Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Home" But Not Home

     Wow, so this is what it's like to be back from exchange: the constant pang of homesickness for foods, customs and people that were once so foreign but are now so normal, the readjustment to habits that were different for a year, and the text messages going the opposite direction. Suddenly, again, I realize it's all just a dream. I always read about other students returning from exchange, but I never thought I'd be in their shoes so soon. Here I am, not the "American exchange student" anymore, but the "American who was an exchange student."

      I'll never forget the day I left my French hometown. It was one of the worst days of my life yet also one of the most beautiful. The people who were just strangers months ago started catching my teardrops on their shoulders when I heard that the train would be coming in fifteen minutes. I had never cried so much before in public, but this time I didn't care that I was the star of the show, even if I didn't want nor expect to perform it. I gave kisses and hugs to my four best friends, my host sisters, my host mom, and then I reluctantly hopped onto the train. My last view of France, at least my France, was my host dad's hand that I tried to grasp in order to at least say some sort of goodbye before the train doors closed, my host parents' hug as they both broke down, and my friends shout of  "Au Revoir!" and my French nickname "Jaja!" as they waved with their beautiful, love filled smiles. How fortunate am I to have something, or "somebodies", in this case, that was and is so hard to say goodbye to.

     Arriving at the airport, I realized that my parents weren't there. We were reunited after an hour, but it felt so weird. The first days were very hard in general. I was sleep deprived, yet I still woke up at weird hours and texted my rays of sunshine that were now 4,000 miles away. I was in one of my favorite cities in the world, but my parents didn't understand that I just wanted to sleep and be reunited with everybody, even if I wasn't sure of who "everybody" referred to. The people who were supposed to know me the best didn't understand. American food was tasteless compared to France, the showers were different, and the streets were more decorated with flags, USA flags. Everything I said, did, and saw reminded me of France, and it is still like that today.

    Reuniting with everyone in Pennsylvania was the best part about coming back. To sit down and tell them about it, to literally run into somebody's arms, to hear the words "I missed you, to sit my little cousin on my lap... it was almost magical. I never knew I made such a big difference in people's lives until my year abroad,  and at the same time I realized what a difference they made in mine.

A day at the lake with the cousins!!!

     "It was the best year of my life." I kept it simple after the first few weeks were over. I didn't feel like explaining my year abroad to everyone on the street, and I honestly didn't know what to say when someone asked "How was France?" The US teenager pressures of learning to drive, getting a job on the side, doing sports in school, and all the other things I usually didn't see so present in my French friend's live came directly to me, and I didn't like it. The reunions died down slowly, as they were turning once again towards goodbyes.

     About a week ago, I arrived at my aunt and uncle's house in Indiana, where I will spend my senior year of high school. It's like living an AFS year all over again, except for the fact that they are biologically related to me and they speak English. It's hard because I now have to adapt all over again. I also said a complicated goodbye to Pennsylvania without being able to enjoy my time there because I was missing France. I am confident though because I've done done this "adaptation thing" before in much more complicated circumstances (and look at how that ended), and I'm confident about the choice I made to move.

     As hard as some days are, I push myself through, just as I did in France when it was tough. I know my host parents wouldn't want anything else but that, and they've prepared me well for it all. It will never be the same for me because I'll never have my whole family on one continent again at the same time, but maybe it doesn't have to be the same.

139 days until I see my French parents again!!!



Friday, July 7, 2017


      Well, this is it. The day is almost here. In just a few hours, I will say goodbye to my family and best friends in order to return to my family and friends. For the past 309 days, I've had the honor of being an exchange student. During that time period, I've stumbled through my second language every day until I came to master it. I've come to know and appreciate a way of living that in some ways is so very different from my own...and that of my native country's. People from all around the world came to hold a very dear place in my heart in such a short amount of time. Of course, I've tried lots of new things this year, tasted some new foods, and have been to places in the world that I only knew before from the Internet. This past year taught me a lot about who I was, who I am, and who I want to be, even if I don't have it all figured out yet. I've learned to live every day to the fullest and to continue to do that even when I am back where everything seems the same. In reality, I have so much to discover in my own country. I've made it through heartbreak and confusion this year when the people I longed to be comforted by the most were across the ocean. I've experienced what it's like, again, to miss someone. I've experienced what it's like to want to help someone but to not be able to because of distance, and that hurt.

      Soon, it will all be over, at least for now. One of the best years of my life will return to what it was two years ago and the years before....a dream. No more playing card games with my friends during break at school, no more funny nicknames going on around for me, no more of my host parents mocking me because I get their language confused, and no more French parties. I will return to my family and friends and to what I used to do before going abroad, and the memories will come back as if no time passed at all. I will soon realize, however, that time has passed. and I have changed. I will come to realize, as I've heard before, that one of the hardest parts about being an exchange student is balancing the two worlds I live in. I will have to adapt again, but this time to things that at last year were so normal, and so hard to let go. And I will have to adapt all while staying true to my self, my new self.

       As I've been preparing to leave, numerous questions have come to mind. How will I greet my family and friends back in the US? What will they say about my exchange year? What do they think I've done the past ten months? Will they like the new me? How many people that I knew before leaving will still be my friends when I get back? What did I miss in my native country while gone for a year?

       I'm about to go now. I'm about to wheel my packed suitcase out that door and walk down the hallway for the last time. Emotion will overcome my pride as I wrap my arms around my new family and friends for the last time and I think of all that I've been through with them. I will get on the train, hoping I made as much of a difference in their lives as they did in mine. The hardest part about saying goodbye to someone is not the actual goodbye, but not knowing when you will see the person again. This year has brought me a lot, taught me a lot, and no matter what happen during from now, I can say one thing about this year....I lived.

Traduction en français:

       Dans quelques heures, je dirai "Au Revoir" à ma famille et mes meilleurs amis pour rentrer dans ma famille et mes meilleurs amis. Ces derniers 309 jours, j'ai été une étudiante étrangère, la meilleure chose qui m'est jamais arrivée. Pendant cette période, je me suis débrouillée dans une langue que je ne connaissais pas beaucoup. J'apprécie maintenant une façon de vivre différente que la mienne, et celle d'où je viens. Des gens qui viennent de n'importe où dans le monde ont une place unique dans mon cœur. Ma famille et mes amis sont partout maintenant. Bien sûr, j'ai essayé plein de nouvelles choses cette année, j'ai goûté de la nouvelle nourriture, et j'ai vu des vues au monde que je connaissais avant que grâce à l'Internet. Cette année m'a beaucoup appris concernant qui j'étais, qui je suis, et qui je voudrais être. J'ai appris à vivre chaque journée le mieux que je peux et à le faire même quand je rentre. J'ai tant de choses à découvrir chez moi. Je m'en suis sortie des moments quand j'avais le cœur brisé et je ne comprenais rien. De plus, tous avec qui je voulais être étaient à 6,000,000 kilomètres de moi. Je me suis rendue compte, de nouveau, de ce que c'est quand quelqu'un te manque.  Cette année, j'étais des fois trop loin d'aider ma famille et mes amis aux États-Unis, et ça m'a fait mal.

      Dans quelques heures, je serai à la fin, au moins pour maintenant. Une des meilleures années de ma vie sera pour une autre fois exactement ce que c'était il y a deux ans, et les ans avant...un rêve. Je ne jouerai plus de jeux de cartes avec mes amis pendant les pauses au lycée, il n'y aura plus de surnoms drôles pour moi, et je ne ferai plus de fêtes à la française. Je vais rentrer dans ma famille naturelle et mes amis et je reprendrai des choses que je faisais avant de partir en France, et les souvenirs viendront comme si je les faisais hier. Je me rendrai compte, quand-même, que le temps s'est passé, et que j'ai changé. Je me rendrai compte que la chose la plus difficile en étant une élève étrangère est le fait que j'ai mon cœur dans deux pays différents. Je vais devoir m'adapter, mais cette fois aux choses que j'avais l'habitude, et le plaisir, de faire il y a un an.

       En me préparant pour mon départ, plusieurs questions viennent à l'esprit. Dans quelle manière dirai-je "Bonjour!" à ceux qui m'attendent à l'aéroport? Qu'est-qu'ils vont dire concernant mon année à l'étranger? Qu'est-ce qu'ils pensent que j'ai fait ces derniers dix mois? Aimeront-ils la nouvelle moi?

      Bientôt, je partirai. Bientôt, je finirai de faire mes valises, et je les mettrai dans la voiture. Je verrai ma maison en France pour la dernière fois. J'e ferai semblant d'être forte, mais mes émois prendront le dessus, surtout quand je fais les derniers câlins et les dernières bises avec ma nouvelle famille et amis et je pense à tout ce que j'ai vécu avec eux. La chose la plus difficile en disant "Au Revoir" n'est pas l'au revoir lui-même, mais le fait de ne pas savoir quand tu seras avec la personne de nouveau. Cette année m'a apporté plein de choses. Peu importe qui se passera dans l'avenir, je peux dire une chose grâce à cette année: J'ai tout fait!

     Below are the links of some videos that past exchange students have made concerning their thoughts about going home. This is how I've tried to prepare myself to go back to the US. I can relate 100%.

Parting Words from a Rotary Youth Exchange Student

Exchange Student About to Leave

Monday, July 3, 2017

My Last Moments Living My Dream

        A childhood dream: to live something completely different than what I was used to, to see new places, to speak a new language. That's all it took to send me far away from almost everything and everyone I knew on August 31st, 2016.

       A childhood dream and the will to succeed was all I held on to during the trying moments of December 26th, and all the other bad hours of my exchange when I could think of almost nothing more agreeable than to be in the presence of my natural family. The language had me fed up, I realized maintaining relationships here was more complicated than I thought, it was hard to find a good balance with communication with those in the US, etc.

      Adult pride is all I have now as I look back on these past ten months and say "They were some of the hardest months of my life, but they were some of the best." I've finally come to accept it.  In just five days, I will go. I will go back to those people who were all I knew that afternoon on August 31st, 2016, tripping over and dropping all of my luggage in the process of going to greet those who will be waiting for me in the airport as French words come out of my mouth, I'm sure.

      All I want these last days is to make the best of it while preparing myself as best I can to go back. That's been my goal all month, and I think I've been pretty successful. Last week was wonderful. My host dad came home for lunch every day, which allowed us to spend time together. Once again, I packed my suitcase all by myself, and almost everything weighed what it was supposed to the first time! (It wasn't that everyone refused to help me. It was just that I wanted to do it alone.) I was a little concerned because everyone had started packing well before me. However, now it's a little annoying because now I am living out of my suitcase a little too early. I hate that but that's what I get for being a wanderlust! 

      Wednesday was different. I went to my friend's house and let them dress me up and put my make-up on, which never really happens. My host dad greeted me at the door with a camera before taking us all to the school dance. I had never gone to the school dance in the US because I found it was a waste of time, especially if you didn't have a date or a big group of friends, but this time I decided to give it a try in a culture where having a boyfriend isn't as emphasized and I am well integrated in my school. I ended up loving it. I heard my friend speak English, as he knew almost all of the songs by heart. (He's usually too concerned about his accent so I never hear him.) My host dad was kind enough to pick us up from the dance despite having to work early the next morning. My friends spent the night at my house, and we had some more memorable moments the next morning. Some of my favorites were waking Elsa up, which took about as long as it usually does for me, and Laurentin's reaction when I gave him a real dollar bill. He said "Oh, thank you!" and then sat down on the bed to analyze it. I then sat down with him to explain everything, such as the president and the sayings, but he knew about it already.

       The day I've been waiting for has finally come! I received the news Thursday that I passed the DELF B1 and B2, which means that not only can I speak French fluently, but I can present and defend my opinion. It is normally a sufficient level for many colleges as well. After five years, I can finally say I have the French level I've always wanted. Of course, that does not stop me from learning new words every day and my desire to get even better. Along with my DELF scores, my host parents forced me to check out my SAT scores. I did better than I thought. My host mom reminds me that I have to take into consideration the fact that I prepared for this test in a few months all by myself while those in the US were probably preparing longer, and not surrounded by their second language.

        I'm expecting this week to be pretty calm, yet emotional. My only special plan before my departure is a day with my friends, as they are more available now because they are finishing up their tests. That will be my final goodbye for many, except for those who will bid their goodbyes at the train station Saturday.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

What NOT to Say When I Get Back

      As I put my finishing touches on my French fluency exams and I can literally put all of the days I have left on a single page in Microsoft Word when making a calendar for my last month (not even) in France, my mind suddenly comes to the realization that it tries so often to ignore...again: Wow, there isn't much time left. My mind can't help but wander to the US every once in a while. I can only imagine how popular I will be when I get back, with people bombarding me to ask what I did during my year abroad, how the flight back was, and all in between. An exchange student often feels increased frustration coming home because of the types of questions people ask or the type of things they say, even when they mean well, that explicitly show that they don't understand what the student has just been through. Here are some questions/remarks that it is typically better to avoid, especially the first few months after arrival and during readjustment.

       1. How was your trip/vacation/voyage? It simply wasn't that. I did travel a little bit, but that wasn't my main focus. I worked as hard here as I did in the US, just in different ways.
       2. Do you speak French? Yes, I do. Even if my host mom speaks English as well as I do, we still talk in French!

       3. What was your favorite part? I am going to give you a list of dates and you will most likely have no idea what they correspond to. I don't have a favorite part! 
      4. Is the US or France better? I didn't do this to choose a country. I can say now there are things I prefer about the US and there are things I prefer about France. My heart is in both countries, however.

      5. Don't be sad that it's over. You can go back and visit. I know I can. What I won't be able to do is go back to when I was 16 with all the same people and the same "feeling". Visiting will be great, but it just won't be the same. This is the year I grew up.
      6. Do French people shower? Please don't pull out all those ridiculous stereotypes on French people (even if it makes me laugh!)
      7. You are so lucky! Even before I left, when people called it "luck" or got jealous about my year abroad, my blood pressure rose. I worked my guts out to get here, and I arrived and worked more. I am fortunate but not lucky.

      8. Overusage of home: Coming home, back home....I often have to stop myself from saying these types of things myself. France is no less my home than the US. I am leaving home to go home.



Enjoy the Present and Be Positive (The Last Two Weeks)

           And here I am....the last two weeks. In September, I told myself that these days would never come. June seemed so far away. In December, I wanted this day to come but it just didn't seem to be coming fast enough. Now, I am here. I think that I will soon be back in my native country, but I remember it as if I never left. Half of me just wants to lay in bed and cry, and it takes all the energy I have to make the most of my last days here. I realize, as I've learned this year, that I am a very small part of this world. Everybody's life around me continues. My host parents still go to work, my friends are still studying for the BAC. When I left the US, although my friends and family were sad to see me go, their lives continued. I started a new one. When I go back to the US, I will start another one. Everyone's here will continue. It's harder to say goodbye than hello during an exchange year.

          However, like I said, I am making the best of the present moment, which I was reading about the other day. Staying busy so that I don't think about two weeks from now is one of the ways I handle "this." Though I do have to some serious planning/pressures for when I get back to the US, I don't forget to have fun. Marseille, the Alps, my French fluency tests, countless parties and events with seems to never end, and it doesn't have to yet.

         Marseille was magnificent, as almost every town near the sea is. I went with my host parents and AFS group about two weeks ago. I went during Christmas break, but that was a rough time. I was glad to create better memories with my host mom and AFS friends on our boat ride!

         My French fluency tests were last week, and overall I am pretty satisfied. I studied hard and did my best. This time I was able to control the stress better. I feel more confident about one test than the other, but we'll see when I get my results next week. Perhaps the most memorable events of the day were not actually the the tests themselves, but the getting there. Our train got stuck on the way to Lyon, and we would have been late for my exams if my host mom was not figuring out another way to get there. We ran to catch our bus and to get to my second exam also. There was even a confusion about where the tests were being held. That's a day with my host mom I'll never forget!

        The Alps were amazing as I expected, but they are not as close as you all think! I loved climbing on the rocks and playing in the snow with my host parents!

         As much as I try to  focus on France, I always get asked questions, particularly, "How do you feel about going home?" Some immediately say "You must be excited to see your family again." Others say "So, are you sad?" I'm not sure myself. Sure, as I listen to "Welcome Home" I smile at the thought of seeing my cousins again (especially since I missed the family reunion this week and my Chinese cousins are home) and I try to plan out my first words for my parents when I find them at the airport and how I will teach them the bise.

        However, the happiness of seeing my family back home does not hide the fact that I am leaving a life behind here. Some people do not understand how people that are not biologically related can be so close to me, but that's been the greatest gift this year has given me. When I waved at my parents in August and said "See you in July", I meant it. I would love to be able to say it here. Right now, the thought of going back comes as a shock, even if I knew it was coming for the past ten months. I've read about it, heard stories about it, but it just doesn't seem real. When it does acually sink in, little by little, sadness is the first feeling.

        If I had the choice of going back to the US, I'm not sure I would, at least not yet. On the other hand, I guess the greatest present I can give to my host parents at this time is to put into action what they've  told me these past five months. I can't have everything in life, so I have to make the most of what I do have. I had understood the first part well before coming to France, but the second part took more work. All that to say, I'm going to list why I am excited to return "home."

1. Family and Friends

        Obviously, the #1 reason why I don't want to leave France is the #1 reason I want to go back. It's been extremely hard to be away from everyone, and everything, I knew this year, especially in December. I can't wait to see my nanny again and the countless others!

These are the crazy cousins I've missed!

2. Being Able to Understand Everything

       It's been pretty cool to not have been pressured by all the school responsibilities this year, but it was frustrating when I wanted to put in the effort with my classmates but couldn't. May I never forget how draining certain times were when I was just trying to figure out what was being said around me or to understand the personality of those around me.

3. Root Beer and Fried Chicken

      I can't say I prefer American food over French food, (That would be a crime!) but there are some food/drinks I will be happy to taste again.

4. Discover my Hometown

     I actually wonder what it's like to go further than the Giant grocery store or to sit and watch the cows pass by on the Amish farm...

5. Hugs

     I don't really miss them at all now. I've adapted in several ways. However, I put this element because if I don't remember how hard it was at the beginning, how should I expect everyone else to? (I remember the first real culture shock the week of September 17-24.)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My School Year in France: More Than Just Academics

           Tomorrow, I will do it for the last time. My host parents will wake me up in the morning, and I will force myself out of bed to go see my friends. More precisely, I will get up and get ready for school. My host mom will drive me down to the bus stop, where we will sit and chat for a few minutes before giving each other a morning hug. I will then get on the bus, which is not yellow, for the record. It seems like not so long ago I was doing these things for the first time in this town.

           School in France taught me much more than just academics. By immersing myself in French and the French lifestyle every day, I was able to learn about the culture and language. I lived something many others won't. School here is so different than in the US. The teachers are more distant, the days and lunches are longer, the students are put in specific classes for their future, and from my experience, the students are closer to each other. It's not better than the US, it's not worse, it's just different. Personally, I really like this school system.

             While my host mom was worrying about how I would adapt to my new school and make friends in January, I was learning how to do just that. I was getting by in the language, and I was adapting, for the second time. While many of my relationships in the US date back to so long ago that I don't know how they formed, I saw relationships form themselves right in front of my very eyes here. I still remember who approached me first at my schools and who came back. I remember the first day at my second school when Maxime came up to tell me that I probably could come in later the next day because there was a test. I remember when I was so confused with the schedule and Mathilde and Elsa (from different schools) came to my rescue.

             Anyhow, I did make intellectual progress as well. Not able to read a simple chapter book in French when I arrived, I can now read French literature with the others. I understand biology class, and I finished the year off with a test that was finally graded! I've done math concepts in French. Even if I don't understand it all now, I at least am a little more familiar with it than at the beginning, and I bonded with my friends and my host mom as they explained the lessons to me.

            What will I miss the most about this school year? Will it be the lunches in town that I ate out with my friends, either during breaks or when we finished class early? Will it be not having the afternoon off Wednesdays and Thursdays? Will it be when I remember the Wednesdays my friends accompanied me to where I ate out with my host parents and my host mom yelled back at us "You guys are so slow!!!" Will it be the pride I had as I did real French schoolwork on my own? Most likely, I think it will be the people that have brought me this far. I've loved every minute of it. It's safe to say this has been one of the best school years of my life.


Friday, June 2, 2017


                About three and a half weeks ago, my tennis coach from my old region called me, offering me tickets for the first round of Roland Garros. It was something we were previously planning months ago, but of course I lost hope that it would be possible when I changed regions. My first instinct was to say "Yes!" but I quickly remembered all the other events that were going on at the same time. I had just gotten home from a big weekend in Paris, and I had already planned to go back and see one of my host families in Champagne Ardenne what would be the weekend after Roland Garros. However, over the next few days, my host parents and I reasoned together. I could miss a day or two of school (again) since the main focus would be on the Baccalaureat, which I am not taking, and even though it would be a cramped schedule, I do have to take advantage of being in France!

                Last Sunday, my parents put me on the train, and I was off to my old town. It was my first time taking and changing trains alone, but I got through it and felt really proud of myself afterwards.

               After 7 hours of traveling, I stepped off onto the train platform of my old town and into the heat. I had forgotten how small, and how hot, it was. My tennis coach came and picked me up and we did the bise and started talking like I never left. "It's so bizarre to be here..." I told him. "It's like I've lived another life since."

               He took me down to the tennis courts where a tournament was going on. A group of people were at a table, and he pointed to a woman, saying "I think you know her." To be honest, I did not recognize her, but she quickly recognized me. "Oh, it's Janae! The one who changed families and now lives in the mountains," someone said. I was quickly offered a brownie and invited to sit down. Everybody started talking again. They started asking me about my old host family, why I changed, and then they said "Oh, we have to talk slower. She might not understand." I can speak French...and understand it now!" I thought. Her French has tremendously improved!" my coach chimed in. It"s always a little frustratring to get asked the same questions over and over again, but I accept that it's normal.

                When we got to my coach's house, he showed me around, including the hallway of tennis racquets. We quickly made our way to the living room for the French Open. It was playing in the background while we chatted and while I texted my host parents.

                 Around 1:00pm the next day, I saw a few clay courts before quickly finding my way to the central court (Philippe Chatrier) with my coach's family where Djokovic was scheduled to play. I quickly found our seats, which were at the perfect angle. From that point on, I just savored every moment. I looked to my right, where flags from different countries were waving at the top of the court. I looked down onto the court and had time to see the players make their appearances. The match soon got underway. Every few points, Djokovic would tap his racquet on his shoes to get the clay that was stuck off. He won the first set easily but had a little trouble in the second.  Shortly after, my coach texted me from the other main court, advising me that Nadal was playing.

First match of the day for me: Novak Djokovic 

               I tried to explain to those I was with that one of us had to stay and the other two could go see Nadal. Due to the noise and all, we had miscommunication, so I found my way over the other court all by myself and found a seat. In that moment, life was as good as it could get. I had my second favorite player (next to Federer) on his favorite surface in front of me. He played so well that I felt that as soon as I got there he finished. What came next was not expected; he did his interview in French. People say that he barely speaks English, but he gave us a few sentences in French, substituting the English word when he didn't know what to say in French.

Rafael Nadal (the King of Clay) on the Suzanne Lenglen court

             I texted my coach, letting him know Nadal had finished and we could rejoin each other. When he didn't reply, I decided to find my way to Court 17 where another favorite had just kicked off his match: David Ferrer. However, as soon as I had got going in the right direction, he called me.

              After talking with my coach and his family for a little bit and walking around with them, I found myself in line to watch David Ferrer. I guess I was the only one who had the patience to wait! English was going on all around me, even the American accent! My host dad always tells me "Be patient!" and if there was one time in my life that I listened to him it was at this time. I heard the grunts and every once in a while I saw Ferrer pass through where I could see to go get a ball.

             About an hour later, I found myself a nice seat on the side, and I believe it was the  the beginning of the fifth set. I just took in the match. I watched Ferrer as he served, a pretty good one, and how he hit with all his force, just like Nadal. He and his opponent were getting to almost every ball, though many times it seemed it was Ferrer on the offensive. It made me question why he wasn't one of the "Top 4" in the game. It seems he has the game to be in that, and he's hovered around the top ten for years. My coach texted me informing me that the other match on Central Court was beginning. The score at the time was 4-4, so I told my coach I would be right over. That was a joke. The match carried on until Ferrer finally took it 13-11 after about an "extra" 45 minutes or an hour. It was also raining a little bit, so I found myself sweating one moment and putting my sweatshirt on the next. Thankfully, the rain didn't stop the match.

             Afterwards, I found my way to the Central Court to watch the last match of the day between Alexander Zverev and Fernando Verdasco. Unfortunately, it didn't last for long because the rain started up again. Besides, the approaching nightfall encouraged the officials and the players to come to an agreement to stop the match.

             Seeing a tennis match in person allows you to see everything, good or bad. I did see Djokovic throw his racquet Monday and Ferrer complain that the courts were too wet. Thankfully, I didn't see any injuries or sick players, like I did at the US Open years ago.

             I always tell people that I can't choose the best day of my experience, but this one would definitely be in the running. The only thing that could have made it better is my family. I was texting Dad from up in the stands while watching Nadal, but if there is one day I could choose to share with him person this year, that would be it. Tennis also gives me a sense of peace. It was something I loved, for the most part, doing with my dad in the US. Our world stopped when we were at the US Open together. Of course I missed my host family too.


              It's interesting to see how a tennis tournament even varies between countries. Unlike the US Open, there are no lights nor roofs at Roland Garros, which makes it a very weather sensible tournament. It's also a lot smaller than New York and there are some tennis rule changes.

             Unlike the night before due to my excitement, I slept very soundly the night after Roland Garros. We got back to my coach's house around 12am. The next day I accompanied him in the rainy weather to his tennis classes, and he let me play with his class. Of course, I became the center of attention. One lady told me "I just love your tennis playing!" and proceeded to tell me that I was hitting like Nadal.

            It was hard to say goodbye to my tennis coach. He was someone I really enjoyed seeing in my old region. It feels like just yesterday he was translating everything in English, and this Tuesday he was wishing me a good return to the United States as I stepped into the train.

            I'm so glad I've been able to do a lot of "things" lately, and I have a pretty busy schedule until my return to the US. The last month is the time to do all you have not done, due to school dying down and your growing independence. It's also a tip a Brazilian exchange student gave to me last year to not think about your return. Just keep yourself busy.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Normal" Days in France

             "Janae, you're going back to the United States soon, right? Did you like your time here? Will you be able to tell the Americans that it was cool?" The questions come up more and more frequently. My response is always something like "Yes, I'm going home, I mean, back soon. It was very very very "cool". I don't have the words to describe it."

             They say it's the "little things" that count in life, and the deeper into my AFS experience that I get, the more I am reminded of that truth. I have a busy month coming up in June, but before getting lost in all the extraordinary opportunities I get to live as an exchange student, it's important to treasure the little moments, the moments that I didn't and won't have in the US: going out into town with my friends when we don't have class and buying a tennis book and cookies, sitting next to my host mom on the couch as she is going through Twitter, etc.

             Some say it's the first few months of exchange that are the hardest, some say it's the holiday season, but rarely do I hear that the end is the most difficult. That very well might be the case. Knowing when to work, knowing when to spend time with my friends, and preparing myself for the United States are just a few things that are coming into perspective.

             I will pass my French fluency test in about two and a half or three weeks. I decided to take two levels, B1 and B2. Everyone is sure I will pass the B1. On the other hand, the B2 is much harder as it's college level. The four parts are Oral Comprehension, Written Comprehension, Written Production, and Oral Production. I would say the Written Production is the hardest for me. The way of writing is completely different in France, and four possibilities exist for what type of piece I will have to write. Keeping that in mind, I will have to then understand what I have to write about. I have an hour to write  my piece, which has to be around 250 words, using correct and advanced language.  That said, I have not practiced the Oral Production very much. For that, I will be given a document presenting a problem. My job will be to find what the problem is and give my opinion on it. Then I will talk with the examinator and will argue for/ defend my point of view. I might speak French well in my friends' point of view, but the pressure and language level required can change everything. The Oral and Written Comprehension will still be difficult, but maybe a little easier, I'm hoping. I will just need to work fast and be super concentrated.

              This last Saturday, my host dad got two more tattoos. Tattoos are normal for him and my French family, but they weren't normal for me before I got to France. On his left wrist, he got "Family" tattooed across with DNA bonds on the top and rope cords stretching across the bottom, representing how his natural family comes together with his family from around the world. I really appreciate that thought. He also has a world map on his calf (is that the English word?) with Wanderlust written across the top.

             At the end of the school year, I think I'm finally getting into the groove of it! Yes, I know. It's not too early. I feel pretty confident about a biology test I took the other day. My teacher said the one I took before was almost perfect, except for the fact that I didn't write an introduction and conclusion. This time, I did that. Then, after the test, I found out that I had written a similar answer to that of my friends'. I also tried my very best to use formal language in order to practice for the DELF.

           The weather has been particularly hot this week after a few rainy ones. I got out to play tennis with my friend yesterday. It's been about a year and half or two years since I played in heat like that. It made me think of the days in July when I used to play with my dad, which I really hope we will do when I get back. Despite the heat, our playing session was great. I helped my friend with her serve, we caught up with each other's lives, and we played a friendly match. I'm really happy with the fact that I don't need my dad or a tennis coach by my side to play. In the US, as soon as something wasn't working, I would run to my dad for advice. Not having that opportunity when I first got to France was difficult. I had persuaded myself that only my dad knew my game and he would be the only one I'd listen to for tennis advice. Soon, I realized, I'd have to listen to someone else, even if that someone did not have the same mother language as me. After changing regions of France, I no longer had a coach, but it felt normal to be independent, so I started putting two and two together to fix little problems in my game. I'm still nervous for when I get home. Have I lost something since I haven't played as often as my tennis teammates played this past year? Will I have time to be invested in the team my senior year?

          Last night was a very fun night, to say the least. My host dad took my friends and me to our friend's concert. Maxime had been talking about his concert for weeks before and was reminding me all this week, even after I told him, "Yes, I'm coming, and I'm bringing Sibel and Elsa too!" We had a great time. The music was very well played, and we enjoyed seeing Max play his saxophone. I was a little tired when I got home around 12:20am, but that goes for everybody!

At the concert (with Elsa and Sibel)

         I have a long weekend due to Ascension Day, which I will dedicate to my preparations for the DELF and other work. Sunday morning, Mother's Day in France, I will head back to my old region of France to see my old tennis coach and to go to Roland Garros! Like I think I've made clear, life is about as perfect as it can get here! I'm living every moment to the fullest.

                                                                   45 days left

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When You Are an Exchange Student....

         Since I have some friends who are going to be exchange students soon or who are considering taking the jump, I thought I'd give them some pointers on what it's like in our world, particularly mine. I guess this could apply to any period of time, but I, of course, am writing from a ten month point of view. It's all from experience!

         1. Expect to be asked questions...a lot. I am not kidding. When you first arrive, you will be the talk of the school, well, really the town. Your host family will introduce you to their friends and family like you are a prize they won. People will know who you are before they've even met you. Questions will vary simply from "Why did you choose this country?" to silly stereotypes on your own country to everything in between. You will find yourself replying to the same question over and over again and to questions that you can't really explain. Hang in there! After a while, the attention dies down, but there are always people who ask you if you speak your host language eight months after you've arrived.

         2. Prepare your loved ones. When you first go, your parents might not really realize that you really are gone. I had been on exchange for two months and my dad told me he was still in denial that I had even left. You have to make it clear to everyone back home that you will not be on Facetime with them every night or even every two weeks. You simply can not be in your home country in your head and in your host country. I suggest doing a blog or having a social media account so that you can keep your loved ones updated. This works better than texting or e-mailing for two reasons. Instead of writing the same thing to twenty different people, you can update them all at once. Secondly, you will be doing yourself a favor because you will not be actually talking to your mom, which can bring about or worsen homesickness, but she will still know you are alive and well. That said, a note written back home every once in a while or a separate e-mail for a birthday does not hurt.

       3. Decide why you are going abroad. Each student studies abroad for different reasons. It is so important to write your reasons down, and don't lose the paper like I did. When it gets hard, go back to that paper and it will encourage you to keep going.

      4. Savor each moment. This is a year of your life you will not forget. You don't have to enjoy every moment, but just realize that each moment will be looked back on as irreplacable. You will look back on the harder moments with some type of feeling in between sadness, pride, relief that it's over and the desire to experience it again.

      5. Keep a journal. You don't have to tell everyone everything. Simply keep a journal. I haven't even left yet, and I look at my journal from time to time. It's special. Write in your host language to see your improvement!

      6. Get connected with your host family and friends. You will quickly find that the things you never did with your mom or dad are being done with your host parents. Either they will invite you just to go to the store with them, or you will find yourself sad because they didn't invite you to. While it is likely that you stayed on your phone in your room while your mom did this in your native country, things like this are a great way to get to know your host family and friends. Also, you can learn new vocabulary in your second language! If they are doing something or going somewhere and they don't think of inviting you, ask to participate. (You can use google translate if you can't speak the language. They will get the idea.)

       7. Learn your country's expressions. I wish I had done this before leaving. It would've helped a lot. Just do it. It only takes a few minutes and is very amusing!

      8. You don't have to be strong all the time, but don't give up. You will have hard times on your exchange. It could be as simple as you getting tired of not being understood in your second language or as hard as a host family change. Get the emotions out. Talk to someone. I know what you might be thinking. How am I supposed to tell my host family what is going on if I barely know the language... or them? (Note: Exchange students are a great resource because they are (to at least some degree) going through the same thing that you are. Also, they become some of the people after your year abroad that you can really connect with.) You will see that the hardest parts of the exchange help you grow and they are your proudest moments. If you really have no one to go to and you are going to get lost if you step out of your appartment, turn on the shower and just let it out. There's a solution for everything.

       9. Don't expect to be understood. I haven't gone home yet, but I expect it to be a little frustrating. I have experienced so much, but many people just think I just spent 310 days in Paris. (Close family and friends: In case you are reading this, that last sentence does not apply to you.) For those who know better can only hear my voice as I tell them the first time I celebrated a French Christmas, not experience what I have, or even have the desire to. No one understands, and no one will. It's ok.

      10. Use humor. When people ask you what you miss about your home country, don't be shy. I love when the French do something that is typically American. I will then leave a sly comment, indicating how I feel about that particular custom. For example, if I see my friends hugging, I will say "Oh, we're not kissing anymore! We must be in America!" with a giant smile, and then they will say, "Oh, do you want a hug Janae?" That's how reputations are born.

       Those are ten basic tips I would give to any exchange student, although I could go on all day.  I know that no one will follow each of these because I certainly didn't follow every tip that I had been given before going abroad. That's ok. That's part of why each of our experiences are different. You learn along the way.

 Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. 
                                                                     -Neal Donald Walsch


         Well, that was easy. I knew the title would grab everyone's least all the Americans. I've been to the Big Apple of New York, and now I've been to the City of Love. I absolutely love it. I love big cities, and I had always wanted to spend some time in Paris with my loved ones before returning to the US.  Up until this weekend, I could say I had been to Paris, but that was only to get off my plane and to change my host families. I know I will get the question countless times upon my return to the US, so now I can say, "Yep, it's been done. I've been to Paris."  We recently got home, and just like when my dad takes me to New York for the US Open, I am already replaying memories in my head, wishing I could relive every moment.

         The saying "Work before play" was heeded this weekend. (Random fact: I've gotten a lot better at not procrastinating this year!) In fact, my host parents originally took me to Paris for my SAT. That's the great thing about taking international tests here. They are always in a big city that requires traveling, so you are tempted to spend more than just a few hours there for the test!

          I was up at 6am Saturday morning for the SAT. Unfortunately, it did not go as well as I expected. It was probably the worst testing experience I've had. I've been a nervous testtaker for the past few years, but this was the first time I completely blanked out. It was a timed test, so I found myself constantly thinking about the time and nothing going into my brain when I was reading the passages that I had to respond to questions for. What's worse is that I know I did badly. I'm the type that thinks they failed and end up getting an A. However, when you have five mintues left and only half the paper is filled out...there is proof you failed.

         That was just for the reading part. The writing and language test went for a few careless errors I probably made while rushing to get all the questions answered. However,  the reading part is one of the most important parts of the test for me as that's normally my strong area. Math went okay, but I am not expecting a great score either just because it's math. I was mentally finished by the essay part. I simply do very badly having to read a passage and write an essay in an hour. I will get my scores back in June or July, and if I need to retake it, I can in the US. What bothers me most about the test is that I know I could have done better, and I don't really feel like I deserve such an awesome weekend in Paris after I messed up on one of the most crucial parts of the weekend.

         Immediately after my SATs, which ended around 1:15pm, my host parents took me to the Arc de Triomphe, amidst the rain and my disappointment about the SAT.  I decided to let it go, at least for the weekend, because like my host mom said, there is nothing I can do about it for now, and I didn't want to ruin a weekend that many people only dream about experiencing. The Arc de Triomphe is famous for the First World War, the Unknown Soldier and Napoleon's success. It wasn't too painful to get to the top, but it was a spiral staircase, so going down made you feel dizzy. At the top, we had a good view of what is known as "the Star, which refers to how the street sections come together. We could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, although the top was covered in fog and clouds.

A view of the streets of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

        We stopped for a quick bite to eat in the tunnel that led from the subway to the Arc de Triomphe, and then my host parents took me down the most famous street in France: the Champs Elysées. It looks like just any other street in Paris, but all the luxurious stores are situated there. My host dad was delighted to see a Starbucks, so we explored one mall.

        I remember falling in love with the idea of the Bateau-Mouche when I studied it in French class two years ago. It's a boat that takes you all over the Seine and you see many famous sights. At this time, it had stopped raining, so we happily took our seats on the top part. My host parents started talking to me in English, which always gives me a laugh. During our boat ride, we saw the two museums from afar, the Musée d'Orsay and the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, the ferris wheel, and more than I can even remember. Afterwards, we went back to the appartment and had a relaxing evening. I happily texted all of my family members saying "Hey, guess where I am...PARIS!!!" I don't text my parents very much, but I sent them some photos from the first day.

My host mom and me on a bridge in front of the Seine with the
Musée d'Orsay to our right and the Eiffel Tower in the distance

Family pic on a bridge!

Me on the Bateau-Mouche

              We were up and going the second day at 7:00am and were some of the first ones under the rain in line for the Louvre, one of the biggest museums in the world that houses the Mona Lisa and countless other works of art. It originally started out as a castle nine hundred years ago. I would say it is about three times as big as Park City, for those of you who know what I am referring to. It had everything. I am not really an art maniac, but I did appreciate walking on the grounds of such great artists and where much of the history of France took place. After all, if I have ancient French ancestors that were once kings, I must have been in their territory.

             My favorite part was seeing what was first used to build the museum when it was a castle. We were next to what would have been the dungeon and walked in what would have been the moat. We also saw a mummy, sarcophagi, and countless artifacts dating back to thousands of year B.C. It took hours just walking from room to room admiring paintings and sculptures representing religions, love, myths, landscapes, etc. It seemed like each culture had a different way of painting. We saw European, American, African, and Egyptian art. What's more is that even the ceilings were decorated. I would be looking all around myself trying to get the most out of each room and then my host mom would tell me to look up at the ceiling too.


       It's so easy to get lost in the Louvre, so I guess you could say we decided to play hide and seek. While I was looking at a painting, my host parents would run into a different room and hide from me, all three of us dying of laughter when we found each other. My host dad also has this fascination with escalators, so he had fun this weekend.

       After our seven hours at the museum, we went to the Notre-Dame. We couldn't go to the top because that part was closed, but we did take a tour of the inside. A service was going on too. I really don't know how anyone concentrates in a service when there are people from all over the world observing!

       I know everyone is waiting for this one. Yes, of course I did go to the Eiffel Tower. That was Monday morning. Again it was raining. I walked past the same place I did eight months ago when I first arrived in France, and I just don't know how time flew by so fast. It was cool to reminisce and also a little painful.

           It was amazing to stand under the Eiffel Tower and look up at it. Not only is it sturdy, obviously, but it is really pretty. You can tell it's French. I remember reading the mystery book series "The Magic Treehouse" and one book was about their trip to Paris. Thinking back, that's probably where I got my adventurous ideas from, so I was reminiscing back to my childhood while standing under the magnificent structure. After the admiration came the tiring climb.....six or seven hundred steps for the top observation deck. I'd say it was worth it, although gym class the next day was pretty hard!

         From the top of the Eiffel Tower, we could see all over, especially after the sun came out. I immediately went to comparing the Eiffel Tower with the Empire State Building. Unlike the most famous structure in New York, I did not feel the tower swaying. That would have been cool, but I don't think my host mom would've liked it! I only saw a few skyscrapers in the distance...welcome to Europe. Unlike New York, there were not all the posters and billboards that you could see from miles away. From my experience, everything seems closer to Paris than in New York. For example, I could see so many famous French sights just from being at the top of one structure: the Montmartre, the Pantheon, the Notre Dame, etc. While atop the Empire State Building, I had to squint just to see something that was in the street next to us.

Our view from the Eiffel Tower (on one side)

        I now know why Paris is called the City of Love. There were newlyweds taking pictures all to the bridge and in front of Notre Dame. Being in Paris also made me thankful I spoke English. People would come up to us and just assume we spoke English. Well, luckily they were right!

        I am also really thankful that we had such a great weekend in Paris. If we had not had such a good time outside of my exam, it probably would not have been a good weekend for me. We had a great appartment, which was just a mile away from Roland Garros. Even if the tournament was not going on, I can still say I've been at least near it. The waiting lines were not too bad either. After all, during that time, I just had fun sassing my host mom in English and laughing at my host dad's English accent. Ah, good times!

        It was hard to say goodbye to Paris, as I plugged in my headphones with my songs about the city and prepared myself for the ride back home. The next time I will be there will probably be to take my plane back to the US. This isn't like a trip that I did with my dad to New York  the last few years, knowing I would return each year. In fact, I don't know why I keep referring to New York in my post about Paris, but I get this rare happiness when I am in big cities with my loved ones. Life is perfect.

                                                                     60 days

Sunday, April 30, 2017

After Eight Months of Exchange

         I don't know how ten months turned into ten weeks, but it happened, and it happened fast. It was a good week. I got to play tennis with a friend on Monday, which was good because the rest of the week was rainy and colder. Thursday, I explored Lyon with my friends, and it was cool to thoroughly cover the town. I had gone before, but this time, I feel like we did more. Friday night I was at a party. I spent the other days at home working and annoying, hugging, joking with, and speaking in English with my host mom.

In Lyon with my friend in the Croix Rousse 
At a park/zoo with my friends in Lyon

         Here are some things I've noticed after....oh goodness...eight months in France.

        1. Time and emotions are messed up. Halfway through my experience, it felt like an eternity since I had seen my parents, but now, when it really has been a long period of time, it seems like it was just yesterday we were saying goodbye outside the JFK the bushes....with the hotel man staring at us awkwardly and smiling.

        2. Yes, I admit I had misconceptions about my exchange year. Before I left, I looked at all the problems and uncertainties in the US, and I told myself, "Well, surely when I get back, this and that problem will have taken care of itself." In reality, it's me who has changed, not everyone and everything in the US. That's ok. After this year, I feel like I can say "I can conquer the world!" Look out! I am bringing back evidence this time!

       3. It's not you, it's me.  If I could, I would keep traveling the world, exploring new cultures, trying new foods, doing things for the first time that scared me, and much much more, but I can't...yet. That's why I am enjoying my time in France to the maximum. If that day does come, however, everyone back home has to know that it's not them, it's me. I used to be ashamed of my longing to go everywhere and do everything, but now I am not. My curiosity is simply a big part of what makes me me.

       4. The last 100 days are the best. Maybe it's because I fluently speak the language now, or maybe it's because my family and friends here are perfect for me. Whatever it is, I just don't want it to end.

       5. I am so happy with all I've done.  It felt like I had so much time at the beginning. It was way more than a two week vacation, so I didn't rush to accomplish all that was on my bucket list in France. I actually never really thought about it. Now, I realize I have so much left that I want to do, but sometimes I like to think back on all I've done, and I tell myself, "Wow, if it wasn't for this year, that may have never happened!"

        6. I enjoy school. Ok, I don't enjoy the actual fact of doing trigonometry, but I sure do enjoy being able to do my schoolwork in my second language. I only have six weeks left, so I just enjoy even being in class with my friends. I know I am going to miss that.

        7. I finally found my "species". There are cats, there are dogs, there are humans, and then there are exchange students. We of course are humans, but it's just different. I just never felt like I fit in back in the US. This year, I met exchange students from all over the world, some who didn't even speak my language, but I so very quickly felt at home, like I was finally talking to someone of the same mindset.

       8. People are still acting like I left yesterday. I seem to be the only one who writes "See you soon!" when I send something to my Americans. Really, guys? This is the moment you have been waiting for, or almost.

       9. Do I have to call it host family? It's a shame. When I get home, I will have to continually say "My second host family". In my US family's eyes, they will just be another family in the world, but to me, they are much more than that.

     10. I am really going to miss my host dad speaking English, or trying to. I know he is going to have something to say about me including this, but oh well, I am going to anyway. Those are honestly some of the best moments of my exchange year!

Maybe the journey isn't so much about becoming anything. Maybe it's about un-becoming everything that isn't really you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Five Ways I've Changed Since I Left the US

        I know I've been posting a lot more than I had been other weeks, so first of all, count yourselves blessed. This week I am going to put myself back at work and I already have some plans with friends, so this may be the last post for a while.

        Life updates are great, but I'd like to focus on a question that I get a lot here (from others and myself).  How have I changed since I've been in the United States? I can't give a definite answer because that is something you all are going to see, but here are just a few ideas. I also like writing for myself, and I figured I'd share this piece. (Warning: This is particularly targeted at my friends and family in America, so maybe my precious Frenchies do not want to read. If you do, do not come to me saying "Why do you have to focus on the fact that you will leave so much?") I'm preparing myself to leave France. It's hard. Writing is one way I do it.

        It also is good to write posts like this one because it is important to realize that not only has the tongue been moving in a different way, the stomach been digesting different foods, but I cannot tell you how much time I've spent mulling over the thoughts "Wow. I've changed, or have I?" "My life would've been so much simpler if I stayed in the USA." It's so hard to realize yet so beautiful "Wow, this is who I am." Maybe studying abroad is a big tennis match. It's more mental than anything. Wait, maybe that is a big part of life?

       So here we go: Five "simple" ways I've changed/ things I've realized.

       1. Sometimes you need to focus on yourself.

       Before I left the US, I put a lot of emphasis on my family and friends. It's logical, especially after I learned I would be leaving. It would be 11:00 at night and I would be helping my friend with math instead of studying myself, I rushed home from an exhausting week of school and an exhausting day of work to go out and mow Dad's lawn. (Maybe that is not too much, but those are just two examples. I could write a whole blog post about that.) I am not saying that is bad, far from that. In France, my host family and friends are a high priority. However, I carried that US mentality over to France.

        It was fine at first. I texted this and that person about my awesome host family, e-mailed a friend telling them about my awesome daily life in France, laid in bed Facetiming Mom and Dad, etc. It must have been about a month or two ago when I was viciously preparing for the SATs, my French fluency test and trying to keep up in school.  All of sudden, it seemed like all of these problems in my family appeared. Another three things were added to Janae's "to do list." The problems may not have been that serious, or maybe I was not called to solve them, but being 4,000 miles away certainly makes the simplest worry a problem. However, I couldn't do much even if I was called to from 4,000 miles away. My host mom also said one night as she was doing dishes and we were talking about my past life in France "Too much contact with your parents are often the reason for a host family change." I painfully learned to limit my contact with my family and friends in the US and focus on myself.
         2. I am more independent.

        This year I lived something one of my best friends in the US told me all the time: "Janae, you care too much about what other people think!" I think it hit during the host family change and is now reinforced every day here. During the host family change, I felt really lonely and like no one accepted me. My parents couldn't understand what I was going through, and of course it was difficult between me and my host family. For another time in my life, I was being shuffled all around again. That's about the time I reasoned with myself "Hey, maybe I don't need everyone else to surive!" I still remember the pride I had after packing my suitcase all alone twice and getting it downstairs.

        I realized this year just how individualistic I am. Many people think what I am doing is crazy, even if it is admirable. I've discovered so many new things here and ideas too. It will be more evident when I get home, but I really am learning how to think for myself and do things for me. My host family and my US family are completely polar opposites,and instead of complaining "I am in the middle!" I tell myself, "Oh, look at this difference! Which path am I going to take?"

        It seems ironic, and maybe it is. Through studying abroad, you learn how to be a better listener, but you also learn how to maybe decide "I don't think I am going to go along with that person's idea." It is all about finding a good balance.

        This is the first year, or month, that I will dare to tell everyone "I am proud of myself". I always waited to hear it. This time, it is what I think. Of course, I like to hear it, but if I don't, I am not going to cry in my room like I did before when it came to people not agreeing with me.

        3. Idealistic to Realistic (You can't have it all.)

        This will probably surprise some people. What? You were more idealistic before getting to live your dream and flew away by yourself and got yourself through each day in a foreign country? Yep.

        Going abroad definitely humbled me. It made me realize the truth of doing what you love. How did I get so good at French? Why did I not come home at Christmastime?  I was doing what I loved, and I still am. I do not classify this year as the hardest year of my life because it is purely what I like to do.

         Before I went abroad, I wanted to be the best at everything. I either did it or I didn't. I still want to be the best at everything, but I realize I just can't. At this time in my life, it is really necessary to choose what is important for me. I am 17. Even when I come back from this "trip", it will soon be graduation and, well, I am not going to say I am going to leave right away after returning.

        Summed up in one sentence, you can't have it all, but with hard work, you can have (almost) anything you really want if you are patient and dedicated.

       4. I take a step back before judging things.

       "It's not better. It's not worse. It's just different." AFS students have that drilled into their heads for cultural reasons, but I think that applies to much more in life than just the difference between white bread and a baguette. Of course, the first few months here I was constantly reminding myself of this little saying, as it was necessary, but it's now just my way of thinking. Maybe not everything in life is either right or wrong. That's the first time I've considered that. Something (or even someone) can be better for me and worse for another person, but that doesn't mean the thing (or person) is bad or good. There are limits of course, I know.

       5. Home has a different meaning.

      "Home sweet home". "Janae, we're loooking forward to when you come home." What does home mean? Yes, in French, it's "a la maison", but even that changes into "chez" sometimes. Anyhow, am I really coming home? Is home where I was born or where family is? I have a lot of family and friends worldwide. Laughing with my cousins on a snowy night at Grandma's house is my home as much as visiting an AFS friend in Japan is (if that ever happens) or coming "home" to my host family after a long day at school. (Cousins, I cannot wait to do that again.) Furthermore, my host dad told me something that really touched me a few weeks ago. He says I am at home wherever I go. That's me. I love going to new places, doing things I've never done before, and that can quickly become my home.

       I am not coming "home" in July. I am returning to a home in 77 days. I will be leaving home to come home.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Friends, Family, and Birthday Wishes!

            Fulfilling. That's a word I will readily use for these past few days. I've taken a break from studying and have just been relaxing and being out with friends and family.

            I was getting ready to sit down and study Monday evening when my dad offered to take me down to the tennis courts. I accepted the invitation and absolutely loved our time together. My service was not the best at first, but after I got into the groove, it started to come back, which, of course, was at the end of our little playing session. Also, my host dad had this little spin on his backhand. When I ran up to get the ball, instead of coming towards me, the ball always went the other direction. It would have been quite frustrating in a match, but all I could do in this moment was look up at my host dad and laugh with him. We must have been out at the courts for two or three hours.

            I went to Elsa's house the next day. We baked cookies and talked and then her father gave us a ride to another friend's house to play Mafia. Her father was really impressed with my ability to speak French, and then Elsa said "Yeah, I know, it's crazy!" I know I shouldn't brag about myself, but that's a huge compliment, like always! The Mafia games went well, although it's completely different here. There are so many more characters, and my friend is an expert at the game, so he adds little things and I feel like I'm back in school straining my ears to listen to every word just to have a basic understanding of what I'm doing. I even took notes, but then Elsa turned that into a paper sailboat, so that was the end of that. We had fun eating sugar that night as well.

           I also got the chance to hear my friend Maxime play his saxophone. I pleaded with him, using every excuse I could think of: "It's my birthday in two days!" "You're going to miss me in July!"His sister came to help me, and five minutes later, I got to hear him play. It's cool when I get to see parts of my friends' lives because they are all so interested in me, what I want to do in France, etc.

          Wednesday was the grand day outside with my school friends and AFS friends, etc. I organized something like it last vacation, and everybody really enjoyed it, so I did it again. I've never really been the type to organize things, and now I know why. I must have spent as much time planning this afternoon as much time as the afternoon took, but the smiles and laughter on my friends' faces quickly paid me back. I invited my Japanese AFS friend to come with us too, and my friends were so happy about that.

           It was a bit colder than we expected. I don't understand it. Why is it cold now? It was supposed to be cold last month when it was 75 degrees, not 50 degrees now! Anyway, we had fun playing a different version of soccer and volleyball because we were short on supplies and people. Then we acted like a bunch of kids and played hide and seek. Elsa played the flute for us too! Needless to say, I was very tired last night.

           Today, I have the privilege of celebrating my 17th birthday with my host family in France, which is another dream come true. I say host family, but that's just to specify that my real mom and dad are not here. My "host" family feels like my real family. However, I have an exchange student problem. If I was born at 4:45pm in the US, that means I have to wait until 10:45pm here to celebrate my birthday, right, thanks to the time zones? We might as well celebrate it tomorrow! I don't know what my host parents planned, but I know they planned something. I've been out of the house way too much lately, so they've had too much time to get something together! The letters from my mom, grandparents, and cousins hanging on the fridge will soon be opened. Also, I've already received plently of messages wishing me a happy birthday through various sources, and my American family is not even awake yet! I'm sitting here writing this update and my phone keeps lighting up. I feel so loved!

           French people really like nicknames. They'll take the most simple name "Janae" and turn it into "Jaja". My host dad was the first to do this, although my friend at school claims she did not need any outside influence to call me that. It took my host mom a little while to start calling me Jaja, but now that's even normal. (She prefers to call me her "little mess", or her "cannonball". Those who know me will understand.) I guess it started because my host family has always had students with two syllabe names or nicknames. What's more is that Jaja does not even exist as a nickname. Sure I will call my friend Maxime "Max", but Jaja?! However, I love it. Now when I hear Janae I think I'm in trouble.

           This has been a really great first week of vacation. It feels kind of weird to not have studied in three days or so because I certainly have plenty to do, but I've decided to take advantage of my time in France first. Apparently, even after studying, my scores have not gone up for the SATs, so that's a bit frustrating. Perhaps after a long break I will suddenly be able to do my math so much better.