Hunter Whann
2013-14 Outbound to France

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Amiens

Hunter's Bio

Bonjour! My name is Hunter Whann. I am currently 15 year old, and I live in Saint Augustine. I've moved a lot in my lifetime, from Gainesville to Tampa, Fort Myers to Jacksonville, and now I’m in Saint Augustine. At my current high school, Bartram Trail, I’m a sophomore. I participate in the National Honor Society and I take few AP/Honors classes. However, I’ll be spending my junior year in the incredible country of France!

At school, I have some of the best friends I think I've ever had, so I am sad that I’ll be leaving them so soon. I have never been outside of the country, but I've seen a lot of the south-eastern United States. I've always wanted to travel internationally, so I am excited that my first time will be in a place like France, and for nearly a year. My older sister recently left for college, and my younger brother just started middle school. My parents are sad that 2 of their 3 children will be gone from home, but they are excited about the experience, and have supported me the entire time. Personally, I am thrilled to be going on exchange to France. I have French family, I’m taking French in school, and France will be a terrific cultural experience. Again, I am tremendously excited to be going to France, and I know that I am going to make it the greatest year of my life.

Hunter's Journals

Bonjour! Ah, so this is my first blog update for exchange. Oh my goodness, I don’t even know where to start! I can’t believe I’ve only been here for just over a month, yet I’ve already done so much. I’ve been all around my host city, Amiens, but I’ve also visited Lille, Arras, Boulogne, Le Touquet, and, of course, Paris. I’ve met some incredible people too! I have a bunch of French friends at my school, and a lot of them speak English well (but I try not to take advantage of that [anymore]). Oh my gosh, the other Rotary exchange students in my district though! Students from all over the world: Canada, fellow ‘Muricans, Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Croatia, Turkey, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. I love hanging out with all of them; there is nothing like being with fellow exchange students, it’s so fun! My host fam ily is great too! My host mom, dad, brother, sister, they’re all incredible! So hard to put into words, my exchange so far has been incredible. Best decision of my life, no joke, and I am so grateful to Rotary for choosing me for this adventure!

Now I’ll get into some details. Oh my goodness, I love France! The way the cities are build, everything is closer together. I can leave my house and it’s only about a 10 minute walk to get to the center of town, which is where all the shops and restaurants are. If I don’t feel like walking, I can hop onto a bus and proceed to my destination. I like to hang out in the city with friends, namely other exchange students. There’s another American, from Texas, and a Brazilian in Amiens with me. Admittedly, we speak English a lot when we’re together, however(!), we help each other out a lot with the French language. Of us 3, I am the best with it. I studied for a year at school and had a private tutor 8 months before I left, so yeah, I’m pretty good with French already. I’ve translated to my friends’ host parents, and am one of the guys who get looked at when it’s time to speak French when it’s just us “noob ies”. I don’t know, I’ll go into more details about France in later updates, but I absolutely love it here! In my opinion, it’s really something that needs to be experienced first-hand, on exchange.

The French culture isn’t incredibly different as it would be in, say, India, but there are some things that would seem strange to an American. Goodness, I miss hugs. The French barely (if ever) hug! Guys do there little handshakes, “checks”, with their guy friends and do this cheek-kissy thing with their friends that are girls. If you go to hug them, they get super freaked-out. A lot of French teens smoke too, A LOT. And it’s perfectly fine with adults for 14/15-year-olds to smoke right in front of them. French teens can also just go to a bar, sit down, and order a beer. It’s weird seeing it for the first time as an American, but I’ve gotten used to it. And Homesickness? Yup, every exchange student has been there. It’s pretty intense for a while; you have to find something to snap out of it. I got lucky though, I hit my low right before an exchange student party in Arras, and I was cured of my homesickness and was even giv en a new appreciation of my exchange in France.

So yeah, that’s just a peek into my exchange year so far. I’ll have much more to blog about later in my journey for ya’ll back across the pond! This is the greatest decision I've ever made in my life, and I suggest it to anyone and everyone. The application process may be a pain, but it is so worth it! About a year ago now, Rotary came to my school and gave a presentation on RYE, and I thought it’d be worth a shot, and oh my goodness, was I right! I can’t imagine what I’d be doing right now if I hadn’t gone for it. Until my next update, salut!

November 1, 2013

Salut, here’s another (short) update from yours truly over in Amiens, France. Things are still going well for me, but I’ve been a little tired lately. I've been off from school for the past 2 weeks, and I've seen all my friends, become more familiar with my city (and a few others), partied a little, etc. It’s now Friday, I have 2 days of vacation left, but no plans, nothing to look forward to.

Regardless, I’m still psyched that I’m in France. One of the things I like here is that I can take a train to anywhere in my district on incredibly short notice. In the U.S., you’d have to get a ride from a parent or something, but here I just take a 10 minute walk to the train station and choose somewhere to go.

I’m still missing my homeland though. It’s been difficult lately with the language. Without school, I don’t have a steady schedule to practice French. And whenever I’m with other exchange students, we all just speak English. It’s been difficult to communicate in French to my host family more recently. It feels weird to say that I have a reason to look forward to school restarting; it’ll get my French back on-track.

For any future exchange students who may be reading this, be prepared. This isn't a year in your life, this is a life in a year. It’s too much to put into words, let alone written words, but you’ll find out.

December 20, 2013

Hello again! Just re-reading some earlier entries in my RYE blog, I realized it has been a good while since I’ve updated it, which is going to make this hard because SO much has happened (in a good way)!

I’ve just started my Christmas vacations here, and it feels so great, I have such a great 2 weeks planned. This weekend, I’m going to Paris with my new host family (who are great, by the way). I’ll be visiting my host grandparents who live there, and, weather-allowing, be taking a bicycle tour through the city! I’ll be with them for Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day I’ll be with my first host family. Then I’ll have some free time before a New Year’s Party and a going away party for one of my “oldies” (Australian/New Zealanders who’ve exchange from January to January). All that will be great, but I know I’ll be back in school before I know it.

Speaking of school, things are going better there, I’d say. I’m starting to participate more in my classes, and I think my teachers like it. When I get back in 2014, I’ll be (finally) stopping with English classed and starting with classes that focus on the French language, which will be incredibly helpful. I’ve progressed so much already, but I know when I start studying more intensely (and learning to write in French better), I’ll really take off.

Like most (or rather, all) other exchange students, I’ve had spouts of homesickness. Things were hard on Thanksgiving, but I got to skype and talk to my family, which was great. I also got to see all the American food I’m missing here in France. It’s funny, for Thanksgiving lunch, me and Zach (the other American in Amiens) went to McDonald’s, which was the closest thing we could find here to American food. Mais, ça va, I can’t really complain about the French cuisine, it’s just not the same as good ol’ American food.

I have some of the best friends here too. I have plenty of French friends at my school and they’re really fun to hang out with. Every 2 classes there’s a 10 minute break, and my school has an “MDL” (Maison des Lycéens) and we just go there to chill. There’s a TV, a pool table, plenty of seats, board games, cards, and vending machines. Aside from my French friends though, the other exchange students are always incredibly fun to hang out with. Last weekend was a gathering in Arras for a Rotary-sponsored Christmas market where we all sold trinkets from our home countries. It was also the last Rotary weekend for the oldies though, sadly. Knowing I’m about to become an oldie makes me excited and sad at the same, because it marks the near mid-point of my exchange.

Well, that’s all for now, folks. This Christmas will be an especially difficult one, the first one I’m spending away from family. This exchange has already molded and changed me so much; I know that when I get home, I’ll be such a different person than when I left, but a stronger, more independent, smarter person, and better prepared for any challenges that await me later in life. But with that, I bid everyone Merry Christmas, Happy New Year’s, and à la prochaine!

March 23, 2014

Wow, it’s truly been awhile since I’ve updated my RYE blog (sorry about that). Regardless, I have plenty of news to share!

Since my last update, I’ve changed my host family (on my 3rd now), and they’re great! I have 2 host brothers, Viktor and Roman, and 1 host sister, Lucy, and they’re super nice. I really like this host family, and I’m set to change to my 4th (and last) host family in a few weeks. All my host families have been great so far, I can’t see the next one being any less than that. I’ll be living in a little village outside of my host city, Canaples, which may be a bit of change, but I’ll get to see another side of France.

But anyways, I’ve been keeping myself busy over here. I just got back from a week in the south of France with my host family. It was incredible! I saw some larger cities, like Lyon and Avignon, but I also visited many smaller French villages, which was cool. It was interesting to see all the Roman ruins; we definitely don’t have that in Florida. I also saw a few châteaux, French mansions, which are few in number in the north where I live.

I hit a big step in my exchange at the beginning of February though; I met the new exchange students from the land down under. Australian, New Zealander, and South African exchange students arrive and leave in January, while the rest of the world comes and goes in the summer. But yeah, they’re all super cool, and I feel like it will be way too soon that I’ll be saying goodbye them.

When I get on the plane to go back to Florida, I will definitely be happy to be going home. I’ll be going to see my family, my friends, and everything else I’ve been missing for 7 months. But I will be sad to be leaving France at the same time. The culture, the way of life, the language, the people I’ve met; they’ve all had a big impact on me over my exchange. And now I feel torn, part of me wants to stay and live in France and the other wants to go back to Florida, but I wouldn’t ever regret going on exchange, this was the best thing to ever happen to me.

But I’m not alone in this. I always have the other exchange students to talk to, because they’re going through the same thing. All the wonderful people I’ve met and friends I’ve made through Rotary Youth Exchange, it’s unimaginable. I hope that any interested students who may be reading this blog feel encouraged to sign up for RYE, and that any outbounds reading are excited to be doing such an amazing program.

May 4, 2014

Today marks the last day of my 2-week Easter vacation. It’s also my last vacation before the end of school at La Providence. When I go back tomorrow, I’ll only have 19 more days left of class. It’s the strangest feeling knowing my year is coming to an end here in France. In the US, the years come and go, you move up a grade, everyone knows the drill; but it’s so much more than that on exchange. The language I’ve learned, the culture I’ve absorbed, the friends I’ve made, and the things I’ve done here have made this year extraordinary.

I recently moved back in with my first host family, which has been spectacular. It’s a shame though that I never got to meet my fourth host family. The host dad became very sick and they couldn’t take me in. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be back with my first host family. They all make me feel like part of the family, which I really enjoy. And they’ve been kind in allowing me to invite friends over, which has made this vacation a lot better.

If I had to choose the one thing about RYE that I love the most, hands-down, it would be the people I’ve met. Going off of that, the friends I’ve made. Whether they’re French, American, Canadian, Mexican, Brazilian, Australian, Indian, or Turkish, this is one of the greatest sets of friends I’ve ever had. It’s hard for me to describe, I just feel like there aren’t any students like exchange students, and I’m blessed to be one.

The French Rotary is really nice too. They organize Rotary weekends nearly every month, and the destinations are spread out well within the district: Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Amiens, Hazebrouck, Arras, and even one weekend in Paris. That was actually an awesome weekend in Paris because all of the RYE students in France got to together for a few days (650+ exchange students from around the world). My district was in 1 youth hostel with about 5 other districts. So as you can imagine lots of students, lots of languages, lots of cultures.

I really wish I had better writing skills, but this is about all I have in me right now. What I can’t wait for is getting back to the US and telling all my friends and family in person my experiences on exchange. But I mean, this isn’t my last entry, so until next time: bonne continuation!

June 7, 2014

As I’m writing this journal entry, I have a little under a week left here in France, and it (for lack of a better work) sucks. I can remember getting off the plane and finding my way through Charles de Gaulle airport as if it was yesterday. I remember finding my first host family after getting my big suitcase and beginning the 1 and a half car ride to my city of Amiens. When I really stop and think about my exchange, it seems like a lifetime. But just briefly reflecting over it, it passed in the blink of an eye.

I cannot complain though, I know that I have accomplished so much in my year abroad. I’m fluent in another language, I have friends all over the world, and I have grown into cultured, more mature person. My experiences here in France will be invaluable when I go out into the world and start another chapter in my life. When I go back to the United States this Saturday, it’ll be a new beginning for me.

But as for what I’ve been doing lately, I just got back from my bus trip of Europe. With 40-or-so other exchange students, I visited Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Milan, Mont Blanc, and Geneva in a matter of 12 days. It was quite simply the greatest trip of my life (so far), after exchange, of course. Seeing all the different cultures and languages and lifestyles was absolutely incredible. Having never left France beforehand, it was great to finally see more of Europe. And of all the cities I went to, Geneva was my favorite. We took a guided tour of the United Nations office there and then had free time to roam the city. I went down to the lake and it was absolutely beautiful. Seeing the Swiss architecture with the Alps in the background and all the boats on the lake was breathtaking.

That’s all I can think of to say right now, I’ll post some more journals this week when it gets closer to my departure. Maybe then more things will come to my mind about the end of exchange. Until then, à bientôt.