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April 14, 2011 / madelinesides

Discovering Paris

In late January, after waiting for months, I went to Paris for the first time!

I live a few hours away in car or just two hours on the TGV train, but we had never really found a time to make a visit. Some exchange student friends and I found a way to make the trip together- et pour pas cher! A travel agency in the region does bus trips for the day to Paris–the bus leaves at 4 or 5 in the morning and arrives back home at about midnight, leaving us with about 9 hours free to explore the city.

In retrospect, I’m actually really glad to have waited a while before going to Paris- it made it that much sweeter, as I’d been dreaming about it for months as I adjusted to my new life in France…and endured the cold winter 😉 In addition, I was totally ready to take on the city–after 4 or 5 months in the country, I was confident in my French and in tune with the french “mode de vie.”

It was a really cool feeling, cruising the streets of Paris, hopping on and off the metro with a group of friends from all over the world, and speaking french together as our common language…we tried to see as much as possible in one day- managed to see almost all of the main attractions: Basilique du Sacre Coeur/Montmartre neighborhood, Champs Elysees/Arc de Triomphe,Tour Eiffel, Les Invalides, L’ecole militaire, Place de la Concorde, Notre Dame/Ile de la Cite, Jardins des Tuileries/Louvre (outside), L’hotel de ville…oh my gosh we did so much walking…but it was such a good time…I felt like a tourist “in disguise”…sure, we were stopping every five minutes to take touristy photos, but at least we spoke french between us all and could say we “live in france”


I’m sure that in the years to come, as I look back on my experience in France, my first day in Paris will always stick out in my mind- to be young, without responsibilities or a schedule, shivering in 0C weather at the base of the eiffel tower, wandering the streets of Paris with friends and speaking our new language together…that’s a day you don’t easily forget.

My day in Paris ligthened my spirits, changed my state of mind- the energy and movement on the streets, juxtaposed against the steadfast, imposing monuments…it’s a fascinating urban rhythm that exhausts the body and energizes the mind. Vive la France!

February 23, 2011 / madelinesides

The Holidays: French Edition

Hello Everyone! Happy New Year!

I don’t know about you all, but the start of the new year really felt like a clean fresh start for me–so much has changed since January 2010 and above all time has gone by so quickly…2010 was full of good memories and a number of big things for me- choosing a college, graduating high school, going to France and turning 18 and I feel like the year was done and over before it even started. So, for 2011 I’m excited to build off of everything 2010 brought me and see what the future holds!

December was marked by lots of cold, snow…and occasions to celebrate! There were a number of days where the -school was nearly empty– when it snows, the busses don’t run and people don’t come to school…and it works pretty well as an excuse even for those who don’t take the bus 😉 But I went faithfully to class and it was sometimes interesting to have class with only like 5 or 10 students. I did my christmas shopping early to mail gifts off to my family in the US– tried to choose very “french” gifts of course.

I went a few times to Metz to do christmas shopping and walk around in the various little christmas market areas. They make some pretty tempting foods there- waffles, crepes, hot chocolate, donuts etc etc…they also make “vin chaud” or hot wine with spices…the smell is really strong and I was never brave enough to taste it.

The actual day of my birthday was quite memorable- first off, the huge piles of snow that covered the whole town and made car travel and even walking around messy, and of course the nice things my host family and friends did for me. In the morning while getting ready for school someone knocked on my door…

it was my whole host family! with a chocolate cake and candles and a camera, singing happy birthday in French! It was such a nice gesture and made me so happy…even better was getting to eat the chocolate brownie/cake, for breakfast! At school everyone wished me a happy birthday and it was just a nice day. If I remember correctly, we had a history/geography exam from 4-6pm that afternoon…so it was another long day at school but overall very nice. The evening we had a nice little family dinner eating tasty little snack foods and sandwiches…and another chocolate cake. I’m the chocolate lover in the family…they’ll always make sure that if there’s something chocolate in the house that I get to at least taste it.

Thank you so very much to my friends and family who sent birthday cards, mailed presents, left voicemails or even just typed little messages on the internet- I felt “a la fois” very far from you all but still held closely people who care. I’ll always have a good little story to share about my 18th birthday- a town buried under snow and a day shared with people who have come to know and care about me in the last few months. And to think, when I turned 17 I probably didn’t even know how to say “happy birthday” in french…

My host family gave me very nice birthday gifts- a cute little “Paris” coffee mug from my host sister and a sleek and useful purple fountain pen from my host parents. My host mom remembered how I’d admired the pens in the craft store earlier in the year and thought a french-made pen would make a nice gift. I was surprised in the afternoon when someone came to the door with a huge box delivery for me–it was a bouquet of flowers! From my dad and family- how sweet! Thank you guys, it was such a thoughtful gift. And from my mom I got lots of  nice winter clothes- very useful round here.

The house was nice and cozy in the days leading up to christmas- the tree, the decorations and I even made some “american” christmas cookies. The period between christmas eve and new years (or really until the start of school Jan 2) is sort of a crazy blur of big dinners and extended family and gifts and smoked salmon and champagne and pastries and snow and oysters (yes, I said oysters!) and cheeses and dresses and guests and photos…whew!

I spent the 24th at home with my host family eating dinner and opening presents around the fire. I gave them a photo album with a bunch of pictures of things we’ve done together since this summer and a framed painting I made of the church and houses hear our home. I gave my host brother a California tshirt and a framed picture of us together. For my host sister I bought some colorful nail-polishes (t’s something we like to do together) and framed a picture of us acting crazy at our “thanksgiving” back in November.  They gave me a calligraphy set (awesome!) a book in French and some sweet products from Sephora. My host sister made me some earrings- so thoughtful

This year christmas was hosted here “chez-nous” for the whole family on the side of my host father. It was great having everyone here- I missed my family back in the US but with all the activity over here I was kept busy and happy. We were 18 in the house- from little cousins to grandparents and everyone in between. I’m getting all mixed up now when I try to remember what we ate when that day but basically in total we had a big dish with duck, some smoked salmon, a tray of oysters, a pan of “foie gras” or duck liver, lots of good french bread, a faux tiramisu with red fruits and cinamon cookies, wines, cheeses…and to top it off: a passion fruit-chocolate yule log “buche de noel” handmade by my little host brother.

Eating Oysters like a Pro!

On christmas day I managed to set up a skype session with the crew “chez-moi” in California- it should be noted that the 9hr time difference doesn’t help one bit for such affairs- But we pulled it off! Such a trippy scene- two families, separated by language, culture and 9000km brought together over the internet for 5 or 10 minutes christmas day to just to wave enthusiastically and wish “joyeux noel” and “merry christmas” to the other–it touched my little “expatriate” heart.

In the following days we had guests over in the evenings and afternoons and a family potluck with the side of my host mother. The days passed quickly- lots of late nights and sleeping in late. During the vacation I enjoyed spending some more time with my host sister Marie- shopping trips in town, hot chocolate, movies, etc. Which reminds me- I finally saw the new Harry Potter! I thought it was well-made, despite the whole “chopping it in two to make more money” scheme. I saw it in French with my whole host family and understood it all! Another movie that we fell in love with this year (I think we watched it two or three times) is “Love Actually” it’s cute  and good for Christmas time if you haven’t seen it.

As always, going back to school after the vacation was rough. No more waking up at 10am and calling it “early.” I don’t know about you all, but January is always a super difficult month for me. The whole “magic of wintertime” comes down with the christmas lights, gets tossed out to the curb with the tree…and we’re just left with dark cold mornings and cloudy skies. One day I complained to a classmate how I have the impression that I spend my whole life at school- you enter the building in the morning before 8 when it’s still dark out and when you leave at 6, it’s exactly the same outside. He was quick to point out the error in my reasoning: It’s not always the same when you leave…sometimes, its raining!

Hope that made y’all chuckle a bit. Well I’m here writing in February which means I made it through January in one piece. At school they’re toughening up a bit to get everyone in shape for the Baccalaureate exam in June. If you fail the “Bac” you don’t get to leave High School- you gotta do senior year over again and retake the exam- no wonder they’re all so stressed about it! It was nice to see everyone after the holidays and catch up…but of course we quickly shift into anxiously awaiting the next vacation…which is in the end of February/beginning of March (I’m going to Paris and Barcelona on a Rotary-organized trip…yes yes yes!)

The weekend after “la rentree” aka going back to school, my host parents moved my host sister back down to Lyon in the South where she goes to school. I was sad to say a temporary goodbye to her- it’s not the same at home without her lively spirit! I spent the weekend at a classmate’s house whose parents I also know because they are in the Rotary Club here that hosts me. They were very kind and welcoming to me and we spent a good weekend together- they took me to visit Nancy, one of the two main cities in Lorraine- it was so nice out that we could actually eat outside (with a heater and dressed warmly, mind you) but it was still a nice change from being always indoors.

Another weekend I spent shopping with an exchange student friend- she’s from Sweden and very cool- the coolest (yes, and only) Swede I know! In the winter after christmas they have big sales in the stores here so we took advantage of that excuse to add to our wardrobe.

Another weekend we (the exchange students hosted by the Rotary in Lorraine) had a weekend outing all together- a visit to Nancy on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday we visited a museum, did some strollin around town and went to the opera in the evening (saw an eletro-pop Darwinian Rock Opera…strangest.thing.ever. It was in english and I still didn’t understand a thing! The opera builiding is beautiful but I unfortunately fell asleep during the show.) Sunday we visited the Fine Arts Museum. Its always fun to spend a weekend all together–we have another one coming up soon in the Vosges Mountains.

La Place Stanislas, Nancy


I have lots more to write about- things I’ve been pondering about over here, observations on the whole adaptation/immersion process, questions that I can’t find answers to, my first trip to Paris, thoughts on language and culture and family and friendship…my brain’s quite a mess as of late- full of sometimes quite confusing thoughts, mostly in French.

Side note- It’s actually much easier to think in a foreign language than you’d think- heres why: even if your thoughts are full of grammatical mistakes or the words are “mispronounced,” you’ll still always understand yourself… and that’s what counts, right?

Until next time,


PS. Here’s a preview of what’s to come on zee blog: a little photo from my Paris trip in January

December 29, 2010 / madelinesides

Winter’s arrival, in photos

Salut tout le monde!

I’ve tried several times to write a post recounting the last month or so…with no real success. So, I’m givin’ up for the moment….voila: the arrival of winter, thanksgiving, the month of november, my continued adaptations to life in France–in photos.


It’s beautiful.

But it causes lots of problems on the roads.

And the buses don’t take kids to school.

And sometimes class is cancelled.

And that’s even more beautiful.

Thanksgiving Dinner with fellow north american exchange students (and an honorary swede)

We shared the holiday with our french hosts, and it was pretty awesome.


I made the pies. From real pumpkins.

I also made thanksgiving dinner for my host family on the real day.

and more pies for my english class

It was quite the memorable thanksgiving.


The official start to the holiday season around here is la fete de St. Nicolas- Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of Lorraine. He protects children and miners and his “fete” day is December 6. Saint Nicolas de Port is a small town in Meurthe-et-Moselle (a departement in Lorraine) where the Basilica of St Nicolas is found (a basilica is different from a cathedral–it’s still catholic but it’s called a basilica because it holds the relics of a certain saint) There is an interesting legend told about St Nicolas that is a little bizarre but interesting nonetheless…I’ll share what I understood from the story…it might be incorrect in places: There were once three small children who had parents who had to work a lot. One evening the children went out all alone to amuse themselves in the streets, and as nighttime fell they realized they were lost and would not find their way home for the night. They knocked on the door of a butcher and he kindly let them in for the evening…or so they thought. He actually chopped them up and put them in a huge pot to prepare a meal to eat. As he was preparing the dish, someone knocked on the door. It was St Nicolas! The butcher let him in and offered him something to eat…”I have ham, I have beef….what would you like?” asked the butcher

“What I would really like is what you have in that pot,” replied St. Nicolas. The butcher became nervous.

“Oh, it’s nothing, you don’t want that,” he told St. Nicolas. But St Nicolas insisted and he discovered that the children were in the pot…and by a miracle he brought them back to life and they all lived happily ever after and sang some songs for him… or something like that?

In any case, St Nicolas is a big deal around here–there are parades and sometimes there are towns where someone dresses up as St Nicolas and visits the houses of children to give them candy and gifts…and he takes with him “Le Pere Fouettard” who has a big stick to scare the children if they don’t behave properly. Intersting, right? He doesn’t replace Santa Claus, they share the season, even though St Nicolas seems to be more important here.

We had a Rotary trip to St Nicolas de Port the weekend of the celebrations of St Nicolas and got to watch the parade and fireworks and learn about the history. We also went to the mass in the nighttime where we sang the songs of St Nicolas and did a ritual procession with candles in the basilica (built from 1481-1545…yep thats really old)

As we walked through the church, we had to sing the same song


and over

and over

I secretly really liked singing it.

But don’t tell…I gotta reputation to uphold y’know?



It’s starting to look like christmas ’round here

I took a day trip to Strasbourg for the Christmas market

We went ice skating

We ate crepes and hot chocolate and wandered through the aisles of wooden houses.

It’s been a good couple of months.

I’m becoming more independent and confident in my language skills.

The cold is really not that bad at all, I’ve been keeping busy

I went skiing indoors…seriously!

I often find myself thinking in french, even when I’m alone

And that’s really cool.


Happy Holidays

Love from Maddy

November 11, 2010 / madelinesides

France in the Fall

Hey! It’s been a while! November? Déjà? Mais oui!

Hope everyone is doing well at home—I’m doing well and really enjoying myself over here. It’s been more than a month since I’ve posted so I have lots of things to share:

Vacation- Alsace

I had a week and a half off from school between the end of October and the start of November and I took a short vacation eastwards to Alsace with my host family for about 3 days. France (and Europe in general) is so interesting because one can take a short drive of just an hour or two and arrive in a region with a completely different style, culture and history. Alsace is a good example of this—France ceded the region to the Germans in 1871 as a result of the Franco-Prussian war, and it was not French again until 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles. In 1940 the region fell to Nazi German control during WWII until 1944.

In Alsace French is spoken with a unique accent, the architecture has a very picturesque quality, and there is an abundance of regional specialties to be sampled—delicious small cookies, Kougelhopf (German pastry), Choucroute (sprouts and meats…) and Flammekueche (Flammkuchen in German, Tarte Flambee in French).

We visited a number of small towns in the area, had a nice walk in the vineyards, did some shopping in small boutiques and spent a day touring/shopping in Strasbourg. Overall, it was a very nice trip and I enjoyed experiencing the unique Alsatian culture. It’s more fun being a tourist in France with other French people because you can sort of fit in more with the language and culture.

Strasbourg Cathedral

Visit to Verdun

During the second half of my fall vacation, I went to stay at a friend’s house near Verdun. She is an exchange student from Mexico with the Rotary and she invited me and another student from Mexico to stay for 3 or 4 days and visit the area. It’s nice to be able to hop on a train and go visit people with not much hassle- and not very expensive either! Her host family lives in a small village about 30 minutes outside of Verdun and her host parents own and work in the village pharmacy. The house is really interesting- the pharmacy is on street level and then the 2nd and 3rd floors are the private home of the family.

Verdun was the site of a major battle in World War I between the French and the Germans (February to December 1918) and a number of the villages and parts of the city were completely destroyed in the process. Today, there are a number of war monuments in the area, including a number of monuments made in honor of/by Americans (a large number of American troops joined the effort later in the battle and with the American assistance the French were able to fend off German advances and eventually win). “The French haven’t forgotten what the Americans did to help,” remarked the host mother of my friend, and this is definitely true. The American Cemetery at Verdun is very beautiful and well-made. It is maintained by a groundskeeper who is an employee of the American Government (or maybe some like commission in the US I don’t remember) but visiting the cemetery (the largest American cemetery in Europe, with 14,000 soldiers memorialized) was like being back in the US for a little while- the architecture and style.

We also visited the battlefields (you can still see remnants of trenches) and a large French memorial. We drove by the German cemetery as it is just down the road from the US one but the German one is completely different- hidden in a grove of trees, very discretely. It’s certainly an interesting piece of history to observe.

We took a trip to Reims to visit a “Cave de Champagne” which is basically the place where the champagne makers produce their champagne and prepare it for distribution. We learned all about the process—who knew it was so complicated? Apparently they keep the various grape harvests from each village separate because each has its own taste and particularities. The champagne maker we visited was GH Mumm which apparently makes the champagne they use on the podium in Formula 1 races. Our visit to a candy factory in Verdun was also nice- overall a very fun visit and cool to get to know more international friends.


L’école? Ça va mieux.

School is much better. In comparing my first day after summer vacation to my first day after October/November vacation I realized that I’ve learned so much and it is much much easier now. Looking back, there wasn’t some epiphany day where I showed up at school and suddenly everything worked out easily and I understood better and felt comfortable—it was definitely a multi-week, multi-month process that is still in development. In terms of grades, I’m really not doing that bad at all…in the classes where I actually get grades that is. In philosophy and history/geography the teachers just sort of correct my French and write little comments but my scores in Spanish, math and other science-y classes are satisfactory.

Some photos from my school:

There are some aspects of French school that I really like and others that I have a harder time adapting to…for example, I like having a longer lunch (1-2 hrs) but I don’t like finishing the school day at 5 or 6 pm. Or…I like not having a lot of homework and papers, but I don’t like taking a lot of exams. The relationship between the students and the teachers and the school as a whole is very different than in the US and hard to eloquently describe at the moment…I think with more time and reflection I’ll be able to sum up the culture/structure of the school better.


I have enjoyed watching a lot of French films lately—it’s a nice way to practice the language and while some films are easier to understand than others, I can pretty much follow along everything with not too much trouble. With my host family I saw a new film in the cinema called “Les Petits Mouchoirs” which is set in France and is about a group of friends, their challenges, “real life” problems and the concept of friendship. One of the main actresses is Marion Cotillard (she’s French but also in the American movie Inception). Cool to hear her speaking French and be able to understand!

A much less cheerful film I saw last weekend with my host parents was “Des Hommes et des Dieux” (Men and Gods) which presents the history of a French monastery in Algeria during the mid 90’s and the tension/terrorism in the country. In the end (it’s a true story) the terrorists take the French monks and kill them…pretty depressing for a Saturday night but a good way to practice French. After the film finished the whole theater was completely silent. (

I’ve made a list of all the films I’ve seen here (all in French) and it’ll be cool to see how long it gets by the end of the year. Other interesting films- “Un Homme Qui Crie”- About civil war in Chad, very depressing and sort of slow but unique I suppose (saw it in the little theater in Thionville with my Rotary exchange student friends). Also saw “Mange Prie Aime” aka Eat Pray Love at the big cinema last month.

French language

When I was in a shop in Alsace over the vacation I went to the cashier to purchase something and the cashier asked “Parlez-vous Français?” and without thinking I responded “Oui, je parle Français.” We had a little conversation about my credit card and I made my purchase. Afterwards I thought to myself—hey…I wasn’t lying…I do speak French! I’ve been going around for the last few months apologizing for my bad language skills and saying “Désolée, je ne parle pas Français” or the classic “Je ne comprends pas” (Sorry I don’t speak French/I don’t understand) but I realized that that excuse doesn’t really work anymore! Sure, I have a lot of progress to make but I can understand almost everything that people say…and not just when they’re talking directly to me…I can finally understand other people’s side conversations and watch the news and make phone calls (that used to be so hard!) And in terms of speaking, I’ve advanced a lot too…I don’t have to formulate phrases in English in my head and then think about translating them to French—I can quickly come up with responses and carry on conversations in “french mode.” Some days I get really frustrated when I can’t say what I want to say and when I have lots of trouble understanding, but overall I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in the 12 weeks (wow, already??) I’ve been here.

Host Family

I feel very lucky to have a great host family—I got to go on vacation with them and they do so many things to help me out and make my experience pleasant. I feel very “at home” in my house and my room here and that’s nice. One weekend during the vacation I cooked an “American” breakfast for everyone—pancakes and scrambled eggs. I was nervous that it wouldn’t work cause I had to convert pancake recipe from cups to grams…but it turned out very well and I think everyone enjoyed it. Next time I’ll make a dinner I think (thanksgiving’s just a few weeks away!)

My host brother is a really good cook!

I have enjoyed being a part of my host family and their family activities—lunches on some Sundays with the grandparents or going to family parties (and this year the family Christmas is being celebrated at our house, should be fun). It’s neat to see how different families operate and how the culture of the country influences family relations, etc.

Food and Cooking

I love the food here. I wrote earlier that I have a list of movies I’ve watched since I arrived…wellI also have a list of foods that I didn’t like at home (or didn’t know about) but eat here (and enjoy) Here’s a sample: tomatoes, coffee, cucumbers, beets, cauliflower, squash, endives, swiss chard, peppers, zucchini, nectarines, mirabelles, tea, and turnips. I have my host mom to thank for introducing me to a lot of new vegetables 🙂 And of course there’s lots of interesting cheeses and tartes and pastries to try too—when I come home I’ll be sure to make creme brulee and tarte tatin (apples and crust flipped upside down)

I’m lucky to have 5 other exchange students with the Rotary living in my town and the surrounding villages. We get together fairly regularly for lunch or an afternoon of cooking at someone’s house. Our first three cooking “sessions” were to make French dishes- tarte au fromage, madeleines, tartlette au citron, chouquettes au sucre, crepes, gelee, pate au fruit. Yesterday we cooked some Russian dishes at Sasha’s house (student from Russia) and that was cool. Next time we’re cooking Argentinian dishes with Sofia from Argentina. We’ve all made a lot of progress in French so when we get together it’s much easier to speak only French now (in the beginning it was  a lot of French/English).

Changing Seasons


…and now

And now for my “favorite” topic…weather. It’s definitely fall. As a native Californian I’m sort of a wimp when it comes to weather—but have no fear! I am well prepared! I spent about 2 days of vacation shopping for winter gear and found a big coat and proper leather shoes to keep out the rain…and snow. I’ve never had to buy “real” winter clothes and I think it’s definitely something good/interesting to experience…it’ll make me appreciate Northern California weather next year all the more.

When I arrived in the summer I noticed that all the houses here have large metal/plastic curtain things on the outside of all the windows that you have to roll up and down with a special rod thing inside the house and I was totally perplexed why everyone had the same system (I thought it wasn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing) but now I get it! It’s to keep out the cold in the winter! At night you have to roll it down for each window and it basically makes a shield to keep out the cold! Very clever…and makes me realize that the weather here in winter is gonna be quite an experience 🙂

La Grève

You may have heard a few weeks ago that France was sort of in a mini-crisis because of nation-wide strikes and protests going on. The strikes “greve” and protests “manifestation” were in opposition of proposed government initiatives to raise the retirement age in France—a very hot topic right now here. In the US you hear about strikes by unions or certain groups of workers, but I’d never heard about/experienced anything as widespread as it was here. Overall, it seems like the strikes affect transportation the most—the train schedules were completely messed up for a week or two (certain trains ran late or not at all), the busses that take students to school were cancelled, fuel stations were closed because the workers who transport the gasoline were on strike, and the protests (sometimes groups of students or workers) caused problems in the city streets and sometimes the highways (blockades of the autoroute = scary!) There was a week when a lot of students were involved in protesting—there were sometimes large student groups that assembled in the mornings and went around the city trying to block the entries of the high schools and carrying signs and yelling.

“Retirement: Highschoolers Raise the Pressure”

Thionville is not a big city so the protests and strikes were never out of control but I think in cities like Paris and Marseille the strikes had a much bigger effect—they didn’t collect trash in Marseille for a while and it piled up, and in Paris there were large student protests where people got hurt or smashed windows and shops. In my classes some students didn’t go to class during the strikes because either they didn’t have a bus to take them to school or they were participating in manifestations. The only real effect that had on me was that one of my exams was cancelled, but overall I thought it was very interesting to observe—seeing a group of hundreds of students yelling outside my high school was really fascinating and doesn’t happen every day!

Have you received mail from me? I hope so! I love mailing stuff…letters, cards, postcards…everything! I’ve sent out somewhere around 45-50 letters and cards since I arrived 12 weeks ago…It makes me happy to share news with everyone at home and I like imagining the people receiving it and thinking of me wayyy over here thousands of miles away. I spend a chunk of my monthly Rotary allowance on postage each month and it’s really easy for me to buy stamps and send stuff- there’s a post office “La Poste” across the street from my school.

What? You haven’t received mail from me? Well let’s fix that! Email me your mailing address and you’ll have mail! It takes anywhere from 4-10 days but usually about 5-7.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading—I had a nice time thinking back over the last month or so. I had a lot to share this time so I just sort of went into stream of consciousness mode and hashed out a long, not necessarily well-written post. I have the day off from school today because of WWI Armistice…thought this was so cool until I realized it’s Veterans day today in the US for the same reason 😀 Time is flying by and while sometimes I get homesick or overwhelmed by everything, overall I’m very very happy here. I’m looking forward to a Rotary visit to Metz this weekend and a variety of holiday-type activities coming up in November and December. Thanks for reading!

October 10, 2010 / madelinesides

Adaptation-Part I

“…the dynamic process in which the behavior and physiological mechanisms of an individual continutally change to adjust to variations in living conditions.”

my saturday afternoon

Happy October! I cannot believe it’s already here…I’ve been in France for almost two months?

Time has been flying by– Yes, I’ll admit the school week sometimes drags on and on but overall life is moving along at  the perfect speed. The pace of my life here has evolved to a stage at which I have the time to both appreciate simple pleasures (language, family, food, culture) and build an interesting schedule of activities and outings… a balance that was almost impossible to achieve last year in the US amidst college applications and a heavy academic/extracurricular workload.

School has gotten much easier- I’m not totally exhausted at the end of the school day anymore, I receive very satisfactory grades and I have a growing number of friends/classmates to socialize with. The professors seem very content with my efforts and my french is getting better– both in the “ability to comprehend science lectures” way and the “ability to connect with classmates” way.

There’s a bit of an embargo on english at home here instituted by my host mom with the intent to accelerate my adaptation to/mastery of french language (although I do sneak in the occasional side conversation in english every so often with my host dad or sister) and it’s actually a really good thing- I appreciate her taking interest in my learning process and it’s honestly not that hard at all anymore to go about my home and school life pretty much completely in French. (hooray!)

I’ve experienced an almost indescribable development of inner calm and satisfaction over the last few weeks that I haven’t felt in months (or longer!) At home I almost always had either some big structured obligation looming in the horizon that caused me anxiety or a bunch of murky unknowns that I felt an uncomfortable impulse to systematically analyze and formulate into an efficient, logical plan… but at the moment I don’t really know what’s ahead…in a really good way. There’s a whole lotta potential for exploration and adventure  in this “new reality” but I luckily feel no real stress or pressure to meticulously scrutinize each possible route/opportunity as I’ve slowly become accustomed to in recent year. I should explain…of course, working through the obligations and strategizing  the unknowns gives me a lot of satisfaction, but right now I think I’m discovering a new, different type of contentment that has different origins (mom and dad I hope this development makes you very happy!)

Of course, this isn’t to say that the beginnings of the adaptation process have been perfect and wonderful all the time…or that I won’t have difficult times in the months ahead–I certainly have had phases of homesickness and there’s surely more of that to come, but I’m optimistic…I think I’ve maybe gotten through one of the first stages of   adjustment…”Adaptation- Part I.”   How many installments will this series feature? Time will tell I guess!

So, let’s see…what’s new over here to write about? Well, it’s certainly not news but…I love the weekend. The French love the weekend. Everyone loves the weekend. Last weekend was full of Rotary activities- a sort of short retreat where all the students living in the district got together. We went to an amusement park in a city nearby and although the weather was not very nice, we certainly amused ourselves (and because of the rain pretty much had the whole park to ourselves.) Saturday night was spent bowling and eating together and on Sunday we had an outing to an aquatic center and then the Museum of the Iron Mines (not my favorite museum in the world, but we did get to go down in the mines for a while which was neat).

The Rotary outings are always cool as we all get to compare stories of our experiences thus far in France as well as discuss the differences between life here and life at home (wherever that may be…Mexico, Russia, Finland, Brazil…etc etc) People always share really interesting observations of life in France that I would’ve probably never made myself–illustrates how one’s history continues to shape the way one percieves one’s surroudings even when “transplanted” to a completely different setting…but I guess that’s to be expected, right? It’s almost like the world gets a little bit smaller each time we all come together (sorry… yeah I know that’s really corny…)

This weekend has been great so far too–Starting to feel a little more independent (got a cellphone this week…yeahh!)–I went out Friday night with a number of friends from school to celebrate a birthday and had a very nice evening…une bonne soiree. I didn’t stay out too late, but in general the French really love to keep the party going for a long time!

saturday mornings in metz mean…pain au chocolat

Saturday I took a train in the morning with a fellow Thionvillian Rotary Exchange student, Sasha from Russia, to Metz to meet with our friend Emily (also Rotary student, from Pennsylvania who lives near Metz) Love the european transportation- the train took less than 20 minutes and was totally hassle-free. The three of us had a nice morning shopping…and eating really good pastries….and shopping some more.

In the afternoon we met up with 4 other Rotary students who also spent the day in Metz too- 2 boys and 1 girl from Mexico (Jorge, Edgar and Vivi) and Andrea from Argentina. We went to a cafe together and walked around the town (I love Metz…and adding to my more european-looking wardorbe…I’m convinced that has helped the adaptation process haha)

This post is a little change of pace for me- a bit less “newsy” and more “reflective.” I’m a little self conscious about it (..according to the statistics section of WordPress, since I made my blog at the end of August I’ve had over 750 page visits…wahoo!)…but I think it’s a good exercise and I’m creating collection of writings I’ll value in the future.

So, in short…I’m really content. Starting to feel more comfortable in my new life…habituated I suppose? And in regards to blogging, I’m just happy to have good things to share- it’s a process!


September 28, 2010 / madelinesides

Call me crazy but…

I love Mondays.

And Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays too. Saturday and Sunday are always nice, and wow…it’s Monday again?

I’ve had a rather excellent week- nothing particularly major- didn’t win the French lottery (I’m not even sure if that exists), it’s not my birthday and I had 5 days of school, but it was just very nice.

Monday- the weather was really good. I usually go home for lunch Mondays and on my way back to school I was practically singing and dancing in the streets cause it was just so nice out. I came home and made a painting of Metz- the photo is in an earlier post. Much better than doing homework.

My daily walk to school…

Tuesday- I normally sort of detest Tuesdays (I have 8 hours of class, 10 hours at school…2 of bio lab and 2 of physics-chem…oh la vache) but last tuesday was certainly interesting. Finished school at 6pm, and at 7pm I was at soccer practice! Yes…soccer practice! Here people think I’m a little crazy for wanting to play soccer!

I guess girls don’t like soccer and very very few play it at all. But…my host mom found a team of girls and I went bravely to practice. It was reallly overwhelming at first- I was the youngest and the other girls were probably 25 or older and very tough looking- piercings tatoos etc. It was my first time playing soccer with a team in 3 or 4 years and I couldnt really communicate in French and run at the same time haha. It was really difficult! They were an established team and me- the awkward non-french speaker who was much younger. I’ll be honest- I sort of wanted to cry about 30 minutes into the 2 hour session…but…here I am and I got through it! I didn’t play very well but I managed and by the end I was actually having fun. I came home feeling super super content and very brave. No, it wasn’t any major accomplishment, but it’s little victories like that that keep me happy.

Wednesday- Every Weds morning I have my sport class for school- this semester it’s climbing! I love it! Called “escalade” here- it’s just like in the US…ropes, shoes etc etc. We meet in a big climbing room and take turns doing exercises for two hours. I made it all the way to the top of the wall my first try last Weds!

I felt brave again…until it was time to descend…and everyone started yelling advice and commands…and I understood nothing! I hung there at the top for a good minute before I figured out what they wanted me to do and they let me come down…

Wednesday I finished school at noon and afterwards I went to the downtown area and had lunch with my exchange student friends in Thionville- Brazil, Argentina, Russia, and USA were in attendance. Then…some shopping. I bought a pretty sizeable amount of clothes- sweaters, shirts, two pairs of pants and a bag for school at H&M. The walk home took about 30-40 minutes but I was super content afterwards.

Foreigners in Thionville

Thursday- I guess Thursday was a day I realized how well-adapted I’ve become to my new life here- I wore my new “french” clothes and felt very integrated- I can finally speak with my classmates with relative ease and discuss things outside of class. Lunch is way less awkward these days (I am such a pro at eating like a french person lately…I eat all kinds of crazy vegetables and cheeses and hold my fork in the proper manner)- I’m progressing in French quickly and I really feel much more comfortable at school. Classes are getting easier to understand and I feel like I belong. Although I still don’t like having quizzes in physics- that’s something I’ll never learn to love.

Thursday night I went to an exercise class at a gym- it was just like in the US- same crazy instructor, same Michael Jackson/Madonna remixes played in the background. I want to try a number of sports out before I choose what I’m going to do this year…exercise class was good but I’d like to do a team sport…we will see.

Friday- Well…friday is just always good.

Saturday- My host parents went on a trip to a big sort of wine party gathering this weekend so I stayed with our family friends, the Bodarts, for Saturday night and Sunday morning. We all went on vacation together in the South during the summer so I know their daughters (17 and 11) very well and the boyfriend of Marine, who is in my class at school, hung out with us as well. We watched movies and cooked all together. The Bodarts are very nice so I was happy to spend the weekend with them.

Sunday I went to the gym with Marine Quentin and a friend of ours from school..(I’m starting to know a lot more people!) and that was fun- lots of sports for me this week! In the afternoon, Bernard Schaeffer, one of the head Rotarians in the District Youth Exchange took me and two other students to the finals of the Open of Moselle of tennis in Metz! La chance! It was great! I enjoyed watching the match and experiencing my first real French sports event. The french player won and everyone went home happy! So nice to know people here who take me places.

aaanndd…it’s Monday yet again!

Today I only had 4 hours of class cause I decided to stop doing my english class- it’s very boring and I will hopefully find another class to put in it’s place soon. So, I had 4 hours of class and 3 hours of lunch. At lunch I played soccer! Yes, the boys laughed when I said I was playing but it was fun and I think the boys from my class were impressed that I could play at least respectably okay.

Today, I had a test in Philosophy! Ahhhhhh…it’s very hard for me to understand. Its like a foreign language in a foreign language….but I tried my best. The question was something about “is to be conscient of the things we cannot do in life to be truly happy” or something like that, and I wrote my little essay response in english and did a translation into French. I think the prof was happy with my efforts and I managed to slip in a reference to Albert Camus in my argument so that’s always good (insider tip: number one way to win over the French- show interest in/knowledge of  famous Frenchmen…dropping references to Rousseau and Camus has been somewhat successful in philosophy)

This evening I went to volleyball practice! Yes…another session of sport today! My host mom found a club that I could go practice with to see if I like it…and I do! I had forgotten how much fun volleyball is and the two years I played helped a lot…many of the skills came back very quickly- I could serve, attack, defend, etc. and I felt very happy. So, I think I won’t do anymore soccer with the girl’s club team- just the recreation team at lunch at school and in club I’ll do volleyball…the girls were very nice and it’s a ot of fun.

so..there you have it. A week in my french life. Tres sportive, non? Je suis super super contente ici en France cette semaine. I am so lucky to have a great host family. School was rough for a few weeks…but it’s just gonna keep getting better from here.

Thanks for reading, feel free to send emails/comments, I promise I’ll be more speedy in response this week- last week was so busy! lovelovelove from the land of the french

September 27, 2010 / madelinesides

Journée du Patrimoine

Sunday, Sept 19 was “La Journee du Patrimoine” here in France- I still don’t exactly understand it completely, but basically it’s a day where people celebrate French heritage and culture and patriotism. There are exhibitions of monuments and old buildings and artisans display their crafts. We spent the morning in a small village outside of Thionville looking at crafts and fabrics for sale. I bought a gold pin that said “Paris” adorned by two little eiffel towers for 1 euro- I plan to use one of the towers in a necklace- I thought it was a good deal.

In the afternoon we went to Metz, which is about 30 minutes away by car. Metz is beautiful! It was the first time I had really seen it up close, and our visit for the Journee de Patrimoine confirmed my love of the classic European city. The Moselle River runs though the town and we visited the cathedral, opera house, and a neighborhood full of artisans and music and other things on display. Overall, a very nice and peaceful day strolling the streets of Metz with my host family. And I’m starting to make friends in France- when we were walking around in Metz I ran into a girl from school who I know- I’m starting to make connections!

I drew this afterwards, based on the photo above- more fun than homework!

The cathedral was probably my favorite- the outside is beautiful but the inside is amazing. I’d learned about the stained glass by Chagall in the cathedral in Metz in my art history class in high school and at the National Marc Chagall Museum in Nice, so I was excited to see it in person- and the pieces lived up to my expectations! Very nice indeed.