A reflection after my first 10 weeks in France

Islay Purcell
After spending the six months prior to this trip curating countless aspirations for my upcoming year in France, it is with no small amount of surprise and satisfaction that I can say that all my hopes for L’Arche d’Aigrefoin have been utterly fulfilled. After finishing my English Literature and Interdisciplinary Leadership degree at the University of New Brunswick, I decided to apply to join a L’Arche community in France as a live-in assistant. I wanted to do this firstly because I was itching for an adventure, an experience that would be extremely different from my life as a student. I wanted to learn practical things, like how to cook, and clean, and help others, and how to read a metro map. I wanted to experience a lifestyle that didn’t revolve around peer-reviewed articles and studying for the next exam. I wanted to meet people who were different from me and who held views opposite to my own, and furthermore to respect them for it. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, (because no words could better describe Fredericton, New Brunswick for me), and discover how I could integrate myself into a community as a complete stranger. I also wanted to experience one winter in a place where there would be green grass in January.

After three months living at L’Arche d’Aigrefoin, I can contentedly say that my hopes and dreams for this time in France have practically all been met. I have met other L’Arche assistants from Russia, Germany, England, Hungary, Poland, and of course France—what a way to have one’s eyes opened to the things going on in our world! Additionally, I am living a life that is starkly different from the life I was living this time last year, worrying constantly about little other than school; able to write a solid essay, but unable to use a washing machine. Now I spend my days not only washing more laundry than I could personally generate in a month, but I’m also making sure that the bathrooms are sparkling clean, the dishes are washed, that we’re eating balanced meals every night, and that everyone has taken their medication. And thus I lead my relatively carefree French existence… so full of kisses, belly laughs, songs and little adventures with the 7 core members and 4 other assistants I live with. But it hasn’t always been easy. It was challenging at first to communicate only in French, leading to moments where I couldn’t help wondering what I was doing here, but it is in these moments that the most personal growth happens, and where my relationships with everyone grow stronger.

Being here has helped me come to realize that I still am exactly the same person that I ever was, not because I haven’t learned much, but because I realized that I did not need to change. L’Arche has shown me that I am enough, and has helped me to truly understand what John Steinbeck meant when he wrote “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”. We often secretly hope that these big adventures will transform us in some way, but the most fulfilling realization is when you come to see that a transformation is not necessary… it never was. I look forward to the next 9 months here, and all the learning that is surely coming my way.



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