Hi everybody! I'm Bristol Marotta and I've been selected to go to France next year!! I'm 16 years old and I live in Palm Coast, Florida. I'm a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Everything and anything I like to do involves nature. Ever since I attended North Carolina Outward Bound School, I've appreciated nature and the outdoors [and showers] so much more. I love to hike, canoe, and rock climb but I haven't had a chance to do much of that in Florida. My hobbies also include reading, writing and learning language.
Before I settle down and become truly an "adult," I feel that I need to accomplish all of my goals: Travel everywhere, learn as much as I possibly can about these places, maybe write a book or two, and really truly make a difference in the world. I know some are a bit far-fetched, but nothing is impossible.
There are not enough words to express how excited I am to have this amazing opportunity. All I can say is thank you to everyone who helped me to make this possible: Rotary, for creating this amazing program and selecting me to be a part of it... my family, for giving me the support I need to succeed... My dear friend, Elena Mascarenhas from Brazil, for telling me all about this great program... my amazing French teacher for teaching me for the past 3 years about the French language and culture and sparking my interest in any language and culture... and so many others. I just want to say thanks to everyone. THANK YOU!!!
August 27 Journal
The departure was SO difficult for me. I wanted so much at that moment to run away and also to run to the plane. I had such mixed feelings about it. I was SO excited to get to go to France and yet SO nervous to leave my family who I had gotten even closer to before leaving. Of course I cried. I cried SO much. I cried all the way until the security line where the security guard held up the line and wouldn't let me pass until I gave him a real smile. After that the tears stopped and I was just excited.
I'm finally here!! I can't believe it! That last plane ride was SO scary, just imagining what was going to happen, what I was going to say, what it would look like, etc. It was SO nerve racking. For the last 2 or so hours of the flight to Paris, Summer and I didn't even pretend like we were sleeping. Instead we talked in an excited whisper about our host families and the language and the weather. We drew on the air sickness bags and tried so hard to stay busy during the time before. Then FINALLY, the girls were all squealing "AHHH!!! We're in Paris!" This was such an exciting time. Now for the difficult part, meeting my host family.
My hosts met me at the airport, and my host district chairman as well. I was the first exchange student out of the baggage claim area and it was crazy to see all the host families patiently awaiting their students. There were SO many because all the exchange student for the entire country have to arrive on the same day in the same airport. I was so nervous, and I hadn't seen pictures of ANY of the family members, so I didn't know what to expect. Finally, there they were! Speaking in SLOW, over-articulated French so that I could understand. It was definitely amusing.
My city is roughly the same as the one back home with much more in it. All of the buildings are brick and very old, because "in this region we have the earth to make bricks" says my host. Its really a cute city, with such cool stores. I like it a lot.
For now, since school starts on the 4th of Septembre, I am a tourist. My family shows me so many interesting things here and I've taken A LOT of pictures. I would post them but from what I can understand my family's computer has a virus and for now it's not possible.
The food here is so different, almost everything is fresh, fresh, fresh, and I am pretty sure that there is not a single type of meat that the French do NOT eat, besides the pets. The food here is well made and we eat A LOT. It seems like all we do is eat. I am never hungry and I can only eat "un petit peu" of food each meal because I am still full from the last meal. It's pretty awesome for those who like to eat.
That's all for now, I will try to get a hold of a computer that can upload pictures as soon as possible!!
September 23 Journal
Wow! Has it been a month already?! I can't believe it! Before I left, I read all those journals and I read how everyone said that it was passing too quickly. I read that. I thought about it. I even thought that I knew what it meant. But no, I had NO idea.
On September 4th, I started school. School in France is very, very different. You do not choose your own classes; you are put with a group of kids (your class) on the first day and the teacher reads the class schedule to you. This is a good way to do it, I am sure, providing that you can understand what is being said, and that you understand that you should be writing it down. I am sure it also helps if you seat yourself in the right classroom. Getting to class, for me, is difficult. The schedule is very complex. Everyday is different and your schedule changes depending on whether it is an odd or even week. Some classes divide into groups for certain subjects. Sometimes a subject will change its classroom without warning. It makes for many interesting days to say the least. It was hard at first, but I am really getting the hang of it, I don't have to follow people to EVERY class and I am actually liking school.
I have made quite a few friends so far and they help to explain things to me when I am completely confused. (I won't fool you; it's quite often.) They're also helpful in the way of language and grammar. I haven't met anyone (besides my English teacher) who speaks much more English than "See you later," and I am grateful for that because I think my French is really improving.
Thank you so much for everything you all have done for me! I REALLY love it here and I really hope that all of the other exchange students are having as much fun as me!
*bisous à tout le monde*
October 27 Journal
Another month, another Rotary entry. Didn't I JUST write the last one?
I am pleased to say this month has been another fantastic one. France has treated me so well, and I am really starting to feel like I belong.
I can answer questions in class, I can have conversations with my friends, I know my way around my city, I can order a baguette in the boulangerie and I can SPEAK FRENCH!! OK, sure, I am not fluent yet, but I have really progressed, and I am proud of my progress.
This month has been an amazing whirlwind: On October 7th, I went to the 100th birthday party of my host great grandmother. It was in a restaurant and it was a very big deal. Everyone dressed up and ate SO much! Every time I thought - this truly must be the last course - it was not. After the final course, everyone went to the grandparents' house and what did we do? We ate some more!
At least French cuisine is well-made and not quite as caloric as American food! (Although at this point - I must admit I've gotten a good start on the Rotary 15.) It was a nice celebration and I got to meet a lot of the host family that I hadn't gotten the chance to see yet.
Also this month, I've gotten to go downtown with my friends to look at the stores and get a <<look plus francais>> (a more French look) and I love doing that! Even if I don't buy anything, its always fun to look. My friends really seem to enjoy making fun of me because I talk to the salespeople (something that's clearly not done in France).
The 23rd of October (also known as my 2 month anniversary with France), I was invited to see my Rotary Club and to give a speech to them about how I like it here, and about Florida and myself. Although my speech was primarily for my Rotary Club, I was told that it also had another purpose. When I arrived I had only one family to host me, I was to give the speech in hopes of another family "falling under my charm," said my host counselor.
Well, I don't know how charming I was, having forgotten everything I had practiced so hard and having to make up a new speech on the spot, but my counselor later told me that I had enough potential families to last me 2 years. - How cool!
I really loved my new Rotary Club and I found all the presentations very interesting. The theme was "United States" and It was fascinating to hear what all my new friends think about my home country. I had such a great time.
But, in my eyes, my exchange is not about all these great once in a lifetime experiences. It's not about the monuments I have visited, or all the great opportunities I have been offered.
My amazement lies in the little things, the normal everyday things that the French seem to not notice, never recognize as special: the new word I said that just came out perfectly, that story I read without having to look up a single word, the store owner who didn't think I was American, the first lesson I understood, the look from my friend that meant she knew exactly what I was thinking, even if I was thinking it in another language.
This is hard to understand if you're not an exchange student, how could these "normal" things compare to the magic of the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower? These things, these ridiculous, amazing, beautiful, little things are what MAKE my exchange. The fact that I can have normal moments and not just be a tourist makes this so special to me.
Merci beaucoup Rotary, vous avez changé ma vie avec plusiers choses que jamais je n'aurais imaginé.
"Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return."
December 7 Journal
This one has been another wonderful month- filled with new friends, new adventures, plenty new words, and, of course, new foods! I started off the month with a bang, I had "autumn vacation" and I got a chance to hang out with my friends, go to the fair, and help my friend paint her new room.
Then, the day school started up again, after only 2 hours of class, I was whisked off to Paris with my Rotary Club. They took me to see the National Assembly and I got a chance to see all the people inside talking about laws. It was very exciting to know that I got a chance to see what some people living here their entire lives will never get to see. I am so lucky. After the National Assembly, we saw an exposition of the works of Gustave Corbet, which I found to be very interesting as well, since I read about him a bit before going. After the exposition, it was dark outside and when we started driving home, we passed by the Eiffel tower which was all lit up. It was quite an amazing end to a beautiful day.
The next night I went to the 20th birthday celebration of my host cousin with my whole host family. It was a fun celebration, though I'll admit, I was still a little tired from Paris. There was plenty of festivities, lots of people, music, and of course, lots of food. Everyone was very happy and ended up dancing and eating until 5am. What a nice celebration.
Not very long after that, my friend Julie invited me to her home to sample a French specialty that I hadn't yet had a chance to try - frog legs. Her mother cooked plenty, and I surprised even myself by asking for seconds, thirds, and even fourths. I have to say, I really liked them. What an experience!
Since school has started again, I have been busy with trying to understand, and trying to rid myself of the Rotary 15 at the gym. (Although, with a boulangerie next door to my school, it's not easy.) But I got a break and last weekend, my Rotary district had another exchange student reunion. This is something I really look forward to because I live the farthest away from all the exchange students, and this is the only time I get to see them.
We visited the very north of France, Calais, and before the reunion started, my host parents took me to see the beach. Well, let me tell you, it isn't Florida. It's still very pretty, but it definitely isn't warm, and even the adventurous exchange student that I am wouldn't be seen in her bikini there any time before July. After snapping a few pictures, I hurried out of the stinging rain and back into the warmth of the car.
With the other exchange students, I visited a miniature village called St. Joseph's. There was plenty to do and plenty to eat. After a "small" lunch of fries, ham, some kind of 3 meat in one dish, and apple pie, the exchange students split up into groups and went on a sort of scavenger hunt. My group, of course, won the challenge. It was a fun day.
I found out recently that in January I will be changing my host family, and will be changing every 2 months after that until I leave. (Wow, my counselor wasn't lying when he said that I had a lot of potential host families...) Although my current host family is nice, I appreciate the ability to experience another way of life, to see the French culture through another family's eyes and I am excited to see what new things I can learn from my next family.
This is what we're here for anyways, isn't it? We are here to learn, to grow, to have new experiences, and to be challenged. Maybe not all the experiences are interesting (though most of them are), and not all the challenges are fun, but they do all help us to be stronger, to be smarter, and to be someone new. So I'll say again, like in every entry before, thank you Rotary and everyone else who's helped me, for pushing me to become this new person, thank you for challenging me, and thank you for another great month!
December 27 Journal
This journal is in response to the question I've been receiving quite a lot lately... Won't missing Christmas with your family in the USA be hard?
Missing Christmas with my family, our traditions, our spirit (some may call a bit over the top), and just the general ambience of the whole holiday shebang wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I didn't find it that difficult at all. Sure, I missed my family but at this point in time, I have already passed 124 days without them, and I have at least 160 more to go. So, when you think about it, this is just another SHORT day that I have to cherish and learn. This is an amazing day to learn things about my country, because during the holidays, one does the things that are truly important to them. Needless to say, I spent my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day eating A LOT!
Christmas Eve: oysters, foie gras, lamb chops, amuses-bouche, cheese (bien sûr), trou normand (ice cream), Yule Log.
Christmas Day: appetizers, oysters, foie gras, chicken, York ham, salad, salmon asparagus, Yule Log, cheese, ice cream.
(& I am actually sure I am forgetting a lot...)
I spent a lot of time with the family of my host family. They are extremely generous and they even gave me some nice Christmas presents (one of which includes a small collection of French recipes, so that I can remember how much we eat in France.)
At the moment I find myself anxious to change my host family to experience a new lifestyle, different people, and another change. The 4th of January, that is exactly what I will do.
As I start to pack up my suitcases and look at the things I have accumulated since I arrived here just 4 short months ago, I think about everything I've done. A little Tour Eiffel. Ribbon in the pattern of the French flag from the supermarket. A mug from the National Assembly. Notes passed in class. Postcards from Paris, Guise, St. Quentin. How is it possible that I've done SO much in so little time? I don't think it is possible for me to list all the things I've accomplished since the start. When I started this journey more than a year ago, filling out applications and making sure every copy had a signature in blue ink, I don't think I knew exactly what an amazing adventure I was getting myself into. I knew, through these journals, that I was in for something great, but to understand the feelings behind every new discovery, every dream come true... you can't get that from a journal. There is no way, even with English as my first language, to put into words how this feels. You have to live it. And, thankfully, here I am. It's great. Thanks again everyone!
January 7 Journal
I realize it's a little soon for my next journal, but something happened that I would like to share with all of you. I changed my host family. This is an extremely important part of the exchange, in my opinion, so let me take you through the process.
A week or so before the scheduled change, I started getting my stuff together, getting organized, and thinking a little bit about moving. (Retrospectively, I think the early packing was a bad idea, since I ended up needing things that I packed, and pretty much unpacked everything I had already packed, hence repacking was necessary on moving day.) About 2 days before the change, I found it more difficult to get to sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was really excited, but also a little nervous. I was so happy because I had met the family and they seemed like a perfect match for me, but at the same time, I couldn't help thinking that changing the host family is a bit like starting over. Re-adapting to the family's routine, finding the rooms in the house, and introducing my personality and culture to the family... it really is like starting over.
But then I thought some more (you see why I had trouble sleeping) and, well, it's not really the same. Now, I can speak French (quite well if you ask me) I understand much more of the culture, and I've got a bunch of friends who will take care of me (especially if during lunch I can't quite figure out how to open the front door and no one is home.)
And even if I am starting over in the family department, I am not starting my exchange over- in fact my exchange is almost half-finished, and if you ask me, a new family is one of the best ways to start the second half. Now I'm with my new family and I can tell you for a fact that I had nothing to worry about. They welcomed me into their family with open arms and are some of the sweetest people I've ever met. (They ARE Rotarians, after all.)
A big thank you to Rotary for giving me this great new year, I hope yours is as great as mine!
And P.S. to all the 2008- 2009 Outbounds, I hope that you are preparing to have the year of your lives!! It is what you make it!
February 27 Journal
I figured it was time for another journal- so much has happened!! Since I last wrote, I've passed through new friends, new foods, vacation, old friends, and even a new host family! Wow, we've got A LOT to catch up on!
I was recently invited to spend an afternoon with some girls in my class that I had never spent time with yet. I was really happy about it because it gave me an opportunity to make new friends that otherwise would have been difficult to obtain. (I find that my school tends to have very separate cliques.) So I gladly accepted their invitation to lunch at a local créperie and then catch a movie. I think this was an afternoon well-spent.
In the genre of new foods, I am proud to say I have now tasted tartiflette, raclette, blanquette, shark, and tongue. I am always happy to try new things and I am pleased that my host families generously give me plenty of opportunity.
Now for my personal favorite update- vacation. In France, we have 2 weeks of winter vacation in February when lots of people go skiing. My family did not go skiing this year, but instead took the chance to show me some more of France. During the 1st week of vacation, we went to the north of France to a beach town at the North Sea called Le Touquet. I LOVE this town! I got a chance to visit its market, stores and even tan a little bit (in my sweater and jeans, of course!) During the 2nd week of vacation, we traveled down to the center of France, near Moulins ... an hour away from Summer! My host mom and I decided that it was as good of a chance as any to see each other again, and we did! I was extremely happy that we could see each other, compare French accents, weight gained, and explore a city that neither of us had ever visited, together. It was a REALLY nice day!
A week later, I returned home- St. Quentin- and changed my host family for the 3rd time. I love my 3rd host family as well. Unlike my two first host families, there are always plenty of people at the house. I have 4 host sisters! They are 6, 12, 15, and 16, and they are all VERY nice and helpful! Its a fun environment, and a very big change.
Now I am back to school and understanding everything more and more. I am quite pleased with my progress and, of course, life in general. I REALLY love it here - thank you so much everyone!
April 29 Journal
Already in April?!! I sincerely doubt the possiblity to tell you EVERYTHING that has happened to me in the last 2 months in one single journal entry, but I'll try to write a brief summary:
In the beginning of March, I started out by watching a great comedy about my region of France called Bienvenue chez les Sch'tis. It was very difficult to get tickets, since everyone wanted to go and see it. But, one Tuesday evening, my host family came home with tickets for everyone, and we all had a really nice night.
A week later, I got to try snowboarding with the other exchange students on a fake ski piste. Being from Florida and never having done anything like that before, I probably spent more time falling down the slopes than actually gliding like I imagined, but I had a lot of fun all the same.
The week after that, I was excited to learn that I had earned my very first point in Economy class! This is a VERY difficult class for me, and after hearing week after week "Marotta - zero," finally, I got the chance to hear, as tests were being passed back, "Marotta - un. Felicitations." (Marotta - one. Congratulations.) I took a bow in front of the class. Don't worry though, my other grades are much better! That same week, I saw a play by Shakespeare with my French class, Othello, and, OF COURSE, I understood! (It still shocks me that I can understand everything.)
A week or so after, my friend invited me to go with her to watch her father race go-karts, so I stayed at her house the night before, and we left EARLY that morning to prepare for their race. I never realized HOW MUCH preparation is involved- we had to be at the track at 7AM for the race at 2PM!! It was really fun to learn more about the cars and get to know my friend even better.
The two weeks following that were our spring break, which I spent at Le Touquet- a beach town in the north of France- with my host family. These two weeks helped me to: get to know my host sisters better (since we all share a room), lose a bit of the weight that I've gained since I have been in France (since we walked or biked everywhere), and even become a bit bronzée (tan, since we had beautiful weather).
The week after, I got to do a high ropes course with the other exchange students. I don't mean to brag (maybe a little bit) but I was one of the few people and the only girl to do the hardest level, black. I do have to represent Florida, don't I? Also during this day, I got to talk with the French people who are leaving next year, including Arthur, who is coming to Florida next year, and wow. That is SUCH a shock to me that it has already been a YEAR since I was in their position!!
And now, here we are - only TWO months away from the end of my exchange. Only ONE more time that all the exchange students get together. Only TEN more weekends. My adventures in France no longer seem endless. The date "July 9th, 2008" strikes fear into my heart, but all I am concentrating on right now is living every last day of my exchange to its fullest, saying EVERY word, making EVERY friend, and living EVERY adventure that I can possibly dream of before my time is up
Again, a BIG, HUGE, ENORMOUS, "merci beaucoup" to everyone who has helped me make my exchange a dream come true!!
Until next time!
June 6 Journal
This last month passed way too fast with so many amazing milestones- too many things to mention in any great detail: birthdays, traveling, shopping, taking every picture, living every moment that's left... [It definitely shocked me to learn that some of the other exchange students are already home!] But there are two things that need longer explanations:
The first is the Rotary District Conference in my district. This was a moment last year that really started the exchange for me... really made me realize how real it was. (I still remember every feeling evoked by getting my blazer, marching behind the French flag...) So, returning to another Rotary District Conference was already pulling on a million emotions, but to add to the mix, it was also the last time I would see the exchange students!!
It was great time, and I was really happy for every last minute. We made a skit in our French regional dialect, paraded our flags [me proudly waving the Rotary Flag] and ate a delicious meal [France wouldn't be complete without it!]
But before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to everyone and all of a sudden, I was talking and crying and taking a million pictures of everyone and basically, in true exchange student fashion, taking forever to leave. It was probably the hardest part of my exchange so far.
The 2nd huge event, that absolutely MUST be mentioned, is my birthday. What an AMAZING day! My host family had a surprise birthday party for me - and I REALLY didn't see it coming at all! Here's how it happened:
My host sister, Marion, came into my room to ask me if I wanted to go with her to my second host family's place to help her baby-sit. I go with her a lot to baby-sit, so I thought it was normal and I agreed. We got to their apartment and my 2nd host sister feigned sickness and volunteered to stay home with the child we were supposed to be babysitting. Having "called the baby-sitters for nothing," my 2nd host mother decided to drive my host sister and I back to our house.
When we arrived, some friends of the family, all three of my host families, and even my best friend from school was there!! It was really great! Everyone toasted to me, I blew out 18 candles, and they were even thoughtful enough to present me with a few gifts. I was so happy, and I even cried again. I could never thank everyone enough for giving me such a perfect night.
The next day, my birthday, I went to school and was greeted by my best friends who had hugs, gifts, and even my favorite French pastry for me. It was really sweet and made me feel really appreciated and more than that, extremely lucky.
To close this month's entry, I want to say the same thing I always say, but I want you all to know that, if it weren't for you, I never would've experienced these amazingly magical moments. So all I can say is...
July 18 Journal
I am home.
This is not really the truth.
I am in one of my homes. I am in the United States. I am with one of my families. These statements may be accepted as truth, but just plainly saying "I am home" just does not tell the whole story anymore.
Two weeks ago, I was in France. I was packing. I was stressing out. I was enjoying my last week.
And now I am in America. Weird.
I decided to spend my last week in France with my host family. I am really glad I made the decision to reserve this week for them, because I was already REALLY close to my friends and I got to see them the day before I left, to say goodbye anyways.
The last week with my host family, we tried to act like everything was normal. We baked cakes, danced crazily around the house, watched movies, went shopping, filled up every spare moment with something fun. We got so much closer. I loved it.
More quickly than expected, THE day came. The day we woke up at 5:30, packed my bags in the car, did a quadruple check of the house, and headed to Paris.
I bid a tearful adieu to everyone, and I was off. It was really hard, harder than anything I've done, but luckily, I met some Rotary exchangers in the airport and had a few adventures before taking off. That helped me to put a smile on.
Since I've been home, it's really weird. I just miss everyone in France so much. This year passed so quickly that it feels like just a dream. But I know it wasn't a dream. It was so real to me and I will always keep the lessons I learned, places I've been, and people I've met in my heart forever.
Thank you so much Rotary for everything. I wouldn't have been able to change my life so completely in such an amazing way without you.