Hi. My name is Stephen Jones. I am sorry that it took me so long to get this up, I really have no excuse. I am 15 years old (16 in November), and I was a sophomore that was going to attend a second year of Dual Enrollment at Lake Sumter Community College. I was technically enrolled at Tavares High School. And thanks to a chance I have been given, I am now a foreign exchange student in Nantes, France. I am enrolled at St. Joseph du Loquidy.
Since I had all my classes at the community college, I was given the ability to create my own schedule, and I had managed to work quite a bit of free time in my schedule, which I filled with a part time job at Quiznos Subs and two youth groups. One of the youth groups is part of a movement in the Catholic Church, and it’s called Gioventu Studentesca. I have a lot of fun with that, and we are a really tight knit group of about 13 or so.
October 2 Journal
So, I have been here for just over a month now. So far I have had a blast. I have already changed houses once because another family wanted to host me and they could only host me for these two months. I like it here, in my host family I have one sister who is ten (Solenn), one brother who is twelve (Arnaud), and one sister who is sixteen (Alix). In my next host family I will have one host sister that is nine and another that is fourteen. My school is great. Everyone is really nice, and there is quite a bit of free time in French school, but I find stuff to do. I have two French courses (one with seventh graders for grammar and stuff like that), an English course (it’s like taking a Spanish or French course in the States), a physics class (I love my math and sciences), and a bunch of courses that happen once a week. Also, I have rock climbing on Wednesday afternoons. I have been placed in Premiere L, which is the literature section, and if it were not for the physics that I requested I would probably slowly die by the end of the year. I think the school is a good fit though. I have adjusted quite well, I am getting along with everyone, and I like most of my classes. Oh, I have two other exchange students in my class, one from Australia and one from Oregon; the one from Australia leaves in December, and has been here since last January. She isn’t with Rotary though.
Now I have to at least mention the flight…longest of my life. I flew from Orlando to London Gatwick (had problems with ticketing, almost wasn’t allowed on the plane, which is a great way to start a trip). Then I flew from Gatwick (ten hours later) to Nantes, France. I didn’t sleep at all on the first flight. While I had my ten hour layover at London I went into the city and saw Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guards, and Westminster Cathedral. I downed two coffees when I went back to Gatwick, because I was very afraid that I was going to fall asleep, and Gatwick doesn’t give you the gate you leave from until forty-five minutes before your flight. I was worried that I was going to get sick after that because I didn’t feel good. I survived though, I didn’t get sick. When I arrived at the airport in Nantes I had been awake for something like 35-40 hours.
I have met the exchange students in the area and they are a lot of fun. There are about nine or ten in Nantes, and about thirty in a two hour radius. I have been to Rotary once since I have been here it is pretty much the same as Rotary in the States. I remember getting there, looking at the table and seeing four glasses per plate and wondering, “They can’t all be for wine?” Sure enough, I was right - three were for wine.
Oh yes, that brings up another point, I can’t live in France without addressing all the stereotypes. Yes they have wine, bread, and cheese with most meals, and also espressos. The meals are quite regimented with courses that you eat in a proper order. You eat three meals a day, and one snack time at four to five-ish if you are young. All the other stereotypes are completely inaccurate, yes that means they take showers and shave. Though a lot more people here seem to care about the environment, and they all hate President Bush. The only one that I will grant merit to, is that the guys, to me, dress quite gay for the most part, but that is the fashion here, it is almost like a happy/bright version of emo sometimes. Oh, and I have so far encountered no rude French people.
November 22 Journal
This Saturday (11/24/07) will be exactly three months since I have arrived here. It is amazing how quickly this time just flies by. Equally amazing is how quickly and how much of the language I have picked up. I am not fluent, but I have a relative idea of what is going on most of the time, and I can talk almost without a problem. My three months here have been great.
Well, quite recently the French school system had a vacation, and I had a great time. My vacation started by going with all the other Rotary students in the nearest four districts to Mt. St. Michel. That trip was four days (Thursday through Sunday), and by the end I was wiped.
Day one: We all took a train to Sable because that was where we were meeting. We went to this country club, put our bags on the floor, and went up stairs and talked. We were there for four hours or so I think. After the four hours, we were told which houses we were staying at for the night, and then we went there and slept. The following morning we woke up at around six so that we could be at the bus for 7:15.
Day two: We went to a museum in the morning (3hr bus ride), and it was the first place we got to see the students in the other districts. After the museum we got some lunch, had two quick stops at a cathedral and another place that I don’t really remember, and then we went to the American cemetery for WWII victims. There were a lot of graves. When you see something like that it is really a moment were you just stop and go wow. After an hour or so we left and went to the hotel. At the hotel we divided up the rooms, and I was lucky because there were only 3 of us in the room so, we were able to reach a general consensus on a “bedtime” and get some sleep, but man those rooms were TIGHT. There was no space, but we made it work.
Day three: I was first to rise, I am a morning person, at about 6:30ish. I showered got dressed and headed downstairs, because, well there wasn’t really space in the room, and I did not want to accidentally wake someone up (I am a little loud). After breakfast, we packed up and had to make sure not to forget anything because we weren’t going to get it back. Then we put our stuff on the bus and went to the next destination, Mt. St. Michel. We arrived at the next hotel around 12ish, and were given a bungalow for 8 people, but we had 9 guys in our district. We walked to the bungalow to claim cots, and I was kind of the odd man out so to speak because I didn’t get there fast enough, but what we just took a cot from the bungalow next door, which had seven people, and put it on the table, and that was my “spot,” but we all had the feeling we weren’t going to sleep much anyway, which was mostly true. After about an hour we ate lunch and then went to Mt. St. Michel to essentially walk in the muck. Around the mountain is very flat, and the water comes in quite quickly so the entire area is like mud. We walked about 10km (6mi) in it, and it was a lot of fun; all of us had a good time. When we returned, we got cleaned up and got ready for dinner. After we ate, we had a dance which was a lot of fun. Then we headed back to the bungalows, and we talked and just all around had a good time. We stayed up to around 3, 3:30 I’d say.
Day four: We all woke up beat from the previous day. We made our way to the campground-style showers and showered and what not. Then we went to Mt. St. Michel, up the mountain, which was quite a bit seeing on how tired we were. We walked around, but not many of us did much because we were all so tired at this point. Then we returned to the hotel, gathered our things, put them on the bus, and said goodbye to the people in the other districts. We had about a 5 hour bus ride to the train station in Angers. Quite a few people slept on the bus. The rest talked about the great weekend that had just passed. When we reached the station we all had different plans from there, but there were about 10 of us around Nantes that ended up taking the same train, so we were together for about an hour longer and after we hit the city we all parted ways.
That was the Mt. St. Michel trip in a nutshell.
I stayed in Nantes for another 3 days, and the only thing really notable that I did was go to this machine museum thing, with a giant mechanical elephant, and that was pretty cool. After the three days, we drove to Burgundy, because my host dad’s family house was there. It was in the middle of the country. We stayed there for a day, and then went to Dijon, saw all the sites in Dijon, and went down the wine route. That was quite cool. There were vineyards literally as far as you could see in all directions. They call it the golden coast because in October the area is a beautiful golden color from the plants, but we were a few weeks late, and it was mostly browns and dark purples, still cool though. The following morning, we went to an ancient hospice in Beune, which has been around for 500 years or so. Then we went back to the house in Burgundy stayed there for another day. I made pumpkin pie for the family that night, it was quite good. Oh, one great thing about France is that leftover cake equals breakfast.
After we returned to Nantes, I changed host families. I have one 8 year old sister, Albane, and a 14 year old host sister, Perrine. Then school started the day after that. I was able to change to Premiere S, I am really enjoying it; it is perfect. I have math, physics/chemistry, geology/biology, history/geography, two courses for French (one with Premiere another with seventh graders for grammar and whatnot), a PE course one time per week, and an English course one time per week. It is a great class and I have a lot of fun. I have less free time in my schedule, and it is more work, but I enjoy what I am doing and I think I am learning more. Then last Friday I went to a Catholic youth group here, and I was surprised how similar it was to in the states.
I think that right about brings me to here, to Thanksgiving week. Well, I have school on Thanksgiving week because it is not a holiday here. Ironically, I planned a dinner for Thanksgiving night with my last host family, and it didn’t hit me until yesterday that that was Thanksgiving. The dinner should be nice because I will get to meet my host sister that was in Canada while I stayed in the house, and it will just be nice to see them again. (It has been about two weeks since I moved from their house). Then this weekend, a bunch of us exchange students are going to meet up for a kind of Thanksgiving lunch, there should be about 10 of us (7 of us are American). It was originally my idea, and it kind of just morphed into a get together. Then on Sunday, after we come home from mass, we will have a special lunch for my birthday. I will be turning 16, finally. I think that just about sums up what I have done in the past 2 months.
Until the next time,
January 13 Journal
So here I am approaching month 5 (January 24, 2008), which marks the middle of my exchange, and when you get to here you realize how short a year really is. Many people have said to me, “A year! That’s so long! I could not do that.” And well, a year really is not that long. Granted it feels like the time since I arrived has been an infinity, but at the same time, it still feels like I just got here yesterday, and I have to leave tomorrow.
The Christmas vacations ended a week ago (I had wanted to wait to write this until after the vacation so that I would have something to write). The vacation started Friday the 21st of December. I stayed with my family until the 27th. It was nice because a cousin of my family stayed here for 4 days, and he is 16 so it was nice to have someone my age in the house. The week before Christmas was kind of tough, but I made it through. Some of my other exchange friends got hit hard with homesickness. Then on Christmas day it just didn’t feel so much like Christmas here. It was, but for me there wasn’t the massive American commercialism of Christmas, so it came a lot quicker than I thought it would, and was gone just as quickly. Then, for the obvious reason, it wasn’t with MY family. It was nice though. I got some presents, and had some froie gras (a traditional French dish for Christmas time).
Then on the 27th I went to my counselor’s house for five days because my host family left for the countryside, and they said there wasn’t really enough room in the house for me, and that it was in the middle of nowhere, so I would have been bored out of my mind (which is probably true). During the time I was there, I went into the city a couple times, and saw 3 films in French. On New Years Eve everyone had some sort of party they go to. M. Gobet (my counselor) and his wife went to a party in Vendee (about an hour south of our city), and his son, Jean Camille, who is 25, had a party at the house, and I just went to that. It was fun, a little out of my age group though, but I still managed to have a good time.
I went back to my host family’s house Thursday the 3rd of January, but the day I went back Sophie and James came into town. Sophie is from Australia; James is from New Zealand. Matt (California), Jessie (Pennsylvania), and Laura (Mexico) were also going to be there. So I ended up going home dropping off my bags, and going into the city for the entire day. We had a great time. We walked around the city, went to a couple of cafés, ate lunch and dinner together, and played a game of laser tag (not exactly sure how we decided on that). They left that night, but invited us to come to Angers the next day (it’s like an hour by train). So, I asked my host parents and they said that was ok. Jessie and I ended up taking the train together the following morning to Angers. Matt had taken the train the previous night with James and stayed at his house. Jessie and I got into the city around 9:30/10:00. Matt and James came and got us about a half hour later. Sophie joined us at 12 and left at 7. Callie (Tennessee) joined us at 3 and left at 7. We did the usual, wander around for the entire day, and hop from café to café. That was the final week Sophie and James were in France. We were lucky enough to bid them a proper goodbye and spend a couple final days with them. We had a great time, and I miss them. They were always a lot of fun. At the end of the weekend I returned back to school, and school was pretty much the same.
The near future: The new Southern Hemispherians should come in about a week or two, so that’ll be exciting. I believe there is some sort of conference thing during the February vacations where we will get to meet all of them and spend some time with them, but I am not sure about that. In two weeks I will go to Paris to take the SAT. I know, lots of fun, but after I take it I should have a day and a half to tour at my free will so I am excited about that. February 18 – March 3 is our winter vacation; I have no idea what I will be doing, but I am a little excited for that.