Dec 11, 2009

J'arrive, J'arrive

OK, I've been a horrible procrastinator and have completely neglected blogging. Please forgive me! But I'm here now, so let's begin.

First of all, I didn't get to go to London. It's sad, I know. Let me explain. The weekend before I was supposed to leave I wasn't feeling my best. I had a cough and a headache, but I just figured "Hey, it's cold season". But, not wanting it to get worse, I took care of myself. I drank lots of water, didn't spend to long in the cold, and took a nap in the afternoon. I thought that would take the edge off, enough so I could maximize my London time. Sadly, it didn't work. I woke up Monday morning feeling awful, and when my host mom had me take my temperature I was up to 103. 6. But I wasn't to be beaten that easily! I took some medicine, stayed home from school, and did everything I could to get my temperature down (went back to sleep, didn't move around, took a luke-warm shower, the whole enchilada). By 3:30 I was down to 98.9, and I was confident that if I just took some medicine with me on the trip that I'd be good to go! .... Well, it wasn't that simple. My host mom had already called the school, and the school said that I would need a doctors note to go on the trip. ... OK, I thought, this complicates things. After all, how ... But then my host mom called back and said she had managed to get an appointment scheduled for that afternoon! At this point I was getting excited. I'd most likely be able to go!! Around 4 my host mom comes and takes me to the doctors office, and I thought I was exhibiting all the signs of being better. Much to my dismay, the doctor thought otherwise, insisting that any improvement was just due to the medicine. Furthermore, she refused to allow me to go on the trip. Yeah, I was pretty disappointed (to say the least). But the story gets better! (And by better, I'm being sarcastic and actually mean that it just gets altogether more depressing for me). Being a teenager, I decided not to re take my medicine that evening (the idea being that if I was going to be sick, dammit I was going to be sick). Well, the next morning I woke up feeling.... (dramatic pause)... fine. No fever, no cough, no headache. And the day after that? Fine again. Yep, that's right, I turned out only to be sick that one day. (The only upside being that the doctor had excused me from half a week of school, so I got to chill at home). (Yeah, yeah, I know. I should be thankful I wasn't really sick, thankful I didn't feel horrid for a longer period of time, thankful for my good health. But, hey! I'm a teenager! We see things the way we want to, and right now I want to sulk about not being allowed to go to London). (On the other hand, the entire class came down with la grippe that week. One day, with the combined absences of London and illness, there were 17 kids missing from my class alone).

But, other than that episode, I am continuing to love France. School is going really well. My grades are improving (my average for the first trimester is 13,4/ 20, which is actually quite good here) and I'm understanding more than ever. And I'm having a fantastic time with my friends and host family!

A couple weekends ago, I went to la fête des lumières in Lyon with Annie. During the weekend of the fête, buildings across town have light shows, projections, and animations. We started up at the basilica in Fourvière, which had a synchronised light and bell display and a large sign in lights that read "Merci Marie". The lights turned on at 6, so around 6:30 or so we started the walk down hill to the rest of town. The lights were fantastic! There were different kinds of lights, too. There were lights that were just simply colors, and then there were projections where they used the buildings like big movie screens. And it was possibly the most crowded place I've ever been. We would get stuck in traffic jams (that, mind you, were just foot traffic) in which it would take 15 minutes to go 50 feet. But it was incredibly cool, and it changes every year.

I've also been taught in the ways of the blocus. For those of you who are wondering what the heck a blocus is, allow me to explain. A blocus is a type of protest. In the US we pride ourselves on our right to free speech. If something isn't going the way we like, we have the ability to speak up! If we want to protest, we sure as heck can! The only problem? We don't really do anything. We get all annoyed, spend a lot of time yelling about how wrong something is, and then let it go. Or, if we're REALLY angry, we arrange community meetings, we write letters, and we put up yard signs. The French, on the other hand, protest. One of their favorite forms of protest is la grève (going on strike). There was a train strike, which made my transport to and from Grenoble quite challenging (seeing as my trains kept getting canceled). There was a bus strike, which meant getting into Lyon was crazy because of all the added cars. There was even a teacher's strike, which was pretty fantastic for us, the students (except for the fact that I woke up at 6 AM rather than 9 AM for nothing). But the protesting doesn't stop at the adults. Currently, there is some sort of school reform going on, and the students aren't happy about it. So what do we do? We protest, of course! And the form of protest most loved by the lycéen? Blocus! Simply put, a blocus is a blockade. In theory, the students barricade the school, making it impossible to enter. (In reality, it's not IMPOSSIBLE to enter the school, but you have to face an ocean of booing and general disapproval.) A crowed, thus, assembles in front of the school gates. Since it's December, alot of people are less likely to wait in front of the gates and just head home, but there are still people who wait. And it's not just a crowd that you have to battle to get inside, it's a literal blockade. In our case, dumpsters were moved in front of the main entrance to the school. And, as always with protests, things can get a little crazy. Some one came out and announced that we were moving inside, news that was gratefully accepted by many (IT WAS FREAKING FREEZING). But as we started to move inside, there was a mass movement further away from the building. We checked it out from a distance, and apparently someone lit either a car or a tree on fire. (We were too far away to tell). (Thanks to the many fire extinguishers on hand it was quickly put out.) Afterwards, the remaining crowd (meaning those that hadn't gone home or given up and gone to class) assembled in the atrium-like area at the back of the school. The "leaders" of the blocus started talking, but they got chased off their stage, the stairs in the atrium, because it's forbidden to students. Now there's the key- although they were protesting, they didn't just ignore everything. They made sure they still had the right to what they were doing. But, of course, they didn't stop. They just continued their speech on the floor. And so the protest continued, but in the warmth of inside. And there were still a good number of people, despite the fact that a million people left. All in all, it was cool to see the students organized like that. And I'm left to wonder why kids in the US can't get organized like that...

What else... it's almost Noël! There have been a lot of things leading up to the holidays. At school on Thursday there was the holiday meal. Now, in Towson there's a holiday meal around this time, too. You know, the one we have every year: cubed "turkey" on white bread, school mashed potatoes, limp green beans, and a free ice cream sandwich. Sounds tasty, no? So, you can imagine my confusion when the kids at school were actually excited for the holiday meal. (Like, it even made the Facebook status the night before). Well, as it turns out, the French take their holiday meal seriously. First of all, they gave all the students 2 hours to eat (deleting all classes within those 2 hours). That alone was cool, but the meal was... not at all like Towson. You got:
  • Foie Gras or Smoked salmon and toast
  • Chicken (real chicken) with mixed greens and some sort of little potato thing
  • Bread
  • A good quality yogurt or cheese
  • A little chocolate cake
  • Clementines
  • A coke
  • Papillotes (little chocolates with a message inside)
All that for 3.50 euros! And I found it quite tasty, despite the claims that it wasn't the "good quality foie gras" and that "the chicken wasn't really hot". Also, I decorated the house with my host mom! Although different from what I do at home, it was fun! Since I don't have a large banister in Towson, and my host family does, it was fun to make a greenery garland and string it up like in all the holiday children's books. And we have a very cute little Christmas tree, too. And, just in time for the holidays, it snowed a little. Not very much at all, but enough to cover the world in white. (And enough to spark snowball fights at school!) On Friday school let out for everyone at 4, and that started winter break!

I just got back from a weekend with some other AFSers in Lyon, Erin and Laura. We walked around Lyon a lot, did some Christmas shopping, went to the movies, and went to the Marché de Noël in Lyon. I also discovered the joys of public transportation. I had previously thought that a trip into Lyon would be something that would involve much advance planning and inconvenience on the part of the person who would have to drive me. But I now know that there's a bus that goes straight from the center of Millery to the train station Perrache in Lyon, and from there I can catch a bus or the metro and go anywhere in Lyon. And it's all really easy to do, so I may go into town more often!

That about covers the more exciting parts of my life. If I think of anything else I'll tell you! And to all my family and friends who I'm not seeing this year, just know that I love you all very much!

Happy holidays, everyone!

Nov 21, 2009

Half way through my third month...?

Woah, hold the phone, this is my THIRD month? As in the one that comes AFTER second? Trop bizzare. Yep, life here is zooming by like nobody's buisness. But it's odd, because if you were to look at my schedule it wouldn't look like I do anything. In the US I have choirs, dance classes, plays, voice lessons, babysitting, soccer, and tons of other things that completely fill up my life. But here, the only set thing I have is my piano lesson on Saturday. Yet, despite this lack of scheduling, I always feel like I'm always busy. I guess AFS is a full time activity =)

Let's see, what have I been doing...

This week my French teacher has been absent, so my friends and I planned a trip to McDonalds on Friday because on Fridays we have a double period of French right after lunch and would thus have 3 hours of free time. It was really fun, and my first trip to McDonalds in a really, really long time (thanks to my health-conscious parents). For those of you planning on going to France, here's a tip: If you hear someone talking about "Mac Doe", it's not some odd French thing. It's just the odd, err, different French name for McDonalds. ANYWAYS, The McDo in question was about a half hour walk from the school, so it was a good thing we had do much time, in a shopping center off the high way. And it was probably the classiest McDonalds I've seen in my life. It had two levels and a Artsy style interior with fake leather chairs and earth tones. And it worked diferently than in the US. There was a lady standing around, and you gave her your order and she printed you a little ticket. You then would take the ticket up to the counter, where they quick grab all the parts of your order and you pay. Also, you needed a code to get past the entrance to the bathroom... Afterwards, since we were in a shopping center, my friends and I looked around a bit before heading back for the final two hours of school.

What else... The weekend of Halloween I went to a town near Grenoble to stay with another AFSer, Annie, for the weekend. It was alot of fun to see how other AFSers lived. I noticed that even though we all have things that are similar, each experience is incredible unique. I find that incredibly cool, though. I love how AFS can give these wonderful experiences that are as unique as each of the participants, that can't be duplicated, but are all amazing. That weekend was my first Halloween without Trick-or -Treating, but it was pretty fantastic nonetheless.

Isn't Fall in France lovely? Sights from Halloween weekend

I spent an evening in Lyon the other weekend. My host mom went to a movie with a friend, so I shopped around the Rue de la Republique (The main shopping street) for a little while bu myself and then met up with my host brother, and we wandered around for a while. It was fun to have a "Saturday night out" like at home, only French-y.

It's funny, retelling my adventures makes me realize exactly how fun they were. It's like, when they're happening I don't realize that I'm having the time of my life, it's just having fun, but when I type them I realize "Hey, that was a real AFS moment!". Haha, I guess that's actually a good thing! I've left the phase where I notice every conversation and revel at the fact that there's someone who wants to talk to me, and I've entered the "Life is normal. Good, fun, and normal" phase. =D

On Monday evening I leave for London for 3 days! The school put us in host families for our stay, and I'm with two of my new friends in my family! This ought to be a good test of how much my courage for meeting new people has increased... wish me luck! I'm super excited, and I'll obviously do a post when I get back.

Speaking of posts, I've remodeled them! I've gone back to my old posts and added appropriate pictures, and I plan on putting pictures with my future ones! I think this will work better for presenting my adventure! As always, you can check my photos on my FlickR. There's a link to the side, but if for some reason that doesn't work it's:

A bientot,

Oct 29, 2009

I <3 Paris

I have discovered yet another awesome thing about France:

Fall Break

That's right, a week and a half of no school at the end of October! I love France just a little bit more now. Since this vacation exists not only for me and my host brothers, but also for my host mom, we took a trip to Paris for a few days. I'm going to call this my first trip to Paris even though, yes, I did spend a few days there at the very start of the trip. Why am I not counting orientation as a trip to Paris? Two main reason. The first is that we were confined to the hostel for the vast majority of the time. The second is that frankly I was too nervous to take anything in. But not this time! This time I enjoyed Paris to the fullest!

It started on Sunday evening. My entire host family (both parents and both brothers) and I caught the 7:15 TGV (high speed train) out of Lyon, and around 2.5 hours later we arrived in Paris. Since my host dad works in Paris during the week he has an apartment, which is where we all stayed for the trip. Not much happened that night, but I was still super happy to be in Paris!

My host dad didn't have a vacation, however, so the next morning when we woke up he was already gone. The day dawned sunny and warm, a perfect day for sightseeing. My host family and I caught a train to the Eiffel Tower, where we were then met with the task of waiting in line.

The Eiffel Tower
Even though we were in the considerably shorter line for the stairs, it took us about an hour or so to get to the entrance. The view was sufficient to make all that waiting and the stair-climbing that followed worth it though! From the first platform you could see a long way, and from the second you could see even further. It was also amusing to attempt to place people by country based on what you could hear of their conversations (I think I managed to find all the Americans!). We stopped at the second level because, as spectacular as the view may have been from the top, the line would have cost us another 2 hours. After we finished at the tower we made our way through the souvenir vendors ( Key chain, only 1 euro! 1 euro!!) and caught a bus to Monmarte.
1 euro!

We bought sandwiches and ate them in front of Sacre Coeur, and then climbed to the top of the hill.
Sacre Coeur

The area was filled with musicians, painters, tourists, and people with crazy Chinese yo-yo skills. My host mom got talked into getting a caricature of the 3 kids done! After Monmarte we headed off in search of music shops, and then, after not finding them, did a bit of shopping. Later that evening my host parents went out and the three of us kids stayed back and watched a movie.

The next day was equally exciting. Again, we didn't see my host dad in the morning, and after breakfast My host mom, one host brother, and I took the metro to the heart of tourist heaven Paris. (I'm not sure what my other host brother was doing that day, but we didn't see him). We walked down the Champs-Eysées, and stopped in a few stores. There was a huge line in front of the Adidas store because Lionel Messi was going to be there, and when we came back by later in the day it was about 2.5 times as long as the line for the Eiffel Tower, no joke. We climbed the Arc de Triomphe, and the view from the top of it was incredible.
View from the top of L'arc de Triomphe

We took a bus back through Paris and got out at the Musée d'Orsay. We had lunch in a little café and went to see Notre Dame, where we met up with one of my host brother's friends. We walked around a while, got ice cream, and then did a little more shopping at a semi-underground shopping center.
Notre Dame
That night my host parents went to the theater and dinner, and the 4 of us (My 2 host brothers, the friends, and I) stayed back, ordered pizza, and chilled.

Wednesday, my host family (again sans host dad) left to go to the Cité de la science, which was a bit like the science center in Baltimore. We ate lunch there, and then headed to the Cité de la musique, which was a music museum! It was very cool, with an audio tour and tons of really rare instruments (like an Octobass, which is like an upright bass only around 10 feet tall). They also had a very cool Miles Davis exhibit and, at 8:00 PM, a jazz concert. The concert was amazing, and the 2 hours it lasted passed super quickly. We (we being my host family and some other people who were there with us) went to dinner after the concert, and then took a taxi back to crash for the night.

Thursday, we woke up early because my host mom, host brothers, and I were taking the 9:00 TGV back home. We grabbed breakfast at a bakery along the way to the train station, and that was it.

I really, really enjoyed Paris. It was a nice change of scenery, and I got to see all the things I learned about in 8th grade french class!


Oct 14, 2009

Alpes, anniversaire, and another blog update!

I've had quite a few things happen since my last post! Actually, it's really only been two major things...But none the less they have been major (for me)!

The first of the two was first trip to the Alpes (yes, in French Alps is spelled with an E). Last Friday I packed a bag and headed to my host family's chalet with my host parents and one of my host brothers (Antoine). My other host brother (Christophe) stayed home because he had too much work. After 2 hours in the car, we arrived in the town of Sainte-Gervais in the mountains. The chalet was actually up higher than the rest of the town, so I got a very nice scenic view while we drove to the house. When we arrived, there was no one else there. Soon after though a second family arrived with a younger daughter and two sons around my age (I think one was the same age, one possibly a year older). We all ate dinner, and then all of us kids headed off to play a rousing game of Harry Potter Uno. The next day dawned cold and rainy. There were times where all you could see out the windows was a white cloud that enveloped the chalet!

Living in a cloud

Another family arrived in the morning. This family had a very little boy and two daughters who I think were just slightly younger than me. After a lunch together, all the parents left for a hike in the mountains. After a bit of homework, all of us at the house chilled out. We watched two movies (A French movie, Cyprien, and an American movie dubbed in French, Hitch), played a round of HP Uno, and played around on the keyboard. Later in the evening the parents returned, and after dinner everyone left for a hike in the night to hear the mating call of a deer (although that may very well not have been the purpose. I didn't really understand what they were saying, haha). But what ever we were searching for didn't show, and one again the kids headed back to the house while the parents enjoyed the outdoors. Although it was very dark, slightly chilly, and there were hidden puddles everywhere, there was a break in the clouds and the night sky was stunning. It was very close, if not equal to, the sky in the BWCA of Minnesota. I think we managed to hike above the light pollution, which was incredible. You could see thousands of stars!! Once we made it back to the house, all the kids headed up to the little loft to play a game called "Service Compris!". It entertained us until midnight!

Sunday proved to be stunning!

Although the weather was still a little nippy, the sun was shining and there was barely a cloud in the sky.

The weather on Sunday

After breakfast, the parents announced they were going to do another hike. All of the other kids stayed back, claiming schoolwork, but I decided to go. I'm pretty sure that was the right choice!! The hike was long and challenging, it's true, but it was worth it! 3-4 hours of hiking uphill in the French Alpes brings absolutely stunning views! We hiked above all the clouds of the towns below, ate wild blueberries, saw the sun hit snow capped mountains, and if I ware a little bit taller I think I could have touched the sky! After 3 hours of upward motion, we went down a huge hill and then it only too 1.5 hours to go back! (When we got home I found out that "homework" consisted of a little actual work, a movie, and some games.)

At the top

Heading home

The second major thing to happen was my birthday!! On Tuesday I turned 16, and I must say the birthday was fantastic (and totally different form any other birthday I've ever had). It started off by my waking up too early due to that sense of birthday jitters (I was quite excited! Sweet 16!!!!). To pass time I listened to the excellent mix CD some of my friends sent me for my birthday, read and re-read the birthday cards I had gotten in the mail, and dove into the world of magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (aka read Harry Potter). Finally, it was time to get ready for school. After a few little happy birthdays from my host family, I headed off to school. In my excitement for my birthday, I apparently ended up alerting half my class that today was my anniversaire, so in school I had a warm welcome! I'm not sure whether I got more wishes in French or English (many people in my class are very excited at the chance to parle anglais). To save time (and because you probably don't want a super detailed play by play of my school day) here are some of the highlights of the journey:
  • My friends alerted the Vie Scolaire that it was my birthday, so a birthday announcement got put up on the TVs in the hallway.

  • I got happy birthday (in English) sung to me 5 times, two of which got cut short due to a teacher saying they were singing too loudly in the halls
  • School started at 1 PM! My only morning class (chemistry) didn't happen due to the prof being absent, so my classes started after lunch. And I only had two classes: Bio and music!
  • The cantine had Fries and "steak" (a hamburger w/o the bun). I like to think they did it because it was the American's birthday
I got finished at 6, and around 7:30 my host mom called us down for dinner. Guess what we had


I had mentioned once that I loved it, and my host mom actually went and bought sushi for my birthday dinner!! It was the first time either she or my one host brother who was there that evening (Christophe) had ever had it. They thought it was highly amusing that I ate it all with chopsticks, but I thought it even funnier that they ate it with a knife and fork! After a very satisfying dinner, my host mom said there was a little dessert, but before that she had a surprise for me. She said (in French) that since I was turning.... (16, I replied) ... that she had 16 little gifts for me (to which I replied, .........!!!!!). Some of them were like a bookmark or a pen, but I got the new Mika CD, a cookbook of brownies, and quite a few other lovely things! It was really fun, and all I could do was smile broadly and say over and over again Merci beaucoup!. After the gifts she brought out a little chocolate cake. In France you blow out the candles, but there isn't a song that goes with it. Well, the cake was amazing, but we learned something very important: Blowing out candles on a cake covered in cocoa powder= showering the table with cocoa powder!! It was incredibly fun, and an amazing sweet 16.

In other news, I am officially (assuming my visa and what not allows it) going to London in November! My friends are also going, so it should be super fun! I also had to ask for help in English today (to top it off I had to ask the kid the teacher put next to me in hopes that I could help)! But it was translating the English document into French, so I think it was justified.

I think that really about covers it. I hope everyone is doing well!


Oct 6, 2009

English, French, and everything in between

In rereading my last post, I realized it was a lot of reflection on the month with out a lot of details on what I've actually been doing. If you enjoyed that little foray into my thought process, super! (PS, super is to be pronounced the French way: Pronounced like sue-pear with the emphasis on the second syllable). If you prefer it when I describe in detail what I've been up to, then you're in luck! I have quite a few things to raconte.

Chapitre 1: English

This past weekend was my first AFS get together! On Saturday, after a piano lesson and a trip to the town festival to watch a demonstration of grape-pressing, my host mom dropped me off in Anjou for a weekend with AFS.
At the orientation site

As soon as I got there I saw someone from the NYC and Paris orientations, and we immediately started talking in English. WEIRDEST THING EVER. I couldn't do it! It took me about 15 minutes before I was able to have a fluid conversation. I never would have thought that one month would make such a difference on language skills. I mean, I knew that it would greatly improve my French, but a quarter of an hour just to be able to communicate in my native language? I can only hope this means that I'm adjusting well to France! Anyways, after I got into the swing of things it was amazing being able to actually (correctly) express myself. And it was hilarious to find out what there is in common between the actions of the AFSers (For example, drinking water. It's not just because we're thirsty, we use it as an excuse to move around the house, an excuse to wait and see what others do so we can copy them, and just as a way to avoid awkward situations in general). We broke into small groups at the orientation, and we did activities to reflect on what we've done and project what we wish to do in the future. The groups had people from mixed home countries (mine had 2 other Americans, a boy from New Zealand, a girl from Thailand, and a French girl who was going to go abroad), and it was cool to see how that affected what they missed. After the groups, we played games (a kung-fu game, and a round of something like duck duck goose involving a key) , did energizers, and talked a lot (in English). After dinner, a lot of us hung around and did riddles. The room assignments of the night were completely mixed up by country, and my roommate ended up being a girl from Norway! The next day brought more games (something similar to capture the flag, something similar to sharks and minnows, ans something involving a cowboy hat), more energizers, more English, and a picnic with our host families. By the time my host mom and I left, I had arranged to hang out with AFSers, written a letter to myself, and completely transitioned back into English.

Group shot

Chapitre 2: French

Needless to say, it was difficult to go back to French. However, surprisingly, it was not as hard as it had been to go into English. School has been a little more tiring the past two days due to the switch, though. But the weekend really rejuvenated me, and I have been in better spirits than I was before the weekend. School has passed well, and I've had a lot of fun (in French, none the less!) with my friends at school. I've also realized that when introducing myself, it speeds up comprehension if I attempt a French accent for things like the town name (although, my accent is not really that great, haha). My host mom suggested that tomorrow we start English lessons at the dinner table, so that should be fun.

Chapitre 3: Everything in between

Hmm.... I've been getting decent grades in school (12/20 in History isn't bad considering I don't speak French). There is a very good chance I am going to London in November with school! There was a lottery, and the first 10 people get to go. I was the 11th, but the teacher says that I will most likely get to go! I'm reading the 7th Harry Potter in French, which is proving quiite challenging (Severus Snape = Severus Rogue, Muggles = Moldus, and it took me about 3 chapters to realize Poudlard = Hogwarts). And I think I've almost completely overcome embarrassment at making a fool out of myself (After all, when you've put yourself in a situation where communication skills are lacking and you don't know anyone, you learn to overcome humiliation pretty quickly).

Until next time,

Oct 1, 2009

A new month begins (+ photos!)

My agenda says today is the first day of October, but I'm not really sure I believe it. Because if today really is the first day of October that would mean that I have been in France for almost a whole month, and it definitely hasn't been that long...has it?

But seriously, it really is hard to believe that it's October. Time moves differently here, differently this year. I can remember exactly what they told us at the orientation in New York ("Dump your boyfriend and have fun in France"), the days in Paris feel like yesterday (I wonder what everyone I met has been up to?), and I can play the host family meeting like a movie (Saying goodbye, saying hello). But I can't tell the difference between what happened last week or my first week. There are days for which I remember exactly what I did, exactly who I hung out with, and how may minutes I waited for the bus. But I couldn't tell you what days they were. Everything moves so quickly, but at the same time incredibly slowly. I'll be half way through a Tuesday and wondering how long the class could last, and next thing I know I'm finishing on Friday.

But that's not to say I'm not enjoying every minute of it! Sure, there'll be moments where I'm sitting in class and I feel a pang of logning for everything to be in English. And there are definitely times where all I want is to see my friends in the US. But everyone here is so great, and it really doesn't take much to change my attitude completely. A moment of understanding or a good smile and I'm ready to go! I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true. I'm realizing that with time going this quickly there is no time to feel sorry for myself. And what is there really to feel sorry for? I'm in a beautiful country, I'm surrounded by nice people, and I'm out there doing the thing I've been waiting for. What's bad in that?

The people are not the only great thing here. The food here is also wonderful =) One of the cool things about eating here is it's always at regular intevals. You have breakfast before you go to school, lunch around 12, a snack when you get home, and then dinner around 8. And people take eating seriously! Haha, let me explain that. In the US, people seem to eat sometimes for the sake of eating. You eat breakfast because your mom says you should, lunch because what else are you going to do then, and a snack because you're bored. (OK, I know that's a little exaggerated, but you get the point). But here, you eat because you're hungry. They seemed to have mastered the art that is figuring out when you run out of fuel. You eat a small breakfast when you wake up, and then 3 hours later noon your hungry again. Lunch is fairly large, so it can hold you for the 6 hours you may have afterwards. Then, you're hungry when you get home. You eat a snack that holds you 2 hours or so, and then eat a fairly large dinner. By the time you wake up in the morning, you're ready for breakfast. And lunch and dinner each have a few courses. A typical lunch (at least for me) is a hot meat/fish, a vegetable (Sometimes it's french fries. I have no idea why they say the US supersizes it's junk food, because while in the US we get like 15 fries at lunch, the French get an entire plate full. Which they then proceed to eat with a knife and fork. Kind of starange, lol. ANYWAYS...), a yogurt (Nature= plain. That's why they have suger packets next to it), bread, and a dessert (they have good desserts). Dinner is pretty much the same.

So what have I been upto in this blur of a month? I've visited Lyon twice more. (The first time my host mom and I walked around the old part and took and inclined railroad and then a steep path up to the top of a large hill where there was a roman theater and a basilica with a stunning look out point. The second time my host mom, host brother, and I went to the Parc de la Tête d'or, which is alot like central park in NYC.) I've met some of the family and friends of my host family. I've met more people at school (including one person who always asked the girl I was with to translate her question, and was surprised each time when I answered before it was translated =) ). I've started piano lessons (Solfege is slightly different in French. Just enough to make me utterly confused for about 30 seconds each time my teacher asks me a question). I've managed to score some points in gym class (despite my complete and total lack of basketball skills). I've taken somewhere around a trillion pictures (Wait, wait, I'll get to that...). And I've spoken French more than I ever have in my life.

Speaking of French, it's time for random French things that you may find interesting:

  • Water fountains: Do not exist (atleast not in school). You stick your head under the faucet if you're thirsty. I'm not even lying.

  • 4 wheelers: Quite a few to add to the population of motorcycles and scooters. However, they often are driven soley on the back wheels. Showing off much? Nahhhh....

  • French cars: The French are very proud of their cars. While the US auto companies are having a problem with Americans buying Asian cars, the French are quite happy with their Peugeots, Citroëns, and Renaults. It took me a week to find a non French car. It took me another 2 bfore I saw an American one.
  • Bikes, rollerblades, and scooters (Razor-style ones, not Vespas): Used by all ages. They have really snazzy bike rental things in Lyon. I can really rescribe them, but I'll try and get a photo of them. The only thing I can think to compare them to at the moment are those cart-rental things at airports. Roller blades are really popular, too. If they've fallen out of fashion, the French haven't heard. There are people roller-blading all over the city. There are also people scootering everywhere. And not just little kids like in the US. Pre-teens, teens, adults, everyone.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, photos! I've managed to get my photos onto FlickR, but the app on Blogspot for Flickr isn't working. So, here's what you gotta do. Go to

If you click on the icon that says "Septembre", you'll get the stream in order.

Here are a few of my favorites from my recent trips to Lyon:

Flower at the Parc de la tête d'or

Stature at the Parc de la tête d'or

Another flower at the Parc de la tête d'or

Inside a cathedral in Lyon

A street in Lyon

I think that about covers it!


Sep 26, 2009

To answer some questions

So, I've been reading the comments on my posts, and I figured it's about time to answer them.

1) To all of you who have given feedback, thank you so much! It means a lot to know that I'm able to help you guys =)

2) Some one asked how many years of French I have taken, and the answer is 4

3) School is definitely challenging, since it is, well, in French. But it's not as scary as it seems. Classes that focus mainly on texts (like History and French) are definitely, for me, the hardest. However, failing a quiz isn't a big deal at all, and if you ask the Prof questions you'll find that they are happy to explain and definitely want you to understand! Subjects like Math and Science will be tough too, but not necessarily on the same level. Numbers are the same, so the things you know from home will easily transfer. Also, get a pocket dictionary!! I use mine sooo much! I thought it would be embarrassing, but it's really not, and it makes it a lot easier to understand things!!

If there are any questions I didn't address, or any thing you can think of to ask, fell free to post a comment and I'll try to answer it!


Sep 16, 2009

Safe, sound, and in France

I made it!

I really don't know where to start with this post. So much has happened in such a short period of time. I've been in France for all of a week and a half and seems like I've been here for so much longer. Maybe if you hear about said week and a half you'll understand...

Our story starts on a Wednesday, Wednesday September 2nd to be exact. On Wednesday, after a short visit to NYC, I was dropped off for orientation. Saying goodbye was not nearly as hard as I expected (probably because I had already had my going away party and was so ready to go), but it was still difficult. For the rest of the day Wednesday and the first half of Thursday I talked with AFSers from all over the country who were going to France, Spain, Austria, South Africa, and possibly some other places. We watched a film that followed some AFSers, which was actually really interesting. Group orientations were held with all the France kids, during which we were supposed to learn vital information about the exchange. However, be it due to AFS's many other orientations or an excess of excitement, it didn't do much except make for a very long and tedious day.

But all that boredom payed off (and not only because I learned new card games). At 5:15 on Thursday, after all the other groups had already left the hotel, the 53 France kids headed off to JFK international airport and....waited some more. Finally, the time came to board the plane. I sat in the second to last row, and in a plane that huge that is a loonng way back. About an hour into the flight, we realized that the $10 AFS gave us at the airport for dinner was unnecessary, because Air France feeds it's passengers (even in economy) very well. The flight attendant even seemed slightly offended when we asked if it was free ("But, of course!!"). After the meal (which had like 5 "courses"), I managed to fall asleep for a good amount of time, and I awoke to breakfast (which, honestly, was a bit of a let down after dinner).

The plane that took me to France

When we arrived in Paris at around 10 AM Friday, everything went very smoothly. Customs was so simple I didn't even realize what it was (I went up to a window, handed them my passport, got it back, and kept going), and my large, silver suitcase was very easy to spot. After we left the baggage claim area, they split the semester kids from the year kids. I don't know what happened to the semester kids, but us year kids got taken out to a bus and driven away to the hostel-ish place we were staying at (getting a fleeting glance at funny French cars in the rental lot as we left).

The room at the hotel/hostel

The hostel was not in the picturesque part of Paris, so I didn't get to see any famous monuments on my way there, but I still enjoyed looking out the windows and marvelling at the fact that I was, really and truly, in France. When we arrived at the hostel, the 5 of us (all American, all heading to the same region) in room 215 couldn't get into our room because it was in the process of being cleaned. So, we headed down to the cafeteria for lunch. We got to meet a lot of people from all over the world, which was really fun. We finally got into our room and settled down a bit (and by that I mean took very long naps), and when we were finished we went and met more people. We did energizers with girls from Germany, compared accents with girls from New Zealand, and discussed how cold was cold with a girl from Canada (which is very interesting, having the other members of the discussion live in Alaska and Vermont). There was a meeting in the evening, and then it was off to bed.

Making friends in the hallway

Saturday morning dawned, and after breakfast we split into small groups (7-10 people) for orientation. The orientation was actually very interesting. The difference between AFS USA and AFS VSF (France) is that the volunteers with ASF VSF are young people, not older like those of AFS USA, and therefore run very nice orientations. Our group leader had finished his exchange to Wisconsin 2 years ago, and I think the other volunteers were about the same age. Anyways, we did a little activity to address our hopes, fears, and solutions, in which we realized that A) everyone had the same hopes/dreams/solutions, and B) everyone knew the AFS mission statement. After a morning in orientation discussing what was to come (sprinkled with anecdotes about our group leader's exchange), the afternoon was most anticipated: the tour of Paris.

At the Eiffel Tower

Admittedly, the tour was while on a bus, and the only place we got out was at the Eiffel Tower, but still! It was Paris! And finally (actually) seeing the Eiffel Tower was fun. It is, for lack of any other adjectives, large. Sadly, our group managed to miss the group picture, but ce n'est pas grave. There was an orientation that night about leaving in the morning, and then another night of much needed rest.

Sunday was the big day. We woke up at 5:30 and, since the group going to the Rhone region was so big, loaded into a bus (rather than a train) a little past 7:00. The trip down took a long time, but we stopped for a while for breakfast, stopped for a while for lunch, and stopped for a while for an afternoon snack. It wasn't until we arrived at the meeting place that I realized that the feeling in the back of my head (and the bottom of my stomach) wasn't boredom or disinterest, but rather nerves (and boy was I nervous). They told us to smile and look happy when we got off the bus, and I was forcing myself to look happy so much so that my face began to hurt... Luckily, there were only a few people meeting us where the bus dropped us off. As it turned out, the meeting was actually up a large hill the bus couldn't go up. When we finally made it to the top of the hill, we filed into a little courtyard where all the families were waiting. I searched and searched for my host family, and I finally spotted them. I know this sounds cheesy and very movie-like, but I swear it was like a patch of blue sky that interrupts a rainstorm. The knot in my stomach released, and I was met with a wave of happiness/relief/excitement/I don't even know what. The volunteers called out an AFSer, then their family, and then they would meet in the middle and have their picture taken (while the onlookers clapped and newly made friends said goodbye). After a quick hello, photo op, and suitcase find, we headed off to the car to go to my new home. (Oddly enough, out of all the funny French cars they could have had, they had the same Volvo station wagon I have in the US, but in a different color and with a stick shift).

Driving home was incredible. The area of France I am in is gorgeous, the town is beautiful, and it is all so vastly different from Towson. The house is lovely, and have a very nice room (painted in my favorite colors) with a nice little balcony. My host family is very, very nice and very understanding of my limited language skills, speaking slowly to me and repeating important parts of conversations I probably missed.

My new French Room

I didn't, however, have a ton of time at the house, because Monday brought school. I rode the bus with a boy from the town who was in my grade, and he introduced me to a girl who is in my class. The first day I understood very, very close to nothing, and it's a good thing Emeline was there to show me what to do/where to go. Luckily, the first day of school is the same all over the world, with petty paperwork and class expectations. However, even not doing very much work, I caught on to something very different for me: The French take notes. Now, that's not as obvious as it seems (and yes, I do take notes in school normally). In the US we do worksheets. Teachers pass out papers if they need to say something. Important facts, questions, and homework are on dittos. In France, however, all this is dictated. It is the student's job to write it all on notebook paper (which, by the way, has lines going in both directions). And French notes are perfect. They use rulers for perfect underlining, different colors to denote importance, perfect outline format, and never miss a word.

The rest of the week is a big blur. I've been introduced to a lot of people, all of whom ask: 1) Does she speak French? (In French) (The answer is always, un peu), 2) Where in the USA are you from? (In English) (Do you know Baltimore? No? It's close to New York. Yes, I've been to New York), and 3) (to the person I'm with) How do you say "How long are you here for?" in English? (In French) (And then they're surprised when I answer the question in French)

School in France is very different from school in the US. It's kinda hard to explain with out an example:

Start: 9 on an A week, 10 on a B Week
1 hour of Economics on an A week, 2 on a B week
2 hours for lunch
1 hour of math
1 hour of History/Geography
1 hour of French
Finish: 6

As you can see, they have A weeks and B weeks. So, not only is the schedule different every day, it is different every other week. Secondly, 2 hours of lunch. Very Nice, very nice indeed. And lunch is pretty snazzy. You go up, slide your card, which allows you a tray. On the tray you get: A desert/ fruit, a cheese/yogurt, a cold starter (salad), bread, a hot meat/fish, and a hot vegetable. It's all real dishes and silverware and you get a glass and a pitcher of water per group of people eating. There is a break at 10 and a break at 3, and most days I have a free period due to a lack of 2nd foreign language. If the teacher isn't there, you don't have class that day. If you don't have anything happening at some point in time, you can leave school grounds (go into town, go outside and smoke, etc). It's pretty chill overall.

But, like I said, the week has been a big blur. A big blur of French, interrupted by a 20/20 on an English quiz, a New Moon trailer, and glorious sunshine.

Over the weekend, a cousin who is studying in Lyon visited, and in the process I learned new words (French I'd hear around school), learned a new card game, saw a French movie (LOL Laughing out Loud), and saw a little bit of Lyon.

Some interesting things about France:

-Fountain pens: Yeah, people use them

-Erasers for said fountain pens: OMG, COOLEST THING EVER!!!! I have no clue why they aren't in the US. They have 2 ends: Efface (erase) and recrit (re write) and they work like magic!

-Kissing on the cheek (greeting): Very french, but very normal. It's kind of funny, if someone sees a group of people they know, they don't wave, they go over and kiss every one of them. But it's like hugging here, just a greeting (no romance)

-Keyboards: The q is where the A should be, the ; where the M should be, 3 keys on each of the number keys, a shift required for a ., and an ! key

-Buses: So they take public transport buses and put them on school routes for the morning and afternoon. But their public buses are our coach buses (without a bathroom)

-Motorcycles/scooters: They have a designated shed at the school for them. French kids drive them. Very quickly.

-Walls: Not as obvious as it sounds..... People don't have nice little fences around their yards. No. They have 8 feet high stone walls. With gates

-Donkeys: Live next door.

In conclusion, life is good. I'm enjoying France immensely, total immersion is doing wonders for my comprehension, my speaking is getting better, and everybody here has been super, super nice.

That's all for now, I think!

Aug 10, 2009

2 Weeks Notice

Countdown to departure: 14 days

Since I returned from Texas last night, I figured it was about time to update my blog! A few things have happened since my last post.

On the 10th I went to the French Embassy in D.C. to get my visa. The Consulate for my region is in the Embassy, so that was cool. I haven't gotten my visa confirmed yet, but it seemed to go smoothly! I hope it worked!

On the 11th I officially un-enrolled from school. Does this make me a drop-out? I hope not, haha!

On the 13th Riho arrived and on the 15th Vici came! They're both great, and I'm sad I wont get to spend the year with them. Although, I'm insanely excited to meet my own host family now!!

Today, we took Riho and Vici to sign up for classes . They are now both officially students at Towson High School!

Coming up are a smattering of going away/welcoming festivities, and then I head to the beach for a few days!

I talked to my host family, and I will be taking math, French, history/geography, biology, physics/chemistry, gym, music, economics, and (wait for it) ENGLISH!! It should be kind of funny to see how French kids learn English!

Two weeks to go! I'll let you know if anything happens!


**UPDATE- 8/22/09**
I got a letter from the French Embassy saying my visa had been approved! Phew....

**UPDATE- 8/27/09**
I went to the consulate again today, and actually got my visa!! With exactly a week until my flight leaves, the day is nearly here!!

Aug 6, 2009

Getting closer to departure

Countdown to departure: 28 days

It's down to less than one month before I leave! Nothing new has really come up, but I figured it was time to post something new (so that I can get in the habit of actually updating this thing).

I took my final exam today, so I'm done with summer school! Now I'm being kept busy helping get the house ready for Vici and Riho, the two girls who my parents are hosting when I'm in France. There are some cool welcoming/going away festivities planned, so that should be really fun. I'll be taking one final vacation to visit family, and then it's just a matter of days before I depart!

People keep asking me if I'm excited/nervous/scared, and I'm not really sure how to answer that right now. Earlier I was a mix of super scared and super excited, but now I'm kind of passive. I think it hasn't "hit" me that in less than a month I will be leaving for an entire year. My mind knows that I'm really doing it, but I'm not to sure my heart is entirely convinced. I mean, I'm still so excited. I'm just not really as shook up as I was. Oh well... 

I also saw that AFS posted my blog on their main AFS blog, which is exciting! If you want to see the main AFS blog, the address is:

(It's also in my profile)

I hope you like the new layout, I'm pretty sure this is the way I'll keep it (it's my favorite so far)! Sorry I keep changing it...

So... I think that about covers it for now. If anything happens, I'll let you know =)


Jul 25, 2009

School news!!!

Countdown to departure: 40 days

I hope you all enjoyed my last post. I know it was a tad bit dull and not really my usual style, but this one should be better. 

I've been talking with my host family, and have gathered some information about my school! I will be going into seconde, which is the equivalent of our 10th grade. I really don't care at all that it will be "the year I just finished", I think it will be hard enough!! My school is called Lycée Louis Aragon, and it is in a place called Givors. I'm not sure what classes I'm taking, but I think I'm taking music and economics (which my host mom recommended as the easiest to take not knowing French =D). My host family is trying to get me in the same class as a girl they know named Lucie so that I'll have someone to show me around and all that jazz. Right now my host family is in Iceland, so I can't really contact them with questions. I'm super excited, though!!

I think that's all for now!

More to come later!

If you would like to sponsor me in France, send me an e-mail or post a reply and I'll get back to you about how to donate! Any monetary help is greatly appreciated!!!

Jul 15, 2009

Lots to say!!

Countdown to departure: 48 days

There are a million things to say, because I've kind of slacked off writing (Sorry!). I'm going to attempt to go about this in a straight forward manner, so this ought to be interesting...=)  . Here goes nothing!

Part 1: Host City
Millery, France! Millery is 12 km (7.5 miles) out side of Lyon. Lyon is 431 km ( 261 miles ) southeast of Paris and 311 km ( 193 miles ) north of Marseille. Since I couldn't really find any facts for Millery, here are some facts for Lyon.
Population: 445,452 (third biggest city of France)
Elevation: 659 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 30.5 inches
Average January Temperature: 38 degrees F
Average July Temperature: 71 degrees F
Major Industries: tourism, silk, textiles, chemicals, machinery, printing
Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz, round two-pin plugs
Time Zone: UTC/GMT+1
Country Dialing Code: 33
Area Code: 4
Known as:  "Silk Capital of the World" 
Main Airport: St Exupery Airport
Ethnic groups: North African, Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, Basque minorities and Indochinese
Region: Rhône-Alpes(Capital city)
Times shops are open: 10 am to mid-day and again from 2 pm to 7:30 pm from Monday to Saturday
Best way to travel: Public transportation 
Number of Museums: 37
Number of theatres: 20

Anything else you want to know? 

Part 2: Host Family
Mom: Sylvie
Dad: Didier
Son: Cristophe (17)
Son: Antione (16) 
Cat: Sweepy
House: Large, new
Pool?: No
School:20 minutes away by school bus
Starting school: Immediately after I arrive
TV: Yes (wow, this'll be different...)
Computer with e-mail: Yes (hint hint)

I've e-mailed my host mom a couple times, and my host brother once. They seem really nice, and I'm really excited to meet them. I think they all speak some English, so that should be useful. 

Part 3: Departure
Orientation: September 2nd
Departure: 9:30 PM September 3rd

Part 4: What happens now
So, now I spend the rest of July in summer school. No, I didn't fail! This is the English credit I need to graduate when I get back home senior year. The two exchange students my parents are hosting arrive mid August, so that should be fun! Then I leave...

Part 5: Freaking Out
Wow...I leave in less than 50 days... for a year... I'm really really excited... Like, REALLY excited....

Alright, I'm OK now, haha

Eek, more to come as the day nears!

Jun 9, 2009

Pre-Departure Orientation(s)

Countdown to departure: 84 days (Assuming I leave September 1st)

  This weekend I attended my pre-departure orientation. Actually, I attended my second pre-departure orientation. Why did I attend two? Where were they? What the heck is a pre-departure orientation? Read on to find out! (See that, that's called a cliff hanger. You could stop reading now, but you'd never know the full story. And why would you want to put yourself through that?)

  A pre-departure orientation (PDO) is exactly what the name would suggest. The PDO is an orientation that happens before one goes on their AFS exchange, and it is a chance for volunteers, returnees, sendees, hosted AFSers, and parents to meet and prepare for an exchange. It is required that you attend one, but it's not a burden or anything. The PDO really helps shed light upon the exchange process and prepares you for a safe and meaningful adventure. 

  The first PDO I went to was for the Baltimore Area AFSers and was held at Goucher College. It started at 9:00 AM, but luckily included breakfast! There were some opening remarks by volunteers and and a professor at Goucher who had done an AFS exchange as a teen, and once they were finished we broke into small groups. In the groups (which included parents) we discussed our goals and anxieties surrounding the exchange.  Then we regrouped, with parents in one room and exchangers in another. Once regrouped, we broke into groups of 6-7 and acted out little scenarios of tough situations in order to make sure we knew how to be safe. My group included a girl going to Austria, a girl going to Peru, another girl going to France, a returnee from Thailand, a girl here from Egypt, and a girl here from the Philippines. It was really fun. However, I had to leave early to sing at graduation (congratulations class of 2009!). 

  Since I hadn't completed an entire PDO, I had to attend another one last weekend. This one was held at the 4-H conference center in Chevy Chase because it was for the DC area. This one started at 12:30 PM, and had snacks rather than full meals. I came in to a rousing game of "AFS Bingo", which was used to get to know the people around you. After it all settled down, we listened to a speaker (a former AFSer) and discussed what AFS is and is not (it is a chance to broaden you horizons, it is not a vacation).  Then the parents left for another room and the sendees, returnees, and hosted students  stayed as a group. We talked about what they called "The W".

     "The W" goes something like this: You start off on a "sugar high". You're the new kid, you get attention, you're doing new things, it's all good. Then you slip into culture shock. You don't know anyone, you don't speak the language, your novelty is wearing off, and you're miserable. Then you go into recovery as you make friends and learn the language. Before you know it, you're coming home. You're back on your "sugar high". You're gonna see everyone back home, you're a novelty again, you get lots of attention, and all seems good. Then you slip into reverse culture shock. Things have changed, you have changed, you feel out of place, and people grow tired of your stories. Then you go back up in recovery, as you reintegrate into society. (It was layed out on a graph by emotion, making a W). 

  After discussing "the W", we broke into groups of three to once again do danger scenarios. My group had a girl going to Iceland and a guy going to Switzerland. After the danger scenarios, everyone regrouped and we watched a video called "One Word".  You should watch it, too! Not only is it really fun (at least, I think so), it also shows what an exchange is like (kind of...):

     Afterwards, I got a snazzy AFS bag and a yellow luggage tag, which is AFS's "thing" and makes me really happy to look at. I also learned that a language barrier will not keep you from having a great exchange. One of the volunteers said she went to Belgium knowing only 3 words of French: Oui (yes), non (no), and quoi (What?). She told us how someone would ask her a question, and she would say "Oui". If they gave her a strange look she would try "Non". If that didn't work, she would be like "Quoi?". So now I'm feeling more confident about my language skills, not in the sense that I know enough, but rather that I can learn and will have a great an amazing experience in the mean time (although thankfully I know more than 3 words =) ). 

  The entire PDO process just made my exchange so much more real, and now I'm full of conflicting emotions. I'm really, incredibly, indescribably excited, but at the same time also really, incredibly, indescribably scared. Hopefully I'll figure it out before I leave =)

À Bientôt, 

May 25, 2009


     Congratulations! You've managed to find your way to my new blog! You may be wondering why I started a blog. It's not because I have developed a sudden passion for internet ranting, and it's not because I want to become an internet celebrity (although that could be pretty cool...). It's actually because I'm going to France for a year! Next year, instead of attending THS (Home of the golden general Michael Phelps), I will be living somewhere in France. 

Here's the deal: 
  Last year I applied to be part of an AFS International exchange program, and I got accepted!! AFS (American Field Service) is an organization that connects students from all over the world through semester, year, and summer exchange programs (I'm doing a year program). I will be living somewhere in France with a host family, going to a French school, and learning the French language and culture through total immersion. I will also be oceans away from everybody at home, which brings me to this blog.

  Since this is such a cool experience, and since I want everybody in the states to experience it with me,  I'm starting a blog! It will be my way of sharing details of my adventures with you all. I'll post updates on the status of my program, the status of my day-to-day life, and the status of my sanity. Check back for developments soon. 

Until then,