Robin Rodriguez

France

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Lincoln High School
Sponsor District : District 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Northside, Florida
Host District: 1520
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bourbourg-Gravelines

 

My Bio


Bonjour! My name is Robin Rodriguez, I am currently 16 years old, and I will be spending my junior year abroad in France!! Since I was little, I always knew I wanted to live overseas, experience a different culture, and learn a new language at some point in my life. This interest to see the world was sparked by my parents, who lived for one year in West Africa, and three years in the country of South Africa, teaching at an American International School. My brother and I were born in South Africa, and we’ve been travelling as a family ever since. I’ve always adored travel, but I’m even more excited for this upcoming year of my life, and being fully immersed in a different culture, not just going on vacation! At my school, I participate in band (I play French horn!), French National Honor Society, and Interact Club. My favorite subjects are band, French, and AP Art History.

In my spare time, I love to read, write, play music, spend time with my friends, and play with my dog Chloe! I will certainly miss my friends and my family while abroad, but I am so thrilled to be going to France next year. While I have been studying French for four years, I know that real world French will be almost entirely different from what we learn in school. Next year will be crazy, I am certain of that, but I hope to come out of the year knowing more about the world, and hopefully fluent in another language! I am so grateful for this experience of a lifetime given by Rotary, and for all my family and friends for supporting me. See you in France!

 

BEST TOWN IN FRANCE!!!

BEST TOWN IN FRANCE!!!

So far so good with my blazer

So far so good with my blazer

Icecream for my bday!

Icecream for my bday!

Windmill in my town

Windmill in my town

Near town

Near town

My lovely house

My lovely house

Best Exchage Friend in Lille!

Best Exchage Friend in Lille!

Mont St Michel!

Mont St Michel!

Normandy

Normandy

At the cemetery

At the cemetery

Squad goals!

Squad goals!

Our view from the fanciest Mcdo ever!

Our view from the fanciest Mcdo ever!

With my favorite frenchie

With my favorite frenchie

My experience skiing and snowman finding!

My experience skiing and snowman finding!

Paris, mon amour...!

Paris, mon amour...!

Dunkerque port at sunset

Dunkerque port at sunset

me and my lovely host mom

me and my lovely host mom

Spring has sprung! Visiting in Amiens

Spring has sprung! Visiting in Amiens

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  • Robin - outbound to France

    I thought I would write once more, the last time before I leave. I have 25 days left in France. Scary to think, because I feel like I got here yesterday, but more and more I’ve begun feeling like I’ve lived here for 10 years. Which is weird as well, because I have been here for only 10 months. But in 10 months, I think I gained 10 years, and yet I’ve never felt younger, or more my age.

    It’s difficult to describe.

    In 25 days there’s still so much more I’d like to do. See my friends once more before I leave. Say goodbye to friends who are leaving before me. Go to the sea once more. Go to Lille once or twice more. Go to this one art museum I’ve never been to, go see the white cliffs by the ocean where you can see England.

    I feel now the way I felt 10 months ago, when I thought about leaving. Even the day I left, it didn’t feel like I was leaving. You live your everyday life and then are suddenly uprooted from it, thrown into a new pattern, a new culture, a new language, a new setting, new people, and begin another life. I’m doing that again in 25 days. Going back to rediscover what I thought I knew so well before I was taken out of it. After 6 months in France, I remember, the thought of leaving hurt so bad. It was halfway through my exchange. At 10 months, the thought aches in a different way. More subtle, softer, but maybe more prominent, because the date is more prominent. I’ve accepted it. At the same time, I’m so excited to go home. To feel heat. To see my friends and my family and my dog Chloe. Excited to start a new chapter.

    It’s just complicated. Because I don’t want to say goodbye to France. Everything clicked into place a few months ago. I was fluent in French, knew how to get around, stopped being afraid of the busses and trains and metros that were once so foreign to me, my families gained complete confidence in me and my abilities, I had friends to see and a continent and a country to discover. A few months ago, I started milking every second out of my exchange, enjoying every moment, enjoying the fruits of my labor. We could say “Darn, I should have done that thing months ago!” or “Why didn’t I think of that at the beginning?” or “Why didn’t I realize that sooner?” But that’s the thing about exchange. That’s the thing about self-growth. We learn and we change and we are better for it. I do not regret anything, because it is all of those realizations that changed me and made me better for it.

    Am I ready to be suddenly uprooted from my everyday life once more? I don’t think we can ever be ready. Goodbyes are just as painful as they were a year ago, we just get used to them. Some of my best friends in the world have already left France, and I knew I was going to miss them but I didn’t know just how MUCH I was going to miss them. It’s not the same without them.

    But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that nothing will ever be “the same”. We shouldn’t mourn the past or what we can’t control. They’ve left, I’m leaving, and that’s my life now. Not to say I shouldn’t be allowed to be sad or I shouldn’t be allowed to miss people, but we can’t keep living forever in the past. There’s the saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”, and it’s been pretty resonant with me these last few days. It’s bizarre to think people are already back in Florida. It feels weird to have my days numbered in a life that feels like it’s never going to end. Weird to think I’m just going to step back into another country as if nothing ever happened, as if I never lived a year of my life in France. And I bet it will be hard. Because for 16 years I lived a life in Florida. I lived for one year in France, but so de ep and so fully that I learned just as many life lessons if not more, I made tons of friends, had tons of adventures, made plenty of mistakes and errors and slipups, and now it’s time to blend those two lives together.

    However, I think this adventure has just begun. My year in France was just a prologue. I know I am braver than I ever thought I could be, I know how to handle myself in the world, I have countries to visit and friends to see and knowledge in my head and new eyes for the world and I am ready. I have two countries I love and so many more to see, I have two languages I enjoy to crack jokes in, I have a long road ahead of me, so much more to learn, I’m on a roller coaster that may have bumps but can only go up, my friends.

    All my thanks to you, Rotary.

  • Robin, outbound to France

    I haven’t written in a while, and that’s because in a way, it hurts to write. I truly NEVER understood that last year when I would read these journals, and people would say it’s difficult to write. It hurts to have to sum up a life into a few paragraphs. To try to make sense of it for people. To reduce this life I have, into telling people where I went and what cool countries I’ve been to and how awesome the food is and things like that, that are only 1% of my year.

    Exchange is a life in a year. And you can’t experience this; you can’t understand this, until you go on exchange. And it feels uncomfortable, knowing that people I am so close to and who are so dear to me, it feels sort of odd knowing they don’t get it, as much as they might try, or as close as they might imagine.

    Before exchange, I thought of all the amazing places I would get to visit. I thought of how I would become bilingual. I thought of how I would get to experience new foods and new climates. I thought of how many different people I would meet, but I did not get it. It’s as simple as that.

    I came into this life, not speaking French very well, not really understanding the country or the culture even though I had read a lot and studied. I came in and I was a stranger and a foreigner and I was confused and surprised and amazed and I truly, truly, truly, had no idea what I was in for.

    Because what happened next was better than I could have ever imagined. A life came. A normal life. And the travels are cool but they’re not my exchange year. I don’t live in Paris. Eurotour was amazing but the bottom line is, those cool photos and those cool countries are not exchange, and if you’re hoping to go backpacking through Europe, this is not for you. And I hate writing this because my words fail me. I gained a life here, a life far away from my life in Florida, a life with families and the best friends of my life who were at once just names on paper. Strangers.

    The best thing I gained in France was friendship. I can honestly say that the best friends of my life live in France with me this year, but they are from all over the world. My best friends, who I can tell anything to, do anything with, talk about brilliant ideas and thoughts and politics and art and also just joke around with, they are from all over the world. Mexico, Colombia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Philippines, Japan, Canada, Ecuador, Bolivia….the list goes on and on. And we are all so different. Sometimes I pause and wonder, would we have even talked to each other back home?

    Meeting people from all over the world, sharing my life in France with them, it changed me. I realized people are more complex than we’d like to believe. That there are people raised completely differently from you, who do things in different manners, who have different ways of thinking, who don’t agree with you, who do things you wouldn’t, who speak different languages and dress differently and at the end we’re all the same people. I thought I was open minded before, but this year just blew my mind. My world grew significantly.

    What I love about my friends is that it’s never petty gossip. No one is small minded. Not to say we don’t gossip, but it’s never so shallow, so serious, so petty. I’m friends with people of all religions, of all sexualities, of all races, and I love how everyone is so understanding. We’re all in this together. We are the crazy people that moved half a world away on our own for a year for this adventure that became a life, and we became each other’s backbone. The best thing this year has given me is these friendships.

    I laugh with my friends and say my heart grew three sizes in France, because it is true. I genuinely love everyone so much. I see their faults, I see human mistakes, human people, and I love them so so much. When you are on exchange, the dumb foreigner who doesn’t know how to speak or eat or live in this foreign world, it is impossible to be judgmental.

    I gained another language, and that’s opened up my world. For example, one of my best friends, from Argentina does not speak English and I do not speak Spanish, and we’ve become best friends speaking in French. All the friends I’ve made at school, all the French exchange students I’ve been able to become so close to….language connects people, and language brought me, once again, so many new opportunities and so many new people.

    And it’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. Language comes at different times for everyone. I am bilingual now but I still want to return to France soon and perfect my French even more. I want to visit the world. I want to travel but not to see the touristy sights and take pictures and eat at the restaurants right by historic monuments and buy snow globes of the city. I want to travel and talk to the people and try speaking the language and eat the good local food and wander around and appreciate the sensation that you get when you’re in a place you’ve never been with a backpack and a bottle of water and you’ve got a full day of exploring ahead of you, no agenda, no tourist traps.

    I have never appreciated time more, or gazed so much out the window, or said yes to so many things. I do not want my exchange to be over. I know it’s sad, but I don’t want to go back to Florida. I love Florida, I love my family, but to leave France is to leave my best friends. To leave families that took care of me. To leave my school and everything I built on my own in these past few months. I’ll be happy to see my best friends and my family…my dog and my room…but I will be leaving my best friends and my families, my pet and my room back in France as well. And that’s scary. I know I’ll come back but it’s scary. To have to live life with a heart torn between two places so far away from each other. To always be missing somewhere or someone. That’s the price we all paid for another life.

    I don’t want to go back and have people ask how my “trip” was. If French guys are hot or if the French people are mean or if France is “pretty” and how was Paris and say “you’ll have to tell me allll about it!” My life here isn’t a trip or a stay, it’s a life. People are people and no nationality can be more physically appealing than another, “the French are mean” is the biggest stereotype and generalization of a people I’ve ever heard, France is a huge country with beautiful things and not so beautiful things, my exchange wasn’t at Paris, and I cannot sum up a life in a year. I can’t “show photos” because what do you do when you show photos? You show the travels you went on. I can’t show a picture of my bedroom or my bus stop or the 88 steps to the top of my school or the fields I lived by or the 7 am bus ride to school. People don’t want to see the simple things that were a part of your life; they want to see your “adventure”.

    Outbounds are dying to go to their countries now, and I know they don’t understand. And it’s okay. It’s the cycle of life, in a way! They’re dying for the time to speed up and we’re all begging for another hour, another day. You don’t understand now but you will. I never thought about that very much before my exchange. It’s hard when you have SO much advice to give and so much to tell and it feel s in a way like a secret you’re holding in because you’ve lived through this all before and they have no idea. They are fresh faced and bright eyed. I want to laugh, because I know they don’t “get it” yet, just as I didn’t get it. We all changed.

    And that’s another thing! To go on exchange is to change. It has been like that and it always will be. I saw a beautiful drawing on the internet where someone says to this girl “You’ve changed” and she looks confused and says “I’d hope so”. I am not the girl that got on the plane 9 months ago. And I’m glad, because I’ve liked who I’ve become. My mind was expanded, my heart replenished, I’m who I’ve always been and yet I feel so different, so new. Because I do stress and I do get nervous and I do have doubts but I don’t let them stop me, and I know everything is going to be okay, and I don’t let all of that eat me up or affect me. I am a bit shy when you first meet me, maybe, but that doesn’t stop me from talking to people are making friends. I don’t hold back when I have something to say now. Exchange doesn’t make you this superhero person, but it changes you in ways you can't describe. From little things like the way that you eat to the way that you think, you change. We grow up on exchange. We become independent. We learn how to figure things out on our own and solve problems on our own and be happy on our own. The final forming of a person’s character is, as they say it, in their own hands. Who you become is truly up to you.

    And so, you guys who are leaving for your countries soon. You’re about to live a life in a year, and it won’t be all the time pretty, but your year will be beautiful. Let it change you. Don’t curse the different culture or say things or easier or make more sense back home—learn to do as the people do and soon it will make sense to you. Don’t spend your time in your room—do your homework on the kitchen table, if you have any (ha). Stay in the kitchen when your host mom is cooking, even if you don’t help out. Don’t speak tooooo much English. Work super hard on the language because it makes all the difference.

    Be smart. Because you’ll see a world of people that aren’t like you and you can still be yourself. You have a brain in your head—you can think and act for yourself. Don’t think you’re cool, because you’re not in your new country. Humility goes out the window on exchange. You’re the dumb foreigner; don’t try to be “cool”. It’s okay to be confused and not know what you’re doing. And when you have newbies, remember that you were once a newbie too—confused and helpless. Don’t call them dumb or laugh at their language skills, because you were once the same. Don’t try to act cool for them—be their friend, help them. Compassion and being humble are the best things you can be on exchange, and certainly things you will gain.

    It’s a life in a year, and if I could just hold onto this minute, hold onto the good times we’ve shared, I would. I love you all in Florida and I can’t wait to see you again. But as you can imagine, another hello is also another goodbye, and a harder one.

    I would not be who I am right in this instant without this experience. Without this chance I was given, without this year. Everything I am now has been shaped or is because of my exchange year. It will be hard to be understood, it will be so hard to leave, I will miss my friends and my second country, but I’ve gone around the world and I know that this next step, while the most difficult, will be necessary, and I will come out with even more lessons learned. I guess I learned that in France too—we’re always growing, always learning, always changing. There’s never a time where we stop, and that’s how it should be.

    I of course have to thank the Rotary in Florida for this chance at adventure, for this opportunity to gain a second life, the best friends of my life, families, and grow as a person. I have to thank the Rotary in France for the unbelievable support, the friendships they helped create, the incredible experiences I got to have, and that I continue to have. I have to thank my parents, who encouraged adventure and new things and travel and learning from when I was little, and it’s because of this that I wanted to see more of the world. I have to thank all my French friends who I will all miss terribly next year and who have shared their culture and their world with me, and who I can say with certainty that I love so so so so much. I have to thank my international friends, for the memories, for the best year of my life so far, for the friendship that I will have until we all die…I am so grateful for all of this, and I still have 2 months in France, but that is no time at all to me now. I will be forever grateful, and I feel funny wanting to shout out all this advice but at the same time laughing and just thinking “they’ll all see…!”

    So be nice, be compassionate, don’t try to be cool, be understanding, be kind to all people, no matter how different from you they may be, try the weird foods, say yes to everything, don’t complain about the culture, don’t sit in your room, speak as much of the language as you can, learn from your mistakes, laugh at yourself, don’t eat at the touristy restaurants, look at place before you take 131493 photos of it, enjoy the meal, and know that your year won’t be perfect but it will still be amazing. You win some you lose some, you try and you grow, you learn from your mistakes and you move on. You all have no idea what you’re in for, but it’s going to be amazing.

    To see my homepage and some photos click HERE


  • Robin, outbound to France

    It’s « les vacances » in France, and I have more time, so I figured I’d do a little update on how everything’s going! Firstly, I accidentally said in my last journal that I’ve been in school for almost 3 weeks, but that’s way off, haha…to give you an idea, we have 2 weeks of vacation here in France after every 7 weeks of school, so I’ve been in school for a while! I also said I was going to French classes on Wednesday, but I meant to say Tuesday. Haha, just wanted to set a few things straight! I figured this time I’d write some of what I’ve been up to.

    I’ll start with something around 2 weeks ago. My host mom and I did the craziest thing ever! At 8 o clock at night, in the pitch black, rain, and wind, we walked straight into the North Sea….I don’t think I can accurately describe this, or how cool it was. I thought we were doing some cultural activity, but I think it was more of a sport. It was insane!

    First we had to wear these skin tight wet suits….when I say skin tight, I mean I could not feel my circulation. I was really concerned about this, but everyone was like, “No one can feel their circulation, it’s all good.” It was IMPOSSIBLE to get on, and probably the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever worn. Then, there’s no better way to say this, we just walked into the ocean. It was insane.

    Here it was, mid-October, freezing cold (had I not just been wearing 3 jackets, a scarf, and leggings under my pants??), raining, and pitch black, and we were about to walk into the North Sea. It felt so wrong, haha, but it was amazing. I felt like I was somehow beating the system, because here I was, playing in the ocean, and it was cold outside! I was not cold, but when the waves were high, your whole body would get wet. Well, we were neck deep in water anyway, so really, your face just got cold! I have no idea how no one drowns on this expedition, but people seem to like it! And it was amazing.

    It’s a work out—I think we walked around 2 miles in the water, and it felt like trudging through muck because, obviously, it’s not natural to walk neck deep in water. (We walked parallel to the shore.) Afterwards, I swam around a little, and it was the first time I had swum since Florida! It was an incredible experience and a great memory. It was hilarious watching my host mom fall in the water! (I’m not mean, it was really funny! And she was fine, so I could laugh!) The water was black, frothy, and quite frankly looked like that scene in the 6th Harry Potter movie where Harry’s with Dumbledore trying to get the Horcrux from that cove in the ocean. (Watch it. You’ll know what I’m talking about! Black water, huge waves, etc.) But I literally felt like I was conquering nature and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Honestly. If you ever hear of a sport like this, try it! And the colder the climate, the sketchier the ocean, the better! It would not be the same in the warm Gulf of Mexico!

    Next, I went to Mont St Michel with the Rotary for 3 days last week! Best weekend of my life! I now have friends from all over the world, and unforgettable memories. I walked through quick sand, water, trudged through mud that felt soooo gross, and managed not to fall down. I saw one of the prettiest sights in the world, and did all of this with my best friends! One of the best memories from this was the first night there. After eating, we all stood by this cathedral at night and the exchange students from 8 districts all filled the square. Everyone was talking, everyone was friends, and here we were, in France, people I would have never ever met had it not been for Rotary, and we just hung out by this beautiful backdrop.

    Also went to the American cemetery in Normandy..I had already been there with my family a few years ago, but it was a very different experience, and the weather was perfect. It is a magical and beautiful and humbling place…I felt very lucky to go again. The weekend was just so perfect, and now I have a TON of pins!

    I’ve done obviously a lot more things, but I’m just writing the coolest! (In my opinion.)
    Saturday I went to Lille with some of my best friends in France. We took the train (my first time!) and walked around the city together, not with any real agenda. I love my friends here. I cannot accurately describe how much I love them! And how am I supposed to go back next year, knowing we will be so far away?  But we still have much more time. I have so many good memories and stories and I realized that I can never tell them as good as I can remember them, and feel them in my heart! Like when your friend makes her train at the last second, and jumps onto the train right as it takes off, sitting on ancient church steps listening to music with people all over the world, getting lost in the narrow streets, knowing you have time to get a little lost, and then discovering beautiful parks and places you never would have found had you not gotten a little lost!

    And (drumroll) yesterday I skyped my parents for the first time in 2 months! I was so happy to see them! I’m glad I didn’t skype immediately, because I feel like not talking to anyone from home for a while gave me a good start to my exchange and helped me focus only on France. It was so nice to see them, and I know I’ve changed since I left. I’m more confident in myself. I know I can do anything. I don’t know how to describe this change, but I’m more confident in my abilities. I no longer wonder if I will be capable of doing something—I know I can do it. When you’re on your own, you learn you can handle a lot more than you may think you can, and you learn that you’re a lot tougher and resilient than you would have imagined!

    I’d also like to thank the Rotary…I can never thank you enough. I am living my dream in France, and none of this would have been possible without this program, and the people in it. This is an experience you need to live to understand, and it is truly a life in a year! I can never ever ever thank the Rotary enough for this life in a year—I have learned so much, and I know I have so much more to see, and there is so much more to come.
    A la prochaine! Bisoussss
    Robin

    To see my home page and some photos click HERE


  • Robin, outbound to France

    Bonjour!! I have been in France for nearly 2 months now and so much has happened I can't begin to describe it all. So I'll write about what I would have wanted to read last year, when studying abroad was just a dream...and now it's just everyday life!

    I left home on August 24th, the last flight of the night. It seems like forever ago that I did that, but it also seems like it could have been 10 minutes ago. Goodbyes are always hard, and sometimes when I think about it, I'm like, "Oh my God, I can't believe I actually did that." It's nerve wracking, the day you leave, because what was all in your head is now becoming your life for the next year. I was thinking, "How on earth am I going to manage speaking French all day?" or "What will it be like to meet my host family?" or "How will I SURVIVE?!?!?!" But rest assured, I speak French all day, my host family is lovely, and I am very much alive, and enjoying my exchange.

    I am glad I took 4 years of French, because it provided a really nice background. However, I think you can get a decent background in the language in the few months before you leave. My host family does not speak a word of English, so I am fully immersed. It is a sink or swim situation, and so far I am swimming! No one at school speaks English either, and I am in a class with no exchange students. This sounds daunting, but I feel I really got lucky with this.

    The week before school started, I travelled all around the Nord Pas de Calais region, visiting different churches, museums, monuments, and generally sightseeing. The day before school started I was hanging out in Belgium (hahaha that sounds so weird, but it's like 20 minutes away.) I feel like I was more nervous for school before I left. The day school started, I think my mind kind of shut off so I wouldn't explode with jittery feelings.

    Going to school that day felt like being shoved off a bridge! I woke up, and before I knew it I was getting on the public bus (not knowing how the public bus system worked!) and soon I was at school. Found my classroom, and then there I was. Sitting in French high school. I heard horrible things about French high school. Everyone seems to hate it. But I'm going into my 3rd week there, and I don't hate school at all.

    On the first day, there was a long break between 2 classes and I had no idea what to do, so I was just kind of standing there for a second, and a group of French girls said I could come with them. Ohhhhhh I was SO relieved. Turns out, they're awesome people, we have a lot in common, and they are quickly becoming very good friends!

    Here are a few things about French high school :
    • You cannot sit down until the teacher tells you you can sit down. Again, sounds scary, but it’s really not. You just sit down when class starts.
    • You do not have the same classes every day. It’s more like a college schedule. My hours, classes, and basically my schedule changes every day. Sounds horrible and complicated, but it’s really not. You have a schedule and just follow the schedule!
    • Sometimes I have long breaks in between classes and me and my friends hang out in the town.
    • The school schedule does not necessarily match up with the bus schedule. Meaning, some days I wait 2 hours for the bus to come after class. On Wednesdays, my schedule is so messed up, I have to wait 4 hours, but I think I am getting this changed. Everyone takes the bus, and it is a public bus. Sounds scary, but it might as well be a school bus because all students take it.
    • On Wednesdays, school ends around noon. I am going to start going to a French class in Dunkirk Wednesday afternoons.
    • The cantine (lunch room) at school is amazing, and food is really good. Wayyyyy better than lunch at American high schools, still not as good as food at home, but really good.
    • My favorite class is history and my least favorite class is ECONOMICS. I have like 7 hours of economics a week.

    • ALSO everyone does the bisous (kiss thing). Takes a while to get used to, but now I am an expert! 2 cheeks—left, right, just do it to everyone to hurt no one’s feelings. It is kind of nice because everyone does it and it feels like everyone is one big family, but at the same, it causes HUGE traffic jams in the hallways because if you see someone you semi-know, you’re obligated to do the bisous. But it’s one of those cultural things you have to experience first hand to get the hang of.

    • In French high school, you have to choose a “track” to take—Literature, Economics, or Science. I originally wanted to be in the Literature track but I am in economics, and glad I’m there. It’s a more balanced course load.

    • My name (Robin) is a boy’s name in France. Wow. Horrible. People pronounce my name “Robon” with a big French R, because that’s how the name is pronounced in French for boys. The first week, everytime I answered “oui!” to my name, people kind of snickered, because everyone thinks it’s a boy’s name. Now they pronounce my name “Robeen”, but I kind of miss just plain old Robin! I even took my name for granted back home, ha. But I know I will miss “Robeen” when I return to the U.S.

    In addition, I have been biking SO MUCH with my host mom. I looked forward to this before I came, but I didn’t think much about it. We basically bike every day, and while I thought this was a flat region (and in general it is) there are definitely some steep slopes, and it tires me out every day. I pictured casual bike rides, but I’m talking like we biked through 4 towns one morning in the cold and wind! However, this is good. Being constantly busy gives you less time to be homesick. ALSO this is good because I am not getting fat, haha. However, I am writing this journal now because it is the first time since I’ve been here I’ve had some time alone. Being busy is great but it is nice to have some time to yourself.

    I’m trying to think of other things I would have wanted to read about…oh, language! Like I said, 4 years of French provided a very nice background. I can understand questions and answer back, but I can’t give really thorough answers, or have a really nice conversation. I’d say I can understand about 70% of everything, but it really depends. Sometimes I understand conversations word for word, and other times I have to ask people to repeat something three times, and then I still smile and nod. There is no magic formula. I think I can understand more than I can speak though. Immersion is really cool though. And with my exchange, there is no other choice but to speak French.

    None of my family speaks it, and this is a pretty rural region, so no one really knows English that well. At first, I was just learning more words at first, and by now I am beginning to see a clearer change in my French. Sometimes I say things and I don’t hesitate at all and the words all come out so quickly and l’m like “That was smooooth!” And then other times I can’t think of the right words and it’s frustrating, but honestly, it’s not a big deal. You learn this way also…mistakes are a good way to learn. Like one time I accidentally said my brother was 18 hours, not 18 years old. (No idea how…but when you’re talking fast words can get mixed up, trust me!)

    Smiling and nodding works a lot. However, it gets frustrating when you’re like “I really want to understannndddd” but honestly, the language is going awesome. I can get my point across, and I understand most of everything, and I participate in school. It’s difficult and I can’t fully express myself, but something that helps out a lot with learning a language is curiosity. Sometimes I look around the house for just things I don’t know how to say, and I either look them up or ask.

    Also, while immersion is the best way to learn, you can’t just let words fall over you and assume you’re going to come out of the year bilingual—you actually have to work on it!

    Another thing—this year is not a vacation. You’re not backpacking through Europe. You’re not at an exchange student party. Take the effort to get integrated with your culture and family first. Exchange students are amazing people and you will instantly be best friends, but it’s soooo important to really focus on the culture and family first, I think. Don’t be that kid that asks for permission to take the train to meet some “friends” in another city and be really vague about it on your 3rd day in your country. (Hey these people are real!)

    Making a real effort and focusing on your country and your host family is so rewarding….that’s one of the best tips I can give. Also with this idea, just don’t picture your year as a big trip. I had no idea what life would be like in France, and I was so delighted and so fascinated when I realized it’s just life here. Ordinary life. And that’s the most beautiful and most rare things in the world to have—I get to live an ordinary life in another culture and in another language, and truly an ordinary life. That’s the magic and rarity of exchange, and that’s where the magic is!

    One last thing before I go! I want to talk about the region I am in France. I am in the Nord Pas de Calais region, on the very tip of France, bordered by Belgium, and then the North Sea, and straight across in England. No one really knows about this region, but it is the joke in France. Nord Pas de Calais is known for being cold, rainy, industrial, the people kind of simple, and with weird accents. Let me clarify. Do not trust stereotypes. This is an incredible and beautiful region in France. The people are considered to be the “warmest” in France, and I have found this to be true. Everyone has been so kind and so helpful to me.

    Yesterday, for instance, I was with my host mom in Dunkirk, and suddenly we were sitting in some people’s house for a big family meal, I had no clue who they were (I think somehow related to my host mom) but they talked and joked with me as if we had known each other our whole lives. The weather is what it is. It rains some, but when the sun is out, no one takes it for granted. This area is Flemish country! Way back when, this part of France used to be a part of Belgium or the Netherlands (or something like that…I can’t really remember!) Either way, Flemish (like Dutch) was spoken here, and this area has beautiful Flemish architecture.

    At first, I thought I would not be learning true French culture. However, in this day and age, there is no “true” French culture. I am learning and experiencing something I could never have learned about in a textbook. This region is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve learned some Flemish words, eaten waffles and “frites”, ridden my bike past windmills, and all the while been in France! (Oh that’s also a cool fact—this region has windmills!) I cannot begin to describe how happy I am to be in this region, and also in this Rotary district—the best in France! It truly is. And to the people who in a few months will learn they are going to France—pretty sure one of you will be in this district, because Florida sends one person to d1520 each year. And if you are sent here, get ready for a treat!

    I have to go now! I hope to be able to write soon. These weeks have been amazing, and I am excited for the weeks to come. There have been tough times and there will be tough times, but the good is SO much better and more abundant than the bad. Bisousssss!

    Robin 

    To see my home page and some photos click HERE


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