Mara Bernstein


Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
School: Lincoln
Sponsor District: 6940
Sponsor Club: Tallahassee Sunrise
Host District: 1700
Host Club: Rotary Club de Villemur et Frontonnais


My Bio

Bonjour! I’m Mara Bernstein and I am from Tallahassee, Florida where I have lived my entire life. I am currently 16 years old and I will be spending my senior year abroad in France! Growing up with two adopted sisters (one from Russia and one from China), I have always been super-interested in different cultures and I am so fortunate to have this amazing opportunity. At school my favorite activities include cheerleading and musical theatre, and I very much enjoy studying French as well. In my spare time, I work two jobs, practice at the cheerleading gym, and hang out with my friends and family. I know it will be difficult not being able to cheer or see my family every day, but everything I experience in France will be completely worth it. I have been studying French for five years now, so I hope that my study so far will prepare me for this adventure. I also hope that I leave France with language fluency and I am certain I will gain a deeper appreciation for this extraordinary country. I cannot thank Rotary enough for providing me with this experience, and I am so thankful to my parents who are encouraging me every step of the way.

Journals: Mara – France 2016-17

  • Mara, outbound to France

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    I have learned so much in these past 9 months. Coming to France has opened my eyes so much to not only the French culture, and the language, but to the countless other languages and cultures I have been exposed to as well. I have not only fallen in love with France, but all of the countries that my friends are from and that I have learned about. I never imagined that I would be where I am now, in France, bilingual (AHH), and meeting some of the best people from all over the world.

    I have definitely won the lottery with my host families. Each one of them has been so kind, and has made me feel at home, like their real daughter. I have gotten so used to my lifestyle here that I know it is going to be so hard to go back home and not live the same way. These 9 months have been the most rewarding, and the happiest I have ever experienced. The only part that is sad is that I go home in about a month. Just thinking about that makes my heart ache.

    In April I went on EuroTour and got to visit Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. I met the most amazing students from other parts of France, who are now like my family. Every day was breathtaking, and those 12 went by way too quickly. The last day was the hardest because we had to face the reality that we may never see some of those people again. Of course we all hope we can, but it is so hard to say goodbye, without knowing when you can say hello again.

    Just last week I got to visit Mia in Sweden, and that was also so amazing. I got to experience a little of her exchange too, and the Scandanavian culture. (The food was the best part). On these trips I have gotten to see the beauty in each country that I go to, and any stereotypes or preconceived ideas I had are gone. I honestly am in love with all of these countries, and wish I could just travel my whole life.

    I also won the lottery with my district here in France. I go to school in the 4th major city in France (Toulouse), and even though we are only 20 exchange students, we have so much fun together. Whenever we have Rotary weekends we are all extremely happy to be reunited, and we have the best time together. We really are a big, happy family. 

    I have been extremely lucky this year to have met everyone I have met, and to have been to all the places I have been. It is hard to imagine that it had only been 9 months, because it feels like I have been living here my whole life. At this point, I cannot even fully remember what my life was like before exchange. I will definitely be coming home as a changed person too. I would not go back and change this year for anything, and I wish I could stay forever.

  • Mara, outbound to France

    Read more about Mara and all her blogs

    I have been in France for nearly 4 months now, and I am so in love with this country and this language. I am so proud of how far my language skills have come; I tell my French friends to always correct me when I spell something wrong or say something wrong, and at first my friends were always correcting me, but now they say that I am almost never making mistakes, which is super exciting for me! I can follow every conversation, and understand everything, and I speak pretty well too (don’t worry, the French accent is also coming along). 

    School is kind of difficult still because it is such a huge change from the American school system. Some classes aren’t so hard to follow, like French class, but others I am completely lost, like in Physics. I am very appreciative though because all the people in my class are nice and will always help me and answer my questions. The mornings are hard though because I wasn’t accepted into the school in my little village for complicated reasons beyond my, or Rotary’s control, but long story short, I take a bus at 6:40 in the morning (so I wake up at about 5:30 or 5:45) and it is about a 40-45-minute ride, and then I take the metro for about 20 minutes, and then I walk for 10-15 (depending on how close I am cutting it on time). So, as you can see, it is a TREK in the morning to get to school, and the same in the evenings. It’s cool though because even though it is kind of far, the school is in the big city, Toulouse, so it’s nice to be able to go into the c ity after school or at lunch with my French friends!

    Since I have been here for almost 4 months, I have changed host families once already. It was kind of hard to change because I got so used to this one life style that I had been living for 3.5 months, but all 3 of my host families are good friends, and live close so I see all of my host families fairly often, and each family is so amazing. I really like how changing families allows you to experience the different lifestyles in that country, you get to see how different people live, and experiencing the native lifestyle is really useful to immerse yourself in the culture. In France, everyone eats dinner together every night (and lunch on the weekends) and I am pretty sure that’s how it is in most countries other than the US so when I explain to people that my family back home doesn’t always eat together, and most of my friends’ families don’t either, people are really confused because here I find that kids don’t typically hang out on school nights and have dinner at their friends’ houses during the week, so everyone is at home at the same time to be able to eat together. Also most of the parents finish work at about the same time, so they can come home and make the meal real fast. 

    Something that is very different from in the US is that on Sundays, nothing is open. The grocery stores are, but the hours are shorter (which is similar in the US), but none of the boutiques or chain stores like H&M or Sephora are open on Sundays. There is freedom of religion here, but I remember one time I wanted to hang out and shop around with my friend after the Rotary “Walk to End Polio,” and we forgot that everything was closed so we had to change course a little bit.

    Since this is the Christmas season now, there are Christmas markets and I LOVE them! In the small villages, the Christmas markets are only 1 or 2 days usually, but in Toulouse the Christmas market is an ongoing thing that they have every single day (I think it ends on or just after Christmas). The stuff that they sell there is so cute, you can get holidays gifts, or food/snacks and said snacks are DELICIOUS. They have crepes, waffles, beignets, churros, sausages, etc. (I don’t have the sausages) but the sweets are so good, and usually served with Nutella, and I cannot get enough of them, I will be super sad when the Christmas market leaves and I can’t find anymore churros.

    We have a 2 week vacation every 2(ish) months in France, which is nice, so right now we are on Christmas break, and I am looking forward to all the fun things coming up soon here. It is going to be fun to celebrate Christmas here because I don’t celebrate it normally, and bringing in the New Year here, and all the Rotary weekends that are coming up in the next year! It is so crazy that I have been here for 4 months already, and I wish the time wasn’t passing so fast.

  • Mara, outbound to France

    Read more about Mara and all her blogs

    I have been in France now for 3 weeks, and all I can say is, what an experience. In just these three weeks I have learned so much, and my language skills have already improved. However, nobody, no internet source, no book, can truly prepare you for what you will experience abroad. Sure, those devices help you learn, but you’ll never know what it is truly like until you step foot in the country and experience everything first hand. For example, you can read up on the culture of your country, and the different mannerisms, but they aren’t always entirely accurate. That’s like saying that in America eats Little Debbie snacks for breakfast, because you read that online. (Okay, that’s a bad example, but you know what I mean). You can’t predict what your experience will be like because every one’s exchange is different. I was taught in school, and read online a lot of things about France that don’t necessarily apply (at least to my region), although I did learn a lot that did. But there are so many things I thought I knew that I didn’t. I thought I knew the language SO much better than I actually did. Everyone says that even if you study the language for a really long time, you will step off that plane and be shocked at how much you don’t know; but here I was, thinking that that wouldn’t happen to me because I took 5 years of French. 
    But Rotary really does have an amazing way of placing students where they are truly meant to go, and I am extremely grateful that I have this opportunity to be in France. I had heard stories about people who studied a language for a long time and got sent to a country that spoke the complete opposite language, so I thought for sure I’d be sent to a country like Brazil or Taiwan, but I am so glad that I landed in France.

    In these 3 weeks, I have met so many new people, started a new school, and even faced some things that I never would have imagined would happen to me. School here is so different than back home. Talk about culture shock… Again, school is one of those things that I learned about, and read about, but it’s a whole different ball game when I came here and actually showed up and started going to the classes. But although there are so many differences in the culture, and language, there are also a lot of similarities, and a lot of things that remind me of home. For example, in the US, if you are late to class, you go to the office (or you don’t sometime), and then you just show up and walk in the classroom and sit down and if you have a pass, you hand it to the teacher. Here, it is so different. In fact, since the schedule here is different, I didn’t have to be to school until 9 am, and since I have to take the bus and the metro to get to my school, I took the bus an hour later, since I had to be there an hour later. I was cutting it close on time, but according to my clock, I got to my class with 3 minutes to spare. Unfortunately, my clock and the school’s clock are not in sync, because apparently I was a couple minutes late. I did as I would do in the US, and I just walked in and sat down, and I got kind of yelled at by the professor because, I did not know, but here you have to knock on the door, say hello, present a note, and then the professor decides if you can stay for the class. Well, I think the teacher didn’t realize that I was foreign until I started speaking with an American accent, and she told me it was okay once she realized. But that is just one of those things that you can’t really prepare for, but now I know!

    Leaving behind my friends, family, and everything I’ve known my whole life for 11 months is definitely a really tough thing to do, but I know that it is all worth it. I am experiencing a whole new culture, and speaking a different language every single day. I am so grateful for this experience, and I want to thank Rotary and my family for helping me through this crazy adventure, and for giving me such an amazing opportunity like this.

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