August 29, 2011

New School, New Kid

One last quick blog before I leave for the beach. I visited Saint Luc with Marie-Armelle this morning. It's a really pretty, big school made of bricks. We talked with the principal about my classes. In France there are three series that students are divided up into, depending on interests. There is S (for science), ES (for economics), and L (for literature). Guess which one I'm in. Now guess how many other students are in it... Yeah I'm in series L and there's 12 other students. All of them are girls. I was shocked at how small our group is, if not a tiny bit disappointed. Unlike America, when you change classes you don't change which students are in the class. So I will be with the same 12 girls the whole year... but I think I will be able to help the English teacher for a different series and meet more people. Also, there are different classes each day. For instance, I only have P.E. on Fridays and Geography on Monday and Wednesday. Also, there's a lot of time in the study hall to do homework, which is nice.

There are four stories to the school and since so few people are in Series L, it's on the top floor. Lots of exercise, since of course there's no elevator. Each floor is color-coded. I'm on the yellow floor and there's lots of pretty views from the windows.

The first day of school will be very short because it's only for orientation. My school back in America starts tomorrow, haha. I will be at the beach then :D Speaking of that, I have to finish packing. I will leave you now for a week or so. A bientôt!

August 28, 2011

Chill day

Today everybody chilled because it's Sunday. I woke up at my normal time in America, around 11:30. Not much activity really. I have started eating French cheese for breakfast. It's sooo good. I really don't understand how everyone here is so skinny; they eat so much butter and bread.

I went on a walk with Anne-Soizic later while the parents talked with Morgan. There was a lot of tension and yelling at lunch about Morgan's new apartments. Anyway, the walk was really nice :) We went down to the canal again, and I was shocked to see tons of people jogging on the path. Apparently, today was Cambrai's triathlon! We had picked a special day to go for a walk. Seeing everyone running by us made me feel guilty about eating all that amazing cheese.

Later Morgan and I went over to Sophie's house. I wasn't sure what to expect when we went over there, but we ended up playing video games. I should have guessed. It was a lot of fun, even though they dominated over me. Sophie's parents are really nice and her bird is so cute. We munched on gummy bears and mango juice. The gummy bears here are so much better than America's.

Tomorrow we leave for l'île de ré and like I said before, I won't have my computer with me. Sorry. I will take tons of pictures and try to remember everything. School will start the day after we get back. So excited! And nervous. To the beach I go!

August 27, 2011

Things just got a bit more fabulous

Today was amazing and super crazy.

I haven't had a day like this for a long time. So. Much. Fun. And also today, I had the most scariest experience in my life. Okay here goes...

So this morning we woke up early and headed out to Lille to meet the other exchange students in the district. I was exhausted during the hour-long car ride. The meeting was in a gorgeous university. Lille is super pretty and a lot like Cambrai. I didn't get to see much of it, but I hear that it's huge. It was so exciting to meet all the other exchange students. I loved the Rotary meetings with the other outbounds back in the US, so this was just a hundred times better. I was surprised at how many Americans there were ( about 7 out of 15, I think) There were students from Argentina, Taiwan, Japan, Sweden, Indonesia, and India. All of them were soo nice and we got a chance to talk, exchange pins ( we all have pins from our districts that we exchange with other exchange students to put on our blazers ), and to talk with previous outbounds.

After our little get-together-sort-of-thing, we drove out to the middle of the forest where a huge ropes course was set up. Marie-Armelle had mentioned something about it, but I hadn't understood that it was today was I was wearing flip flops and a thin shirt. Mistake. I had to borrow someone else's shoes and coats. And literally, the ropes course was the scariest thing that I've ever done in my life. I know I exaggerate a lot, but this time I'm not. I thought I was going to die at least ten times. SO SCARY. There were six different levels and I did the third level with a bunch of other people. Median difficulty=The Most Enduring And Difficult Thing That I Have Ever Done. People said it was even harder than the level 5 one. I understand why. At first it was just simple cords that were about 50 feet off the ground, but then it went over into the forest... and, ugh, I'm shivering just remembering it. I thought it would be fun, but no.  It was terrifying. You only had a harness with clips that you had to figure out how to use by yourself. If my host family hadn't been at the bottom shouting up directions at me, I would have fallen off. The most absolute hardest part was going over an extremely long horizontal ladder sort of thing that wiggled and moved every time you took a step. I shrieked and screamed because I almost fell off ten times. It's actually not that bad when you fall, but it's still petrifying just to let go and hang there. There was a French boy who went before me and called out whether the next step was easy or hard. It sort of helped, but most of the time it just freaked me out more. On one part where one had to sit on a swing and slide, I slammed into the tree and bounced back to the middle. Ugh. Yeah. It us an hour and a half to finish the course, but it felt like FOREVER. I have never felt so proud when I touched the ground again. At times, I couldn't breathe, let alone talk to the people who were safely down on the ground. Sorry for rambling, but it was quite an experience and it made me feel braver... after the fact that my knees shook like crazy afterwards. Moral of the day: People should stay on the ground. Birds should stay in the sky and trees. People should not walk on wobbly ropes among the trees and sky.

I feel like I bonded more with my host family over this, as crazy as it sounds. I mean, they were the only ones there to watch me and make sure I didn't fall. I was going insane up there, shrieking in English and French like a maniac– but I did feel better when they were watching. I felt super at ease with them in the car and my French came almost as easy as English :) Probably due to the fact that I talked a lot with other French teens and exchange students. It boosted my confidence and language skill. I met a lot of interesting people and everyone was so surprised at my French– that I could form words and accents and sounds. Apparently, it was impressive. A lot of the students can barely say a word in French so their host families have to speak in English. For now. We had a barbeque and then a bonfire at night. I talked with a Nigerian dude whose family is hosting the Argentinian student. He was 19 and super nice ( super tall too! I swear he was seven foot tall. No exaggeration. ) Again American culture was a great conversation subject: music, movies, t.v. shows, etc. We talked and roasted flavored marshmallows. Was the flavored part necessary? I think so.

I definitely feel more confident now and excited for the future things to do in France. I mean, I loved the last few days but today was the first time that I felt really comfortable and at ease with the language, my family, other teens, etc. All it took was a life-threatening climb and marshmallows by the fireside.

On Monday I will go to l'île de Ré with Marie-Armelle and some other teens. You don't know it? Look it up. Unfortunately there is no internet there so I will not be able to blog about it. So I will just leave you to imagine all the things that I will be doing there ;) Good night.

August 26, 2011

3

It rained this morning for the first time, but unlike Seattle it stopped after an hour. The daughter, Anne-Soizic, came home from Belgium this morning to visit for the weekend. She's really nice and smart. She is a speech therapist and is still studying in Belgium. I wish she could stay here longer so I could have a host sister, but she will leave in a couple of days. Morgan is going to leave for college soon :P But it's okay. My family is really really nice and they're going to take me to a lot of places. We visited our neighbor, Sophie, this morning. She's two years younger than me and also goes to Saint Luc. We're going to carpool together. She wants to be a veterinarian and showed us her two adorable guinea pigs and bird who likes to play hide-and-seek and eat chess pieces. After that, I went with Anne-Soizic and Morgan into Cambrai while they got their hair cut. It was fun walking around Cambrai a little bit and reading French magazine in the waiting area. American culture is everywhere here. On the car ride over to the haircut place Anne-Soizic played some of her American songs and I realized that Katy Perry is extremely popular here.

Later Marie-Armelle, Anne-Soizic, and I went on a little self-guided tour of Cambrai. Ohmygoodness it was so amazing. The town is much bigger than I thought. First we went to the enormous cathedral that tourists sometimes come to see. When I was eight, I went to Paris and saw cathedrals like Notre Dame, but I had forgotten how beautiful there are. It was so enormous and gorgeous on the inside and outside. I was so busy taking pictures that I didn't really understand Marie-Armelle's complicated explanations for all the statues and different religious monuments inside. I really don't know anything about Christianity because I'm not a Christian... or a Catholic person, but I still loved the architecture inside like the organs, statues, pews, and huge stained glass windows. It was almost completely empty inside, unlike the cathedrals in Paris which are always packed with tourists. There was a very serene and peaceful air to the place. I felt like a total tourist when I kept asking Marie-Armelle to take pictures of me in front of stuff. Also, during our little outing I got to know Anne-Soizic some more. She's superrr nice and seems like a real sister at times. I wish she could stay with us longer. The three of us visited some cute French stores and looked at clothes, jewelry, etc. Cambrai was busy in the evening and a lot of fun. :)

After we got home, Morgan's friend Simon came over. He's 19 and is Sophie's brother, therefore our neighbor. At first it was a little awkward, but after we got talking about music it became easier and really fun. He's super nice and really into heavy metal. It was kind of funny because I hardly listen to it, but I actually knew some of the bands that he talked about. He showed me all of his heavy metal songs on his phone and got really into it. I could actually talk to him in French. Nothing feels better than when people understand your French and laugh when you say something funny. It's a great feeling :) The dinner was the best so far because there were more people at the table: Marie-Armelle, Xavier, Anne-Soizic, Morgan, Simon, and me. It felt like a legit family dinner with everyone talking at once and passing food around. For some reason, everyone thinks that the weather is nice on the West coast of America so I have to tell them how cold and rainy it is in Washington where I live. After dinner, Simon and I went up to the computer and listened to different heavy metal bands for two hours. I actually sort of liked metal at the end ;)

All in all, it was a super great day and tomorrow I will meet the other exchange students in my district in Lille. I'm really excited.

Also.

Some things I've noticed here (culture-wise):

The curbs are sloped so people can park their cars on the sidewalk. The streets are too narrow for people to simple pull off to the side of the road.
People eat everything on their plates. It's rude if you don't finish everything. I haven't tried to break the social-norm and I don't plan to.
People have dessert after every meal whether it be cake or just fruit.
A lot of the houses are made of red bricks.
My host brother pours salt on everything and puts Grenadine ( a sugary liquid ) in every glass of water.
All the teens I've seen are really skinny! And they eat a lot.
I freaked out when I saw that the speed limit on the freeway was 130, but then I realized it's 130kmp (kilometers per hours) not 130mph (miles per hour). The metric system conversion thing still trips me up daily.

August 25, 2011

Round Two

This is only my second day, but already I feel like I've been here forever. Maybe it's because I'm still extremely exhausted and I can't really understand everything, but all the same it's been a crazy day. I woke up at 7:30, which by the way never happens back home in America, but I was too excited to start the day to keep sleeping. After eating a fabulous pear for breakfast and getting a huge stomachache, Marie-Armelle and I went to get my school supplies. It was the most incredible supermarket experience that I've ever had. It was so much fun and completely unexpected. I was sad when we had to leave. For one, it was enormous. I wasn't expecting it to be so big because everything in France is generally smaller than stuff in America. The cultural shock hit me a bit when I heard people talking in French everywhere we went. It was like a giant Costco dressed up as a nice Safeway, if that makes sense. All the stuff, though, was different in not-so subtle ways. For one, the paper is different. Instead of wide lines, there are tons of compact tiny ones with squares like graph paper. Also, the clothing department had tons of leather jackets... In a supermarket! But it was the food part that blew my mind. There were so many varieties of the same thing. For example, there were three aisles with just yogurt and another five with just wine. There were special areas just for fish or bread or pastries etc. I was in the middle of taking tons of pictures when Mr. Fish-Shop guy told me that it was forbidden to take pictures there for security reasons. Oops. But I had to take pictures, it was just too interesting and cool to avoid it. There were some strange things there too like horse meat and huge ham legs (half the size of me!). Also, when you take a shopping cart you have to insert a token to make it move. All in all, if you're in France, go to a huge supermarket. You won't regret it :)

After the amazing grocery and school supply trip, we went back home and ate lunch. Morgan was just waking up after we got back at noon. ;) Normally, that would be me back home. He showed me a bunch of YouTube videos in French which I actually understood and could laugh at them. They were really funny and it was a good icebreaker. We left again and drove into Cambrai's main square. I loveee the buildings and monuments and stores and people here. It's so pretty and different. There are so many boutiques and cute specialty stores. I had to go to the bank to exchange my money, but it was really confusing because I don't have a French bank account. We have to go back tomorrow and make one. Marie-Armelle had to explain what the problem was and it sort of made my head hurt. It's confusing since Cambrai is sort of small and there's no place to simply exchange the money like there would be in places like Lille or Paris.

But the adventure didn't stop there. After the bank we drove back to the house, then walked to my second host family's house: the Robalos. They are also very nice and live near a really pretty canal. They have two daughters and one son. One daughter is my age but she goes to a different school and the other is twelve. The younger one is an amazing artist :) The son, Gregoire, is autistic and he's really nice and likes animated movies. They have a huge backyard and I have a sink in my room. Pretty cool, right? We ate some cake and I nodded my head along to their very fast French that perhaps was directed at me. It's so hard to talk when you're completely jet lagged. After our visit we walked back to the house, then headed out again on foot to go to some lady's house to sing songs to her. I didn't quite understand why we were there, but it was fun. There were some other younger kids and the Robalos. We sang church songs, but for some reason they kept stopping and restarting and stopping and talking and stopping. Eventually, I just spaced out. I couldn't keep up with their strange program. I think they just wanted to perfect the song since no one was very good at singing. I've never sung a church song before because I'm not Catholic or very religious, so it was an interesting experience especially in French :) We're going to practice singing some more in our 7 hour car ride to l'île de Ré on Monday. L'île de Ré is way west of Cambrai and the Raux family has a second house there. It's on the beach so I'm really excited to see what it's like.

We had salmon for dinner haha. I told them that salmon is the regional specialty in Washington so they bought some. After that, Xavier gave me Edern's phone. I was really surprised that I didn't have to buy one myself. They are giving me minutes and unlimited texts as a gift! :) The phone is nicer than the one I have back at home haha. Since Edern is in Taiwon, I'm getting a lot of his stuff like his room, his phone, his closet, etc. The family is so nice. I wish I could be more animated and talkative but I'm so, so, so tired. I will post pictures tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, the daughter Anne-Soizic will come home from her college in Belgium to stay with us. Then I will give them all the gifts that I bought in the US. Overall, I'm exhausted and the day was fabulous. Good night.

August 24, 2011

It's that day

I made it! Currently, I am writing this in my new bedroom in France listening to the French radio. I don't think I've ever been this tired in my life. I am currently running on an hour of sleep plus some that I might have snagged on the loooong plane ride. I got to meet other exchange students from all over America on the plane, which was fun, but the flight itself was incredibly long. It was eight hours and at times it felt like forever. It was so exciting when we started to descend into Paris. Since we arrived at 7:30 in the morning, I had the whole day left to go on with only a little sleep.

For some reason, I was the only exchange student who had their host family come to pick them up directly from the airport. My host mother, Marie-Armelle Raux, was there with my 17-year-old host brother Morgan. They are such nice people. I managed and am continuing to manage talking with them in French. It's easier than I thought. Marie-Armelle speaks a little slower and clearer than Morgan. All the teens I've heard in France speak very fast. Unfortunately he will be leaving soon to go to college so I will be an only child. The Raux family has a daughter going to college in Belgium and a son my age who is also doing a year-long exchange in Taiwan.

The culture shock hasn't really hit me yet because I am SO tired, but I've definitely noticed things that are completely different from the US. Some good and some not so good. For one, they do kiss on both cheeks when greeting people. I was expecting it, but it was still a little surprising. We had an hour long car ride back to Cambrai and I found that I can talk in French on the spot :) However, whenever Morgan said something I froze up and asked him to repeat it a bunch of times. Also in the car ride, I got to witness some infamous French driving like crazy lane changes every two seconds for no reason. There were tons of trucks on the road taking deliveries from Belgium and England. It's nice not to see tons of SUV's everywhere. People here drive smaller cars, since gas is extremely expensive. We drove past beautiful fields and country sides. I saw white cows! They were so strange looking, I thought they were sheep.

Before we arrived at the house, we drove around Cambrai. I'm actually living in Proville, but it's really really, really close to Cambrai. I've looked at Cambrai on Google Maps and was amazed to actually be living in the pictures! The town square is amazing. There are tons of French boutiques, pretty buildings made of bricks, cafés, and bakeries. I will take pictures tomorrow when we hit the town again. There's an enormous cathedral right next to the high school that I will be going to. My school is called Saint Luc and it's a really pretty building. It's kind of old and smaller than my high school back home. I'm nervous to start school and communicate with fast speaking French teens.

I was pretty wiped out by the time we got to the house. It's really nice and pretty big. In my room, I have a huge closet, a French radio (they listen to a lot of American music), a desk, and tons of French books to read. I also found a welcome gift when I walked in. Pictures are at the bottom.

The first thing we did was eat little chocolate cakes that Marie-Armelle had made and pain au chocolats from the bakery. They were delicious, but my stomach was and still is really upset from the meals that I had on the plane :P Afterwards I unpacked and made my room more home-like. I will be living here for four months, after all. Then we ate lunch, consisting of chicken, ravioli, salad, and bread. I crashed and took a nap for an hour after that. I had a really hard time getting back up. Marie-Armelle had a friend come over later just to chat. I don't think people really do that in America. They don't just call someone up and have them stop by for thirty minutes just to talk and eat cake. The friend was a math teacher at my new school and had two adorable kids. They were so shy around me and kept looking at me like I was some exotic animal, but once they were in the car they made funny faces to make me laugh. It lasted for 20 minutes. It was great. Then I saw a dead mouse in the driveway. Not so great. I couldn't understand Marie-Armelle and her friend when they talked. Partly because they spoke fast and party because I was incredibly tired. I still am.

Do I miss home yet? I probably will... later. I'm too tired to understand much. It's so hard to believe that I'm actually in France. Thousands of miles away. I have a view of pretty French houses right now. The whole flight didn't seem like I was leaving for a whole year. I haven't gotten a big reality check just yet. But overall, a really good first day in France so far. Extremely busy plans for tomorrow, I think. Go to go! See photos below. Au revoir! :)

All the French books that I can read

I found this in my room
Cambrai's specialty candy

Lunch

August 23, 2011

Three Hours

I should probably be sleeping. My suitcases are in the car. My plane ticket is in my purse. And I am so, so, so, so, very excited! It all feels very surreal. Everything is so calm right now, like it should be at one in the morning. It's raining and everyone and everything is sleeping... except me of course. I watched a French movie in my last hours of living in America and got really scared because I could barely understand what they were saying without subtitles. Scratch that. I really couldn't understand what they were saying without subtitles.

In three hours, everything will change. I will get on my flight to Minnesota and then to Paris. My first host family is going to meet me at the airport. I'll be a wreck from the lack of sleep, tons of nerves, and constant plane-riding. I wonder how everything is going to play out. I keep wondering and thinking, when I should be sleeping. Will I have a mental block and forget how to speak French? Will I be so thrilled and excited to meet my family that I won't have jet lag? Will I be completely exhausted and grumpy and dizzy? Will I be able to say something? Anything?

There will be other students flying with me on both legs of the flight today. It will be interesting to see how they're doing with this craziness. The Rotary Club is sponsoring my exchange so I will be wearing a fancy blazer and be traveling with other kids in fancy blazers. I'm sorry if I'm rambling... I'm sure it will get more interesting once I arrive. It's so surreal right now like right before fireworks explode and it's really quiet and thick with anticipation. I'm so wired right now, it's ridiculous. Sleep is ridiculous. Tomorrow holds so many possibilities and I'm completely clueless about what's going to happen. I'm not sure how to feel because I don't know what to expect. Excited? Nervous? Scared? All three mushed together. I really don't want to cry in the airport tomorrow when I say goodbye to my parents. I really don't. Goodbyes are weird things. Sometimes they are too short, too long, too awkward, too sad, too unrealistic, and in my case way too realistic. It's a whole year. Starting in three hours. All right, I'm done for now. Time to lie awake and tell myself stories in French. A bientôt! :)

August 21, 2011

Last Times

I'm almost out of here!

I finally finished packing today and now I have two bulging suitcases instead of one ginormous one. I'm getting my reality checks more often now, almost every minute. I've hardly been sleeping. Every time I go somewhere or talk to someone, I know it's the last time for awhile. It still feels weird though because life is still very normal around me and only a person in my situation would really understand these crazy, chaotic, exciting, sad, nervous, unprepared, scared emotions. Tomorrow is my last night at home. I've already seen most of my friends for the last time, been to Seattle for the last time, bathed my tortoise for the last time (yes, I will miss that), gone shopping at the mall for the last time. I keep thinking to myself "It's my last time doing this for awhile." I know I'm going to come back, but it's sort of incredible to believe that it will be in a year. Once I'm on that plane, I will probably stop freaking out. There's no going back at that point. My poor parents, they're probably both having heart attacks by now. Only two more days!

August 16, 2011

FRANCE IN ONE WEEK!!!... and oh yeah it's my birthday (:

Sweet sixteen! Finally. But my birthday is definitely overshadowed by a certain event coming up in one week. (: Last year was one of the craziest, busiest, stressful-est years of my life! And I'm sure next year will be ten times that. So... France in one week? You could say I'm getting nervous and extremely excited. I got my visa yesterday!! I was getting worried for awhile that it wouldn't come. It's very official and pretty. It is very hard to believe that there's only one week left. I've been talking about this for over a year-and-then-some... and now it's no longer talk. I will be getting on a flight to Paris in 7 days. I am going to miss my family, my friends, and of course Seattle. Life's gonna change real soon. (: