My Story: A Novel Change in New Zealand
The hardest thing about changing your life is deciding to take the plunge
Thirty-four-year-old Samuel Loussouarn is an English-to-French translator of children’s books and young adult novels. Born in La Roche sur Yon, France, he now lives in Wellington, New Zealand. He misses his godson and French cheese.
IF I WERE to choose a beginning to this story, I would settle on September 12, 2014. Faustine, now my wife, and I were having a picnic on the banks of the Canal de l’Ourcq in Paris before going to a concert at a nearby venue. Now that I picture it, it all seems very idyllic: the setting sun, the water, the picnic and a rock concert to look forward to.
Paris is a marvellous city but the two of us were living in just 28 square metres and spending hours on the subway to get anywhere, and we were never free from traffic noise. I wanted a different setting and a different way of life.
After spending six years in a major publishing company, Faustine felt she wouldn’t get any more out of it than she already had by staying any longer.
By the still waters of the Canal de l’Ourcq, we decided to open wide the floodgates of our life, and see where the flow would take us.
In just 15 minutes, we came up with a plan to give our life a new direction. We surveyed our strengths and what we liked. We were good at managing cultural events, we loved books and we spoke French.
The calculation was as follows: cultural events + books + French language. Then, we added ‘travel’ to the equation, since we wanted to see the world. We quickly had our answer: a travelling van, full of French
children’s books, sharing our love of reading and opening youngsters’ minds to another culture – in this case, French culture. The ‘book van’ perfectly conveyed the image of the journey – both geographical and imaginary – that we wanted to infuse into the reading experience.
We decided on a project that would promote French as a foreign language in New Zealand and develop cultural awareness through books.
We decided upon New Zealand for two reasons. Firstly, New Zealand is an English-speaking country, and the only foreign language Faustine and I have in common is English. Secondly, New Zealand is the furthest place from home that we could possibly travel to.
We spent a year planning the project, using every spare moment. It was a very exciting time.
On 22 December, we arrived in Auckland ready to make our project a reality. We headed south to Levin, to a friend’s property in the countryside, bought a second-hand, white Toyota Regius van and spent a week there fitting it out. Borrowing our friend’s tools, we installed a couch-bed, bookshelves and a storage unit. It was just as we wanted – a sturdy space to live in. We were now ready to hit the roads of New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
Our first discovery was a great little bookshop called Paige’s in Wanganui. On display they featured Paris, Up, Up and Away by Hélène Druvert, the very book we planned to use for our in-class presentations. We took this to be a positive sign and asked the owners if we could return the following day to test our presentation on some children before we went on
tour. They said, “Yes!”
We stopped at almost 30 schools, starting with Waimea College in Nelson.
Faustine and I were both nervous, not knowing what to expect but happy to have each other to rely on. The kids were great and the teacher wrote about us on an online teachers’ forum, which led to other teachers inviting us to their schools.
We also visited Alliances Françaises centres, libraries, bookshops and galleries. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, we were surfing a nice wave.
What we had not foreseen was that this geographical and cultural trip would also become a truly human adventure. Having a very limited budget, we offered our services in exchange for food and accommodation the night before an event. French teachers, Alliance Françaises members and gallery owners hosted us. We were really touched by the generosity of the people we met. They opened their doors to us – total strangers – and made us feel at home. We met wonderful people, explored Aotearoa in a way no tourist would, and discovered new opportunities. Our project led us to develop cultural awareness among others while, on our side, we were enriched by experiencing the life and culture of the incredible people we met. Then came the time when the backwash inevitably drags you back to where you started. Six months passed in a flash and we were sad about leaving. It had been a very powerful experience and we had made many friends. We were hoping for a happy ending and it came! We met a great children’s book publisher in Wellington who offered Faustine a two-year contract to work in New Zealand. Faustine was delighted to accept the position and I’m happy to be a translator in New Zealand, since I can do my job anywhere in the world.
When I think of the picnic by the still waters of the Canal de l’Ourcq, I’m grateful we took the plunge and opened the floodgates of our life to initiate a change. This kind of move might only result in the flow of a little stream (our homemade book-van project), but a stream is bound to reach the river and then the ocean.
In the meantime, Faustine and I are still surfing the wave.
Do you have a tale to tell? We’ll pay cash for any original and unpublished story we print. See page 4 for details on how to contribute.
We had not foreseen that this geographical and cultural trip would also become a human adventure
Samuel and Faustine pose in front of their ‘Little French Book Van’