Friday, September 23, 2011

One Month on "The Road"

One Month in France. What are some words to describe it... 

The Best. Difficult. Really hard. Adjustment. Rewarding. Bread. Wine. Life changing. Sunshine. Animals. Amazing new friends. The most free and beautiful I've felt in my life. Heart ache. Early mornings. Lots of sleep. Thicker Hair. Clearer skin. Out of breath. Less temper. Learning, always learning. Life lessons, a new language, about people. Stupid mistakes. Big decisions. Break throughs. 

I love my friends here. I love my family. I love discovering new things about myself. I'm a lot tougher than I thought, a lot stronger and smarter. I don't talk as much (there's really no way I could) because I've learned that those who have wisdom to share speak little, while those who don't--keep talking until they find something worth saying. 

I've learned the only way to truly learn a language is to throw yourself into a new culture and country and do the work there. Sorry, hopeful eighth graders in Spanish I--you will never become fluent or even close to precocious until you've lived in it. I thought I was hot stuff coming out of French III-I had a great teacher, I studied, I really thought I had a lot down. 

HAHAHA. When you arrive in the culture and people are blabbing a million miles an hour around you--they may as well be speaking gibberish. But progress is made when you do the ground work and STUDY, REPEAT concentrate 110% (Christine) and focus all of your energy into understanding what the hell the person next to you is talking about. 

At first it seems fruitless, pointless, how will you ever understand? But then you have your first dream in french. And then you say your first word without even thinking before speaking. And today, my teacher was going on a long rant about a writer--I was doodling in my notebook, perusing a french grammar book and copying verbs, being good. But then I stopped to listen for a second and (holy flapjack) I understood something. 

She muttered incredibly fast (they all speak at the speed of light) <<voulez-vous dites quelque chose?>>


I scribbled in my notebook WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY SOMETHING and shoved it over to Clementine, who was sitting next to me. She laughed at me (always does) and told me it was right. (EN FETE CLEMENTINE EN FETE)

So you must be patient. But progress will happen. I'm already speaking much faster, understanding a much more VAST amount of vocabulary and grammar then I did when I arrived. My host Dad predicts I'll be fluent in a month (or at least close) and they've had exchange students from America before. But today was inspiring to me, so I'm not going on facebook for at least a month after I post the link to this blog entry. 

On another note, being in this unique and (sometimes) wonderfully odd family has made me grow up. Sometimes I don't like it, but I feel like for the first time I'm managing to be a responsible human being. It feels okay to be turning 17 soon. I'm ready for that number because I already feel so much older. 

Being here has made me strong. It's what I needed and I'm doing my best even though I screw up sometimes. And it took such a vast amount of courage to get here already, and I'm not about to whine to come home when things seem bleak or retreat into the insecure girl that I was. I'm taking every opportunity to make every second count. If the next nine months are as life changing as this one, I'm worried about not being recognized when I come back to Michigan. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Riding Horses/Baking/French stuff.

In order to understand this post, you first have to know something about me. I am an animal person. Not a dog, cat, bird or giraffe person, but an animal person. If a vampire bat were stuck in my attic, I would probably try to cuddle with it. I've been finding and bringing home stray turkeys, morning doves, humming birds, other birds and other forrest animals for years (I'm very lucky to live in the woods and by the lake). I've tried to domesticate a chipmunk, and fallen into a pond more than once pursuing a frog. (Of course that was when I was much younger, and not two months ago...) 

My point is that I love animals. So you can imagine my attraction to horses. Giant beautiful gorgeous galloping horses. I've always wanted to ride them, BEGGING my parents as long as I can remember, but they never let me for a long time because of fear or whatever else. But my Mom's best friend Kim Beeson has a really impressive barn on Logger's trail (near the Conference grounds) with six/seven horses at a time. I've never been any less excited every time we got to go out there. 

So Fine. If I couldn't ride them, I would just go hang out with them. Feeding them carrots and talking to them, kissing their noses and brushing their manes. But I've always wanted to ride. 

I was lucky enough to be placed in a family that lives in a beautiful town outside of Lille (Cysoing). It has beautiful old houses, and lots and lots of woods and surrounding fields with horses cows and sheep (you can see my pictures on facebook with the album titles Cysoing). 

Anyway when me and my host mother Laure were on a bike ride, she took me to the L'equatation club (Equestrian club) of Cysoing. It's far back in the fields with 80 horses. The grounds are beautiful. I signed up to ride on Saturdays, and I don't think I've been as impatient for anything in my whole life. When I got to the stables at 5:30 I was just in a class in an indoor ring with one other girl--I saw all the ponies in their stables and thought--Well, worst comes to worst, I'll get stuck with one of them and go really slow the whole time. That won't be so bad. 

But Sonya (teacher) led me to the other stable building and pointed to one of the pense. "That's your horse!" 

Lol that's not a horse that's a sky scraper. the BIGGEST creature out of 80, a 15 year old stallion named New Deal (Roosevelt). He's blacker than any darkness, SO beautiful and very friendly. But lazy and kind of silly. I led him out of the barn, pretending like I was in charge, but he could have dragged me back inside without even thinking about it. 

When you first begin to trot on a horse, you have to take it like everything else---you have to bounce around and look like an idiot for five minutes. But then when the horse begins to get to know you, and adjust to how tight you grip, where your ankles kick ect. it's really amazing how fast he gets it. Me and New Deal trotted around the ring behind the other girl and her horse....I quickly got impatient with her speed. So did N.D. I was too afraid to try galloping yet (THIS SATURDAY) but after our lesson we took a walk in the woods. I think he likes me ! So it doesn't matter that when I dismounted I rolled over and fell in the dirt, and it doesn't matter that when I tried to pet him too enthusiastically that I jabbed him in the eye. Or that his feet are the size of my head. This really is an amazing horse--I can't wait to see him again Saturday. IT WAS SO GREAT. 

School is still cool. All my friends are sweet. Today me and Christine (Exchange student from Sweden) had a four hour break in between classes so we went into Lille to go shopping and have lunch. We found a great vintage hippy second hand store with ancient leather bags, jean jackets, boots and tshirts. It reminded me of San Francisco and Berkeley. 

Also, on Sunday, all of my host families came over for dinner to meet me and they were all SO NICE and really cool so that made me happy. In both of the families I have an older brother and two younger siblings, I think that's pretty cool. I baked (myself) an oreo cheesecake. I think it turned out ok. I love to cook at home, especially indian/thai food and I haven't gotten to really stretch my wings here yet. I miss that. 

I just biked to the Super Marchee with my host mom, and my host dad and I are making dinner tonight. I'm super tired because we didn't finish dinner last night until 23h00 (11pm) and I'm exhausted anyway from learning French. It's so difficult and it just makes you want to sleep every second. 

What I miss the most is my best friend, and Norma. I don't miss school in Michigan. We don't get 4 hour breaks in Michigan. BUT I DO MISS Bucs' Blade. I think I'm sending in a few columns soon, so read it when it comes out ! I'm going to put photos up of Amiens--that was like, 2 weeks ago. Whoops. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grass. dirt. School. Sunshine.

It makes me very glad to say I had no idea I would make so many friends here so quickly. I can't wait to go to school and see all of them. I love my class. Premiere L2 forever! hahah. I did not expect french teenagers to be so warm and welcoming, especially the girls. But I could not be more taken in at school, especially as a newcomer! Everyone is SO INCREDIBLY NICE and funny. Even with the language barrier. 

Today we had gym class which was actually a really good time. I walked with our big class down and across the street to the gymnasium, where we changed and went out into the big gym. We played badminton for two hours, mostly just goofing around and all the girls were swatting each other in the butt with our raquets (lol) but I think I may have actually won a few games, especially with Marion !

I've been feeling kind of disconnected from the Earth lately, just floating around, feeling sick a lot, not getting enough sleep, not drinking enough water, not being outside enough. So today I went for an incredibly long walk with Galette (the wiener dog. Also in French Galette means pancake. lol.). At first I thought oh great I'm doing to be dragging this silly dog behind me but it was quite the opposite. I had no idea she had so much energy. We went running through gardens, and forests, and rock pathways to fences where cows and horses were roaming in the rich, brisk afternoon light. I stopped to meditate in the middle of the greenest, most beautiful field you've ever seen. The sun was just above the gorgeous swaying trees. I just stopped to soak up the beauty. French countryside is unlike anything you've ever, ever seen. It's just a different place of being. Like visiting another planet untouched by humans and time. It made me want to stay rooted in that spot, forever. But Galette wanted to keep walking. We stopped by this stone tower...

to rest for a minute. it's so beautiful!!!!!!! Needless to say, I felt so incredibly better after that. it's 8:16pm, dinner is soon I think. I love Cysoing. I love the roots and the trees, the brick houses and the horses, cows, gorgeous mornings. I like going to bed early, around 9:30, so I can get up to watch the stars and the moon disappear. 

Clementine's birthday is on Friday. And I know that her favorite candy is M&M's, so I should probably get on that. A Demain 

Monday, September 12, 2011


Hmm another wonderful day in France, from sun up to sun down. Today I got out of school six hours earlier than I thought I would, which was the best feeling in the world. I had an hour long chemistry class with Clementine and then we left school to go back to her and her mother's flat, where we listened to African Congo music and made pesto and pasta. It was delicious. And I helped cut up the yeah. Her flat is very interesting--her and her mom just moved here from Toulousse, which is in the south of France. But they did live on a French island off of Madagascar when she was younger, and her Dad is an artist in the Netherlands. (I know you're reading this right now Clem yes you're famous!)

Hahah we rode the metro into Lille and went shopping. I bought some very cool shoes, and a beautiful scarf. The shoes are very explorer-y and from a french company called Kickers. The scarf is very pretty and orange, and very soft. After shopping for a while we went to the Cinema and the movie "One Day" with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess was playing. It was in English (YES) but the subtitles were in French, which was nice. I am so crossing my fingers that Sherlock Holmes II comes into the Cinemas here in English. Pleeeease God. I have to know what happens.

After our wonderful day we went out separate ways on our separate metros home. It's now 7:11 pm and school tomorrow is the longest school day of the week :P But at least now I have a really good friend to meet up with ! "Coucou" :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Adventures in Amiens

This weekend I had the opportunity to travel with my rotary club to a city called Amiens. It has the biggest Cathedral in France, and it is personally, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. I have taken pictures, I have stared at its towers, walked around and around in circles, but I don't think I'll ever be able to comprehend how the main vessel was built in 35 years. With the technology of the 14th century. You could fit the Notre dame du Paris inside it. This thing is huge. 

But there's something else about the Cathedral. So much energy and power have been stored in that place. If you go near it and close your eyes, you can feel the gravity of it all around you. It's like there's a hum in the air. It's incredible. 

Also what's special about Amiens is that it's called the "Little Venice of the North" for a reason. Many of the houses in the center of the city are build on the waterways, which twist and tangle throughout the place. boats pass underneath your feet as you cross every brick bridge, and there's flowers and music everywhere. I was lucky enough to get to take a boat tour, which was very fun and because I sat with the other kids, my french has improved immensely. I was able to chatter and understand all conversation with a few queries for about 20 minutes. 20 minutes!!! I'm very proud:) There was also a medieval demonstration in front of the Cathedral which was awesome and a little stupid when they pretended to be dead after fighting. Lol I have pictures. 

The town is built around the cathedral, which towers like a mountain above everything. I'm definitely in love with this old church, but I'll shut up now. The pictures will explain everything when I put them up tomorrow. 

We walked around the city with a tour guide, (in french :P) and normally I would have been all for it. But the day before I have to walk 12 kilometers (6 miles) from the metro station because I didn't feel like waiting two hours for the bus. It took me the exact amount of time to walk, and now I have blood blisters on my feet the size of my thumbs. Ugh. But I put on an extra pair of socks and toughed it out. It was very painful. But the city was too beautiful to miss. 

We also went to Jules Vern's house. If you don't know, he wrote the book "Around the world in 80 days" and "20,000 leagues under the sea". If you're not a literature person like me, it probably won't interest you, but I thought it was amazing. Everything was very beautiful and old, but you couldn't take pictures. He lived just before the twentieth century.  

We ate dinner very near the cathedral, with a lot of wine, so I was a little sleepy hahah. AND THEN MY FAVORITE PART.....was the lightshow with the cathedral. I lied. I'm going to talk about it a little more. 

With time, the paint has washed away, as it has with Notre Dame du Paris. But with the lightshow around 22:00 (10:00 for those of you who don't go by the 24 hour:) ) the colors were fantastic, and the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I wanted to start crying for it to be dramatic (lol) but I couldn't muster it. The full moon and stars were behind the incredibly ancient cathedral, with the dazzling lights and stained glass beaming through the darkness. 

I only have one worry and concern about my exchange. One thing that keeps me up at night, that haunts me and fills me with doubt and fear and sadness.

How am I ever going to leave France? 

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Meaning, it was great!

Because today was actually pretty great. School was fun, but for the most part I couldn't understand a single thing the teachers were saying, except for ENGLISH CLASS...I'm the best student there already. 

School in France is interesting because there's not a certain time you have to be there--it's when your class is. So let's say I have a Nine o'clock history class on Wednesday. I would catch the 7:45 bus, get on the metro, and arrive to school about 20 minutes early. But if I have an 8:00 class on Fridays, I have to take the 7:10 bus to get there just on time. I did that today and it was cutting it close. 

Also in school, I made a really good friend, her name is ClĂ©mentine. Her birthday is next week, she likes Congo music, and has lived on a french island off Madagascar (Africa). She's staying with her Dad in the Netherlands this weekend, but I think we'll go to the cinema soon. School is awesome and my french has already improved loads. I'm loving it, and I think I have a camping trip this weekend with the rotary club and other inbounds. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Shit Happens.

There is no other way to put it, so please, my older women neighbor friends who read my blog, you will soon understand the necessity of this phrase. 

I went to school today like I did yesterday. Get up, put on some clothes, jump on the bus, jump on the train, walk across the street, walk down the sidewalk, ect. My first class was history, which began at nine today, and was supposed to last for two hours. But within the first twenty minutes, I began to feel sick and walked out of the class in the middle of a lecture (Americans think they can do anything) and down the hall. A moment later I puked for about 30 seconds in a trash can. Yay. 

A shirmpy boy is sent out to find me. Nope, Not gonna let that happen. I run quietly down a few flights of stairs in the other direction, into the main hallway and towards the french version of the nurse's office. There's some confusion, the real infirmary is on the other side of the school, people mistake me for a teacher's assistant, (No no I AM A STUDENT) I finally find the real office (lots of hallways) and a note is written for me so I can go home. 

Ok. So now I go outside, circle a building a few times, step in some mud, cross a path with some trees. Where am I? Oh I'll follow all the smoking kids, they hang out by the entrance. Voila, the entrance. 

Run to the subway station ! I don't know why I ran, I wanted the day to be even more dramatic. Ride on the subway for 20 minutes until 4 Cantons station, run off, wait for the bus. It's raining. 

I open the garage door and my host mother redirects me back outside and tells me to stop by the veterinary office so I can walk with my host Father Phillipe to the doctor's office. He walks me to the office, I wait for about 40 minutes (him with me) until I went in. I was prescribed some medication and out within ten minutes. 

I'm not worried about going back into school tomorrow. "Hey, remember me? The American who you all heard puke in the hallway yesterday? It's all good now. No thank you, I don't need that trash can by my desk..." 

I think what I'm supposed to learn here is Shit happens. Roll with it. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Orientation/New Kid

Today was officially the first day of school, but it only lasted an hour and a half because it was orientation. Although the exchange student rite of passage did happen when you entire class realizes that you are foreign. And there's a few moments of awkward conversation with your teacher and the whole class silent as you try to explain where you've come from, why you're here, and how to pronounce your last name.

"You are an exchange student? From Rotary? Cool."


Tomorrow is my official first day. To get to school I have to ride a bus for fifteen minutes, and then get on the metro train for about 25 minutes.

My host sister Blanche made the trip with me this morning because I had no idea what I was doing. And you know that corny line people always say in movies, "When I get nervous I start rambling and never stop" it's like that cute girl, romantic comedy schtik......Well it actually exists, and I have been so nervous for the past 48 hours that I have not been able to shut up. So we've got that going for us.

The kids at my school are nice so far, if you go up and talk to them they'll say something back, and try to speak to you in After school everyone (there are a lot of kids!) just stand outside by the street socializing and smoking. I thought about hanging around, but I just said goodbye to the girls I was walking with and hopped on the train. I was tired--everything had been a whirlwind that I couldn't understand. :P I went home and drank a lot of tea and watched a movie on my ipod. The sky is very stormy/gray/rainy and the wind has been whipping all day. It's Perfect. I'll be ready for tomorrow.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

La Montagne

The Feeling I carry with me right now is this. 

I've worked very hard and walked a very long way to get to a mountain. I'm finally here, standing in front of it. It looms so far above me that I can't see the peak, it's covered by the clouds. I've given every ounce of my concentration and determination to get here. 

And now I have to climb it. 

I signed up for this climb and I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I'm having a magnificent time so far, climbing this mountain and hitting my stride. But at the same time, it's still a mountain looming over me, filled with unknown challenges and obstacles. Instead of climbing gear I have packed my fears, hopes, expectations and sense of adventure. On the ground I have left the security of the known and understood. Without looking down, I climb up and up, preparing myself for anything that's thrown at me. 

So far I've been given all I can ask for. My pace is steady and I grow stronger with every step forward. I have my fears, but they grow weaker every minute. 

When you put yourself in a position of chance--to live halfway across the world when you know no one and the language is a find that you have jumped off a cliff and it's taken every ounce of courage and determination you have. You hope it's enough to fly. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'll see you when I step off the other side of the mountain, then ready to take on my own set of Himalayas. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What a cool day !!!

Today was Awesome. 

First, let me explain more of the position where I live. I live in a small, beautiful town called Cysoing. But there is a HUGE city very close called Lille, where I'll be moving to in about January. In this city There's this thing called the "Braderie", which is the world for garage sale. But this Braderie is the biggest in Europe, lasting three days and with TWO MILLION people. So everyone in Europe digging out their basements and coming to sell it.... 

First of all, every kind of human at every age and from every walk of life was there. I've never seen so many kinds of people in one place. It was amazing. And half the stuff looked like it had been dug out of the ocean from treasure chests. Ancient watches, coins, three hundred year old jewlry, Indian silk and English lace, clothes, shoes, food....ANYTHING you could think of, it was at the Braderie. 

I spent the day with my host Father, walking around for about six hours. It was really great. But and sunny. 

First off, I will explain the feelings of dehydration to you if you are foreign to them. Sleepy, numb hands, numb knees, headache, clumsiness...all were experienced today before I could remember how to ask for a bottle of water in French. I could have asked Papa Phillipe, but I was embarassed... 

There were a lot of African relics and...stuff! For sale too, which I didn't expect. Their jewelry, statues, herbs. We drank some special sweet mint tea, a common north african dessert. Mint tea is my favorite thing in the world, so it was perfect. 

We saw everything there was to see, walking for hours on end down winding cobble streets with hundreds' of years of history and treasure. We stopped for a beer in between walks, talking a lot and having so much fun. He's very interested in History, and high ranking officer hats from all over, and we found a german tank driver hat!! Yay... we found a Nazi helmet too but that one was left alone. There were a lot of interesting weapons too. 

Many hookas were for sale. And tattoos were being done on the street, along with stuff. Lol. It was nuts, some of the people were crazy. 

At about six, we realized it was going to rain and the subway would be jam packed, and it was already. I almost got smashed into the subway door. That was a little scary, there was so many people and we were the last stop. 

When we arrived home, I drank three glasses of water really quickly and then my host mother Laure, Papa Phillipe and I biked to dinner in a beautiful little restaurant across town. My bike is terrible, hahaha the brakes do not work.  We ate muscles and frites, a braderie tradition. It was really very good. And then we biked home, and just as we almost got back to the house it began to rain like crazy. Lightning is flashing outside, the rain is pounding and the thunder is shaking the lights hahah but it's so great, I'm sick of the sun and I'm going to sleep very soon. 

I was naughty though. I called my Mom, pretending to cry and telling her I wanted to come home. She freaked, but I started cracking up about two seconds later. She's never going to hear that actual call from me, so I might as well give her a little bit of that experience of panic. She started laughing too and we had a really good talk. Everything is totally great. A Bientot. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Good Start.

Being an exchange student has opened my eyes to the possibilities this world has to offer. It's shown me what a beautiful place we live in. Sunsets with bleeding colors, towering mountains filled with danger and wild life and freedom. In the Earth you can find a miraculous rainbow of colors... purple flowers, green and terracotta red clay, pink and blue salt minerals in oceans and the different dirts with rich brown.

It's made me realize that I'm destined to explore and to adventure. I want to climb mountains that mock skyscrapers. I want to learn an array of different languages, adapt to the ways of different cultures, and always carry with me an undying respect for nature and those who take care of her.

I have a long list of feats and ambitions I want to accomplish, great adventures that will take me all over the world in any way that I can get there. I want to join the Peace Corps for agricultural work in Africa. I want to make the car trip from Washington State to Argentina. I want to go cliff diving in Crete. There are plenty of people who love to snub me when I speak openly about my future. But the fact is, I laugh with them. If they think I'm a person who boasts about one day accomplishing these ridiculous feats, they don't know me very well. I've grown to be confident being an individual who does things her own way, in her own time. I'm patient, I'm strong, I'm balanced. I'm ready for the great adventure of my life, and I'm pretty sure I'm off to a good start.