October 19, 2011
As of now, it as been exactly 8 weeks since I arrived in France. Since then it has been an amazing experience and I can notice my French coming more naturally.
But now I'll go back to the beginning. On the morning I left the whole idea seemed surreal even when I ended up in Washington D.C. my brain kept saying "Nope, you are not going to France." But something that helped me realize that it was actually happening was the other 40+ students from the eastern united states (and a few Canadians) who were all heading to the same place. France. But for me it still wasn't real. The moment it actually became a thing was when I woke up on the plane and looked at my little map and saw that we were over Paris. Suddenly I was there. The rest of my first day was mostly waiting in the airport for the other people who were going to my district so we could take a bus to District 1510.
After waiting for 5-6 hours we embarked on the charter bus. As we reached the region we stopped several times letting a few people off at each stop. I got off at the 3rd stop with a Brazilian exchange student (Andreza) who was going to be going to the same school as me. After that we were driven by our counselor to his house where we stayed with him and his wife for our 1st week. It was a little surprising for me that my 1st lunch in France ended up being rabbit which ended up being delicious (though a little tough). As the week went by it would involve me sleeping in till about 11:00 (It got earlier each day so luckily the jet lag wasn't too bad) I'd have lunch with Andreza and my counselor's wife and then we would go to the town or visit a touristy thing. One of the touristy things was le Chateau de Brissac the tallest castle in all of France, it was amazing seeing the castle and learning about a place that has been there long before the United States were even formed.
The 1st Sunday after my arrival a big group of Rotarians had a huge picnic on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It was perfect. I was able to meet my host family (except the oldest brother who goes to University in Rennes) but I couldn't go home with them for 4 more days because they were preparing my room (which is my oldest host brother's room actually). Anyways, back to the picnic and by the way the French came up with the word for a reason. One of the more odd things I ate was a Sanglier Patte which after quite a bit of charades and explanation that I didn't fully understand I found out that it is wild boar, and it was delicious. After the end of the week I left my counselor's house and it was sad because in only a week they had become like parents to Andreza and I. But I wasn't sad once I got to my family's house (Which is more of a castle) and got become further acquainted with my siblings and my parents.
Speaking of my family, I have grown so close to them in quite a short time. I'll tell you from youngest to oldest, Philibert 8, Caroline 12, Pierre 15, Leonard 17 (He was in Michigan last year with Rotary), Jean-Roch 19 (Still haven't met him, but he was an exchange student with Rotary to the USA), Maman and Papa(It took me a bit but I've been started calling them Maman and Papa). Life in a house with 4 other siblings can be quite hectic sometimes with occasional arguments but most of the the time they are very happy and absolutely great. I've bonded with my family in one aspect that most of them like singing it was cool, after my 1st dinner with them Caroline started playing Hallelujah on the piano and we ended up all standing around the piano and singing. A fun thing we do at the dinner table is that when the water pitcher is empty you have to put your hand on your forehead and the last person to do it has to refill the pitcher. My host brother is fluent in English and my parents speak really good English too but they've been really great and spoke exclusively French with me unless I direly need an explanation for something really important or if I don't know 1 word I can ask "Qu'est-ce ca?" or "What is that?".
Food. France is renowned for it and for good reason. I've gained 5 kilos (10 Pounds) from the food already and I fear I may gain more but I don't care when I'm eating the kind of food I'm eating. The cheeses I've tried have been mostly really good (A few a bit too strong for me when it comes to taste), and I've even discovered my favorite cheeses that are so good with a baguette and some butter. Onto butter. My departement "Deux Sevres" is known for it's copious amounts butter that are eaten, though I try not to use too much I can't help it when it's cooked into the food. All together most everything is great and I've even discovered that things I disliked in America, like tomatoes, are amazingly different here. I know it's cliche but I've been sticking to the principal of trying anything twice, and it hasn't failed me yet.
School. Lycee. That thing that here can be both incredibly tedious and amazing at the same time. Each day of class is different but every day I start at 8:00 and then end at 6:00PM except for Wednesdays when I end at noon and Fridays when I start at 10:00. To get to and from school I either take the bus or get driven by my parents if we take the bus in the morning I have to wake up about 30 minutes earlier than if we were driven because the bus stop is about 1km away from our house. Something I was surprised by was the quality of school lunches at my school everyday we have an appetizer, entree, desert and usually some fruit and cheese. Another thing that I was taken aback by is the amount of liberty you have at school, there is no dress code besides no hats in class, you can use your cell phone at school, just not at class everything 2 hours we have a 15 minute break were most people go outside to smoke. Also, if we have a free hour we are allowed to leave school and walk into town, I really like this that they trust the incredibly patient, nice, funny and accepting. The classes are fairly hard but I'm able to comprehend almost everything if I concentrate, but if I zone out I can end up lost. My teachers also are very sympathetic and understanding and though the only class I've received a grade in is English I'm hoping soon I'll be able to be graded in the other classes. English can be interesting because in my class there are 3 guys from England so there are many times that the pronounciation of a word is disputed and the dictionary agrees with them (What has America been teaching me?!). Speaking of the English kids in my class, by some bizarre event the universe decided that my school in the middle of the countryside would have lots of English speakers from various parts of the world, it makes it difficult for me because I'm tempted to speak English with them but I know I shouldn't so I'm often frustrated if they start speaking English when I ask them to stop (But usually at that point I go talk to someone e
So far I traveled quite a bit, I went to the beach with my family (Such a strange experience for a Floridian!) and we weren't actually able to swim because the water was about 7C (That was a warm day). After the day at the beach we traveled a little bit north to the "Cote Sauvage" a long strip beach that is essentially tons and tons of rocks, I had a ton of fun with my siblings climbing on the windswept rocks. I've also visited a little place called the Village of the Trogolodytes, an abandoned village of French people who used to live in caves, that was nice because it was just me and parents getting to bond and I love the way they're excited to share French history and French culture with me, my Dad pointed out to me that the wine cavern was a lot bigger than the grain storage cavern. Also, I've been able to visit a few large cities like Angers and Cholet and do a little shopping but everything here in France for the most part is more expensive, but it's also so nice so it's hard to resist sometimes.
In terms of Rotary, I go to my club each week on Thursdays at 8:00P.M. and it's different students and expect us to come back and pretty much everyone does. By some serendipity I ended up in an amazing class (Woo Premier L1) with a group of people at my school that are from my breakfast club in America where we would get our food, sit down and then listen to a presentation, here everything is business for the 1st hour or so (So usually Andreza and I just sit and work on school work) and then we eat more fantastic French cuisine made by a member of the club who is a professional caterer. Also with Rotary I've had 2 weekends, one was a district conference to tell us the rules and get to know each other, that was really nice getting to meet the people from the southern hemisphere who have been here for 8 months and completely understand your current situation. The next weekend I went to Mont St.Michel and it was a meeting with 3 other districts I even got to see other Floridians, Olivia and Celia, for the first time since I've been here. Mont St. Michel was absolutely astounding and getting to walk across the bay was so much fun, I even got to submerge my self in quicksand then escape with the method they taught us.
So yea, that’s about it for 8 weeks of life here in France, and that’s exactly what it is. A new life.” Life in France has become natural for me. But that doesn't mean that I'm still not constantly amazed and intrigued at something. I expect to wake up at 6:30 and have a bowl of hot chocolate for breakfast and then walk to the bus stop with my siblings. I know that I can’t speak fluently quite yet and I still haven’t had that dream, but I know that it will come because I learn more each day and can feel the slight shifts ever so often. It feels so normal to walk up to someone kiss them on both cheeks and say “Salut!” and “Ca va?" and then repeat that for each person in the group. It’s an astounding feeling and profound recently when people have asked me “How’s France?” I like to 1st say “French” but then I say “It is.” because it’s just feeling of being here and now, and that here just happens to be France. The whole reason I’m here is thanks to Family and Rotary and I can’t imagine not having done this.
A few extra things.
1. The method to escape from quicksand is something similar to the stanky leg.
2. If you think you’d had enough, you’re probably wrong so you should have some more.
3. Fresh bread from anywhere else will never be as good as bread from France.
4. Don’t be surprised when everyone smokes.
5. If you walk up to a large group of girls be prepared to kiss each and every one of them on each cheek and if they’re sitting on the floor, you still do it.
6. Though hugs are not very common here (Because they’re usually saved for comforting someone) I’ve converted a few of my friends to hugs and kisses on the cheek for a greeting. I even had someone walk up to me and say “I heard a rumor that you give really good hugs.”
7. Cows can be very intimidating if it’s a group of 30 of them and it’s just you and your host sister. (They like to stare).
March 29, 2012
7 months, and right now I feel as though I'm at a euphoric stage of my exchange. As of now, it seems like time is speeding up and the hours and days are just ticking away until June 20th, but for the most part I'm too busy to be thinking of that. So for now lets rewind to where I last left off with my other journal.
During the October and November it was only slightly weird for me to not be celebrating neither Halloween or Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was much more of a surprise because it actually took someone else asking me about Thanksgiving to realize that "Hey, it's THAT Thursday." But truly, I didn't feel the least bit sad or down that I wouldn't get to celebrate Thanksgiving, in my head I simply accepted that the French don't celebrate Thanksgiving so for this year neither do I.
As the days slipped into December, I had a conference in the biggest city in my district; Nantes. I had been to Nantes before for shopping and other things but with the Rotary I got to see the touristy stuff like this museum called "The Island of Machines" which is a place with giant robotic constructions of animals based on novels by Jules Verne (The author of 20,000 leagues under the sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth) like an elephant, a giant squid, and even a giant spider that freaked out quite a few arachnophobes.
With December comes the Holidays and in France the holidays are a much more subtle time, there are no extravagant light displays in someone's lawn albeit there may be a few but never to the degree like I've seen in America, there are modest decorations around the house but luckily there is still the ever so sacred Christmas Tree. Now for Christmas, I was incredibly lucky because my host family and I departed two days before Christmas for the Alps, for a week of skiing. Now it was just my host family, it was the whole side of my host Dad's family in one large house nestled in the village of Samoëns, so all together we were about 30 people spanning 3 generations. In France, Christmas eve is quite important for them so on Christmas eve we had a huge dinner where we at the traditional Christmas meal of turkey, foie gras, scallops and much more. After the dinner we went to a "Midnight Mass" though it was really at 9:00 because everyone thinks that's more reasonable. The Christmas day was a little different from a normal Christmas, we woke up and went to open our presents (that are next to a pair of our shoes) but after that we went skiing from about 10am-5pm.I'd never done with my host dad and host brother and at one point I had a fairly bad fall and hurt my knee a bit, the problem was that it was only the middle of the slope and for returning back to our village, it would take quite a while. So, I went down quite slowly with my host dad helping me down the slope. When we got back up the mountain we went down a slope to get to a ski-lift to Skiing, naturally me being a Florida boy and having only gone skiing once on a trip to Colorado with my chorus, my skill level wasn't exactly the highest, so often I was skied by myself on the lower level blues and greens.
As the week went on I progressed more and more though I still tended to stick to the blues, on Wednesday I had quite the experience... I was skiing on a slope take us to the trolley back to the village, the problem was when we got to the ski-lift it was closed so we ended up having to walk up a slope in ski shoes carrying our skis to get to another slope. This other slope just happened to be a red. My 1st red. It was hard and it took me a long time, but I eventually made it back, only with the help of my incredibly patient and helpful host dad. This ordeal got me thinking Skiing is really like an Exchange, when you start out, it's hard and you're gonna fall down, a lot, but the thing is that you have to keep on getting back up till you can go down a slope without falling, the only true way you'll get better is by trying and not giving up.
My host family and I left the alps homeward bound on New Year's Eve. I really had no time to recover from the trip because about an hour after getting home I went to a New Year's party with a bunch of my friends from school. The next morning of New Year's day was even more hectic... because I changed families, so my day was pretty much getting picked up from my friend's house going back to pack and then leaving for my new host family. My new host family consists of my host mom and dad, my host sister Julie (who is going to the US next year), and my host brother Nicolas (who went to Australia last year). The change from families was quite drastic for me and to me it seems like my first family was a traditional French family (5 Children, Lives in the countryside, No T.V., Bread Cheese and Wine at every meal) while my new family is more of a modernized French family (2 children, T.V., lives in the town). Now that I'm living in the town it's much easier to hang out with friends and I've been able to really do a lot more stuff. Something I didn't have with my 1st host family was T.V., but I'm kind of glad that I didn't because even with the T.V. I don't watch it very much because it's mostly American shows like The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and CSI but dubbed in French. With my host brother Nicolas we go to a soccer match almost every week to support his favorite team the FCN (Football Club de Nantes), and I've found a new interest in soccer that was never really there.
Near the end of January I went to a little conference where I got to talk all the soon to be outbounds from my district about why the US is a great place to go on exchange, I got a few questions about the education systems and food but I feel as though I did a good job of ridding a few people of American stereotypes. the most part as I settled into the rhythm of my new family and returning to school January and February came and went very quickly.
At the end of February we had a 2 week break that I kick started by celebrating the birthday of the Brazilian exchange student who is in my class, and then promptly after catching the flu. Luckily I managed to get well by Thursday because that was when my host family and I set off for Paris. In Paris we stayed with my host aunt, while in Paris I got to see Montmartre, and the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum that was simply amazing.
So tomorrow marks an odd point for me in my exchange, my birthday; the birthday that I will have in France my 19th birthday (An age usually not that remarkable besides being that much closer to 20) is now and forever my 19eme Anniversaire. Also a plus for this birthday is that fact that I get to celebrate it with the 450 exchange students who are also in France at Annecy. So for me, the months are flying past and as the time goes on and on, it keeps on accelerating and each day seems like it's fleeting past at a pace I can't keep up; I'll definitely try my best to keep loving and cherishing each day here.
Oh, to all the people involved with Rotary Youth Exchange Florida that helped me and propelled me across this Ocean onto this journey of a lifetime you all have my eternal thanks and gratitude.