Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Floating on distant memories: one month later

I can't believe I have been home in Calgary for over one month now.  Or should I say, I can't believe I was ever gone for so long.  My magical 10 months in France feel like a dream (the best one of my life) and so far away from the me that is now back into my Canadian home and routine.  

Leaving my French home and exchange was emotional and confusing, but arriving home in beloved Canada was incredible and so exciting.  I walked through the airport doors to see my entire family and 4 of my friends holding balloons, flowers, "Welcome Home Siobhan" signs, and there was even a Tim Horton's Iced Capp with my name on it.  I turned into a blabbering excited mess of screams and laughter and couldn't stop myself from jumping around being excited and hugging everyone over and over.  It's an amazing feeling to be able to finally hold your loved ones in the biggest bear hug of all time after thinking about it and missing it for 10 months straight.  

It makes absolutely no sense, but my first week home felt like a cross between some slow-motion underwater limbo and an insane Tazmanian Devil-type whirlwind.  I was busy with work training as soon as I was back, but I also felt like I didn't have anything to do... something that had never been the case while I was away.  I arrived home Sunday night and on the Wednesday my family threw me a big BBQ at my house where I could invite all my good friends from all my walks of life that I hadn't seen in a year or more.  My backyard was filled with childhood friends, camp friends, ski friends, dance friends and friends from high school. It was a beautiful mosaic of all the people I missed being around while I was gone.  It was so weird!!! I floated around socializing with everyone, feeling like I had never even left and the last time I saw any of them had been only a week or two earlier.  I didn't get much into talking about my year aside from telling almost everyone that it had been the best year of my life and trying a little bit to explain what a day in my French life had been like... but I found (and still do find) it so hard to summarize what I experienced in only one conversation.  I constantly feel overwhelmed by the question "So how was it?!" because every time it's asked, I'm overcome by hundreds of emotions and memories and it just doesn't do any of those memories justice to reply with the phrase "The best experience of my life" or "Absolutely incredible" or one of the other responses I've been pulling out of the back storage in my brain.  But that's how it's going to have to be because to explain my experience to anyone who hasn't been on an exchange or done extensive traveling would only properly be done by buying them a plane ticket, packing their bags, and sending them away themselves.  I couldn't possibly hope to explain my year to anyone, but that's the beauty of it because it's the kind of thing one can only understand after having been through it themselves. So for all of you who wish to know what my year was like, get on a plane and go see.

Life goes on as it must, and here I am over a month later with a steady job and a very busy life as I get ready to pack my life up once again to go to Quest University in Squamish BC in August.  I love being at home and around my family, but I have a yearning ache for adventure to start once again and so I'm looking forward to my move with incredible excitement.  New faces and places and like minded people are a recipe for a hopefully amazing year to come.  

I mentioned that it feels as though I never left, and although it's amazing it can also be suffocating.  I feel a sort of panic begin to set in on those days where my exchange really does feel like a dream.  I am so determined to not let myself forget or move on from the memories.  I want the lessons I learned and the relationships I made go on to guide me on my next path of life.  Sometimes I feel sad.  My family and best friends are scattered across the globe but letting myself think too much about that won't get me anywhere.  What's important is to realize how lucky I am to have been touched by so many wonderful wonderful people and to be so thankful that I had the chance to make such friendships, as opposed to letting myself be depressed it's all over.  Besides... I'M YOUNG! The traveling and international friendships have only just begun.

Life isn't all work this summer which is nice.  I went to to Fernie, BC 2 weeks ago and saw the Canadian Rockies for the first time in 10 months which was incredible and I personally believe it was a little bit of soul therapy.  There's just something about those mountains.  I went with Gillian and Wendy who are both from Calgary.  They too went on exchange this past year to Austria and Mexico and the 3 of us were able to laugh and share in our memories and the similar shenanigans we were able to get up to despite being in 3 different countries.  Then this past weekend was Calgary's Folk Music Festival which I volunteered at with Gillian, Wendy and lots of other friends.  It was a weekend spent listening to amazing music, forming new relationships, discovering old ones, and dancing like a CRAZY PERSON (so. much. fun).  

I think this will be my last post on this blog. At least for now.  My year has come to an official end and I want to leave it at that and let this blog be a wondrous treasure of memories and stories for myself and for anyone interested in Siobhan's French adventure of 2013 and 2014.  Thank you to everyone who has kept up with it all year and shown interest in my stories and writings and not-very-good-jokes.  Thank you once again to Rotary for giving me such an amazing gift of an experience. Thank you my friends, you know who you are. Here is to the next chapter of awesome. 

Ce n'est pas un adieu mais un au revoir
Siobhan Barry

Friday, June 20, 2014

The end is only the beginning

In 48 hours I'll be at the CDG airport in Paris checking in for my flight to Montreal.  In 72 hours I'll be back in Calgary, home after 10 months away.  I can't believe my exchange is already at an end.  SO much has happened and changed in my life and in who I am, but at the same time it feels like I only arrived yesterday.

As per usual, much has happened since my last post.  Last Wednesday was relatively tame and just really enjoyable.  Our big group of exchange students met up in the park by the Ugly Church that I wrote about in my last post.  We laid in the grass and took in the lovely day in peace.

Stole this photo from Eva's facebook album. Her caption "Everyday should be like this"
Will severely miss this beautiful city
A photo to sum up "park chillin'" featuring Liz and Paco
That Friday (a week ago today) was the BBQ at my teacher's house with my class from school.  It was so much fun! A few teachers showed up, and almost my whole class was there.  Everyone brought a little something to contribute to the food and drinks, the weather was really nice, and with people like Clem and Hugo floating around it was basically unavoidable that it all ended in one huge water fight.  Everyone also surprised me with a going away present from all of them! They'd put together a box filled with little knick knacks to represent memories and inside jokes from the year, or else little symbols of France.  They'd glued France soccer player cards to the top of the box because it's the World Cup and in their minds I'm obviously cheering for France (which isn't false I have to admit..).  They also gave me a mini bike lock....... ha.... ha......ha..... joke of the year.  They gave me a huge map of France and circled Lille in permanent marker with a squiggly arrow pointing to it accompanied by a "We are here".  They gave me France's world cup t-shirt signed on the back by everyone in the class. Also a mini water gun (a little foreshadowing for the water fight that was to follow).  A mini water bottle because apparently I'm always drinking water, and some delicious goodies representative of the North like Speculoos cookies and Violette candies.  Then there was some random stuff like a children's French book and some wildly patterned underwear which I can probably thank mainly Clem for... I can see her going wild in the grocery store looking for everything crazy and hilarious to throw in on top.  It was one of those well thought out gifts that symbolized the connections I made with the people in the class throughout the year.  It meant a lot.  

opening of the box

THANKS CLEM (note clem behind snorting with laughter...)

so touched by all the love
Clem teaching Mme. Becuwe's son how to destroy people with the water gun 
After getting soaked Round 1

After getting soaked Round 2

I had to say goodbye to the teachers and some classmates which was weird.  I've said so many goodbyes in the last little while that it's starting to feel like a habit.  My brain isn't really realizing how final a lot of the gooodbyes are! In my head I'm still going to see people in the following weeks...

Saturday was our Rotary District Conference and the very last time we had an organized Rotary event with all the exchange students together.  The conference was to bring together all the Rotary clubs in our district 1670 here in France, as well as a way of thanking the Rotary governor for all she's done for Rotary this year.  It was also a chance for us exchange students to be properly presented to the district that's hosting us.  In the morning we had a flag ceremony where each country and it's corresponding student was introduced.  

I'm waaaay over to the right next to Aubry's American flag. Paco and Maria showed up late so I had the honors of sporting the Argentinian flag for the ceremony.
We spent the next couple hours preparing our show for the Rotarians that we'd be putting on after lunch.  I had a couple extra tasks to be done on top of show prep because along with Clancy, Rika and Katerin I'd be giving a speech later that day, IN FRENCH, to all the Rotarians gathered in the crowd.  The 4 of us had to sort of re-write our speeches in order that they'd correspond well and we wouldn't repeat ourselves too much... and we somehow managed to do so in only about 30 minutes. Speeches came first, followed by our talent show.

lol at the photo of my squinty face larger-than-life sized in the background.  Awkwardness follows me like a dementor.
After the 4 of us finished, every Rotarian in the audience stood up and clapped, then all our exchange friends in the front two rows stood up and turned around to face the standing ovation as well.  Some of my friends were in tears, it was an emotional moment and I spent those 30 seconds standing on stage stuck in a frazzled lip-biting not-sure-if-I'm-going-to-start-bawling-or-not state.  

Our talent show was a hit too!  I don't have any photos but click HERE for the youtube video. It's worth a watch, there's a lot of really cool talents unique to people's countries and cultures that get showcased, for example I Irish danced... yep.  Over 3 years of not dancing and I whipped out the moves just for Rotary.  Nothing was broken, thank the lord.  And if anyone wants to try to understand 4 French speeches in foreign accents you can go HERE to see that video as well.  

It was kind of nostalgic afterwards, because the real goodbyes began.  I think it felt unreal for all of us.

Irish Dancer and Flamenco queen 

That evening Veronica, Ty, Elise, Paco, David, Rodrigo and Ian all came to my house for one last soiree ensemble before Veronica and Ty would leave Monday and Tuesday.  It was a really awesome night, I think it's safe to say we went out with a bang, but we had some sad moments too when we reflected on all the awesome memories from our year and how much we'd miss each other.  They're my people!

On Sunday I had to say goodbye to Vero and it sucked.  On Monday we spent the day together as a group of exchange students in Lille and at the end of the afternoon we said goodbye to Ty.  That sucked too.  Despite the gloomy sadness of goodbyes, I KNOW that I'm gonna see those guys again, our bond is too strong for our friendship and adventures to already be over.  

I forgot to mention that Anouk, my host sister, got back from her exchange in Mexico on Sunday!! It's been very cool having her back.  It's weird to see a French person talk about exchange because I'm doing my exchange in her home country and despite that huge important factor of the countries being different, there's still soooo much mutual understanding between us and the exchange experience in general.  It was a pleasure to watch the whole family together and see how happy they all were to be reunited once again in their home... made me kind of want to be back home in Canada as soon as possible myself!

This Wednesday I said a final goodbye to all my French classmates, excluding Ana, Marion and Sixtine who I'll be seeing and then saying goodbye to this afternoon.  I also went to Lille and had one final Wednesday with some crazy exchange kids.  T'was great.

Yesterday evening I went with my host parents and Anouk to Yann and Marie Jo's for dinner.  Rika's mom and sister are visiting her and then taking her back with them to Japan, so yesterday's dinner was a way for them to meet all 3 host families as well as an opportunity for me to say goodbye to Yann and Marie Jo.  It was cool!

Today I have a mini gathering with my art class in the late afternoon before heading to the Dervilles house.  I have one last night out tonight with Louise and her buds, then a final lunch with the Dervilles tomorrow ( wahh :(( ).  Tomorrow is La Fete de la Musique in Lille, in other words just one giant party throughout the city.  It's a cool event to be happening for my last afternoon in my favourite French city.  The last of the goodbyes with my exchange family will also be happening tomorrow.  I can't believe it.  TOMORROW. Feels so unreal.

Sunday at 8:30am the Brodins will drive me to the airport for my flight at 1pm.  Then this adventure that is exchange will be over.  This is probably my last post before I catch my flight Sunday! My next post will most likely be written from Canada.  Catch you then eh.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Officially certified with the DELF International B2 Tout Public level of reading, writing, oral understanding and speaking of the French language.  YES!

And that's all for today. 


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Still swimming

Soooooo let's get filled in on the life and times of Siobhan during her last weeks on exchange in France shall we.

BIG NEWS: Today was my last appearance and attendance EVER (like forever ever? YES) of French lycée.  Hip. Hip. HOO-RAAAY.

On Saturday, a good friend of mine, Julie, came to visit Lille for the first time in her life.  Get this: she's French. And never been to Lille. *GASP* Julie is 20 and we've known each other for a few years now.  She lives in a beautiful old country home just outside of the French city Angers.  Her dad makes wine, her mom runs a bed and breakfast on their property and pretty much all their vegetables come from their own garden.  I had the amazing opportunity to spend almost 4 weeks living with Julie's family the summer I was 15, SURPRIIISE... this year isn't my first France rodeo.  But the two experiences were in no way similar.  I arrived at Julie's house with a very limited base French and was only just starting to get the hang of basic conversation when I left at the end of my 4 weeks.  Also there was way less mixing with other French young people as all of Julie's friends were on vacation when I visited.  But it was an awesome way to experience some legit French culture with an amazing family! The summer afterwards, when I was 16 and Julie 18 she came to Calgary for a month.  We took her all over, showing her the mountains and all the good stuff that my family and I love about where we live back home.  So it's pretty cool because Julie and I not only know each other but are familiar with our families etc.  I guess it had been 2 years since seeing Julie before I picked her up at the train station Saturday morning, I was so excited to see her again! The coolest part was the ease with which we were able to communicate seen as I am now at least 90% fluent in French.  The two other times that we spent time together there was always one of us speaking our first language and the other stuck in that limbo of only understanding half of what's going on most of the time.  Julie has never been to the north of France, so I felt responsible as her tour guide to give her the best impression possibly of Lille (my city :).

lunch with Julie! 

Saturday also happened to be Lille's Gay Pride day! It was actually a lot of fun.  Gay people are SO happy.  There was a big parade and an area with a bunch of stands set up giving out all sorts of anything that was decorated with a rainbow.  Lille was bustling with people of all sorts, everything from your average onlookers like Julie and myself to middle aged men with mohawks and leather barely-there body suits.  I gave Julie a walking tour, we grabbed some lunch, checked out the Gay Pride stand and afterwards hopped on some bikes for a speed tour before the Gay Parade began.  I took her all over.  We went to the citadelle, a beautiful park on the other side of Vieux Lille, and had a quick tour around the free zoo there that I'd actually never visited before! After showing her around some more funky corners of Lille we made our way back to the parade festivities.


The parade pretty much consisted of a bunch of huge trucks that blasted party tunes and drove around carrying people, and being followed by crowds waving rainbow flags.  There was also an endless supply of condoms being handed out by the festival organizers.  Oh and LOTS of confetti.

dance like nobody's watching

I couldn't resist.... I had to run out into the parade to get a photo with this guy.
Pubs preparing their deco for the festivities that would go down that night.
It was probably one of the funniest experiences I've had.  Everyone was dancing around and just having as much fun as possible, it didn't matter who you were, where you came from or what you were wearing.  You just let LOOSE.

Julie's cousins live in the Lille area so she left at around 7pm to go to a BBQ with them.  I also had a BBQ.  At Martin's house! I'm not sure if Martin's been mentioned here already or not.. but just in case: Martin is 19 and went on a Rotary exchange to Tennessee when he was 16.  He speaks REALLY good English and 80% of the time when other Anglophones meet him for the first time they assume he's an American.  He works at this thing called Franglish in Lille, which is an event that goes down every Tuesday and gives people, whoever is interested can come, the opportunity to speak in French and/or English with Francophones and Anglophones and everyone in between.  So not only does he know a lot of foreigners through things like Rotary, I think you could say he's friends with almost every other foreigner that lives in Lille as well.  His BBQ was a celebration of his birthday, but also a bit of a farewell as there were a lot of foreigners invited who would soon be leaving France :( For example my au pair friend Nicole from Ontario.  She went home on Sunday.  Martin's was her last night in France.  I met some other cool people at the party as well, and Embla was there too! 

Embla (Sweden) & Ha'ani (USA) : Au Pair Power!

yay Canada :)
Liz was also at Martin's, and on Sunday I went back to her host family's house with her so we could grab some lunch and freshen up before rejoining some of our friends in Lille.  Her host family is SO cool.  They have a pretty low key house with a hammock, swing set and mini tree house in their rather small back yard.  There are also skateboards all over EVERYWHERE because the two daughters in the family love to skate.  They have a record player in their living room with some of the best records imaginable, and the house in general is teeming with trendy and effortless decorations throughout.  Most French houses are beautiful, but it's clear that a serious effort goes into the co-ordination and planning of deco, whereas this house was just as effortlessly cool as the family living in it.  Liz's host parents have been together since they were young.  18 years ago when they were somewhere around 19 or 20 they lived in a tiny apartment in Barcelona with one of their good friends for a year.  I absolutely adored spending the few hours listening to them talk and trying to absorb as much cool-person-ness as I could.  They also have cool jobs, the dad is an architect and the mom is a magician when it comes to anything crafty and has started her own successful business.  

After a cool couple hours we went back into Lille and met up with Ty and Veronica.  We also got to meet Elliott, who is Nicole's friend from Ontario and will be replacing her as au pair for the following 3 months of summer.  She was lots of fun to talk to because she is one of those Canadians I had a LOT in common with.  With the summer weather, the end being so close, and an outdoorsy Canadian to chat the afternoon away with, I was starting to almost feel like I was back in Canada land.  Julie, who had slept the night at a friend's house, came back into Lille for about an hour to chill with the rest of us in the park before having to leave.  It was kind of a lazy Sunday but in the best possible way.  When in a park in France on a Sunday there is only one thing to do, and that is to relax.

Elliott, Siobhan, Julie 

After the afternoon had slid away into a lovely summery evening, a group of us took the tram together to Elise's house for a small BBQ with our close group of friends.  Elise's host parents know a lot of us will start leaving soon and were cool enough to offer their house as BBQ central for Sunday evening.  It was SO great.  Liz and I noticed that it was really a wonderful group.  There weren't too many of us and it was kind of our inner circle of close friends.  Despite basically any Rotary exchange student and/or foreigner being an automatic best friend, the people who were at this barbecue have become like family.  I will miss them so much.  Elise had the magnificent task of grilling, and we then enjoyed a chill meal in her yard.  David had brought his guitar so as the sun started to set we sat around together and sang all those cheesy songs that everyone knows and loves.  We all got kind of silent then as a whisper of exchange nostalgia sort of floated on the air.  DEEP. 

strawberry season = only season of the year that matters
Veronica being the human capo

Monday was a day of organizing and cleaning.  Not much more to say about that because nothing about organizing and/or cleaning is exciting.  Oh except for when I got to chuck out all my useless papers and such from my French courses this year.  SO LIBERATING.

My last 2 hours of French lycée this morning were pretty cool.  We had all brought funky pieces of clothing to dress up and kind of celebrate the beginnings of summer.  The first few minutes our teacher had to hand out important papers and dates regarding the French final exam, The Bac (WHICH I'M NOT DOING HA.) Then we had a celebratory petit déjeuner with the class. Did someone say crepes and nutella?! It was fun.  Our homeroom teacher, Mme Becuwe, has offered her house up as location for our class BBQ on Friday evening.  It's quite decent of her.  This way I can have a sort of official goodbye with the kids in my class that I will probably not see again before I leave, and that way this morning wasn't sad! Yippee!

Chloé, Marion & Clem all wrote my french nickname "Siobi" (pronounced Sho-Bee lol) on their arms with permanent marker.  I'm not sure why exactly but WOW SO HONORED!
Sixtine&Marion =  Mario&Luigi

No idea what Clem is disguised as... But I'm supposed to look retro


Then we took a bunch of High-School-Musical-esque jumping photos in the street outside the school because WE DONE and WE HAPPY. I won't be offended if you spend the next 5 minutes laughing at my ridiculous face and/or body positions...

 Never again will I enter through that white gate into the school that is Lycée Saint Rémi in Roubaix, France.  Booyah.

bye bye
And that's life these days! It's busy but I'm really enjoying each and every day, and am happy that I'm able to end my exchange on so many positive notes.  I still have 10 days left, and I will make each and every one count.  See you on the next post blog readers :)