Carley, outbound to France


WHAT A MONTH! I love love love love loveeeeee France!

The day of my departure I just couldn't believe it. It seemed like just yesterday I was saying "40 weeks til France!" and now I was saying "we have to leave for the airport in 5 mins."

Every inch of France is perfect. As soon as I got off my plane at CDG Paris, we went straight to see the Eiffel Tower. I never knew a tall piece of metal could be so gorgeous. Honestly a breath taking site. A couple of times I literally had to pinch myself, I just couldn't believe it. So many times I've had dreams about being there and pinched myself awake. So obviously I had to double check.

Shortly after being picked up from the airport and going to the Eiffel Tower we went home. It was a 2 ½ hour ride, pushing everything I had to keep myself awake, I was running on 4 hours of sleep because the night before my departure I was so stunned that the next day I was leaving, sleeping wasn't an option. Than on the 8 hour turbulent plane ride I had a group of teens who didn't seem to notice everyone around them wasn't trying to sleep. Or the fact my chair didn't go back.

My first week in France was great. My host family is beyond amazing. To get one thing clear about French stereotypes, I have yet to meet one rude French person. Everyone here is beyond friendly and I love it! The village I am in isn't what really comes to mind when I think "village". Its a small town in a town. The culture shock really wasn't that big for me because the landscape is a lot like the landscape of where I'm from in New Jersey. Lots of farmland. Not to mention every person on my street has cows. Yes, cows and I love it! To come from a beach town to a farm town with more cows than people, it's honestly so amazing.

Everyone knows everyone here. One thing I won't get used to is not wearing shorts and a tank top. All jeans and all long sleeves all the time. To compare the weather here, it is the same latitude as Maine ....SUPER COLDDD!! Except the fact this past week has been 75-80. My luck, I have nothing but warm clothing, so you could imagine the sweat dripping off me.

My first morning coming down stairs was super awkward. I felt like a complete stranger (which I was) and felt so weird coming down to breakfast to a different mom. In America, I never really ate breakfast. So coming here was a big change when breakfast was a semi-big thing. Breakfast mainly consists of bread, fruit, nutella, orange juice, and milk. Since I'm already on the subject of food...FRENCH FOOD IS THE BEE'S KNEES. I've never tasted anything so amazing in my entire life.  And dad if your reading this don't get offended... My host mom is one of the greatest cooks. Everything is just amazing and ugh, I love food.

Lunch seems to be as important as dinner. My appetite wasn't used to all the different times of eating and the proportions. First let me get one thing clear, I can eat. Not a general statement but the amount of food I eat is completely outrageous for the 16 year old girl I am. As my dad says "I have a hollow leg". So obviously I was always hungry the first 2 weeks but scared to just go into the fridge. Or to even show my host family I actually eat a lot. Within the 3rd week I was eating a lot more...The thing is after we have a meal I'm always still hungry. Since I'm starting to feel a lot at home, I've been feeling more comfortable eating. Slowly, I feel the daily bread and yummy pastries going straight to my cheeks and thighs.

Something that has taken a lot to get used to was the bathrooms. The bathroom and the shower are on completely different levels of the house. (Did I mention I have my own shower??)

The first week here,there was a Rotary weekend with all of the other exchange students in my district (1520) at Dunkerque. Which is a town right on the English Channel. Here I was told we were going to the beach, so being from a beach town I was super excited and ready to get my beach on. Then found out I would actually be shrimping, a little hesitant on what I would be expecting I was still excited because I love the beach. When we arrived at the beach it was 50 degrees. 50 degrees and here we are shrimping in cold water, how horrible right? WRONG! Despite how it sounds it honestly was one of the funnest things I've ever done.

Before going for the weekend, we picked up 2 other exchange students who are in my town and go to the same school as me. Belen who is from Bolivia and Felipe who is from Brazil. This weekend was one of the greatest weekends of my life. Not only are Belen and Felipe my ultimate besties, but at the weekend, I've met 50 other exchange students who are now some of my best friends. Everyone at the weekend just clicked and it was honestly such an amazing feeling. To be in 1 place with people who understand what you're feeling and going through and just being able to connect with each other is honestly the greatest.

At the weekend I also met 12 other exchange students who are considered the "oldies" who are from Australia that arrived in January and will be leaving in January. Basically, the big siblings of all of us "newbies". The oldies accepted us with open arms and open conversations to talk to them about anything and everything. Who would have thought just a bunch of names on a piece of paper would now become some of your life long friends.

Now, on to the first day of school. Scariest day of my life and no doubt the most confusing. Not only with the fact I have no clue what any of my teachers are saying but also the schedule. Nothing like Florida school days. My first day I was dropped off at my 4th host families house (who lives right down the street from the school) and I walked with my host brother Clement who is also a student there. Clement and I have 2 completely different classes. He is in Science and I am in literature. So when the bell rang to begin class I was beyond lost and wanted to cry. But Clement stayed with me to make sure I got to class.

BUT the school didn't even have a schedule made for me. After they told Clement to go to class I was on the brink of tears. I had no classes, no friends, and all by myself in a place I felt like I didn't belong. THEN THE GREATEST THING HAPPENED. I was reunited with Belen and Feilipe. They were just as relieved to see me as I was to see them. As they sent us to our classes (which all had different classes) you could feel the separation anxiety happening between us. (it's the exchange student bond obviously).

Going into my classroom everyone was just staring at me. Here I am, an outsider in a class of students who have been in the same class with each other for years, I now really felt out of place. I'm in a class of about 30 kids who are separated into groups for different classes. Unlike Florida schools where the schedule is already made, the teacher told you the classes and you had to make your own schedule. I was already overwhelmed with it being the first day of school, but got even more overwhelmed with not being able to understand the teacher when she was telling us what classes.

Clearly with tears in my eyes I asked the person next to me. He knew no English, but he could tell I was struggling. So he made a schedule for me that was very sloppy, but it was a schedule. As I'm in the middle of trying to talk to another student next to me about my schedule the group of girls behind me ask me if I knew French, and I responded "un peu" meaning a little. Than they asked me what language I spoke and I responded "Anglais". Thankfully god sent me a great gift of a girl behind me who was British and knew English. Now I know I'm not supposed to be speaking English but I was lost beyond my mind and I needed all the help I could get.

After getting things got clearer they asked me if I wanted to eat lunch with them. I accepted, I did not want to be the new girl eating lunch in the bathroom. Bringing me to another subject; lunch. At school people actually eat the lunch. Unlike the school lunches at home which no one ever seemed to touch. (Like I said earlier, lunch is a major meal here) which was a little weird for me. Walking into a cafeteria it was like a buffet. My eyes widened with over joy. The lunch at school is amazing compared to home, but horrible compared to my host mom's cooking.

Finally starting to make my group of friends, school isn't becoming such a drag. Since people found out I was American they've been more how do I say, welcoming? Not to mention the fact they are completely gullible. People ask me some pretty weird questions, so obviously I’m going to have a little fun with it. “Do you work at Disney??” “Of course! I play the princess of Cinderella!” OH! And dozens of kids wear the American flag. On the subject of dressing for school, oh my. There's no such thing as a lazy day in French school when it comes to clothing. Everyday you have to be dressed "nicely". Not like suit nicely, but the French kids judge harshly by the types of clothes you wear. Let me say, its quite exhausting trying to dress as non sloppy as I can for school.

One thing I really wish would go away is my constant sleepiness. I'm always catching myself dozing off in class, or even riding in the car. I'm always the first one to bed but the last one to get up. I could get more than 12 hours of sleep and still be just as tired as if I had 2 hours of sleep. 

Before I end this blog I would just like to thank Rotary for this amazing experience and everyone who is helping me and supporting me through this. This has been an awesome month and I can't wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for me. 

Jack Murray was right about those "what the hell am I doing here" moments. I've asked myself that question almost every single day. But I wouldn't trade these moments for anything. Every second here has been amazing to me.