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!
Journal Entry #2, 1/24/23 – 1/31/23
Hello everyone! As of yesterday I’ve been here for five months, which means I am at the halfway mark. There are a lot of emotions surrounding this fact. It’s absolutely wild to me that I’m already halfway done. Time has flown by so fast, and I’m left with the feeling that I need to grasp at the next five months and make them last as long as possible, make myself remember every small detail and preserve them forever. Then there is the other part of me that really just wants to have a huge group hug with my family. Anyway, these last few months since I’ve written have been eventful and awesome. The rollercoaster never ends, but it keeps getting better and better.
Thanksgiving in France was amazing. There is another American in my friend group who I am really close with, and we decided to get together and make a big Thanksgiving meal for our friends and families. She made the turkey and the stuffing, and I made the sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and two pies. I had to call my mom to walk me through most of the food, and my grandma to fix my mess of a chocolate pie, but it all ended up working out, haha. I never thought I would have that much fun cooking that much food, but it was honestly really entertaining. I did it all the night before, and my host parents, who had gone out for dinner, were very surprised to return at 1AM and find me still waiting for my apple pie (which I had only decided to make a few hours earlier) to come out of the oven. My french friends were more than slightly horrified that we put marshmallows on sweet potatoes, but besides that they liked everything else, HAH. They also brought us macarons, which, next to all the Thanksgiving food, made me laugh. All in all, it was a really lovely day.
After Thanksgiving, the next couple weeks flew by. My American friend and I got to experience the Saint Nicholas Day Parade, which was very fun. I still have candy left over from it, haha! It snowed too, which was gorgeous. I also got to go to Alsace to visit some Christmas markets with my host family. It snowed there as well, and it was absolutely magical. My host family and I took a day to put up all the Christmas decorations and play Christmas music, and before I knew it we were packing up to drive to my host grandparents’ village to spend Christmas there. My host dad had to work so he stayed in Nancy for a couple days, and my host mom and host siblings drove about five hours away to visit the parents of my host mom. I stayed at my host grandparents’ village in Burgundy, and hung out with my host cousins. We watched the new Avatar movie (in French…but also in 3D!), went on bike rides, and visited medieval villages in the area. (Even writing that sounds crazy!) Then my host parents and my other host uncle’s family met up with us a couple days before Christmas.
Christmas in France was definitely a time to remember. I remember being really emotional, and I was so excited to discover what Christmas was like here, but it was hard to be away from my family. We opened all our gifts on Christmas Eve, which I was not aware of until it started happening and was met with much surprise. The meal had five courses. We started with appetizers: salmon and a plate of escargots, and then there was bread with a mushroom spread, goose cooked with cider, foie gras, cheese, and a dessert plate made by my cousin. It was incredible. In between each course, us kids would go into the living room and bring back and distribute one gift for each person. This continued throughout the meal, until all the gifts were gone. I got an umbrella and a pair of socks that my host mom had gotten for me at Monet’s Garden, a puzzle, and a new journal! It was really different from what I was used to, but a really nice experience. On Christmas day everybody took their time and slept in, and aside from the big meal in the middle of the day, it was more-or-less a day like all the others! After the meal we all took a walk together around the village and they taught me Christmas songs in French.
At the end of December I went to Paris for a second time with some Rotarians from my club who have an apartment there, and my club president. It was absolutely incredible. My first visit was just for a day, and I am very grateful that I was able to hit the big museums, but I didn’t get to walk around much because everything was very back to back. This trip was a lot different. We still had specific plans, but we got to slow down and walk around quite a bit. They took me to see all the main tourist locations: The Eiffel Tower, the Christmas decorations in the Galerie de Lafayette, the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacre Coeur, and the Champs Elysée. We ate amazing food, saw a lot of beautiful Christmas lights and decorations, and took way too many photos. One time my phone died, and one of the Rotarians gave me her phone to take photos with so I could send them to myself after, which was really nice of her. Another time, I fell asleep in the Galerie de Lafayette while they were trying to buy a bag, and they took a picture of me and sent it to the groupchat of Rotarians, LOL. That was one of the coldest weeks in France this year, and the morning we left Nancy it was 13 degrees fahrenheit! I ended up not being able to watch the finals game of the world cup because we were on the train to come home, but that’s okay because France lost anyway haha.
When I got home from the trip, I had one day before moving to my second family. My first host brother had actually gone to the US on exchange back in 2016, and his old host family was coming to visit. They are from West Virginia, and it was really nice and entertaining to talk to other Americans from the same area as me. They were very kind, and we spent the day showing them around Nancy. While my host mom was going through the Nancy Tour, I realized we were exploring streets that I had never been to! I had it in my mind that I had already walked throughout my city, and I was so surprised to realize there was a whole section I hadn’t explored yet! That just goes to show that there are always new things to discover, no matter where you live.
I recently moved to my second host family, which was definitely a big change. I loved my first family and had gotten really comfortable with my routine and way of life there, so it was difficult to leave. That being said, I’m loving my second family so far. I have a 19 year old host sister who lives at the house and goes to university in Nancy. My host dad works in insurance, and my host mom is a doctor. This means that she works late hours, and we often eat dinner at 9:30 to 10! They also have a cat, which I was SO excited about. Yeah, I live in France and all, but living with a CAT?! Best thing ever. I also really love having a host sibling who lives at the house. With my first family both my host siblings lived pretty far away, so I didn’t see them a whole lot. With my second family I get to build a friendship with my host sister, and that has been really great. My second family lives about 20m by car from Nancy, in a small town called Champigneulles. This means I have to take the bus to and from school. At first, I was freaked out by the complicated bus system and ended up missing several buses haha. But after awhile I got used to it, even with all the random strikes in France that left me bus-less and waiting in the cold. Before this, I had never really ridden public transport alone, so now I have yet another experience under my belt!
Last weekend, the other exchange students and I went up to a mountain refuge for two days. I remember driving up there and seeing the ground slowly disappear under snow. The trees were all frozen and everything was white, like something out of a painting or Christmas movie. I had never seen anything like it in my entire life. We spent the first day playing in the snow just outside the refuge. A couple of Rotarians brought some sleds, and everyone took loads of photos. The second day we went snow-shoeing up the mountain with two guides. I can honestly say that was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had this year. That feeling of wonder has come upon me several times throughout my travels here, and it never gets old. The weekend did present some difficulties, I am having a really hard time connecting to the other exchange students. A lot of them live near me and are very close with each other, and although I live in the same area I end up being left out really often. I have a couple friends, but even then I find myself exhausted by their complaining about the others. I think it’s important to realize that you won’t connect with everybody, and you aren’t meant to. Sure, it can be really nice if you can connect to the other exchange students, and I believe you can learn something from everybody, but at some point you have to stop spending energy dwelling on a rough situation, and spend more energy on enjoying the experience despite it.
The winter weather in Lorraine is cold and gray, and many times I find myself holed up inside and doing nothing after school. It’s definitely harder to get myself to get out and about in winter, especially when the sun sets at 4-5pm. I love the snow, which has arrived a couple times and was very beautiful. But winter is hard, and it’s hard to pull myself out of the daze of daily afternoons on my phone in the warmth of my room. I think I have found myself feeling guilty for not taking more advantage of the time my daily life gives me, and falling into old habits I so desperately wanted to break. Growth is not a linear process, and to all the kids who are going to leave soon: you have to remember that a good bit of exchange is just living daily life. Yes, you are in a different country, and that is really cool. But after everything loses its shine of being new and different and exciting, it gets hard. And that’s just part of the journey. Too often I have found myself excited for the moment when I look back at this trip with rose-colored glasses. Excited for the memories when the trip itself isn’t even over yet. And, at the same time, I am astounded that I am already halfway done. Knowing my time here is limited, has it passing so much faster. Knowing my time here is limited has me scared im not spending it “right.” This, my friends, is ridiculous. There is no “right way” to spend exchange. This is why I beg you to not compare your exchange with other people’s. Everyone has a different experience, everyone lives a different life. Live in the present. Although it may sound simple and obvious, it is one of the things I have struggled with the most. I find myself impatient for future moments, and then when I get there I forget to take a deep breath and live in it. Just slow down, look around, and remember that every moment can be meaningful if you want it to be.
Ironically, I feel like my English is deteriorating as my French is improving. Many apologies for my grammar mistakes, or if parts of this make little sense. My dreams now happen in Franglish. If I’m explaining something to my family and friends back home with a French word in it, I accidentally start to speak French. Occasionally one of my French friends says something to me in French and my brain doesn’t realize it’s French since I am understanding nearly everything, so I respond in English, or vice versa. It’s really fun to see situations like that arise, and I’m really enjoying the language journey. Well, until I am reminded how difficult French grammar is. But I’ll get there.
Au revoir et à la prochaine fois!