Monday, September 26, 2011

Binoculars = Les Jumelles (yet another photo post)

   These were all taken on top of the mountain that looks over my town. The drive to the top took no time at all and was a tiny road (I feel like I've described a lot of those...) with no railing to speak of.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Voulez-vous couchez chez moi, ce soir?

   The picture of my cat in last weekend’s post made my dog a little bit jealous and he insisted on being featured in this post. So here he is, sleeping in the bottom of my closet. Behind those bangs his eyes are begging me to take his picture!

   On Friday night I watched “Les Visiteurs” with my host family. It is my host mom’s favorite movie and I always knew when something funny, or rather, silly, was going to happen because she would crack up laughing a minute before anything remotely funny happened. But there is a lot of old French and slang so I was proud of myself for understanding the plot! (:

   Saturday morning we slept in and then went shopping at one of those outside outlet malls. My host family had given me one of their old phones with which I was using a prepaid card, but the first one I got cost me ten euros and lasted one week… so needless to say I was in search for a new method of communication. After waiting in line at a Bouygues in town and not being helped in the least by the only worker in the whole store (turns out phone services are just as tedious here as they are back home) we went to one at the mall where the lady was super super nice. I got a plan that costs 60 euros and has unlimited texting and two hours of call for four months. I was sold at unlimited texting.
   And then, because they don’t sell the card individually, my host family bought a new phone! I offered to pay for it, but they explained that they can always use an extra phone after I leave...possibly for another exchange student. So I got to pick out a new phone! Isn't it pretty? I am slowly but surely getting used to the French keyboard!

   While checking out I had a long conversation with the employee, remember the super super nice one I talked about earlier? Well she was young and excited to learn that I am taking the same bac she did (ES) and asked me all about what options I am doing and if I’ll stay in France, etc...

   That is all I got on our shopping outing because for now I'm spending all my money at patisseries, and saving shopping trips for once I need a bigger size! Which will not be in very long at the rate of pain au chocolats that I am consuming.

   After shopping, we ate lunch outside by the pool and then my host sister and I made chocolate chip cookies! I used chocolate chips that were sent in my birthday package, but it is rumored that they are available at the local grocery store (a long with peanut butter!!! If this is all true, the French have come a long way as the last time I heard these things were not available here!)

   My friend from school picked me up at 5:30 to go to a sleepover with two other girls from our class. As my host mom told me, when you go to someone’s house you have to bring something (which is not the case for teenagers in Maryland) so I put half the cookies in a box and since it would be evil otherwise, I left the other half for my host family.

   I was a little nervous about the evening, and felt way in over my head by going to a sleepover, a whole night, in French! But still, I was very excited to have been invited and to be able to spend time with my friends outside of school!

The drive to her house was simply gorgeous. She had told me that she lives up in the mountains and has a 40-minute commute to school but she left out the part about the jaw-dropping views, beautiful scenery, sheep and horses…

After 40 minutes of going around and around and around the mountain on an ity-bity road we had only passed two houses, but finally a third came into view and it was our destination!
We got out of the car, did la bise, and then she took us around back to feed her horses. On the way inside we picked strawberries, tomatoes and figs, from her dad’s garden.

   The second I saw the hula-hoop in her living room I knew it was going to be a fun night. I will take this time to proudly inform you all that I was the champion of a a hula-hooping contest in fifth grade after hula hooping for 15 minutes straight. 
Thank you, thank you very much.
   It was funny to listen to American music and the same songs that I dance to with my friends at home, but in the middle of the Ardech country side with three French girls. They gave me a few birthday presents, which was SO nice of them and two CD’s with French music that we made a pack I would be able to sing a long to by the end of the year…we’ll have to wait and see about that.

   Along with my chocolate chip cookies, the others brought another type of cookie (that I became addicted to throughout the night) and nutella cake (white cake with nutella swirls. yuummmm). And for dinner we had fish sticks, with Ketchup!

   After spending two hours watching movie trailers, again mostly American, we decided to watch my all time favorite movie, L’arnacoeur. It is a French movie that I have watched, and forced a lot of friends at home to watch, with English subtitles. Except this time there were no subtitles! All but one of us had already seen it but it never ever ever gets old.

   I slept well and for breakfast we had homemade apple juice and homemade jams on homemade bread. I am almost positive that that is not because the grocery store is light-years away but simply because their home makes for some very delicious home-made goods.

   I seriously could not stop smiling the whole night because I am just so happy to have found such great friends and to be able to have a good time in French. It just seems so crazy. Like how did I get here? I can't even tell you. 
   Not only was it a really really fun night but it also gave me the chance to see more of my region of France and how another family spends their life here.

   I got home around noon Sunday and enjoyed another lunch by the pool with my host family. Then they took me to the top of a mountain (one close to our house!) where I could see the whole area, and rumor has it, on a nice day, Mont Blanc is even visible from there. But since I took so many pictures of this outing, it will make for it's very own post!

   Now I have some homework to do for my last week of my first month of school! I won’t school Tuesday because my teachers are all on greve!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Joyeux Anniversaire à Moi!

   A few days ago my host sister took me to town to help her look for a gift for her friend’s birthday. We both picked out a ring and a bracelet and I told her to get a cute scarf that I really liked.
Yesterday was my birthday and as I opened my gifts, I realized that there is no friend, just a very slow exchange student….
My host family completely spoiled me and gave me a great birthday that I will always remember!!!

My weekend:
   We left Saturday morning for La Grande Motte, a beach town on the Mediterranean where my host family owns an apartment. Over the summer while we were e-mailing each other they often mentioned that they were spending the weekend there and once even sent me a post card from the town, so needless to say I was very excited to be going there myself and to have them share this piece of their life with me.

   The car ride only took two hours but even if it had been longer, I honestly don’t think there is such a thing as a boring car ride in France. The scenery is beautiful and always changing because, as my host mom explained to me, the vegetation varies throughout the different regions so there are constantly new views out the window.

   We got to the apartment and put our things down before going for a promenade. We stopped in a patisserie that had some of the prettiest cakes I have seen (and I have seen quite a few cakes in these three weeks) and we all picked out a little gateaux, mine was strawberry and honestly, one of the best things I have ever tasted!
   We spent the afternoon on the beach (with a few too many old men in speedos and naked children) but the water was warm and felt great!

   For dinner we got pizza and I met my host mom’s mom!  (I’ll call her my host grandma!) She also has an apartment in the town so we ate at her place. The man at the pizza parlor had such a strong Italian accent that it took me a minute to realize he was speaking French not Italian! But boy did he make a good pizza.

   Sunday was my birthday and it started off great with a delicious pain au chocolat (I think I’m breaking a record here, one every morning for a week now! Don't judge me!) I went for a walk with my host parents along the beach; it was slightly cold with an ominous looking sky but I like that kind of weather!


   There was also a market right under the apartment so my host sister and I walked around there. We got a free piece of bread and cheese that was sooo good!

   We went back to the same patisserie to pick out my cake, while waiting in line a woman started yelling that the lady in front of her took the pastry that she wanted, and I can completely understand why this would be so upsetting but lucky for me she didn’t take the chocolate ice cream cake that I had picked out!

   Back at the apartment, I opened a package that my family back home sent me. It had gotten here Friday and it took all my strength to save it for Sunday! I’m so glad I did because it made my birthday even better to open it! Among other things, I got a lot of pictures of my family. Just last week I think it would have made me sad to look at them but as soon as I saw all their faces I got really happy; which I think shows that I am getting comfortable here. I can’t thank my mom enough for putting it together and everyone who contributed to its contents, it made me so happy! Merci!

   I then opened all the things that I had picked out in town with my host sister! It was too funny.

   For dinner we had caviar, chicken, and pasta. And then my cake!! I ate so much that my host family named me a gourmande: a person devoted to eating and drinking to excess, a title well deserved.

   The car ride home went quickly, I hadn’t brought my computer to the beach, a small notion to make sure my family knows that I want to spend time with them. So I had a lot of catching up to do concerning Happy Birthday wishes on facebook and e-mail from friends back home! They followed my birthday as it came, first in France, and then in America.

L'école en photo!

The wall of the school is marked by bullets from a nazi line that took place here!

We have lots of free time during the school day and a beautiful park to spend it in!

For gym class, we use this track surrounded by mountains and vineyards. It is so beautiful!

I had a hard time capturing this but here is my best shot of the view from the hallway window! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

La ville en photo

I gave in to what had to be done today and walked around town looking like a huge tourist. But to capture the beauty and share it, or should I say brag about it, to you all, was totally worth it!

So here we go:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Zipping over the country side

   After a busy first week of school my host family and I spent the weekend relaxing and having fun. On Saturday my host mom and host sister took me shopping in Valence. I had a great time discovering all the new stores and styles here but was also excited to learn that I will be able to continue shopping at my favorite store, Zara! My host mom and sister kept telling me to try things on even after I explained countless times that I don’t need anything, but I did end up getting a cute shirt that I wore to school today!
   After our little shopping trip we spent the rest of the day enjoying the nice weather. My older host sister was home from university so we three girls got in the pool and then we lay out in the sun. (Don’t worry dad, I used sunscreen!)
We all ate lunch, pasta and sausage, outside and then I got some homework done.

Doing homework next to my host sister after swimming!

   A family came over for dinner and stayed late, my host dad made a delicious desert with ice cream and raspberries and my favorite, whipped cream! But while we were sitting in the living room and talking, my throat started hurting and I could tell I was getting sick. The next morning I diagnosed myself with a small cold and read in my favorite book, The Exchange Student Survival Kit by Bettina Hansel, that getting sick is common in the first weeks because of the drastic change in diet and routine. Although I am definitely undergoing these huge changes (I’ve eaten more meat in the past week than I have in my entire life) it was just a small cold and didn’t stop me from participating in the fun my host family had planned for the next afternoon!

   Sunday afternoon (after a lunch of duck) we all packed into my host family’s green car to go to “les arbres” which is what my host mom calls the zip line/rope course that is 50 minutes from my house, in the countryside. My older host sister is learning how to drive and she drove us there. I was learning how to drive when I left home so I know how she felt as everyone told her what to do and was talking to her at once. I also noted that it seems much harder to learn to drive here because a. the cars are all stick shift b. the roads are tiny and c. at least to me, the road markings and signs make absolutely no sense. 

   Also, I’m not a big fan of traffic circles but apparently France is; I was literally dizzy from going around at least a hundred by the time we go to the zip line park.

Can you spot the American in the tie-dye? 

   We met another family at the park, the host family of one of my roommates from the hostel in Paris. It was good to see her again and fun to talk about all that we’ve done in the week since we last saw each other.

   It was really incredible to zip line over the country side; you go so fast but can still appreciate the beautiful view you get from the trees.

   We were there for a few hours and all the climbing made me hungry. My friend's host mom brought Oreos, which made me very happy since I love Oreos and they’re familiar to me, unlike most of the food I’ve eaten since I left home. 
All in all it was a really fun weekend and the fresh air and exercise prepared me for the week of school to come!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

From High School to Lycée

   About five months back I was sitting at my dinning room table reading the name of my lycee for the very first time. For the next five months I visited my school’s website frequently, stalking the pictures and imagining myself there. This past week all that came to an end and my daydreams became my everyday life as I started school in France!

   My host mom, who goes way out of her way to make all these transitions easier for me, arranged for a girl in the same grade to come by in the morning and walk to school with me. It turned out that she is in my class so she ended up showing me around all day and introducing me to people. I was definitely very overwhelmed the first day, the school is huge and filled with so many new faces speaking a new language…it was exhausting.

There are SO many differences between my school back home and this Lycee, we’ll start with Classes.

The school day lasts anytime between 8 am and 5:30 pm, depending on the day’s schedule and has between two to five classes a day.

I’m taking:

  • Sports

Three hours long, twice a week. It’s actually really fun and really not even comparable to gym class in the US. Everyone takes it very seriously; I was actually sore the following day.

  • Philosophy

I can tell my host family is worried about this class, it's obviously a challenging course but luckily my older host sister is studying philosophy at university in Lyon and had my teacher last year so she will help me on the weekends.

  • Math

My teacher talks faster than I have ever heard anyone speak, in any language, but the course seems pretty compatible with the level of math that I’m at, so it should be okay.

  • Government

Only once every other week because it’s not on the bac.

  • English 

I actually have two english classes, one standard course and one specialty english class for people who have chosen it to count for a lot of the bac. In the standard class my teacher is making me do all the work in french but I can't even describe how much I love the specialty English class…

  • Italian

Here, I’m in trouble. Because I’m in Terminal, the Italian class that I’m in is level four. Meaning everyone else has been taking it for three years already while I don’t know a single word. My friend who sits next to me translates what the teacher is saying in Italian, into French, and then my brain translates it into English…too many languages!! I really need to learn it though because it will be on the bac, so my host mom wants me to add on a few hours to the school week for tutoring… it makes me mad (not to mention stressed) since I didn’t come to France to learn Italian!

  • S.E.S (social economics)
  • History and Geography

These last two are fine, nothing worthy to report.


   Another huge difference is the school lunches! At my school in Maryland most kids bring lunches from home, including me. I can’t say that I’ve ever even been in the lunch line at my high school. But here everyone eats at the cafeteria and the food is actually really good! I usually get something along the lines of chicken and rice, bread and cheese, and either fruit or a dessert (they make you choose!)
Also, lunch is an hour long (except on Thursdays and Fridays when it’s two hours) as opposed to the short 30 minutes I had back home.
Since classes are pretty long we also get a recess. If a class is two hours long, we get 10 minutes after the first hour, which is nice to get some fresh air outside.


   I’m not sure how I was expecting people to act towards me but I was definitely surprised at how nice and patient everyone is! My host sister told me over skype that people will be really interested in America but I didn’t realize to what extent. I also realize that the attention will fade with time, but for now I’m loving it. 
Making friends has been relatively easy considering the language barrier. Yesterday I had 10 friend requests on facebook from people at my lycee! And because school here has so much freedom I have already had the chance to walk around town with some friends during the school day. 
In terms of classes, people are equally helpful. I sit next to a girl that I've become good friends with and she always asks me if I understand or if I want to see her notes. Basically, everyone is just very understanding, helpful, and interested (including my teachers) which makes something challenging like school in a foreign language, just a little easier.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mes première 24 heures

   Goodness it is so hard to keep this blog up with things happening every single day! Before I left I would sit around thinking of things that I could possibly relate to AFS, and write about. I had too little to say but too much time. Well now that I’m here it’s, as I expected, the opposite. I have SO much to say, and I’m finding that I have no time to say it!!! Not that my family is keeping me too busy, it’s just I want to spend my free time with them, not on my computer! So anyway, there’s my delima.

   Sunday night was my first night with my family and in their home. It was then that it hit me: this is it. 
I’m going to be here, with these people, in this town, speaking this language for ten months. 
You see, in Paris it hadn’t yet him home, I could have been staying in the hostel for vacation, but here. Here is real.

   When we got to their house they gave me a tour, which took a good 30 minutes because this house is huge. I was already completely in love with the amazing panoramic views of vineyards from each window, so when I saw my room…there is really no way to describe my feelings. One wall features floor to ceiling closets and the window has beautiful white see-through curtains and shutters on the outside. HOW CUTE.

   We went outside to open presents, their “jardin” is amazing, an outside kitchen and bathroom next to the pool and a breathtaking view…okay I’m done bragging.
They were all happy with their gifts…as if they would show it otherwise, but still. Job well done.
   They got me a fluffy pink bathrobe, since the one item itself would have taken up my entire suitcase. And an adorable umbrella that is small enough to go in my backpack for rainy days and the walk to school. Perfect gifts!

   For dinner my host dad, who I’ve been told countless times is a great cook, made Duck. Now this may not seem like a huge deal to anyone except my family (who knows that I would never ever ever eat duck) but well, it is. As I helped myself to a second serving of la canard, they asked me what I normally eat for dinner and embarrassingly all that came to mind was grilled cheese.

   For breakfast my host mom and I went out to a Boulangere and got a real French croissant and a baguette. It was my first time seeing the town and it is unbelievably cute. I’ll try to take pictures one day, but am trying to avoid looking like a total tourist.

   At Lunch I ate my first ever steak. I was really a picky eater at home but I’m trying everything here, and finding that there was really no reason to deny it for the past 15 years.

   I went to meet the vice principal of my school after lunch. The school is so beautiful (you’re probably sick of hearing that, but really, it is.) There are bullet holes in the wall from a nazi line that took place in that very courtyard. Once again, I’ll try to get pictures of that! The vice principle was clearly not interested in AFS, told me I should be in premiere instead of terminale, and looked very doubtful of any chance at passing le bac. Screw him.

NYC Second TIme Around

So much that has been happened in the five short days since I left my house that I can’t even fathom how I could possibly write it all down, but here’s my best shot:

   Wednesday morning my mom drove me to the airport, where I found that saying good-bye is pretty close to impossible and made me way too close to missing my plane. I walked through security, with tears streaming down my face, and actually made it through rather quickly, but only to find that my gate was miles away. I was flying with another AFSer, Mindie, who had decided that I wasn’t coming!

   The flight to NYC was really short; we got to LaGuardia and met about ten other kids before being driven through "Jamaica" by a crazy driver and being thrown into a mix of nearly 300 AFSers at the hotel. I loved talking to everyone and we all got along really well. Albeit the tasteless food, the night we spent there was really fun. I finally met Kevin, another American whose blog I had been reading, in person! The next morning was full of talks that were actually pretty informative, but before I knew it we were at the airport!

And let me just tell you, 
red eye plane + inability to sleep = 48 hour, exhausting day

But the plane ride did go by pretty quickly (noticing a pattern here?) I sat next to a girl named Lauren from Washington State. And we played a British version of "who wants to be a millionaire" on my TV screen for hours (nearly impossible to be a millionaire when you're asked lyrics from British songs.) And I felt very American when dinner came and I marveled at how good it (lasagna) tasted.

Everyone was wide eyed and gawking as the plane approached the Zurich airport, the sun was rising and the country looked absolutely beautiful. Even the four-hour layover was fun; a few kids went right to the "space bar" and ordered drinks (although advised not to by our chaperon.) 
Another plane ride and we would be in Paris! FINALEMENT

   We arrived well into our second day of being awake causing me to be exhausted and pretty critical of the hostel. I keep a moleskin with me in which I wrote

“I just want to get to my host family!” 
“too much graffiti and smoking” 

   But after a good night sleep, not to mention a SHOWER, I really enjoyed talking to the people from other countries. I had three roommates for the two nights I spent there, girls from Denmark, Thailand and Japan.

   We took a tour of Paris but really only got off the bus once (at the Eiffel tower). But it was still really amazing to see the streets of the city and all the sites. I hadn’t been since I was really little, but some things actually brought back memories of my former trip. 

On the bus I wrote,
“How can they keep us on this bus as we pass a freaking Haagen-Daz store?!”

   The days we spent in Paris also allowed me some time to get used to the outrageous prices; a vendor next to the Eiffle tower was selling postcards for 1.50!! And that is in euros....

   All in all, every day of the orientation, began with me being very eager for the next day and to just get to my family already but at the end of the day I ended up really enjoying everything that I had to sit through and met some really awesome people.

   And when Saturday morning finally did come, I wasn’t so sure I was ready for it! The bus driver gave me some extra time to really contemplate my readiness by insisting that we leave an hour later than planed (keep in mind I woke up at 6:30 for him) because he didn’t get enough sleep the night before and wanted to take a nap….

   We drove for six hours through beautiful country sides (okay, maybe it was a highway but it was SO pretty) and adorable tiny towns, and saw lots and lots of cows.
  Throughout most of the bus ride I thought we were going so slowly and wanted to get there already but as we actually got within miles of our stop I started to really, and I mean really freak out. And I’m not quite sure whether I should thank Kevin for staying in his seat next to me as I experienced this break down, or blame him for rubbing off on me, for he was also maybe a little bit freaking out!

   The bus stopped and we had to walk up this huge hill with old farmhouses that the bus could not fit on (if it hadn’t hit me that we were actually in France by this point, it sure did here). We got to the place where AFS was hosting the introduction of families and had to line up by country to be introduced to our family and have our picture taken. My host dad is involved with AFS and was the announcer and my host sister was taking pictures so I actually saw them all before being formally introduced. It was so crazy to finally see them in person! We all did la bise (starting on the left and three times) that is so weird to me, invasion of my personal space much? But I guess I will get used to it.

   Because my host family was helping with the event I stayed until the end and was so relieved to find that I could understand everyone. The car ride home was only 30 minutes and I was back to being wide eyed and gawking. This whole area is so gorgeous. We drove along the Rhone (the river that my town “turns” on ha ha) and as we crossed the bridge, every street that I had spent the past six months google earthing became real and right in front of me.

This is all too good to be true.
Cross your fingers for me, school starts tomorrow!

Also, I try to avoid summarizing in my blog because I realize that can be pretty boring to read so I apologize that this is long and detailed... I got a little carried away.