Amber Ridgley
2005-06 Outbound to France
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Flagler Palm Coast High School
Sponsor: Flagler County Rotary Club
Host: Issoire Rotary Club, District 1740, France

September 19 Journal

I waited patiently on the plane awaiting the journey I had gotten myself into. I arrived in the Paris airport - who knew it was soo big!!! The French language echoed in my mind it felt as if I was dreaming. From the Paris airport I had an hour flight to CLERMONT airport were I would see Pierre again and greet my host family for the first time. By this time anxiety filled my body.

I remember directly walking through the baggage clam area as some glass doors opened in front of me. There stood a crowd of people waiting for me. I gave Pierre a hug and said long time no see, and then my host mom hugged me as if she already knew me. I gave my host dad two kisses the famous French way and greeted the president of the Rotary Club here and my counselor.

OK I will fast forward a week into my stay. Wow school here is so different than in Florida. Kids here do not talk in class at all; they all come in, sit down, and do their work ... no side conversations or questions being asked about weekends. Is it possible for me to have culture shock this early on? At school is where I truly feel that I am an outsider in a foreign world. Getting adjusted to their system is hard, but a challenge I am working through. Advice I have for others: take things slowly and try not to get frustrated. I seem to be doing fairly well in my language - I find it much easier to understand than to talk back. I'm still working on that part.

I have my own room with pink sheets on the bed - very chic. A wooden desk and a very pretty chest door thing to put my stuff in. They have a cat, her name is Zora, and she seems to like me. Also it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to flush the toilet and I thought toilet flushing was universal, all done the same way. The weather here is much different from the heat and humidity of Florida. It's cold cold cold!!! At least to me it is and it's not even winter yet. I have snow and skiing in the mountains to look forward to and might I add I have never seen snow!

I live in a small town here which is absolutely amazing and everyone knows each other. You cant pass a corner without saying hello to someone you know. Everything is old which adds an extra uniqueness to the homes and buildings. Cafés are everywhere. The true French essential. I must say the French really do love their bread and cheese. These two items are a must have for every meal. The bread is fine for me but..... the cheese is another story!!!!

The past 2 weeks I have been here I've seen some beautiful places and of course I took lots of pictures that I will share once I figure that part of my camera out haha.

I guess we can say I'm still trying to find my place here. It seems to me like I am sitting back observing how the French live. Like I am moving in slow motion enjoying every little moment of the day. It's wonderful I made it here. I keep telling myself that as I stare into the mountains that make up this town.

Thank you to all that made this exchange happen for me. I truly appreciate it!! Shout outs to my other exchange students across the world - hope all is good !!!!

Until next time

October 21 Journal

EVOLUTION MOVES FORWARD NEVER BACKWARDS BUTTERFLIES NEVER BECOME CATERPILLARS

(eric jerome)

With that quote in mind I'm going to start my second entry. THE FRENCH LIFE THE FRENCH LIFE that rolls through my head every sec. of the day. Every thing is lovely here. I couldn't ask for anything better well... maybe a million dollars lol just playing. My host family are the sweetest people to me. I feel so much like a part of the family I don't even feel like I'm living in someone else's house!!! My host brother Antoine is the cutest thing ever. I think me and him have so much in common, he likes to break dance and always has music blasting in the house. I like to dance and I'll die if I don't have my music!!! He reminds me of an older version of my little brother Mario - it's so weird how this family is so alike with my own family!! Vincent (that's the magic name right there) my host dad is the most funniest person I think I've ever met. He is always joking around and he sings around the house no matter what he is doing and for fun he runs all the time and I do mean all the time. My host my mom Francoise is soooooo sweet, she's just like a mommy to me "ambert (my name pronounced in French) are you hungry ... do you need this do you need that???" me- non je suis bein!!! And of course my now older brother Pierre just understands me so much I can talk to him about anything and he is willing to listen no matter what it is!!!

Ok Issoire is an amazing town. I'm always there walking around with my friends and we go to cafes quite often, guess you can say I'm blending in with the French quite well. My life here is starting to become just that LIFE! I do normal things, wake up go to school, do work, come home, and all the while I'm thinking, OH MY GOD I'm living a French life yeah!!!!!! For me I walk down the vast assortment of streets Issoire has to offer saying, I made it here, I did it, I did it! And then splat I stepped in dog poop, one of the many things France has to offer - it's everywhere here!! ok moving on. At school I have an adventure everyday. I can never just go to school, something always has to happen to me. Let me share one of my school days with you and let's keep in mind French school is not the same as in Florida - the class splits into groups sometimes and maybe one group has class one hour while the other group does not. Me being the exchange student that just hears blah blah blah all day didn't know I was in the group that had class! So I went to a place where kids go when they are free for one hour. After 30 min passed a unusually big French man walks in the door and says ATTENTION EST AMBERT ICI???? English is Amber here??? Everyone looks around and I stand up OUI C'EST MOI!!!!! English yes that's me!!!!! The conversation after that......

FRENCH GUY- Ambert don't you know you are suppose to be in class right now
ME IN MY HEAD- if I knew I had class would I be here right now?
MY REAL REMARK- oh really look at my schedule it says I don't
FRENCH GUY- oh yes but you are in the other group today so you have class
ME- oh my god what!!!! sweat dripping down my face
ME AGAIN- ok I will go to class - puts on Rotary smile

i stood up then in horrific embarrassment, looked around at the other kids wondering why my French sucks so bad and why I didn't know I had class. I moved my legs to walk and they felt like I was glued to the floor; with all the strength I had I walked out the door. Fresh air hit my face relaxing me for a cher min. but then I realized I have to walk into my class a half hour late. Then I felt a tear roll down my face, my whole body felt so heavy, and it was hard to breathe. Somehow I managed to make it up the 3 flights of stairs to my class without breaking down completely. My fingers gripped the door knob and I think my guardian angel pushed me in the door because I would not have walked in on my own. With French eyes staring at me I went up to the teacher as some kids yelled oh Ambert est la!!! then giggles!!! the teacher looked at me trying to figure out what to say to me and the best she came up with was oh did you forget you had class??? conversation.....

ME IN MY HEAD AGAIN- no how in the hell does one forget they have a class maybe just maybe I didn't know I had one!!!!! can you stop laughing at me please I'm an exchange student I don't always understand, can you step into my place for a min. live my life for a hour!!! tell me how you would be feeling right now??? it's not fun not always understanding or not knowing!!! after all this could you still smile could you last being in my position (evil laugh) REALITY- oh I didn't know I had class, sorry it will not happen again - Rotary smile (starting to wear off)
TEACHER- find a place and sit down!

Yes and that's just one day at school. The other day I went to school thinking I had class but noooooo I wasn't aware that my teachers were not going to be there and neither was my class. WOW I feel like I'm in an episode of diary on MTV ..... you think you know but you have no idea this is a day in the life of AMBER RIDGLEY the exchange student hahaha but it's all fun!!

I'm looking back on those experiences and they don't seem as bad as they did when it was happening! And in a way I'm thankful for that because if not I wouldn't have any stories to share with AL and the future exchange students at those interesting meetings when I get back!! So I'm loving all my experiences good and bad and to the onlookers don't worry that's just one of my many exchange student breakdowns, not the first and I'm sure its not the last!!

Never thought I would be able to share such interesting things about my life and that's just it, now I have a LIFE!!!!!! THE FRENCH LIFE!!!!! And now back to my quote that started this off. I'm thankful for all of this because I can't stop time... I can't pause the world to suit my enjoyment... and as I watch the days disappear into memories I think about what I can do. I can enjoy every single second of the day even if I am just sitting around. I can and I have opened up my eyes. I see everything now. I'm starting to see ME! The real me. I've abandoned that insecure Amber, the one who always cared what people said or thought about me. Because here it's so different you can't help but to change and grow up a little everyday!! And I truly am in love with my life!!!!

until next time my curious friends......

December 8 Journal

Flash makes me feel good, feel like a queen and it gives me all the panache that I want that I need and it will all be over in a flash!!!!!! (Lenny Kravitz)

Wow how long has it been? It's my 3 month mark and it feels nice to live life in France! Ok I will start things off with the weather. Well here in the part of France that I am in it's pretty cold. It snowed one day but not that much. I was fascinated b/c it was my first time seeing snow! I was on my way to school and it was raining a little and before I knew it the rain turned into ice and the ice turned into snow. I stopped walking, held out my hand, and started jumping up and down saying snow snow snow!!!! For me it was great but I think I scared one guy with my excitement - he gave me a look like wow did you take your meds this morning? To get a little more familiar with the snow my host dad took me to the mountains where there were tons of it! He also threw a snowball at me!! (thoughts) hmm cant' wait until it really snows b/c then its war hehehe!!

Alright November was the most busy month I have had. On the 19th it was my host brother Pierre's B-Day. So to celebrate he went to a Moby concert and then with the family we had a really big lunch with everyone and he got a lot of gifts and we ate some really good cake! On the 27th I had dinner with all 3 of my host families at my Rotary counselor's house. I enjoyed it b/c I got to spend time with everyone. My 4 host brothers and my host sister was able to get to know me a little better. Not to mention my host parents as well. Here I found out the dates I will be changing families: Jan. 1 I'm going to my second family, then on the 15th of March I'm going to my third family and then on the 1st of July I'm going back to my first family for goodbyes. I also found out that I will be going to the Alp mountains in February with my second family. With my third family we are going to travel around the south of France! So yep Ima be pretty busy. Ok now on the 28th of November I had an important school presentation to give about where I come from along with the other exchange students. So that was some major anxiety. Actually my presentation went great. I made a poster, did a power point and had lots of pictures to share. (Thank you Rotary for the tons of speeches you made us give before leaving b/c that really helped me) I was able to give my presentation smoothly in French. My Rotary counselor was there with his wife and all 3 of my families to support me. I felt so special!!!

School is going ok. I mean there is nothing I can really say - school is school no matter where you are. Now that the teachers have noticed I understand, I do work now. Like reading in front of the class, taking notes and having questions asked to me. You know school stuff. French kids really take school seriously not saying that lightly!!! Me I'm like wow slow down enjoy life a little bit. But I would be the same if I were French. All comes down to culture, the magic word. It explains everything when you're an exchange student! (even the food that raises question marks).

I'm not really homesick, I'm enjoying my time. I mean I do miss my friends and things but I will be back! I won't ever be in France again at the age of 16 as an exchange student. So I'm making the best of this moment. And it is wonderful b/c I understand French now. I do have my moments when I have to ask someone to speak slow or something. But the thing is I understand!! Now I just have to work on talking. I still think in English so talking is always a lil more complicated. Of course I'm going to get it though!!!!

Right now I want to take this time to talk to my fellow exchange outbounders. Hey you guys we made it!!!!!! You're in your destination!! I miss y'all bunches, can't wait for us to meet up again. Enjoy this because everything comes to an end. And to those inbounds enjoy the Florida life. Wear some flip-flops for me and drink some Dr. Pepper. Hope you guys are enjoying life!!!!

THANKS FOR EVERYONE WHO HELPED ME GET HERE. ALL OF OUR HARD WORK IS PAYING OFF !!!!

January 3 Journal

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL 2006 YEY!!!!!!!!

So yes we have entered into a New Year bringing more wonderful and interesting experiences.

My Christmas was awesome. I spent 3 lovely days in PARIS. Paris being my number one dream place in France and I was there!!! I must say Paris is exactly what I expected. There are so many people from all parts of the world enjoying everything the city has to offer. Languages flood your ears as you walk the streets of the city. The fashion really is outstanding too!!! I was with my host family, yes all 5 of us in a European car. Interesting experience, but the city did make up for the car ride there. On top of all that it was during the holidays so the city was decorated with tons of Christmas lights. The lights added a wonderful romantic fairy tale view of Paris. Guess what you guys - I stood under La Tour Eiffel!!! It's huge but I think Hollywood blew it out of proportion, it seems taller in the movies. I walked through the grand doors of Notre Dame and took pictures of the Arc de Triomphe. I was reduced to the size of an ant in front of the modern glass pyramid of the Louvre. I took a night ride on the famous Bateauw Mouches on the Seine River. I stood exactly in the middle of the Champs Elysèes and snapped a picture of myself!!! I even stood right on the Rose Line for those who read the book the Da Vinci code or know your history well then you know what I am talking about. I'm still flying in the sky from my trip to Paris!!!!!!!!!

I spent Christmas eve here in Issoire with the family!! We went to the parents of my host dad and ate a grand dinner. The French don't eat that much so I can't seem to figure out how we spent almost more than 3 hours eating. Don't get me wrong, I love the food, it's great!!! So we ate and at 21:00 pm we opened our Christmas presents from the family!! I got some cool things!!! On Christmas morning me and my family opened gifts from Papa Noel (wink wink) and then we went and ate some more for long hours at the mom of my host mom. It was our 5 hour lunch!! Overall Christmas was nice. I did miss my family and friends some. This was my first holiday without them so it was kind of hard!

OK for New Years I went to the mountains with a friend and her family to celebrate!!! That meaning having no signal on my cell phone eating for long periods of time and watching a movie next to the fire place!! Actually it was pretty funny my little host brother was having a party so the rest of the family had to find their own things to. My host parents went to the south of France and Pierre went with some friends. I had fun with my friend though when 12:00 came around, we gave kisses and acknowledged our accomplishments and all our future ones!!! I even got to take a hot bath!!!!!!!!! See I know that sounds ordinary but in a normal French home there is just a shower and no bath. So it had been a long time!!!!!! It was like my New Year treat hahahaha

So the holidays were not bad at all. Now I have found myself being able to count my remaining months on one hand! It's a bitter sweet happiness with that! But I did make a New Year resolution....... it's to be fluent in French in the next few months. YES YES I know I should be practical so in the next 2 weeks I will be completely fluent hahahaha I'm just joking = )

May 31 Journal

Jamais dit jamais mon père ici ill dit ça tout le temps !!!!!!! et maintenant je compred!!!!!

Wow long time eghh yes I know my journal kinda stops in December, but folks let's not forget that I've built a life here and with that said I'll start my entry....... hmm but where lets see......

JANUARY- I changed to my second host family les Foulland a very nice family here I had 3 host brothers but I only lived with one because the others were away at school!! This family a completely different dimension than when I was with my other family - we were very different people. I know that this exchange is about getting to know and understand another culture but well I'll just say our differences separated us and caused for me to leave the family earlier than planned; mais bonne c'est la vie!!! So in the middle or end of

FEBRUARY - I changed to my third host family which was a well needed and welcomed change! Les Martins - they are such a kind and caring family I will miss them a lot! I had a mom Carman, a dad François, host brother Charles (10), and my host sister Cecile(16) comme moi I had an amazing time with this family. They took me all around France. I went down to the south for 3 days to see the beach ... ok let's say that the water in Florida is waaaaaaaaaaay warmer but nonetheless it was beautiful. I put my feet in the sand for the first time in 7 months it wasn't quite yet summer time so I didn't bust out my swim suit, but the vacation gave me time to get to know my host family a lot better and it brought us closer.

SCHOOL - ummmm I LOVE the French kids. I was able to experience something truly French. I'm not sure you Americans heard but throughout the month of February, March, and April there was a HUGE strike here concerning CPE - all the high schools and college kids around France protested, schools were closed for weeks, and I learned some really cool protest songs!!! VIVE LA FRANCE

Also with my second family they took me on a week vacation to PARIS; for the first 3 days we went to Disney World for my little brother Charles. Let me say that this is the only park in Europe so there were TONS of people, like always I had fun!!!! With this family I saw another side of Paris that I had never seen before. My host dad enjoys history a lot so he put a whole new outlook on things! I was able to visit the tomb were Napoleon is buried! I saw where they kept Marie Antoinette the last days before she was beheaded (that's the last French queen if you guys weren't sure) I went to many French theatres I was even lucky enough to see an opera in the famous Paris opera house - A ONCE IN A LIFE TIME EXPERIENCE! I have lots of memories, feelings, and emotions that I just can't express with writing so hopefully I'm expressing myself well enough for you guys to understand!!

At the end of April I changed back to my first host family not because there were problems, but because my host mom missed and wanted me back so now i'm here enjoying my last few weeks where I started all this first. AMAZING AMAZING AMAZINGx100000000 I say this because my French well......of course I'm fluent and as of now I find it hard to write in English so sorry if there is mistakes. I can't not believe I could NEVER (jamais) have imagined I would get to this point now!!!! I'm happy that I choose to do this, in the end it really is worth it, all the tears and hard work. I'm just now coming back from Toulon with my family for 3 days - that's on the Cote D'Azur in the south of France.

I'm enjoying my last few weeks here sucking up the last of the French vibes just relaxing and living it up!!!! I have some bittersweet feeling because I really am going to miss my life here, my friends and family, my daily routines, and I must say that I'm scared of coming back because I have changed so much, and the Amber you knew before is not there anymore. I grew up in more ways then I expected and you can see it showing through everything I say and do. Also I find myself now thinking with 2 perspectives on life: the AMERICAN way and the FRENCH way, the two mixed up together!!!! The more things stay the same, the more they seem to change, don't you think it's strange?

Merci à tout pour cette experience!!!!!!

(Pictures coming soon.)