The two weeks before leaving for France were two weeks filled with anxiety, anticipation and most of all nerves that would just not settle. Every thought of going away excited me, yet at the same time I could not help but wonder about all the little things that could go wrong. Would I be robbed? Would I get lost and if I did would I ever find my way back? What do I do if I end up in the other side of the country? What happens if I lose my luggage, or my phone or any of my belongings? These were the thoughts that plagued my mind having never left Australia on my own, let alone study in a foreign place where English is not the main language. I had a couple of people tell me that I would be fine, that I'd eventually find my place and would not want to come back once I set foot there, but I was still a little apprehensive.
More than that though, the pre-departure experience taught me a lot of skills that I would not have learnt at school. It showed me how to be more independent, to seek information yourself, to ask travel questions and find out the best advice for a young traveller. On top of that, I had to balance my mother's fears of her eldest child going away for a trip of a lifetime.
Anyway, after 3 hours of a train trip from Paris-Bercy to Vichy, I was able to meet my French host family (Jean-Marc, Veronique and their little boy, Sacha) who welcomed me into their home. I slept for a few hours before I joined them and their friends for a French soirÃ©e where we had a lot of food! There was also lots and lots of wine and cheese and of course, who could forget dessert! I was very well fed!
On the Monday of the test for CAVILAM, I met the other members who were also doing the same program with AIM Overseas. We sat with each other and laughed at how much we didn't understand, especially at how difficult some of the questions were on the test. Some had higher levels of French and for them, it wasn't so much of a problem but for others who hadn't done French before, it was certainly a bit tricky. After the 8am test, I gathered with my fellow Aussies and dubbed ourselves the CAVI-lambs (we are a cool group)!
After our test, we were assigned to a group based on our level of French. We also had time for a tour where we were able to taste the water from the 'source' or from the volcanic rock which is very very famous. Lunch was at a boulangerie where we had the French experience of ordering in French and where no one could speak English so we really had to try memorise our vocab.
By the second day of classes, the CAVI-lambs visited the local Monoprix where we did some shopping. Of course, the girls had to stop at Sephora where some of us bought some great goodies at a bargain price. The cold air was great and for me. I appreciate the essence of a community like Vichy where every place is walking distance and everyone seems so friendly. To end the night, we went for a pub crawl and got to know each other well before we slept ready for the next day.
On Wednesday, everything was starting to get easier. I finally memorised my route home and didn't get lost. In class, we played a word game where we tried to describe words with our limited vocabulary. It was certainly one of the highlights of the day because we had so much fun and everyone in class seemed genuine. The teachers were especially very patient and welcoming in correcting us when we make mistakes and encouraging us to not fear speaking French. After class, we had a day off where some of the CAVI-lambs went to Clermont-Ferrand (a city in the Auvergne region) for the 'soldes'. The prices were greatly reduced which made shopping on a student budget, especially overseas quite affordable. Some of us bought a new jacket, clothes and others books. For me, after I came home, I watched a movie with my host family where there were no subtitles and the language was solely in French. By now it was starting to become a little easier to understand the language even though I still find them to be speaking quite fast.
By Friday, the CAVI-lambs paid for Lyon for a Saturday day trip. After class, I met Javier, a Mexican who used to be my host parent's host kid who came for a visit along with his lady friend who works as a 'secretaire' in CAVILAM. I had so much fun at diner trying to understand what they were saying and laughing at appropriate times. On Saturday, we visited Lyon. There were a lot of historical places to appreciate, especially the basilique. Lyon was definitely a very lively city! On Sunday, things were a bit calm. Some of us chose to watch the Stars Wars movie in French while others had a quiet night. For me, I finally bought some 'achats' and treated myself to some Sephora. I definitely had fun, especially when I was able to converse with a French lady only in French in her patisserie store where she asked me why I was learning French and commended me on my effort.
If I could sum up this entire week in a few words, it would be this: Wine, cheese and good company. What more could you ask for!