It is the morning of my third day in France and it has been a very interesting three days.
Day 1: We arrived in Paris at 7am and I hadn’t slept in 24 hours. Monsieur Pellerin and Madame Deligat met those of us in district 1720 at the airport. Because Monsieur Pellerin is the YEO, he has to greet all of the exchange students at the airport, and so did we. We walked around the airport and rode the tram 6 six times before leaving at 12:30pm! I was exhausted. We (me and 3 other exchangers) then travelled into the heart of Paris for some sightseeing and lunch at the Pellerins’ flat. I have never walked so much in my life! We were supposed to meet the other exchange students in our district but they were late so we ate dinner and headed to Bourges around 8pm. I slept in the car for about an hour, my first time sleeping in over 36 hours. When we arrived at the Pellerins’ house in Bourges, my first famille d’accueil (host family) came to pick me up and take me to their house in St. Doulchard. I was tired and my French was not very good so it wasn’t the best first impression. I took a much-needed shower and went to bed.
Day 2: I woke up around 9:30 and had breakfast and talked with my host mom. She is very kind and actually said my French is good! Breakfast consisted of bread with butter and orange juice and I’ve come to find that this is what they eat every day and either put jam or butter on the bread. I unpacked my things and got all settled in and lunch came so quickly! Mealtime in this family is adorable. They all sit down at a big table together and have a three-course meal. The first course was cucumbers in a delicious sauce and bread, of course. Once everyone has completely cleaned his or her plate down to every last crumb, the second course comes out. It was rice and chicken, which was very good. Lastly, for dessert, there were three different types of cheese to put on bread and some mixed fruit in a sweet sauce. They also eat plain yogurt with sugar poured on top. They all clear the table and do the dishes as a family, which is very different for me.
Around 3pm, my host sister Juliette took me to the city, Bourges, and we met up with two of her friends. The kissing on the cheek thing is not a stereotype, they ALL do it every time they greet each other. Juliette and her friends are teenagers, so they talk very fast and I could only recognize a couple words here and there. I got to see my school and Juliette’s school, and most of the city, which is BEAUTIFUL. It is about 70-75 degrees with a constant breeze, MUCH better than hot and humid Florida. They were in shock when I told them that the weather now is much like the winter in Florida. We discuss the differences between the US and France a lot. There is a lot of “oui” and “d’accord” which translate to “yes” and “ok” or “I understand/agree.” I’m used to being surrounded by conversations I can’t understand. For dinner it was once again a three-course meal with homemade guacamole and chips (Mexican? Definitely not what I was expecting), pizza, and a plum tart. They eat dinner around 8pm but surprisingly I wasn’t extremely hungry. For describing food, they use the French to English dictionary and love learning new words like zucchini and plum.
Juliette and her older sister, Mathilde, then went to pick up Juliette’s boyfriend, Quentin, while I skyped two of my friends in college and my mom and brother back home. We played Pictionary, which was the most fun I’d had since arriving. My host brother, Jérémie, was in charge of translation with the help of a dictionary so that the game was fairly played. They are very much like Americans when it comes to playing games, very competitive.
This afternoon Juliette is taking me shopping. I’ve realized that they don’t really start their day until around noon or later. Before then, we just hang out at the house and don’t really do much. I can see my French improving a little as I continually speak it all day. It was actually weird not having to explain things and use a lot of hand motions when speaking to my friends and family back home. Tonight, my host mom’s brother and his wife are stopping by to visit as they are on their way to the south of France. My school starts on Thursday and I am pretty nervous about that. Luckily, there is another exchange student who will be going to Lycée Sainte Marie too. I feel a little homesick at times because being at home, where we all speak the same language, is much easier but I know I just need to give it time. France is an amazing place and I am so lucky to be here.
A couple of weeks ago I started writing down things I wanted to include in my journal and it’s a lot. Let’s start with the language….
One of the funniest instances was when my host family was trying to tell me that it was cow cheese because they know I don’t like goat cheese. But they pronounce it “co” and when I didn’t understand, they looked at me like I was crazy because they were saying an English word. I love teaching them how to say things in English because they sound almost as ridiculous as I do when I learn new French words. The word “reunion” which means “meeting” in French is impossible to say.
I’m also learning Chinese…in French. Needless to say, it’s very interesting. I thoroughly enjoy writing the characters like I actually know what I’m writing. Everyone in my class has taken it for 2 or 3 years, which makes me and the other exchange student at my school, Wei Li, look even dumber than we already look.
English class can get annoying when the teacher says “jenny” instead of “genie” or “Japin” instead of “Japan” but here, it is impolite to correct people so I just sit there and let them learn “English.”
People at the bus stop like to talk to me, a lot. Not knowing I’m foreign, many people ask me questions like “what time is it?” or “has the 11 bus passed by yet?” and I’m proud to say, I understand what they say and I am able to respond. One lady immediately noticed my accent and started talking about Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger because she thought he was from Florida. A lot of people like to talk about the oil spill, which they claim was IN Louisiana, not in the water.
One of my greatest moments was when I WAS THINKING IN FRENCH. I was on the bus on my way home from school one day and I caught myself thinking about how much I disliked the bus, but in French! It was a great feeling.
I went to église (church) for the first time in my life and it was quite eventful. The whole time they were singing, I was trying to remember what it reminded me of and finally realized…it sounded EXACTLY like who’s from Whoville singing because for me, it wasn’t words, just sounds. I cannot wait to experience it again at church tomorrow. I also met a real life Effie Trinket that made me laugh. I witnessed some drama that I don’t think anyone else did. There was a lady with a bright pink matching scarf and purse that was noticeably upset because another lady with bright red lipstick and unnecessarily large earrings outdid her. The tension between them was intense.
I’ve experienced so many things I never would have in the United States. French cheese, zucchini, plums, prunes, tuna, and duck are just a few of the new foods I’ve tried. I had lunch with people from the Netherlands (who lived in the middle of nowhere) one day in a house that was surrounded by every type of vegetable, fruit, and flower you could imagine. The fresh-picked raspberries were to die for. The French countryside looks like something straight out of a movie.
I’m happy to report that I have also shared my culture with French people. My mom sent me a care package with bags of candy corn in it and now my entire little private school has had the opportunity to taste them. Some refused because they thought, since candy corn is American, it was either toxic or going to make them fat. My host family also decided to have an “American dinner” one night and we ate pizza in front of the TV...because everyone in America does that, every night.
One of the highlights of the past couple of weeks was the Rotary dinner. It was a wine tasting and most people tasted a little too much wine. Wei Li and I were only allowed two glasses. BUT, our table won because we guessed the most correctly and thus my family got three bottles of wine to take home. By the end of the night, men were calling Wei Li their “petit fleur de printemps” which is “little flower of spring.” It was quite amusing.
However, the most fun I’ve had was the weekend in Paris with the other exchange students. We went to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, and Montmartre. We got to meet a bunch of other exchange students from Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and other parts of the USA. We’re having another meeting with them, and exchange students from the West of France, in two weeks at Mont-Saint-Michel which I’m REALLY excited for.
I also saw a lady with a ferret, on a leash, in her lap, while she was sipping coffee at a café. Probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.
I’ve definitely had my moments of being homesick after the “honeymoon” ended but it’s getting better as I have things to look forward to. You don’t know what homesick really is until you’re 4,500 miles away from everything you’ve known for 17 years and know you’re not going back for 10 months. You can’t recommend foreign exchange like you can recommend a book. It’s life changing. I don’t know what type of person it takes to have a successful year abroad but…you have to be a little crazy to be ok with the idea of not seeing any familiar faces or places for a year of your life. I think that’s what bonds us exchange students together, we’re all a little crazy.
To be honest, I have been avoiding writing this journal. It’s next to impossible to reflect on all that I have experienced in the past two months. But I can try…
MONT-SAINT-MICHEL with all of the exchange students from around France! It was incredible to see so many of us from so many different countries. I also was surprised when I discovered Lily Britt was there! It was great to see her as well as Tyler Osteen, some familiar faces in an unfamiliar place. We walked through mud and water for FOUR HOURS but I enjoyed every second of it, even though I fell and was covered in mud. Being surrounded by other people who know exactly what you’re going through feels like having another family. I have so many families now...my real one back home, my friends back home, my host families, and my exchange student family...it's very comforting to have these people to help along the way. I can't imagine my life without some of the people I've known for only a few months but have made an everlasting impact on my exchange year and my life in general. Our next Rotary weekend is the first weekend of December during which we will have to say goodbye to the Aussies but it will be fun to see everyone again.
Weekend in Paris with my host sister and her friends! It was a Christian “rassemblement” which I don’t know the word for in English. It was basically a bunch of activities and jamming out to French Christian music. After that I went with my host family up to the north of France to Rouen. We had dinner with my host grandpa, host uncle, and host cousins. The next day we had lunch with my host mom’s mom in a retirement home, she was adorable and said I that I am going to be fluent in no time. Then we went to a HUGE fair, which was the coolest fair I’ve ever been to, and rode some rides before leaving.
HALLOWEEN….was uneventful other than a couple groups of ADORABLE little French kids knocking on the door and asking for candy. BUT on November 1st, Wei Li, Cherry (other exchange students), and I dressed up in costumes with whatever we could find around our houses and celebrated Halloween along with Cherry’s 18th birthday.
The beginning of November was when things began to get rocky. I became very homesick and wanted nothing more than to go home for a little while. I have never doubted wanting to stay for the rest of the year as I have tons of things to look forward to, but I just wanted a couple weeks of the normalness of home. However, Rotary doesn’t work that way so I had to stick it out and figure out a way to get through it. I guess once school started again after a long vacation, things got better as I had a routine and something to keep me occupied.
That’s something that exchange student should know beforehand. There are going to be days when you are bored. Your host family can only entertain you so much as they have work and things to do. This is probably what incites the homesickness, because you think about what you could be doing if you were home with the freedom of having a car.
Well, November is almost over and I've come to realize it’s little things like going to a concert with my host sister or a party that make it fun. We are also having a Thanksgiving dinner at my high school with the freshmen English class that I help teach which should be fun, not anything like back home, but there isn’t any time for having a big feast with my host family. I am also going to go to my host sister’s high school (she is a senior) for a day to check it out. December is coming so soon and Christmas marks the point at which I am supposed to be able to speak French with ease, or at least that’s what EVERYONE has been telling me. I’m still not quite sure that is a realistic assumption. I know I’ve improved and the simple phrases of every day life roll of my tongue as easy as English does, but as far as being fluent goes...I’ve still got a lot of learning to do.
So, I just got back from the doctor who said I have asthma onset by the cold weather. That’s how people know I’m not from around here, when I’m shocked that it’s not warm in November. It supposed to snow tomorrow and this weekend, I’m SO excited! Snow on Thanksgiving would be so perfect!
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
Ever since I was little I was taught not to judge a book by its cover. Maybe that’s what inspired me to embark on this journey. Every day I look around and notice differences and how lucky I am to be able to experience them all first-hand. Being able to truly know the French culture and understand it instead of just assuming and judging is a priceless gift I will take away from this year.
Living here has become surprisingly normal. People staring at me when I speak English in public no longer bothers me and seeing men in jeggings is an every day sight. All of the things that seemed absolutely ridiculous when I arrived and I couldn’t help but gawk at, I now see as parts of the French culture that make it interesting and special. However, the amount of crazy people I have come across is startling. I have never seen so many people talking to themselves in my life as I have in these past four months; I guess French people really like to express their opinions on things for everyone to hear.
Food is one subject that they enjoy discussing, as it is obviously a major part of the culture. One example of the importance of bread is when I was riding the bus to school one day and we were stopped at a red light right by a boulangerie (bread shop). The bus driver decides to get out of the bus, go into the store and buy a baguette, and get back in the bus to start driving again. Anyone could have hopped into the drivers seat but I guess his baguette was worth the risk. When I tell people we don’t have a baguette sitting on the table with dinner every night, I get the same question every time, “how do you wipe the sauce off of your plate?” and they are absolutely shocked when I say we don’t. Plates are always completely clean at the end of every meal here.
I’ve actually discovered a lot of things that I can say that I know will get a great reaction each time I say them. Just simply saying I live in Florida or, even better, that I have my driver’s license, gets the response of “No! Really?! That’s so cool!” and the more they think about it, the more they can’t believe it. Little things like that make my day.
Recap of the past couple months:
The best part of winter here is the SNOW! It snowed for the first time on Thanksgiving day and only a few times after, but it’s so magical and I can’t believe I’ve missed out on that my whole life! Also, we had a couple days off of school because of it during which I made my first snowman!
Christmas was crazy as there were 26 people at our Christmas Eve dinner, even Santa made an appearance! Everyone in my family is very loud, nice, and fun. I actually changed host families on December 12th after having a rotary weekend in my hometown (during which we said goodbye to the “oldies” :( ). I was afraid it would be weird spending Christmas with a family I had only known for a couple weeks, but they provide such a comfortable atmosphere that I instantly felt at home. We watch a movie almost every night and I think this has really helped my French, as I have to concentrate on reading the French subtitles or listening to the French speaking. I went back to my first host family to exchange gifts and they said they were shocked at how much progress I made in only two weeks. I think I’ve reached a point where I can learn quickly as I already have a pretty good basis.
I went to Paris for a day, it’s about two hours away, with my host family and it was amazing! Everything was all beautifully decorated for Christmas and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see that. Paris is really a special place everyone should experience once in their lives. I got to see the Eiffel Tower again, the Champs-Élysées, L’arc de Triomphe, Les Galleries Lafayette (stores of all of the designer brands), and Cimetière du Père Lachaise (cemetery of famous people like Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison).
New Year’s is a HUGE deal here; everyone has a party to go to. I spent with my first host sister and her friends. People still say “bonne année!” when you see them, even though it’s half way through the month. This year my resolution is to become fluent in French…and to finish my online classes because I’ve already been accepted to three universities! This year is going to fly by as the past 4 ½ months already have. The fact that there are already new future outbounds is crazy because it seems like we were just at Lake Yale the other day, all excited to leave, eager to begin our journeys which are already almost half way over. I don’t want this year to end; I feel like I still have so much to learn and do before I can leave behind this French life and restart my American one.
Coucou! Pronounced “koo koo” and said very enthusiastically, it means “hey” in a very informal way. I love being able to say ridiculous words like this and have everyone find that extremely normal. I actually enjoy a lot of things about the French language:
1. The order of your sentences generally doesn’t matter…you can say things like “where are you going?” “you are going where?” “where are going you?” and they all are acceptable.
2. Random English words with a French twist such as “week end”, “t-shirt”, “over-booké” (overbooked), “planning”, “timing”.
3. In order to make something into slang, you say it backwards…for example the word “fou” means crazy but in slang it is said “ouf”.
4. Their noise they make when they are thinking, or just when they feel like it (like our “umm”) is “bahhh” which sounds just like a sheep…and I find myself saying it all the time.
5. They like to shorten things, the sentence “je ne sais pas” (meaning “I do not know) has become “j’ai pas” or simply the raspberry mouth noise is made with a slight shake of the head.
6. My FAVORITE…you can tell someone is angry if they elongated the end of a word… “arrêtes” (meaning stop) becomes “ah-reh-tuhhhhhh!” which can be heard from high school girls everywhere.
When my real sister came to visit last week, she said I was even talking in French IN MY SLEEP! I guess you can stay I’ve immersed myself in the language. In writing this journal I find it extremely difficult to remember how to express myself in English, not to mention my spelling. There is another exchange student at my school from America and we catch ourselves speaking in this Franglish that no one but us would understand. The other day we had family friends come over and they said that if they didn’t know any different, they would say I was a French girl because of my speaking abilities. Oh, family friends. I’ve realized that I’ve been answering the same exact questions since August. What my name is (which they NEVER get right on the first try), where I’m from, my favorite hobbies, the differences in weather (yes, it’s MUCH colder in France), how many brothers and sisters I have, etc. I can pretty much predict the conversations now each time I meet someone new.
Now to my life in France and some highlights from the past couple of months.
Starting in January. We had a rotary weekend at the end of the month during which we got to meet our district’s two new Aussies, one Argentinean, and one Canadian. It was really great to see everyone again as we hadn’t seen each other since before Christmas and there was a dance and all.
February. I shadowed my host sister at her high school for a day, I got accepted into the University of Florida, and over the spring break I went to SPAIN! I don’t know where to begin when it comes to Spain. When we arrived in Barcelona, I instantly fell in love. Not only is it a big city but it’s on the beach too. It was sunny and nice out, the architecture was amazing, and people were extremely nice. The palms tree were a nice reminder of home as well. I was with people from Colombia, Mexico, and Ecuador the whole time and thus has to get used to the fact that that week was spent almost entirely in Spanish. Our hotel was really nice and even had a nightclub in it! I had a great time and am now determined to learn Spanish so that I can go back one day and not have to rely so heavily on other people to get around.
Four days after arriving back in France, my real sister came to visit. We spent a day in Paris and the rest of the week in Bourges. I was exhausted from the Spain trip so we did little things like shopping, movies, theater, and she came to school with me for a day. It didn’t make me any more or less homesick, I am happy where I am now and when June comes around I’ll be ready to go home.
What I have done so far in March…My district’s exchange students sold 1,200 Euros (around 1,600 dollars) worth of little treats from our home countries which paid for one shelter box (boxes filled with all essential supplies to help countries in need like Japan) and one operation for a child with a cleft palate. It was an all-daylong event and once again a good time to catch up with other exchangers while working towards a good cause. Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening with 12 Greeks in France with a program involving my host sister’s school. It was very interesting to learn about their culture (they said My Big Fat Greek Wedding is all true) and I am definitely planning on visiting Greece one day. I also learned a couple words in Greek, like “pama” which means “let’s go.”
Well it is already the 21st and I will be changing host families this coming weekend, which will also be my 7 month mark in France! I am not really nervous since I have met them a few times and they are friends with my current host family. I have to say time has never passed so fast before in my life. I feel like I was boarding the plane just the other day, not 7 months ago. I think that’s what everyone says. We work so hard trying to immerse ourselves in the culture and learn the language as fast as possible that we don’t see the time passing us by. With the constant questions like, “are you fluent yet?” from home, this is understandable, but I would suggest to future exchange students to not forget how short 10 months really is in the whole scheme of life. You can achieve a lot in 10 months, but set your expectations at 0 and then you can never disappoint yourself.
“Expect nothing and life will be velvet.” – Lisa Gardiner
So since my last journal entry, I have changed host families, went on a 12-day European bus tour, spent a little over a week in Paris, and had my mom come to visit me for 11 days!
My host family now is different from my others since in my first and second families I only had siblings my age and older but now I have an older host brother, a 14-year old host sister, and a 7-year host brother. My little host brother reminds me of my real brother back home and says the funniest things. I also have a 17-year old host sister but she is on exchange in Peru.
The Euro Tour was amazing, I don’t know how else to describe it. Seeing cities and monuments in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Monaco, and Switzerland that you only ever dream of seeing was unbelievable. We got to see a new city every day, at one point we weren’t even sure if we were in Germany or Austria because of how fast we were going from place to place. It’s hard to take it all in at first, but now looking back at it, I can’t believe we covered all of those places in that short amount of time! It also allowed me to get closer to people and have a fun break from everyday life.
Mon séjour à Paris: I had to take my AP exams for my online classes and the closest place was in Paris! I stayed in a little town 15 minutes from Paris called St. Cloud in a host family that is actually one of Olivia Leamer’s (future outbound from Florida) future host families! I basically am an expert on Paris and the métro (subway) system now.
After I finished my 3 exams, my mom arrived in France! I took her around Paris to all of the tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower, L’arc de Triomphe, Le Louvre, - all of the things I’ve done a million times but had a lot of fun seeing my mom discover them all for the first time. Then we headed off to London!! It’s just a short 3-hour train ride from Paris, but a completely different world. Now it was my turn to see all of the touristy things like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. We also saw the play Billy Elliot which was incredible and the theater was gorgeous!
Après our little trip, we went back to Bourges, my home city. It was great to finally show my mom all of the people and places I had been talking about for the past 9 months. We went to a castle in Chambord, a wine cave in Sancerre, and several dinner events. It’s been very strange for me when I have family come to visit (my sister came back in February) because they are so out-of-touch with my life that it is hard to explain why and how we do everything that we do. I’ve gotten so used to my way of life that I’ve never questioned the fact that we eat bread with every meal or kiss each other on the cheek. I believe the only people who will ever understand my experience in France are the other exchange students in France. No matter if they’re from Japan or Colombia, we all understand each other and can relate so easily. One of the best things about being on exchange has been the people that I’ve met from around the world and learned so much from.
Today, May 31st, marks four weeks until I am going back to America. After all this time, four weeks seems like absolutely nothing and I know in the blink of an eye, I’ll be boarding that plane in Paris. Everyone is getting depressed about leaving but I prefer looking at it in the positive way that I am going to see my family, friends, and city again. It’s not that I’m not going to miss France, because I know I will as soon as I set foot in Orlando, but I knew this was a part of the process when I signed up to be an exchange student. “All good things must come to an end.” And I’m ok with that. I learned more in these past 10 months than in my whole life and I am ready to bring that knowledge back to my home country. At this point I could almost say France is my home country, but it’s not, and when my time is finished here, I have to go. I know I’ll be back again. I know I’ve changed, but I can’t exactly say how. I can tell when talking to my friends and family back home that when I describe my life here, they don’t get the same impression from things as I do. I guess I just see things differently now.
These next two weekends I am traveling to the North and East regions of France with my host family! The amazing thing about French people is that they don’t move, so I can see where my host parents and grandparents grew up and went to school whenever we go visit them. These next few weeks are loaded with things that I have to do before leaving and I plan on making the most of it all.