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A Year in a Lifetime

Daisy Hepi
Sable 2

In 2010 when I visited France with my family I fell in love with the country.

We went to Provence which is magical with its rolling hills and late colourful sunsets.

The fields of sunflower gave a majestic beauty to the country side. In year 11 the pressure was on to decide what we wanted to study at university. While all my friends were deciding what university and course they wanted to study, I still had no idea. So I decided to apply for an exchange program and go and live in France for a year at the end of year 12. Like every teenager my decision was also an excuse to go away and gain some independence.

To be honest that was what was getting my through my final year of studies.

Each day was filled with excitement and anticipation about leaving Melbourne. Even though it has been voted the best city in the world a number of times, I didn’t like anything about it. Finally in December a few weeks before I was leaving, I got a letter in the mail introducing me to my host family. They had a son who was my age, the father owned an opera school and the mother was the mayor of the town. It all sounded perfect. I imagined getting along with my host brother, and being able to go to soccer games together. I would be able to sing with my host dad and on the weekends we would all spend family time together playing board games and singing.

In my head I imagined my year away to be like a movie.

This was what the exchange company told us not to do. Shortly after my 18th birthday my mum, dad and step-dad all embarked on the journey to take me to the airport. The car trip was emotional. I had just said goodbye to my four sisters and seeing them upset made my mum and me both get teary. I was sitting in the car petrified. Why was I going away to a country that I didn’t speak a word of the language? What if the family were completely psycho?

I knew I had to keep all these thoughts to myself otherwise I wouldn’t go.

Eventually after what felt like years of waiting I finally stepped of the plane in Paris. It was everything I imagined. Snow had just fallen and driving to Givry there were fields of snow. It was beautiful. Arriving at the house was nerve racking. All the students from the opera school were there waiting to say hello, and I didn’t speak a word of French. The family was lovely and I loved spending time with them and getting to know them, but while I was there I became really sad. Living in a town of 100 people was tough, and being in a class with year 5’s was also difficult. I was 18 and being put with 13 year olds. From learning point of view it was fair enough. It was a good way for me to learn French however I needed to make friends. My host brother wouldn’t say a word to me and the whole experience was turning into a nightmare.

I wanted to stay and try to make it work, but in the end I changed families and moved to Paris for the remaining 8 months.

My host family in Paris were amazing. The mum took the first week off to show me around and get to know me. I had two older brothers which I loved coming from a family of four younger sisters. One of the boys was only a year older than me and we quickly became good friends. I also had a host sister who was 15 and was scared of me the first few weeks I was there. After a few weeks she realised I didn’t want to steal her parents away from her and we became good friends.

My time in Paris changed me.

I grew up and became more independent. My time there also allowed me to discover who I am and helped me decide what I want to study. I ended up applying to study journalism at Deakin University back in Melbourne.

Leaving Paris was the most difficult and heart-breaking experience. It was harder to leave France than it was leaving Australia. I knew that my family in Australia loved me forever and would not forget about me, but that wasn’t the case for my friends and new family in France. My time in France allowed me to make some lifelong friends. Coming back from France I could speak fluent French and transitioning back into English was the hardest part. I found myself speaking in French when I got annoyed, passionate or happy. It was difficult speaking English again, as I hadn’t spoken or heard any English for a whole year.

Luckily I still speak to my Paris family every week and am planning my next trip over there. I know now that I will be forever a part of their lives like they are mine.

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