It’s June. How scary is that? I’ll write a pretty long post for this one…June is pretty important, considering it’s my LAST FULL MONTH IN FRANCE.
So, the other day I looked back at some journal entries I wrote in the beginning of the year. (I’ve faithfully kept a journal here, in English the first month, and in French the rest. I have 2 already completely filled up!). And here is one from right before Christmas:
It’s snowing again. It’s my first real winter and I never thought it would be so cold. Okay maybe I did. But I didn’t think about all the other things, really. Not about the aloneness of starting a new school or the little things that remind me of home. I didn’t think about being trapped in my head or being with people who just wouldn’t understand.
But I also didn’t think about the beauty. I mean, I’m only an LA kid—I’m not accustomed to all the trees and sky and snow. I feel like I should introduce myself.
When I think of Christmas I think of…tourtiere and our advent calendar, the perfect tree in the family room with the lights out. The smell of pine and tourtiere. I think of driving to Orange County and seeing the cathedral, then driving home in the dark. I think of grandpa and his last gifts, I think about Willie Nelson Christmas albums and picking presents one by one—we see everyone open each one. I don’t think about little siblings, foie gras, or the decorated dining room. But I think I will, when I go home.
It’s getting darker and darker and all I can think about is emptiness—I feel pretty empty—almost like I’m in defense mode. Every smile is the best moment of my week.
I hate the uncertainty here. Home is sure, my friends are sure, my family is sure. I’m really not homesick—but I hate the uncertainty of not knowing if my friends here really like me, or not or what’s up. It takes someone confident to be an exchange student, I guess. I don’t know if I’m confident enough. I try!
When I think about that time in my exchange year…it was still kind of in the stage where I kind of had friends, but not really yet, and I was still feeling kind of uneasy and nostalgic about Christmas in the US. But what is true is that it takes someone confident to be an exchange student. I think that I was kind of confident when I left LA, but now that I’m going to return, I feel like my confidence has grown a lot. I think that I can get away with a lot more in LA than I can in France, in terms of fashion and behavior, and I’m definitely going to take advantage of that when I get back. If I went to my school in LA wearing something out of the ordinary (I dunno…a floor-length dress, or a weird hat or something), it would be noticed maybe, but it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, if I did that in France, everyone would stare and make comments and soon I’d be famous. Okay, maybe it’s not that extreme, but I find that a lot of girls at my lycée make a lot more comments on everyone’s clothing, their weight, if they’re “moche” (ugly) or not. haha, that sounds funny, but it’s true.
I will no longer have ANY problems at all meeting new people—if I can do it in another language I can do it in English. And that’s coming from someone who used to be really shy when she was younger—I’ve changed a lot. And it’s definitely a change for the better. I can see better where I am as a person—what I’m doing, the real importance of certain things.
Anyways, someone commented on my last post and asked me to give advice for people going to France next year. (Wow! I’m trying to imagine myself in your position last year! I didn’t even have my host family yet in June!) So here ya go, the differences: (I’ll name as many as I can think of).
1. The French give the “bise” (kisses on each cheek) a lot. Firstly, to say hello and goodbye. Guys only kiss other guys when they’re really good friends, but guys kiss girls to say hello and usually give handshakes to other guys. Girls “font la bise” almost always to everyone to say hello. (No mess with handshakes and all that…) Pretty complicated, eh? And then, girls and guys who are friends sometimes just kiss each other on the cheeks all the time, just because they like each other. Et voila. French people kiss a lot more than American people.
2. Most people eat pretty delicately, with a fork AND a knife. Practice eating with the fork in your left hand, the knife in your right, and don’t put your elbows on the table.
The food is a pretty big difference. They eat almost everything with bread, and they don’t mix the courses often. (As in, you eat some vegetable dish, and then, you eat the meat, and then the fromage, etc.)
3. If you are placed in pretty small town, don’t expect everyone at lycée to be welcoming first. I think because everyone comes from the same area, everyone is kind of attached to their group of friends that they’ve known for a really long time. All the students won’t necessarily go and talk to you at school, so you have to make an effort to talk a lot, be really friendly, and ask people to go with them when you don’t have class, etc.
4. It’s really common for teenagers to drink alcohol. (The drinking age is 16 for beer and 18 for wine or something like that). It’s not illegal, so I’d say, even if you’re not used to drinking in the US, to go ahead and drink a little. It’s kind of a joke with me and my friends here that I should take advantage, because back in the US I still have 5 years to wait.
5. A lot of teenagers smoke. It’s fairly normal, but if you don’t smoke, your friends usually won’t pressure you.
6. Everyone doesn’t party very often, but when they do, it gets kind of crazy. Almost everyone gets drunk and does n’importe quoi.
7. The school system is interesting to say the least. High school starts in 10th grade (Seconde), and with AFS, usually you’ll be put in S.E.S. or “générale.” 11th grade is called Première, and you have to choose from 3 options: Littérature, Sciences, or ES (économiques et sociaux or something like that). In 12th grade, or Terminale, you stay in the option you chose, and you take the Bac at the end of the year. You’re put in one class of students that you stay with for all the subjects. Class starts around 8, and finishes around 5 or 6 pm, depending on what subjects you take and things like that. When you don’t have class, you can leave the school to walk around town or go home or do what you want, really.
I can’t really give differences about family life, because that really depends on the family. Like anywhere you go.
AND HERE’S SOME ADVICE:
Pack enough underwear and pajamas. I sure didn’t.
Girls: bring jeans and t-shirts or blouses, and sweaters. Not many people wear skirts or dresses to school, if they do, it’s with leggings or tights. If you’ll be somewhere cold, bring a coat in wool or something like that, not one of those giant ski jackets.
Guys: jeans and t-shirts will always be fine. Not a big difference there. You don’t have as many guys that sag their jeans, though.
Talk A LOT. It’s the only way to improve your French, and if you talk, it’s easier to make friends and get along with your family. Call your new friends to organize things, etc.
Don’t use the internet too often. If you use it to go on MSN and talk with people in France, then go ahead, but not for messaging everybody in the US. The internet is kind of addicting, or it was for me—so you should think about it, and set up a time you should use it each week. (I went on two or three times a week for only about 10 minutes each and that was perfect).
Try to work in class, and actually do your homework and study and all that. If you do well, it’s good for your self-esteem, and even if you don’t, everyone in class will see that you try—that you’re like them, not a huge slacker at the least.
And that’s it, really. If anyone has questions to ask me, they can go right ahead. I’ll answer them!
And I haven’t even covered what I’ve been doing lately, since my last post. Today
I went with Helene, Pauline, Louis, Gautier, Arthur and Charlotte to go see the “Structures Gonflables” at Borts-les-Orgues. I think it’s a kind of playground structure type thing, but with special things where you can blow balloons up or something. (Okay, I really have no idea). But turns out, we couldn’t even find the “Structures Gonflables,” so we went and saw the Chateau de Val (which is very pretty!), and we ate icecream at a restaurant nearby. We got back to the house around 7, and we snacked on chips and guacamole. It was a funny kind of day.
Last week was my LAST REAL WEEK OF LYCEE. Which is kind of starting to scare me. Thursday we only had 1 hour of class, and so for the rest of the day, we laid around au stade (grassy area where people play rugby in front of lycee), and I got sunburned really badly. (But it was awesome at the same time!). Friday we had a huge surprise party for Madame Culinat (our math teacher, who’s retiring), and we got another teacher to open up her room before her class at 1 o’clock, so everyone (two classes from Seconde) brought food, hid, and cheered when she opened the door. I don’t like the French version of math, but she’s a good teacher and a really nice lady…it’s sad that everyone won’t have her next year! Anyways, we finished at 2, so we went to the park and hung out. Normal normal. hehe. But it’s the beginning of the end, really.
And this week has gone even faster. We didn’t go to class the past couple days, really, (don’t tell!), because it’s the last couple days and they changed around all the schedules and we only watch movies in class…so ce n’est pas grave! Monday, we had a class picnic at the park, and Madame Blanchard and Culinat came (with clafoutis!), and it started raining afterward, so we all hung out at Marie T.’s house. (another girl from my class who lives right next to lycee, almost). And Tuesday we didn’t go to class at all, but hung out at Ussel, went to go eat kebab for lunch, and all that. Wednesday, I went with the group to the lake at Meymac for the afternoon. It was fantastic, but sad too. It’s the end of things. I wrote little letters to Marie, Nono, Charlie, and Julie that pretty much say “je t’aime! tu vas me manquer!” (a little longer). I’ve made really good friends here. I hate that when you really make friends here, you have to leave.
Hey, AFS, why don’t you offer, like…3 year programs?