April/May Vacations!

Hello everyone!

Today is May 20th 2015 meaning I’ve been in France for exactly 257 days and have exactly 55 more days until I get on that plane to go home. It’s absolutely insane to think that the time has gone by so quickly and yet at the same time I feel like I’ve been here forever. While I am sad to be leaving something that has helped me change and grow up so much, I also am beyond-words excited to go back home and see everyone. 2 weeks ago I had my LAST random 2 week vacation of my exchange year. While the school system here isn’t something I think I’ll ever be nostalgic for, I’m sure that once next year comes around I’m going to miss having those nice breaks every once in a while to travel and rest. For these vacations, Arina and I took a train down to stay with my aunt and uncle near Cluny.  While I’ve visited their house multiple times before, it was completely different to go in the springtime! There were wildflowers everywhere and huge fields of yellow colza. It was so breathtakingly beautiful and I wish I could have taken a picture of everything! (Pictures I did take will be uploaded to Facebook). On Tuesday we put Arina on a train back to Arras so that she could meet her friend Varia who had come from her exchange in Italy to visit! After spending a relaxing week filled with long walks and books in Burgundy, my aunt and I drove up to Paris on Sunday. There we met my cousin who had just come back from a week in California and we spent a lot of time getting longer, leaner, and more fit at the Dailey Method studio ;). I ended up staying until Thursday in Paris, which was much longer than originally planned but it was so hard to leave! Now, with only 3 weeks left of school, my exchange year is coming to an end. Today back at home all the seniors are putting on their graduation robes to say goodbye to the 4 years that shaped them into who they are today and I’m getting ready to say goodbye to the 1 year that has defined who I am and how I perceive both myself and others. In 1 year from today I’ll be leaving high school and moving on to the next chapter in my life and thanks to this experience, that is now something I look forward to with excitement rather than avoid with fear. I can say with full honesty that this has been one of the absolute hardest, but ultimately most rewarding years of my life. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing because without the challenges that I faced I wouldn’t have been able to learn the important lessons that I did. I just wanted to say thank you to everybody that gave me the courage and support that I needed to choose exchange. I am who I am because of you.

-Annalie

p.s. Here is a link to the video I made of my February/March vacations in Perpignan!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzqrnQdaf8y

A week in Perpignan

Today was, sadly, my first day back at school after my amazing february/march vacations! I already wrote about the first week in my previous post, but here is the promised follow-up! On Friday the 27th at 6 am we made the 12 hour car ride from Roclincourt in the north to Perpignan–right on the border of France and Spain. The trip passed quickly and we arrived around 6:30 that evening at my host mom’s daughter’s (Marion) house. Marion has 3 children, the youngest of which–Oscar–is not yet 2. He was ridiculously adorable and we had so much fun watching him run around and spending time with their family. The first day that we were at the house we relaxed and went to the market to buy some food (meaning Arisha and I stocked up on candy). The second day, a Sunday, the entire family came over–My host mother’s ex-husband, his wife and 2 kids, and my host mother’s other daughter (Fanny). We had lunch together and then went outside in the 60 degree sunny weather to see the family’s pet turtles. The next day I went with Annick, Francoise, Pierre and Arisha to 2 french cities on the sea. They were both beautiful and we had the best weather of the week to go along with it. After lunch we bought ice cream from a street vendor and went to the beach to take some pictures and dip our toes in the icy water. On Tuesday we went into Spain and spent the morning at the Dali Museum. The museum was really interesting and being in Spain was super exciting. Afterwards, we drove to the Spanish town of Roses and ate Paella in a restaurant on the sea. Wednesday we stayed at the house and played with the kids/slept and read a lot out on our balcony. Arisha and I also ate a box of delicious strawberries that I had bought at a market in Spain the day before. Unfortunately the weather on Wednesday and Thursday wasn’t the warmest or sunniest so we mostly stayed indoors. However, on Thursday we went with our host family to the town where Fanny works and, in spite of it being incredibly windy, Arisha and I agreed to be dropped off at a beach while our host mother went to run some errands. We were alone on the beach (nobody else was stupid enough to be there with the wind) and we were practically in the middle of a mini sand storm every time a gust of wind blew through. However, we still decided that it would be a great idea if we climbed up onto a narrow dock to walk up to lighthouse. I felt like I would be knocked over with the wind at any time but in the moment I didn’t really care–I just wanted to see the lighthouse. It was worth it in the end and when Francoise finally came back to pick us up we went over to Fanny’s house and had an amazing meal of seafood with her husband and dog. After the meal, we all dressed up in wigs and sunglasses (I don’t know if it’s a French thing that literally every family owns 6 or more crazy wigs) and tried for about 30 minutes to get the perfect picture on timer mode. Friday we were supposed to go to Barcelona, but due to a change of plans we ended up going to Carcassonne instead. At the end of the trip, we said our goodbyes to the family and made a 6 hour drive up to my Aunt Kelly’s house near Lyon. We stayed the night there and while I wish that I could have stayed longer, it was so nice to be able to see my family and to introduce them to my host family. The next day we drove for 6 more hours and finally arrived back in Nord-pas-de-Calais–back home. These vacations were unforgettable and I feel so lucky and blessed to have had the chance to live through them! ALSO: I took a lot of video footage during my trip because I plan on putting together a little video from my vacation. Kind of similar to the short tour I did of my school but a bit longer and I’ll spend more than 30 minutes making this one haha :). Look out for it on my Facebook and if you don’t have me on Facebook, let me know and I’ll send you an email!

~Annalie

Mail!

Today is Wednesday, and Friday I leave for vacations in the south of France! Yesterday, instead of going to Calais as originally planned (Arisha has the flu) I went to Lille with my friend Khadija from my class. We had a really nice time and the best part was that it was really warm and unusually sunny! While I did miss the snow around Christmas time, now I am thanking my lucky stars that I get to experience spring-like weather in February (sorry to all of you Naperville people who are hating me right now). Earlier today my host mom took me to the post office and I sent a package home with some things for my friend’s birthday, a scarf, and about 15 post cards! The woman said that it should arrive around May 2nd. I had an idea because I want to be able to update you all more often on what I am doing, and after the vacations I will probably have quite a bit to share, but sometimes it’s hard for me to think about what I should be writing about. If you have any questions about my school, my host family, or just my life in general leave them in the comments and I can make separate posts on each topic! That way I can answer all your questions and remember little stories instead of giving you a day-to-day recount of my life, because I’m not sure that’s the most interesting thing for everybody 🙂

Comment below!

~Annalie

P.S. If you aren’t friends with me on Facebook/aren’t on Facebook but still would like to see my exchange pictures please let me know and I can add your email to a list so that I can send you updated pictures when I update my blog!

Vacations 3.0

Saturday was my last day of school before (February?) Holidays. In french schools they have 4 sets of 2 weeks of vacations that are all just completely random except for the 2 weeks we get off for Christmas. On Friday, I’m driving down to the South of France with my host family to visit my host mother’s ex-husband and her daughters in Perpignan. We’re going to right by the border of Spain so we will probably get to go into Barcelona for a day. Last week, Arisha and I went to Lille with a ton of exchange students and it seems like there was an endless amount of students. Throughout the day more and more people just started showing up! It’s so weird that all this time I’ve been living in the same area as these other people and have only met them just now. I think one of the best parts about exchange is that I’m getting the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Not only am I learning about French people and their culture I’m also learning about cultures from around the world and how somebody’s nationality can influence their outlook on life. Before coming here I identified as a friend, a sister, a student, and other things but I never really primarily thought about myself as an American. Now, the first thing anybody asks me when they meet me is not what grade I’m in, or how many siblings I have, it’s what country I come from. This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt like before anything else, I’m an American. Exchange has given me a new appreciation for my host country and their culture, but it has equally raised my appreciation for my native country. I can’t believe how much I’ve changed since I arrived here and although it’s really difficult sometimes, I can’t wait to see in what other ways I will change before I fly back home. Today is Monday, the first real day of vacations as we don’t have school on Sundays anyways, and we will go to Arras and meet up with one of the students we met in Lille and tomorrow we are going to Calais with the same student. Arisha and I are so excited to go see the sea! I will be sure to take lots of pictures. I haven’t been able to take many pictures in the last month because I lost the lens cap to my camera and I’m too scared to walk around with no lens cap…today I’m going to try to find a store that sells them so that I can take a ton of pictures tomorrow to make up for lost time! Thanks for reading and I miss you all!

~Annalie

Au Revoir, 50%!

Hi everybody!

I have been forgetting to keep you all updated about what’s going on and I’m sorry for that, but better late than never!

Last week, on Saturday, my friend Elisa went back to Germany. It seems so crazy that her exchange is already over when it feels like we both just arrived! On the 5th of February, I was exactly 5 months into this 10 month exchange! That’s halfway! It seem so crazy to think that I’ve already lived through 5 months in another country and that in the same amount of time I will be getting on a plane to go home. Both of the girls that I sat with on the plane here already left because they were only here for the semester! On Friday night of last week we all went over to Elisa’s house and had a little dinner party to say goodbye. Lena, Arisha, and I bought her a small pendant of France (the same one that Arisha and I have) and we made her a big poster with pictures of us all. It was sad to see her go but I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to have met her and to have met all of these wonderful people who have made my exchange such a rich experience so far! For New Years I went down to my aunt’s house in Burgundy and all of my family was there! I saw my  parents and brothers along with all of my aunts and cousins on my moms side. I feel beyond blessed that I was able to go because normally the association would be opposed to a trip like that during a holiday. The only reason I was allowed to go was because it had been something we were planning to do before I even decided to go on exchange! There was a new girl who arrived in my class from Australia about two weeks ago, and it’s been really nice to have someone to speak English to at school (although probably not the best thing haha)! She just moved up to premiere (equivalent to 11th grade) because she’s going to be 18 soon and the kids in my class (I’m in the equivalent of 10th grade in France–it’s easier!) are pretty young. I’m going to be posting here more often hopefully, because my computer no longer has a virus and the internet is now working properly! For all of you waiting for the postcards that I promised back in October/November–they will eventually come but the reason I haven’t sent them yet is because the prices got raised here! And now the notes on the cards are quite outdated. If Erin Donnelly is reading this: I will be sending yours as soon as I’m able to get to the post office to buy stamps. I’m so sorry I’ve made you wait so long. I don’t know how many postcards I’m going to send but I’m going to buy a ton so that when I come back I can give everybody one even if I wasn’t able to send them in the mail. I’m sorry for the lack of pictures that I’ve been posting to Facebook! I’m in the midst of gathering some together to make a big album for everybody to see :). I would post them here but it takes too long to upload!

Until next time! (Not very long this time, I promise!)

Annalie

Thanksgiving in France

This year for Thanksgiving, while all of my family spent the holiday together in Bethesda, I was in a country where people didn’t even know what the holiday was. In some ways, I was disappointed to be missing the festivities at home, but in other ways this year’s holiday has been the best of my life. Bringing the tradition of Thanksgiving to new people for the first time has let me see the holiday in a whole new light. The day served as a way for me to bring some of my culture to France. On the actual day of Thanksgiving, I (unfortunately) had school. Due to the fact that I was away from 10 am until 6 pm on Thanksgiving, we decided to celebrate instead on the Saturday after. On the night of the 27th, I had a mini-Thanksgiving with my host mothers son and Arina (my host mom had a meeting) and then around 10 pm we skyped to my family in Bethesda. Although I didn’t get the day off like I do normally in the states, the day still didn’t go by without celebration and I was thankful that I got to spend it with my family even if it was through technology. That Saturday, after school, my host mom and I cooked Thanksgiving dinner. I invited two girls from my class, Elisa and Lena–German exchange students, and we celebrated. The next Friday, we also had another party with Francoises other sons and their families along with both Arina and my welcome families. It was really nice to be able to see everybody again and to be able to spend the holiday with my french family. I am so thankful for this opportunity to be here in France and experience life as a french teenager every single day, and this holiday made me so much more aware of how lucky I am not only to have this time here but to also have had two amazing French families to make me feel comfortable and at home and who have really helped make this experience incredible.

I made these letters for my family that each say one thing to be thankful for in 3 languages (Russian, French, and English) and surprised them by laying them out on the table before anybody came downstairs on the morning of Thanksgiving

I made these letters for my family that each say one thing to be thankful for in 3 languages (Russian, French, and English) and surprised them by laying them out on the table before anybody came downstairs on the morning of Thanksgiving

(From left to right) Francoise (my host mother), me, Arina, Pierre (Francoise's son), Elisa (German exchange student), and Lena (German exchange student)

(From left to right) Francoise (my host mother), me, Arina, Pierre (Francoise’s son), Elisa (German exchange student), and Lena (German exchange student)

Update (Surprise!)

It’s been more than a month since I posted on here and a lot has changed since then. I have to apologize for the extensive inactivity and lack of communication on my part. At first I had the excuse of insufficient time/energy, but now that I’ve been settled in my new living situation for a few weeks I don’t have any excuses anymore. You can thank my mom for making me write this post (hi mom). Let me backtrack a bit, about my “new living situation”: I’ve changed houses from my original welcome family. Over the summer, when I received my living information, I was told that I would live with a woman named Françoise Montel along with another student from Russia, Arina. However, when my host mother broke her wrist towards the end of the summer, I was assigned a new “welcome” family–A man and woman with two children (Anne France, Raphael, Tom, and Hugo). I lived with this family for my first two months here and I loved them. They were so kind and welcoming and made me feel at home even when I was thousands of miles away from my family. However, during fall break I was given a decision between staying with this welcome family for the whole year or moving into my original assigned family with Arina. Although this decision was hard, I decided to stick with the original plan and change families. Later, I found out that this was a mistake and that I was never supposed to have the choice in the first place, but this choice was very difficult to make and was very emotionally draining. Once I moved into my new family, however, it didn’t take long to settle in and I have really enjoyed living here. It’s nice to have a “Russian sister” because I’m never bored and I have somebody else who understands what it’s like to be in my position. We go to Lille frequently, and it is such a beautiful city. Right now there is a Christmas market both in the town where I go to school (Arras) and in Lille. The stands are really interesting and I bought a pair of Russian doll earrings at the market in Arras. With the holidays approaching I really am missing my family but I am also excited to make new memories and traditions here in France. I am not including images in this post, instead I’m giving out the link to my flickr account. There, I will try to add more pictures and maybe still put some directly on here some time. I will try to keep updating more frequently on here! Sorry for the wait 🙂 Also this is more of just an update post so sorry if I put you to sleep!

–Annalie

https://www.flickr.com/photos/129664074@N04/