Bonjour mes amies! There has been a lot of ups and downs this past month (mostly ups). I will say when I first arrived I was so sad and very confused, which talking to the other exchange students in my town (Hyeres) they had said the same. I don't think that any amount of training could properly prepare you for the initial culture shock of how fast they speak! I came to France thinking I knew a good amount of French, and I did not haha. I have steadily progressed though, its nice to finally be able to have more conversation with the locals and my host mom.
We have done a good amount since I've been here, I've been to the beach more times than I can count, and it is a completely different experience than Florida beaches. The water is soooooooooooooo cold. And I got stung by a Jellyfish which wasn't fun haha.
Within the first week of me arriving I automatically went and did stuff with my host mom. My advice, go with your host parents everywhere. Even if its just the supermarket, everything is so incredibly different and its fun to compare and contrast how we do it in the US and how the French do it. For example, when buying fish, it isn't packaged. They leave it out in ice and you put it in a plastic bag! There's usually a lot of blood on the ground or in the ice. But its very fresh since I live right on the ocean. We also went to the mall to get a SIM Card for my phone, and we got frozen yogurt and it was amazing. All the condiments were so fresh and everything was homemade.
I went to Marseille with another exchange student in my town and had lunch and visited the churches there and the forts. There is when I had my first real french conversation with a stranger and I felt so accomplished. Even though it was about soap in the bathroom, it made me feel good and it came naturally, I didn't even have to think about it beforehand. It was great.
My first couple days of school were pretty good, I really do nothing in school. Either its too simple for me or too complicated, so in class we study French phrases and grammar. When I first arrived everybody asked me questions constantly, most of them being "how do you like it in France," "do you like Donald Trump?" "how do you say this bad word in English?" "do you miss your family, was it hard to leave?" I have also realized that being American, some people do not talk to me solely because I am American. But, its okay because I have made PLENTY of friends and have completely ignored those who think poorly of me or my country. I try to push negativity away from me at all times.
So far, I have hung out with some locals and it was so incredibly fun. They love to teach me French and make me repeat what they said so that I can learn better. They're all very helpful, patient with my French, and inviting. They gravitated towards us almost immediately. Although I will say it is very hard to remember all of their names haha. To be completely honest for the first two weeks I only knew three people's names because they were easy to remember and two of them had the same name so I'm not sure if it counts!
Some culture shocks I experienced were the bathrooms are disgusting here, and it is very hard to find a public restroom that you do not have to pay for.They don't have toilet seats in these bathrooms so you just squat! Another one regarding the bathrooms are there isn't toilet paper in the school bathrooms! So you have to bring your own! That was absolutely crazy to me. Also, its very hot during the school and there is no air conditioning there, so I've been sweating a lot because of this. And French people hate spicy food, so I have to have my mom send me hot cheetos because they're my favorite things in the world. Dinners here are like hours long whenever you go to another person's home. It usually takes hours to complete the full course. They have an appetizer, the actually dinner, then cheese, then desert, and after coffee. Also, the French don't wash their hair as often as we do, they say that if you wash it everyday your hair is very damaged. They wash it twice a week or so. I find that very interesting.
To get to school I have two choices, I can walk, or take the bus. But I have to walk up a gigantic hill in order to walk to the bus stop or school, I expect my legs to be extremely muscular after this haha! But, the buses are always VERY crowded in the morning, so sometimes I prefer to walk. But everyday I walk home from school because its a nice walk and I really don't want to gain 20lbs from exchange so I'm trying to stay as fit as possible. But there is so much bread and pasta its almost impossible not to gain 5-10lbs.
I live in an apartment which is new to me because I've never lived in one before, I have to walk up four flights of stairs everyday to get to my house. But the view is really worth it. I've noticed that don't take it all in, being present in that moment. They tend to walk very fast and on their phones. I taught my friend Naoufel to walk slowly and to just look at everything for just a second. Even if you see it everyday, I bet that you could notice something different everyday you walk. We walk home from school with each other because he lives not too far from my home, and its nice to have company. Being on exchange has taught me that nothing is the same, and you should live moment to moment, because if you're not taking in the scenery and smelling all the smells, what are you doing? It has also made me appreciate Citrus County a lot. I never thought that I would actually miss it, but I do. But I'm so glad that I'm here, living moment to moment not day to day. If that makes any sense.
Also, a story of how very lost I got taking the bus the first time by myself. I was at an exchange student's home because they invited me to hang out and swim in their pool all day (it was very fun). And hours later I had to leave, so I went walking to the stop, and well... You could probably guess I couldn't find the stop. You had to go down several flights of stairs and turn around weird corners so I completely forgot what I was doing. Plus they live on a mountain so there was a lot of climbing involved. I had no idea where I was going. So I called Yutaro;s host sister (the exchange student) and tried my best in French to explain where I was, now mind you, I had just arrived like maybe a week beforehand so my language skills were... bad lol. And so, long story short, I walked probably three miles trying to find this bus stop and then ended up having to walk ALL THE WAY BACK TO HIS HOUSE. I don't think I've ever had that much exercise in my life. Anyway, I returned home safely with some help but it was very frustrating.
All in all, France is great. But the language is frustrating. They have a vast vocabulary and many conjugations to memorize. French class has taught me some, but there are like 20 of these. Also, there are like 6 words for a singular word but it also has a different meaning when used in a particular way. Like there are three different words for what, quoi, quel(le), and qu'est-ce. Also feminine and masculine words confuse the heck out of me but I'm honestly getting use to it and trying my best.
Best advice for the future exchange students, study your language as much as possible beforehand. I mean obviously you're not going to know the language amazingly but I think you should look up the 100 most commonly used words and learn them beforehand. Listen to Rotary when they say "language is freedom," it really is. Learning your target language is extremely important especially when you need to talk about what you need or just to talk with your new friends. Sometimes I am frustrated because I cannot express how I feel and have to use Google Translate.
Anyway, all in all. This was the best decision of my life and I don't regret it a single bit. If you are thinking of becoming an exchange student, I would tell you that if you are not motivated or willing to put into the work you should not do this. Because sometimes I just want to sit and cry because I miss my family, but you have to pick yourself up and put in the work. These strangers will slowly become family, and the house you live in will feel like home.
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