Luke, Outbound to France

Coucou! Next week will mark my second month of being in this extraordinary country, France. It seems unreal that I am in this country even to this moment, and I sometimes have to close my eyes, re-open them, and pinch myself in order to make sure that this life isn’t a dream. At this point, I am more than sure that the hellish amount of paperwork and essays for Rotary back in the United States was completely worth it. Right now, I am in a 8 hour car ride to go to Cholet in the Northwest of France, but before I get there, I am going to rewind my whole exchange to the beginning.

I still remember the day I left my home country as if it were yesterday. After breaking tears at the airport with my family, I flew to Atlanta, where I had a connecting flight to Amsterdam International Airport. Unexpectedly, the flight didn’t seem that long, because I made good friends with a German person, Tassilo, (I’m surprised I remember his name!) and I ended up talking to him for most of the flight. Upon arriving at Amsterdam, I saw a couple other exchange students going to France, and we ended up staying together to wait for our final flight. I flew into Lyon that day, and I knew that there was something going on, because I couldn’t understand what people were saying to each other. It’s frustrating, when you’re trying to understand what people are discussing, and you can’t catch any of the sentences or even the words. Nonetheless, I was welcomed by a warm-hearted host family, the Mignet’s , at the airport. The family consists of the mother (Marietta), the father (Tony), and three brothers (Adrien, Angel, and Alix). Adrien left for his exchange in Brazil, so currently, I live with Angel, who is 13, and Alix, who is 10. They’re an extremely nice family, and I could sense their generosity from the first day. Anyways, the big idea is that on my first day in France, I definitely had an unusual feeling that I wasn’t in the United States anymore. From the obvious things such as language, to the less obvious things, such as the buildings, cars, landscapes, climate, and much more, I remember telling myself and my host family the phrase: “I am in France!” And yes, I am in France, the country of food and love, and the food hasn’t disappointed even once. Especially the cheese and bread. Every dinner, we have a cheese and bread course (After the main meal) and the bread here is crunchy and savory, so it is super good. Also, there are more than a million types of cheeses here, that even if I try one type of cheese everyday, I would not have eaten all types by the end of my exchange. My favorite type of cheese here right now is Beaufort, and the Beaufort and baguette is a match made in heaven. The main courses are just at good as the cheese and bread, but it is always the desserts in France that gets the credit. And I can understand why. From the savory mille-feuille to crêpes and tarte aux pommes, the patisseries here in France are phenomenal. Food plays a big role in my life at this point, that this blog post could be all about food!

But instead, I think it’s about time that you know where I live ;)

I live in the Southeast of France, in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, in the department of Drôme, and in the village of Montségur-sur-Lauzon. It’s a small village (1,200 people), and it is known for its Lavenders and truffles (the mushroom). Also, there is a small old castle that overlooks the village and has an incredible view. Old buildings, such as churches and castles are so common in France (And World War memorials), that nearly every village has one. I have already visited more than five castles and have seen numerous churches and buildings that have been dated back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To add on, the climate is definitely different from Florida, and I prefer it here more than Florida, because there is absolutely no humidity here. Instead it is much colder, and there is much more wind in this region. In addition, it rarely rains here, and most of the time, you can’t spot even one cloud in the sky. But I think I am not prepared for the winter, where it apparently becomes super cold that it snows from time to time. But the exchange students who are going to Scandinavian countries definitely have it worse (Shoutout to Brad and Zach!), so I am not complaining.

In order to save you guys from boredom, I will make a list of the highlights (In chronological order) of my time in France:

- Arrived in France!!!

- Visited neighboring villages (Clansayes, Grignan, Le Garde-Adhémar, etc.) and saw old chapels, castles and buildings during my first week in France.

- Went to the accrobranche and had a blast with my host brothers.

- Met my second and third host families and had a dinner with them.

- Went to Ardèche, and my host family and I canoed down the river for five hours (the view was phenomenal). At the end, we had a picnic with my second and third host families.

- Started school and was relieved to find out that my host brother of my third host family was in the same class that I was.

- Started Tennis and track and field (with my host brothers).

- Went to a Rotary meeting and was warmly welcomed by all the members (Also, the food at the meeting was amazing).

- Welcomed three new animals to the family (1 pig and 2 hamsters).

- Went to a festival with my friends and had the time of my life.

- Went to Annecy to meet the exchange students living in France for the first time, and made a lot of friends that were going through the same thing that I was. Exchange students all have a connection, and we understand each other the best ;).

- Visited Orange to see a famous old theater called le Théâtre Antique d'Orange.

- Went to a mountain cabin with my friend three hours from my home, and spent a night there.

- Hiked with my host family and my third host family in the mountains near the Mont Blanc.

- Saw my exchange friends for the second time.

- Went to the movies as a class.

- Had a cross-country race, and my class was definitely the best ;) Also, if we win, we get a day of skiing as a class!!!

- Went to the “American Festival” hosted by my village and the stereotype was that every American has a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

- Went to Avignon to cheer on my host brothers for a track and field competition. Also visited the city of Avignon.

- Currently going to the west of France (the city of Cholet) and next week, I will go again back to the mountain cabin of my friend (And host brother of my third host family) to spend a couple days there.

School:

School is getting a whole new section by itself, because my life right now is divided into two main sections: Life at school, and life not at school.

Anyways, I have just finished my seventh week of school, as there is a two-week vacation (Called Toussaint) after the first seven weeks of school. School normally starts at 8 in the morning, and finishes anywhere from 12 o’clock to 5 o’clock depending on the day. On Monday, I finish at 4 o’clock, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I finish at 5 o’clock, and on Wednesday, I finish at noon. Everyday (except Wednesday’s), I have an hour break to eat, and on Fridays, I have a three hour break, in which I will explain later what I do in the three hours. But before anything, I need to explain that school, especially the first day, is very awkward and hard.

Walking down the halls the first day of school is extremely awkward. I was lucky that my host brother could help me around. Especially in class, I could sense the stares of the people. It’s hard in that situation, to go up to different people and talk to them. And unlike the United States, most of the people don’t come up to you to talk to you. But everyone in my grade level is new to high school, so that made it a little easier to talk with more people. On the first day, most of the new friends I made were through my host brother, but by the third week of school, I felt much more comfortable talking to other people, and I had talked to everyone in my class and made friends that were not related to my host brother.

As for the courses, the first month, I didn’t understand a single sentence that my professor said. I caught a couple words and wrote down what everybody wrote, but the comprehension skill was not there. Nonetheless, I tried the homework, arriving with little to no success. Right now, the only classes I fully understand is math and English. The other classes, I’m struggling to understand, but I know that I am starting to catch more words and sentences that the professor is saying, so that is a good sign. In addition to my classes at high school, I have 4 hours of extra courses at middle school, in order to improve my French.

In addition, some of my best memories so far are definitely made at school. Every Friday, my friends and I go out to the city, because we have a 3 hour break to eat. I usually go to Kebab with my friends to eat on Fridays. My class has gathered at the park during these 3 hour breaks, and we normally talk with each other and spend our time peacefully. Also, our whole grade level has gone to the movies and had a running competition, which are kind of like “field trips” in the United States. I am obviously biased, but my class, 2nd3, is definitely the best, and we are the most tightly-knitted group, compared to any other class in our school :). Perhaps I will go into further detail on the broad topic of school later. All in all, I absolutely love going to school right now (Not for the courses, but my friends) and there are new things to do everyday with the people in my class that makes it fun.

To future exchange students (Or anybody interested in doing exchange) who had the patience to read my blog post:

Firstly, congratulations for reading through this blog post ;). As a nice gift, I will give my tips for what I did and what I wish I had done when I was in the United States.

1. You can never over-practice your language. Exchange will be ten times much easier if you have a basic understanding of the language before you leave for exchange.

2. Get organized, right now. I wish I had learned that exchange requires so much organizing of life, because nobody is here to tell you how to spend each day and what to do.

3. Learn your country, and after you know where you are going, look at a map. That way, when you are lost, you will know where you are, unlike me.

4. Get cooking. Cooking with the host family is precious bonding time! So far, I’ve cooked dinner and made desserts for my host family.

5. Get in shape. I’ve definitely walked 100x more than my time in the United States, and I’ve still gained weight because the food is just too good :)

6. Get your news reel rollin’. People really want to know what is happening in your country, and it’s also cooler just to know some basic current events.

7. Learn your conversions. The metric system exhausted me the first month I was here. Learn your conversions beforehand!

8. Just apply (If you haven’t). Exchange will open your world to so many more things, and learning a different culture through exchange has changed my life.

It is impossible to capture everything that has happened in the last two months, but hopefully I gave a good overview on what the first two months of exchange is like. I am enjoying every day of my exchange, despite all the hardships and occasional waves of homesickness, because I don't want to leave any regrets during my exchange. The first two months have definitely passed by too fast. All in all, I have had a phenomenal time in the first two months in this country, and I am just starting to understand the extent of greatness that the Rotary Youth Exchange program encompasses. It is truly a program that connects two cultures, and I am honored to represent the United States in promoting world peace. Merci Rotary pour cette opportunité génial!

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