Monday, February 27, 2017

School Vacation

            We might have longer school vacations in France than in the US, but at the end of the day, or in the morning, I should say, it all seems the same!

           It was a great first week of school vacation. In the beginning of the week, along with watching movies with Ayelen in the evening, I did a lot of studying, mainly for the SATs and my French fluency test. Tuesday evening my host parents treated me with opening a package filled with American goodies that we will share. I love their thoughtfulness! Dr. Pepper had never tasted as good as that first sip Tuesday night! In fact, I had never really been the one in the US to choose Dr. Pepper as my favorite soda, but it's the same story with peanut butter. You don't realize how good it tastes until you don't have it! I also loved the moment when I showed my host dad a small box of Nerds, and his response was "What is this?"

          Wednesday, I studied French pretty much the whole afternoon, took a short visit to my host grandparents, and returned, only to study more French by watching the news. The political buzz is on over here, and my host parents explained how that all works here. I feel so educated now! The news is still hard to understand sometimes, but one of my host parents are usually there to help me understand. On the other hand, reading the French newspaper is a cinch, or almost that.

With all our American goodies (as the American flag proudly hangs in the background)
            I was able to get out with my friends towards the end of the week. One of the things I really enjoy about France is the easiness of transportation. That's probably one of the reasons I've been able to see so much of Europe. Whenever I want to go somewhere, all I need is a train ticket. It makes me question if trains actually exist in America because I never use them! I've taken the train this year more than I ever did in my whole life!

          Thursday I went with some AFS friends to Lyon, the second most populated town in France and one of the oldest, I am told. We went to the Confluence, "La Place Bellecour", and we are planning to go back sometime to do more. My AFS volunteer friend from school was kind of like our tour guide, and she told us all of the fun facts about Lyon. We also found a candy shop and Ayelen and I tried the Lyonnais specialty of bugnes, which are kind of like donuts. Needless to say, we weren't very hungry for dinner that night!

La Place Bellecour, Lyon

           I was able to spend a wonderful Friday afternoon with my good school friends. We ate lunch together at a park, went to the cinema, and then played Lasergames. I understood almost everything that was said in the movie without pouring all of my concentration into it, and I even ate popcorn! Ayelen and I had the box finished before the ads were over. Popcorn is so popular to have at home in the US, but it was the first time I had tasted popcorn in France since I got here. Don't get me wrong. It does exist! However, in general, the French don't think the world of American junk food. We also showed Ayelen a little bit of my town. It was a flashback to a month ago when I was just discovering the town!

At the movie theather with my school friends

            It's a full house this second week of vacation. My other two host sisters are here, and my host dad has off work. I've done lots of studying and researching for colleges this week. I have some plans with friends Wednesday evening, and Thursday we go on vacation for a few days. That will give us some time to have fun all together, and for Ayelen and I, we get to discover more of France!


Monday, February 20, 2017

New Opportunities

              Mountains, Switzerland, school vacation, more progress in French and wonderful people around me are what continues to tell me life is beautiful.

             Last Sunday I met all the exchange students who are a part of AFS in this region, and we went to the mountains and had a little hike in the snow and ate yummy French food (tartiflettes). It still wasn't the Alps, but I could see the them. I know that doesn't mean a thing to everyone back home though because as far as you all are concerned, my house is situated at the very peak of the Alps and I take the ski path to school every day. It's ok. Everybody here thinks I am from Manhattan!


  happened again. I brought home an A+ and a C+ from French class, and I asked what all those red marks on the side of my paper were. The next thing I knew, I was with my host dad on the couch paging through a dictionary and looking up at him as he pronounced weird sounding words and asking "What do you do in your mouth to make that sound? I can't do it!" The next day I texted him letting him know I was in the middle of studying my history when I ran into a word I had learned with him the night before.

           Tuesday it was almost the same thing, except that it was me that got to teach him. I was in the middle of connecting with friends back in the US when he showed me something on Facebook (through, though, tough, etc.) and asked me to explain. Good times! These are the moments I will miss when I am back in the US.

            I can now pronounce the difference between "pull" (sweatshirt/sweater) and "poule" (hen). My host parents have worked hard with me to get that difference down pat, and I've repeated many times "A hen with a sweatshirt, a sweatshirt with a hen!" to perfect my prononciation.  Now only for the hundreds of other words and sounds that I have trouble pronouncing daily!

            This week, I accomplished something I never thought I'd accomplish. I started a French literature book that my French teacher gave me. I read it, I understood it, and I finished it in less than a week. What a good feeling! I also picked up 150 new words, but part of having a high level in French is being able to understand even when you don't understand every word. That's my everyday life. More than that, this book is the same assignment that the other students have!

           Thursday I started studying for my French fluency test. My host mom printed out an example test for me, and I am now really motivated to practice! Reading a newspaper article in French and speaking French at home are two different things, but I know I will get there. A good part of the test focuses on what is happening in France, and there are video extracts from French TV in it, so I will be staying up to date with French news in my studies.

            Another dream came true as I took the train through the mountains and into Geneva, Switzerland Saturday with my other exchange student acquaintances, whom I now consider as my friends. I found my new AFS family that day, though I still miss my other one. We got by just fine, just the five of us. We went to the United Stations spot, found our way around town, and just had a good time. My favorite spot was the Jet d'Eau, the big lake in Geneva. I looked to my one side and I could see snow covered mountain peaks in the distance, and on my other side was a big lake with bridges and a big fountain. The day when we went was beautiful as well.

            Everybody speaks English in Switzerland. We would start talking in French and the Swiss would reply in English! It was no surprise, but things are really expensive in Switzerland. You even have to pay to use the restroom! I thought I brought a reasonable amount of money with me but found myself in a Swiss bookstore face to face with a biography on Roger Federer, my favorite tennis player, who also happens to be Swiss. The book was in French, so I told myself it would be a wonderful way to continue learning French! I finally decided it was too expensive to buy, so I took the 15-20 minutes I had paging through looking at pictures and copying down all the words I could that I didn't know.

 The Jet d'Eau

My exchange students friends and me in front of the Jet d'Eau

              This school vacation, I am also getting the chance to kind of host someone. I've always wanted to do that since I decided I wanted to go abroad myself, or even before that. I know I've barely unpacked here myself, but we have a girl from Argentina staying with us while her host family is on vacation. Saturday night the adults said their goodnights, went to bed and told us not to stay up too late. Then, Ayelen and I started to talk. She is here for a semester and arrived about three or four weeks ago. Oh, I remember those times too! She asked why I changed host families, how I think I've changed these past few months, etc. I remember all those times listening to people give AFS advice: fellow American returnees who spent their year in France, Clément, even my host parents. Now it was my turn. As I was talking, I realized what I was saying was a mixture of advice from my own experience and all those other people I just mentioned.

             Sunday we had people over, and of course their questions for me and Ayelen were "Do you like France?", "What's it like where you are from?"and "Where are the mountains where you live?" It's always fun talking about your country. In the evening, Ayelen and I watched a movie, and I showed my host parents the Ricky and Lucy clip where Ricky has to read an English children's book. My host mom was following along, even telling my host dad "That's you". My host dad was following along enough to be laughing hysterically with me.

            These next  two weeks I don't have school, which is really really nice. It gives me time to focus on my studies other than just school in France. I can't believe it's already my third school vacation out of four. At the end of this school vacation, I will be able to see  Clément and his mom, which I am looking forward to. I don't take time with special ones for granted, especially now that I am studying abroad.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Study Hard Yet Enjoy the Experience

            If there is one piece of advice that I've clung on to, it's to study hard but to enjoy the experience abroad. In fact, I don't even know if anyone told me that or if I just knew that mindset would be necessary. Most people told me before I left, "Enjoy yourself. You're going to have the time of your life. I am so jealous!" Deep down, I knew that it would be an unforgettable year but a lot of work and it was a choice that came with lots of sacrifices. Sometimes I wonder if people actually realize that studying abroad does not mean going on vacation!

           The past two weeks or so I've started to more seriously think about "after high school". That's taken a lot of time and consideration in between thinking and planning, registering for the SATs, practicing for them, really buckling down on school (now that we're starting new chapters and I can understand), researching college details, etc. It's easy to get buried inside the work.

            I took a practice test today after registering for the SATs. Though I improved since the time I took the PSAT a year and a half ago, the truth is I have a long ways to go but only a little bit of time to study. I think all of my USA friends have been preparing for this the whole year, and I'm given math problems to do to practice for the SAT that I haven't seen in a year and a half. However, like my friend's dad told me a while ago before I went into Honors Algebra 2, "Math is like a language. I suggest you try to learn it." I am actually thinking of trying to do that. Hey, I conquered French, right! That would explain why I got a math problem wrong today because I forgot that 16 x 4 = 64. If you don't practice a language, you forget it. (That goes for English too!)

            Other than my SAT studies, school never fails to amazes me. I come out of one class marvelling at "Wow! I understood everything." Then I go into the next and understand nothing. I was doing fine in chemistry the other day until the teacher started writing crazy equations on the board. I think I missed the subtle, yet important part, when the teacher said, "The formula is at the bottom of your paper." It is pretty cool though how sometimes I am not even paying attention to what the teacher is saying because I am frantically copying down notes, and I understand! I am able to read as fast in French as I read in English, and yes, five or six pages per hour is progress. (I stop a lot to look up a few words, and then I get distracted by all the other pretty words around the words I am searching!)

           I've also come to enjoy something about the French school that used to bother me. In America, I went to school from 7:40am until 2:50pm, and I had class all day, save a thirty minute lunch period and four minutes into between classes to have enough time to scurry from one side of the building to the other. Here, I go to school from 8:00am until 6:00pm, but I only have class half the time usually. I used to feel like it messed up my whole schedule, especially how I would work. Once I got home at 6:00pm, I would feel like doing nothing, especially after a full day of French I could barely understand. However, I've started to learn how to use my time outside of class usefully. Yesterday, I finished my classes at 4:00, but I stayed with my friend for two hours afterwards. We went out into town, played cards and talked about, you guessed it, America. Everybody in my new region seems to just love America.

Life is beautiful with these two!

            I sometimes get asked the question  "Is America really like what we see in the movies?" My response usually is, "Well, I don't really know the movie you are talking about, but I am just going to say probably not!" Today, my host sister and I watched "American Girl" and I would remark every once in a while "Yes, that's true. No, that's not true." We also played a card game she taught me.

          One of the most important parts of my experience abroad will always be the people. My grandpa told me numerous times before I left "You never know who you will meet. Some of the people you meet here may be with you throughout your entire life." Then he'd go off into the story about how he met my grandma. If there's one thing that I love about my year abroad it's that no question is stupid. I love how I can ask the explanation of one word and we go into my life story and how I can sit on the couch with my host dad translating emojis and all those weird characters at the bottom of our phones into French and English.

          Tuesday marks exactly one year since I got the news I'd be going to France. I don't think I'll ever forget that day: that big smile spreading I could literally feel spreading across my face as I received the news by phone call, sobbing into my dad's arms real tears of joy for the first time as I mumbled "I can't believe it. I won. Dad, I can't believe it!", calling almost everybody I knew to tell them the good news. That was the moment I decided I should never underestimate myself.

Monday, February 6, 2017

After Five Months

              It is now true that I am practically exactly at the halfway point of my experience abroad. I am five months in and I have only five months to go.  Here's what I've noticed this month.What I am going to say may be similar to this past month but I know it's totally different than what I said  in September or October.

              1. Ready! Set! Go! Stress for the USA starts now! It feels like as soon as you get adjusted to where you are, it's now time to start preparing for the months after you go....home, or at least what is geographically known as your home. You are not really sure where you prefer to be. Thankfully, you are pretty sure you found a place to take your SATs in France, which will take some pressure off your senior year. Other than that, it will probably be a constant battle in between work, school, college "stuff", and all those other things you don't want to think about.
              2. Even when you can speak English, you don't. All those other times your host parents told you to speak French with your AFS friends, you didn't, but you sudden found yourself in the café with other exchange students rambling off in French this weekend. The funny thing is no one even told you to speak French. Speaking English just didn't seem right, and when you tried, it was hard.

My AFS friend and me this weekend
              3. This foreign country feels like your home. You barely notice the culture differences, if they even exist! The only things you aren't sure about are the same things as the natives. For example, do I give you my cheek or my hand?
             4. You are so ready for a Facetime with Nanny again! Of course, you were ready October 25th, the day after you Facetimed her for the first time, but now, you have waited a good bit of time!
             5. You are already planning how you will return to the US to make it less painful. (Dad, in case you are reading this. I would like to explore New York a little after you and Mom pick me up from my orientation, then I want a big dinner with you and mom and Nanny. Please make sure you have my American sim card as soon as we meet. Three days is a long time not to communicate with your loved ones in France;)
             6. You are trying to figure out not if, but when and how and where you will study abroad next. There is finally something you aren' ashamed to give up on. You've tried your best, but nothing will ever cure your passion for knowledge and understanding, especially when it comes to cultures and languages.
            7. It's really cool to know what's going on, but now, you actually have to work. Eew. In school, you not only have to work on the lesson, but work on the concentration skills you have lost the past five months because you were working on a different task than everyone else and blocking them out. School is still hard.
            8. You are so happy when your grandma e-mails you and calls you "Honey". It's so normal in the US, but in France, terms of affection like that are rare.You actually were surprised to even see the word in the e-mail.
            9. You realize that your school system isn't a piece of cake either compared to the one in France. Thursday evening you tried to explain to your host parents that sometimes you have a specific class for three months, six months, but never the whole year unless you have the shortest class of the day. Wait, no, they changed that schedule too your second year of high school. Then, you tried to explain the graduation requirements and that your "C" in Honors math, which doesn't exist here, is nothing to be ashamed of. Friday afternoon your friend at school asked about the "E" grade in the US...I give up!