I find it insane that I’ve been here for this long. We’ve all been talking about how Rennes has started to feel like home… About how because Rennes is where we return to from vacation, it feels like it’s our home city now. We no longer really crave our beds at home… We’ve forgotten what the feel like, so we crave the (kind of) comfort of our French beds. Instead of lusting over Chipotle and real Mexican food, So Burrito (a really weird take on burritos) seems to be just as good, even if it definitely isn’t. Public transportation is nothing, and so is French. Speaking in French has become something all but natural. I’m sometimes still so surprised that I can understand what someone is saying. 

I guess where I’m leading with this, is that it’s going to be difficult to leave. I’ve made myself a nice and comfortable life here in Rennes. I’ve got a really cool school, a small and loving host family, and the most amazing group of friends that anyone could ask for. Yes, I’m ready to head back to California and take on the next exciting chapter of my life, but this has been the most amazing time in my life, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

I’m currently sitting at Gate L28 in terminal 2E at Aéroport Charles de Gaulle in Paris, France. I only have 15 minutes of free airport wifi - you have to pay for internet everywhere in France… I just thought I’d take a moment to mention that this is the 6 month anniversary of my time in France. I’ve spent half of a year with some of the most amazing and wonderful people I’ve ever met in a country that I will forever be able to call a home. 

I’m heading back to California today for a week and a half… I feel like my visit home has been long overdue - I miss my cat, my bed, my mom… I could not be happier to be getting on a plane to head toward sunshine and In n Out burger. 

Sun!!! For once!!!

So Thursday, I got myself up at 5:30 for a 7:07 train to Lyon. I had committed myself to this train ride & the event that awaited me in Lyon way back in November. Model United Nations. For those of you who don’t know what MUN is, it’s a mock version of the real United Nations. We debate pressing issues, lobby, try to get our clauses put into resolutions, and eventually vote on & (hopefully) pass the resolutions we spent our time working on. I’ve been participating in MUN since September of my freshman year of high school. Needless to say, I’m a fan and a veteran. 

We had arranged ahead of time to go with some fellow éleves from Lycée Victor-Hélène Basch, a French high school not too far from us. We took the train together, and arrived straight off the train to the conference. 

I have to say that this was one of the most interesting and fun conferences I’ve ever been to. Every committee has people from all around the world. For example, I had students from France, America, Wales, England, Scotland, Germany, Brazil, and Bolivia in my committee. Crazy. The process was a little different. In normal MUN (if you want to call the American version normal), we give speeches about our positions, get into caucus groups (groups with the same country position as you), and write resolutions after. In ILYMUN’s case, we wrote resolution clauses beforehand, submitted them, and basically just tried to get them passed and put into our main resolution. Not as interesting in my opinion, but the interesting dynamic of people and the chairs of our committee made it fun.

Instead of staying in a youth hostel or hotel, we were put en famille. En famille is something scary for me. Let me remind you, I live in a house alone with one woman and a cat. Being with an actual family is like a whole other world for me. I have a host mom & dad. Unfortunately neither of which I know the names of (I’ll explain why in a bit), a host sister, Angelique, a host brother Tbow? tebeau?, a host sister, and a dog named Atos. 

Angelique is shy. She doesn’t talk much. Her mother, who I still have yet to catch the name of, is super sweet. Super interested in me. Her father is handicapped and in an electric wheelchair. I don’t know his name either, but I think it’s Xavier as seen from the piece of mail. Angelique’s mother told me to “fait comme chez toi”, but this is so foreign to me. Sharing a room (with a bunkbed), a dog, an entire family… Complete turn around from my quiet little home in Rennes. 

This is my third (and last) night here. I’ve been on my laptop since I arrived. Barely anyone has said two words to me. The father is playing xbox, Angelique is making dinner, the dog is sleeping, the brother is probably getting ready to go out for the night, and I’m not sure where the mother is. They are very kind, but just sort of let me be. And that makes me feel awkward being in their home. I’m so so grateful to them for hosting me, and they’re a lovely family, but I’m ready to head back to my quiet little house in Rennes and recuperate after this long and tiring week/weekend.  

You never really realize how close you’re becoming to your host family until you get together and talk over a bottle of wine. They start to ask you questions, your host brother offers you a beer & gets protective when you tell him about the hoodlums that were hanging out on your path home, and your host brother’s girlfriend wants to show you her babies room (she is due in April) & give you bises for the chocolate that you brought over. 

You also realize how attached you become to your host family. My host mom is going away for half of February, and I feel a little sadness at having to be out of my house and nice little routines with her. Every evening after dinner we sit and talk for 2 hours at the minimum. Any less and it’s a weird day. 

I have to say that I’m a little bit surprised at how close and attached I’ve gotten to my host family. I mean, I knew that we would get along and I’d be happy living here, but I never pictured myself opening up so much and letting myself be accepted into their small little family. 

Today, I guess, is King’s day. With King’s day, you get your family and friends (in our case, my host mom, her son, and his girlfriend) and buy these special King cakes. 

I thought today would be a normal Sunday dinner, where we set the nice table, pull out the silver, light a candle, and eat a nice meal Marie Paule has prepared. Instead, Marie Paule whipped out a cake, Roman whipped out a brioche, and we sat down together in the living room and cracked open a bottle of champagne. These cakes have little favors in them. They’re ceramic. Whoever finds it while eating the cake becomes the “roi” or the “reine”.

This is what I love about being in another country. I never know when special holidays are coming, so I always have surprises around every corner. 

The cakes were fantastic, Marie Paule found a little part of a train that went with another little section they had found the other day, and Roman found a ceramic strawberry in the brioche. They put on their crowns and we laughed while taking pictures.

After being gone from my little French family for so long, it was so nice to be back and have a relatively normal Sunday. I like ma petite coin tranquille. Paris is beautiful, but I think now Rennes will always be known as a home to me. I always look forward to coming back and being here after a voyage. 

So last Friday, the most exciting thing that had happened to me since I stepped off of the plane to live in France for a year happened. I had been counting down the days since I knew it was in the works: my mom came to visit. 

I’d like to reiterate for those who don’t know, that my mom is one of the most important and vital parts of my life. She’s my best friend, rock, mentor, therapist, and more. I love her with all of my heart and I can’t thank her enough for all that she’s done for me & provided for me. Our reunion was tearful (a little more of my mom’s tears than mine) but happy… Three and a half months apart. That’s the longest it’s ever been. Did it fly by? Yes. But it also felt like a million years. 

It was like nothing had changed. We chatted, we laughed, we were our normal selves. Our relationship was the same if not stronger. I felt so happy to have her by my side in my new home, I felt stronger and more confident. It was amazing.

We were soon joined by Damon, my step dad, who has been a fantastic and very loving male influence in my life for many years now. His arrival was a little rocky… A canceled flight, a lost bag… Nonetheless, it made me so happy to see him again. It reminded me of my first time in Europe, him, my mom, and I. We had a ton of laughs, made a day trip to Nantes to get his suitcase, played many games of Gin, and ate our way through Paris. I was whole. Words could not describe how amazing it felt to have some of the two most pivotal people in my life with me - finally.

Damon left Christmas Eve day, which was sad and hard. I bid him to come back yesterday, I bid him to come back today after a meaningful “Merry Christmas” phone call. It’s hard to see people you love go. This morning, I said goodbye to my mom at the airport. It felt strange. Here I was carrying around a suitcase, half expecting to get on an airplane and go home alongside my mom. But nope. I bid her a tearful farewell, gave her many hugs, and felt a hole in my heart for the rest of the day.

Currently I am back in a hotel room in Rennes with my father, his girlfriend Dora, and her mother. I’m now showing another side of my family my life and my environment. It makes me happy to still be en famille for Noël no matter how unconventional this Christmas day may have been. I love my family, and I’m so happy to finally have people that I know love me and care about me across the globe, here with me. 

Wherever you are in the world, hold your family close and have a wonderful holiday. Lots of love from me here in France!

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.