Well, my second stay at Combeuil has come and gone. (Combeuil is the name of the little village where the farm is; they don't really ever refer to it as La Combe des Saveurs, its title on the WWOOF France website). So glad I came back; this second time felt like an extension of the first; it really seemed like I hadn't left. Plus, the strawberries were ripe!
This farm was definitely a life-changing experience. Last night, we had a mini-party partly in my honor (some neighbors plus a couple friends of Tom and Léo and the friends' mother). It was supposed to be an outdoor BBQ, but the last two days it's been raining steadily (which is good in general, as it was really dry for a while before hand); however, it did mean that my last two days there I mostly just sort of sat around the house (they don't do a lot of outdoor work when it rains; we had been planning to plant two new rows of raspberry plants, but as it was mid-40s (Fahrenheit), it was too cold to do so. But definitely a nice send-off with the gathering last night (chatting, drinking some wine, generally a warm and nice atmosphere). And this morning, I gave the family a few gifts, which they seemed to appreciate; everyone expressed mutual regret that I was leaving. They sent me off with a kilo of honey as well as an ammonite fossil that Vincent had found in the Alps (they have a lot of nice fossils that they found during their years as shepherds in the Alps). I plan to go back someday, and I will definitely stay in touch with them.
At the dinner last night, one of the neighbors asked me what I would be taking away from this place (figuratively). I told her that being there has opened my eyes to the possibility of different life-paths. As Vincent said on multiple occasions, there is a particular path/ framework that lots of people (especially people like me, and most of my family friends) feel more or less constrained by, consciously or unconsciously: college, graduate degree, decent-paying, mostly-indoor job with the ability to climb the ladder within that career. I admit it was a bit of shock for me when Véronique talked about how Léo probably wouldn't go to college; he's a smart, motivated kid, but, as she put it, it just wasn't really his thing. Off the top of my head, I can't actually think of anyone that I know well who didn't go to college. And I never even questioned that fact- somehow, I had more or less discounted the vast number of people in the Western world that never went (or will go) to college. I'm not suggesting that I'm sorry I went to college, or that it's problematic in some way to do so. But through my conversations with Vincent, I recognize now that my way of thinking, my worldview, and the available life-paths for myself have all been very much constrained by the the world I grew up in. Don't worry: I am still planning on going to Yale in the fall. But other ideas for my "career" now seem much less like crazy, wouldn't-it-be-nice dreams, and more like real possibilities.
Another thing that I will "take away" from my WWOOFing experience in general is that I am indeed still young. (I feel that I may already have written about this...?) In any case. I could conceivably take 10 years to find my "path" and still be perfectly fine. Since graduating from Amherst, I've felt a sense of urgency, both within myself but especially from friends/ acquaintances who have also graduated, that you have to "get going" right away. Find your career, and start working towards that career. Clearly, for some people this path is clear and non-problematic. But for others (like me), I think it will take a while to figure out what I am actually going to be doing long-term.