I guess Marion’s website Insolite Routine has something to do with the fact that I wanted to write this article. This young woman is taking a year off in America, mainly to escape the routine. And guess what? She is currently spending her time in Vermont!
Five years ago – I was not even 17 at the time – I spent ten month in Fairfax, a small town near Burlington, in Vermont. Since then, I am convinced that no one should ever put off pursuing his dreams. You never know what is going to happen and you can’t assume that there will always be time later on to get to the things you most want to do in your life. You only live once so do what you want the most while you can, while you are young and healthy enough. This is my way of thinking. I know some people don’t like to take risk but remember great things don’t happen unless one is willing to take a risk.
Marie’s dad, Jim, once told me:
« I know everyone says this, but try to follow your interests and passions and instincts and always be true to yourself. Be confident and be willing to work hard and try to be optimistic and determined. It may be hard to believe, but you can do anything you want and be anybody you want to be and have the life you want to have. Take one step at at a time and know that as you go along you can always make changes and shift directions. It is possible to change your life anytime you want if you have the courage, so don’t be afraid of making a wrong decision or choice. Nothing is permanent. Every choice you make will open up new pathways and possibilities and life will carry you forward, so just make your choices and feel good about them. Of course all of this is easier said than done and life is filled with complexities, so confusion and uncertainty and anxiety are normal things to feel. But like everyone says, try not to worry too much and take charge of your life. With a little luck, things have a way of working out.«
I fully agree with what he told me and I could not express it better. Yesterday, I found in my archive folder the speech I gave in front the entire school – including my professors, classmates and parents – at Bellows Free Academy, in Fairfax, five years ago.
« The first time I heard about a year in another country, as a foreign exchange student, was during summer vacation, in 2007. My uncle was saying how important English was in his job. Then he said that I should be an exchange student to become bilingual, and get a job much easier. I said “no”. The first time I heard about the idea to leave my home, I said “no”. Even though the USA was a dream, I didn’t feel able to do something like that.
But less than one month later, I surprised myself by looking for more information about this crazy idea. I started talking about it with my parents more seriously. I have always liked pushing my limits, pushing myself and going toward the unknown. By December 2007, I was sending the form to the organization that I had chosen , and had met the director of it to make sure I really wanted to live this experience. That is where my experience started.
You probably want to ask me why I changed my mind so fast, how I passed from the “no” to the “yes” that would give me the possibility to live ten months in the USA. First of all, English was the most important reason. I had been learning English for more than four years. But learning a language in a book, and learning it in real life is extremely different. My English was pathetic! No kidding! See, for example the expression “no kidding”…At first, I thought you guys were saying “killing”. You can imagine my surprise each time I heard “Are you killing me?!”.
It took me five months to start feeling comfortable in this new world. The difference between traveling to a foreign country and living as a foreign exchange student is that in the second case, you are not a stranger anymore, you are not a “foreigner”. Here is my life. The culture shock was pretty big. At first, when you come into another country, the first thing you do is comparing. I quickly learned that was not the best way to make this new country mine. By traveling, we learn to be more open minded. I have seen so many new things. I knew the beginning wouldn’t be easy. Before coming here, I didn’t have any idea how my new life would look. And I never imagined that would be that much fun! I have been travelling a lot. I have been to so many places and talked to so many different people. Washington DC for Obama’s inauguration with my host mum, New York City with my parents and my brothers, Montreal with my host dad and Marie for an awesome hockey game, Florida, Disney World, Miami, the Caribbean, Colorado, Las Vegas with Marie and her dad…. I can’t recap these 10months in a five minutes length speech. I am going back to France, my head full of dreams.
This experience has taught me so much. I remember at the beginning of the year how lost I was. Now, I feel good here. And this is thanks to my host family, who has been sharing some of their life with me. I am really thankful for all they’ve done for me. And more than everything, this is thanks to my friends here. They have helped me so much.
My life would have been easy if I would have stayed in France, at my home, with my friends, my family, my life. At home, I was able to speak easily, freely. But life without challenges, life without risks is monotonous. My experience here is almost over. I am looking behind me. There were some ups, and some downs. But that is weird, I can only remember the positive. The rest, I laugh about it. No big deal.
I came here with two main goals: being able to speak English fluently and to be more confident about myself. The French author and sociologist David Le Breton said: “On ne fait pas un voyage. Le voyage nous fait et nous defait, il nous invente.” Which means, “We don’t do a trip. It is the trip that does us, makes us, invents us”. More than learning English, I have been learning who I really am. I am much less shy. Worse, people describe me as silly and loud!
Even though I don’t like American food, even though I don’t understand how you can live without eating breads and delicious baguettes, even though I am sick of eating hamburgers, I know I will come back. I might find a job here. I might even open my own store, to sell products from France. I might do that, but I will definitely come back. I love America, I love being here. I will miss you guys, so much. You guys will be my favorite Americans, forever. »
Farewell speech, June 2009
10 months in the United States, 10 months in Latvia…
What’s next? I don’t know…
But what I know for sure is that my appetite for experiencing the world will grow bigger year after year and travel after travel.
Be happy !!!