“To make an end is to make a beginning.” -T.S. Eliot

It’s hard to put in words how I feel. The pain cuts the worst at night, when somehow the open sky pulls me closer to the past and won’t let me fall asleep. Brief, blurry moments strung together make the past ten months seem like some kind of dream, the kind that you wake up and your heart drops because you return to reality, or a lengthy film about somebody else’s life, somewhere else, that you lose yourself in completely, if only for an hour or two.

That was my life. Mine.

I often think of the times when I sat feeling sorry for myself, when I could have been living. Those were the times that I was small and fragile. I don’t look back with regret- those times were necessary for me to accomplish something, to overcome some minuscule demons lurking, and then, I think of the times when I jumped off cliffs and danced with strangers and lived in the moment- and I know that in those moments, I was bigger than I ever dreamed.

Back in my little hometown, I’m back into my tidy cozy routine, hardly leaving the city limits. I’m alone a lot now, and surprisingly, I like it. Silence is better than bull****. When I’m driving through the golden fields alongside the lake, one hand dangling from the open window, and the other on the wheel, hair whipping; I hear a song and I smile, just a little bit.

Little things can carry so many thoughts. I have a faded, generically black dress with rips in the underarms from too much wear from H&M that I bought two summers ago with Clem (my host mom had the same one in grey), on my first exchange, as a naïve 16-year-old. It’s carried me through the first day of senior year (twice), long family Christmas dinners, errand running solo in the 7th in Paris, and sweet too-short sunny days in Colmar parks. It’s been across the Atlantic and back, twice. The dress- it’s not important. What I did in it was.

This isn’t the last you’ll hear from me. I’ll have other adventures, I know, though never any nearly as grand as this. I’ll be in Seattle for university, and after, I dream of seeing every corner of the world that holds a fragment of my heart.

To those that follow: Your dreams are important. Work hard- really hard. Don’t give up, keep going. Know that you are worthy of love, even when those around you tell you that you are not. Put down the phone. Live a little.

It’s all going to be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

au revoir (see you again)

-l

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day 290: what I’ve been listening to this year

okay, so I kind of lied. this is by far not my last post. but since I finally figured out how to make French spotify work, I made a series of playlists, each relates to a different moment from my exchange year, to show a little of what I’ve been jamming to this year. give them a listen & enjoy!

part 1: the plane ride over & homesickness

part 2: the holidays spent away from home & discovering French Christmas traditions

part 3: winter blues & reflecting

part 4: only young once

part 5: euro tour

part 6: holding on just to let go (skinny love)

part 7: awful and amazing and beautiful

xo, L

day 285: if you were given the chance to do it again, would you?

hello everyone! sorry it’s been awhile since you heard from me- I haven’t been terribly busy per say, just trying to absorb every last moment of my French life and also have been trying to form together my scattered thoughts and feelings into something halfway comprehensible.

I expected exchange to finish neatly, like any other accomplishment I’ve passed in my life. A check off a laundry list of life, a year squared off, summarized by several blurry tourist-y photos, followed by a tidy round of goodbyes. What actually occurred was nothing at all as I planned. I recklessly fell in love with strangers, and blissfully pioneered tired landmarks without realizing how many times over my heart would break, but it’s okay, because that’s where the light comes in. it is truly a blessing and a curse to feel everything so rawly and wholly.

after the Euro Tour, I had the spontaneous idea to go visit my many friends I made over the two week trip in Alsace, a department about 5 hours away on train! thanks to a supportive host mom who helped me figure out the logistics, it was such a surreal and lovely week spent just being together. we had our final Rotary event, where it was so difficult to say goodbye to those eleven strangers who have become family. Sunday, I moved for the last time, to my friend Elodie’s house, whose family has been so kind and generous to me.

these three last weeks are full of lasts. I went to my last contemporary class on a stormy, humid Friday night, and left drenched in sweat and tears. school is drawing to an end as well, with most of my classmates already gone to study for their baccalaureates, and my books given back to the office. there is a school ball (“American” themed) on next Friday night that I am helping to organize, and so Elodie and I went to Aix-en-Provence Saturday and I found a lovely dress- H&M is a lifesaver! and also got to spend one last precious afternoon drinking coffee and wandering the streets of Aix with Grace and Carlisle, who were there for their French SAT exam. otherwise, my last choir practice is Wednesday , after which we’ll be eating dinner at the high school’s restaurant (the senior students are passing their service and cuisine baccalaureates!). next weekend, I’m going back to Aix-en-Provence for final meetings for Interact and Rotary, and I will get to see my good Belgian friends the Morcauts, who have been so kind to me! finally, Friday the 19th I will eat dinner one last time at Isabelle’s house, and Saturday the 20th, the Beuchots have been kind enough to offer to drive me to the Marignane airport at two o’clock in the morning. and then, I’ll be home.

but it’s really not home anymore. thinking about what I left behind nine months ago, my roots seem so distant and foreign. home has become wherever I feel loved. I’m scared out of my wits that the girl who before merely existed, but who has since shattered into an intricate person who lives, will no longer be able to meld into her former comfortable existence. and that’s okay.

a few weeks ago, I got a Facebook message out of the blue from a Brazilian girl who will be in District 1760- my district- next year. she asked me nervously if I had made any friends, and then abruptly asked me a question that I hadn’t ever considered. if I was given the chance to do it again, would I?

the answer is: hell yes.

see you soon for one last post.

xoxo,
L

day 262: “J’entends ta voix dans tous les bruits du monde. // I hear your voice in all the world’s noise. ” -Paul Eluard

The people whose lives intersect with mine, if even so briefly, have imprinted on my heart, and will never fade.

Sometimes, it’s peculiar how astonishing life can be. You fall profoundly into love when you least expect it, and it is impossible to recover. Three weeks ago, I left for the Euro Tour feeling bitter anticipation for a trip spent with strangers- yet every one became inexorably precious to me.
We spent two delightful weeks together- that seemed so brief and boundless, all at the same time. Drifting in and out of sleep on an eerily hushed bus in the last few astringent rays of sunshine together, ninety exchange students singing along to “Ella me paró el taxi” in an abandoned Italian disco tech dancing under neon lights, delicious deep-fried cinnamon-sugar pastries on cloudy Prague streets, admiring breathlessly Swiss glaciers, and 2 am stifled laughter on hotel beds. These precious memories I have with them are so fleeting, and are briskly fading to a cloudy haze… I desperately refuse to forget them.

To every single one of you, thank you.

I will listen carefully for each of your voices in all the world’s noise- and maybe you will hear mine.

xo, L

day 243: happy 8 months- a bittersweet beginning to an end

my flight is scheduled for less than 2 months from now, and the little pieces of my exchange are falling into place. my french life has become so precious that I’m not sure how I’m going to leave it all behind. what’s waiting for me at home? yesterday I said see you later- not goodbye- to the 8 other exchange students who will be going on a different bus trip. as sad as I am to see them go, I know we’ll see each other again. for us, the world is a small place, and it’s somewhat comforting to know you have close friends in nearly every country in the world. as for the other 3, I’ll be seeing them quite often- Carlisle and Grace leave with me early Tuesday morning for our own bus trip- and of course Gabriel is never far away.

here’s a little video of the district conference- 3 generations of exchange students. It’s a little strange to think of handing down the legacy to a new set of young people, scared beyond belief but so excited for what is to come.

I know it’s not the end- it’s only a new beginning. tonight is the goodbye party for Lucas, who leaves on Tuesday for his 3 month exchange in Eugene- it will be so wonderful to show him around the 541 a bit- and I am busy working mentoring new exchanges, organizing with some of Lucas’s cousins and my younger friends for lifelong international friendships like those I know I’ll have forever.

the next 2 weeks I’ll be a bit off the technology radar as I will be traveling around Europe with 2 of my best friends- and many other friends that I just don’t know yet! until then, keep up with me on Insta at laura_ainslie.

ciao for now,

L

day 228: some funny travel stories & the tough side of growing up

hey there everyone!

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sorry it’s been so long in between posts. I just got back last night from my trip with my parents- 1000 km and 8 days, from Caen to Marseille, and it was wonderful but so exhausting. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this year, it is that nothing is ever as you expect it to be. I guess I envisioned kind of a perfectly idyllic family trip, where everything goes right and everyone gets along- but of course we were the crabby, sometimes selfish, and certainly imperfect human beings that we are.

if you follow me on instagram, you probably saw my post about the 24 hour delay in my parents’ flight to Paris- which was a huge bummer as it cut our trip shorter, and also a bit of stress, but my host grandparents let me sleep at their home close to CDG, and it worked out well as they were coming down south as a surprise for Isa’s 50th birthday!

after I met up with my parents at CDG at 7 am, we hopped on the RER (train that connects CDG and Paris) and took our train to Caen, where my parents (exhausted from jet lag) took a well-deserved nap (lots of literal snoring ensued) at our wonderful vintage hotel (my mom loved the mini tubs of Nutella available at breakfast) overlooking a park in downtown Caen, before we met my friend Clemence and her family for dinner. Saturday, all day was spent exploring WWII-themed things as my dad is a history buff- not my favorite thing but I was glad to tag along as it interests him! (followed by crêpes, of course!)

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Clem on the beaches of Normandy

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a memorial sculpture on Omaha beach

after a quiet Sunday morning spent with Clem & her dad at the American cemetery, we had an amazing traditional Normandy style lunch- salads with Camembert, cider sauce, and ham, before heading up on the train back to Paris. we had rented a modern-style apartment in the heart of the 7th apartment on airBNB and loved it! I had croissant expeditions each morning (a fabulous 700-year-old bakery, Le Moulin de la Vierge, was just 5 minutes on foot!), and for dinner we would snack on red wine, charcuterie, fresh bread, cheese, and fruit- just lovely.

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the Moulin de la Vierge

Monday I pulled my sleepy parents out of bed as early as I could so we could see ALL THE THINGS in Paris- we started with the Louvre in the 1st arrondissement (sadly couldn’t see it all, but my mom liked the Mona Lisa), then hopped our way over to the Bastille in the 3rd- my parents loved the bay view and we lunched at les Bonnes Soeurs- the best pasta (mascarpone, dry salami, and mushroom) I have eaten, ever- and at a good price, too!

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the Italian painting expo at the Louvre

After lunch, we toured around the Place des Vosges, before hopping back on the subway to see Notre Dame (which was sadly closed but at least we saw the beautiful outside!) and Centre Georges Pompidou- we didn’t see any exhibits, but did get to ride up and see the view of Paris, before getting some excellent gelato at Amorino- organic chocolate and hazelnut for me!

Tuesday, we started out with the Eiffel Tower (which we didn’t climb- but got some lovely photos!) and the Champs d’Elysées, before lunch at a famous caviar restaurant in the 7th arrondissement, Petrossian, which is worth the hefty price for their lovely view on the government buildings (we saw lots of French gendarmes) and artistic platings- except the fact that my father accidentally ordered steak tartare, which is raw beef, topped with a raw egg and pickles, so I ate it instead. it’s not something I would order again, but makes for a hilarious story!

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the delicious dessert plate (corn ice cream!) at Petrossian.

after lunch, we set out to see the Opéra and, after getting a bit lost (but happened to cross the Lock Bridge!), the Musée d’Orsay right before it closed. it was a long trek up to the 14th arrondissement, but the view from Sacré Coeur in the late afternoon sunshine was well worth it.

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chic Parisians on the Opéra balcony.

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the Lock Bridge

Wednesday morning, we were sad to leave Paris, but happy to see the south of France! after a ride on the TGV train (literally: trés grand vitesse, or “very fast speed”- at least I learned something in high school French!) to Aix-en-Provence, we picked up our car and were on our way! A long afternoon spent eating leftover Easter chocolate at Chrystel’s house, drinking coffee with my friend Elodie in downtown Sisteron, and getting a tour of Montfort from Nicolas, my host dad, under the setting sun, before a dinner of lamb and white bean stew and strawberry salad at my house.

Thursday, after a late breakfast, we headed out to see the monastery of Ganagobie (about a 30 minute drive from Montfort) before taking the scenic route to Aix-en-Provence: lots of tulips in bloom, and lovely ruins of bridges and castles. We ate more gelato and strolled through Aix, before heading back to the TGV station and dropping off the car, and catching the train to Marseille.

In Marseille, our hotel was right on the Old Port- we had a lovely view from the 7th floor! after a good night’s sleep, we went to see Mucem and its Mediterranean history exhibit, and the fort that surrounds it- with a wonderful sea view, before heading over to see a few chapels. We found a sweet bistro just up the hill from the Old Port, with live dancers and an elderly gentleman playing the accordion (couldn’t remember how to say that- so just googled “wearable piano”). with plates of fresh seafood and the warm sea breeze, it made for a lovely afternoon. we took “Le Petit Train” to go up to a church at the very top of Marseille, and it was a nice way to see some of the coastline and historic features of the city in a short time. Finally, a stop at Galeries Lafayette for some more gelato and sandwiches for the road (and for my mom to ooh and aah over the French home decor), before I put my parents on the train in tears- I know it’s not goodbye, just see you later, but it hit me that this is what adults do: the reality of real life, on my own, started last night after out of the stress of getting my parents safely on the train back to CDG to catch their flight, I bought the wrong train ticket, and ended up being charged 60 euros (out of my own hard-earned money). Sometimes, adult life isn’t easy, but I’m doing the best I can, and when there’s homesickness, I have a special stash of Justin’s Organic dark chocolate peanut butter cups for times like these.

last night was spent at my friend Elodie’s house, as my host family was all at the circus and couldn’t pick me up at the train station, so we ate 4-cheese pizza and watched The Shopping Queens (one of our guilty pleasure TV shows), and today a few of Gabriel’s friends are coming for a party, so that should be interesting. in just 2 weeks, spring vacation starts, and I’m off on my Euro Tour with Grace and Carlisle- so excited!

ciao,

L

happy 7 months to me! // time is flying by

hey everyone! sorry I guess I’m a little late with this, but here we go- 85 days before I go home- can’t believe it’s gone so quickly. I have been working on a lot of different things that I’m excited about! a week ago, I moved host families (a little earlier than expected, but still very grateful for the opportunity to see a diverse range of families!) and so am now at Montfort with Gabriel the Brazilian! we get along like brother and sister (Isa says we’re like a little old married couple) but it’s fun having someone else at the house.

I didn’t do much over winter vacation, but did get the chance to see Grace, my American sister, and see a bit of Avignon and Vaison la Romaine, which are lovely historic cities- some ancient Roman ruins to see which was very cool for this geeky Latin speaker! I made a lovely brunch for Chrystel’s family as their belated Christmas present for the last weekend of vacation- chai French toast, winter citrus salad, and “oeufs au plat”, along with “champagne” (sparkling apple cider), and of course my famous hot chocolate which was loved by all. last weekend, I did a cooking class at a local restaurant- and absolutely adored it. it was themed “gibier” which is basically what you do with animals after hunting them. we made a sort of stuffed meat with fresh foie gras, a sort of wild bird, spring vegetables- served on toasted homemade brioche, and to top it all off: a sauce made of boudin (pig’s blood) and Valhrona 72% dark. I can’t wait for the pastry class that’s coming up soon!

my parents are coming to France next Thursday- and I’m very excited to picnic on the Seine and tour the beaches of Normandy with them- but most importantly just see their faces and get big, American-style hugs from 2 of my favorite people in the world! I’ve missed them so.

I’ll do a little post after I get back from our trip- the best is yet to come.

xoxo, L

Salut tout le monde! désolée, je suppose que je suis un peu en retard avec cela, mais ici voilà- 85 jours avant que je aille chez moi- je ne peut pas croire qu’ils sont parti si vite. Je ai travaillé sur un tas de choses différentes de que je suis contente! il ya une semaine, je ai déménagé familles d’accueil (un peu plus tôt que prévu, mais toujours très reconnaissants pour l’occasion de voir un large éventail de familles!) et je le suis maintenant à Montfort avec Gabriel le brésilien! nous nous entendons comme frère et sœur (Isa dit que nous sommes comme un petit vieux couple marié) mais ce est bien d’avoir quelqu’un d’autre à la maison.

Je ne ai pas fait beaucoup pendant les vacances d’hiver, mais ai eu la chance de voir Grace, ma sœur américaine, et je vois un peu de Avignon et Vaison la Romaine, qui sont des villes charmants- historique ruines romaines à voir qui était très bien pour ce “geek” latine! Je ai fait une belle “brunch” pour la famille de Chrystel que leur cadeau de Noël tardive pour le dernier week-end de vacances- chai pain perdus, salade d’agrumes d’hiver, et “oeufs au plat”, avec “champagne” (de cidre de pomme mousseux), et bien sûr mon célèbré chocolat chaud était aimé de tous. Le week-end dernier, je ai fait un cours de cuisine à un restaurant- locale et j’ai absolument adorée. il a été le thème “gibier« qui est essentiellement ce que vous faites avec des animaux après les chasse. nous avons fait une sorte de viande farcie au foie gras frais, une sorte de oiseau sauvage, ressort légumes- servi sur brioche maison grillé, et pour couronner le tout: une sauce à base de boudin (le sang de porc) et Valhrona 72% sombre. Je ne peux pas attendre pour le cours de pâtisserie qui vient bientôt!

mes parents viennent en France jeudi prochaine et je suis très heureuse de pique-niquer sur la Seine et visiter les plages de Normandie avec eux-mais surtout juste voir leurs visages et obtenir de grandes embrasses, de style américain de deux de mes personnes préférées dans le monde! Ils ont me tellement manqués.

Je vais faire un petit poste après mon retour de notre séjour là-bas le meilleur est encore à venir

bisous, L