My French adventure begins
The Independent | Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013 12:33 am
ASHLAND Bonjour! By the time some of you read this, I’ll be on my way to France!
For the next four weeks, I am traveling with a team of Kentuckians representing Rotary International District 6740 on a Group Study Exchange.
Myself, and three other young professionals — Jessica Tretter of Lexington, Brandi Berryman of Lexington, and Tabitha Baker, of London — along with our Rotarian leader Jon A. Bennett, of Edgewood, were chosen last October to be guests of the French Rotary District 1780. In April, a French team will arrive here in Kentucky completing the exchange.
We are bound for the southeastern Rhone-Alpes Region, located along the borders of Italy and Switzerland. We will spend time in large cities including Lyon and Grenoble, both hubs of culture, history and modern industries. Three towns on our itinerary have hosted Winter Olympic games. We’ll explore small villages nestled in the shadows of the Alps and visit the tallest peak in the range, Mont Blanc. We’ll foray into Switzerland to visit Geneva and tour the United Nations.
Our mission is one of goodwill and understanding. We will share the culture of our nation, state and region with our hosts, while being immersed in theirs. We will also have the opportunity to see our professions are practiced there. Jessica is a financial advisor, Brandi, an urban designer for Lexington, Tabitha a social services clinician, and Jon an engineer.
It is the trip of a lifetime, no doubt. I am incredibly humbled to have been given the honor to represent this community. I feel a have a responsibility to do it well.
For weeks, I’ve been (attempting) to learn French. Thanks Amanda! I know I’ve been driving everyone around me nuts muttering and repeating words they don’t understand, and that I’m most likely pronouncing very wrong. My husband has begun looking at me much like our Golden Retrievers do when I chatter to them. Hopefully, my hosts will understand key phrases.
With the help of many locals, I’ve been gathering up items to take with me as gifts for my hosts. I’ve got books from the Jesse Stuart Foundation for the French professor of English whose been planning our trip, a half dozen prints of Ashland’s parks, bridges and downtown, there are bluegrass CDs and a box of carved coal magnets. I made packing tiny bottles of the state drink, Bourbon, a priority.The Independent will travel with me, too. I’ve plucked editions featuring some from the best events of the year to use as wrapping paper for my gifts.
Now, finally, after months of anticipation, all my bags have been packed, weighed and (hopefully) are bound for France.
Our adventure is finally under way.
I’m excited, curious and nervous. I’m worried about my home, my husband and our pets while I am away. Mostly though I am exhilarated by the prospect of the unknown experiences that await my companions and I on the other side of the Atlantic.
That’s the thing about adventures; no two are ever the same. Each journey changes and sculpts you in ways that are never imagined — no matter how hard the possibilities are pondered beforehand.
That’s what I love about traveling. Knowing that no matter what happens along the way, I will return home with a soul that’s been stretched and opened wider to the world.
My heart, mind, and stomach are ready for the challenge. Au Revoir!
Visitors find warm welcome in France
The Independent | Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:56 am
ANNONAY, FRANCE We have been welcomed in France with open arms and, of course, the traditional kisses on each cheek by everyone we meet. From the moment we arrived in Paris, our experience has been one of generosity and goodwill.
In Bourgoin and in Annonay, the two Rotary clubs we have visited so far, our hosts have opened their homes, hearts and community to us. Each of us has been taken in as if we were family. French hospitatlity is akin to Southern hospitality.
Despite our ever present anxiety and fears that the language barrier will be too much to overcome, in each place we have found that with the help of a dictionary, a smartphone app or a little charades, we do just fine.
Although they can be at times slow and painstaking, and at others fast-paced and simply comical as we act out our words, through our conversations we’ve found that we share much more than the handful of words we can understand in one another’s language. We have common joys and common problems.
Our families are the greatest source of joy and where our dreams are centered. In each home I have visited, families are the first topic. As at home, many French live far from their adult children. They have left the little towns and villages of their ancestors for work and love in other places. I have been surprised to learn how many French live abroad.
In both countries the economy is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. There are concerns about closed factories, dying industries, and unemployment. There is grave worry in both places about the path forward for our respective democracies and debate over it abounds. But there are more reasons to celebrate, than to lament, in France as at home.
Our visit seems to be a great source of joy and opportunity to share all the wonders of their country and to learn anything all all they can about ours. Every landmark is carefully pointed out as it whizzes by — driving is certainly faster here. Our itineraries are chocked full of the highlights of each place, whether it be food, drink, an ancient church or a modern invention.
Our hosts are as excited to explain and share their history and culture as we are to learn about it. They seem delighted too with every tidbit we share about Kentucky, our cities or the U.S., which only enhances their own understanding. Their curiosity abounds and is genuine. That is one characteristic that has impressed us all. They want to know everything they can and seem very educated on so many things.
Although it has just begun, our trip is truly an exchange of ideas, friendship and understanding that is proving itself to be an experience that will only continue to benefit both hosts and guests, long after we have departed.
Collecting souvenirs and special memories in France
The Independent | Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 11:47 pm
MARSANNE, FRANCE One of the best parts of traveling is filling one’s suit case with souvenirs.
In the first half of our four-week Rotary International Group Study Exchange in France, our team has already collected many. Every gift we pull from our luggage to present to our Rotarian hosts seems to be replaced by gracious gifts from them. We are on a cultural exchange, and the French certainly have much they want us to take home.
There are memories in each item I have received. Long after our exchange is over, these trinkets will no doubt bring back vivid recollections of the weeks we spent exploring the region and all the wonderful friends we made in each place.
After touring the famous Chabert and Guillot nougat factory in Montelimar, our hosts presented us with a tin and two bags of the deliciously nutty sweet. Each time I pop a square into my mouth, I know I will remember the day we spent there. I will picture the storage room of the factory, where, at our guides’ encouragement, our group rummaged like children through boxes of the wrapped goodies, sampling as many of the more than 1,000 flavors we could before feeling sick.
There are also items I have picked up. There’s the lavender-scented honey from Annonay, which has a smell I hope will transport me back to the countryside of France when I open it in my Ashland kitchen. Each time I stir it into my tea, I will smell the fields of lavender, fruit trees and vineyards of the fertile Rhone region.
But the best souvenirs are the ones that won’t fit in any suitcase. They are things that can be shared endlessly with others, such as the French card game Machiavel. Our group was taught to play it one evening while in the historic 1750s home of Jean Francois and Jacqueline Allemand. Our hosts, including their daughter, Lorraine, carefully walked us through the first hand. After we caught on, we played several more rounds over wine while sharing stories and laughter.
I know the game will be revisited once we get home. One holiday or rainy weekend, we will share it with friends and family. It’s a souvenir that will always be French, but because it’s been shared, will become a little American, too.
Experiencing France one layer at a time
The Independent | Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 10:53 pm
CHAMONIX, FRANCE I have said it many times, perhaps too many times my travel companions might say: Our Rotary International Group Study Exchange to France has many layers.
The trip, now in its third week, is a collage of experiences that have all been amazing despite the challenges at times.
There is the trip itself — four weeks of traveling from place to place in a foreign country. We are living out of two suitcases in the homes of Rotarians and are far away from our loved ones.
Most of us had never heard French spoken before touching down in Paris. Now it is all around us, all hours of the day and creeping into our dreams at night. We have had many “lost in translation” moments that have made for some good comic relief, but there have been some frustrations, too.
Then there is the group dynamic. The five of us had never met until November. We are now a family of sorts, having developed a special bond during the last few weeks.
Above all else, the trip has been has been an exercise in trust. We have had to learn to surrender personal control and decision making to the ebb and flow of daily life in another culture and country. The program is a complete immersion.
Every day in France has been a surprise. Although we have a schedule, it often changes and it’s in French, which we can’t read. We often don’t know where we are, where we are going, what we are about to do and sometimes whom we are even with. We have always been in good hands though.
Our Rotary hosts want us to be comfortable and have taken good care of us. They believe in showing us the best of their homes, landscape and heritage. They are sharing with us as much history as we can absorb and as much French food as our stomachs can handle.
This week was truly special though, a literal high point of the trip. Our Chamonix hosts took us to the roof of Europe.
We ascended to more than 12,000 feet via cable car to the L’Aiguille Du Midi on the Mont Blanc mastiff. There we were greeted with a sweeping view of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.
It left us breathless and not just because of the altitude. The beauty of the place, and of the planet we share, transcended language. It’s something both French and Americans all felt and understood.
Lessons from France: Exchange trip coming to a close
The Independent | Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 12:24 am
GRENOBLE, FRANCE With every city we visit and every Rotary Club we meet in France, our connection and respect for the organization and our host country grows and deepens. As does our understanding that the world and its population of humans are all linked no matter the differences in language, culture or geography.
In the last week, we traveled from small villages in the Savoie department of the Rhone-Alpes region, including Cordon and Saint Jean de Maurienne to the larger lake cities of Annecy and Chambery. We have made quick jaunts into Italy and Switzerland, too.
We arrived at our last stop, Grenoble, on Thursday and on Monday our trip will end. Saying goodbye to one another and to the scores of new friends we have made here will be hard. It’s already been difficult each time we moved from one club’s care to the next.
We will no doubt recall the last four weeks throughout the rest of our lives and I am confident the connections we have made with our hosts will live on and flourish, too.
The enduring result of our trip, I hope, will be the wider view of the world we now have and the desire to continue broadening our individual perspectives.
Already we have learned so much. With each site we have visited here, whether medical, energy, education, manufacturing, historical, government or cultural, we have expanded our knowledge and understanding of France’s history and its modern society.
With each day, new connections are made with issues abroad and at home. Our awareness of the increasingly interconnected world we live in is expanding and our ideas about it are changing too. There are so many similarities and yet so many differences among us, the most important being that we look at the world through different lenses, each tinted by our country or culture’s history as well as our individual experiences.
As a result, we think about and approach the same issues or problems very differently at times. I’ve seen so many examples in France. Regardless, our futures are as linked as our pasts. Acknowledgment and consideration of another way can only be helpful and it should not be feared.
As our Rotary International Group Study Exchange wraps up, that is what I will walk away with. I believe what Rotary was giving me was an opportunity to see no matter how big the world may seem at times, it is small, yet diverse and beautiful. And despite how difficult it may be at times, I will strive to communicate the commonalities.
Rotary has inspired me, and so many before me, to look for them. Then, once I find them, to do what I can to appreciate the differences, and work toward a better future for us all.
The Rotary Global Study Exchange Team visited the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland last week as part of their four week trip to the Rhone-Alpes region of France and surrounding areas in Italy and Switzerland. From left: Jon Bennett, Carrie Stambaugh, Jessica Tretter, Brandi Berryman and Tabitha Baker.
Bringing a bit of France to the table
The Independent | Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:51 pm
ASHLAND, Ky. There is nothing like being home after a long journey.
On Sunday night, I finally arrived in Ashland after five weeks of traveling in France.
The first four weeks I spent under the guidance of Rotary International as part of a five-person group study exchange team. We traveled extensively in the Rhone-Alpes region visiting more than 12 cities and towns. The final week of my trip I spent exploring Paris with my husband, Carl.
It was my first trip to France and I fell in love with the country, its landscapes, history, culture and, of course, food. It was a whirlwind of experiences and new faces. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience I was sad to see come to a close.
But there is just something about being in your own house and country after so much time traveling in a foreign place. When I spotted the blue and green bridges from the highway Sunday night, my heart swelled. I was finally home!
I like unpacking after a long trip, particularly unwrapping all the carefully packaged souvenirs I’ve picked up and filling the dining room table with them. After five weeks, this may be the most loaded down it has ever been with items. It looks like a French market stand; every inch is covered.
There are jars of sweet fruit confiture, spicy French mustard and delicate lavender honeys. Bottles of olive oil, a variety of regional liquors and, of course, French wines.
There are keychain trinkets of famous monuments, magnets and candies of all kinds. There is a pile of Parisian postcards and prints of old posters, two oil paintings and a handful of handmade Eiffel Tower sculptures. Then there are the T-shirts and hats, silken scarves, delicate French soaps and a jar full of small-denomination foreign coins.
It’s all on the table to be sorted for doling out to family, friends and coworkers or until the perfect spot is found for it in our home — or stomach. Each time I pass the table, I find myself picking up an item to ponder where the little slice of France should be directed.
The table of souvenirs has become a post-traveling tradition Carl and I love. We are so excited to share our trip with our loved ones, providing them a little taste of the places we visit in addition to our pictures.
It’s always our hope the gifts will inspire others to be curious about the world and perhaps spur them to discover more of it themselves.
Maybe they will catch the wanderlust bug, too.