Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vote for me?!

   Somebody out there has nominated this blog for the "Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs" competition, which is really awesome and nice. I had never heard of it but I looked in to it, saw that it wasn't a scam, and decided that I would love to be a part of it! After all, this blog is really important to me, and who doesn't want to be on a list of a top 100?! 
   If you would be so kind to vote, all you have to do is find "Ten Months Abroad" on the list on the link below. You have until February 14th (my grandma's birthday!) to make me proud ;)

   One of the many things I've learned whilst in France is how hard it is to escape English. Completely immersing myself in French and tuning out all the English in this world has proved to be quite the challenge. I remember when I would take trips with my family many years ago and my dad would say, "Everyone speaks English". I figured it was out of frustration that he didn’t speak the country’s language. Regardless of the reason, he was right, everyone does speaks English. I try to ask for directions in French and people will answer in English. Heck, I once asked for a dressing room and the store clerk started speaking to me in English! 
   My friends listen to American music and watch American films more often than anything French. And when I visit places, there is always a brochure in English. What I'm getting at, is that I take every chance I get to continue speaking French to people who answer me in English, to discover French music and movies, and to take the brochure in French, but the one thing I haven’t compromised on is this blog.
   Writing is really important to me, not only to keep everyone back home updated with the latest, but also for myself. Yes, I do have selfish motivations, shhhh! Writing has always helped me clear my head and sometimes realize what’s even in my head! I’m going to go through this blog, post through post, in the years that come and relive my experience with every word. 
   Sometimes I do feel guilty that I’m not taking this time to read a French book or work ahead on school work. I wonder how much more progress I could have made if I hadn’t brought this computer along with me. But that’s how important writing, recounting, and this blog is to me.
   I mean take this very post for example; I came here to simply ask that you think about voting for my blog in this competition, and somehow have talked about childhood trips abroad and dressing room experiences! 

PS. This is my 50th post and today is the last day of my 5th month in France, and this blog is just moments away from 5,000 views! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

“Une semaine de merde"

   Please excuse my language as I translate the title of this post to “a shitty week”. For those of you who don’t already know, I am in the process of changing families. Now I know exactly what you’re thinking, I have read hundreds of these kinds of blogs where everything is going great, until that one post that says their whole life was just turned upside down. You want to know the whole story, you want to know why and when and how, and if you’re a prospective exchange student you’re probably getting more and more worried that this will be you one day. But while I’m not going to go into great detail about why when and how, I will tell you how I feel as this train takes me further and further away from the place that’s become my home through the course of these past five months.
   You see, when I was 15 years old I found myself in France, in a town called Tournon Sur Rhone; everything was foreign to me, the language, the people, the food, the scenery. But I knew I would be here for ten months and I knew I wanted to enjoy those months. And so I found myself confiding in strangers, being more outgoing than I ever had been before and trying endlessly to be funny and charming in a foreign language, and somehow, remarkably, it worked.
   After just a few weeks I had friends who wanted to hang out, teachers who wanted to help, and a town that I knew like the back of my hand. Tournon was the place where I found myself without my family and friends for the first time in my life, both literally and figuratively. It was the place that took me in, as those strangers became best friends who displayed remarkable hospitality and patience. That town had become my home.
   Unfortunately, at the actual home, things weren’t going too well. But I’m good at pretending everything is okay, so good that I can get lost in my own game. I found myself making excuses for the things that weren’t okay with my host family and looking past the fact that my situation was less than ideal. I was probably a little scared of change too. I had had a lot of that in past months after all. I needed a push, a boost to get the courage to make the move. And it was those same friends I told you about earlier that we can thank for making me come around and face the task of changing families. My debt to my friends in Tournon is way over my head by now with everything they have done for me. Which is why it’s so hard for me to be sitting on this train right now, surrounded by men in business suits on our way to Paris. They have business to do in the capital, but my unfinished business is all in Tournon.
   My ears are popping as we travel through the countryside, a constant reminder that the reality is, I’m moving. I’m on my way to a new family in the outskirts of Paris. My friends had no idea the push they gave me to speak up to AFS would send me all the way to another region, they couldn’t have, it wouldn’t have, usually.
   My old host family worked for AFS in my region, making my situation more than immensely complicated. And my friends are doing everything they can to have me back, there is a petition going around my school to protest my absence. I’m going to miss them so much.
   I got the news that I would be changing regions during a break between two hours of math Monday. As I broke down in tears, my friends surrounded me as one of them grabbed the phone and told the AFS lady to stop treating me like a pigeon. Apparently she didn’t get it either because I’m still leaving. My friends wrote sweet notes all over a box of chocolates, which I am indulging myself to as I sit here and reminisce. Am I really already reminiscing on them? This all happened so fast.
   The positive way to go about this is that I will always have those friends, and I know that I will see them over vacation (the French do have a lot of those anyway!). Besides, who complains about getting to live in the suburbs of Paris, right?

   I’m sorry this post doesn’t offer a lot of explanation about this drastic change but I’m warn out of talking about it. It was a week of explaining myself in English and in French, a weeklong roller coaster of emotions. The story is complicated; worn out, but most importantly, not yet finished.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Out of Place

   Last week the entire school was abuzz when an adorable kitten got itself stuck in one of the trees in the courtyard! For three days the tree’s trunk was constantly surrounded as students looked up towards the sky and spotted the kitten looking down at them. Classes were disturbed as students watched out the window at boys throwing things up the tree. People pled the school to call the firemen (les pompiers) and they refused, until they gave in, but even then the firemen announced that the cat was up too high!
   Yes, this all really did happen however, the ending of the story is not concrete, so you can believe what you want about what happened to the poor kitten, all I know it that the tree was cat-less Monday morning.
Which brings me to Monday morning.
   Two months before I arrived in France a girl in my town was killed. My host mom was smart to tell me about it on the first day that I was here because the topic is often brought up among my classmates. It’s a terrible story and when it’s brought up, my friends often lighten the mood by jokingly saying that I came to the wrong town in France. They’re going to be using this a lot more because on Monday we were told that a boy in our grade had committed suicide the day before.
   The school was a mess. The library was reserved for kids who needed to escape the cold outside, hot chocolate was served, and classes were optional. Clusters of girls held on to each other as their makeup ran down their faces and boys sat in solitude in the corners of hallways.
   At one of the AFS weekends I went to before I left, a returnee warned us about feeling left out when your friends abroad talk about memories from years past and inside jokes made in your absence. Well, I know this isn’t what she had in mind but I couldn’t have felt more out of place in the midst of all my grieving friends. I was intruding on their time to mourn a friend and no amount of my hugs could comfort them like they could comfort each other. A reality of being an exchange student is being an outsider. There will be times when you feel utterly out of place and awkward and uncomfortable, but with a little luck you make friends that will make you feel as included and helpful as you can be, and in the end that's enough. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The Real Ardèche"

   I spent last weekend at host-grandma's house in the mountains! It was my first time out there and since pictures are worth a thousand words, and it's a school night, I'll leave it up to them to relay the beauty of my region to you:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Trend Report

    Now that the big scary swoop in the graph (a.k.a the holidays) has passed, it’s an upward climb from here as I experience “culture learning”.
I thought it would be fun to do a quick post on the cultural aspects that I have picked up on in these past five months. For example, as odd as it may seem, it took me awhile to get used to the degradable toilet paper rolls! In the beginning I would continue to throw them in the trashcan out of habit, but now I always flush them down. Look at me becoming so French! (Although these probably exist in America too, for all I know.)

So, you know you’re in France when:
-People take their dogs everywhere! And in turn, there is dog poop everywhere..
-You see groups of people wearing completely one color, jogging suits.
-Kids are smoking
-People are bitter towards America, but it’s everywhere. Kids at school have started saying “fail” and quote songs in english on a daily basis. 
-All the cars are stick shift and everyone parks in reverse.
-You wait your turn at a traffic circle more often than at a red light
-There is graffiti on pretty much everything.
-French people eat and eat and eat until they can't anymore...then they take a shot, and eat some more.
-It's very weird to do things and go places alone.
-Baguettes everywhere, in car windows, bike baskets, under people’s arms, etc!
-Everyone is always ready for vacation, even the morning of the first day back from vacation
-Instead of saying “no” people often say “c’est comme tu veux” (whatever you want) but they mean no!
-Always bring food when you’re invited to someone’s house
-"Tu m’étonnes" doesn’t translate to “you surprise me” like I thought it did the first hundred times my friends said it, but instead to “damn right”
-Flirtation has a whole new meaning, girls are very touchy with guys but that doesn’t actually mean anything
-People actually ask questions in class and will ask the teacher to clarify or go over something multiple times.
-In the first few weeks of philosophy class I would ask myself if I correctly understood, as we talked about humans growing up in the jungle and being savage (like Tarzan), the culture of porcupines, and life in a nudist colony...I did.

I’ve also noticed fashion trends of course so:
How to dress like a French girl:
Put tights on under jeans
Brands like: Les Petites Bombes, Deisgual and Franklin & Marshall (which apparently is American, but I'd never seen it until I came here).
High heel boots
Longchamp or Eastpack bags
Trench and pea coats
Clothes here are relatively expensive but girls often wear the same thing multiple days in a row. 

Boys in France dress pretty similar to boys in America, except skinny jeans takes on a whole new meaning, I honestly don’t know how these guys manage to move in their pants.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Hey guys,
I've decided to start "Vloging" (video blogging)!!!
From now on videos will have more of a...point but I just couldn't wait to get started so I filmed what the other exchange students and I did after school this week. (EAT!)
I hope you all enjoy getting an even closer look at my life here as an exchange student!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Mes résolutions pour la nouvelle année

   My first day back to school after Christmas break began with me waiting with my class in the cold and dark morning, for my Spanish teacher to show up. The rule is that kids can casse (break) and leave after waiting for a minimum of 10 minutes. This has happened on multiple occasions, leaving me dumbfounded as to why teachers can’t seem to predict their absences and let the school know. Well I’m not getting any closer to the answer and casse is exactly what ended up happening on my first morning back to school, I’m not complaining. And neither is the café in town that happily received and fed, what was basically my whole class.   While I sat there and talked with my friends and drank a hot chocolate, something caught my attention outside the window. 
We had been listening to a big truck going in reverse and as we looked outside, we learned what was in the truck: cows. 
   Okay, well maybe not exactly, but we did watch the truck driver haul a baby cow over his shoulder and into the butcher across the street, and that just leaves me wondering as to just how many other animals were in there!
   Although you all are lucky to have my extremely good imagery to recount this story, I don’t think I will forgive myself for not having had my camera to take a picture of that sight. Which brings me to the point of this post, my New Year’s resolutions! The first being to have my camera with me and ready to capture the moment at all times. The rest are as follows:
  • Enjoy every day that I have this year in France
  • Keep my blog up to date
  • Take pictures of everything!
  • Give everything a try, don’t miss out on any opportunity
  • Do something outside of my comfort zone everyday
  • Start participating in class (other than English class!
  • Look into hosting someone upon my return home
  • Loose the weight I gained in France upon my return home
  •  Get my drivers license
  • Study and raise SAT score
  •  choose and apply to a college    
   I admit this just looks like a long-term to do list, but they are things that I strive to do, that counts as resolutions…right?

   By beginning with my first day back at school, I’m going a little out of order here, as a blog about New Year’s resolutions should probably include what I did for New Year’s itself! 
   Since my host parents and one host sister had a party to go to and with my other host sister at her grand-ma’s, it’s a good thing I had been invited to a party myself! My host mom explained to me that in France it is typical to spend NYE with friends and the First of the year with family. Although, my friends seemed to believe in another tradition where the first is instead spent in bed sleeping...
   I spent the last day of 2011 making cookies to bring for my friends and then started getting ready an hour before my friend said she would pick me up. I wasn’t sure about how dressy of a New Years party this would be but after checking with two of my friends that I wouldn’t be over doing it, I decided on black heels, black pants, and a fancy shirt. Well, silly me, confused “et quart for et demis, so I was getting ready for her to come at 7:30 when the door bell rang at 7:15! 
   Luckily I was put together enough and managed to quickly slide on my heels and grab my bag, stumbling down the stairs without making her wait for too long…two minutes into the car ride I realized I had forgotten the cookies. Although it is considered rude to show up empty handed to someone’s house, there really wouldn’t have even had room on the table for another plate! My friend had made two versions of pigs in a blanket, pieces of toast with cheese, duck and ham, and a cake! We snacked while talking, singing, dancing and playing spin the bottle (Apparently that’s international!) There was also lots of talk about a game of strip poker, but that never happened. I kept glancing at the TV, expecting to see a packed Times Square, concerts and that old newscaster whose name I’ve never known, but the TV wasn’t even turned on! The excitement about counting down was a little disappointing but all I could do was laugh as the clock hit 12 and everyone was searching for the remote. Although our countdown wasn’t the most accurate, we did all go around doing la bise to each other, which took up about the first half hour of the New Year.
   We kept dancing and singing, anything from the Macarena to “Logobitombo” (see the dance below!), until four in the morning, and didn’t actually sleep until the sun started coming up. My host dad came and picked me up in the morning and I spent the day with my host grandparents and my host mom’s sister’s family who drove down from Versailles following in the tradition to have the First be a family day.

Happy New Year!

Joyeux Noel!

   Every year, prior to this year, I saw a perfectly artificial, tall and fat Christmas tree, colorfully lit up in the house across the street every time I looked out my window throughout the month of December. In my own home, we’ve always had real trees but I’ve always liked that my friend could keep hers up all month and use heavy ornaments that don’t risk breaking the branches. 
Part of what’s so cool about being an exchange student is living the way another family does and getting to do things in a new way. In this case, I got the fake Christmas tree that I always found so fascinating. 
   Yeah, yeah, I know, having a fake Christmas tree instead of a real one isn’t exactly a drastic change, though I find it significant and representative of the different kind of Christmas that I experienced this year.
   We put up the Christmas tree, more out of tradition than actual need as we were leaving the next day for a week in Paris and spent Christmas at my host mom’s sister’s house in Versailles. Trees here are a lot smaller than what we use back home but other than that the custom of Christmas trees and decorating is pretty similar to those in the U.S.
Me and my host sister setting up the branches!

Putting on the finishing touches
   And so is the present opening ritual, from 8 to 10 on Christmas morning, wrapping paper was being violently torn up and thrown everywhere as everyone opened there gifts at once.
My parents had sent a big box of presents for everyone in my host family and for me (THANK YOU) and the same friend whose Christmas tree has always been the first sign of the holiday on my street sent me a whole season of one of my favorite TV shows, Modern Family! (warning to any prospective AFS student, sites like hulu and Pandora for streaming music and TV shows don’t work outside of the U.S!)

   After some time, everyone's appetite for gifts had been satisfied, but not so much for food; my cue to go pick up the bread and food orders from the bakery, with my host cousin. We walked the dog down the street and joined the line of people who had come to pick up their oders of buches de noel.
   We walked home with our arms full and then watched a few episodes of Modern Family (with French subtitles for my host sister) before we were called down for lunch. Well… lunchtime turned into dinner time and no one had left the table. We ate and ate and ate some more. My host uncle is actually British so along with all the traditional French food, I got to try English food too! (ie, Christmas cake, that had been made three months in advance). See how well traveled and experienced AFS makes you?

   Later in the day I skyped with my family back home to wish them a merry Christmas and thank them for their gifts.
   Although I was advised not to skype my family during the holiday and warned by multiple people, on multiple occasions that this would be a very hard time for me to be away from my family, I didn't hesitate to click the phone button. I felt so content with my holiday and host-family that I went with my instinct, which was telling me that seeing my familie's faces wouldn't do any harm. And I have no regrets. I would have felt weird not having seen them on Christmas and it was really great to have everyone together in one room, where as I normally have to send a mass e-mail to seven different e-mail addresses just to share something with all the people I love.
   I didn't shed a tear on Christmas but instead enjoyed every moment of the most wonderful time of the year, in the most beautiful country in the world.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The City of Lights, picture telling

The view from our apartment!

Hotel de Ville

Notre Dame


Arc du Triomphe

Paris by night

A precious jewel

From the museum of Orsay 

Museum of Orsay

Let's go shopping!
Bateau de mouche

At the train station with host sisters and host mom

Museum of Orsay

Eating, what else but SNAIL!