Seven months ago, nearly to the day, I arrived in France. Slightly terrified, mostly excited, I managed to simultaneously have no expectations and extremely high ones of what this aventure française would be like.
In the irrational, dream-land part of my brain I had the rather childish notion that as soon as my feet touched french soil I would be transformed into this french goddess. A perfectly made french life (complete with language skills and a fantastic wardrobe) would simply be handed to me with my passport stamp, just because I thought I deserved it and wanted it.
Funnily enough, this didn’t happen.
Instead, the first few weeks/months were difficult. The language, the transport, the bureaucratic formalities, the work; all were a challenge. I think back to my first week in France in Yssingeaux and I was totally overwhelmed. At the end of each day my brain physically hurt and I’m afraid I probably scared people by staring intently at their mouths trying to lip read.
My french language skills have not improved as much as I expected. I am slightly disappointed by this-I like to blame my lack of complete fluency on the region and our proximity to Switzerland but maybe I didn’t make as much effort as I could have. Before I left New Zealand I was told that things happen for a reason. Maybe the reason for aventure française was not to master the language but, rather, to figure out what I want for a life, for a career. I may not be able to slip in and out of french and English as easily as I could have hoped, but I am returning to New Zealand with a clear sense of direction. I feel this is far more valuable to me at the moment.
The past seven months have presented other opportunities for learning new skills, other than language. I have learnt to ski in one of the most spectacular mountain areas in the world. I worry I have the potential to be an adrenalin junkie at the speeds I enjoy reaching on my skis. Bring on the bungies and canyon swings.
I have improved my cooking skills. I love being able to open my fridge and semi-invent a recipe in my head. Mother, you will be pleased to know that cooking in such cramped conditions has forced me to become a cook who tidies as she goes. Sometimes I am still far too ambitious for my own good though. The weekly grocery bill is testament to this.
I have learnt to be independent and “keep house.” Monday afternoon grocery shopping is one of my favourite parts of the week and let’s not mention the obsessive checking of the letterbox. I have learnt to build a home away from home: it is absolutely necessary to have a fruit bowl. A full bowl of bright coloured fruit will make everything seem alright. Though, a bottle of wine in the pantry doesn’t hurt either.
I have learnt that my Mother was right (not that I ever questioned her) when she said “there is a meal in the house if there is a can of tomatoes in the house.” I have consequently learnt that my father’s motto regarding the importance of ironing is somewhat misguided. Having not owned an iron for seven months, this is a domestic practice I have let go…
Maybe one of my most important discoveries is that I am a New Zealander at heart. I think part of me will always be at home in France but I do feel proud whenever I tell people I am from Nouvelle Zélande and it is followed by an “oh la la la, il est beau là bas.” The ground moves beneath us, we are so very far away and we tend to have four seasons in one day (a concept lost on the French). But we also have beautiful landscapes, a wine and food industry gaining international recognition and… pineapple lumps. (My students love these!)
Tomorrow when I leave Bonneville I feel like I will be stepping off into a sort of void. I don’t really know what to expect when I travel during May, nor when I return to New Zealand. All I can really say is that the past seven months have been some of the most challenging and the most rewarding. I have met some wonderful people, had incredible opportunities and made memories that I will cherish forever.
Au revoir Bonneville, a la prochaine…