Journal Entry #1, 10/27/22
It has been around two months since I arrived in France, which is wild to think about. Time is flying by and I’ve already made so many memories.
My first host family lives in the city of Nancy, which has a population of around 105,000 people. I still remember my first few days here, I was awed by the idea that you can walk or ride your bike almost everywhere! My house is a 25 minute walk to downtown, which is where my school is. Every day I walk to and from school, and many afternoons I spend downtown, exploring shops or studying in the library. It is amazing the amount of experiences I can create for myself just by living here, and many of the museums and aquariums are free for minors! The freedom to walk around a city after school and go places without asking someone to drive me around (thank’s mama, i’m realizing how much you were my taxi last year) is very new for me, and I am loving it.
I go to a private catholic school, which is very different from one you would find in the US. They are still funded by the government, and have the same rules and vacation days as public schools. There is no uniform or mandatory mass, and to my knowledge there are no religious classes either. Many students attend here for the rigorous classes, or the ‘International Section’ that my school has. The International Section provides a few classes in English, and because of this, most people in my class have a very high English level.
I am in ‘premiere’ at school, which is the equivalent of 11th grade in the US. I am actually only in 10th grade, but here the grade levels are determined by your year of birth (unless you skip a grade, which is also quite common here), instead of from August to August, so nearly all of the 11th graders are my age. My school day is very different from what it was in the states. To start things off, we have different classes every single day, so our schedule is weekly. I also start and end the school day at different times every day, which was very strange for me. I got to choose a few of my classes, and I am not taking all of the required classes thanks to me being an exchange student. In each class, there isn’t any separation of level (Honors, AP, etc.) even in the language classes.
Here’s a look at my school week:
School is from 9AM to 5PM and I have International Literature (in English), French Literature, and Greek.
School is from 8AM to 2PM and I have Humanities Literature and Philosophy, History and Geography (also in English), and International Literature.
School is from 9AM to 3PM and I have Greek, Math, and Visual Arts.
School is from 10AM to 4PM and I have French Lit, International Lit, and Humanities Lit and Philosophy.
School is from 8Am to 6PM and I have French Lit, Math, quite a long break, and History.
My schedule however, does not represent the majority of kids at my school. Because I am an exchange student I don’t do everything required, such as taking the exams everyone takes on Saturday mornings, or taking another foreign language class such as german or italian.
School has been a rollercoaster to say the least. I am very grateful because almost as soon as I got here I was welcomed into an amazing friend group who has helped me navigate all of my classes, professors, etc. There have been some difficulties though: who knew that math is written differently here than in the US?! For example, in the US my math class used “•” and “a(b)” to symbolize multiplication when we had X as a coefficient so you don’t confuse the two. But here my teacher told me I had to write a cursive X for the coefficient and always an x when multiplying things. Along with this, french math classes focus more on explaining the process than the answer itself. I’ve gotten countless questions wrong because I didn’t find the answer “in the right way” or I didn’t explain my thought process. It’s definitely a struggle but I’m improving!
Then we have greek class…I didn’t even realize I was learning ancient greek ( instead of modern greek), until like, last week. Which should really tell you something about how I’m doing there. Much of the class time is spent with text from the Iliad, in French on one side and Greek on the other, and we are supposed to identify which French sentences correspond to the greek. I’d never studied greek in my life before I started this class, but I’m interested in greek mythology so I thought it would be cool. The good news is, I’ve successfully learned the alphabet, and my teacher is very kind.
It’s definitely a really cool experience to be introduced to all these different topics and ways of doing things, and I think while it seems impossible or stressful in the moment, every single difficult moment I’ve experienced is an opportunity for growth.
My Rotary district, district 1790, includes clubs from the departments of Lorraine, and Haute-Marne. This is around 54 clubs and 1,900 Rotarians. Personally, my Rotary club here is a lot smaller than back home, which was really surprising. So far, my rotary club has brought me on several hikes and other activities together, which has been nice. My second host mom is a Rotarian as well, and right now I am not very active in Rotary meetings but I’m hoping to start going to more when I move families.
There are also so many culture shocks in France. Some big, some small, but even after two months I am still finding things that are different! For starters, the smoking culture in France was a big shock to me. Students and teachers alike will smoke outside the school in between classes, and walking down the street at any hour of the day, there is a near 100% chance you will see someone smoking. Another thing that was a big shock to me is the mere size difference in everything. From supermarkets to cars to mugs, everything is so much smaller! There is also a major culture of taking your time with meals and food in general. Lunch and dinner with my host family is at least an hour, and complete with 2-4 courses. If we have people over, we start with about an hour of appetizers and conversation before moving on to the main meal. After that, we eat cheese and bread. If it is lunchtime, there will often be espresso for those who want it, otherwise we often have a dessert of fruit or, at my house, chocolate pudding. I’ve also found that we eat a lot later here than most people in the US. Depending on the night, my host family will normally have week-night dinners around 8:30-9, but going later is not unheard of. Once, at a dinner party, we started eating appetizers at 8:30, had the main course at 10, and by 1AM we had just gotten to dessert!
Hello! I realized I wrote the first half of this entry and then never finished, so I apologize for this entry coming later than expected. As time goes on, I’m realizing the accuracy of the “youth exchange rollercoaster” everyone talks about during the outbound orientations. I knew it was going to be hard, but I don’t think I realized how it doesn’t just climb upwards. For me, I think I assumed homesickness and everything would be difficult in the beginning but then I would learn how to deal with it and it would magically disappear. Recently though, I’ve found that as the holidays are coming up and my surroundings are becoming more familiar, I am realizing how long it is going to be until I go home. It’s not that I want to go home, but a hug from my parent’s would be pretty great. I think the first step to getting through this is recognizing that it is completely normal. The outbound orientations did prepare me for this time period, and knowing that I have a good support system both here and back home keeps me going.
To all the kids reading this who are in the process of leaving on exchange, or thinking about going on exchange: I’m not going to pretend like it’s not difficult. It is. But it’s so worth it. I can already tell the amount of growth that I’ve experienced since I got here. Not only with the language aspect, but with my mindset and character as a whole. Adding on to this, the amount of beauty i have experienced throughout these few months has been mind-blowing. Yes, this beauty may seem obvious during trips with host families or Rotary, or just thinking about all the new and exciting places to explore. But I’ve learned that there is so much beauty in everyday life as well. In people-watching, in making new friends, in having the opportunity to reinvent yourself. It is in the young girl on the side-walk eating a croissant and holding hands with her dad, and the early morning sunrises over the train station as I walk to school. It’s everywhere.
I don’t think I realized there was beauty in my home-town until I left it. Everyone says: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but I think absence gives recognition to things you may have taken for granted. You will miss things from back home that you didn’t even realize were important to you. You will miss the hugs from your parents, the random Target runs, and waiting at the bus stop for your younger siblings when you took a day off of school. But all these things will welcome you with open arms when you get back home. Remember to value every moment of this year, because yes, sometimes it feels like time has stopped and I have many months ahead, but then I look back and am absolutely in awe that I have already been here for nearly three months. I look back and realize how many wonderful experiences I’ve already had. Cherish every moment. It’ll all become memories soon.
To finish off this journal entry, I’m going to give a list of a few of the awesome experiences I’ve had in the last couple months:
– I went biking around Nancy and into the countryside several times with my host parents.
– I went to a light show in Place Stanislas, (the main square in Nancy).
– I explored the many museums and Art Nouveau houses around Nancy with my host family and friends.
– I visited Strasbourg, a city in the Alsace region with an amazing mix of German and French architecture.
– I went grape-harvesting with some other exchange students in a town called Lucey, and got to see how wine is made.
– My birthday happened! I had a party with my school friends at my house after school. We made crepes and they sang happy birthday to me in eight different languages: (English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Korean, and Latin!)
– I spent the weekend with my third host family, and then had another birthday party with all three of my host families and my YEO. 🙂
– I went on a 13km (8 mile) hike with my Rotary club in the region des mille étangs, and took SO many pictures.
– I hung out with two other exchange students (from Norway and Mexico). We went bowling, and then my host dad and I visited the castle in their town, Luneville, after we dropped them off.
– I went on another, shorter hike with my Rotary club to go mushroom foraging, which was SO beautiful and such a cool experience.
– I went to Verdun and visited the citadel and other WWI museums.
– At the end of October, we had a two week vacation. During the second week, my host family brought me to Monet’s Gardens, Paris, La Bretagne, or Brittany (the beach!), and Nantes. It was AMAZING. Monet’s Gardens were so beautiful. It was fall, so nothing was in bloom, but it was still so picturesque! I hope to return there during other seasons sometime in my life. Paris was also absolutely amazing. I went to the Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay, which were breathtaking, (I don’t have enough adjectives to describe this trip…) and then I got to walk along the Seine and look through all the book and art stands set up there. Throughout this whole week, I ended up buying six posters! The Brittany region was so beautiful. I had so many moments where I would just stop and blink really hard because it felt like I was in a picture or a chromebook wallpaper. The Brittany region is known for their crepes, which honestly just topped it all off. Definitely one of the best weeks of my exchange so far, and I will remember it forever.
– I spent a weekend with another exchange student from the US at my host grandparents house, in a small village in Bourgogne. We spent the weekend walking around and talking about how crazy it is that we are in France in a foggy little village that feels like it is straight out of a storybook, and how we would give anything to make time move just a little bit slower.
In all, the last few months have been difficult, but so amazing. I remember being very nervous before I left, and I’m just so proud of myself for taking this leap and trusting where it takes me. It has already left me with so many memories and I’m beyond excited to make many more in the coming months! Okay, that’s all for now. À bientôt!