Bienvenue Tout le Monde! >> Welcome Everyone!

I am SO excited, and do you know why? Because I am living in France for the ENTIRE year! I arrived here in Tulle, France on the 26th of August, and I will return sometime in June of 2011. I have three families that I will be living with, each for three or four months. I am attending a lycee or a high school here for my junior year classes. I hope that you will check this blog for updates on my life in France.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Home Is Where The Heart Is

            A year in life is sacred. Some years, more than others, we feel like more eventful things took place. We feel some years were unusually prosperous, or successful. Other years we feel like we experienced a lot of difficulties. The fact of the matter is that every year, no matter where or how it is spent, changes and makes us who we are. My year in France certainly did that, and much much more.
            I have been home since June 23rd. My parents and my best friend Marie came to visit me my last week in France. I took them around Paris and my region. I introduced them to my host families, friends, and everyone else that helped make my year so special. It was fun, but not easy. You could say I had a French test while they were there. I had to translate and interpret for them the entire week. Everyone finally believed me when I said that my parents do not speak French. It was funny mixing my two worlds together, but I am glad I had a chance to share my experiences with them. My mom helped me pack my five, yes five, large suitcases. Then my parents and Marie left France just one day before me.
There are no words to describe that last day I spent in France. I could not believe that the year had actually ended or that I was heading back home to my normal life. It was so hard to believe because my French life felt like my normal life. I tied up some loose ends, like membership cancelations, and then I spent most of the day with my friends. I had lunch and walked around the city with them. I gave them small gifts, and we all tried not to talk about me leaving. At the end of the afternoon, when my friends were waiting on their buses home, we were joking and laughing as if I was just leaving for the weekend. I will never forget that moment of three second silence when their buses pulled up. We all agreed that I would be back, and I knew that they are indeed my true friends, and will always be there waiting for me when I come back.
Early the next morning, my host mother drove me to the airport and gave me a hug goodbye. I had my suitcase that was 49 pounds, (haha to the airline company) I checked in, and I started on a very very very very long journey. I had one flight from a city called Clermont-Ferrand to Paris, Paris to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis. All of these exchanges took over 24 hours to do! I went through so many random and unsanctioned security checks, and had to pay taxes once I was in the country! But…I was so excited to be home and see my parents in St. Louis, that I kept my cool. Not to mention how excited I was for my shinny new beetle waiting for me in the airport parking lot. J (Thank you again Dad)
The big question everyone has now is: How are you adjusting to being back home? The truth is, it is hard coming back. Only the other exchange students could understand, as it is so hard to explain. I grew up immensely, but I did so in France. I miss that glorious food that taught me how to eat right and well. I miss the cute boutiques that have forever changed my sense of fashion. I miss the nature that taught me how alive the hills are. I miss my school that showed me that hard work can be fun and beneficial at the same time. I miss my host parents that taught me how to handle freedom. I miss my friends, (especially you: Lune, Romane, Romane the sister, Charlene, Juliette, Julien, Augustin, Christine, Jana, and Maggie) who I was able to make, choose, and get to know. It is not easy leaving all of that behind. 
First picture in the US!
God gave me the opportunity to find myself. He blessed me more than anyone could possibly fathom. He gave me a chance to find the real me, and live the life that I have always wanted. I now understand the meaning of the phrase “home is where the heart is.” My home is in the United States of course. I love my country, and I love all of you, but there will always be a piece of my heart in France. There, with all those individuals, places, and adventures that made me who I am today, are what make “ma propre vie” or my one true life.
Thank you all for your support and prayers this year. It brings me joy to know that I am so loved and cared for. It is with all of you that I made it though this year, and it is with all of you that I will make it through the many adventures that are yet to come. I hope that everyone enjoyed my blog, “France, The Rotary and Me,” as I loved sharing how France and the Rotary changed me.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A 1,2, a 1,2,3!

When life gives you lemons and you asked for eggs, you make lemonade anyway. My French life has changed once again with my third host family. I am still having a wonderful experience, even with the numerous changes. Families #1 and #2 were charms, so of course the 3rd… (Do I even need to say the cliché?)
My new house!
About one month ago I moved -no dove into my final family. I did not go kicking and screaming even though I wanted to shout “no host mommy #2 take me with you!” But I made a commitment. So I packed my 7 bags (yes that will be a problem for the plane ride home) and traveled ten minutes away to a sportive, culturally diverse, and completely different family. I now have two host brothers who are 9 and 14, and one host sister who is 18 and a senior. My host dad works for an arms manufacturer, and my host mother is a nurse. But what is interesting is that my host mother is Hollandaise, and married my host father in Arabia before moving to France. They are a family that understands the meaning of the word “foreigner.” We do not eat French dishes all of the time, but different cuisines from all over the world.  They prefer and appreciate American movies and love all main-stream American music. However their real passion is…wait for it…rugby! I don’t think I have mentioned rugby, which is amazing actually. If you are French, and you do not like rugby, they may strip you of your citizenship. It is the game of the country. My smallest host brother plays on the team coached by his father, and my older host brother was scouted by a championship winning team. They know every team, statistic, or player there is to know. I have grown to like rugby, but I still prefer American football. Believe it or not, American football is a lot less dangerous. Still, there is something about rugby that intrigues me. My third family is not at all like my families before. I would not say that I am happier, as I do miss my second family very much. But it is another way of life, and another opportunity to learn, grow, and make the most out of my experience. 
            With all of my new family adjustments within the past few weeks, I have still managed to prove that I am a true triple threat. I can sing, act, and give a speech. It all began on May 15th when I gave a half an hour speech IN FRENCH with a Q&A afterwards about my life in the United States and my exchange year. This is a requirement for all Rotary students, whether for your host club or for others in the community. My host club was quite enough. I know that I am a debater, but trust me a speech in another language is indeed much much more stressful. Luckily Romane, my awesome host sister #2, was there to cheer me on and calm me down. I also snuck in a quick prep talk from my Dad. All in all, I would say it was not bad, for an American. ;)
My friend and I just before the concert
            On the 26th I sang in the choir with my high school and the local middle schools. (All in French of course) The theme was Dadaism, or songs that mean absolutely nothing, but everyone sings and listens to anyway because the beat is great. We all had on crazy shirts, and looked like bombs went off in our hair. It was great for the ambiance, and it was great having a bad hair day on purpose.
            The next day, bright and early at 7 am, I took the SAT/ACT for theater. Yes, there is even a test for theater. I cannot take the test, but I can help out a friend. I play Ophelia in Hamlet in the violent scene after “To be or not to be” where I pronounce my love, and Hamlet tells me to go to a convent. It is not the happiest of scenes, but we…were…BRILLIANT! We played that scene so well, even I was crying at the end.
I am in front on the left-hand side
            We are up to Friday night. I sang one again, but this time with the jazz choir and orchestra for my city. Who would have known that an American accent makes for a good singer? We sang in French, with a few English hits as well like "New York, New York" and "Georgia."  I was truly enthralled by everyone’s talent; the young singers, my peers, and the teenage orchestra are all skilled musicians. There were about 600 spectators! The sound filled the entire auditorium. You know how music can just take you away?... Music and I still haven’t returned!
This is the flyer that was posted all over the city
And then finally, (I told you a triple threat) last Monday I performed my scene Hamlet in English, and a scene from Permafrost in French, for the public. Nerves were not defined until before this performance. Hamlet is emotionally difficult, but Permafrost is another thing completely. It’s in French so if someone doesn’t understand my accent, I can’t repeat it. But I told myself, if you say something wrong, at least say it loud and proud. I would say that it was a success, American accent and all. I performed with the theater group managed by my second host family. Everyone in the group comes from a different background, our ages range from 15 to 40, and everyone performs a different text. The way that everyone comes together however, is what makes the group truly special. Everyone performed their scene with passion and true depth. I was just as much of a spectator as an actress. I am grateful that I was able to participate and perform, especially with such a great group of actors and actresses. 
            Needless to say, I have had my share of the spotlight. Now I am looking forward to literally my last few days of school and then…VACATION! Unfortunately, or fortunately, I will be spending my summer vacation in the US. Everyone is asking when I go home, if I am ready to go, and how my family is at home. Of course I miss home, I miss you all in the US, but it is still difficult for me not to cry. I have a life here, I friends from all over the world that I must say goodbye to. It will be difficult to leave my "more than just a home away from home", but I will, and I will be stronger and happier than ever. And of course I will be returning to France next summer. (This is a very clear demand and proposal Mom and Dad) Everyone is still welcome to comment, facebook, or e-mail me. Look out for my last post as it is true that I will be home in a couple of weeks.
             Yes, everything must come to an end. That just means soon, there will be a beautiful new beginning. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I Marched through April to see what the future May bring

Have you ever noticed how time passes? I’m sure at one point you have said: “it seems like it was just yesterday…” Yes, this is an all too popular cliché, but we say this phrase because it is true. It seems like just yesterday I arrived in France. But it was actually over 240 yesterdays ago. In February I was excited about my new resolutions, and my new experiences. Well, I have had some of these new experiences, and like this year, they have brought so much worth to my life; spiritual, social, scholarly, French, American, and all.

One of my favorite features of the Rotary is the time I spend with the other exchange students. I can truly say I spent time with them, as we took a one week trip of France and Spain…on a bus! European countries are very close together, but still it takes time between the top of France and Spain. So I spent every moment for a week with every culture, race, and creed in this world. We started in Paris, and of course saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and ate in the little Parisian cafes. Everyone rushed to get their fill of Starbucks Coffee, and all of the girls complained how there wasn’t enough time to shop. There are just some things that do not change country to country. Then we boarded the bus and drove, and drove, and drove, until we reached another gorgeous country in Europe…Espagne!
Just one side of the church in Barcelona

Needless to say all the students from South American countries were very excited, but all of us were. I know I was, just for the idea of seeing another country. I was very embarrassed that I do not speak Spanish. I hate the feeling of not being able to communicate. But I have a good friend from Columbia who was able to translate everything for me. She ordered my food, and helped me shop, so I was not completely lost. I saw the biggest church in the world, Sangrada Familia, that was begun in 1906, and will not be finished until 2026! I ate the best mussels in Europe, and saw the Olympic stadiums.

Even though I was technically a tourist, spending a year in France definitely changed the idea of tourism for me. I did not take 1000 pictures like I did when I visited France in 2008.  I did not even buy souvenirs everywhere I went. The last time I was in Europe I felt as though it was the only time I would be able to visit. But then I came back for a year. I did not feel like it is a matter of if I will see Spain again, but when.

Me and Jana from Germany
My head is still filled with all that I learned from the other students. There are some things that I just don’t think about in regards to other countries. Like how my German friend feels about her country after WWII, or how people from Asian countries choose an English name, or how we hear stories about violence in South American countries, that are actually very peaceful. We have so many images and perceptions on the rest of the world that are often not true. America is called the melting pot because we have so many of these cultures. That is why it truly surprises me how I am just now learning what life is truly like in the rest of the world. Now I am just thinking about how long it will take to see all of these countries, because it is something that I truly want and must do.

As usual I must talk about school. Who would I be or what would France be if I didn’t? I recently took the Bac Blanc. This is the PSAT, or the PLAN test. And after taking this test I instantly thanked God for the SAT and ACT. I cannot believe what the average French student must do to get into college. I took the literature, science, and math, and gym portions! Yes, gym as well. The SAT in France is not multiple choice. It is all short answer and essay questions. The first part of the literature section was four hours long. I had one text and the four hours to read it and write a mini-dissertation. Then in the second portion, you are required to give an oral presentation in front of a teacher. You are given a text and thirty minutes to analyze it. Then you speak about the text for ten minutes, and have a ten minute interrogation by the teacher. At the end I was happy that it was a) over and b) not my SAT/ACT. But I am much more confident for my standardized tests as a result. The great news is…that I passed! It was a long road, but that was okay because afterwards in April, I was on a TWO week vacation…which I am getting to, don’t worry!

Wherever I go, politics follows me. My host parents were talking about how a prominent politician in my region would be announcing his candidacy for president. They wanted to go, but had to work. My host sister had class, but I did not, so I said I would go and watch. So I walked to the government building, and there was the press from all over the country waiting and getting ready for the big announcement. Anyone important was there trying to get a great spot behind the podium where Francois Hollande would be announcing his candidacy. I stayed quietly in the back. I was only there to watch. Then a member of the congress and a friend of my host father recognized me. What happened next, I still cannot believe. He called me over, and placed me right behind the podium. I was right next to Mr. Hollande during his speech. Therefore every citizen, on every tv station, in very newspaper, and every website in France, saw me. I am an official celebrity! (no pictures please). The next day everyone was asking how I happened to be there, and was amazed how out of everyone, it was the American that got the best spot. I still cannot believe it, but like I said politics just follows me.

Me at the Sea!
I am sure I said I had another TWO week vacation, but in case I didn’t, from April 16th until May 2nd, I did not have school. Great, now that I have mentioned my vacation, I can explain what I did for vacation. With my host family we went to the west coast to the sea. It was great to have a little bit of time  for R&R. I read books and listened to music in French and English on the beach. We took a 12 mile bike ride along the sea. (And of course I was tired and sore afterward.) And big surprise...we went shopping. Even though I was happy for the time to relax, I was happier for the time with my host family. I love spending time with my host sister, and we have grown incredibly close in such a short time. I have been so great with my entire second host family, grandparents included, but it is time to go to my third host family. I don’t know what to expect, but that is life. We never know what will happen. We pray that everything will be alright, and as always God does what is right.

I don’t have much time left in France which has become clear to me. As much as I don’t want to admit it, nor my friends and host families, I will have to leave my home away from home. I said I wanted to live my life to the fullest, and that is what I am doing. I work in school, I have fun with my friends, and I observe my surroundings. Someone recently asked me what I want to do before I leave. All I could say is everything, as usual. I do not want to leave one stone unturned, and I will do the best I can not to do that.

 My next post will come much sooner. (Yes I know a lot of time passed between the two posts)  My life will change again when I change families, so I will keep you updated! Comment if there is something in particular you would like to know.

Time passes, that is inevitable, but it can pass as long as you are enjoying life. I am enjoying life, so time, go ahead, I am ready. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

I Feel Anew For My New News!

Everyone feels like a new person, or at least wants to be when a new year comes around. And every year at the end, we look back and ponder if we have actually changed. Well, I have changed, as well as my life, and not just because I now write 2011 on my homework. I have officially changed my host family, my French life, and my life. Change is difficult, but change is…exciting!
It's not easy loosing family, but it's really not easy leaving the family that replaced your family. But that's exactly what I went through. Needless to say I became attatched to my first family. They are the ones that filled in the holes of homesickness, parentlessness, and overall nostalgia with care, time, knowledge, and true friendship for life. I felt like a five year old leaving an amusement park, "I don't wanna go, I don't wanna go!" But I knew that it is was important that I see several ways of living in France; it's a part of the experience.
My last day with my first family
I packed and prepared for learning that lesson, but not before doing one more thing with my host family. We spent the weekend before Christmas with the cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, the whole gang. We ate together at a resteraunt, all 25 of us, and returned to my host aunt's house for traditional French dancing. If you have ever seen a party in a movie about early Europe like Pride and Prejudice, you have seen the way I danced. The European, not at all homecoming, or even waltz stlye of dancing. Everyone said that I was spectacular and learned very quickly. Of course, I said it was my sense of rythm. 123, 123, 123 and... We danced and laughed, and fellowshiped the night away. It is my last true memory with my first host family, and one I will cherish.
The next day I finished packing and said my last goodbye, for a new experience was waiting for me, 25 minutes away...
My new home!
Just FOUR days before Christmas I arrived at the doorstep of my new family. I had no idea what to expect, to do, or even breathe. It wasn’t even five minutes when I said to myself…I am home! I was greeted by my new host parents and my host sister! Yes, I now have a 15 year old sister, and yes it is fun. I got my room all arranged and symmetrically coordinated. My room is not quite the same as my mini house with my first family, but it spacious, and I have traditional French shutters. As you can see my house is gorgeous, with stained glass windows, and the original woodwork. (I feel like a real estate agent, but it's the truth) There are three fireplaces and almost twenty doors. It wasn’t just the look of the house that made me comfortable. It was the warmth and welcome that I felt by my family. My host sister and I instantly clicked as we told each other how great it was going to be to sleep during vacation. And then we laughed as we explained we would wake up to a. eat or b. shop. We spent so much time together over break. I think we watched about ten movies, and went shopping just as often. By New Years we had our own inside jokes. She’s the sister that I never had.
If you know me, you know how I just love Christmas. The Rotary tells everyone that the most difficult time of the year is the holidays. That may be true, but I was eating too well to notice. We spent Christmas Eve at the parents’ of my host mother. My host grandparents are country renown hotel entrepreneurs. So we ate literally a five-star meal. I ate lobster for an appetizer on Christmas Eve, followed by soup, turkey, potatoes, the best salad I have ever eaten, green beans, homemade cheese, black walnut ice cream…sorry I was dreaming about the meal. After, we went to Christmas service in this incredibly ancient and small church. It was not my church that I know and love, but it was wonderful being able to celebrate the birth of Jesus in one of His oldest homes.
Guess I was nice this year
The next morning was Christmas. I was not very excited. When I woke up I asked myself: “How many presents could I possibly get, they barely know me?” When I entered the living room I asked myself: “How could they possibly give me this many presents, they barely know me?” I was showered with presents. I received clothes, books, journals, gift cards, chocolate, perfume, and so many other things. I was close to crying. I was so grateful for what my host family had done for me. Here I was, a stranger, a nice stranger, but one none the less, and receiving just as many presents as my host sister. 5000 miles away from my family and the Christmas spirit was just as strong. We enjoyed Christmas dinner made by my host father with his family. One of the cousins played the guitar and the entire family sang together around a large fireplace. It was truly a Kodak moment. Sure there was always apart of me that longed for my family on Christmas, but it wasn’t able to bring me to homesickness. In a way I was with my family, my French, no relation whatsoever, but still wonderful anyway, family.
            On New Years Eve I couldn’t believe that 2010 was over. At the beginning on 2010 I had just found out that I was going to France. I was a sophomore just trying to make it through the school year. I was making plans for the summer, and then making plans for my trip.  It was the first day of the year that I came to terms with everything I had been through that year. I then thought about what I want to do with not only my future, but in 2011, and in France. We all have different desires, dreams, and secrets. The only thing that everyone has in common is the tendency and desire to change for the better. So I marked January 1, 2011 the first day of the rest of my life. The first day that I make the most out of life. 
I went back to school ready and excited. I returned with a new and fresh attitude. My first month back has been tiring, but so much more fun. I decided to just talk more, be funny and personable. I can now say that I have friends. Not just people I follow so that I am not alone, but people who ask where I am if I am not there, people who are always listening even when I start talking about Twilight, people that I can text, facebook, or call whenever I want, people who make me smile. I have already made my plans to visit my friends here in 2012 (I hope you are aware of this mom and dad) and they have made plans to visit me next year as well. I am more than just as American now, I am someone. It’s amazing how much that can mean.
I already see a place for this in my living room
I had parent teacher conferences in January, and my homeroom teacher told me that I work too much. I cannot believe that is possible, but if he says so. Therefore I have now taken on new activities in addition to my new attitude. I am a singer in the French jazz choir. I guide the group in our English piece “lil’ darling,” and I follow along with everyone else with the songs in French. In French there are no notes A.B.C.D.E.F.G. The notes for instruments and singing are Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ci, Do. So in the choir we sight read. While everyone else sees and sings the notes Re and Mi, I see D and E. So the choir is not as easy as it seems, but I enjoy it and that's the important thing. I also have piano. This is the piano that I practice on. (I want that for Christmas next year) I have had a couple of jam sessions. (Not bad ones for an American I might add) Aside from music I have joined a tech savvy sports center. The fitness  center has all touch screen machines that are equipped with televisions playing my favorite American series in French. Then there is a little flash drive that connects to the machines for tracking your progress. It is pretty awesome I must say, but it doesn't have a song like the YMCA does. And then…(if I have not already joined enough) I am in a drama class run by my host parents. The Bottom Theater Company is a respected theater group owned by my host parents. They perform, direct, teach in schools, anything having to do with the theater. I was scared out of my mind to improvise and act in French. But as it turns out, I am not completely and totally terrible! I am working on a scene in Hamlet with another member of the group. My host parents have started me on a project. I am memorizing the scene in French and English. Yes, I speak in English, as Ophelia and Hamlet speaks in French. I am not sure how often a scene is performed in two languages, but I see a new direction for the theater.
2011is not just another year in life. I am only 16 now, but I came to the realization that in two years, I am no longer a child. (Not legally anyways) I encourage everyone to live everyday as if in a few months you will be somewhere else. I certainly do. I look all around me, at every street, every home, and every step that I take, because I don't want to miss even the little things while I am here. I am living my French life to the fullest, and want to live every other aspect of my life with the same intensity. I want to feel anew with each new day. So far, in 2011,  in Tulle France, after five months, with five more to go...I do.

            As always comment, facebook, or e-mail if you have any questions.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Melting Pot, A Pot of Soup, A Pot of Candy, But Not a Pot of Coffee

            Life is like a pot. It is true. I think that I always knew that, in an odd life analogy kind of way. But in France this has become quite true.

            Part of my Rotary exchange year, a very big part actually, is the other exchange students here in France. In my area, there are about 35 students from other countries. However in France, there are 434 students. The Rotary figured why not get some of the students together for a weekend. So me and 249 other students took a trip to Mont-Saint-Michel. It is as about as far north as one can go, next to the ocean.
We walked that far!
            All of the students and some of the Rotarians took a bus for ten hours---which is a long time if you didn’t know---But it was worth it when we saw where we were. Mont-Saint-Michel is a grand castle and cathedral perched on a mini island. Every night the tide comes in and surrounds it. Then during the day, the water recedes for miles. It is by far one of the greatest marvels of the world. This magical land has so many little corridors, pathways, and doors.  Not to mention that it is centuries old and still standing. It is impossible to see the entire thing in one hour, one day, one week, or one month. I would literally have to do an exchange with Mont-Saint-Michel for one year to see it all. It made me for lack of a better word, speechless.
Students in my area
            Anyway, back to the purpose of the trip as I can talk about the location for days. I have never in my life been around so many cultures and languages. But….it….was….awesome! Picture 250 students from over thirty different countries all together at once. I turn to my left and hear Chinese, and to my right Spanish, as two Swedish girls walk over to conversing Indian boys, all while I am talking to my fellow Americans and Canadians. But what is even cooler is when I had lunch with five girls from Finland, Germany, Argentina, Australia, and Japan! Foreign networking doesn’t get any better than that.
            Shortly after we arrived, we walked on the beach around Mont-Saint-Michel. It was a little dangerous as there are quicksand and small lakes with fast currents. We walked for four miles or three hours. Normally I would say something about how difficult it was, but I had too much fun with the students.
The Americans
            That night there was a wonderful, typical, and filling Rotarian dinner. We had a small program with housekeeping (ugh). But after each country sang it’s national anthem. My favorites were South Africa because it is in five different languages, and New Zealand because they sing and dance. But all of the anthems were different and special in their own way. America has one of the longest. (just sayin’) After the meal and some traditional French dancing, we had a dance until 3 a.m. (Oh la la) It was homecoming. (with better music) Everyone dances exactly the same. However Latin America has an air to them. They move with so much passion. It was too entertaining.
            It was difficult leaving the next day. Sure we had only seen each other for one weekend, but as exchange students, we understand each other in a way that no one else can. We know what’s difficult, what’s funny, what’s simple, what we miss, and what we will miss. It is just nice to have one weekend without a care in the world, and people to share that with. I have a great friends from Sweden, from Argentina, Taiwan, and Mexico. I call them my friends because they are every meaning of the word.
            The only downsides to the entire experience were a) I got home a 2 a.m. and had to wake up for school at 6 a.m. And b) there are too many languages on facebook for me to keep up with. You really should see all of the statuses in who knows how many languages.

            If I did not emphasize this enough in my last post J, I had about two weeks off at the end of October. Thank you God.
            For a week, we went to the grandparents’ in Albi, France. Another gorgeous city with another amazing church, as you can see. France should get an award for constantly taking my breath away. My host family told me that you eat well Chez Mamie, (at Grandma’s) and that is soooooo true. She makes the kind of soup that I could picture my adult cousins and great aunt making. She also made rabbit. One of the strangest and most delicious things I have ever tasted. (Sorry to my vegetarian friend) I had to mention Mamie’s cooking. It makes me feel closer to her meals. ---Yes, I like it that much. She’s making Thanksgiving dinner for me. Only 16 more days! Mmm….

            The last weekend of vacation was Halloween. What do you know, they do it here. I dressed up (stop laughing) with my little brothers and some neighborhood kids, and went trick or treating. We asked for “des bon bon” and cashed out pretty well. Here, you not only get candy, but pastries as well. But moderation is key right?

            Other than that I SLEPT! Because I was TIRED! When I went back to school, everything picked back up. Papers, tests, grades. (all in French) But that's life. That's French life. And that's my life. If you know me at all, you know that I am busy, so what else is new. That is why it took me so long to update my blog. I want to complain when people don’t reply to me right away, and then I think well isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black. I am sorry, but I am back and I am great. My life is like a rainbow with a pot of gold, truly.

            As always comment if you have a question or two, and I will give you a pot full of answers! Until next time…

Friday, September 17, 2010

Workin' 9 to 5, Literally

School. (l’école in French) Can you define it? I thought I could before September 3rd. School to me was the building where you spent ninety-eight percent of your time. School is where you “learn,” have “fun,” and eat “lunch.” Then in the case of Metro, my school in St. Louis, school is where you work really, really hard. Well, needless to say, going to school in France has changed my outlook on school a little bit. Actually, my outlook has changed a lot.

I’m not going to say whether or not I like it. That’s not a good place to start. A good place to start would be the location. Lycée Edmond Perrier is in the center of the city, at the very top of the mountain. I would show a picture, but the building is so high up the mountain, it’s hard to get a good shot. This school is like nothing I have ever seen. It’s HUGE. There are multiple buildings and corridors. I have a class in room 1, and in room 407. It was built over a century ago, thus the architecture is a gorgeous Versailles style.

Since it is school, I have to take classes. I have about eleven classes. No, it is not a typo. I have about eleven classes, maybe even more. The average French child, is not a student, but a well-oiled machine. I have heard things about French education, but they were understatements. In the states, I had thirty hours of classes a week. Here, middle and high school students have up to forty hours. There is a very strict program. All students in high school take the same courses in their field. I am in the literature field. My schedule is designed around history and literature. There are other fields for trades, math, and science. The entire program is built for a major test called the Bac taken at the end of high school. This test is not like the ACT/SAT. A French student cannot go to any university or college without passing the Bac. Your higher education depends upon this test. Not teacher recommendations, or GPAs. Strictly the Bac. When do you really prepare for the back? 11th grade, my grade of course! Why not? So I have been thrown into intense Bac training with all of the other three hundred 11th graders at my school. My classes are as follows:
Civics and Sociology
Literature (A LOT)
Math Specialty
Informative Math
Group Studies-History and Language
Life and Earth Science
History and Geography
English :)
                                                             [I like that one]

This is a light course load. I was able to remove some classes from my schedule. Of course if students have forty hours of classes, the times for school have to be different as well. I start school at 8:00 am everyday, except for Thursday when I start at nine. Hallelujah! ---But, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I finish at 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm. Ahhhhh! ---But, on Wednesdays I finish at 10:00 am. Therefore, it’s give and take.

Yes the French work a lot, but they vacation a lot as well. (This when my classmates will want to sit down) In the states I had two weeks vacation for Christmas, and one week for spring break. Here, I have a total of 8 weeks vacation. I have four 2 week breaks. There are professional development days and holidays as well. There’s a smile on my face just writing this. I hope you can feel my joy through the blog. :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) [8 smiley faces]

Other topics that will infuriate my classmates: transportation and lunch. In the morning I have a ride to school, but some afternoons I have to take the bus. This would be a problem if the buses weren’t the chartered tour type buses. Yes, cushioned seats, air-conditioning, and heat. There are no yellow school buses! Then there is cantine or lunch. There is fresh bread, freshly made salad, steak, pasta, green beans, carrots, tilapia, ice cream, pears, peaches, and water on the table like a restaurant. ALL of it is edible, and ALL of it is FREE. I’m not sure if there is a school in the states with lunch like this, but if so, the tuition is too expensive. I eat just as well in school as at home.

Well that’s it for the description, on to the experience. The first day, was the most exciting and worst day of my life. It didn’t hit me at first, but when I arrived I realized that I was going to a new school. America, France, wherever, that is scary. To walk into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, with a semi-unfamiliar language is difficult. But, I made it through the day. And, I made it through the second, although I was late for two classes and was lost the entire day. Then I made it through the third and some of my classmates actually spoke to me. Then the fourth, when my classmates actually greeted me. Then the fifth when my classmates wanted to know more about me. Gradually, the social part of school gets better. I don’t eat lunch alone, I don’t study alone, and I have help with class and homework. I’m not alone, and that is a relief.

Then there is class. Some classes are better for me than others. I can understand math, because numbers don’t change. I can understand music, because Duke Ellington and Bach are famous everywhere. I can understand Literature because I love the subject. I can understand English because…well you know why. It’s when I get to history and geography that I have some difficulty. The vocabulary and geography of France is unfamiliar to me, and the teacher talks faster than a policy debater. (That is very, very, very, fast. Trust me) But I took my first geography test with confidence, so I must understand something.

School is not easy, which I am sure you know, but school is good. There is still pressure to pass, but the methodology here is different. The teachers don’t feel the need to check the homework; they just assume that we did it. Everyone listens to the teacher. He or she does not have to stop to tell the students to be quiet. There is a lot of class work and student-teacher interaction, rather than lectures all of the time. I feel willing to learn and willing to try to understand, because I know the quality of education being given. I love Metro, and I miss it. But if I had to take a year off away from it, I’m glad that I am spending that year at Edmond Perrier.

I know this post was long as well, but what I can I say, I like to write and inform. I have more to share, and I will soon. If you have questions, feel free to comment. As of yesterday, I have lived here for three weeks, and I am still excited for whatever is next!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Get It? Got It? Good

Voila! I am here. I have been in Tulle, France for a week as of yesterday. There are too many emotions to explain. Needless to say I am tired, a little scared, but most of all...Happy!

Getting here was hardly pleasant. I had to squeeze my entire life into one fifty pound bag, (Mine was 48.5, hazzah!) and two carry ons. My plane went to D.C., where all fifty plus Americans living in France gathered. My plane landed in Paris the next day, (because of the time difference) and I had one more plane to Clermont Ferrand Airport near Tulle.

I met my counselor and the Rotary president at the airport. Then we began our journey to the main city. Only it was not smooth. On the way we got a flat tire. Only me. Thus, it took three planes, one car, one tow truck, and one taxi for me to finally get to my family. But, I got there, jet lagged and all.

Imagine yourself tired, confused, not understanding all that is being said, and having to meet the family that you must live with for three months. Well that's what I had to do. But...It was AMAZING! I am living with the Albinet family first. The dad is a journalist, the mom is a secretary, and the twins are in middle school. My little brothers grabbed my luggage and ran me to the car. We piled into the tiny French car and talked (French/English). We were flying in the city, and only got faster when we hit the mountains. My house is so close the top. In fact the picture to the right is the view from my backyard! The pictures below are of my gorgeous and modern house, and my room! That's right I have my own building, and no it is not the garage. : P

Most French people have a garden, but the Albinet's really have a garden. There are apples, grapes, raspberries, blackberries, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, pumpkins, potatoes, herbs, and more if you can believe it. At breakfast they walk over and pull fresh fruit off of the vine and put it right into the food. I know that there are gardens in the states, but we do not rely on them. We go to Schnucks and get what we need for dinner. But there is no supermarket within miles. They are very scarce in France. There is a charcuterie and a bakery though. They buy fresh meat and bread every other, if not every day. It is not true that the French eat less than Americans. America eats a lot of calories yes, but food, definitely not. At a given dinner, I eat three vegetables in a sauce or with rice, meat, two sides, four of five pieces of bread, cheese, fruit, yogurt or ice cream, and water. It is a lot, trust me, but healthy. I have not had one McDonald's or Bread Co. craving yet!

My days have been full and fun (vacation you know). I have climbed the hills of Tulle, (I am still recovering). I have played golf with my little brothers. I went to a market at least five times the size of Soulard in St. Louis. I went to the south of France and met grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and had jam sessions with some great French musicians. I went to a "party in the village" and literally dance the night away. I have played Uno Attack forty times, (My gift to the boys). I have played ping-pong, gone shopping, had a picnic on a lake, met students, friends, neighbors, and American nun, and petted a squirrel. Whew.

Well, I guess that's enough. I know this first post was wordy, but I figured everyone wanted an update. My next post will be about school. You can comment if you have any questions, and I will try to answer them. This was only the first week of almost 52. This is only the beginning of France, the Rotary, and Me!