I’m going to be completely honest. I had a rough time this Thanksgiving. I had what my host mom calls the “blues”. She claims I get them every time I talk to my mom or dad. I have to agree with her - I do get the blues sometimes.
However… This was the first time I have not spent a Thanksgiving with any sort of family. I have my SYA family - who at this point I would consider a family no matter how close or not close any of us are to each other. We all have a connection and I think we all cling to each other. At least I do… They’re people who can understand exactly what I’m going through. They can understand “mes strugs” (a franglish version of ‘my struggles’).
To put Thanksgiving in France into perspective, the French really don’t have any sort of idea or conception of what Thanksgiving means. For people who have any sort of clue, it’s basically about a lot of food. Which is correct, but America is always associated with food to the French. I was lucky enough to attend a big Thanksgiving feast at chez Martine - Rachel’s host mom. She’s hosted 8 (I think) host kids from SYA, so she’s all about this Thanksgiving thing. She has a Thanksgiving cook book that each SYA student has contributed to. It’s really really nice. Last Sunday, I went and had a huge meal surrounded by a bunch of French people I wasn’t familiar with (thank god for the 2 English teachers in attendance), Martine, Marie Paule, and Rachel. It was really lovely. Rachel and I tried to explain how Thanksgiving is a huge deal in the states. Christmas meals are the equivalent to the Thanksgiving meals here in France, so when you say it’s “comme Noël”, they understand.
This Thursday, a local lycée decided to make us a Thanksgiving meal. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, soup, some green beans, and a really nice try at a pumpkin pie. It wasn’t Mama Karyn’s Thanksgiving, but it was really nice to get together with everyone and eat. And it was really really nice of the local high school to do it for us.
After my first Thanksgiving, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m thankful for. It’s interesting to find what you appreciate more when you move to another country. You become more thankful for your family who keeps you sane. You find more thanks for the new friends that you make here that become like your family, and the ones back at home who are willing to offer you words of encouragement on the rough days. You feel thankful for the people who invited you into their home for a year and have made you a part of their family. You give thanks for the opportunity to go abroad.
To all reading my blog at this holiday season, I just want to say that I’m truly thankful for you. Love to all as we enter into the best time of the year.
So I recently started going to the gym again. The gym here in France is not a largely popular thing. A lot of people go to my gym, mostly young people, but it seems to be an interesting topic when you discuss it with older French people. For example, “tu fais un sport?” Do I play a sport? “Non, je préfère le gym… Je n’aime pas le sport beaucoup.” “Ohhhh…” Silence.
Nonetheless, it’s good for the body (too much bread & crêpes) and good for my endorphins… I seem to need a lot of in this cold and rainy weather. Plus it’s kind of a fun place to people watch.
The other day, Kara and I’s first day back to the gym after a 4 week hiatus (we were storing up for the winter with good Italian food) we began our regime with no thought. We’re very diligent. We push ourselves and focus on our workouts so we can make up for the nice amounts of bread and Italian food we consume. People take an interest in that… Also, the entire gym happens to know that we’re American thanks to the cute Romanian guy - the only employee that speaks English - who announced it at our first class.
I’m working out my legs on a machine when one of the employees - I’ve picked up her name as Anne Marie - points at us from across the room. There’s an old French man next to her. Truly French. This man wore a royal-purple turtleneck and fleece-lined coat to work out and paid little attention to his nose hairs. I presume Anne Marie explained that we were American, so he sauntered over and started to speak to us in a perfect English accent. To be quite honest, if I hadn’t caught a few words of his French, I would have thought he was English. 79 year old Gerald was once an American Literature professor at the Universities here in Rennes. I think he was excited to have a conversation with people who would understand his passions for Thoreau, Emerson, trancendentalism, and the big differences between the Amish and Mormons.
Gerald (pronounced Jerr-haaald here) spoke to us about his trips teaching in America, his time in Burlington - we spent about 5 minutes trying to help him figure out the state it was in - and his time in Salt Lake City. It was truly an interesting encounter for a Monday evening at the gym. I believe that if he hadn’t had to go for his workout class, he would have stayed to talk with us about more American things. Promising to see us later, Gerald wandered off in his purple turtleneck to go take - I think - a dance-type workout class.
A few photos from our trip to the Loire Valley with school. Lots of Châteaus & history. More to come!
I constantly flip between understanding if I’m adjusted to life here, or just telling myself that I’m adjusted to life here. I feel comfortable sometimes, and then there are days where I just wish I was home. People tell me that that is extremely normal… They tell me that there are up and down days, but sometimes I truly have to sit and question my whole feelings toward this experience.
Some days I feel like I can speak French perfectly and practically take on the world, and there are some days, like this morning, where I ask myself why I ever considered taking on this opportunity. This is hard. There are days where it really really really sucks, and there are days where it’s really really really awesome. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m content or upset.
I guess throughout all of my ups and downs, I just have to remind myself that life is 100% different. How normal would it be if I were completely comfortable after only being here for less than two months? It wouldn’t be. I have to be logical and remind myself of the situation.
Just a little collection of things going on: visiting a local château, my usual breakfast, fall arriving, Kara and I’s chronic and unplanned matching, my name & height marked onto my family’s wall, and a fantastic little tea house I found.
Yesterday evening (it’s now 6:46 in the morning… I can’t seem to sleep in anymore) I went to the grocery store with my host mom. At first she invited me and I didn’t really understand that she was extending an invitation. She normally doesn’t invite me to go with her, She’ll usually just go after work or leave the house and come back with large bags of food. Nonetheless, attending an evening of grocery shopping with my host mother felt like kind of a big deal. And it was. The grocery store was absolutely massive. Think Target and Costco combined on steroids. It was fantastic.
Marie-Paule and I headed to the fish section to pick something out for dinner. Their fish section is like a work of art. All types of fish are displayed over ice. They’re laid out in patters almost - it was strangely beautiful. There was a massive bowl of pink shrimp amongst the other fish. The shrimp still had their eyes and their arms and bodies. Marie-Paule asked if I would like shrimp for dinner, I said sure, so we bought our shrimp and returned home.
Once I had set the table, my host mom started telling me what to do with the shrimp. For the life of me I could not understand what she was trying to tell met to do. It was Friday. An entire week - let alone day - of using my brain to try and spit out somewhat intelligent rapid fire French leaves my brain kind of fried. She got a little frustrated and finally huffed, dumped the little shrimp into a bowl, and set it on the table.
"Mange," she said. I looked at her like she was crazy. How was I supposed to eat shrimp with heads and tails and arms and legs and eyes and brains? I think my look translated enough confusion because she cracked a smile and sat down to show me how to shell shrimp.
I watched as she ripped off the head - brains and goo spilling over her fingers onto her plate - ripped off the tail, and then ripped off the shell. My face must have been less than one of fascination and approval because she burst out laughing at my expression. She then made me try. And I tried not to gag at the brown gooey liquid that came out of the shrimp heads. For her, shelling the shrimp and sucking every last bit out of each part was no big deal. It was totally normal. I can’t say that it was appetizing to me, but it was a little fascinating. She took a little pity on me as she watched me pitifully try to rip heads off of tiny crustaceans, taking the best meaty parts off with my attempts, and helped me out. She called the shrimp she shelled “un cadeau”, a present.
As I sat at the dinner table, this whole event really resonated with me. I feel like I haven’t really taken the time to look at the splay of cultural differences that I experience. This felt like a big one - I’ve never had to eat shrimp with heads. I could be just naive to the shrimp eating world, but any time I’ve ordered shrimp or eaten them at home for that matter, they’ve been headless, faceless little creatures. The fact that you purchase shrimp here to eat as much as you can was fascinating. The French don’t waste. Everything is used, and if it isn’t, it’s saved. They clear their plates - something I’ve learned to do here - and enjoy every little part of something that they can when it comes to food. It always feels a little bizarre to me, saving tiny bits of food that I would never want. Somehow they always get eaten.
Nothing is wasted. I feel like that’s something that America could really benefit from.
Yesterday marked my one month anniversary here in Rennes. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a month since I packed up my life and moved to France. Each day I get a little more comfortable. I feel my French improving (I think) though I still am lacking in a lot of vocabulary words. I know the town very well now, I almost feel like a local. I’ve discovered some of my favorite spots, I’ve even made a few friends with waiters who notice our regularity.
Nonetheless, as comfortable as I feel, it’s still challenging being here. I can’t say that I’m fully adjusted, though I fool myself sometimes. I face little mountains every day that I must climb, whether it be new language skills, getting off at the wrong bus stop, asking for something in French, turning down the wrong street, missing home a little bit; But I know my challenges are completely normal. I think that it would be strange to feel 100% adjusted only a month in.
School is fun but challenging, still. I took my (hopefully) final SAT yesterday. It almost felt a little easier than being home. My brain is in a “well, I’ve made it this far and survived an entirely new life, what else am I capable of doing,” state. Everything challenging, whether it be school, homesickness, nostalgia, wrong turns, vocabulary, etc. seems dwarfed in comparison by my decision to plant myself into a different life. I feel accomplished. My one month mark give me an “I’ve made it!” feeling, and I could not be happier with the way that it has come about.
Time is flying so fast. If the next eight months pass like this one has just passed, I’ll be back home in no time.
This weekend, we took a little school trip around our state… Or the equivalence of what would be a state. In Brittany (Bretagne) there are four departments. We live in Rennes, in Ile-est-Vilaine, which is also the capitol of Brittany.
I guess SYA wanted us to get acquainted with our new land, so they put us on two chartered busses and drove us to some tiny little town on the Atlantic Ocean. It all started at 8:45 AM last Friday. We packed ourselves in, sleepy and coffee-less, and began the three hour journey to a place I still don’t know the name of. Along the way we stopped at a chateau - as beautiful as it was, I’m not a fan. I dropped my phone in the toilet there and now it’s having issues. After, we visited a church, and then arrived at our hotel. They gave us very complicated room assignments, let us eat, then made us go to bed after a long meeting. I feel a little bad for the people in the hotel, I can’t imagine their annoyance with the 60 American high school students flooding into a confined space.
Saturday, we visited Quimper (I think… I kept falling asleep on the bus and then waking up, so my sense of direction was not too good.) Quimper was beautiful. We visited the museum of Beaux-Arts and the cathedral there. They gave us a little free time for lunch, and then we were underway to the beach. La Torches is a popular surf spot in Bretagne. The waves are absolutely huge. I was afraid for the people out surfing in the choppy, cold water. We also visited the Western-most point of France. I swear I could see the Statue of Liberty (haha).
Sunday was more museums and churches. At this point, I think most of us were churched out. It got to the point where we all sort of gathered to saunter around the creepy graveyards and forgot about the architecture history we were supposed to be practicing. Being tired, the museums were no longer as intriguing as they had been Friday and Saturday. After sensing our exhaustion, they promptly herded us back onto our bus and back to Rennes.
As much as I enjoyed our little excursion, it was a little too planned for my liking. Exploring is a hugely important essence to travel… Our schedule was extremely prompt, and throughout the entire trip, I think we maybe got 2 hours of free time. Not to complain - the museums and churches were cool. I just enjoy having time to wander around and see what these interesting little towns have to offer. I get the sense that they didn’t want us to have free time. I have a feeling that SYA deems free time as trouble-making time, which could rightfully be the case for some people. But the constant hiking, walking, touring, explaining, lectures, lessons, etc. was a little much.
We took a little walk for history class today. I took lots of notes and remember everything Monsieur Sabatier said. I promise.
My third week is just around the corner. I’m not sure if it’s a relief that I’ve made it this far, or scary that it’s come so soon. How could it possibly be that long since I’ve been in America?
I’m beginning to adjust here. I think. Things are very different. My routine is not anything like it was at home. I have to factor in a lot of time to get places since I walk or take the bus. Classes are still challenging given that they’re all in French. The Art History teacher (JP, who is absolutely hilarious) and Pascal (is it bad that I don’t know his last name? whoops.) are pretty forgiving when it comes to us and our pitiful language skills. A little bit of normal routine, however: I’ve joined a gym! I’m glad I get to make some endorphins.
In the time I’ve been here, I already feel my French improving. I don’t have to think as much when I’m having a conversation with my host mom. My grammar is still awful, and my vocabulary is sad, but I can pretty clearly get my point across by using other words or phrases to describe what I’m trying to say. My thoughts are a jumble of franglish. I often find my trains of thought have French words thrown into the mix. When speaking in English, my r’s sometimes turn to errrrrs. It’s funny how so much speaking time can really turn your language skills around. My host mom even agrees that I’ve improved since arriving a few weeks ago.
Slowly, things are becoming normal. It’s really different here. I can’t stress or really describe how different. Just try to picture picking yourself up and transplanting yourself into a completely different life, family, friend group, language. Yeah. Scary, right? We have a college counselor here who also happens to be my advisor. She studied abroad while in college, and she told us that we’d have awesome days, and terrible days. Our moods and capabilities and successes and failures would differ, and I can’t find that to be more accurate. I have more good days and bad days, but there are times when I find myself feeling the deep tugging of homesickness, sadness, and loneliness in my core. That’s not to say that I’m unhappy by any means. The weather has been absolutely fantastic, so I’m in a set of good days. I’m happy. It’s getting more normal. I think.
The time is passing so slowly. I’m not sure if it’s completely terrifying or a relief. I’ve been here for what… 12 days now? And it feels like I’ve been here for a month. I guess that means I’m getting acquainted. After all, this is my new home. I’m supposed to feel like I’ve been here for forever… Right?
No matter how much my brain thinks I’ve been here for months, my heart still longs for what I’ve left behind. It’s not enough to move me to tears or even consider going home. But there’s at least once a day where I look out of a window and feel a fleeting moment of homesickness; I miss my bed, my cat, my parents, my friends, the safety and comfort of my daily routines back home, being able to drive myself places and be responsible for myself, helping my mom make dinner, my teachers, normality. It all depends on the conversation or what my mind flicks to when I’m supposed to be comprehending rapid French.
I’ve found that instead of trying to quell homesickness, it’s better to honor it and recognize it. It’s easier for me to understand what I miss and why rather than shove it aside and tell myself that I’m really fine and don’t miss anything. If there’s one thing I have discovered about myself throughout my 17 years of life, it’s that I can’t trick or fool my brain out of something it knows exists. So I say, “Yes, I do miss _______. It misses me too, but I’m here now and this is an amazing opportunity and I can kind of speak French better now and kind of understand what the teacher is saying so let’s accept the fact that I miss some things and move on.” And so I do. It’s the art of acceptance and understanding that the present can’t change, you can only change your perspective. And it works, actually. Surprisingly well. I feel my homesickness dismiss itself once it’s been honored.
That being said… To anyone reading this: I miss you. Even if I talk to you regularly, I miss you a lot. And I wish you were here with me. Xoxo
Just me and my homiés. (Kara & Gaby)
A lot has happened this week. It honestly feels like a blur, which could either be very good or very bad. Tomorrow will be the 7th day I’ve been here, and my second day of classes.
It’s been hard adjusting to life in France. I feel like everyone in America is always rushing, rushing, rushing. But here, everybody takes their time. Like when I need to buy something; I’ll pick it up, take it to the cash register, and the sales person will happily chat and take their time scanning and bagging the items. While I, the impatient Aries/American/Rushing person that I am, tap my foot and check my watch every 30 seconds. Alors, it’s ok. I’m getting used to it. One thing good about France is that the public transportation is awesome.
It’s usually always on time. The busses (which I take about every day) are super nice and clean. School gave us a nice metro/bus pass that we simply scan when we get on. The busses could take you pretty much anywhere you wanted to go. I’ve been marking places I need to go by the stops we pass… It’s a little strange relying on public transportation being from California. We drive everywhere. If the public transportation was as nice and prompt as Rennes’, I’d absolutely take in anywhere.
This was also my first week of school. School days are long here. Depending on your class schedule, you start between 8 and 9, and end anywhere from 3 to 6 (I ended at 6 today). It seems like it would be totally miserable, but it’s actually relaxing. We have a two hour lunch, so some girlfriends and I took the bus to centre ville for a salad & tea. And I have a bunch of free periods. We also get out super early on Wednesdays for whatever reason, so it’s actually a leisurely schedule. My classes are interesting but different. All except for one are in French, which is a little intimidating. The teachers are very French also (they are strict).
Anyway, I feel like I’m adjusting nicely. Things are going well, I’m used to the weather which changes constantly. I’m wearing winter clothes which makes me happy, I feel like a little French girl (although my French is far from marking me as a French person).
I’m missing home a little bit still, though. I miss my mom (Hi mom!) and my dad (Hi dad!) and my cat (Hi Aspen!) and my bed. And decently temperatured mornings. I wake up to an ice box in the morning. But those are minor things. For the most part: Je suis content. (I am happy.)
Making the courageous decision to turn on data on my phone for an update. No Internet yesterday… So stressful. Taking a scavenger hunt for school today. It’s freezing, I need a coat and gloves. :( xoxo
Le côte de Bretagne. A lot of rain today, it’s pretty chilly for early September. By the way, those boats aren’t floating. They’re sitting on the sand. The tide goes in and out constantly and leaves them stranded.