Before embarking for France, whenever I attended a Rotary orientation or talked to past exchange students, I was always warned about how fast time will pass by. I was always a little unsure if I would feel that way when it was finally my time to go on exchange, but recently it has seemed that my time here has really flown by.
Only a few weeks after I arrived in France, I had my first inbound orientation in Paris. That weekend was the first time that I was able to meet all the other exchange students here in my district and begin making my own friends from all over the world. The new 15 or so exchange students like myself were greeted by two Australian girls and one Argentinian girl who had all arrived the past January. They all referred to us as the “Newbies,” as they considered themselves the “Oldies.”
While us newbies were completely lost in a world that was still so foreign to us, the oldies were there with experience and faced it with complete ease. We were all sat down at a table and our French Rotarians explained the rules and the goals of Rotary, in French of course. All of the newbies were completely lost in translation while the Australians and Argentinian understood every word. They translated the key messages for us and I remember being so jealous that they understood what I did not. I wanted to be in their position so badly. It was so hard not understanding and feeling lost all the time. While they all assured me that the day would come, I couldn’t help but being a little doubtful.
Just this past weekend, however, I realized that time really had come. I spend this past weekend at another Rotary orientation where I was able to meet all of the new French students who will be leaving for exchange next year as well as an Australian boy and Argentinian girl who came when the others, the original oldies, left earlier on this month. The two new kids had arrived only a few days before, so I tried to be as open and friendly as possible because I know how hard the first week of exchange can be. In the course of welcoming them I learned that neither on of them spoke a word of French.
I watched them both as the French Rotarians tried to explain something to them or ask them a question. They both had that deer-in-headlights look of complete confusion, and I couldn’t help but laugh when the French adults would ask them a question and the kids would respond with a smile and a slight nod of the head just like I had done only a few months before. It was then when I realized that I was no longer a newbie. Unlike those two new students, I understood what was going on. While they thought everything was still so foreign, I was the one now who was comfortable with the differences now. It seemed like just yesterday when I was in their shoes, not understanding a single word but now, I was the one who served as the translator when the Rotarians needed to spread a message or when something needed to be explained. I was now an oldie that all the newbies could look up to just like I did back in September.
The day that I thought would never come finally had and it was one of the best feelings I’ve had here in France and something I’ll remember forever.
Ashley Bliss is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student. Follow her adventures on her blog at www.ablissfulbonjour.wordpress.com