My name is Madison Rittenhouse and I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Outbound
Student of 2011/2012. I will be spending next year in France! Iíve traveled
abroad to many places with my family, but Iím truly infatuated with France,
and Iím so thankful for the opportunity to immerse myself in the countryís
culture. I am currently a junior at
High School, and am planning to graduate early this year. On my exchange, I
am really looking forward to gaining some independence and maturity, and
learning how other cultures function in everyday life.
only one sibling, my older sister Chloe, who is also my best friend. She
attends the University of Richmond. Her major is International Business, and
we are very alike in our fascination with global affairs. My main interests
include my family, art, history, outdoor activities, travel, dance, and my
job. I work for Pure Energy Entertainment as a dance coordinator for social
biggest fear about the upcoming year is being able to communicate on such
minimal grounds. I am neither shy nor quiet, so having to limit my
conversations will be difficult. However, Iím constantly working to improve
my French so that my first few weeks will be that much easier.
attraction to France sparked from the few unforgettable places Iíve traveled
to in the country (la Tour Eiffel, líArc de Triomphe), not to mention the
art, the language, the people, and the food! Iíve also heard from many
personal references that the education system runs very differently, and Iím
ready to embrace dissimilar academic challenges. I have no idea what lies
ahead, but Iím certainly ready for some new experiences!
Program has given me such an amazing opportunity, and Iím so thankful for
it. It changes studentsí lives everywhere, and should receive such
prodigious recognition for doing so. Thank you so much Rotary and everyone
involved. Au revoir pour maintenant!
Monday, October 17, 2011
I donít even know where to start. I arrived here on August 24th, and it
is currently October 9th. I have absolutely no idea where that time has
The first three weeks literally slipped away, a blur of happiness and
hilarious conversations. When I arrived, I could speak a lot more than I
could understand. Now, a month later, I understand SO much more than I can
speak. Itís mind blowing how complete immersion can do that to you.
Honestly, itís all about the vocabulary.
I absolutely love my school. The first day was stereotypical, like a
scene from a movie. I donít think my friends at home understand just how
much teenagers over here glamorize Florida, and no matter how many times I
persist that I donít live in Miami, it never seems to get through to them.
Of course their commentary is followed up by ďWhy do you want to live here?
It sucks.Ē However, this is just human nature. No matter who you are or
where youíre from, familiarity breeds contempt. I feel bad for ever taking
advantage of living in Florida. It really is such an amazing place, but for
now I will continue my love affair with France. <3
My friends here are amazing, and everyone is beyond nice. It is so
refreshing to be surrounded by new people all the time. I love the fact that
we can leave for lunch, and there are no hall passes or bathroom permission
slips. I guess the same unspoken respect goes to the teacherís though,
because we have to wait to be seated and we stand up whenever an adult walks
in the room. I really could never imagine that happening at Western High
School in Davie, Florida. Itís a new concept, and so is the grading scale,
the test formats, the style of note taking, even the paper. Tiny details but
itís all so interesting to me.
Also, as far as cultural Rotary events go, Iím actually learning a lot
more than I ever thought I would. When we had our first district assembly,
we all ended up having a huge dance party and learning some Latin dance
moves thanks to the students from Ecuador and Argentina, obviously followed
by some American fist pumping. We made our new shy friends from Thailand and
Japan learn to shake their hips like Shakira, and I taught my new friend
from Chile how to Wu-Tang. It was actually hilarious and adorable, and could
have been a Rotary Youth Exchange commercial. Aside from that, my friend
from Argentina has taught me all about the differences of Latin and Spanish
culture, along with A LOT of Spanish. I canít remember ever only speaking
English now. It seems too easy.
To conclude, now that I am a month and a half into my exchange (and canít
even BELIEVE I am saying that), I can officially say that I have been to
Colmar, Strasbourg, Belfort, the Vosges Mountain Range, tried so many native
foods from Alsace, have made the acquaintances of the women who work at the
patisseries (plural) by my school, have taught my French friends American
dance moves, embarrassed myself a little, missed a bus or two, have screamed
aloud on the train (the tracks are so close together and they go too fast),
done my laundry only two times (so busy and thanking myself that I
over-packed), spent I donít want to know how much money on new clothes,
learned literally hundreds of words, had a deep discussion with my art
teacher about my favorite American painter (in French, obviously), had
muscles and chocolate mousse at the school cafeteria (they donít serve pizza
every day like Western does), passed a French literature test, and on and on
and on. I can also say that Iím just not homesick at all. You canít be.
Everything moves too fast. Also, it becomes really hard to keep up with your
old friends at home, especially when youíre always on different time zones.
But you make friends in your host country! And life takes its shape again.
Iím living day by day, always surprised and always learning something
new. Itís something I shouldíve been doing for a long time. I canít thank
the Rotary enough for teaching me that.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Itís almost Christmas and Iím not keeping track of time anymore. I had 9
more months left to go, and then 8, and now 7. I just canít think about
One thing that completely separates my life here from my life in Florida
is the transportation system. I have left every single weekend by train for
the past couple of months, visiting friends and family that just so happen
to live nearby. I have been so busy with Rotary events and visits that Iíve
gotten sick from lack of rest, not to mention the cold weather I'm just not
Iíve seen so many places and things, from palaces to museums to Christmas
markets to night life to castles. Iím even getting lazy with taking pictures
now; my tourist life is slowly fading. To be honest, there has never been a
moment where Iíve had nothing to do, between Christmas gifts and birthday
parties and family and friends. I wouldnít change this new pace of life for
Around the third month of exchange, things did get a little hard. It
almost felt pathetic to fall into the emotional pattern that was so very
ďtext bookĒ, that the Rotary forewarned. Unfortunately, itís true and life
will become overwhelming at times. Youíll end up depending a lot on yourself
to pull through, and each person will form their method of controlling their
emotions. The realization that no one will run to hug you when you cry
transpires, and all of a sudden you'll develop new strength that will allow
you to handle just about anything thatís thrown at you.
Then, on your good days, youíll laugh because you realize just how luck
you are and how amazing your life is. I do this all the time now, and
because I already finished high school in Florida, I am enjoying being 17
and not getting grades at school (still participating though, of course).
I canít even begin to deal with how excited I am about the rest of my
exchange, between skiing in the Alps to a week in London with my school, two
Rotary bus trips all around Europe, parties and exchange students, and
summer excursions with friends and family who will come to visit. It feels
unreal that I will have to return and go straight to university. Life is
just playing out right now, always surprising and always unreal. Feels weird
to have a definitive plan, but for right now Iím just enjoying every moment.
Sometimes I think about my exchange and I know I wouldíve had fun if I
had stayed with my friends and family, inevitably seeing their photos and
hearing their stories and what not. But now I just have absolutely no idea
what I would do if I didnít know what I do now, and if I hadn't realized how
much I had taken for granted. Iím so much more thankful for everything now,
and even miss my little town, friends and old high school (I thought Iíd
never say that). Honestly, nothing can change someoneís life like a little
Exchange can only get better and better.
I celebrated my six months in France yesterday. It's sad to think that half
of my exchange is already over.
In terms of adventure, I went to Alps for New Years with my host family
which was just absolutely amazing. I went trekking through knee-high snow in
an untouched forest. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my
life. Inevitably I was ridiculed for being from Florida as I jumped and
plunged into the snow. I tried skiing for the first time, only to find out
how ungraceful I am.
A couple weekends ago my mom came to visit me. We stayed in Basel,
Switzerland which is a 20 minute train ride for me. We then visited some of
our friends who live in Freiburg, Germany and went to a spring carnival. It
was amazing doing three countries in a weekend, a unique facet of the
Yesterday was my first day of spring vacation. Tomorrow I'm leaving to
Strasbourg, then to Paris for our first bus trip (Paris/Barcelona). In
March, I have a "stage" with the Rotary, a sort of internship where I will
attend a technical "lycee" for a week and we learn how to work hands-on in a
patisserie and a butcherie. Then my class is taking off to London with the
school for a week, benevolently sponsored by my host Rotary club, followed
by a huge reunion with all of the exchange students in France. This is
currently my schedule for next month, and it's exactly what exchange is
about. Living, seeing, experiencing.
I think the best thing we can take out of exchange is learning not to
generalize, understanding that stereotypes do not define a culture, and
I have come across so many different people. There were plenty of people who
were genuinely interested, or ignorant, or critical, or mature, or formal,
or casual, or intelligent, or funny, or motivated or completely rude. There
is no way stereotypes do any justice to a country or its respective ways of
You will inevitably meet exchange students from all over the world who you
instantly connect with, and all of sudden the world is a lot smaller than
you thought it was. Somewhere along the way we lose our tendency to
generalize. The perspective allows us to grow so tolerant and so interested
in the rest of the world. Trivial problems that used to worry us dissolve
into distant memories that we always laugh about. For this, I cannot thank
the Rotary enough, but there's so much left to learn.
ďTravel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.Ē Ė Mark Twain