Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

poem- cat woman May 26, 2014

She slashed him.

.

Pain scratched and yowled around his brain,

longing for palliation.

He saw compassion and affection in your eyes

wrapped his hands across your neck and

in the explosion of  agonized ecstasy,

you choked down his hurt.

.

She twitched her fingers.

.

With his backward gaze,

he saw anguish curling lithely behind your eyes.

You saw his pitying relief, even as his pain

purred so loudly in your head

it blocked the words

he should have said.

.

.

.

This one is for Amber

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The surreal life July 14, 2013

Filed under: Rotary — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I thought I’d share with you this recent comment I left on the blog of a young lady recently returned from time abroad (slightly edited for broader audience!)

We have a saying in Rotary, “Once an exchange student, always an exchange student.”

If I am in a room, outbound exchange students find me, whether they know I was one or not. They bounce in their chairs, anticipating their year, and I share their enthusiasm, offer packing tips, and give them hugs.

At school, students from far away sit in my class room to discuss ‘life’ in the surreal bubble that is an inbound exchange year.  They vent their frustrations, shout their celebrations, observe their confusions.  I listen, encourage, bake, and give them hugs.

They write when they’re back home,  rebound students, about the strange dream that their year abroad becomes in memory.  The students my club sent join me at my table at our Rotary meeting upon their return in a numbed stupor.  I commiserate about the loss they’re experiencing, the strange sensation of being home, but being far from home.  I give them hugs.

Suomi1983Lanttagoodbye

See that sad face? That’s me on my last day in Finland posing with my 4th host family. That is the face of a broken heart. Still miss them and think of them every day!  (Thank heaven for Facebook).

We are tied by the experience of youth exchange, because it’s all paradox.  We feel disconnected and connected. Lost and found. Happy and sad.

We each leave pieces of our heart behind in these places that become our second homes, and we never get them back. Hopefully, those we love and leave behind, cherish those pieces for the precious parts of ourselves that they are. Sometimes we are blessed with an opportunity to hold those people against our hearts again, but most of the people who made such a profound impact on our lives, we will never touch again. It is a bitter sweet reality of those who live and love abroad.

Welcome home. Welcome to life with pieces missing. We just go on.  We find others with missing pieces and we hold each other as we celebrate what we have known.

Rotary Youth Exchange:

Opening minds and breaking hearts

since 1929. 

If you know any exchange students returning home this month.  Listen to their stories, ask questions about their year, and give them hugs.  They really need them right now.

 

Becoming ‘puoli-Suomalainen’ June 2, 2010

I have 5 mothers, 5 fathers, 17 siblings and two nations.

I am a returned Rotary Exchange Student, and my experience living abroad changed my life. I was blessed to live for a year in Kotka, Finland (Suomi to the Finns) and now my world is paradoxically both larger and smaller.

My first involvement with Rotary was with at a Candy Striper conference the year I was in grade eleven. Katy Jensen, a Rotary Exchange student from New Zealand, was a delegate from a hospital in her exchange community. She described her adventures in Canada and a world of possibility opened up to me. I decided to find out about the program.

I knew my high school vice-principal, Bob Lemon, was a Rotarian, so I asked him about the exchange. He told me to watch for information about interviews the following September. I have noticed since that a lot of students miss out on the opportunity because the interviews happen so early in the school year. If you’re looking at exploring an exchange, be sure you’re hunting for the application details the first week back at school in the fall!

It was a thorough interview process. A short application to start. Next there were interviews at the club level. A longer form. An intensive panel interview at district level. Then thick application form package. By October I had been chosen to represent District 5060 in Finland. Wow. I didn’t know a thing about Finland, so I had a lot to learn to prepare for a year there!

Many people wonder how I ended up in Finland. Short answer: by mistake. On my application, my 3 choices were Belgium (the only French speaking country the district was exchanging with that year), Japan (obviously about to explode in economic activity with Canada), and then…. I had no real interest in anywhere else, so I chose Denmark because it was near Belgium, and I really wanted to see the Vimy Memorial.

The district committee lost some paperwork and they phoned to ask again what my country choices were. I was out as usual volunteering or something. My mom knew the first two, but couldn’t recall the third choice. I had a Finnish pen pal at the time, so she said, “I think the third was Finland?” The rest is history. No one ever asks to go to Finland. No one even knows where Finland is! They were so excited that someone asked for Finland that I was a shoe-in. They happily phoned to offer me an exchange in Finland. What was I going to say? I went.

I tried to learn Finnish before I left. I’m good at languages. It was something completely new. Finno-Ugaric languages have very little in common with Romance languages! When I stepped on the plane with Karyn Engler I could say a few things besides the basics of please and thank you, hello and good bye:

“I’m a Canadian exchange student.”
“I don’t speak Finnish.”
“I’m hungry.”
“I’m thirsty.”

“I’m lost.”

“Where’s the bathroom?”
“Get your hands off me.”

“ice cream” and “Help!”

You’d be surprised just how far those simple phrases can take you! (By my first month in Finland I’d used them all!)

Unlike most of the other outbound students, I had not heard from my host family before I’d left Canada. All I knew about them was from the letter I’d received from my club exchange officer: their professions and family composition. It was very scary going off to a new culture and language with so little information, but it was an adventure and I was ready for anything.

After a week of orientation in Karkku my host father and sister came to get me. We had a few hours to drive to get to Kotka where they lived. I liked them immediately. They were quiet, intellectual and kind. My sister had a shy smile that won me instantly. It was when I arrived at their home though, that my true transition began.

As I opened the front door, a warm bundle of love grabbed me in a crushing hug and weepily exclaimed, “Tervetuloa! Velcome!” As my host-mom beamed at me with excitement and affection, I knew I had a new home. I was on my way to becoming half-Finnish “puoli-Suomalainen” in my heart.

.

PS.  Click on “Rotary” on the categories list to find my other blogs on being an exchange student.

 

 
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