Friday, October 21, 2011


It’s been awhile since I wrote an update, so here is what I’ve been up to!

  • I went to shopping with my host sister in Valence which was really fun but the euro, dollar conversion is simply too high for me to justify buying anything for myself.
  • I had another sleepover with my friends at school that included French karaoke, wii, movies, and really really good crepes (both sucre and salee)
  • Picture day was this week at school, it reminded me of the class pictures in elementary school back home: four steps and a row of chairs in the front. We all squished together and took one normal picture and one silly one, which people came prepared for with silly hats and sunglasses.
  • An article I wrote for the newspaper at my school in Maryland came out! Last year, I organized with the journalism academy for me to be a sort of foreign correspondent, and now I write articles about school and life here (kind of like a shortened blog post!)
  • I’ve been going to math tutoring on Wednesday afternoons. Not necessarily because math here is particularly hard, but rather because my teacher goes very fast and a number of things are different in French, so having an extra hour every week to go over everything has been really good for me, both to better understand and to build confidence in a subject that is quite intimidating to me.
  • Winter has arrived here on the Rhone, which means it’s absolutely freezing and I am finding myself completely dependent on my winter coat, boots and scarves for survival.
  • It’s Friday, which means, VACATION! I’m going to Spain with my host family and am really excited, but I am actually really going to miss school and my friends for the week!
  • In my "one month abroad" post I mentioned that this month is supposed to bring "fatigue, homesickness, and settling in." Well, it's almost the end of the month and I can't say I feel any significant advancement in any of these three areas. I was homesick for a few days, but over all I'm just very happy here. My favorite thing is being at school, which is something I couldn't say back home. But here it's the time that I get to spend with my friends whom I love!
  • One of whom is having a dress up halloween party that I unfortunately won't be here for, but thought it was worth mentioning. 
  • And to finish this off, a short story about cheesecake:

   On Friday morning while I was getting ready for school my host mom came in and suggested that I make a dessert for that night. My first thought was “there is no way I am capable of baking in a kitchen where I don’t know where anything is” but I decided to take on the challenge and make a cheesecake, since it’s American and a personal favorite, not that I really need any justification to make a cheesecake.
   During a free hour at school I went to the library and found a recipe, which I later realized I should have looked for with metric measurements because that would have made life a lot simpler. But no, didn’t think of that, so with my recipe I was off to the grocery store on the hunt for an essential ingredient in cheesecake: cream cheese.
   My friend guaranteed me that not only cream cheese, but Philadelphia cream cheese (!) is available in town. However, after 30 minutes in the cheese aisle, asking two completely unhelpful employees, and getting very frustrated, I decided she was wrong and texted her. I owe her a big thank you for she answered right away and told me the name of another brand of cream cheese (and the only one to be found in the grocery store) so I loaded my basket up with them.
   On the way home I was feeling very efficient and lost in my own thoughts when a car pulled over and asked me where the McDonalds is. After describing the route I laughed to myself about how being asked how to get to a McDonalds could mean both, being mistaken for a native, as well as being painfully seen as an American. We’re going to go with the former however, because I was also asked for directions to la gare the other day.
  Once home, I turned on some Jack Johnson and started the baking process.
  My friend from Connecticut, who is also here with AFS and goes to the same school as me, dropped by on the way to an activity that she does in town and we arranged with our host parents for her to sleepover that night. We’ve become really good friends because we have so much in common, and although any two people from the same country who find themselves in a foreign country together would say that, we really do have a freakish about in common. Take for example the fact that our grandmothers live in the same town.
   Everything went as planned and she came back for dinner and cheesecake.
   Sadly, this story does not have a happy ending because the cheesecake was a pretty big failure; it had a funny taste, which we are going to attribute to the fact that cream cheese here is simply not the same as cream cheese in Maryland.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Something To Write Home About

   The title of this blog was actually stolen from my brother who named a photo album on facebook the same thing, but I figure if it’s used within the family it’s not actually copying right? I think so. The title also has very little to do with what this post is mostly going to be about, but it’s the first thing I thought when I bit into that blueberry muffin after school today.

   Yes that’s right, France has made me such a little foodie that I am starting this blog post out with a paragraph about a muffin. But you don’t understand, no, you really don’t understand, this muffin was simply the best thing I have ever ever ever tasted. After school today I went to the cute boulangerie that you have seen in this picture:

   And after a very tough decision between the quiche Lorraine or the blueberry muffin, I chose…well I think we all know which one I chose, and it was the best decision of my life.
   I took one bite and my friend thought something was wrong because I literally just froze and then she just thought I was annoying because I went on and on and on for a good, well I’m still going on actually, about how good it tasted. The dough was perfectly light and the entire middle was full of crushed up sweet blueberries. 
Needless to say (if you know me) I went back and got a second one, to tell the lady how good it was of course, not because of any self-control issues.

   Okay, on to the actual topic of this blog post: this weekend was my AFS arrival orientation!
It was two really fun days in an old castle, which is now used to host events, with everyone from the Collines du Rhone region.

   My host parents volunteer with AFS and drove a group of kids there while I went with another group who was driven by my friend’s host dad! This was because the Collines du Rhone region is so big and everyone is so spread out, not because European cars are so small. In the car I sat up front and talked to my friends host dad about the Rugby World Cup that France had beat England in, that morning! Props to me for having actually watched the game and being able to act enthusiastic about the win! 
   I watched it because there really is nothing on French television and I have one in my room so I turn it on while I do mindless tasks like pack for an AFS event, and in turn I watch things I otherwise wouldn't, and learn about things I don't care about, like Rugby.

   We got to the castle and I settled into the room that I would share with girls from Boston, Quebec, New Zealand, Connecticut and Minnesota. The rooms were based on native languages, with the exception of the girl from Quebec whose first language is French, she must be having a ball. I enjoyed talking to her about how we miss big breakfasts with bacon and maple syrup and waffles. She’s the first person to understand my opinion that the French’s coffee and one tart is not enough to count as the most important meal of the day.

   But really, I enjoyed talking to everyone because we have so much to talk about. Two days wasn’t even enough to cover everything. In one month we’ve all been experiencing so much and it was great to be able to share it all with everyone and realize how much of the same things we’ve all been going through. 
   I now know that I’m not the only one that does and more often, says, embarrassing things, or has run into some little speed bumps with their host family, or finds school hard. Even though those things all seem obvious it was good to hear other people say out loud the things I’ve been thinking to myself for a month.

   We split into small groups and filled out papers and played games about redundant things like what we left behind in coming here, what we want to get out of this, what we miss, what we like here, etc…
   They also had us write a letter to ourselves that they will keep (and not read!) and then they’ll give it back to us at the end of the year. Mine was basically a list of questions, that I am dying to know the answer to, take for example, “dear future Laura, just how much weight did you gain?”
   The Collines du Rhones chapter is pretty big so everyone has at least one other person with whom they can speak their native language. The activities are run in French but translated into English, by a lady from Connecticut who came to France with AFS and is now studying in Grenoble!

   We had free time and then dinner, which was really good lasagna. At my table two people from Connecticut, one of whom moved to Iceland when he was six, were reunited. They went to the same preschool but speak different languages now and have lived on different sides of the world for ten years, and were reunited in France! AFS is making the world a smaller and smaller place everyday.

  After dinner we had more free time so a bunch of people hung out in my room. My mom had sent me a bag of typical Halloween candy (think chocolate eyeballs and Reeses peanut butter cups), which we very quickly, devoured. I’ll think of that as my Halloween this year, it was also cool because a bunch of people there were not American and apparently MARS doesn’t ship their high quality chocolate around the world and is depriving millions everyday, but it is okay because Laura is here on AFS to give those affected their first twix, snickers, milky way, etc.

   Sunday I was fed a French breakfast that I don’t consider constitutes being called “breakfast” (hot chocolate and bread) and then was promptly energized by a never ending cycle of embarrassing dances and exercises.

   Later in the day we learned not to get pregnant because our plane ticket home is for one person, the rules for traveling (which I’ll explain in another post) and then once again, AFS tried to tell us how much we should be talking to our families back home.

   I strongly think that is a personal decision and there is no number of e-mails that will make you less, or more homesick.
I did learn however, that I am the only person who hasn’t called of skyped my family. Although this makes me sound very tough and strong I know the reason why I haven’t is because the opposite is the truth. I don’t think I would be able to handle hearing my family’s voices and seeing my house in the background of Skype. It would make the inability to jump through a computer screen very frustrating to me. 
   But it appears others don’t have that problem because calling home seemed to be what most people are doing, although AFS did tell us that every two hours you spend talking on the phone with your family, looses you two weeks of progressing in French, not sure how they did that math.

There's another AFS event in November and I am already counting down the days!...We're down to 25!

Monday, October 3, 2011

One Month Abroad

   I cannot bring myself to believe that my first month here in France is already gone. Everyone told me that time would fly but I’m just starting to see how quickly it can really go.
Most of my posts since getting here have been about what I have been up to and all that has happened. This one will be a little different, targeted more for a prospective exchange student and what to expect in your first month away from home.

   Personally, I like to feel prepared and equipped, especially, I found, when going abroad, alone, for the first time. Prior to departure, I prepared by reading books about studying abroad, as well as lots and lots of blogs.
   In those books you can find the “adjustment cycle” which is a graph that describes the feelings and phases that exchange students go through throughout the year. I thought this was so great, a page that would tell me exactly where I am emotionally and what to expect in the following weeks! However, now that I am on this graph I’m finding that it is not that clean cut.
But of course, no two-exchange students are experiencing the same thing right now, so all is forgiven in the graphs faults.

   The first three days in my host home, were very emotional. I was homesick and it hit me, pretty hard, that ten months is quite some time to go without your family. I was also probably communicating too much with everyone back home which made me feel split right in half; should I be exploring all the new places, food, and people around me, or should I be writing about it all to the people I love back home? It is definitely hard to find the right balance, but my e-mail not working for the rest of my first week definitely helped me find it.

   Yes, that’s right, my e-mail broke and did not deliver any of the letters I had from home until the end of the week, it’s an unsolved mystery but a real blessing because in those days without mail my mind was forced to choose the half that is here in France. By the time the words from home did show up on my computer I was feeling a lot better and was then able to find the right balance.

   Besides being away from home there are plenty of other new things to get used to in the first month, and by plenty I mean just about everything.
   Some of those things are much easier than others, take for example all the delicious food, habituating to life in the middle of a town, and making new friends that I know I’ll keep in touch with long after these ten, and now nine, months are up.

   A more challenging one, that I did talk a lot about in a previous post but some how still have more to say, is school.
   Not understanding everything and being a “foreigner” can get annoying, and on top of that everything requires effort, school in one word, is exhausting. However, being in Terminal has turned out to be great because the schedule is significantly smaller than that of other years, either starting later of ending earlier in the day. I am also finding that I much prefer the long classes with fewer a day than what I had at home (the same seven periods for 45 minutes a day). Teachers are beyond nice and although you should try all the work and give it your best shot, expectations for someone who has been in the school system for less than a month are not very high. They are willing to be flexible for you, either by grading differently or assigning different work; and on top of all that, everyone in class is available if you have questions and are very eager to help. But at the end of the day, it’s important to not get too stressed about school. I am going to try to get the BAC but what is most important to me is to spend a great year in France, not at my desk.

   Another huge change is the family that you are living with. Essentially, these are the people that are making your life here possible for you so no matter what happens, you owe them a huge thank you.
   It is also important to know that as an exchange student you are not a houseguest; which may take a few days to kick in. What I mean by that is to expect to have chores and to be treated like any other member of the family.
   My best advice for living with your host family is to be someone you would want to host yourself, someone you would want to be around. Make conversation, be interested, and try new things. Come to think of it, let’s make that advice for life in general.

   My host family asks me constantly whether what we are eating is available in the U.S and because my answer is always “yes” I think they feel a little disappointed in the lack of new things they have to offer me. But what they aren’t realizing is that, yes, products can be shipped over the U.S, but what cannot, and what I still have to learn and discover is the culture. Which, although does not differ from my own American culture like black and white, has its differences.
   All my life I was told that food is a big part of the French culture, but I never realized what that meant until well, now. It is not just the way it is eaten (speaking of which, am I the only one who was not aware that cakes must, at all times be eaten with spoons?) But prepared, enjoyed, even savored. Food is treasured here, and even though it differentiates by region, it’s what people all over France take pride in. So yeah, don’t laugh at the idea of food being like royalty, you won’t make many friends.
  Also, I way over packed because although the stereotype that French don’t bathe and shave is completely false, they certainly have no problem recycling outfits.
Speaking of stereotypes (which maybe we shouldn’t be), the one that the French love their vacation could not be more true, at least for all the French people I have talked to. During the week it’s all about plans for the weekend and during the weekend it’s all about the countdown to vacation. Which is already coming up in just three weeks!
   Although time of off school and work is important, it is evident that time spent in school is taken very seriously. This is the year of the BAC for my classmates which means that they have to know what they want to do with their lives and fill out papers, confirming the job they want, as early as December. The decisiveness about the future and ambition among kids just one year older than me is striking.

   The first month is when every thing is new. It’s like Christmas morning every day… or we could just call it by it’s name: “the honey moon period”. As with all the phases of an exchange student (we sound like bipolar people, don’t we? But we go through lots of changes!) this period means something different for everyone. For me it meant that everything I did and experienced in the first month was glossed over with a sparkle. Getting a croissant before school felt like being the star in a cute old French movie, hearing French was like people singing a song everywhere I went, writing notes with ten different color pens at school felt like an achievement. The end of this period, where I am now, is when all this feels like everyday life, not a cute old French movie.

   According to the graph in the survival guide that I brought with me the “arrival stage” is now over and all just within October I will experience fatigue, homesickness and “settling in”. Sounds like a busy month! I’ll get back to you on how that all goes. (: