.
Besides the whole train issue (and of course the school system), I am coming to quite like my little part of France, and I could definitely live here. But I won’t, I promise, until they improve their school system. But considering it’s been in place since Napolean created it like a million years ago, and the French really like tradition, it’s unlikely that they’ll change their ‘traditional’ schooling system any time soon.
I’ve been having the time of my life with my friends here; musical festival, Fete foraine, shopping, movies, swimming, talk, laughing, partying (but not drinking), getting massages, and just making the most of every moment we have together.
While this is the middle of my exchange, for some, it is the end.
So, these friends, with whom I was having the best summer ever, have all just left.
Slowly but surely, all the other exchange students I’ve met all over France have started to go home.
AFS is really strong in this area, and we had a lot of AFS students. One Rotary girl left in June, then the other Rotary student – Fanny my little Finlander – left at the start of July, and then all the AFS students left on the 8th of July for their end-of-exchange debrief thing in Paris.
That was a very hard day.
As was the 13th, because Rowan came back to Brive with her parents after Paris, so our goodbye could wait. But that was my final goodbye.
And now I’m very sad. I’m Ok. But I am very sad. And I feel quite alone. And I know I’m going to have an amazing time still, and it’s not over for me yet, but I just said goodbye to some of the best friends I have ever had, for an undetermined amount of time.
They’re all going to come to my wedding, but who knows when that’ll happen?
These are people who make me laugh when I want to cry, who constantly reminded me to talk in French for the first three months when all I wanted to do was talk English because I was tired and it was easier for my brain, who never fail to tell me my butt looks good, who don’t judge me for anything, who listen and give advice -no matter how many times I say the same thing, who pushed me out of my comfort zone by not doing things for me like ordering Subway or drinks in a café, who kept me sane at crazy French School, and who are an enormous and irreplaceable part of an amazing six months of the most amazing year of my life so far.
I cannot thank them enough for all they did for me. They took me in, a stressed out little kiwi, and helped me to learn to live in Frenchie territory.
And saying goodbye to them was very, very hard.
So please, if you ask me if I’m OK, and I say “yes, but I’m sad”, and I will not lie and just say “the world is peachy”, please don’t say “It’s OK, more will arrive!” because I know very well that there are going to be a ton of Newbies, and I am so excited to meet them and become friends with them, and share a life in Brive with them for 4 months at the end of my exchange.
Being alone is not really my fear. It’s the feeling lonely, because I have said goodbye to some absolutely amazing friends.
Just like my friends here do not replace my friends from home, the second lot of students do not replace the first. They are not replacements, they are additions. And I am so lucky to have the opportunity to meet so many amazing young people from all over the world.
I know I have changed already. I’m more confident, independent, and open, and one thing I’m coming to realise now is that I am so much happier.
To be fair, last year was a hard, stressful, emotional year, and this year has done a lot of breaking but also healing. And it’s only been 6 months.
I am so grateful for this opportunity, and to everyone who has supported me throughout this journey.
The next six months are gonna be good!
– En France –