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It has been a wonderful month in France and so many wonderful things have happened! Since this is my first journal submission, it will be quite lengthy. My journey to Lyon included three flights: from Miami to Detroit to Paris and at last, Lyon. I had the chance to meet five other exchangers from the USA and Mexico on my flight to Paris and meet others around Charles de Gaule Airport as I walked around from my district and all around France during my layover. By noon of August 29th, I arrived safely to Lyon Saint Exupery and met my host parents. To my surprise, as I am picking up my bags, I was greeted with hugs and giggles by my host parents, ROTEX and some other exchangers who arrived earlier. After checking in with Rotary, we head home to lunch and spend the afternoon unpacking and going over the rules.
My first host family is the Wojtasik. I live with both host parents yet I have three host siblings. The oldest, Marine, is married and lives just fifteen minutes away so I always see her during weekends and play with her one year old daughter. My first host brother, Ben, also moved out and lives with his girlfriend while my second host brother, Antoine, is in Brazil. All have been extremely kind to me and treat me like I was their daughter. I have the opportunity to see my first host family grow as both of my host siblings are expecting! Besides having a loving first host family, I have neighbors that feel like family. My host parents and neighbors are close since their sons are best friends. I have two host mothers (if we include my neighbor in my first host family), five siblings, and one grandmother.
I live in Lyon, right across from the Saone river and L'Ile Barbe. Lyon is the third largest city in France yet it doesn't feel like it. The streets are relatively narrow and everything is within walking distance so it's easy to move around. I, a true history nerd, love living in a city that exploits my curiosity. I have spent my past weekends exploring Vieux Lyon, visiting the Fouvriere cathedral and watching the sunset at the Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre. I have free and unlimited access to all museums and discounted prices, thanks to a card offered by the state called Pass Region.
My school is Notre Dame de Bellegarde located in Neuville, around thirty minutes by bus from my house. I am in my senior year, Terminale, in the economic and social sciences route. I was always warned of the French curriculum yet I find it similar to the one back home. I am taking economics, history/geography, philosophy, statistics, English, Spanish and political science. I took various AP courses before so perhaps I am used to rigorous academics yet I am not used to long school days. I start every day at eight in the morning and finish every day by five. However, I have a one and a half hour lunch break so I have the chance to relax a bit. I go to school with fourteen other exchangers from different organizations who I have grown to love like my family. We are all from different origins and nationalities, different programs, and ages yet we have an excellent group dynamic. My school's principal is a Rotarian and has introduced a program to help exchanger's language abili ties. We have phonetic classes twice a week to improve our pronunciation and French class with six graders three times a week. At first, I found it pointless to take classes with six graders since I am a senior but I've had the opportunity to learn from my grammar mistakes. In addition to the program, we have multiple excursions within the Rhone-Alps department. Last week, we visited the Rock of Solutre. We hiked to the top to find a gorgeous view of all the vineyards and farms around and had lunch in a nearby vineyard. In a couple of weeks, I'll be in Berlin with my class for a week during the Toussaint vacation (I'll keep you posted on the next blog post)
Here are a couple of tips that I've learned from experiences/others:
-"Language is Freedom:" a direct quote from my country coordinator and the most accurate phrase of all my exchange so far. Since I studied A LOT my language before leaving, I feel more comfortable talking. I still make mistakes but, I am able to talk with my host parents and classmates, participate in class, go out and understand my surroundings. Therefore, it's important to always study your language even after your arrival. I am so glad I am studying a language I love and loving the language I am learning!
-Don't ignore popular culture: My host parents were so surprised that I recognized movies like "Amelie" and "Welcome to the Shti," that I knew about bands like Telephone and BB Brunes and so on. It's popular culture that makes the difference and the one that bonds you to others; singing along with your classmates to rap or relating to a movie in a conversation has actually served as the best way to meet people.
-You can't anticipate exchange: I used to be the person that would plan ahead so meticulously during trips to Disney, the "mom" in the group walking around with an itinerary for rides. With the exchange, I've learned that there are some things you can not anticipate regardless of how much you plan. I went on the wrong bus and ended up lost in the metro station while meeting my host sister, I've walked in circles for hours looking for a place and so on. While I am still a planner, I now embrace the present with open arms and curiosity.
-Don't hang out with exchange students only, even worst only Anglo-Saxon ones: I know it's comfortable talking in English during Rotary meetings and that wonderful feeling of meeting other Americans that miss Chipotle and Chick Fil A just as much as you do. Yet, you have to stop. I have learned to dance Brazilian funk, mumble some Thai words and so on because I've explored outside of my bubble. Besides, hanging out with natives eases the process and it helps out being friends with classmates. I am not close with them yet but my classmates ask me to hang out with them on weekends and I learn slang from the best.
-YES will probably used the most: I know from ROTEX that this was an obvious one, but be open to try new things. As soon as Rotarians/my host parents offer me
I couldn't be happier with all the things that have happened, good and not so good, and what is next to come. I am so thankful for this opportunity granted by Rotary and their YEP program! Here's to new beginnings, delicious food, and great friends that feel like family all in one month.