September 30, 2011

Well, that was embarrassing

TGIF. It was a great day, honestly. Except for that one rather embarrassing thing that happened a bit later...

 I started the day with Economics (I was told that it's not "Economy" class, but actually "Economics") and found that it was much better than all the other days because for once I didn't just sit there with a glazed look on my face. The first thing we did was change seats. I was chosen, being foreign and all, to pick the pieces of paper with everyone's names on them for the new seats. I got a pretty bad spot– directly in front of the teacher. I guess I can't daydream or read my book anymore. I actually have to pay attention and pretend to understand everything even though that's impossible. That class is hard for everyone, thus even more difficult for me. But front and center, I'll have to make do until we change seats again. I just wish we would all change seats in my séries L classes too... but I doubt it. There's only twelve of us.

After Economics, I had sports for two hours. Badminton! Whoo! Yay!... yeah, I suck at badminton. Really, really bad. I can't serve underhand for my life. It was slightly embarrassing when the teacher came over and tried to help me before saying that maybe it would be a good idea for me to practice over the weekend. Luckily, I found someone who was near my level and played against her. I'm pretty sure we balanced each other out on the losing scale.

It was ridiculously hot again today (it's unusual for a week in Northern France to be so hot) so my face was very red the whole day. I ate at the cafeteria with Marie-Michelle and Hélène (her friend). The three of us talked for a looong time, more than usual, until we were the only ones left in the cafeteria! Suddenly, I feel like my French has improved. I can speak fairly fast now and can keep up with conversations. People tell me that they don't slow down when speaking to me and Marie-Michelle said that she thinks I'm fluent already. I disagree because I didn't understand when she said that I was fluent :P But I'm getting there quicker than I would have imagined! It's so nice to be able to communicate with everyone. I love French. It's such a pretty language. My hardest word to pronounce is "yaourt", which is "yogurt" in English. You try, then listen to a French person say it. Not easy and since I eat so much of it every day, it's kind of an important word.

After lunch I had history in a burning hot room, and then afterwards I was finished with school while everyone else went to D.S. I really liked today because I met new people in my classes that I hadn't talked with before. It was a good "faire connaissance" day. I find that often I don't know how to translate French expressions or strange words into English. It's a symptom of bilingualism!

After school I walked to St. Bernard and didn't get lost for a second. It was sunny, warm, and so French as I walked through the center ville past so many bakeries with baguettes in the windows. I helped the big English class again and was surprised by how many of them remembered me. We worked on the days of the week and months. Then I went back and helped the usual class (the farm field trip group), but they only did some housekeeping today for the parent/teacher conference. But it was all the while interesting because everyday with the little ones is intriguing. For one, the kids are tough as nails compared with elementary school students in America. If the teachers yelled at the American kids like the way they do here, the tears would be never ending. However, here the kids don't even blink an eyelash when the teacher screams at them in front of everyone for some unimportant reason. No more candy and praises for Tommy and Sally in France...

Immediately after St. Bernard Marie-Armelle asked me if I wanted to go hang out with a friend. Confused, I reminded her about my restrictions, but to my ultimate surprise she told me that I can go into town with other people! I was shocked. She told me that I only have to tell her exactly who I'm with and ask them to have their mother call her. I thought this was a big change, but she just shrugged and told me that it's been this way for awhile. It definitely hasn't been like this and I most definitely didn't have this freedom before, but I wasn't going to argue with her. I'm psyched! No more homebody days for me! :D

... but no one was available to do anything. Instead, I went on an amazing bike ride with Marie-Armelle by the canal. It was so so so so very gorgeous. We rode at sunset past fields of wheat and alongside the extremely calm canal filled with ducks and kayaks. It was a wonderful outing and that paired with badminton, I came to the realization that I'm very out of shape.

In the evening I talked with my parents on iChat (it's like Skype) for a good hour. It was nice seeing them. I knew that my mom wanted to keep talking and talking and talking... but I couldn't. It was good that I eventually told them I had to go, because I got a "nice" sunrise when I went downstairs. I had heard the doorbell ring, but I had thought that it was Anne-Soizic. But no. I ran into the living room to see– my neighbors! Sophie and her brother Simon! My hair was still wet from my shower and I was dressed in my homebody outfit with no make-up and no shoes. I haven't seen Simon for almost a month. It. Was. So. Embarrassing. They had been there for almost an hour just talking with the Raux because they've known the family forever. I wish I had known that they were there. It was so awkward sitting there looking like a shlump. Marie-Armelle didn't want to interrupt my conversation with my parents :P Hopefully my neighbors will come over again tomorrow and I can redeem my flustered, embarrassed self :P They thought it was really funny how I reacted and told me it wasn't a big deal, but it didn't make my cheeks stop blushing.

But the action and surprises didn't stop there folks. Nope! Anne-Soizic finally arrived around nine o clock... with her friend! It was a great dinner. We ate pizza while we talked and talked and talked and talked for almost two hours! Her friend, Zoey, is super nice and can do all sorts of accents including American, British, unnatural French on English, Parisian, New York, and more. It was a very fun evening with lots of laughter and good stories. Zoey told me my French is awesome and Xavier told me that I talk too fast and need to enunciate some of my words more carefully :) I wouldn't say it's a bad thing when someone tells you that you talk too fast in a foreign language.

Voilà. My Friday. I wrote this blog at midnight so it was in a jiffy. I have horseback riding tomorrow morning and then a day in Valenciennes with all the other exchange students to go bowling! Plus, the Indonesian girl is going to sleepover at my house tomorrow so probably no blog until Sunday. Good night. A bientôt et bisous :)

September 29, 2011

American Pom Pom Girls

First off, I actually do have a reason for that classy title. You'll see.

I'm really glad that I waited to write my blog until tonight because if I had written it last night, it wouldn't have been too great... because I wasn't doing too great. Things are better now, so here goes. Yesterday, I wasn't too thrilled with... well, life in general. I didn't want to go to school. I didn't want to stay at home. I didn't want to do anything. I wanted to do everything. I wanted everything I didn't have. I kept wishing for things to change– and then they did change the next day and I felt better. Yesterday was just not a good exchange student day. I felt detached from this French world and even more detached from America. You know, a little lost in this parallel universe (stole that from a song). The crumminess started with my four hours of English... all about stuff that I learned in elementary school. The thing that bothered me, though, was that someone else took my spot in class so I ended up in the very back row next to a very nice but timid girl who didn't really talk to me. I felt less involved so I raised my hand at every question and commented a lot. There's only twelve girls in my class and everyone is already in pairs. The six pairs sit next to each other in every class and no one ever changes the arrangement. So now I'm really hoping that my new seat-buddy will warm up to me. I remember the first day seeing her and thinking that somehow the two of us would end up sitting by each other. We're sort of the random students who don't have a definite seating pair like the others, but I guess now we do. Did any of that make sense? I have a feeling that the seating arrangements are not going to change for the whole year :P Also, I'm tired of having so much English every day. I'm here to learn French. I like helping my teachers out and actually succeeding in class, but I have eight hours of English each week and nine hours of study hall that I normally just stay home and sleep through. My schedule is all messed up, but I'm tired of changing it. But on the brightside, French class was much better that afternoon. I wrote up a review on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and had a friend correct the grammar. I was pretty proud of myself, I must admit.

Later I had theater again. I walked there after school and got lost. Luckily I ran into my second host mom on the street as she was on her way to pick up her daughter, who also does theater in a younger age group right before my class starts. I dropped my croissant in surprise :P (Haha, how French is that? Walking down the streets with a croissant...) Anyways, I found the theater, went inside, spent two hours there... and now I think that I'm not going to go back next week. I really don't like quitting things, but under the current circumstances it's not really "ma truc" (my thing). For one, it's difficult to understand the dialogue and repeat it. And also, half of the seven kids in my group are sort of normal and the other half are sort of not normal. I had a friend in the previous class, but she had to move to a different hour so... here's the current role call: one boy with frizzy blond hair down to his shoulders who wears a long black cape to school occasionally; another boy who likes to randomly leave the class and who is extremely skinny, out of it, twitchy, and for his life cannot follow directions; another boy who has eyes that never stop moving–not to mention that last year he cut off a good size piece of my neighbor Sophie's hair for no particular reason during class (I protected my hair in a bun the whole time when around him); two girls that are in my grade but seem to be in sixth grade; and one other boy who is rather nice and funny. Voilà. And then there's me. The American girl who can't understand anything. Half normal, half not.

Now another rant, I'm sorry.

Whenever I tell my friends at school that I'm an only child living with the Raux, they give me a sympathetic look. Marie-Armelle used to teach cathelicism at the school so everyone thinks that she is super religious all the time. It's not true. The only religious thing we do is go to mass, but still she's definitely more... uh... classic? She prefers classic furniture, classic clothing, uncrowded shopping malls, calm dinners, etc. And most of you know that I, on the other hand– being a 16-year-old in the country of France– love excitement, lots of people, lots of stores and everything bigger, brighter, and louder. My host mom's really nice, though, and very generous with all my activities. Living with different kinds of families is part of this whole experience. Sometimes it's great, but sometimes it makes me wish that I could change families already. I just don't like being an only child here. There, I said it. It's nice to have more opportunities like music classes, theater, and horseback riding, but I think the only reason I'm doing this ridiculous amount of activities (minus the horseback riding) is to be around more people and have some fun with people my own age. Whenever Morgan or Anne-Soizic is around the house, things are always louder, happier, and more familiar. It feels more like a home with all the laughter and excitement. Normally I would never write this on a public website, but like I said– this is now my public diary and I seriously hope you all don't think I'm not enjoying myself at all, because I am. There are always good moments that make all the hurt and pain and nostalgia and tears TOTALLY worth it. I love it when these moments take me surprise and make my whole day better. Experiences, experiences, experiences... why must there always be the good, the bad, and the ugly... wouldn't it be nice if they all just involved laughing, friends, voyaging, and cheese? If only.

Okay, now some good stuff :) Today was better. I walked to school by myself and didn't get lost for a change. I have become an expert jaywalker here. The driving is sort of a free for all. When there's a space between cars, you just run across (crosswalks? No, I don't think so) and hope that you can make it. Generally, people make it. I don't know about the exceptions. Classes wise, today I had English, then more English, then recess where I talked with Céline the whole time about American culture things like.... wait for it... "Do you have pom pom girls in your school"? a.k.a: cheerleaders. The French people are really surprised and jealous to find out that cheerleaders really do exist in American schools ("with the special uniforms?!") like they do in all the American T.V. shows ("and they date all the football players?!") Afterwards, I got a lovely surprise in study hall. It was a tiny class of about fifteen students and they all knew each other. I ran into my friend Mathilde (I went to her house with Justine) so I started talking with her. Then suddenly everyone crowded around me when they realized I was the American and asked me questions for the whole hour. We had a pretty chill supervisor who actually let us talk the whole time. My head spun around like crazy, but I was capable of having a normal conversation with all fifteen of them. They were amazed that the "pom pom girls" exist in America and also that I could talk to them with having to hesitate or think about what I wanted to say. Some of them live in Proville so maybe I'll see them around... that is, when I get some good ole freedom from my good ole Catholic school teacher host mom. Speaking of Marie-Armelle, she's been working on this one project of hers for a long time. She's making a giant Powerpoint presentation about Abraham and religious art (paintings, statues, mosaics, etc.) with her voice added in as commentary. She wants to send it to a professor for his/her opinion and then present it to other people. It's her dream :) She works diligently all the time on it. I have to admit, that lady knows her Bible. Also, she told me that she loves Jewish history as well, but when I asked her if she knew about Hanukkah she went blank and googled it... :) Let's leave it at that.

Random intermission: I think I might be coming down with something because today my throat started feeling dry and painful :P I think I might have caught something from the girl that I have to sit by in all my classes. Everyone is constantly sneezing and asking for tissues in my classes. It's that lovely "everybody in the school is sick" season. Oh well, I'm drinking lots of tea.

After lunch, I had history and economy class where I had a take a test in both of them. They were true/false tests and I actually did well! The grading system is out of 20 points in France, but apparently if you get 14/20 that's good (that was my score for both tests). I don't know the equivalent in America, but it's not translated into letter grades or percentages. I totally guessed on the economy questions, but surprised myself by actually knowing most of the history questions... I just had trouble with reading the actual question in French. Thanks Mr. Bopp (my history teacher from last year) :) I did better than my neighbor :D Mad guessing skills, right here.

I had my music class with the little ones in the evening. It was nice because the little boy next to me helped me learn how to read French music notes. I have to translate all the notes into "do, ré, mi, fa, sol, la, si" on top of remembering how to even play my clarinet. A girl in my music class at school has loaned me a book of easy Disney songs to play for the audition in November. I'm thinking "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" would be a good one :)

And– oh! I forgot to mention two very important things... 1) My debit card finally arrived at the bank! Only three weeks late, you know... It's very cute with a picture of Lille on it entitled with the theme "Ch'tis". 2) Secondly, I finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory three days ago! Whoo! I read it much faster than Harry Potter so I think my French reading level is going up :) Now I'm reading Oscar et la dame rose, a French book written by a French writer. It's for middle schoolers, but I like it and it's easy enough for me to understand.

Well, tomorrow is Friday. This week has been very long and verrrrrry hot. Each day I come home red-raced and slightly sunburned. But I don't think the sun is going to stick around very long, like I hope the pain in my throat won't. So readers, I have to say that I'm very tired. I tend to spend way too much time writing these blogs because I like to write about everything and everyone. Good night. A bientôt et bisous.

September 27, 2011

Beatboxing and a Walk Along the Canal

 I'm not a Monday person, but Mondays in France aren't all that bad. I get to start school at 11am :) Plus I only have three classes: Assistant in English class, History, and Music. Nothing super interesting in particular happened for most of the day... except for in music class. For almost an entire hour the class learned how to beat-box. I am a horrible beat-boxer. However, while the rest of the class had moved on to something else, I continued to practice under my breath and managed to beat-box like a pro by the end of the hour. But then I lost my touch when I woke up the next morning :P Who knew that beat-boxing would become one of my interests in France? Little surprises are the best.

But as for the not-so-little surprises... they're not always the best. I learned something interesting and slightly horrifying after school in music class. I found out that I have to play a song on my clarinet by myself in front of a huge audience later for our "audition"... but that's not it. I also have to SING a song with a group of other girls for the same audience. I sing in the shower and around the house, but never in front of other people. The song will be in English and I won't have to sing it alone, so hopefully that will mask my inability to sing. But you can imagine my shock when I found out about this new addition to our little concert program in November. Anxiety? Just a bit, if you know what I mean... it's not like I have stage fright or anything. And in French? It's definitely not like I have a lot of stage fright :/

Let's take a short intermission now before talking about Tuesday, a.k.a National Strike Day. I finally got around to taking some pictures of my French academic life; that is, my academic life that consists of copying my neighbors fancy sentences and reading my kids books. But here are the pictures. Judge for yourself:

My textbooks that I leave at home and don't read.

Chemistry notes..... no idea what they mean.

History notebook
Aren't my notes so pretty? I copied them off a sheet of notes that the teacher gave me, but we can all pretend that I wrote them myself during her lectures.
SVT notes... about eyeballs.
Pencil pouch. Shoe pride.
Important booklet that I almost lost... twice.
New school bag!

I had to get up at seven this morning like all the other students with normal schedules. It was too early for my taste. I don't like Tuesdays. All the other days are all right, but Tuesdays and I just generally don't work together. My day was pretty busy with classes, but they weren't much fun. Well, maybe some of you may think that an economy class that you don't understand is fun... or an English class all about grammar that you learned in fifth grade... or SVT with a psycho teacher that insists on sitting a foot away from you the whole time to watch you write (or in my case, awkwardly copy the notes of my neighbor). We had to take tests in English class and in SVT today. It was kind of embarrassing when I missed one question on the English test... I didn't read the questions thoroughly. Here's my attempt at my SVT test. I think the question was to draw an eye and label all the parts, but I can never be sure of the assignments in that class...
It was as pitiful as it looks.
I had to embarrassingly raise my hand and tell Mr. Ego that I couldn't take the test. I find that whenever I'm talking to someone that I don't know, I start with "I'm American so... um... yeah... I don't understand." "Monsieur, je suis américaine et je comprends pas..."

After lunch I only had one hour of English class before school was over for me. It seemed a little ridiculous to go back for only one class, but then again the whole French schedule system is ridiculous. I walked back home from school for the first time because it was a bit redundant for Marie-Armelle to drive me back again after only an hour. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day so I didn't mind the fifteen minute walk. I walked part of the way with Manon and then managed to not get too lost on my own. Normally I have music school in the evenings on Tuesdays, but it was canceled today. We conveniently found that out after we had driven all the way over there to find the gates closed. So... since I liked walking around so much, I decided to go on another stroll in the evening by myself. For one, I need some exercise (I eat way too much cheese here). Also, it was a beautiful day. And lastly, I just wanted to go somewhere by myself for a change. It was so gorgeous outside that evening. I took pictures on my walk, just for you all:

A field that I stopped by at.

The wonderful canal of Proville.

Some fisherman off to the side :)

On another note, today was National Strike Day. It wasn't such a huge deal for me, personally, because my school wasn't canceled and no teachers were absent. I heard that since so many teachers in the Bretagne region of France were gone from school, school was completely canceled for the students! However on my way to lunch, I saw a bunch of teachers holding flags standing outside Notre Dame (the technology school for older kids next door to Saint Luc). That was about it for the anticlimactic Strike Day in my lil' town. Here are some pictures of the schools that I've neglected to upload:

SAINT LUC! Private school pride ;)
Notre Dame. Without the protesting teachers this time :)

Third floor of Saint Luc where most of my classes are.

In the courtyard.

Don't forget about Jesus.

And lastly, I have a shout-out for Miss Manon Petit. Salut, Manon! Je n'ai pas oublié ta demande :) So for everyone else, Manon is a friend in my class. She often reads my blogs and would like to be mentioned. So yeah, hey Manon. Just to make this a little more embarrassing for you, here's an old picture from when we made our English video together:

We thought this was going to be a video, not a picture, so we look a little somber. At least, Manon does. I just look silly.

That's better. The girl on the right is Sophie–my neighbor :)
Well, like I always say: I'm tired, so good night everyone. Tomorrow is Wednesday, which means that it's almost the weekend! :D A bientôt et bisous, tout le monde. Lot of love from France.

September 25, 2011

Crêpes and Nutella: Three family get-together

Why do weekends have to be so short? Why can't good things last for just a little bit longer for like, I don't know, maybe forever. The last two days were filled with great people and food, which was wonderful.... but first, a word about Friday.

Lately, I've been super tired all the time because my internal clock tells me that I can't go to sleep before midnight. It's a horrible routine because I always have to wear my enormous noise-canceling headphones to block out a certain someone's snoring. Now the battery in my headphones is dead so I'm a little worried. Anyways, I had my class of economics, badminton, and history on Friday. I ate in the cafeteria again and didn't have to endure the crazy supervisor pushing everyone around. Why? Because standing behind people in a line is sooo last week. Instead, my friend and I cut in front of everyone. Yeah, that's right. We were rebels just like the other twenty smart people who wanted their food. After school everyone had D.S. which is a graded two-hour testing time. It's on certain subjects to see if the students had learned anything that week and also to make sure that their brains are still functioning. I don't have D.S. being American and exceptional and all :) Instead I went to St. Bernard and helped out with the little ones again, but it was in a different class that was much bigger and louder. The thirty kids were divided into three groups and I was told to rotate around to each group and talk solely in English. That's pretty much impossible for little 10-year-olds. I can't even do that with the girls in my own class without getting blank stares and awkward, confused silence. But it wasn't so much fun getting stared at like some type of monument when the room was 90 degrees and I was sweating like a pig. But I was glad that the kids were so interested in what I had to say. Most of them hovered a foot away from my extremely red face the whole time.

And then at last.... Saturday! Today was my one-month anniversary in France. Already?! It's absolutely insane how fast the time has flown. It's like water slipping through my fingers. I've done so much, learned so much, changed so much, grown so much, adapted so much, and it's only been a month. It feels like a lifetime. A wonderful lifetime that I've never known before. Nine more months left. What will happen? All I know is that adapting to the environment is much more effective than adapting the environment to you. I just hope that's it's all wonderful and that I will become a much better person than who I was when I left America one month ago. It's serious adventure time :)

So my anniversary day was a super busy day filled with wonderful Frenchie things. I had horseback riding in the morning with Marie-Michelle. It was much easier than the week before because all we did was go on a long walk outside past the canals and forests. I was on my giant horse again and got a good share of whacks from tree branches. But it was gorgeous and super sunny outside. Unlike last week, my horse was in a mood to go really fast so we were about two inches from the horse in front of us the whole time. He wasn't really into personal space.

Immediately after lunch I went over to hang out at my friend Justine's house and also at her friend Mathilde's house. They're totally best friends, but it wasn't awkward at all having me there. They're super nice and into baking cookies and American music. Sounds familiar... :) Justine spent a year in Portugal with her family last year and her pictures looked amazing! It was nice to spend some time with teenagers outside of school. It was also nice to be invited somewhere and actually being able to go.

Afterwards I had to go directly to my music school. Oh, music school. I'm still not quite sure why I decided to play my clarinet again. I'm really not that good. But the other people in the Saturday group are GOOD. Amazing. Brilliant. For example, I sat next to a guy who has been playing the clarinet for twenty years. He wasn't the only one that experienced. The music was amazing to listen to and all the songs sounded almost perfect on the first try, but man I was so lost. I pretended to understand the crazy tornado of music notes, but it was useless. Also, something happened later that was interesting to me. When we had a half an hour left to class, a bunch of people suddenly went outside all at once. I peered around and saw that they were all smoking on the stairs. It was probably one of the worst times to smoke. I mean, during a music rehearsal– when it's sort of helpful to have some air in your lungs to play an instrument. But I'm in France and that's just how France is. People smoke. A lot.

So after that interesting and mind-blowing musical experience, I carpooled back home to greet Marie-Michelle. She came to sleepover for the night. Dinner was a lot of fun because it wasn't just Marie-Armelle, Xavier, and I talking the whole time. Later around midnight I forced Marie-Michelle to watch Glee with me with French titles and afterwards we talked for a long time about everything. I'm used to staying up late at sleepovers and talking and talking and talking. That hasn't changed :) My French is surprisingly good at one in the morning....

So talk about busy. Two hours of horseback riding, two hours at Justine's, two hours at music school, then the rest of the night with Marie-Michelle. Phew. There were about ten minutes total all day spent doing nothing in particular. I fell asleep around 2:30 thanks to my dead headphones and Xavier's snoring (we were down in the living room and I could still hear him from his bedroom on the third floor!!)

Today was a wonderful day shared with many wonderful people. All three of my host families came over for a big presentation of my photos taken during our week at L'île de Ré. Marie-Michelle and I woke up around noon and found that Anne-Soizic had returned for the day. Then later Morgan showed up... and then the entire Robalo family came over: the mom, the dad, the two sisters–Lucy and Clauthilde– and Gregoire; the autistic brother. They're my second host family, but I don't know much about them yet like the Guinsets whom I've done a lot of things with already. We had a big lunch with a giant tiramisu cake that Marie-Armelle had made for my one month anniversary in France. I got a chance to talk to Edern on the phone for the first time (he's the Raux's son whose currently in Taiwan for a year doing an exchange like me). He's super nice and having an incredibly hard time learning Chinese. Then a bit later we all ate crêpes... with Nutella! Gahh, so good. I'm going to gain ten pounds here, I just know it in the back of my gourmet mind. I managed to turn my crêpe into a ball of fried crêpe dough and Clauthilde burned hers. We're obviously master chefs. Later, Clauthilde, Marie-Michelle, and I looked at a ton of my pictures of America. The girls were awed by the things that I see all the time like the mountains near my house and the big shopping malls. Then the entire Guisnet family came over. So that made.... 15 people over at the house that usually only has three :D It was great. The photos were a big hit and the food was delicious. Speaking of photos, while the girls and I were hanging out we took some pretty intellectual photos on my computer. Check them out:
Left to right: Me, Marie-Michelle, and Clauthilde

Two host dads in the background :)

I have to admit, the whole 'no siblings thing' is getting to me. I'm used to being by myself at home of course because I'm an only child, but in France it's different. Siblings are great for meeting new friends, having someone to go into town with, and also just having someone your own age to talk and laugh with at all times. My host parents are great, but it's different talking to an adult than to a teenager. It's really a bummer that Edern is in Taiwan because he's my age, has a lot of friends, and seems to be super nice. My future host sister Marie-Michelle and I are already close and I talk to her all the time. It just makes me want to have siblings with the Raux even more. That's the reason why I'm so busy all the time with activities. I don't have much freedom yet and can't even hang out with friends in town. For example, today after the picture-showing Morgan went into town to hang out with his friend. He asked me if I wanted to go, and of course I wanted to go, but Marie-Armelle firmly said no because it was in town... in a café... which is off limits for now. I didn't say anything more about it, but I wasn't super happy. And yes, there are so many other great things happening for me here, but I just wish that I had more freedom.

Dinner was rather humorous that evening with Morgan being here for the night. We talked a lot about smoking, since he smokes regularly. It's obvious that the Raux don't like his habit, but they weren't too harsh about it. Morgan even got out his box of cigarettes to show them a design on it and they all casually passed it around. It was the first time I've even touched a cigarette box. He asked me later if I wanted to go for a smoke with him, but I declined because I would like to preserve my lungs for future use. But he's my funny, sometimes temperamental host brother that I wish would stay around the house longer. I'll have siblings soon, I know, in my other host families... but I'm not patient.

Well, I must go to sleep now at this lovely hour of one in the morning. Xavier is snoring, but I found a new battery for my headphones. School starts at eleven for me tomorrow :D I'll need the sleep. A bientôt!

September 23, 2011

Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis

Today was an amazing day with the lil'uns. I accompanied the elementary school students (that I help out with every Friday) on their field trip– therefore skipping school to go visit a farm full of cows, sheep, pastures, and milk. Very Northern France and very Ch'tis (only a few of you will understand that). However, I got up at a killer early hour and managed to fall asleep on the bus full of twenty screaming children– that's how tired I was. When I woke up, I found myself in the middle of practically nowhere on a beautiful farm. I grew up in a town with a lot of cow pastures, but I never got up close and personal with one. They are actually enormous and super cute in person. This farm makes butter, milk, and other dairy products so therefore they had a lot of cows :) The first thing we all did was taste some fresh cow milk mixed with chocolate. The best hot chocolate comes straight from the udder to your glass.

After our snack we went into the barn and listened to the farm lady talk about her dear animals. First, she talked about this darling little 8-day-old calf, Gabriella, who sucked on the lady's fingers the entire time. It's eyes were insanely large and rather frightening.

And next to this baby was the momma. The kids were so excited to see the big cow. They acted like it was a gift sent from the heavens: the fat, spotted creature with a fly-covered back.

What a celebrity.
I could actually understand what the farm lady said and learned some new things about cows today. For one, dairy cows can't make milk if they haven't had a baby, haven't had enough to eat, or haven't had enough to drink. Also, dairy cows can make milk ten months out of the year while the other two months are "vacation months." The farm lady was very well informed about this cow-business. I kept thinking the whole time how funny this situation was contrasted with my anticipated experiences back in America. I didn't really picture myself sitting among twenty 10-year-olds in the hay listening to facts about cows...

Explaining the life of a dairy cow
... and I also really didn't expect to milk a cow within my first month in France.

But there I am– milking a cow. It was really strange and I kept thinking that I was hurting the cow. I imagine that the poor thing wasn't doing too well with twenty kids attempting to milk her. :P After our little tour of the animals, we went outside and saw that the cow-simulator guy was there. I wasn't sure what he did until he went over to the boy-cow and stuck a needle up its... well, you know, to get some stuff for reproduction. It was super gross, but the kids were intrigued. There was even a catalog to choose what kind of cow you want to have produced.

"I'll have Cow #3 please."
Then we retreated back to the farm house for a lesson about milk. Milk is very important. I learned more about milk today than I would have ever thought was necessary. The farm lady even had a huge poster board about milk. Here it is:

Then we watched the farm lady make some butter. It was surprisingly interesting and fun. You could say I've got a little farmer's instinct within me. :) There are five steps involved in making butter ( I forgot them) and all you need is cream. First the farm lady showed us the machine that separates the milk from the cream (the crème fraise :D).

Can you guess which side is the milk and which side is the cream? ;)
And then she took out a separate bucket full of pure cream and dumped it all into a butter making box that churned it.

And then she dumped four buckets of cold water in it to clean out the butter juices. Here's her demonstration... 

Voilà!!! This farm fresh butter has a picture of a little cow on it :)
After watching her make the butter we got a chance to mold it into the pretty squares. We had to wash our hands for an incredibly long amount of time before we could touch the butter.

Me and the kiddos
Butter molding geniuses.
We got to keep the butter and that evening I tasted it. So good. After our butter/milk/dairy schmooz, we had lunch outside. A lot of the kids brought big bags of candy to pass around to everyone. I got a stomach later because of it. After lunch, the kids had so much more energy for the siesta. They ran around in circles and tackled each other like maniacs. I miss those days of siestas and examining the glass with magnifying glasses to search for bugs. Everything is so interesting and new when you're young. It's like being little again, here in France for me. Everything I do and say is strange and foreign. I imitate the things people say. I am amazed by the little things that everyone else is used to. I try everything without thinking about saying no. Life is a game and everyday is an adventure.

The afternoon wasn't as much fun for me as the morning. We went on a big scavenger hunt around the property to look for different trees, leaves, bugs, plants, etc. However, it was a nice chance to meet some of the little ones. One girl sort of clung to my side and kept talking to me and asking questions the whole time. I was glad that most of them used the "tutoyer" (familiar version of the pronoun 'you') instead of the formal version that they use with teachers and strangers. The pastures were filled with really long grass so we all had to waddle around in boots. The best part was when we went into a pasture with some sheep grazing in it. The kids went insane. They had all brought dry bread with them to feed the sheep, but they all wanted to feed them at once. The poor lambs. I've never seen a sheep run before, but they can go pretty fast when trying to escape a mob of excited little kids.

Run sheep, run!

The sheep fluff was soooo soft.

Up close and personal.
I was thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day and slept again on the bus ride home. I really like helping out with the class... mostly because I still adore field trips. :D It's a nice thought that tomorrow is Friday and then the weekend! Saturday marks my one-month anniversary of being in France. Absolutely insane. I have a feeling that when June rolls around, I'm going to be dumbstruck at how fast time has flown by. But now, one month already. Phew. I don't want to leave. I love it here.

This blog was very hard to write with inserting pictures, so I hope you all appreciate it :P My blog is like my public diary. I'm about to fall asleep over my keyboard so good night, dear diary. :)

September 21, 2011

Walk Like a Gorilla

I like Wednesdays a lot. I get to sleep in a bit and have four hours of English, the class that I really excel in– obviously. I like helping the teachers with words that they don't know or have trouble pronouncing. We had to present our patchworks today– awhile ago we all made a collage of things that represent us– and we had to pick one at random to describe it and guess whose it was. People guessed mine because I had a picture of the USA on it. When it was my turn, I think I talked too fast again because I got the glazed, deer-in-the-headlights stares from everyone afterwards. It was fun because we all learned new things about each other. I learned that one girl didn't know what John Lennon looked like (she thought it was Harry Potter with the glasses and all). My jaw almost fell off.

French class was actually really good today. I hadn't been there for awhile, but I was a bit braver at speaking in front of everyone. In fact, I even asked a couple questions and the teacher understood! Point for me. I asked if I could just do my little report on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead of the fancy, French literary classic that I'm three pages into... Thank goodness I can :) Mme Massy is really nice and I think that I will change back into some of her classes later, even though she talks really fast.

After school, I had yet another full agenda because I had my theater class for two hours. I've never done theater before, but I was willing to try it. It was actually really fun, but I think with different kids it could have been better. The kids all seemed younger than me and a bit, well, different. The teacher was nice and the exercises were fun while a bit strenuous. We walked around in crazy directions the entire time... like different animals: tiger, ostrich, gorilla, fox, chipmunk, cat, bird, etc. It was interesting. The teacher said my gorilla walk was pretty good :D I think I'll give it another go next week for kicks. I was exhausted afterwards and collapsed in my bed. Tomorrow I'm not going to school. Instead, I'm going with the elementary class (that I help out with on Fridays) on their little field trip to a farm to see some cows, sheep, and to make some butter. I have to get up at 6:00, like a farmer, so good night. A bientôt!

September 20, 2011

Tuesday, Tuesday

Today was a crazy day... so it's going to be another loooong blog :) It was my first day of séries ESI think as far as difficulty goes, my séries ES class is very similar to my séries L class. I didn't understand much... actually I didn't really understand anything. We talked about banks and money and economical situation and, uh, more banks. But I'm glad that I'm taking the classes because I've already met some super nice people in the class. Speaking of meeting people, lately I seem to be running into people that I know all the time. Except that they remember my name, and I can't remember theirs. I guess word has spread about the American chick in the school ;) The other day I was walking down the street with Marie-Armelle and some girl on the other side saw us and suddenly ran over. I thought she knew Marie-Armelle but suddenly she said "hello" to me (you know, kisses on both cheeks.) Yep, perfectly random. I kept trying to remember who she was, but for the life of me I couldn't. It's kind of cool how many people I know. It's nice to know that wherever I go in the school I'll probably find someone to talk with.

Later in the day I had chemistry/physics with my sane teacher (not Mr. Ego, thank goodness.) I got so close to understanding the notes that I was writing, but when I asked about it I realized that I was totally wrong. But my notes look pretty. French kids are really into using different colors and putting swirls on their letters. Anyways, I stayed after class to help clean up like a teacher's pet because I had to wait around anyways for the cafeteria to open. Oh man. The cafeteria today was a madhouse. All the students were like overcrowded, hungry animals wanting their food while the absolutely insane supervisors were the mean old hunters that kept shouting "RECOLLEZ! RECOLLEZ!" That means to "reglue" or "make a more orderly line" in this case. I wish I had taken a video, honestly. You guys wouldn't have believed it otherwise. Literally what those "supervisers" did next would have been outlawed in the US. So I was almost to the front of the blob of people when suddenly the superviser came screaming and steaming like a train towards us, yelling for us to "Recollez." Of course, we couldn't. There wasn't enough room... so the superviser made room. She started shoving kids to the side to make two rows instead of four. When the kids wouldn't move, she leaned all her weight (she was rather large) back on the students and shoved. One would think she was the school bully taking it out on the nerds. People were laughing, but also looking scared. So I went from the front to the very, very back. In the end, my friend and I had to just cut through the front and push a little to get our food. Phew. It was quite the experience. Moving on.

After lunch, I got lost for the first time by myself since I was a bit late to my next class, "Accomp. Personage" which is, which is, which is.... something important– but I had no idea was classroom it was in. I ended up following these two seniors around until I ran into someone I knew and I found out that it was in CDI (the library). I have to admit, I was rather proud to find the class in the end. After that I had P.E. but stayed in the library with my class. A group of us just talked the whole time. I find that talking about vulgar French swear words is a great conversation starter and good way to make people laugh. I have quite the comprehensive vocabulary now thanks to my many fabulous peer professors :) It was a very fun study hall. Then after not understanding history class, Marie-Armelle picked me up and told me that we're going to sign up to be in a little museum troop. So we went and got signed up. I'm doing so many activities here, it's awesome. But I have a feeling that I wouldn't be if I didn't know how to speak French decently :P We were running late for my next activity after that. Music school. The guy I'm borrowing my clarinet from wants me to be in his music school. On Tuesdays, it's with beginners so I'm mostly with little kids. I was super surprised to run into someone whose in my music class at my school. He was basically the only other teenager there, but the lil' uns were so nice to me and two mini-boys that played the clarinet helped me with the notes even though the song was really easy. I'm also going to music school on Saturday in the same place that's for older kids around my age. However, although the song for the little kids was easy (like it should be), I'm a bit nervous for the Saturday class. For one, I still don't know how to read notes. And also, I haven't practiced much at all... but people are really nice, generally, and usually if I ask– someone will help in one way or another. I'm going to carpool for the Saturday classes with the freshman boy who also plays in the music school. Also, I learned something important today. You only kiss someone on both cheeks the first time you see them; not every single time you see them throughout the day. Oops. Sometimes I forget all together about the kisses and sometimes I remember them all the time. It's a learning process.

September 19, 2011

Monday, Monday

If you hadn't noticed, I added some pictures of Lille to my last post "Adventures in Lille."

So today was Monday. The highlight of the day was music class. I discovered that I actually do remember how to play the clarinet and that I'm not all that bad; not as good as I was two years ago, for sure, but I managed to play the super high notes in our little partition. Music class was two hours after school. The first hour we practiced in our separate groups and then we presented what we had so far in the second hour in front of the class. Some of my notes were muffled, but at least my instrument didn't squawk like clarinets do when the notes comes out wrong. I have less nerves now when talking in front of people. It's actually easier in French because people expect you to make mistakes and talk funny. I was so proud of my new found ability to remember how to play my instrument, but then I realized that I couldn't read a note. The notes aren't like "A, B, C, D..." they're like "Do Ray Mi Fa So" (Pretty sure I spelled that wrong). So luckily there was another clarinet player in my group who could show me all the notes. Generally, if you ask for help here people will be very nice and willing to assist you. But if you're shy, you're really not going to get anywhere. I also had a lot of P.E. (study hall) today where I just read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I'm almost halfway through :) I like P.E. because I get to see new people in it, even though we don't get to talk much. When we changed my schedule to have some ES classes, I thought that all my séries L classes would naturally change to ES, but instead I got P.E.... nine hours of P.E. in place of séries L classes. But I do the same thing in P.E. that I would in French class; I just read my book meant for ten-year-olds. I like it.

September 18, 2011

Adventures in Lille

This weekend was amazing! I had so much fun in the marvelous city of Lille with my third host family– the fabulous Guisnets. But going to Lille wasn't all that we did... Saturday morning, Marie-Michelle and I went horseback riding at a beautiful barn a little far from Cambrai :D It was a lot of fun, but different than I expected (as are a lot of things, I'm finding here in France) For one, I rode with six other girls in the same arena, plus their friends were on the side the whole time laughing and tittering English words when I rode past. It was kind of awkward and I thought that they were mocking me, but later I found out that they usually hang out to watch and they do the same thing every time. And also the teacher was strict, like all the teachers in France. My horse was enormously tall and lazy. I hadn't ridden for a whole year so I wasn't too keen on racing around just yet, but the teacher kept telling me to go faster and faster. I'm extremely sore now– plus my arm is killing me from badminton. That just proves how nonathletic I am. :P Anyways, the best part of the two-hour lesson was when I got to canter on a smaller horse. Whoo! It was super fun and fast with the wind in my face. The second best part was when we all went outside and walked alongside a beautiful canal. Those two best-parts made it a very fun morning and I'm excited to go back on Saturday and maybe ride a slightly smaller horse. Two feet shorter would be great.

We had to eat lunch in the car (cheese and cucumber sandwiches) because we were running late. Everyone rocked out to the dance music playing on the radio for the hour long drive to Lille. It's a bummer that I'm so far away from Lille. We were late to a little tour of Charles de Gaulle's house. I must admit, it was a bit boring. It was less interesting for me because I couldn't really understand our tour guide. The most interesting part was when I slipped and almost broke my back on a rug in one of the bedrooms. It was really loud and everyone in the room next room heard me. My clumsiness has prevailed, thousands of miles away from home.

After the tour, we stopped by Euphemie's apartment (the other host sister who visits during the weekends). The stairs in apartment buildings in France are ridiculously narrow, steep, and never-ending. Her apartment was super tiny. There were only three rooms: a bathroom, a bedroom/living room, and a little kitchen. We chilled for a bit there, then hit the stores! Ahhhh I love Lille SO much. The center square was so lively and there were so many people filling the streets– along with some rather interesting individuals :) Like the random stranger who decided to pose with me in my picture... Or the group of people in leopard print winter coats with funny hats... Or maybe the college students who came dressed in identical robes to yell at the top of their lungs in the middle of the square.

We went to lots of stores to look for a new school bag for me. It was so much fun. I've missed shopping. Finally I found a new bag in the last store that we went to. It's an over-the-shoulder bag that's way more in style. No more hitchhiker backpack for the American girl! After we left the store, it began to rain... that's the North for you. But it was just as well because then we went to an amazing café that exclusively sold gourmet hot chocolate, coffee, and fancy merangs. We had delicious hot chocolates. Fancy. So then with fully bellies, we left to go to the amusement park! Yes, there's a seasonal amusement park at Lille :) I thought I was going to throw up afterwards, but luckily I didn't and my stomach held through for two rides. It was awesome and I screamed like a baby the whole time. I'm a screamer and a devoted roller-coaster rider.

After dinner that night we had a platter of cheese. So much cheese. They got out a map of France and showed me where all their different types of cheese came from. Everywhere! France is definitely the country for cheese– the best cheese in the world, that is. I loved having dinner with them. I prefer the food at the Raux, but I prefer the atmosphere at the Guisnets where everyone is talking and laughing all the time. I also got to see my future bedroom (Euphemie's room). I really like it because it's more homey and colorful. My bedroom at the Raux is rather plain and empty. It doesn't really feel like someone lived in it before, but that's probably because Edern is a boy who doesn't like home decorating. I don't know many boys who do like home decorating. Anyways, I have to say that the Guisnets are the most Americanized French family that I've seen so far. They drive a huge SUV. They watch T.V. during breakfast. The cat is very fat. The mom is not slim. They are a simple family and they are soo nice. The environment was a lot more lively and energetic with three teenagers running around. I'm excited to stay with them. I love my first family also, but it's very different. It's quieter and calmer with the Raux. It's all about the experience and the culture that's unique for every family. I have quite a variety of culture in my three families. My first family is signing me up for all sorts of activities. My second family has an autistic son. My third family is vegetarian (vegetarians are very rare in France) and they live on a farm. Whoo!

Marie-Michele and I slept in Sunday. I took a shower there and had an incredibly hard time with the bathroom door (like I did at the Raux also). Side story: I got locked in a Paris bathroom when I was eight years old in France with my parents. I just have a problem with French bathroom doors. Later we went to mass at the gorgeous cathedral in Cambrai and I ran into a school friend, Laura. Then I found out the next day that she's my future neighbor next to the Robalos! Small world! :D Mass was the same as usual. I didn't really understand it, but I loved the songs and the beautiful architecture inside. After mass, the Raux came over for lunch at the Guisnets. The "lunch" lasted practically all day
with all the visiting and talking. For gatherings like that, people put out the nice silverware and make the food look really pretty. It was a nice, lazy day. I sort of dread Monday, even though school is generally good. It's just the mental anticipation for serious classroom work and getting up early that brings me down.

I think the reason that I haven't had much of a huge culture shock is that life here isn't really that different than life in America. I'm learning that people are people everywhere in the world. They make similar jokes. They have similar insecurities. They have similar appearances. They have unique personalities. Cambrai is to Snoqualmie like Lille is to Seattle. The teenagers here think Cambrai is too small, like my friends think Snoqualmie is too small, while Lille and Seattle are the more dynamic, exciting cities. Also, I'm an only child here like in my own family in America. I feel like it's sort of the same life only separated by an ocean and a language. Since I came here with a pretty good grasp of the language, that hasn't been my most difficult obstacle. I'm not sure what my biggest obstacle has been so far. It's mostly the little things that make me miss home... like being able to go visit friends or go out by myself. I know it's not a huge deal, but it doesn't feel like a vacation– and yet it doesn't feel like I'm going to be here for a year. I'm not quite sure what it feels like. I'm just experiencing everything, saying yes to everything even if I don't understand what I'm up against, and of course learning to laugh at myself and adapt to new changes. Sorry, I'm a big diary person. I tend to spill all the details about everything. But I'm done for now. Good bye lovely weekend, I await for the next with impatience :) A bientôt readers who made it to the end of this blog. Here are some pictures of Lille:

Marie-Michelle and I at the horseback riding club.

Me and my super big horse.

 The rug that I slipped and nearly died on in the house of Charles de Gaulle.


The leopard-print coat club :)
Random stranger in my picture.
Fancy hot chocolate
Enjoying our hot chocolates :)
The Guisnets!.... and that American girl.

At the amusement park!

Upside-down, turn around, reverse, dip, whoo!

Amusement park

I love Lille.