Livin' the dream in France baby!
My life has completely changed in the short time I've been here, and my life has a whole new rhythm! It's awesome! I have a great host family and I got to live in a great area called Lille (all the other exchange students to northern France are jealous, Lille is practically famous!) Something especially legendary about Lille is La Braderie, a gigantic yard sale during one weekend for the entire city and…. I can’t even begin to explain the insanity that takes over the streets of Lille. More people come from outside of Lille to experience it, (internationally too) than the actual number of people in the population of Lille! People camp out in tents the week before the Braderie even begins, just to reserve spots to set up their sales, and although police try to ban certain areas to become Braderie-ized, people ignore this and take it over anyway. To walk down one block can take up to an hour, and all you can buy to eat in all the cafes is fried mussels; there is an annual contest during La Braderie that questions which café that can sell the most mussels-and this is decided by which café has the biggest mountain of mussel shells out on the sidewalk (smelly!)In the end, I spent all my euros and ate so many fried mussels I felt sick!
My lycee is wonderful, the teachers are very patient and the students are so nice! I walk to school and walk home for lunch every day, and my days start at 8:00 AM and end at 5:00 PM (but sometimes that slightly changes). Learning French definitely isn’t easy, but every day I am understanding more and more and I think my lycee is definitely helped me progress the most. I have made lots of friends-everyone thinks America is so cool! All you can hear on the radio is American music, and yes, there is a McDonald’s in La Grande Place, which is a great area in the center of town full of shops.
This city is so beautiful and so old! I keep thinking back to my favorite Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” because this place resembles that movie so much (kudos to Disney for its accuracy). Everyone here walks everywhere, and the roads and sidewalks are all cobblestone. There’s a beautiful park called La Citadelle where I’ve been many times, to jog or just stare at the beauty of the park (you can see bunnies hopping around, horses grazing, and there is a pond that circles around the pathway). It is a historical monument, and used to be used for the military as a fortress.
This weekend was fantastic, Rotary organized for all of the exchange students to meet up and do very fun activities together. We went to a beach where mussels are grown, we ate delicious food at this campground-type place, all of the students played games and traded pins and business cards, we had to get up country by country and sing the national anthem in front of EVERYONE, we spent the night sleeping on the floor, and the next morning we got to go zip lining! There were giant trees that had all these lines you could zip across, and depending on the course sometimes you had to make your way across some terrifying and unstable obstacles to get to the next tree! I am terrified of heights but I forced myself to do it, knees wobbling and all, and at the end I realized I had been doing the HARDER level courses the whole time! A girl from India gave me a Henna tattoo on my hand and I got awesome bracelets from Brazil and Colombia.
All in all, since August 24 I have already had wonderful memories and made lots and lots of new friends. All the Rotarians could not be sweeter, and I am excited to see what else France has in store for me during this year abroad! Gros bis xoxo
November 17, 2011
It's been 3 months!
I am having such a great time here, such a great life, and the amount of new things I learn about French, about France, and about myself every day is unbelievable! I walk around and sometimes just stop to think about how rich and beautiful the French culture is. The French way of life is the life for me!
I am living in my second host family, and what a change. I am not far at all from my first family; in fact all of my families this year will be in the same neighborhood, so sometimes I run into my first host dad on the street. My French is improving more and more, and I actually prefer speaking it to English! Writing this right now comes with a bit of struggle, because I rarely speak English anymore (unless I’m tutoring).
I am enjoying school and I have really dived into my art classes at school, I have a lot of them during the week and they have become almost like a meditation time for me. My teacher lets us listen to our iPods while we work, so I can really relax and my work is really improving! Every week I teach an English class, a yoga class, and a dance class at the school for the younger kids (le college), and it is really such a joy. They are around 5 years old, and even though communicating to them isn't always easy, they remain patient with me. I also teach English once a week for an hour to a girl who lives in my neighborhood (but our lesson always takes place while we are walking around shops in Lille), and I teach English to my host brother for an hour every week also (which includes me helping him understand his book "Diary of a Wimpy Kid").
My Rotary District is super fantastic; I've visited the most beautiful places and seen the most beautiful things thanks to them! I have also made friends from all over the world, exchange students, and we all tell each other, "If you ever find yourself in my country, you can totally stay at my house!" I've made some great French friends too, and just hanging out with them is such good practice for my French.
I take dance classes at a studio twice a week, and I absolutely adore them. I go to the studio called Crasto, which everyone says is "the best" in Lille, and I take the Master Class. I ride my bike there on Tuesdays, my host mom drives me there on Thursdays, and the director of the studio drives me home both days.
I ride my bike to school every day, which is becoming more and more uncomfortable because it's freezing outside! I am from Miami, so I am not used to the cold at all. On top of that it is super grey and foggy outside most of the time; I've really learned not to take the sun for granted. I have learned how much my mood depends on the weather: the very, very, very few times the sun is out, I am jumping off the walls with so much energy and I am full of bliss!
I go jogging with my host mom very often, we jog in the park which is very near and her friends usually come along too, and we always take the dog. I jog by myself a lot too (but still with the dog), which is very different because I go with my iPod and just admire the beauty around me without any distractions, it’s simply gorgeous. The leaves right now are all orange and red and falling to the ground---a major event for someone who is from a place that doesn’t have seasons!
The whole town is preparing for Christmas, and I couldn’t be more excited. The streets are all decorated, and a giant Ferris wheel is being built in the center of town. This weekend my Rotary District is hosting a huge feast (they invited 200 people!) and all of the students are preparing meals from their home countries. I'm teaming up with my American friend to make Chili, cornbread, and S'more's! Hope they like it. Life really is wonderful right now, and it is full of moments that I know I’ll probably never get the chance to experience again in my life. Rotary, thank you so much for this opportunity, I couldn’t be happier!
April 4, 2012
I have about 3 months left of exchange! Wow, what a journey this has been. One thing I will say right off the bat is that I never expected this exchange to be as much of a challenge as it is, especially emotionally. I know I have a new maturity now that I never could have obtained if I hadn’t done this exchange. Being immersed in an environment that requires you to be so independent makes you come to learn about yourself on such a deeper level-because the only person you brought back home that you can always feel comfortable with and always rely on is yourself.
At the moment, I teach two girls English every week, I teach yoga once a week to the little ones in elementary school, and I babysit from time to time. Being in France has actually inspired me religiously, and I have decided to get confirmed in the Catholic church while I’m here. This means going to special church services every Thursday night, discussing and praying with the counselor in my school, and meeting up with the group full of people once a week who are also interested in doing their confirmation.
I am coming to the end of my second month living with my 3rd host family, and I could not be more in love with them. With me, we are a total of 7 people! I have a brother and sister whose ages are very close to mine, and a younger brother and sister who are in elementary school. Altogether we are a very noisy, crazy, bunch but they are so wonderful and loving and I feel so comfortable with them. The house is a huge loft with 4 floors and an elevator! It’s beautiful and spacious and I am right in the center of downtown Lille.
The most bizarre coincidental thing about this family is that they will be moving to live in Miami! My hometown! It was a decision they made before agreeing to welcome an exchange student into their home, and what a surprise when we all came to find out! They’ve even met my American family on a trip to Miami they made recently; I provided them my contact information and they stopped by my house. This family loves to try to incorporate American traditions in their lives, and all over the house you see banners for the Miami Marlins baseball team, for the Florida gators, and lots of other Florida décor (including preserved dead crocodiles from the Everglades and starfish from Key West.) The neighborhood they want to live in in Miami is not far from the one I live in, so I really hope to stay close with them after this exchange and get to show them around after they’ve made the big move.
My French has improved a lot, and sometimes it takes effort to speak and write in English. I can understand movies, songs… it’s amazing because I had always dreamed of being able to say that. I love French and learning it got so much easier a long time ago after I realized a few simple things- there are some things that just don’t translate (it used to bother me because I would always want the equivalent meaning in English, and you just have to let it go), directly translating anything almost never works, and you have to not care about how silly you sound, you just have to speak and speak as much as you can. My Rotary district interviews us from time to time, to check on us and how we are progressing in our French, and I received a 9 out of 10!
I have had some amazing adventures; traveling and going to parties, and making new friends- it’s been wonderful. Last week I went on a big trip with Rotary, and I had seriously the best time ever. It was a gigantic rendezvous with all the Rotary exchange students in France- I saw my friends from Florida who I haven’t seen since I came to France! We danced, sang, stayed up too late, laughed, and finally cried when it was all over. I got to visit Switzerland, Luxembourg, Annesy, Alsace, and I saw the Alpes, it was all so gorgeous. We were such a huge number of students that we ended up making it into the newspaper, all 400+ of us!
I do not like writing these journals AT ALL because I know there’s so much I’m leaving out and that I could never express how incredible and life-changing this experience is. But I am so happy to be doing what I’m doing and I can’t believe how quickly the end is approaching. On the 20th of April until the 1st of May I will be on a huge bus trip tour of Europe and I CAN NOT WAIT! I'll visit Prague, Vienna, Milan, Venice, Monaco, just to name a few!!!!!! Also, I am changing my host families really soon and it is so sad, this family is so incredible, but I’m sure with my next family comes new experiences and French culture to discover, so until then, PEACE!