It’s been a month since we returned from France, yet it feels like another lifetime ago that we were driving the country roads of Northern France and walking the streets of Paris.
In my mind, the trip lies in three main sections. The first segment kicked off with our arrival in Arras, and stays with me as memories of sun, quaint country towns, and the taste of delicious family meals around the dinner table. During this time, we travelled around the beautiful towns of Arras and Peronne, spending time with our host families and getting to know the history of the area. This week provided me with the opportunity to be immersed in the French culture, which is so similar to New Zealand and yet so different, and I found myself comparing many little aspects of our routines and mannerisms. Something that surprised me was how much I enjoyed being thrown into the deep end with speaking French with my homestay families. This had been an aspect that had particularly daunted me prior to the trip, as I was aware my French does need quite a bit of work; but I learnt that communication is sometimes less about your grammar and structures, and more about your willingness to try (which people always appreciate), and experiences and laughter shared (which will always break down any language barrier). It was quite a challenge at times, but I found it was so worth it, for both the improvements to my French skills, and for the amazing conversations I got to have with people who live such different lives to me. Throughout that time, I met so many people that I am forever grateful to have met - I’d particularly like to shout out to Camille, Cassidy, Alan and Emma and their families, all with whom I spent time at some point.
The second section of the trip we spent travelling around Belgium and other areas in Northern France, and is tinged with the flavour of paprika chips in the back of the van and sun upon the quiet grass of cemeteries. Us Kiwis bonded so much as a group during that week in between long days of filming and emotional moments. We visited places like the New Zealand memorial in Le Quesnoy, the remains of trenches, and many of the memorials and monuments that pepper the countryside. In this time we saw and learned much about the history of the First World War and the impact that it had on Northern France. Living as isolated as we are in New Zealand, it is sometimes easy to forget the effects of a war that happened so long ago and so many millions of kilometres away, but seeing these things put into my mind the scope of the impact that the war had on France - it is still very real for them there. A moment that especially stands out in my mind was when we visited Passchendaele, and stood right on the ground where New Zealand had its darkest day in military history, and being there really bought it close to home for us Kiwis.
We finally ended up in Paris, four days coloured with the vibrant life of the city and the tastes of delicious meals on the side streets of Paris. One of my particular highlights of our stay in Paris included visiting the New Zealand Embassy and meeting the Ambassador to France for New Zealand. Not only was it cool to hear familiar accents, but it was quite inspiring to meet such impressive people in the line of work that I aim to pursue later in life. This is a common interest that most of us Young Ambassadors shared, and we made sure to quite thoroughly quiz one of the employees on her pathway through university and the workforce to how she got to her current position. I was also able to take part in laying a wreath at the the Eternal Flame Ceremony under the Arc de Triomphe, a ceremony that has taken place every night since 1923, even throughout the second world war, and it was incredibly special to be part of something that has stood so resolutely against the test of time. Straight after this was the French victory parade, which was one of my absolute highlights of trip, and we got to see the champions drive past carrying the world cup. This was one of my favourite days of the whole trip, and just thinking about it now puts a smile on my face - to witness such a special moment and to experience the buzz of Paris during that time was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The amount I took from this trip is immense. I grew so much as a person from the experiences on this trip; learning about myself, other people, when in life to be ‘subversive’ and when not to be. I learnt so much about history and the ways in which the war has shaped so many lives. We got to partly follow the path which my ancestor would have taken in his fight during the war, and being able to see these areas made him that much more real to me.
Thank you to everyone who was involved and made this trip possible - it was an experience that will always stay with me, and that I am so grateful to have had. To Madame Rancy and Madame Queant, Gerard, and both Pascale’s - thank you for your organisation and endless support. Thank you to Madame Bush-Daumec, Robin and Donny, particularly for being able to put up with us constantly for threeish weeks. And to all my fellow young ambassadors, thank you for being the greatest bunch of people that I could’ve hoped to share this experience with - I will always the remembers the friendships that we made, and that we will always have.