Before being released into the wilderness of France, we have a three day orientation in Bapaume, about 2 hours north of Paris.
So Flippa and I woke at 7:30am and around 8:30am, Gaspard, a YFU Volunteer, came to take us to the airport, via the metro, with our massive bags, to meet the other exchange students. We waited for what felt like a very long time, and slowly the other students trickled in the arrival gates. There were students from Indonesia, Australia, USA, Norway, Canada, Lithuania, Estonia, Switzerland and more! It was incredible.
We got on a bus, and trotted off to Bapaume.
The entire way the view out the window was mesmerisingly beautiful. French. countryside. is. AMAZING! I semi-dozed by the window, and hung out with the Aussies for a bit.
Finally, we arrived and I had my first taste of true French (?boarding) school lunch. It was not a taste sensation, but it was palatable and it was food. That pretty much describes the food we had over the next few days, some of it was better, some of it was a bit worse. There is one exception I can think of: the tart made by the cooking group. That was delicious.
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The next three days were incredible! It was a true roller coaster of emotions. Each day seemed to have the same pattern: I would wake up feeling anxious about everything, but by evening I was having the time of my life.
I met people from 27 different countries and 5 different continents. Germany, Chile, Mexico, USA, Australia, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Italy, Norway, Switzerland…
Every day, we started off in a big hall of ~70 exchange students and ~20 volunteers. There we had a meeting about the day to come. Each phrase in English, and in French, it was like watching the London Olympics Opening Ceremony.
We would then split off into small groups according to the region we are now in. My group was the oranges pressées of the Rhône-Loire region.
We talked in these small groups – in slow French, then slower French, then English if necessary – and did exercises about all things France – language, customs, culture, school, and also our expectation and concerns for our exchange. Of course, we also had workshops on the rules of YFU. All of which are pretty common-sense-based.
There was free time, then there was “structured free time” where we had to sign up for an activity. They changed each time, and ranged from cooking, to siesta, to board games, to sport, to meditation, to theatre, to practicing for Friday night’s talent show, to helping with the memorial for Shea.
Shea was an exchange student from New Zealand , who was supposed to be going on exchange. She was supposed to join us in Bapaume, and in the oranges pressées group. But not long before she was supposed to leave, after she had made contact with her host family and was over the moon to be coming, she died in a car accident. It just made us realise how lucky we are to have such opportunities, and how we should make the most of them. The memorial, a sheet with handprints of everyone there (paint) and love in every language spoken at the orientation (over 20) was finished on Friday night at the talent show with an amazing portrait of Shea, and it will be sent to her family in New Zealand.
The people I met and the things I learned about such a vast array of cultures still makes me grin. It was such an incredible experience! I learned how to say warmer roll and lobster in Finnish (lämpimämpi sämpylä and hummeri), and I was exposed to so many cultures and languages I had barely thought of before. It was so eye-opening and so amazing and I am so thankful for it. So so thankful.
At this point I would like to say thank you so so so very much to Youth For Understanding, for making this entire exchange possible!
On Saturday morning we ate breakfast at 6:30am in a semi-sad-to-see-our-new-friends-leave, semi-sleep-deprived, semi-excited, semi-anxious, semi-still-waking-up, semi-etc stupour. We were put on busses according to our region. For me, it was the green bus. A bus to Paris, on which I watched les paysages, slept, and chatted; then a TGV ride – yes TGV! – to Lyon, on which I had a lot of fun being excited about everything; and finally a train to St Etienne. Where we anxiously and nervously and apprehensively and excitedly met our host families.