First time abroad traveling alone to volunteer in France

First time Abroad

When I first arrived, I felt as if I was in a dream. This dream though is reality, and that is most beautiful and thrilling part of it all. La Giruadiere looks like a fairy-tale land. This was my very first thought as I stepped out onto the balcony in the morning.  The air in the French countryside is absolutely rejuvenating. The sounds serene, unpolluted, just nature with occasional live music serenading across the fields. Everything – the buildings, the villages, the trees – hold such great history, and I craved knowing each and every story.

volunteering group in France
Coffee time at La Giraudiere

Fields of sunflowers and grapes, cows, horses, and farm homes speckle the land along with moss covered trails surrounding summer homes and pools. The views are exquisite, especially since La Giruadiere is located up on the hills. With this being my first time traveling alone and being abroad in Europe, I was anxious and nervous upon arriving, but in no time at all I saw that there was nothing to worry myself about. I felt very comfortable from the moment Paul picked me up from Chalais. You fall into the routine and how to navigate this area surprisingly quickly, which made it perfect for someone as inexperienced as me.

The Village and local Brossacaise

The locals are very welcoming, as are the other volunteers and Paul our host.  The atmosphere is very relaxed, even when working. The breaks for coffee/tea and lunch are a pleasant time. As you work renovating in the old house, a French radio music station fills the air, and everyone is chipper. You will feel fulfilled after the day’s work and still have plenty of time after for an evening walk or venture before enjoying the good dinners prepared by each other. Fresh bread and wine is ubiquitous and for good reason, the French truly do it right!

Courtyard La Giraudiere
Court yard

The village in which La Giruadiere is located is quaint and quiet, yet still full of many community and local activities. The village is close enough to other towns in the commune, so there are never-ending places to explore. The village is called Brossac. It is a very small and charming town of about 500 people. Many French and English people live in this area and have their summer homes here. Things to do within close walking distance include checking out the town (astonishing 16th-18th century architecture), taking a stroll around the countryside (expect many flower fields and curious cows), relaxing and swimming at the lake, beach, or pools (there are trails, public parks, and a clubhouse). 

South West France has so much

 If you’d like to travel even a bit further out of this village, Paul provides a plethora of bikes for the volunteers. Within biking distance, you can find many a breath-taking chateaux, other towns with great food, bars, and access to see even more of the beautiful southwest. There are always opportunities to interact with the locals, such as at football, loto, tennis, randonee, belote,  poker and petinque (boule) nights. If you wish to travel outside the towns, the main cities, Bordeaux and Angouleme, are only a 30-50 min train ride away. Paris is about a 2 1/2 hour train ride away, which is also worth venturing out to if you have never been. I found the perfect balance here was to spend the work week in town, and then on the weekends go out to the surrounding cities. This way, I feel like I got the best of both worlds, whilst also not breaking the bank entirely.  

Beauvallon swimming lakes
Beauvallon Swimming Lakes

One of my early days during the program, we all headed to the lake for ice-cream and found ourselves dancing to live music. The people here are very inviting, kind, and understanding if you don’t speak French. This brings me to the French culture aspect. Traditionally, all the volunteers at the house eat meals together. This was very refreshing because it makes meals an actual formal setting for conversation. We don’t do this often in the states, since eating is done in a rush. Here at La Giraudiere, time does not interfere. Everything is very laid back, productive yet leisurely. I was responsible for social media, and documenting the set up process for EVS. If you don’t speak French or don’t speak it well, don’t be alarmed. The house primarily speaks English, but of course French is always encouraged and Paul can speak French if you’d like to practice. The French tutor who comes on Fridays is absolutely delightful and helpful. She works with you on the language in a way that is unique to each individual. Make sure to take advantage of the chance to learn from her! She will even teach you some of the French slang you’d never learn back in other countries.

La Giraudiere allways changing

La Giruadiere is constantly doing knew projects, for instance during my time there it was getting ready for its new and exciting project YERRF 2017!  There are endless opportunities to challenge and enjoy yourself here. During my stay, I and the other LG volunteers spent our time preparing the property and workshops for the new EVS volunteers. The lovely old house is in the midst of renovation, and I can’t wait to come back in the years to follow to see its completion and progression, along with all the future projects that La Giraudiere will be taking part in. There is always something to do at La Giruadiere, and here is the chance for anyone to be a part of a life changing experience! 

As I mentioned earlier, the most exciting part is the people you will meet and get to know here. During my short stay, 6 different volunteers arrived and left at different times. La Giruadiere felt like a second home even after the first day and everyone together feels like one big family! There is truly a great dynamic! Every week offers a new multicultural mix of people of different ages and nationalities.

Flowers are in bloom, and all is green! If you come in July, you will see gorgeous rolling hills of endless sunflower fields. Make sure to take a randonnee around the villages and countryside, if you are given the opportunity.

A Culture experience
learn french
French Lessons

In the meantime at the weekends, I was very grateful to have been able to take a journey to Bordeaux and Paris with Mandy! We took the bus, which was cheaper but also a good way to see more of the country.  Some previous volunteers put some information together about trains check out Trains In Nouvelle Aquitaine

From my end of things, I hope this helped give some peace of mind. I had no idea what to expect when I first arrived, but you quickly get a hang of things and feel right at home. I came home to the US in a more clarified and blissful mindset, ready to utilize all that I learned at LG.  All that is new is daunting, but everything that is familiar and known was once new so embrace the unknown!  I have found that it is usually in times of trying something new, taking that leap of faith, and stepping out of that comfort zone in which you discover more about yourself and evolve as a being.

This article was written by By Jordan Taub an American Volunteer at La Giraudiere June 2017

Watch John a returning volunteer from Scotland

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