My Story: A Novel Change in New Zealand

The hard­est thing about chang­ing your life is de­cid­ing to take the plunge

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Front Page - BY SAMUEL LOUSSOUARN

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’

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