Summer Wilcox
2007-08 Outbound to France

Hometown: Keystone Heights, Florida
School: Keystone Heights High School
Sponsor: Keystone Heights Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Clermont-Ferrand - Chaine des Puys Rotary Club
          District 1740, France

Summer's Bio

Bonjour tout le monde!!! I am Summer Wilcox and I am psyched to be going to France! I was born in Gainesville Florida, but I have been living in the small town of Keystone Heights for most of my life. I am proud to say that I will be one of the first students from Keystone Heights to ever participate in the Rotary exchange program.

I would call myself outgoing and very well-rounded. I've been involved in almost everything from sports, drama, dancing, and now (since I'm trying to finish my junior and senior year up before I go), I mostly help out by volunteering at the elementary school or for my local Rotary club.

I'm really into reading/writing. I read everything from philosophy to science fiction. My favorite books are the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy series because of the author's wacky outlook on life (which a lot of people say I have). In my spare time my friends and I have Dance Dance Revolution/movie get-togethers or we go "out on the town" which usually includes a cafe of some sort or a second hand book shop.

I'm so happy to be involved with this program. I have already met so many wonderful people and I feel incredibly lucky to be working with them. All for now and more to come. . .


August 30 Journal

Oh la la! I’ve been in France for a week and I’ve been having the time of my life:

The day before I left for France one of my friends said she would spend the night with me so that my mind would stay off the million things that could go wrong. In the end three of my friends stayed the night and one met up with me at my house at five in the morning. This was very generous of them since they had school the next day. I think this made the whole goodbye process a lot easier for me and everyone else.

I didn’t sleep at all that night, but I was ready to go in the morning all the same. My last American breakfast was Burger King at the airport (I ordered a crossantwhich). I shared that last breakfast with my family and we sat there going over all the important things like money and calling home. There was no crying. We spent most of the time reassuring one another that everything was going to be okay. Let’s do this.

Bristol and I ended up waiting an extra two hours because our flight was late. It went well. There’s a Starbucks and we had plenty to keep ourselves preoccupied. On the flight to Washington we were too excited to really concentrate on anything like reading so we either squealed about what lay ahead or listened to music. I don’t think either of us could believe we were going to France.

In Washington we met up with Sheila from Bokoff-Kaplan and a bunch of other Rotary Exchange students going to France. Tons of card exchanges. I think we waited there for about three hours. All of us started freaking out when we heard the French being spoken around us on the plane. This was the final step for what we were waiting for all year.

When we finally got to the Paris airport we were greeted by dozens of French Rotarians. I saw a short man that I recognized from a business card that was sent to me months before. It was Pierre Costecalde!!! He gave me my first official French greeting and seconds later another Rotarian was taking pictures of us. The Governor of my district was there so I took photos with him as well. The Rotarians found me a place to sit while they looked at my flight schedule. They were all huddled around it and then all at once they looked up with faces saying, “Aww! You poor thing!” I knew why. I had to wait in the airport for eight hours for my connecting flight.

 There were either students who had their host family already at the airport or those who had to get on connecting flights. I had a connecting flight to Clermont-Ferrand, my city which I now live in. I translated for other outbounds when they wanted to talk to the Rotarians, so that boosted my confidence a little. The Paris airport was almost alien looking, but it was great for people watching. One minute you see a British punk, the next a monk. I had to stay awake too because I had departed from the Rotarians and I couldn’t check in my luggage until an hour before my flight took off. That meant that I had to watch my luggage. There were a couple outbounds left so it wasn’t so bad. I met one from Thailand. I gave her an American dollar coin and in return she gave me a pineapple cake from Thailand. Making international relations gives you the best feeling.

My first and third host families met me at the airport since my current host mother and my third host mother are cousins. They gave me a bamboo plant and I laughed because it was the last thing I was expecting. Merci pour la. . .la. . .bam-boo? Oh! Bam-bow! D’accord! There was someone there from the local newspaper to take pictures of the inbounds. So far I’ve met a girl from Mexico and another from Missouri. I also met a girl on the plane who lives close to me and she gave me her information if I want to go shopping, so again more confidence boosting. I too collapsed when I got home.

I love my room, my house, my family, my city. . .EVERYTHING!!! I have my own balcony that has a view of the volcanic mountains and the city! It’s so beautiful here! I love it all! My city, like I said before, is Clermont-Ferrand and has so much history that it would take forever to go over. I will say that it is known for the black volcanic stone buildings, like the Cathedral, and it’s also the base of the tire company Michelin. The French want you to know that it’s not The Michelin Man. His name is Bibendum. Anyways, there are plenty of things to do here. I have a bus pass now so I will be trying to do as much as I can. I think the Rotary club here is either going to let me do fencing or dancing, so there’s that as well. I’m going to be busy!

The last couple of days have been a series of parties and initial foreign exchange student things. I am introduced as the “little American.” The first party we had was for the relatives for my host dad. I made brownies for everyone and wow! They loved them! They ate them all! Of course, I’m eating lots of cheese and French food! Don’t doubt that. I’m eating too much food to go into detail with.

 The third day we all went to my third host family’s house on the Virgin Mountain because it was the festival of their mountain. There were banners and decorations all over this small village and everyone was out and about celebrating. I’ve been speaking only French by the way so this event was a lot of practice. It seems like I met everyone in the town.

At a certain time everyone in the city climbs to the top of the mountain where there is a large statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. There are speakers all over the city so while we’re doing this everyone is singing and saying prayers together. At the top of the mountain we had mass and after that was done everyone went back down to their houses to party. Again, there were many family members. One of the cousins had a boyfriend from England that I watched rugby with. It was so much fun and the food was amazing. Afterwards we all watched fireworks that they shot at the top of the mountain around the statue. It was breathtaking to say the least.

Today I went to my school to set up my classes and I found out that I will be in terminale, which is like twelfth grade in America. They said if I find it too hard I can go down to premiere, but I’m liking the challenge so far so we shall see. The name of my school is Massillion and it is historical as well. It’s an international Catholic school where many of the Michelin employees send their children to go to school. The principal already gave me the name of a girl who attends the school and whose dad is American so she can speak English as well if I need any help.

The only thing I’m worried about now is sticking out too much. I think it’s very obvious I’m American with the clothes I wear. Not many people have curly hair here so that’s another factor since mine is and long at that. I’ve already tried to go shopping and I would say the look here is … Russian Despair? I think the weirdest thing that has happened to me so far is that my host mother flipped out when I asked if I could buy multi-vitamins. It was as if I asked if I could eat fire. “You eat all foods here everyday! No one takes vitamins here! You are healthy! Only for the children!” I wasn’t prepared for that, but I laughed it off anyways. I also wasn’t prepared for there not being any ice in the drinks and everything being so small. I’m loving the differences though. It’s French, therefore I love it.

I’m so glad I did this program. I’ve met so many people and made so many friends that there’s no way I could ever repay what this has done for me. Thank you Rotary!!! Thank you family!!! Thank you Madame!! Bonne chance to fellow outbounds as well! I love France!


October 7 Journal

 Everyday France gives me a new outlook, a new word, and a new love everyday. The number of each varies from day to day. I truly believe that I have an incredible amount of luck to be in such a country. Every day I take a step back and think, “I can’t believe I’m doing this! How incredible!”

A major source of my happiness is coming from the fact that my host club here makes sure that I have something to do every weekend and then some. I’ve done so much since my last entry and I have a whole schedule of things to come. I’m going to try to compile a list from the top of my head:

I went to a chateau called Ravel where a famous French film, The Chorus, was filmed. The garden design of the Chateau was done by the same person who designed the gardens at Versailles!

I visited a pottery festival near the chateau as well. People from all over France were there.

My host parents took me to see many of the area’s lakes and natural attractions such as Lake Aydat and the Puy-De-Dôme. This region is famous for the (dormant) volcanoes. It was hard to climb at first, but they said I’m from Florida and that I swim with alligators. Therefore I can do anything. J I’ve kept that outlook ever since.

Went to the top of the Plateau of Gergovie where a battle of Gaul and Julius Caesar took place. Gaul won. I’m going to stop by there next weekend again to see the world’s biggest kite.

I’ve been to a countless number of cathedrals and churches. The one that stands out the most is called Orcival. I think it’s the oldest in the region.

I visited the volcanic park Vulcania, which is like Disney World for volcanoes. I know it’s weird because you don’t associate volcanoes with France, but don’t worry! They’re all dormant, so it’s all good.

Today I went to another cathedral to go look at an exhibition of a man that was from Key West. He wasn’t there, but I signed his guest book to say hi.

The trip to Vulcania was with a group that my Rotary club set me up with called World Top. It’s an organization for all the foreign students at the local colleges. I was the only person from a high school so that was advantageous. The majority of the group was either Chinese or German. There were people with nationalities that I had never met before like Cameroon, Gambia, and Morocco. The thirty of us had each brought a dish from our country to share with the rest of the group. I, of course, brought brownies and in turn ate a Russian salad with a Spanish omelet. For dessert a couple of girls from Ireland gave me some coconut chocolate, which wasn’t actually Irish, but oh well. All of us spoke French to each other. It was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget. I get to see them all again on Christmas Eve!

On the twentieth birthday of my Rotary club here we had activities for the whole day. We went hiking in the French countryside where the air was pure and the trail was lined with blackberries and hazelnuts. I spoke about my school and American politics while picking blackberries for the Rotary so I guess you could kind of call that a speech. They were very impressed. That night there was a big party at one of the Rotary member’s house and the room was decked out in tons of Rotary flags from all over the world. The guests that night were me, two men from Italy, one from Serbia, and singers from Russia. I exchanged flags and kisses and it all ended well.

My school was incredibly hard and confusing at first, but they cut off a couple of classes for me so it’s running a lot smoother now. Right now I have French Literature, History, Geography, P.E., Art, Philosophy, English, and Social Studies. I got rid of Spanish because it was on a level four and I had never taken it before and I couldn’t take it at another time or level so I have an hour of study instead. I also got rid of American History and Culture in English for the French and English for Beginners for obvious reasons. On Wednesdays I only have class for two hours and every other Friday my school doesn’t start until eleven.

The biggest difference so far is my P.E. class (aka EPS). I had the choice of which type of EPS class I wanted. One was for running, rugby, and football. Another had swimming, badminton, and basketball, while the last was circus arts. I chose a class that had course orientation (which I had no idea what it was at the time), judo, and volleyball. Right now we are doing course orientation. It’s this thing where you get on a bus (which becomes everyone’s locker room) and they take you to a park or a mountain. Then they give you a map and a compass and you have to locate your way around the different points on the map. The first time it was hard because it was all mountainous, but now my muscles are a little more adapted. The first time I only found 5 of the points, but the next time I found 12! Next week: a volcano!

My school, like I said before, is international so it’s like going to a district meeting every day except we can all speak French. I love it! I’m learning so much! I love my philosophy and French class. Right now in my French class we’re psychoanalyzing the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. He invented the fairy tale and wrote things like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Puss and Boots. I love learning the French perspective on things and in turn my teacher is just as interested in my opinion as well. I actually answer questions in class! Yes! Yesterday I gave the definition of McCarthyism in my History class! Hooray!

My family and I get along perfectly. We’re always laughing. There are always good times. My first and third host family is related and they have a really big family so there are relatives constantly coming over. I’m meeting many people this way. It’s wonderful! My host brother’s girlfriend and I take Jazz every Monday. My instructor is a fairy, I swear. I love her.

Plans for the future: go to Paris, go to Lyon for Art field trip, go to the South of France, art exhibitions, concerts, French Harry Potter premier, etc., etc.

Until then! À Bientôt!


December 9 Journal

 Here I am, at the beginning of month four, finding it difficult to write this next journal. The other day it took me 15 minutes to find the word for ‘child’ in English, so let’s see how this goes!

My childhood dream finally came true this past month; I got to see the Eiffel Tower! I was fortunate to see many things during my stay. Over the holidays of Toussaint my host family and I went to Paris for two days and Versailles for one! I couldn’t believe it! I felt the same way I felt before I left. The same feeling I got when people asked me what am I doing next week and I replied, “Going to France!” I repeated it over and over again in my head, “I’m going to Paris! I’m going to Paris! I can’t believe I’m going to Paris and Versailles too! Incredible!”

So what did I do in Paris? What did I NOT do? The latter would probably be a better question. Just to give you an idea: I don’t think I’ve ever had feet that sore in my entire life. Of course it was easy to ease the pain with all the majestic sights I was seeing with my eyes, but you could say that I received The Tour! I would like to add, however, that I’m very proud of doing the Louvre by myself because my host parents saw it last year. I didn’t get to see everything, of course, but I made sure I stopped by all the major works. And also I visited Victor Hugo’s house and touched Alexandre Dumas’s ink pen. I know, I’m a nerd, but it’s something I didn’t expect to do in Paris.

The weather was perfect, The Strike hadn’t started yet, and the accordion players were swaying in the metro. I couldn’t have asked for a better set up. I took 655 pictures for the trip of Paris/Versailles. Yeah, I can’t believe me either. Note: You are NOT allowed to take photos of the American Embassy.

Versailles…is just so…so…HUGE! I understand now why there was a revolution. My favorite part would have to be the farm. It looked as if it came right out of a fairy tale. You can see what I’m talking about in the photos. The light was that nice golden tint to make it extra special. The honey-colored sunset dripped all around me. I don’t think I can find words in French or English to describe how happy I felt at that moment. I visited the farm alone too because my host parents didn’t want to walk that far. It was the last thing for my tour of the weekend and I tried to soak up every second of it, a very peaceful way to end the vacation.

Before I went to Paris I also got to visit Lyon (3rd biggest city in France) with my art class for a field trip. It was my first train trip. We went to cathedral, the contemporary museum of art and a worldwide exposition that Lyon is holding this year. I saw pieces that spanned the spectrum of art. For one of them you had to put on headphones and each time you entered a room the music would instantly change.

That’s another thing; I’ve delved into the art scene over here. Art: canvas, music, movies, dance,…anything and everything. These things that share feeling, meaning, expression – I’m all for it. I went to exposition of travel notebooks and I’ve decided to start my own. You put anything you want in it, draw anything, write anything, whatever. You get to see my exchange from all points of view, not just by word, and real parts that went with it like ticket stubs or sugar packets. Everything’s up for thought.

I love the fact that France has art from all over the world. Even when I go into the bookstore you can see translated books everywhere. It’s really opened my eyes to how endless the possibilities really are and how small the world is. My recent art project was based on that. Part of the project I had painted a coca cola bottle to look like a globe. That was fun to carry around on the bus….

My take on public transportation that I wrote one day:

“Their eyes shift with the sway of the bus, not daring to make contact with the others. The punishment of such a transgression results in reddened cheeks and a furrowed brow, but the sway continues. Looking out the windows, it seems as if they do not acknowledge they're on a bus, merely watching a film or some documentary on urban civilization. The swaying continues, you can hear the soft whisper of mp3 players and the swishing of the bag of a woman's new purchase at some arbitrary clothing store. The movie is put into slow motion as the stop light is illuminated and two cosmopolitans stand next to the exit doors. The hiss, the disembarkment, and an industrial sigh is made by the bus as it continues its route. I turn back to the film and wonder why I bought the ticket.”

Last weekend I stayed in Vichy with a member of the Rotary and his wife. I drank the mineral water. I toured the city, soaked in its history. I saw another art exposition and luckily there was an artist there that I’d seen before that I liked. Patrick (the Rotary member) also took me out in his forest where there were hunters. They actually blew on a cow horn to summon their hunting dogs back. It was nice to have some fresh air and escape the city for a change. I also got to see the Olympic canoe and kayak course there. Hopefully I might take it for a spin one day. I ate so much food that weekend. I ended up in a chocolatrie at one point: Heaven on Earth! Patrick bought me a bag of assorted chocolates and my favorite one ended up being this mixture of dark chocolate and earl grey tea, a combination of two things that make me very happy. (Don't worry I’m still in shape. I live across from a track stadium now after all.)

The last night with my host family just happened to be my 18th birthday so I spent a cozy evening with them and my French Rotary host counselor. They were wonderful and I’ll never forget all they’ve done for me. Again, turning eighteen emphasized the fact that I can do anything (all that corresponds with the Rotary rules of course, but you know what I mean). I was surprised with many gifts and cards from people at school and friends and even neighbors here. The cards from home made me smile. Thanks!

I didn’t even think about changing host families until the morning of said exchange when I was talking to my host mother about it (which is probably the best way to go about the affair now that I look back at it). She told me that her niece, whom had foreign exchanged in Ohio, found it really hard and emotional to change families. I thought about that over another sip of coffee and looked around the dinning room, the kitchen. I thought about the time I didn’t really understand how to use the oven and I burned the quiche Lorraine. I thought about all the drawers, the spices, even light switches and how I had to discover them and other countless things around the house.*gulp*

That weekend I went out on the town with my host brother and his friends and we went to a concert. I had a good time. My new family is constantly helping me with my French and handing me history magazines, all sorts of literature. They even explain the political jokes on the TV for me. My host father puts French lyrics in my hands to translate. I’m getting the full cultural spin of things in this house. I’m liking the change. I find myself very lucky.

I have to admit though that I did have my bad moments. It wasn’t homesickness. Of course you have your language frustration, but that’s all better now. I don’t know why but learning new words just comes faster now. I don’t have to repeat the word a million times, use it in a sentence, and etc.. It just clicks now. I followed the advice of Michelle Williams before I left and bought a French workbook before I left. A big wink and elbow nudge out to all future outbounds on that subject. Also, I made lots of friends with the Bublicious Bubblegum I brought over with me and my amazing bubble-blowing skills. Thanks Michelle! Anyways, the only other problem was that after I changed families I basically had three weeks straight with no weekends so I was utterly tired in all senses, but you can take a day off to recuperate and all is well afterwards. You’ll have those days. It’s part of the experience.

My classes of Course Orientation are over. I felt so alive while doing that. It was in the wild! It always looked like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. It was like a hobbit would pop out of the bushes at any moment. What made it even more ironic was that my partner was named Sam. Every Friday afternoon I would come home with new battle scars from falling into blackberry bushes or slipping on some rocks. I love my P.E. class. Now I’m doing Judo…with the kimono and everything! It’s not something I expected to learn in France so it’s even more incredible.

Another project that I’ve been doing on the side is accompanying my friends to see the things they do after school. I went to watch the volleyball game of my first host brother’s girlfriend and I ended up being the referee! Apparently you’re allowed to kick the ball while playing, but only with one foot. I went to drama practice with another friend and I was a conductor to a human organ (musical, not the kind in your body). I went to a handball match. Of course I keep visiting art expositions. The next weekend I think I’ll watch a game of tennis. Doing this I get to meet lots of people and it’s another way to learn about the culture.

Today I went with my Rotary counselor and we ran with his sportive club for the Téléthon. The Téléthon is a weekend in France where everyone tries to do something for the greater good and then they reflect about it. Our cause was specifically to raise money for the handicapped. I ran 5 kilometers. It wasn’t the Tour de France, but at least I did something. This nation-wide effort is one of the many ideas I would like to share the U.S..

Also now I help my school every Tuesday and I help teach English to ten and eleven-year-olds. One day we were working with verbs and the students had to choose a verb for what they could do with a bus. One of them shouted “burn”! I said, “No, I don’t think you should do that, sorry.” Then the English teacher said, “No, we’re burn busses in France. It’s fine.” Just little things like that make my day. It keeps me smiling.

Well I know this blog has become a lot longer than I expected. I should probably submit it sooner next time. Tomorrow I’m going to Thiers and the only journeys that are officially planned are with the Rotary so my future plans are very vague right now. The end “fluent month four” is coming to a close soon and it used to scare me, but I’m feeling confident now.

On verra…


February 10 Journal

 I have seen twenty-one movies in the past six days. They were short films, of course, and I saw so many because the world-wide short film festival is held in the city where I live. This year is its 30th anniversary. This past week has been something amazing which I know I will come back to do again. It’s unforgettable. The festival is organized by genre, theaters, and séances. There’s usually about 5 films per séance (a viewing) and the five you watch are in the same category (International, France, Regional, Contemporary, etc.). All the viewings are spread across town in over 10 theaters, I think, and they all have different schedules every day. Each séance is shown one time per day. The organization sounds crazy, but it makes it all the merrier. Sometimes you’ll see a large group of people running from one theater to the next to see the next séance in time. I love this spirit.

The atmosphere downtown is incredible. People from around the world have gathered here. It’s like a major Rotex for film junkies. The base of it is at La Maison de Le Culture where they have tons of stuff to buy and it’s where all the film crews and directors hang out. I even got to talk to an actor in a film I saw! Everyone is here for the love of movies and I don’t think I’ve been so happy to live where I live. I’m so lucky!

I changed host families last weekend. I live about 30 minutes away from my school so I have to take a coach bus every morning. That makes 3 different types of transportation that I take now: coach bus, train, and bus. It’s definitely a big change from having my own car, but I think I can say now that I’ve adapted to it and I know my way around the city (except for last Monday when I took the bus in the wrong direction so I missed my dance class, but otherwise I’m doing pretty well). I also hang out a lot more downtown since my coach bus only comes downtown 2 times a day. I discovered so much from this, taken all the roads I haven’t taken. There’s too many to list! It’s a long leap away from the life I had in Keystone where you either go to Gainesville or Starke to find something to do…and that’s only if you have money to spare!

I was thinking about adaptation while I was taking the bus to school the other day. I was gazing out the window at the bejeweled dormant volcanoes and thought how pretty it was to start my day this way and then I looked around the bus and everyone’s faces were blank and staring absently at the chair ahead of them. I thought to myself I’ll probably be doing the same thing in the next two weeks. Then I thought about how sad the process of adaptation can be and I’ve decided that I don’t think I want to be adapted to anything except having food, water, and sleep everyday because this life is too short for us to treat things as normal and daily. We need to cherish every second of it. I know I’ve thought about that before I’ve done this exchange, but I’ve never taken it seriously until now. I don’t think I would have taken this approach to life without this exchange. This whole event has done wonders for me and I know that the rest of the exchange students feel the same. Rotary will turn your world upside-down, sometimes literally (haha), and why not? I’d think we’d all be better off that way.

I finally got to have a second Rotex the other weekend and one could truly see that everyone has changed. I saw Lauren and Hélène there and it was really cool to talk to people that understand that there IS a difference between alligators and crocodiles and it’s never really hot here. In fact Hélène invited me to go with her to one of her university classes so that should be interesting. Anyways the Rotex went really well. We even had a little dance party one night and it was really amusing to see a group of people all dancing differently to the same song. That’s Rotex for ya.

In school I can actually take notes in class that I can understand when I look back at them to study. When I look at the beginning of my notebook all I see are broken phrases that I took down just for the sake of looking like I was doing something. At that time I just wrote all the words down I knew how to write, which was nothing compared to now. I bought a couple of books in French to read on the bus and that helps a lot. Repetition, repetition, repetition!

I’d also like to tell everyone that I voted for the first time! I voted by mail! The elections are a big topic here and it’s strange because the French media never really shows the Republican candidates. This exchange year has been really interesting politically so far with the French president’s divorce, marriage to a pop singer, and the US presidential elections. I saw a report that they did on the elections in Florida and everyone on the screen was wearing a t-shirt. I was wearing two sweaters at the time. Talk about a slap in the face (haha)! Right now I’m actually wearing a t-shirt because it’s warming up and I’m told that that’s bizarre for this time of year, but I’m not complaining. ; )

I did get to go play in the snow for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lately I’ve been staying near where I live to visit small, medieval villages, museums, festivals, and odd things like that. I think in the next two weeks my host family and I will be going to the south of France to do Carnival (yes they have that here too apparently). In fact before then I might even get to see Bristol because she’ll be visiting a city near me and I’ve already talked to my host counselor about it and it’s looking very possible right about now. I can’t waaaaiiiittt!!!

And so I leave you all again to live another month in this place that is no longer “France” to me. No, it’s nothing to what it was when I first arrived here so I don’t think I consider it “France” anymore. I think the number one rule for foreign exchange should be to drop any pre-conceived notions or ideas because, as we outbounds well know, they will all turn out to be too general or false. In fact I don’t really know what to call this place anymore. I do know though that I am very happy and that’s enough for me. I hope everyone is feeling the same.

Le bonheur existe seulement quand il est partagé, et le Rotary est une super façon de le partager.

Love et Bisous!


June 11 Journal

 Late is better than never…right? I hope that everyone will understand when I say that these past couple of months have been a whirlwind. Every exchange student can understand this phase. You’re scared that you’re not living out your precious time in your oh so wonderful host country. I’m going to go ahead and submit what will probably be my last entry on this website. It’s a sad and scary fact, but it shows you that I actually made it through this year and WOW! Did I have a year! There’s that and the fact that a little journal entry is the least I could do for my district back in the US of A. I could never repay Rotary back for everything that has happened to me, but it’s a tiny step in the years ahead of this relationship that WE have created together. I know that the stack of those exchange student cards wasn’t meant to collect dust. There’s no way I could cut contact with everyone that I’ve met. It’s going to mean a heck of a lot of Christmas cards, but (again) it’s the least that I could do.:)

Sooo since it indeed has been awhile that means that I’ve actually been receiving decent grades in school. Even in my French class!! This came a very nice surprise to me because normally my French teacher just squints her eyes which makes me nervous and consequently I end up forgetting what I was talking about. When my class (all seven of us) was told that we were going to be doing projects I was more than happy to finally be covering something that I was familiar with. Then she looked at me and ask me if I could do mine on the Sonnets of Shakespeare. I have probably read only one of his Sonnets before, so that was a sort of let down. After having done my research I found out that the subject was actually very interesting. I never thought about the translations of poetry before, but now I know that it’s something that was more complex than you would think it would be. Even more so with Shakespeare because you have the Old English in there as well. I received an average grade for a French person (11/20). I have never been so proud in my life! It was the tangible proof that I HAVE actually learned something. . .but that’s only in reference to a language.

Responsibly speaking I don’t think that I could have arrived at the way I am now without this experience. You have the fact that your host family’s (no matter how open and loving) capacity to forgive is smaller than your own family’s. Mind, you don’t want anyone to have a bad image of you or what you represent so there’s that to consider as well. With these two forces that have governed my entire stay I am surer of myself and I’m not as nervous as I used to be when it comes to entering “the real world”. I was rewarded for my efforts the other evening when I saw that my host family had put up my picture next to their own children’s on the dining room table. It’s a small act, but I was very touched. This whole leaving France thing would be so much easier if I could just bring all my friends and family with me…

Friends: after having established histories, inside jokes, and the fact that I can actually hug people without receiving the deer-in-the-headlights look is another reason why my Skype credit will probably need to be refilled frequently in the US of A. After growing up in a small town where everyone knows the history of everyone and social circles change slowly over time I am happily surprised of all the relationships that I have started in this giant (keep in mind I’m from Keystone) city of mine in the heart of France. These relationships have led me on many adventures that I’ll never forget along with the people I shared them with. There’s always a place next to me on a Florida beach whenever they want.

Looking back at my travels you could say that I’ve been around. Most of my travels are thanks to the Rotary Euro bus trip. This was the first time that I had no clue at all on how to speak the languages in half of the countries we visited besides a basic phrases sheet. I picked up some expressions in not only German and Italian but in the languages of the other students on the bus trip as well. The adults in charge told us they had never had such a good group of inbounds on the bus trip. There were 47 of us, 11 nationalities. Everyone got along with everyone. None of us left one person out. Our hotel room line up was different every night. Not because we were forced to, but because we all wanted it. When we had to say goodbye to each other in Paris there wasn’t a dry eye on the bus. How cool that a group of people completely different are able to do that? It makes you realize that, despite differences, people can get along.

Some of my favorite moments:

Dancing to 90s music with complete strangers (Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears.) I never imagined my 18 year-old body moving to such things.

Singing “ohh Champs Elysee!” on the Champs Elysee.

Taking the boat tour of Strasbourg and taking pictures with the Alsacian ladies with their crazy hats.

The festive atmosphere in the brasserie in Munich (complete with traditional costumes and music).

Being in a cozy inn nestled between the mountains in Germany with the smell of goat in the morning (yay being in the country).

Singing with the locals around a piano.

The postcard landscapes everywhere to be found.

Strudel!!!

Two nights in Italy with another group of Italian students. Ciao!

Gelato EVERY night.

Watching the orange moon rise on the Adriatic Sea.

Building a Russian/American/Japanese castle in the sand.

Trying to explain the concept of the game “red rover” to the other students while trying not to sound completely ridiculous.

Dodging the millions of pigeons in Venice.

Walking on ready-made walkways because Venice IS sinking and it was raining a lot.

Exchange student masquerade (with the masks we bought in Venice)!

The smallest country I’ve ever visited: Monaco (Grace Kelly).

Seeing the fort from The Count of Monte Cristo!!!! In Marseille.

Last night party and I did a little bit of American flag twirling for everyone.

Everyone in tears and hugging at the end of the night to the Backstreet Boys song “As long as you love me”.