Brianna Wilson
2006-07 Outbound to France

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Sponsor: West Jacksonville Rotary Club
Host: Moulins Yzeure Rotary Club 
District 1740, France

September 4 Journal & Pictures
 It's about 6:30ish in the morning in France and I feel this rush of anxious excitement and "Am I really here," shared by the 30 or so exchange students getting off the plane. We're greeted by a large group of Rotarians who start speaking rapid fire French to us, to which we promptly forget that one French phrase we'd practiced over and over again on the plane. I find my counselor, who luckily speaks English, and get through the preliminary questions about baggage. Then, after a two hour drive and a quick meal with my host club, I meet my host family at their/our house in Yzeure.
My town is actually three towns by name, but one town by proximity. I live in Yzeure, one of the three towns of Moulins. My host family is really sweet and my host Mom has dedicated herself to making me fluent in French. She works on my pronunciation for about 30 minutes a day if she can. This past week has not only been my first week in the country, but also the last week of Summer Vacation here in France. My host mom, who is a school nurse, has taken me on a whirlwind of activities I won't be able to do during the school year. So far I've gone on a kayak/canoe trip, gone to an American Jazz concert (which is apparently very popular here), gone a horse and cart ride (which my host father drove), gone on some escapades with my host family, signed up for my classes at school (10 of them!), went to a traditional French Dance, and visited a Town called Vichy. Like I said, a whirlwind.

Vichy was interesting. They have this water there that is suppose to help you, health wise. My host mom had me try all the different types, which there were about 8, while she said, "This one helps with digestion" or "this one helps the pancreas" and so on. They all tasted like metallic, warm, tap water to me, so it was nice to hear my host mom tell me that most young people aren't particularly fond of the taste either. The traditional dancing was also a lot of fun. Apparently, the Traditional Dance for France if a mix of the Waltz, the Polka, and Line Dancing. Well I know how to Waltz and Line Dance, but the Polka was difficult!

I haven't had much culture shock yet, past the showers being so different. I think my biggest change so far has been me getting a cat. Yes, a cat. On my first full day in France I go on a horse and cart ride with my host family and in the woods we find these baby kittens someone has dumped. Well my family takes pity on them and me and my host sister beg them into taking one home to be our cat. They asked me to name it, and after much deliberation, I choose Florida, since it's where I'm from and my host family's daughter, Hélène, is staying. It's absolutely adorable!

I also start school tomorrow and I have to say I'm nervous and excited. According to my family, I speak French OK, but my comprehension...well... that's still coming along! Still, I'm excited to find out what this year has in store for me through places and experiences!

Hope everything is going good with all my comrades at the different parts of the world also!

Brianna

November 19 Journal
 Monday you end at 4pm, Tuesday at 6pm, Wednesday at 9am (but come back for 1 to 3), Thursday at 3:30pm, and Friday at 5pm. And you start every morning at 8am, except Thursday. Then, lucky you, you start at 9am...
Welcome to the French School System, which is more confusing than I could have imagined. For a few weeks I didn’t even know I was missing a class and often I find my class has changed rooms. Also "Gym" class here, I found, doesn't mean basketball, Ping-Pong, volleyball, or even normal athletics. It means gymnasium for the gymnast... Like the Olympics. Very Different.

Life is good, though, here in France. My host family keeps me busy with weekend trips to Lyon, traditional dancing, hiking, and movies. I went to a film festival in my town and really liked it. My host mom bought me a ticket for ten entrees plus a cine-concert, and the final film. I saw three sets of short films, 4 foreign films, 3 French films, and 1 Belgium Film, which I preferred. Quite funny.

Also the vacation just finished. My host mom kept me busy in the countryside for most of it. The first Thursday and Friday of it I walked around some small towns near Clermont Ferrand with my host family.... And hiked a Volcano. Yes a Volcano. There are actually three chains of Volcanoes in France... All relative close together and all relatively close to me... And all inactive and gorgeous. The one I hiked was called "Le Puy de Dome" and it's 1465 meters tall. The following Saturday and Sunday were filled with family Birthday's and the Monday I spent biking around and visiting my town. That Tuesday I went to a small Halloween party with a few friends. It was fun, consisting of face painting, eating, dancing a lot, playing charades, and singing karaoke with out the words. I then went hiking in the countryside for three days with my host mom and aunt. We hiked a lot of small mountains (or at least mountains to me) and another Volcano, "Le Puy Mary", which is 1787 meters. The first time I hated it, but now I actually like hiking. The last two days of the vacation I rested because I caught a cold, which has luckily disappeared now.

But, alas, as I said the vacation is over and school has recommenced. This means people asking me for corrections on their English and political conversations. Politics are hot here with the change in politics in America and the upcoming election here. People often ask me my opinion here on the American politics, to which I carefully choose my response and often choose the route of "I don’t really like politics" to avoid a debate that would be very difficult for me. Though I understand most now, it’s still hard to talk. But, day by day, it’s getting better.

Now I look forward to Noel and cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. I explained Thanksgiving to them and they liked the idea of celebrating it with me so they can understand it better. I have to say, as good as French food is, I’m looking forward to Pumpkin Pie.

Speaking of food, I’ve gained weight here, so I’m now biking to school. It’s hard to resist French chocolate, and French bread. And Cheese. Yes, the strong cheese that I actually dreaded when I arrived, I now love. I guess that’s the difference. I’m changing here, but not in any dramatic ways or all of a sudden, but little things little by little. I like cooking, walking the dog, and hiking. I can actually clean the house without leaving soap suds behind. I understand things that I never thought I would in French. I’ve adapted to the French way of life and love it…

"Je suis contente de ma vie."

January 31 Journal
 Host dad pulls jokes on me all the time!
January: It’s finally happened! One week ago I wake up and my thoughts are something like "It’s the weekend! No it's Tuesday. I hate Tuesday'. Blah. It's such a long day. What's that I smell? It smells like wet dog. I bet it's the dog. Or maybe some old socks. Etc, etc." You get the gist. I stumble out of bed and, after dragging myself into the hallway next to the door to the outside, my host dad asks me if I've looked outside today. My thought: "No of course I haven't. I just woke up." He then opens my door.

A slight gust of wind blows in and I look outside and one word fills my head. It has first filled the outside, and continued to fill the outside for the ENTIRE day. It trickles down quickly to my mouth as I (some what scream) the words: NNNNNNEEEEIIIIGGGGEEEEE! (Which translates into: SSSSSSSSNNNNOOOOWWWWW!) I made snow balls, had snow fights, made snow angels, and tried to make a snowman... All without gloves, since I'd forgotten them at home.

End of the day comes at 6pm and I wait outside the school for my host mom. The busses aren't running, too much snow. Though aren't running today either. Anyways, I wait for 40 minutes, and my excitement for the snow has died out. I now just want it to stop. It doesn't, of course. I try calling my host mom's cell. No answer. I call the house. My sister answers: "The car isn't working, can you catch a ride?" My response: "Everyone's gone."

"Then you're going to have to walk home. Sorry." That's a 20 to 30 minute walk. I'm freezing. So I stop into my counselor's house, who lives in town, and ask for a ride. They say yes, thankfully, and I get home around 8pm. Anyways, because of all the snow I officially had my first snow day. :D! I was very, very happy. Yeah for Snow!

Then last weekend I spent the weekend with Rotary! It was so much fun to spend the weekend with all my different Rotary friends again, seeing how we’ve changed, and meeting the Rotex here! I met two old exchange students who went to District 6970 (one in Jacksonville, one in Gainesville). But I have to say my high point of the weekend was when I arrived and got to spend some time with my exchange sister, Emma Roux! She looked so different! I only stayed with her for 30 minutes, because she had to go, so I didn’t get a picture of her. But I’m hoping to spend a week with her in April!!!

The saddest thing that happened is my host sister in my new family just left for a year in Canada. That was sad, because I really got attached to her. But I’m hoping to see her this summer and she says she’ll try and make a trip down to Florida at some point…. Still it was hard to see her go.

I have now been here 5 months, though it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. I’m starting to think about when I’m going home now and it’s a scary thought! I don’t want to leave! I’ve heard other exchange students say that before, but it never felt so real until now…

But I must think of other things, and there are plenty of other things to think about. Oh la vie, la vie … la vie of a Rotary Exchange Student…. A year that is unforgettable.

A bientôt !

Brianna

June 1 Journal & Pictures
 Every day I walk to the same school, go to the same classes, see the same people. I know what stores I like, which clubs have the best reputations, and where to go when I need a quite place. I know the local sport teams, the market workers, and the local political subjects. I know about cheese, bread, and wine tasting. If someone stopped me on the street, except for my “petite accent”, they would think I’ve lived here my whole life…
And every evening when I open my window to close my shutters, and I hear the bids singing and I feel the spring wind, and see the cute house tops of the neighbors, I think: “Do I really have to leave this in two months?”

Yes, my dear readers, I have fallen into the typical Exchange Student pitfall - not only have I fallen in love with my country, I feel like I am French. I’m having the typical mixed feelings of wanting to come home and see my family and friends and at the same time not wanting to leave. I’m nervous about being accepted by my friends, knowing I’ve changed and that they must have too. And, in the middle of all this confusion inside my mind, trying to stay concentrated for the end of the year exams. Life, as usual in May, has been hectic.

My days are filled with reviewing for the final exams, theatre, and “football”. I am currently performing the theatre here with a local troupe. We have four shows, total, and my family, who came to see me about two weeks ago, even got a chance to see one. They were very surprised to see me performing the theatre…In French! And yes, this sports-hating, theatre girl has now become a soccer fan. I now often help my little brothers, ages 8 and 12, with soccer practice, before heading to my accordion lessons.

I am also with my third, and final, family now and quite happy. They treat me as one of the family. I even got a birthday card from my “French Grandparents”, that I’ve never even met, who said that “Our daughter considers you her daughter. She loves you very much. Therefore, we are your grandparents”… Yes, I’ve had a “successful” exchange - a new family, life long friends, and a new country that I now call home. I often get asked, now, “When are you coming back?” And, as much as I’m looking forward to my return to the US and continuing my life there, I answer:

“Soon. Very Soon. Now that I know the France, how can I live with out it?”