Anyone who knows me well enough knows that if I don’t have a goal set in my mind that I will without a doubt achieve, I have no purpose. So even during my “gap year”, almost immediately after I got to France I pounced on the opportunity to register and train for the Semi-Marathon de Paris, 21.1km through the streets of Paris that I completed last Sunday along with nearly 40 000 other participants. All the training through snow, rain, rain, rain, snow, disgusting blisters and ugly injuries was worth it as I found myself thoroughly enjoying racing against my own clock as I ran along the banks of the Seine watching Notre Dame come in to view in the distance. I’ve never ran a race I didn’t love doing, and this one was no exception. Other than the insane adrenaline rush that comes from being cooped up in a gate next thousands of other bodies an hour before the start and the voices of strangers screaming “Allez” as I ran through a city that was no longer foreign to me, I also had a stellar two hours in the brilliant sunshine to reflect on my time as an au pair as this stage in my year comes to a close.
After crossing the physical finish line of the race after what wasn’t just a couple hours of running, but literally months of preparations, I am now preparing to cross the metaphorical finish line of my time as an au pair at the end of this week, after six months of living here, in addition to the preparation and anxieties that went into the trip from months prior. I won’t be getting super nostalgic or anything, because there’s so much to look forward I don’t have the time or energy to look back- just yet. Instead, I can reflect on some of the things I’ve learned (if reluctantly), not just while being a young girl in a foreign country, but specifically while being an au pair.
1. I now know way more about the English language than I’d ever thought I didn’t already know. Coming to France has taught me much more about my own language and connection to my culture than the French language. Who knew that we were taught so poorly in school about verb tenses, conjugations, etc. I didn’t realize what a big impact me speaking English with E would have on her life as well as mine. I’ve not only been teaching English to her and answering her questions about the language, but also answering the queries of my host parents, as well as those of my French teacher and the friends I’ve made from places such as Sweden, Germany & Austria. A few months ago, I could barely tell you how the conjugate the verb “see” in the past tense third-person. Another fun question I got used to answering: What’s Canada like? Suddenly my identity wasn’t made up of my parents, my friends, my school or my religion; I was Canadian, and that was that.
2. I now know how critical my own schedule is in my life. Living and breathing someone else’s routine for 6 months can be frustrating at best. Living with your bosses and sleeping in your “office” means that finding a balance between work and leisure at “home” can be challenging.
3. My love affair with cheese has bloomed into an everlasting relationship. A meal now feels incomplete if I don’t get a giant chunk of creamy goodness to cleanse my palate and make my tummy smile.
4. Dr. Seuss are the best books to read aloud.
5. Hugs and bises from a 3-year-old who (sometimes) loves you unconditionally (on a good day) are the best kind.
6. Finally: French. Not just grammar. Texting in French and making sure what I’m saying is really what I mean; sending formal emails, making appointments, talking over the phone or discussing important matters with my host parents; translating children’s books from French while reading them for the first time; challenging myself not to hit the “translate” button online; eavesdropping on rushed metro conversations.
Thousands of kilometres (travelled, but mainly run), 4 European capitals (so far), hundreds of questions, backaches, headaches, bellyaches (due to cheese and chocolate), lots of new friends, sufficient amounts of laughter, an acquired taste for coffee and escargots, a sufficient amount of tears, more than a dash of homesickness, thousands of pictures, and finally a new language and culture not just surrounding me but finally seeping into me as well, have all made up the last six months. It’s weird to think I’ve got no idea what’s coming next. I can’t really say à demain, so à bientôt will have to do.