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My journey to Antibes was 18 hours, 3 flights, and a thirty minute car ride. I left my friends and family at the Tallahassee Airport and boarded a flight to Miami. I'll admit, saying goodbye did make me question my sanity a little bit, but soon I was relaxed and excited again. I flew from Miami to London Heathrow, where I had a 4 hour layover. I spent this time relaxing and roaming the various stores and restaurants. On my flight from Miami to London I was upgraded to Premium Economy! My seat was bigger (and reclined in three different ways), I got better food, a nicer blanket, and to top it all off it was an aisle seat. Overall, the flight probably went the best that it could have gone for me. It was my first taste of the Riviera lifestyle.
Fast forward to my arrival in Nice. As we flew over I could see the coast and the mountains and everything there is to love about the Cote D'Azur. As I stepped off the plane I felt a familiar wave of heat wash over me. I was greeted by a few Rotarians, my host mom, host brother, and two other exchange students. Then I headed home. The first night was spent replacing my SIM card (my number changed!), eating a dinner of rice and stew, and getting to know my host family and the town of Antibes. Needless to say, I was beyond tired, so my host family told me to sleep in the next day.
My host family is the Olson family. It is made up of a mom (Daphné), dad (Conrad), and three children (Eric, Elise, and Bryan). However, Eric and Elise are both out of the country on their own adventures. Daphné, Conrad, and Bryan have been incredibly kind and patient with my broken French, and are really keen on showing me around the French Riviera and teaching me the language.
The first week here was spent with my host family and getting accustomed to Antibes. Bryan taught me how to ride the bus (go public transportation!!), and now I ride it every day to school and back. It's about a 20 minute bus ride from my house to school, which is a lot better than the 35 minute car ride in Tallahassee.
Daphné took me to Vieil (Old) Antibes, the charming center of my town. Vieil Antibes looks like a typical small European quarter with cobblestone streets lined with tiny shops and plants climbing up every wall and window. It's a good place to walk around and get lost in. There is also a market here every weekend with vendors selling many different food items. I tried about 4 types of pesto, saw a lot of spice vendors, and tried "Socca," a typical Niçoise dish made from chick peas and spices.
The day before school started, my host family and I went on a little road trip to the town of Vidauban, where there is a chateau, vineyard, and apple orchard. We picked about two and a half bags of apples and bought two bottles of fresh apple juice. After that we went to a park with a zipline course. It looks similar to the tree-to-tree adventure at the Tallahassee Museum, so I made the mistake of thinking it would be about the same. omg. It was so much more challenging. The course was both physically and mentally exhausting, but a lot of fun. After that, I though we were done, but my host dad and brother wanted to do another (slightly easier) course. By this time what I wanted most was a shower and a nap, but as a good exchange student I agreed. My arms were sore for about 4 days after and I had bruises for the next two weeks but it was completely worth it. There was satisfaction in achieving the physical challenge, and I hope that it serves as a metaphor for the rest of my exchange .
The next day I started school. I don't want to get into the differences between French and American school but just know that they are very different. After completing my first week I'll admit it was really draining. Rather than being "stereotypically" French, everyone I've talked to has been very warm and accommodating, but it's still really hard to maneuver with a language barrier. I realize now I definitely took cultural competency for granted. In the United States, I know the language, the mannerisms, the social rights and wrongs. I can make friends, hold a conversation, and even write a really long blog post if necessary (sorry!). But here in France, I don't have the same effortless communication, honestly I don't even know how to open their doors. I did know this was coming, but it's impossible to prepare for it. At this point I've just accepted that looking and sounding like an idiot is part of the process.