Megan McNeill Libby Postcards from France

ISBN 13: 9780061011696

Postcards from France

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9780061011696: Postcards from France

A year-long tour of France is seen through the postcards of a high-school junior, who records such experiences as her war with the French language, an attempt to make Thanksgiving dinner with a deer, and her feelings of isolation on her first day at school.

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About the Author:

Megan McNeill Libby wrote Postcards from France as a high-school junior and a foreign exchange studend living in Valence, France. She is from Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

It all started innocently enough. I was a pretty typical fifteen-year-old high-school sophomore, living in Fairfield County, Connecticut. That translates to mean I had it pretty good. I lived in a nice house in an historic New England town with my parents, my younger brother, and a Labrador retriever. My older sister, an attorney, lived in Chicago with her husband and baby daughter. I had doting grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Not everyone was completely sane, but no one had been put away, and most of us could act pretty normal most of the time. I went to a good public high school, where I got good grades, had a great group of friends, played sports, joined clubs, volunteered, enjoyed art and music, and partied enthusiastically wherever and whenever possible.

Was I happy? Certainly not. I was fifteen, after all. I had a constitutional right as an American to want more, even if I didn't know what I wanted more of. My days were boring and predictable. Most of my classes seemed irrelevant. The only subjects I was really interested in were English, French, and art. I loved to write and to draw, and I wanted to actually speak French. Naturally I knew that in order to achieve any of these goals I would have to do the boring and predictable and repetitive stuff. Right then, however, I wanted to do something exciting and unique. I should admit up front to being a risk-taker, even a thrill-seeker. I love the jolt of adrenaline that comes from doing something terrifying.

According to my family, I was born that way. At one year of age, I piled up the stuffed animals in my crib, climbed up on their backs, and launched myself headfirst over the bars and onto the floor. By fifteen months I was walking on the kitchen counters and swinging from the freezer door. I had a genius for getting up on high places and being unable to get down safely. At two I had graduated from climbing on kitchen counters and chain-link fences to removing window screens and strolling on rooftops during nap time.

And then my baby brother was born. He cried all night for a year. My dad left town a lot, and my mom was pretty much over the edge. It got easier and easier to slip away from the house, down the block, across streets and out into the big world. I particularly liked the monkey bars at the school playground and looking in at the big kids in kindergarten and first grade. But somebody always called the police, and after a while they didn't have to ask me where I lived anymore. They just picked me up and drove me home. When I finally old enough to get inside the school swing legally from the monkey bars, we moved to Connecticut.

The move wasn't all bad. There was no block to play on, but there was a whole forest full of trees, giant boulders, ponds, even a "haunted house" on the other side of the mountain, where I could press my face against the window and run away screaming when the "monsters" moved around inside. Life was good. But after about five years, the trees weren't tall enough anymore, and the only one left who was scared of the haunted house was my little brother. The thrill was gone. My parents did their best. After striking out with dance, gymnastics, and softball, they tried a local camp which specialized in excitement and adventure. No clay pots, sing-alongs, or plays for Mountain Workshop. We climbed mountains, rappelled off cliffs, went caving, canoeing, white-water rafting, and roaring around on dirt bikes. The only problem was it didn't last all year long.

What I'm coming around to is that I think what my life lacked at fifteen, what I was looking for, was danger, the thrill of the unknown. I wasn't far enough over into the fast lane. And then a former friend who was understandably sick of my depression--(the French would say malaise)--told me to stop complaining and do something, take charge of my life, make a change. She steered me to an evening meeting of a group called AFS (American Field Service). They specialized in sending American kids to faraway places, for the summer, a semester, even a year. They placed you with a local family; you learned the language and saw the world. That was it! I'd go to France for a year, take all MY courses in French, become bilingual, see Europe, ski the Alps, SCUBA dive in the Mediterranean; the possibilities were limitless.

I told my parents. They agonized for about fifteen minutes over losing me for a whole year, then sent in their check. That was in November. By April I had serious cold feet.

I drove everyone crazy. On Monday I was going. By Tuesday I was staying home. On Wednesday I reconsidered. Would I like my new family Would they like me? Would I ever have any friends? Just how good was my French, anyhow? Could I leave my dog for a whole year? My boyfriend belonged to the stay-at-home camp. My parents, by this time several thousand dollars into the experiment, weren't speaking to him. For the first time in my life, I was scared to death, and I didn't like it.

And that's how it happened that on August 31, 1994, 1 flew to Paris with fifty other AFS students from all over the USA. An AFS representative met our flight and whisked us off to a youth hostel in a Paris suburb. All I saw of the City of Light was a distant image of the Eiffel Tower, growing quickly more distant. The next morning, after little food and less sleep, I found myself at the train station with a ticket in my mouth and all my worldly possessions in two duffel bags at my side. I think it was at that moment that I realized the enormity of what I had done.

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