Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rotary: what I've seen so far

So I just want to mention a few thoughts I've had about the organization that I've been travelling with for this year. I have always been told "only the nicest people become host families," and "Rotary is so welcoming, no matter where you are," but having never gone on exchange, I'd never put those sayings to the test.
Now that I've been here over a month, I'm starting to see the kind of support network that exists, even if not always apparent in the foreground, in the exchange program. It's incredible.

My host sister Alexia and Me, at a Rotary Soirée and welcome/farewell.

Not that I have really had any problems since I've gotten here; my exchange has been a smooth transition into the routine of living here, in my family and my town. But I have witnessed secondhand how being a part of such a network of students, families, Rotarians and volunteers can make all of this possible.

First of all, as an exchange student, it can be very difficult to be the one to make things happen: I didn't really have a whole lot of connections in the first few weeks, I bascially just went with the flow and let others plan for me. I also really didn't want to invite myself over. That's a very unfriendly thing to do in the psychology of the American socio-sphere.
So I waited for people to come to me. After all, I didn't have a house in such-and-such village to invite people to have dinner at, I didn't have a trip planned to go to somewhere in Italy, I didn't have a boat to invite so-and-so to go to such-and-such bay to eat fancy cheeses.
I still don't have that actually.

But Rotary has presented me with an incredible group of friendly people who are constantly willing to have Will around, too. And not that a successful exchange should be equated with the number and quality of invitations received  Not in the slightest. But how do you make an exchange student feel warm and fuzzy? Ask him/her to go somewhere, anywhere, do something, anything, with you. Ask him/her to just hang out at the house for a day. Simply seeing other ways of life and interacting with other families and groups of people has enriched my exchange and my conception of this place and society so much. It would have been silly to stay home at my host family's house every day and assume that was how all French people lived. Heck, I still don't know how all French people live, I've still only been here for a month, and haven't gotten out of this département!
But an exchange student lives for those moments where, especially after a tiring day of trying to formulate coherent sentences, somebody comes up to and says "Hey, I heard you like skiing! We go skiing in the Alps every year, and it'd be great if you could come along too!"

And as for Rotary, the District has been so good about bringing all the students in the south of France together into an already quite close-knit group. Of course, we all speak English, so that's one barrier taken away. I suppose we lack diversity, but this group of  10 kids has already proven that it can support each other, after only interacting twice. One girl that might have gone home, due to issues with her host family, is now staying thanks to help from the district Rotary, and a lot of support from the rest of the exchangers.

And now we're planning outings of our own, and trying to get to see each other more frequently than the 6 or so already scheduled Rotary get-togethers.

And the other day, a genuinely nice guy, but also Rotarian from my host club, who lives in the same neighborhood invited me for the day to go boating and have lunch and dinner with his family and friends. And I felt such a marked improvement in my language skills that day, simply because I was with a group of people who were interested in what I had to say, and were happily patient to hear it. And after doing a taste test of 8 different types of cheeses, and giving them the verdict (Roquefort, and Compté of course) they told me that I was a good Frenchman, and that I spoke French very well. That's the kind of interaction that gives just the right sort of ego boost to an exchange student. Because it is hard work. And it's nice when you can gauge whether it's paying off.
And if that weren't enough, one of the women I met had actually traveled to Vermont to ski at Stowe, and knew Burlington pretty well! How great a coincidence is that?

Okay, so that's enough musing for now! I hope you enjoyed the pictures sprinkled throughout. I would have pictures of our latest Rotary outing to the very popular, touristy, and rich village of St. Tropez. But my camera broke. Again.
So I think I'm going to buy an underwater camcorder as a replacement. Just because It Would Be Awesome.

Thank you,
Love from the South,


ps. Here are the cars I saw at St. Tropez: (thanks Google)

Lambourghini                                   Rolls Royce                                    Maserati

And lets not get started on the crazy boats.