Jackie Longo 
Destination: France
Sponsor Club: Orange Park Rotary Club
School: St. Johns Country Day School

September 17

My year in Chambéry, France has gotten off to a great start. My host family could not be nicer. I feel completely at home with them. They have kept me very busy since the day that I arrived. I have been to Mont Blanc, one of the biggest mountains in all of Europe, and Chamonix, a French city that is just minutes away form Italy. My host family has taken me hiking a few times, and I went rock climbing with friends of the family. This past Sunday, my host family took me to Geneva, Switzerland for the day. In French it is called Genève. It is a very beautiful city that filled with history!

I have met many people my age through school, my host family, and Rotary Youth Exchange. On September 22nd and 23rd I am going to an orientation in Annecywith the 35 other Rotary Exchange students of district 1780. I know that will be a great weekend! While I miss my friends and family very much, I am having a great time here. I am really glad that I came! It is so beautiful here; sometimes I think that I am in a movie.

November 14

Well I have been in France for almost three months now. The time has gone by so fast! I have made so much progress with French. I still have a lot to learn, but it gets easier day by day.

I had a week off from school at the end of October, and I was lucky enough to travel to Paris with my host mom! We stayed at her sister's apartment in the middle of Paris. I had the best time! Everything was great: the food, the people, the shops, and most of all the scenery. We visited all of the important sites, (The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Versailles, Notre Dame, etc.)

School is going well. I have made many friends, and the classes are getting easier because I can pretty much understand what the teachers are saying now. The teachers are very nice to me too. Some of them don't make me take the tests, and some of them don't grade me if the test is too hard. I am in the Volleyball and Theater clubs at school which also helps to meet people.

I turned 17 on November 6th, and my host family surprised me and invited about 10 of my friends from both school and the Rotary to the house for dinner. We ate raclette, which is a very typical meal of the French Alps. It's kind of like fondue, but with potatoes. I also received many birthday packages in the mail from both my family and friends at home so all in all I had a really great birthday!

There are 3 other girl exchange students in my town who I have come to be good friends with. They don't go to my school, but we often get together on the weekends or see each other at Rotary meetings. I love to hang out with them, and it's funny because we speak half in French and half in English! That's about it!

January 11

So much has happened, I don't know where to begin! I guess I will begin where I left off- Obviously they don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in France because it is an American holiday. So Thanksgiving was just another Thursday at school for me. I only realized that it was Thanksgiving day when I was eating French Fries in the school cafeteria for lunch! However, the following Friday night all of the exchange students in my District as well as their host families and host Rotarians got together for a big dinner with the theme of Thanksgiving. Each exchange student brought a dessert ( I made an apple pie).

December went by very quickly. On the 8th of December I went to Lyon, (a big city that is about an hour away) for the festival of lights. There were thousands of people walking through the tiny  streets, and all of the people put candles in their windows. It was really beautiful.  It was a great start to the Christmas season. I got out of school for Christmas vacation on the 20th, and you're not going to believe this... on the 21st I flew to Portugal with my host family! My oldest host sister, Julie, is engaged to be married to Luis, who is from Portugal. So, the whole family went to Portugal to celebrate Christmas with Luis and his family. Luckily for us, Luis and his family speak very good French so the language was not a problem. We stayed in Portugal from the 21st to the 26th. I think that we spent most of the vacation at the dinner table! One thing that I can say about the Portuguese is that they really like to eat! However, we did manage to get a little site seeing in as well. We visited some really old, beautiful churches. We also drove to the beach one afternoon just in time to see the sunset. It was amazing!! A little cold, but still great. We had a good laugh because about 99% of the buildings and houses in Portugal are white with red/orange tile roofs.  

Before I came to France, I thought that Christmas away from home was going to be the most difficult part of my year. It really wasn't bad at all. For me, Christmas is my family so this year being that I was away from my family it didn't really feel like Christmas. But that didn't bother me because while it didn't feel like Christmas it was still really interesting to see how they celebrate Christmas in Portugal. On Christmas Eve we had a really nice (4 hour) dinner, and then at about 11 pm we all exchanged our presents. Then we got in the car and went to midnight Mass. I was exhausted and I didn't understand a word that the priest was saying, but the church was really pretty so that was enough for me! After the Mass, we went to a friends house and had tea. By the time that we got home and went to bed it was 3:30 in the morning. So on Christmas day we all slept in late and had a nice brunch together. It was kind of weird to have a Christmas morning without opening presents but it made me realize that Christmas is about more than the presents.

I was very happy because when we got back to France on the 26th there was snow waiting here for us!! It made everything look about 100 times more pretty! So we took advantage of the snow, and  went cross country skiing a couple of times. Now, I am from Florida and have never skied in my life so I was really excited to try it out. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised because I didn't fall that much and managed not to break any bones! Then on New Year's Eve I went to a party with a bunch of friends. We spent most of the night dancing, and didn't get to sleep until 6:30 in the morning. It was really fun, but a little exhausting. Then on Jan 2nd I went to Valmeinier with my host family because they have a "chalet" right by the ski station there. I spent three days snowboarding. The first day was a little rough, but after that it was lots of fun. The weather was beautiful and there were lots of cute Italian guys because Valmeinier is very close to Italy. But I didn't talk to any of them because, well, I don't speak Italian!

Then on the 5th I came back home to Chambéry and changed host families. Here it is required that we live with at least 3 different host families. Had it not been for this rule, I am sure that I would have stayed the whole year with my first host family. I am so glad that they have this rule because my new host family is so nice . I haven't even been with them for a week, but I have already learned a big lesson: just like American families, not all French families have the same traditions and ways of life. With my new host family, I have 2 host brothers who are 12 and 15. There names are Vincent and Thomas. They are normal teenage boys: love the TV, video games, and sports. My new home is really cool. We kind of are out in the country (I can see cows from my bedroom window). The house actually used to be a farm. My room is huge- I have my own bathroom, telephone, CD player, and 2 extra beds.  So far I have really enjoyed my new family. Of course I miss my first host family, but the whole point of me coming to France was to see French culture and make new friends. So the more families that I have, the more friends that I will make!

My time is flying by in France. I can't believe that it is already 2002! We have changed over to the Euro- the new European currency. I love it because it is very close to the American dollar which makes life easier for me!

Oh yeah I almost forgot... I have a good friend who is probably going to spend next year in the US with the Rotary Youth Exchange. I am hoping that he will be in Florida!!!

Au Revoir,