Jan 12, 2012

Metaphors (What it feels like)

Disclaimer, his post may seem a bit out of the blue, but I've been meaning to write about this for a while so here goes...

A lot of the people I've told about my AFS experience ask me what it was like, how I got the courage to do it, etc. After trying to explain myself a few times, I came up with the perfect metaphor (at least I think it's a metaphor) for my year. It involves a little story about one of our AFS weekends...

This was one of our later orientations together as a the Collines du Rhone chapter, and we were all out on a camping adventure. I probably posted about it. Anyways, one afternoon we were out canoeing and we came to a cliff on the bank of the river. Our chaperones told us we could climb up and jump if we wanted to, and so we pulled over and de-canoed. There were two different heights, and I decided right away that if I was gonna jump I was gonna do it the right way and climb to the very top. So, I hurried over and scrambled up, impatient to have a go at it. I ran right up to the edge and looked down, at which point I said to myself there was no way in the world I was going to do that and decided to just climb back down. But as I turned around to go back I started hitting myself. I had climbed up this far, how was I going to let myself just go back defeated? So I went back to the edge, looked down, and promptly turned around again. I struggled with this dilemma for a good bit of time, each time almost doing it, turning around, and then almost doing it again. Finally, though, I got sick and tired of this little cycle. So I walked back a few steps, closed my eyes, and ran until there was no longer ground beneath my feet. It was slightly terrifying, but enough fun that as soon as it was over I was back in line to do it again.

That's what AFS was like for me. I was so gung ho about the idea that I almost immediately applied and decided to go for a full year. It didn't matter that I had never been to France or away from home for more than a few weeks. I was gonna do this all the way if I was gonna do it at all. After I got accepted, however, I was faced with the reality. I was leaving everything I had ever known behind. I was going very, very far away for a whole year. All by myself. I would think about not going, only to reprimand myself for being silly. Finally though I just had to say "Screw it" and do it without thinking. And you know what? It was the best thing I ever decided to do. Sure, it was absolutely terrifying, but it was so much fun that it didn't matter.

I wanted to throw that out there for people who are freaking out, wondering if they bit off more than they could chew. Stop thinking about it, just jump. I promise, it'll be fine.

Using the same metaphor, I wanted to post one of my college essays. I'm not sure how successful it is, seeing as I'm still waiting to hear back from schools, but I think that it fits the theme of this post rather well (and may, somehow, offer some sort of comfort to someone).

The prompt at hand is "Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, 'Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it.' Give us your guess."

Here's my guess:

I can’t hear anything except for the scream that snuck out my mouth before my brain could catch it. In this moment, all of the people around me have vanished. Their voices can no longer reach me. Nothing can. I am weightless.

That’s what’s in between living and dreaming: weightlessness.

It’s the moment when you’ve jumped off the rock before you fall into the water below. You climbed up to the very top, higher than anyone else went. You thought that if you jumped from the top you’d get more cheers than the others. You could practically feel the high fives you’d get once you surfaced, successful. That was your dream. As soon as you hit the water, plunged a few feet below the surface, you’d be living it. But right now, as you’re suspended in the air, you’re in neither dream nor life.

It’s the moment when you’ve gotten on the airplane in the USA before you land in France. You applied to the program, more than ready to fly away for a year. You wanted to be different, in a good way. You knew that this would be something that would change your life forever, your dream. But right now, as you look out the window at everything you’ve ever had shrinking away into the distance, you’re weightless.

I love being weightless. Sometimes it’s terrifying, sometimes calming, sometimes surreal. Sometimes it makes you scream, sometimes laugh, sometimes utter a string of expletives in various languages. But no matter what feelings it brings, it’s passionate. It’s real. It shows that you’re about to live your dream, no matter what that dream is.

It’s the moment when you start unwrapping the largest gift at your birthday party, right before you see what it is. It’s the moment when you look at the cast list of the spring musical, right before your brain starts understanding what it’s seeing. It’s the moment when you get the long distance phone call early in the morning when you you’re your grandpa’s been getting worse, right before you answer. It’s the moment when you knock on the door of your new home, right before it opens.

I’m weightless almost as much as I’m dreaming and living. I guess that’s what I get for letting my dreams lead my life. I’m waiting for decisions after applying to go to Costa Rica for half a year, I’m waiting for laughs after I tell the punch line of a joke, and I’m waiting to see what happens now that I’ve submitted my college application. Sometimes it feels like my weightless moments take over , but that’s okay with me. Because in that moment of waiting, in that moment of “What did I just get myself into?,” I know that I’m about to stop dreaming and start living.



  1. I don't know if you still check this but what was it like? Going to school there for a year. I'm thinking about going for a semester or the summer. Did you take a french class before going?

    1. To answer the easier question first, I took 4 years of French in school before I went to France.

      As for what it was like, it became really normal really quickly. But it's hard to describe what normal is. No matter what you're used to at home, it will be different at first. Each experience is different, but you can count on it being something like nothing you've ever done before. Sure, you wake up, eat, go to school, come home, do some homework. But with all that's new around you, even something as boring as waiting for your teacher to show up at the start of class becomes something you'll remember.

      At first, it's like starting anything new. There's excitement, both from you and the people around you, there's nerves, and there's definite challenges (hey, starting anything takes a little effort). But quicker than you realize, you get used to it. Going to school in France really isn't all that different from going to school in the US. You just... do it. You don't think about how, it just happens. Life just happens.

      I know that may be the worst description ever, but it really is hard to put the most life changing year I've ever had into a few words.


      If you are able, GO FOR A YEAR. I know that sounds like a lot, and it is, but for me the toughest time came in the first few weeks. That's the transition phase, and it's also like the length of a summer program. A semester is a bit longer, but when all the semester kids left France half way through my stay I was soooo happy I wasn't with them. Because it was at that point in time that I was really starting to do everything naturally. The French, the friends, the classwork, it was all becoming totally normal.

      SOOOO, in conclusion, DO IT. Because it's AMAZING.

  2. Hey - I'm heading to France for a semester exchange in only a few days, and I stumbled upon your blog via afsblog.org... this is amazing, and gave me so much inspiration before I leave :) it sounds like you learnt a lot and experienced so much.