Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rookie no more

Last night I met with my host Rotary club for the first time since arriving in France.

For anyone who's still a little foggy as to what all this "host club" "host president" jibber jabber means, I'll take some time now to explain a little about how Rotary works, (if you already know skip this paragraph!)  Rotary is an international organization that has clubs situated across the world in countless different countries.  Clubs often cover a certain area.  If it's a big city, then the club will consist of people from maybe a certain suburb of the city, and there could be 4 or 5 more clubs within that city that are situated in other suburbs.  Likewise if it's a small town, there might only be one Rotary club in that town.  The clubs consist of a group of adults who gather, sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month, and often share a meal, have discussions, guest speakers, or put on special fundraising events.  They aren't just focused on youth exchange, but if I tried to explain all the other stuff Rotary does, this post would go on forever and probably put some of you to sleep.  One of the coolest and my most favourite things about Rotary is the Rotary Youth Exchange program (yeah totally not biased hehe).  A huge percentile of these Rotary clubs participate in the exchange.  What happens is they open their club to receiving applications, go through interviews, get to know the applicants, and then choose one from the possible 4 to 20 people (number of applicants depends on the area of the club) who applied that they believe to be the best possible candidate to represent their club, their city/town, and their country for one year.  This happens every year around September to November all over the world.  These clubs are called the "sponsor clubs," because they provide us students with all the means to travel, often paying a portion of the cost of the exchange, sometimes all of it.  They also do all the organizing and communicating with our host countries to ensure that exchange works the best that it possibly can for us students (shout out to my sponsor club, the Rotary Club of Okotoks for making this all happen for me, and to Jeff my co-ordinator and Brad my sponsor club counsellor!!) Then when us students finally depart for a year, our sponsor clubs receive a student from elsewhere in the world, who they take under their wing and "host" for a year.  Just like how now I have a French host club etc.  This happens with hundreds of students, in hundreds of clubs.  It's pretty mind blowing to think about all the other kids who are doing what I'm doing right now.  And on top of all the cool stuff involved in exchange, Rotary Youth Exchange is run by volunteers, so all the people involved in making this happen do it because they believe in the power of these international connections among today's youth and not because they are in it for money.  Pretty cool.

 Anyway!! I got a ride with my host club president (who I already met at the French-race-up-a-scree-slope) and his wife to the meeting, and on the way we picked up Sidonie who's a 17 year old local French girl who did the exchange last year to Wisconsin in the USA.  She actually arrived back home just a few days before I arrived in France.  She's awesome.  She had a very successful exchange and it was really fun to listen to her talk about it and fill Tanguy in on stuff in the car on the drive there.  She was so bubbly and just gushing happiness, it was so inspiring to see someone that loved exchange that much.  Everyone I met at the dinner was really nice, and loved asking questions about where I was from.  Also there with his parents was this boy Alexandre who's 15, and who is my host club's candidate for next year's exchange.  Just before dinner started, Tanguy introduced the 3 of us to our club of about 40 people, then myself and Alexandre stood up and each took a turn giving a little intro of ourselves.  I did mine in French, with about a 2 minute heads up that I had to say anything, and it went really well! There was a lot of loud applause when I finished, which either means I spoke well, or I butchered it and they just felt bad for me haha, gonna just tell myself it was the first one.  Sidonie had a powerpoint that she showed later of her year in the States.

The dinner and evening overall was really great, but by far my favourite part was talking with Sidonie and Alexandre (and his parents.)  It was so cool to have the "three generations" of exchange students there.  The rookie, the veteran, and me the current inbound.  What struck me as so unreal, and still blows my mind now when I think about it, is how much I have already changed in just over 2 months.  It feels like only a few weeks ago that I was sitting in Alexandre's position with my parents, asking so many questions about exchange, not sure what to expect and nervous, scared and excited all at the same time.  I cannot believe it's already been a year since that was me.  I could see the worry and anxiety in his parents' faces, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for how difficult it is not just on us exchangers leaving home, but on our parents who let us go, and who spend a year missing us and reassuring themselves that time will pass quickly before they see us again (love you Mom and Dad!) It was also so interesting to watch Alexandre throw question after question at Sidonie.  I remember perfectly doing the exact same thing with the Rebounds (returned exchangers) back home.  I realized as I sat there listening to him, that no matter how many questions he asked, or how well Sidonie explained, he could never possibly imagine what exchange will be like until the moment he arrives in his host country probably next August and it begins for him.  I could tell that he has a picture in his head of what he wants his exchange to be: what country he wants to go to, and what language he wants to learn etc. As I listened to Sidonie try to explain to him that it would be unforgettable no matter what the circumstances were, I was amazed by how only after 2 months I could identify with everything this returned exchange student said.  It was the first time it clicked, and all the puzzle pieces that were my questions and worries had finally fallen into place as I understood. And it was awesome.  Exchange might be one of the greatest challenges ever, but it's impossible not to love it!! I've finally stopped feeling like such a newbie, and my eyes have really begun to open to how INSANELY COOL what I'm doing is.  I get a rush of excitement just thinking about it.

READ THIS IT'S EXCITING: Today TWO of my friends at school told me on separate occasions that I speak much better French now (yes! yes! yes!) than I used to, and after a teacher made me read a paragraph out loud in class, another (different) friend came up to tell me that my accent is actually not bad! SCORE!
On top of those few moments of awesome, since returning to school after the two weeks vacation, I've found that I actually understand so much of what goes on in regards to language.  I've started catching the little jokes my friends will make among each other while they talk a mile a minute, and now I can laugh with them instead of being the dopey looking kid who needs everything explained.  Sometimes I understand what's being said so fast it's like I don't even put an effort in, they could be speaking English and I'd understand just as well.  It's probably one of the most exciting things of all time.  YA LIFE.

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