Mariah, outbound to France

This is my life so far and I love it. Can I stay forever?

I’m going to try to keep this in chronological order but more than likely I’ll stray from the point. I had a pretty nerve-wracking flight to Paris that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but the moment I reached the Clearmont-Ferrand airport I was at peace. I and a few other exchange students were greeted by our host families and some Rotarians.

We were all told to go to the international baggage pickup section but it took a while for everyone to notice. Thankfully I spotted the sign that said so and we made our way to grab our things. I’ve never gotten my luggage so quickly before, needless to say I was very content. Then the most interesting part came, greeting my host family and the other Rotarians…. In French. Thankfully, I had no problems at all with that and took many pictures then my host family and I made our way to the car.

My host dad had to go back to work so it was just me, my brother, sister, and mom. Since I’m so tall they insisted I sit in the front. (Also one of first things I was greeted with was “Wow you’re so tall!” Although I can’t remember who said it first) At this point I was exhausted but wanted to talk with my host family, it was so exciting to finally meet them! Everything felt so surreal. I was actually IN France and it was even more beautiful that I expected.

We had about an hour drive home and although my brain was barely functioning we managed to have a pretty nice conversation and I learned a lot of interesting things about the area. We also talked about how French men are very polite and them grabbing you two giant and heavy suitcases is normal and I should always let them, this was a bit odd for me but I loved it because at home I’m usually the one carrying the heavy suitcases and bags.

I was constantly saying “What is that?” “So pretty!” “ Wow, France is incredible!” By the end of the trip my host mom said how it was amusing that I said that about everything. I really did and still do find everything to be so beautiful, from the mountains to the small towns. When I finally arrived home all I wanted to do was sleep my host mom advised against it because it would ruin my sleeping schedule and boy was I happy my family kept me up.

My brother and sister showed me this card game that I still don’t exactly understand no matter how much I play it. My host brother never loses though, I thought my sister was joking when she said it but he’s really never lost in all the times we’ve played. I didn’t have too much jet lag and quickly got on the same sleeping schedule as everyone else. The first day my sister helped me unpack and I gave my host brother all the candy I had packed for everyone (He was very happy, he LOVES candy.)

We had dinner and honestly I have no idea how to explain it without butchering the idea of the dish. It was potatoes and ham/bacon with cream kind of made into a pastry pie crust. It was absolutely amazing and at that moment I realized I was going to love all French food. This has proven true so far. In France, families eat just about every meal together if we can and there are no cell phones at the table. I really love this because it helps me with my language skills and made bonding with my family a lot easier. We also eat a lot of potatoes here which I didn’t expect but I love how they always differ in flavor and texture.

Over the course of the next few days I visited some beautiful small towns and really got to know my host family better. My little brother loves candy and burgers and doesn’t enjoy vegetables so we often joke that he’s a little American, much to his dismay. He’s also a good sport about it though. My host sister is the same age as me and super funny and sweet! My entire family is perfect honestly. I feel like I couldn’t have been placed in a better first host family. It hasn’t been long but I love them all so much.

Now, on to my French skills! The first few days I was a bit lost, I would hear and recognize words but they just didn’t seem to process into sentences. So I would repeat whatever confused me and that usually results in a fun game of charades. My favorite time was when my family was explaining that the cheese I liked so much was goat cheese and everyone baa’ed at me. I said sheep but my brother thankfully came in and he said goat.

After being here a few weeks, I now understand most of the things being said and if I don’t, I’ll ask my host family to explain. I was shocked that I knew so much of the language after only about three weeks but I’m not complaining! The only difficulty I have language wise is expressing what I mean. Even though I understand so well, actually using the words I know to form a complete sentence is a whole other challenge. It gets very frus- trating from time to time when I’m at school or have something to say during a conversation but I just can’t find the words. I know this will get better in the coming months but for now I’ll just continue studying my pronunciation and vocabulary.

The weather has been perfect since I’ve been here, not too cold, not too hot. It’s rained once or twice but it was more of a drizzle. We had a Rotary camp for the entire district the very first weekend I was here and it was super fun! The night before I went to the camp I slept at my counselor’s house but we went to a rock and roll concert, French style. The band and crowd was pretty small but it was really an interesting atmosphere. Lots of people were smoking, as usual and at one point I ended up playing some sort of limbo with strangers who were carrying stage equipment and turned it into a game. It was a really great experience overall.

That same night before the concert I went to what I think was a Rotary meeting but I’m pretty sure it was a last minute thing and honestly I’m still trying to figure it out. I met my club president though and he was super nice! He immediately recognized my name because of the email I sent him (Thanks Scott!) Anyways at the camp for inbounds we played a bunch of different games and spent a lot of time just hanging out in general.

We went to visit a very old and huge castle the last day of the weekend and it was amazing. The fact that things exist and can look like that after hundreds of years is incredible. I’ll attach a photo of it if I can find one. I was really sad when it was finally time to leave but also relived! I actually really missed my host family and was much relieved to get some sleep.

The following Wednesday I started school. I was super nervous my first day and felt a little awkward walking into the school grounds with my host mom but I was quickly directed by students to a girl who spoke English which was a bit disappointing. She was very nice and ended up being in the same class as me but it often hinders my French learning.

In my class there are only six students who attend including me. There’s another girl but she’s very sick and never comes to school because of that. I think that was my biggest culture shock, I’ve never been in such a small class before. The other years of high school have a lot more students, for some reason the first year is just a really tiny class.

During the first week I sat beside Jasmin (The girl who speaks English) and whenever teachers couldn’t understand what I was saying or I didn’t understand them we all looked to Jasmin. Soon enough we were put on opposite sides of the class so I could progress in my French instead of having Jasmin helping me with everything. We now speak together in French rather than English so I’m happy for that. I can’t honestly say I love school but I certainly don't hate it. The teachers either treat me like a baby or expect the same quality of work as everyone else so it gets a bit confusing at times.

Everyone in my class is very shy and it’s difficult to get them talking sometimes but it’s gotten a lot better and we’ve all bonded quite a bit. Lots of kids smoke often and I don’t think I’ll even get used to all the second hand smoke but it’s normal now. School lunch is surprisingly good here! I was very shocked, it’s like a whole meal and very healthy. I like it a LOT more than the typical American school lunches.

School hours are also very long here so it’s a bit difficult to adjust to the class times and also the different class schedules every day but I’m getting the hang of it. Here, whenever a teacher enters the room we stand until they tell us to sit and that was very confusing my first day. I was dumbfounded and wondering why everyone was standing but after it was explained it’s become normal for me.

Every weekend I do something different with my family; we’ve climbed up to the center of an inactive volcano, searched for mushrooms, and ate a bunch of wild raspberries all in the span of one day. Another weekend we went to Vichy and walked around the shops. We also went to this super cool market that my town had. It was sort of like a huge flea market. They had everything from wine to live animals. My host sister bought a pair of jeans there but nothing really caught my eye. I had a lot of fun petting the horses and my host mom joked that I should buy a small goat to take home for my mom. I also met up with my third host mom and her husband; we talked for a bit then were on our way.

Every Wednesday I go to the library with my host mom and brother while my sister is at music lessons and pick up a few children’s books. It’s getting easier to read them and soon I think I’ll move on to more difficult reads. Overall I've never been happier and really enjoy everything about the culture (except the smoking!) I’ve never felt so indebted and grateful for something before. Without Rotary I would not be on exchange right now having the time of my life.

I managed to get lost already. I’ve never taken the bus in Florida so on the first day I was supposed to take the bus. I missed it and had to call my host mom. The second day was even better though, on Fridays I get out one hour early and didn’t realize. Of course I followed what I was told and took the first bus. I ended up about 20 kilometers away from home and had to ask a strange teenage boy to help explain to my host mom where the bus I was on was going. Thankfully, my host mom found this hilarious and we still make jokes about it all the time.

Now I’m a professional at taking the bus home and haven’t gotten lost since. I’m hoping I’ll manage to keep it that way and not get lost again! (Not likely.) Tomorrow I have my first real Rotary meeting with my club, I was rehearsing with my host family and my host mom said I sound like a commercial and proceeds to present the refrigerator just like they would in the commercials. I still can’t take my speech seriously but I got a good laugh from it. This is my life so far and I love it. Can I stay forever ?