Reflections On France Part Three

It Turns Out Freedom Ain’t Nothin’ But Missing You

In ‘Back To December’ Taylor Swift sings “It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you” and that pretty much sums up my exchange.  When I left Australia way back in August, I was a pretty immature sixteen year old who would have preferred her plane to have been heading to the USA. I’d started a new school earlier that year, so had been separated from my best friends for six months already. Other than a few select friends and my family, I really didn’t think I’d miss anyone that much. 

Oh how wrong I was. 

Before I left, I hadn’t ever realised just how much I appreciate my friends and family back home and just how special and amazing they are. I’d taken them all for granted for my entire life (to the point where spoilt brat would be a pretty accurate description of me) and then I found myself on the other side of the world for six months and it hit me that, god, I missed them. I thought going on exchange would be easy. I thought it would give me six months away from pressure and life in Australia and I’d spend the whole time chilled out and cool. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Like Tswizzle discovered, freedom turned out to be nothing but missing my friends, family and general life back in Aus. I wanted it back so badly, to the point where some days I swear I felt physical pain from it. 

Good did come out of this though, as I discovered just who my true friends were. Some people who I thought I was close to didn’t bother to contact me at all in six months, and others who I had previously thought of as mere acquaintances sent me excited messages every time I logged on, organised class emails when I was feeling sad or just generally stayed in touch. They have no idea how happy that made me. Especially, as I mentioned, I had only been at my new school for a short period before leaving, so everyone could have ignored me. But no, they didn’t; and I will be forever grateful for that. 

In a way, I think I clung to people back home like a safety raft, scared that if I even began to let go of my grip on them I would drown in the overwhelming sea of Frenchness. Was this bad? Possibly. I have other friends over here who practically cut off all connections with home and focused instead on making new French ones. Should I have done this? Possibly.  But if I had done that, I honestly believe I would have jumped on that plane back to Australia long before I was meant to.

In Which I Ponder Whether I Regret Decisions Made And Whether It Was All Worth It/Conclusion

I made a lot of decisions during my exchange that, well, sometimes I think about and wonder whether I should have chosen another option. I’ve mentioned most of these decisions already. The decision to make friends with the North American’s at my school. The decision to not actively seek French friends. The decision to speak a lot of English. Heck, I guess you could even bring up the choice not to cancel the exchange in the first place at this point. I could go round and round for hours, playing back the moments of my exchange where I made concious decisions to do something that I knew was not what I technically should be doing to have an ‘ideal’ exchange, but that’s not going to get me anywhere. While in other people’s eyes I haven’t had the ‘perfect’ exchange, to me, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Let’s not forget that originally I wanted to go to America and France was a reluctant second choice, so to come and make amazing friends from America who I now get to go visit is actually a bit of a dream come true. I was never as enthusiastic about learning the language as soom other students I met at camp or through my organisation and unlike them, I wasn’t overly fussed when I didn’t become fluently epic at it. As I mentioned in ‘Part Two’, I have years ahead of me to learn French and I was a lot more content to spend these six months eating crêpes and learning about America. That of course, leads many people to question whether I should have even come and yes, the thought has crossed my mind. Wouldn’t I have been better off, happier, to spend the six months in Aus where I was nice and comfortable and with my nice and comfortable friends? Probably. But you don’t grow as a person and learn life lessons by staying where you’re nice and comfortable. 
I have grown so much as a person over the past six months. I have changed and matured and have come out of it a much better person than the silly little girl who got on the plane to come. This exchange has shown me that just because things don’t happen the way you imagined they would, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. And that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And that sometimes things are hard and you feel like giving up, but when you get to the end and you haven’t given up and you’ve made it, well, that’s the best feeling in the world.

So no. I don’t regret anything. And yes, it was all worth it, no matter how many times I cried and complained and ranted and wished I could go home. I didn’t have the glossy exchange you read about in the brochures, but I had my exchange, and I really wouldn’t change a thing about it. Every low point taught me a new lesson or something about myself and that’s more important than all the French friends and language skills in the world.

frangipani princess xoxo

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