Exchange Student


This morning, Judi got up early (6ish) and worked from home for a couple hours. I slept until 7:30 and lolled around on the couch until I took Judi into work. Did I mention I can drive a car again? It’s one of the many benefits of getting this  sleep therapy done.

I just finished watching the last episode of Ken Burns’s The War. Right now I’m sitting in my alarming green sweatpants, with the rest of my laundry in the dryer. I slept last night as well as could be expected; my first night with the mask assisting my nighttime breathing. I woke up a couple times; once with an offensively dry mouth. I need to keep some water closer to my bed so I don’t need to trek downstairs when this happens.

There isn’t really that much to say today. Sometimes I feel like a plane, circling my destination: like there’s something that needs to happen. I’m in a holding pattern, waiting for an elegant touchdown, or a crash landing. I’m hoping for the former, of course, but maybe I sometimes obsess overly much over the latter.

I’m good at waiting and seeing. I’ve been waiting for a promotion for a couple years now. We’ll see. I waited for apnea treatment for 5 weeks (over a year, really, if you count my laggard habits of putting off the doctor’s appointment). We will see how that goes, now that the machine is sitting on my bedside table. Can we bide our time waiting for things so much, that we forget to enjoy the life that’s right in front of us? The proverb tells us that a watched pot never boils. I wouldn’t know. I don’t do pot.

In January, 1986, I found out I would be an exchange student to France. I’d wanted the opportunity to live overseas since I was 12, when I was in a 4-H club. We were all invited to my Uncle Ben & Aunt Lola’s house in Pistol River to meet a young lady who spent the summer in Japan. I don’t remember her name–she represented 4-H’s “Labo” program. She did a slide presentation, talking about the time she spent; how she felt like a member of the family. She talked about the food, and the culture. How people would ask to touch her blonde hair, because they had never seen anyone like that before.

I wanted that. I don’t know why, even to this day. Maybe it was escapism. Maybe I wanted a new story, or to stand out, or maybe I just liked learning languages. Over my childhood years I tried inventing my own languages and attempted sporadic learning of Japanese, sign language, Cherokee, Chinese. When I read Alex Haley’s book Roots, I copied out every word that I could learn from the Mandinka language that Kunta Kinte spoke. I was obsessed.

My parents told me I couldn’t go. We couldn’t afford it. Just wait, they told me. So I waited, applying to AFS (American Field Service) my Junior year in high school. I don’t remember what-all I had to do. There was an essay I had to write, and a photo. I had to choose the top three countries I wanted to visit. None of them was France.

AFSBy January 1986, I knew I’d be going. My friends from my high school wished me well when we graduated. My journey was three months later, in August. I rode with my parents and sister to Portland International, where they saw me off. On the way, my orthodontic retainer broke–this was an accident. Over the next year, my teeth, which had spent 6 years in dental treatment, started “drifting” and I still have a gap in my front teeth as a result of that one moment of negligence.

From Portland I flew to New York City for a three-day orientation at CW Post College on Long Island. We met with the kids who would be departing for Yugoslavia (it was still a country then), Iceland, Cyprus, Turkey, and France. We French kids were by far the largest cohort. We boarded a plane together for the all-night flight from JFK to Paris, where we separated into even smaller regional groups once we arrived. From there, we nearly 30 of us bused to to the Poitou-Charentes region. I would be living with family in the town of Melle. I still have fond memories of several friends from that cohort: Lupe from California. Melanie from Virginia. Ernesto from Mexico. Robert from Sweden, Tove from Denmark, Astrid from the Netherlands, and Solfrid from Norway. Someday I will post photos, when I can find my hopelessly-lost-in-a-box-somewhere picture album.

All this time later, I’m still in contact with a couple of these folks, and I wish I could find more. I loved these folks as much as it’s possible to, in the space of a year. We shared the hopelessness of being homesick and thousands of miles (and an ocean) from home, the loss of your own language. You arrived like an varying degrees of communication skills (I had 2 years of French in high school. Lupe didn’t speak a word), and then we all went to high school a couple weeks later. And we all had to adjust to a new host family. Some had an easier time of it than others. My time was acceptable, but definitely not easy. My last month in France, my nerves were such an intense knot of social maladroitness, I threw up nearly every day at least once.

But this was a post about waiting.

I waited 6 years for that adventure. There were many, many excellent things about life in France. Also, I dealt with a few frustrating, and a handful horrible things. But I got what I wanted. Yeah. I’m familiar with waiting. Sometimes good things come to we who wait. Maybe what I wanted when I decided to live overseas was to forge a new destiny.

I’m not going to apologize for the rambling weirdness of today’s blog. Apparently that’s what happens to your writing when a guy gets enough sleep. What is your plane circling over?

Advertisements

One thought on “Exchange Student”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s