Aug 12, 2011

Tangible Proof (The reunion episode)

If you're anything like me, you're reading my blog for proof that everything's going to be OK in the end, now that you've decided to (or are thinking about taking) the big leap that is an AFS exchange.

Before going to France, I know that I scoured the AFS blogs, searching almost desperately for proof that I had made the right choice in deciding to go away for a year. I very, very quickly found the proof I needed. And when I came back, I poured over them again. Although still searching for assurance in a sea of uncertainty, now I looked for proof that everything I had built in France was real. This proof was harder to find, because most people (logically) stopped blogging once they reached the USA. And while that's fine and dandy for them, it's not so great for little miss nervous over here.

So, if you're a returnee like me, rechecking old blogs out of homesickness for your foreign life and just looking for someone to give you a ray of hope, look no further, because I am about to tell you exactly what you want to hear:

Everything will be right where you left it when (note that I say when, not if) you return.

The friendships, the knowledge, the cultural understanding, they're not going anywhere. And how exactly do I know? I know because I went back!

It all happened very quickly. One morning I was sitting at breakfast, musing about seeing all of my French friends, and the next thing I know my parents and I are researching el cheapo air fare and booking me a flight across the pond. I was in Europe for a month, and my first stop was chez my host family in Millery.

When I got there, after traveling from London where my flight landed through a long few days of buses and trains, I was pleasantly surprised to find a party underway in the backyard. Although it wasn't actually for me (Antoine and his friends were celebrating passing the bac), I still got to see a few people right away. It was like a scene from a movie, with bags being tossed aside as I ran to hug my friends.

After the initial excited greetings, however, it was all slightly anticlimactic. And you know why? Because within a matter of days I was able to seamlessly pick up my life where I left it! Sure, things had happened during our year apart, but we were still the same people, and soon all my friends and I were caught up and as close as ever. I stayed at my host family's house for about a week, and then spent another bit of time bouncing between friends houses. (Note to AFSers: Our exchange program friendships can save us a fortune if we want to travel. Stay in touch with everyone, and then if you ever want to travel you can couch surf instead of paying for hotels!) I got to see Harry Potter before it came out in the US (it was released in France first), watch fireworks on the 15 juillet, go to a dance, attend a barbecue in my honor, ride bikes up to a chapel on a hill with incredible views, try really good French wine and cheese, re-visit Lyon, and spend lots of time chilling out with mes amis.

I was supposed to go straight from Lyon to Osnabruck, Germany to visit Vici (the German girl who stayed with my family while I was in France), but I decided to make use of my Eurail pass and head south for a few days on my own first. I took the train to Nice and booked a bed in a hostel. Although the hostel was not at all the Ritz, I'm quite happy I stayed there. This was my first time hostel-ing, and it was quite an experience. I met people from all over the world, and hung out with them the nights I was there. Among them were a Japanese fashion photographer, a Mexican engineering student, some Canadian party guys, and an Australian wheat farmer who spends 4 months a year farming and 8 months traveling the world.

I loved Nice. The weather was lovely (except for a few torrential downpours the day I left) and the water was fantastic. I always found something to do, from dancing in the street at midnight to drinking espresso at a café in the pouring rain. I headed off to Monaco on the train for a few hours one day, and it certainly left it's mark on me. In 4 hours I saw more drool inducing cars than I've seen in my life (I saw 21 Ferraris and 5 Lamborghinis, for example, and apparently missed the 2 Bugatti Veyrons that were right by the casino), and was reminded of the fact that I could sell my soul and still not have nearly enough to play in the league with these people. It's where the richest of the rich go to play in the sun while the rest of us are left to pick our jaws up off the ground.

I made it out of southern France on a night train to Germany, and boy did that give me a rude shock. My newly tanned, beachy, warm loving self stepped off the train and was greeted with crisp temperatures and a steady drizzle. But soon I (almost) forgot about the weather because I was greeted by Vici and one of my best friends from Towson Christie (who was also on vacation in Europe). We had an action packed few days together with clubbing, hiking, and sight seeing (I got to see the Brementown musicians!), and the time flew by.

All too soon I was saying bye, and heading back to France with my belly full of spaghetti ice cream and my head full of newly learned German (Ich spreche kein Deutsch, aber haben Sie eine neue Spülmaschine?). I rode the train to Lyon, but instead of heading back to Millery I was met by Lola! (Lola was the French girl who stayed with us this year.)

I headed off to Annonay to spend my final week with her at her house. It was a blast meeting her friends (and finally understanding what people were saying again!). We went to parties, went to cafés, went shopping, and went to sleep a little too late each night. It became normal just as quickly as returning to Millery had, and it became clear how much I was going to miss my French sister next year.

That week went by the fastest of them all, and much sooner than I wanted to I was saying goodbye again. Lola walked me to the bus stop in Annonay, and I cried a good bit of the ride to Lyon. Then it was more train-ing and bus-ing as I headed to London to spend the two days before my flight at my mom's friend's house. I spent a day walking around London, and then I was on a flight back to the states.

Although I wish I could have spent so much more time in my second home, this was a great start. I got to see almost everyone I wanted to, I got to meet tons of new people, and I got to have a blast. All I can do now is hope my next trip back will be soon!



  1. Dear Sophie, It must have been over a year ago, when my daughter was applying to AFS, that we started reading your blog.It had special meaning for us because we live not far from you in Maryland.
    Hard to believe but now my daughter is about to leave; she is going to a wonderful host family, also in Rhone Alpes!
    I was nice to hear from you again and know that you are doing well~ Bonne chance!

  2. That sounds like an amazing trip back! You really know how to live.