I guess the best way to start this would be to start back the day I left my host family. The night before I went to Melissa's house for a final afternoon with Melissa, Audrey, and Marion. The afternoon ran late into the evening, and it was very relaxed. Only when it was time for the very last goodbye did it really, truly hit me that I'd be leaving my new best friends in the morning and not coming back for a long time. It took an extra hour to leave the driveway, because anytime someone got in their car we would just get back out and hug some more. I finally made it home, and fell asleep for about an hour before having to leave for the bus to Paris.
Since Collines du Rhone was the largest AFS-VSF chapter we all took a long bus ride to Paris. We met in a parking lot off the high way early in the morning, and waited. And waited and waited. The bus was about 2 hours late, but no one really minded. It was a few extra minutes with our families. The bus finally came, and honestly my goodbyes to my host family were a bit anticlimactic. But if I've learned anything it's that the French adults aren't as expressive as their American counterparts. They're reserved, and it's just a way of life. So although it was a little disappointing that my host mother didn't look very sad to see me go (where as my parents told me they were sobbing when saying goodbye to the two girls that were at my house this year) I didn't take it too personally.
The bus ride was entertaining enough. All of us AFSers had really bonded over the year so it was full of laughs and story swapping. We finally made it to the hotel in Paris, and it was crazy to see the other AFS chapters. People I met at orientation in NYC, group members from orientation in Paris, semester kids, everyone was there. But AFSers are cool kids, and there was no awkwardness whats so ever between us. Because at that point we had all been able to adapt to a new way of life and make friends, we had all overcome the same challenges, and we all new how to talk to new people and make friends on the fly. We did some boring group activities to get us used to going home, and that evening we had a garden party.
The garden party was actually really fun. We went to the AFS headquarters in Paris, where they had set up a dance floor, food, a screen to watch the World Cup Match, and a wall with all the photos from everybody's application. It ran long into the night. It was fun to see the photos of your new friends, to dance to music in other languages, and to chill out one last time. The night was periodically interrupted by screams from the world cup corner over goals and protests of the South American kids to play more Spanish music, and at the end they showed a slide show of photos from the year.
The next morning people started to leave early in the morning. Every country left at a different time. This time the goodbyes had a different dynamic. Everyone was crying and hugging, just like when leaving our French friends, but laughing and smiling too. Because for all of us there was a growing excitement. Even in those of us like me that did NOT want to come home, that wanted to stay in France another few years. Because all of us were going to see people we hadn't seen in 10 months. We were all in the same boat, and it was hard to be depressed at a time like that. The Americans left fairly late in the morning, and after getting help from our friends to load up the bus we headed off to the airport.
The airport was hectic. There were so many large groups going on so many trips that nothing got done very quickly. We finally got in line, and after arguing with the airport the airline decided to let us have our 2nd bag for free (because it had been that way when we bought the tickets). We got up to security, and at that point our chaperons were like "OK, have fun, get home safe" and left. Luckily our group was pretty tight and we would wait for others and made sure everyone got to the gate safely. We had to wait for a while, during which time I ran off to a duty free shop to buy Macaroons for my parents.
We finally boarded the plane, and we soon found out it was one of the really nice ones. Not only was it one of the really nice ones, I got one of the best seats in the section. The seats all had personal TVs and games and in-flight chat systems, and my seat was in the front of a compartment so I got super extra leg room. It was VERY nice. And you know what's funny? The super amazing airline food tasted rather lacking after all year in France. The "courses" were just normal, the food was like airline food, and it was not as good as I had remembered. Oh well!
The plane landed literally right as the final of the World Cup ended. About 3/4 of my section were from Spain, on a trip to visit the US. As soon as the plane touched down they all whipped out their phones, saw they were about to win, and started pressing their call buttons above their seats so that the entire plane was filled with the triumphant dingdingdingdings of their victory.
Going through security, baggage claim, and customs was very time consuming, but eventually we made it through. I put on the flag my friends had given me and proudly stepped out into the open.
I instantly found my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend waving at me from the other side of the barrier, and as when I saw my host family the first time a knot I didn't know existed released. I was so happy all of the sudden I could have cried. I didn't want to leave France in the least, but boy was I happy to be home.
We all went out to eat and be together, and I tried to tell them all about everything. But I had one major, major problem. Every time I tried to say something to them I would say it in French. I would think I would be saying in plain English and I'd get a blank stare followed by a "....what?". It was pretty funny actually. But by that time I was jet lagged and my schedule was completely off. I slept for a few hours in the car on the way to Baltimore, but that was about it.
When I got to my house and got out of the car I was attacked by my two best friends who had been waiting in my house for hours for me to come home. It was so much fun, and they stayed for a few hours and talked. That night I stayed up until 6 in the morning, got my suitcase unpacked, and eventually crashed on my bed for about two hours.
The next day I hung out with all of my favorite people, and the day after that I left again to go to Texas and be a part of my big sister's wedding. It was great, because I got to see all of my family in Texas right away. A little while later Lola arrived from France, and she's been living with us since.
I've been having a blast in Towson. My senior year is great, and I love finishing school at 2:15 rather than 6. I've been using skills I picked up in France to make friends, and I've been able to focus and get my work done (it's easier here: it's in English! =P ) Best of all I've gotten to see all the people I missed last year and I've been able to get a fresh perspective on things.
But I still miss France more than I can express. I feel like I'm just on vacation, that I'll be headed back any day now. And it kills me to know that I'm not. Even thinking about it makes me hurt (I've been crying on and off just writing this). I've skyped with my friends, and I've even been skyped into a birthday party! Worse than that is thinking about my AFS friends. We were having such a blast, and we became so close, but it's highly, highly unlikely that we'll be able to meet up like we used too. Because some of us are in Austria, some in Finland, some in Indonesia, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, Latvia, and so many other places. Even Erin, Annie, and I can't hang out because we're all in different parts of the country (Alaska, Vermont, and Maryland). I guess I'll just have to keep in mind the good memories for now, and save up money to see them later. And Lola's here, which is very nice, and like having a bit of last year in the US =)
So there it is. My final piece. My closure. If you stuck around to read that, thank you. If you didn't, still thank you. I appreciate people listening to my stories, and I hope I was able to help in some way. If you have anything to ask, leave a comment or something. I'd be happy to answer.