Workaway – Thonon-les-bains, France

My experience with Workaway so far has been incredible. Marie-Cécile and the family I have been living with have been so accommodating and kind to me. From when I arrived there was incredible food, conversation and laughter to follow. The house is filled by the mother, three children, a Tanzanian au pair and a French intern. The two young boys and young girl have provided much entertainment as have the two stray kittens that the family has adopted. I’m really glad that I decided to deviate from my plan and spend some time in France on a whim.

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The hospitality and warmth I’ve received has been far greater than I could have expected. During meals, which generally last 1-2 hours and consist of 3-4 courses (all including French cheese of course) I sit contently most of the time while the others chat away rapidly in French, of which I understand about 10%. My contentedness comes from the fact that French is such a beautiful and enjoyable language to listen to. Often they are kind enough to repeat parts of the conversation to me in English even though they feel a bit uncomfortable with the language just as I do speaking what little French I know.

My days so far have been spent gardening in the sun in the family backyard; trimming hedges, pruning trees and taking on the task of clearing their enormous back field. You could barely call it work though; relaxed labour in the French autumn sun, 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 7 days of accommodation and incredible home-cooked French meals. The surrounding area is amazingly picturesque and it is so surreal to be able to walk 5 minutes to Lake Geneva and watch people sailing in the sun on a Friday afternoon.

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It was also pretty extraordinary to be able to drive for 45 minutes to the base of one of the nearby mountains and spend the day hiking up to the French-Swiss border. It took a few hours to reach the destination but the scenery along the way was more than sufficient entertainment. At the top we reached a valley where a group of people were staying in a small lodge and were using a huge net to catch, weigh and tag a species of bird before they migrated to Africa.

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This part of my trip has been hugely different to anything I’ve done so far and while it has taken some getting used to after the stimulation of constant change I have settled in and I think it has been a pretty necessary change of pace for now. I have found myself with adequate spare time to relax and reflect on my trip thus far and I realise how truly life-changing it has been. I am vastly different from the man that left Cronulla almost four months ago, and I couldn’t be happier. My perspective of what’s important in life has been permanently adjusted. Both in the sense of what really constitutes “happiness” and also my sense of what is truly worth worrying about. Without any attachments to my home life I have been free to truly discover who I am as a person and I realise that the person that I was at home was significantly different from the person I am when I feel no external pressures.

Something in me has changed for the better, my level of self-assuredness, tolerance for stressful situations and ability to be myself whilst disregarding judgement have all been altered. I am addicted. New sights, new sounds, new tastes, new people, new experiences, new me. I have suffered from anxiety at times but these are entirely warranted feelings. Being in a new country by yourself is extremely stressful, whether it be emotionally, physically, financially or any other reason to feel stressed that you didn’t even know existed until you feel it first-hand. I have had so many experiences and emotions that I cannot express in words, some positive, some negative but all important.

My trip has been relatively short in the grand scheme of things but I have already gained what I’m sure will be life-long memories. The smallest things can trigger a wave of emotion and nostalgia for a time and place that now seem so distant but in reality may have only been a few weeks prior. A scent in the air, a song, a voice, a picture, a person, can already put me right back in that moment, and I truly hope it will last a lifetime.

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