Even though I missed two weeks of school, (and about 2 years of supposed gossip and drama within my friend group) I have absolutely no regrets about taking this amazing trip. I had the opportunity to do and learn so many different things that I wouldn't have otherwise.
To start with, the French culture was endlessly fascinating. Although it wasn't that different from the Western norm that I am accustomed to, little traditions and customs made the French culture stand out. From the adorable 'bisous' whenever two people greeted each other, to the less adorable swarms of students smoking cigarettes just outside of their school, I was definitely charmed (and a little bit shocked).
Speaking French on the daily was a little more challenging for me. My host family were lovely, and not afraid to help me with my French whenever I needed it. They welcomed Materia and I into their homes like family and made sure we were happy, comfortable and of course, well fed with both French and Italian food! We were never afraid to laugh at each other's little mistakes in French and English, which took the pressure off of tackling the language barrier. In just two weeks, my French improved so much, and it's safe to say I have my host family to thank for that.
Besides the fun of it all, the focal point of the trip was definitely visiting the World War 1 museums and monuments and attending commemorative ceremonies. Much of the trip had a solemn tone, as we learned more and more about the lives of the soldiers who fought for their countries. Touring Northern France and Belgium, it almost felt like we were tracing the warpath itself, whilst paying our dues at the sights of many gruesome battles. Initially, I think we all felt very far removed from the events of WW1, considering that it was fought a century ago. But seeing thousands of soldiers' graves as well as learning their personal stories helped to put things in perspective, and we soon grew closer connections to those affected by the war. Although many of the things we saw were sad, they really made us think about why war exists, and why so many people must die for its cause.
I learned that war doesn't ever really have one specific source or enemy. During World War One, suffering was universal and felt by every country involved, no matter who was in the wrong or right. The trip helped me to see several perspectives, and I learned that history always has many sides to it. If there is anything we can conclude from war, it is that the sacrifice of innocent people is terribly tragic. Those who fought and died for their country were incredibly brave and became heroes, but their deaths shouldn't serve to glorify the war, instead, they should remind us of the full horror of it. It is easy to look at the sheer number of casualties throughout World War One and be shocked, but learning the stories of individuals is what really makes an impact. Statistics give us perspective on the scale of a tragedy, but stories give us the personal element that history books sometimes omit. It is that close, personal side of war that we need to consider when commemorating and studying World War 1.
Throughout the trip, I felt that I came to know many of these stories quite well. Just reading small paragraphs about soldiers, looking at pictures of their families and visiting the very trenches they sat waiting in helped me to really understand the true horrors of the war. For my project, I want to focus on these individual experiences during World War One. Starting next year, I am going to work on setting up class visits in which I tell the stories of several men and women who experienced WW1 firsthand and get students to envision what their own stories would be during the war. Through writing and art, I want modern day NZ students to form a personal connection with the war, and imagine how truly scary it would be to live through it.
I am so thankful to have been able to have gone on this amazing trip. I already miss France like an old, very distant friend, and I look forward to going back one day and exploring even more. Finally, I have so much love for the other Young Ambassadors, I made nine new best friends that I'll always keep a place for, and I can't wait to see them again in the future! <3