Dani, Outbound to France

It’s surreal the fact that a little over four months have passed by since I stepped off a plane in Lyon’s Saint-Exupery airport and met most of the people I now considered my family. In the past 128 days, I’ve discovered more about the world and myself than I ever did throughout high school. December was probably the biggest learning adventure to this point that felt like a never-ending roller coaster, so this blog will probably be one of the longest.

The holidays started off on the right foot with a very merry Thanksgiving. I offered to cook a Thanksgiving meal for my host parents, who absolutely loved it. Over the course of two afternoons, I made my first Thanksgiving dinner as I was jamming to Christmas carols; I prepared everything from the stuffing and cornbread to the apple pie. I also managed to share a little more of my American culture with my classmates through a slice of apple pie as I explained the importance of Thanksgiving and how my family celebrates it at home. It was a success and to my surprise, I didn’t burn any of the dishes nor the kitchen! Following Thanksgiving week, I had an excursion to the region of Beaujolais, one of the largest wine-producers. We visited the Hameau Duboeuf Wine Museum where I got the chance to receive a “wine-education;”learning from the production to the maturity of wines. It was an amazing visit for the day and I got the chance to learn more about wines, a French jewel.

December was the most wonderful time of the year. It started off with a family road trip to Alsace to visit the most beautiful Christmas market in Europe- Colmar. There is truly a no better way to get in the holiday spirit than by visiting one: the lights going through the houses, the shops selling ornaments, the smell of vin chaud and the sound of kids singing Christmas carols-all the signs calling for Christmas! On my trip, I also got the chance to sample some local delicacies: white chocolate brioche, Flammekueche(a tart with ham, cheese, heavy cream, and onions) and tons of Choucroute Alsacienne. Plus, I had the pleasure to scratch off my bucket list escargots(snails) and grenouille(frog legs). I was a little scared to try off grenouilles since I imagined an actual frog on my plate but I embraced it and ended up loving them.The next weekend, I celebrated like a true Lyonnaise la “Fête des Lumières.”Lyon was one of the few cities untouched by the Black Death; therefore all residents, as a way to thank Virgin Mary for saving them from the plague, light up candles by their windows the night of December 7th. The event evolved into a beautiful light festival that takes place the same weekend where all the major plazas and buildings light up giving its name as the “city of lights.”Friday, I celebrated with my host family by putting candles around the house and making crepes while Saturday, I visited most light exhibits with my friends. Because of all of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in Europe these past five years, security has been reinforced everywhere so it was quite difficult moving around in one night. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the lights displayed in Place Bellecour and throughout Vieux Lyon- a night to remember for sure!

Just when things couldn’t get any better, Mother Nature sent an early Christmas present: SNOW. It was so beautiful and unexpected; the weather channel has been announcing it for weeks but nothing happened. A Monday morning, my host mom woke me up and guided me to the balcony for a surprise: everything was covered snow! Since it was a surprise for all, the buses stopped working and so did the metro, therefore, school was canceled. I spent my day listening to “White Christmas” while drinking hot chocolate- just like in my favorite Christmas movies. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I got the chance to enjoy the snow for real at the French Alps with my host family and their friends. I was so excited that the night we arrived, I ran out the door to play with the snow; I did my first snow angel, played my first snowball fight and went down a sled in my winter wonderland.

While I had a wonderful time all throughout my exchange, this month was certainly the hardest. It started with the obvious winter blues that come with the holiday season; there was less sunlight, more rain, fewer degrees and so on which made it difficult at first to go out. I remember looking at the weather in South Florida and on multiple occasions wishing I could be at the beach rather than home with my sheets. With more free time at home, social media was the way to go so seeing pictures of all my friends heading back home to their families, hanging out in my hometown certainly didn’t help. I remember at Orientation thinking how it could never happen to me as if homesickness was a myth and not my reality. I had to embrace it: I was homesick and I had to do something to snap out it. I didn’t want to stop my exchange for some fuzzy feeling so I had to come back and fast, resiliency. For starters, I began accepting the weather: carrying an umbrella, wearing coats and sweaters-this made it easier to actually enjoy my city. I also stopped checking social media as often, giving myself some space to profit each one of my days to the fullest. Last, I stopped comparing home to France and it is the latter one that had the biggest impact. All I could think at first was how my Christmas tree at home was prettier, the weather nicer in Miami, the season somehow jollier and the food warmer. However, it was all in my mind and so out of context. I focused on all the positive things, realizing that there would probably be one Christmas out of eighty-something that I won’t spent at home. Besides, how many people get the chance to say they spent a French Christmas? Not many so it was all about looking at the positive side. In reality, my Christmas day was wonderful with presents from my host parents and a delicious lunch-dinner with tons of seafood, escargots, turkey and so much more. I celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my host dad’s family in the region of Calais, northern France. We also visited Arras and their Christmas market-which check plus, I got to ice skate with my host mom and spent the following weekend at the French Alps with my family and their friends.

To start off the year on the right foot, I got the best compliment any exchange student could hope for at my Rotary meeting. As I was talking with a Rotarian, he stopped me to congratulate me on my French saying that I sound just like a local; I was overly joyous! Like they say it, at the end “vouloir c’est pouvoir”-meaning when there’s a will, there’s a way. Learning your language pays off: every hello and goodbye, every awkward small talk and all other efforts were finally rewarded.The merriest season of all came to an end but as 2018 starts, I can only hope for a more fulfilling adventure.

Until next time,

Bisous Bisous

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