Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

April 4, 2013

Carrie Stambaugh: Experiencing France one layer at a time: 04/05/13

CORDON, 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 who 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.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.

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