PART 1: France Exchange 2015
Around 6 months ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in an exchange trip to France. Myself as well as other Grade 11s and a few Grade 12s had been matched up with correspondents from France back in December 2014. We started communicating with our "twins" as soon as possible to make it a little easier to spend time together in person. Most of the French students came to Vancouver in January for about a week to indulge and experience the Canadian culture while staying at their Canadian correspondents' places. In late February 2015, us Canadians left for France for two weeks on a trip that created so many wonderful memories. Here I give you my best analysis of the 16-day trip coming only from my own memories of this present day. I'm so glad and overjoyed to be writing about this trip and I might as well write about it while the memories are still pretty fresh!
Saturday, February 28, 2015 - VANCOUVER TO TORONTO TO PARIS
At 7:30 AM, all of the Canadian exchange participants met at YVR for our 10 AM flight to YYZ. At this time, what was going through my head was probably going through the minds of others as well which was excitement for the 2 weeks ahead -we really didn't know what to expect. Finally! After a year of countless meetings, planning, and payments, we were finally leaving to France.
I remember being pretty tired, not being able to get a lot of sleep the night before, but more than ready to wake up this very morning to leave. Once we arrived at Toronto at 5:24 PM (including the time difference), we had a 3-hour layover. My friends and I explored the fancy airport and ate our (mostly packed) dinner to kill the time. The area in which we were waiting included this place with a huge number of iPads on tables (for ordering food!!!), few expensive stores, and a whole lot of overpriced food. We also had a lot of trouble finding wifi which is one of the first things people look for wherever they are. At 8:35 PM, our plane left from our midway stop to our main destination, Paris, France!
Sunday, March 1st, 2015 - ARRIVAL IN PARIS AND DRIVE TO THE COUNTRY
After our long plane ride which consisted, mostly, of watching movies, we arrived at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport at around 10 AM. Something funny I remember from that airport is the alert sound before a message is said. It honestly scared the heck out of us when we first heard it. It sounds like someone singing... and then we realized that it was just the airport's before-a-message sound. Anyways, after customs and baggage claim, we hopped on a bus for the proceeding 2-hour drive to La Ferté-Bernard- a commune (like a town) in the region Pays de la Loire, located in north-western France.
We met up with our French correspondents at their school feeling very tired and relieved that all of the travelling was over. My France "twin" is actually 2 years older than me, so she was the one to pick me up and I found that pretty cool that she could drive. We did "la bise", the kiss-kiss cheek thing you do when you say hello and goodbye, and oh my gosh.. I hadn't realized that I was doing it wrong until later on in the trip. Stay tuned, it's pretty funny & kind of dumb of me. Anyways, after 10 minutes or so, we arrived at her stunning house and there were her mom and little sister. We talked for a bit and I headed straight to the room they offered me and took a 2-hour nap before dinner.
Dinner was my first huge culture shock, but I think I also fell in love with traditional french food at that time as well. My French girl woke me up for dinner and we headed downstairs. Set on the table was, what looked like to me, appetizers, but I guess the proper term would be "hors-d'oeuvres". I think I straight up asked "This is dinner?" but I wasn't complaining or anything, it was just so different. Her mom explained that they only have that particular set up on Sundays though so that calmed me down. Otherwise, the food was delicious so I ended up eating a lot which was probably equivalent to eating a "real meal". After the yummy french food, I went upstairs, got ready for bed, maybe told a few friends how the first day was, and fell straight to sleep with excitement and happiness inside of me.
Monday, March 2nd, 2015 - MONT ST. MICHEL
Another fun fact/culture shock is that French people start school at 7:45 AM and end school at 5:45 PM. Yes. I know. So while our French correspondents were at school, us Canadians would go on day trips to (mostly) interesting historic places. Every morning, we meet at the parking lot of the school and leave when school starts. This day, our bus ride took about 2 hours and a half to arrive at Mont St. Michel, an island in Normandy. Being winter and also being so close to the ocean, it was a very windy and cold day. Despite the weather, the place was beautiful.
I, myself, am into history and historic places, so being able to see them myself and learn about what happened at the places was such an amazing opportunity for me. We had free time until lunch where we met at the abbey to go inside all together. The abbey was huge and very fun to explore. Inside one of the gift shops at Mont St. Michel, I spotted the very first French Asians, and I just thought "THERE THEY ARE". I mean, you don't see very many Asians in France... especially in the suburbs and we weren't in the big city yet. Around 2 PM, we rode on our bus back to school and went to our french homes. It was a good first full day in France.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - CHÂTEAU DE CHAMBORD ET CHÂTEAU DE CHENONCEAU (aka CASTLE DAY!)
What was childhood if you hadn't dreamed of living in a castle? The trip to the first castle was 2 hours long from school. Once we arrived, we walked a little until we saw this huge washed-out-white castle surrounded by greenery. What I remember learning about this castle's use is different from what the sources say online, but I'll share it anyway, because it's what I remember. This castle belonged and was made for François l, the first King of France, in 1519. That is a 100% true fact. What might not be true, but what I remember is that this castle was his "playhouse" where he'd have parties and you know... play around... with his "promiscuous women" (thanks Yahoo Answers). HAHA, but don't listen to me, I'm not a pamphlet.
After touring the beautiful castle and browsed in the gift shop, as usual, we walked back to our buses and left for another 2-hour ride to Chenonceau Castle. Once we arrived at the smaller, but more decorated castle, we ate our lunches and headed inside to explore. Trustworthy sources say that this castle was built for famous and royal women, but my memory remembers that this castle, or a part of it, was used as a hospital during WWI, and then in WWII, "The Gallery's" doors were used as a symbol for la ligne de démarcation, the line between the free zone and occupied France. Yeah, that was pretty mind-blowing to be there, especially since we were learning about the two World Wars at the time. Anyways, after our visit, we came out of the castle to rain, and ran back to our buses for another 2-hour ride (YEAH, I KNOW) back to the school. It was a tiring, but a fun-filled day.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - LA FERTÉ-BERNARD
Today was the day us Canadians got the realest experience to a life of a typical teenage French person. We had the opportunity to go into our correspondents' school and even attend one of their classes, which in all honesty, isn't as exciting as you think it would be. I mean, school is school, same thing all around the world. Plus, the teachers there are speaking at a paste in which us, French Immersions, can only grasp a few concepts and then get lost again. While our twins were in their other classes, we were just playing with cards in this unused room and talking about our experiences so far. At lunch time, we joined our correspondents once again and got food at the cafeteria. I don't remember what I had for lunch, but I remember eating it all, so I'm guessing it was pretty good.
Afterwards, we left school to explore the town of La Ferté-Bernard which didn't take too long, considering how small it really is. Coming straight outta the big city of Vancouver, being in this town was this huge difference for us- not having to worry about public transit and getting everywhere because you can literally walk to where you have to go, the huge decrease in people, the old buildings compared to the modern ones we see in our city... it was surreal.
One funny memory I remember from this day was being at this kind of market they had going on with my friends, and seeing roasted chicken that I started craving because its smells were stimulating my thirst for it. One of my friends offered to buy it for all of us and so he did. Mouths watering, we found a bench for us to sit on and we basically went savage and ate the chicken with our hands. It was really great hahaha and delicious too! WE JUST ATE A ROASTED CHICKEN. IN FRANCE. WITH OUR HANDS. LIKE BARBARIANS. THIS IS GREAT. Smiling with satisfaction, people asked what was up and we just casually replied "We just ate a chicken" (or something like that). After the town visit, we departed our different ways with our French twins. My correspondent and I went to Subway afterwards to fill our stomachs, then went to the cafe/bar to meet her other friends. After some time, we went back home and settled down.
Other random culture shocks that have to do with dinner and meals in general is that #1 French people stick to the usual 3-meals-a-day, so they don't randomly have huge snacks at 4 PM, and #2 They eat dinner so late, they'd think you're weird or something for eating dinner at 6 PM instead of 8 or 9 PM. At least that's how it was for our particular group. WOW. I know!
Thursday, March 5, 2015 - AMBOISE
Today was spent in one of my favourite towns in France called Amboise. Our main attraction that day was the Château du Clos Lucé- most famous for the final residence of Leonardo Da Vinci. The inside is very beautiful and cozy, and showcases models of his great work. Shout out to the gift shop there, by having reasonable prices! A memory that is stuck in my mind from that day was the big swing. It's this huge roped swing that could fit more than 10 people that we all found gradually found it as we were walking around the area. At that moment, it was a time to reflect upon the feeling of actually being where we were. The thoughts in my head were something like "I'm here in France. On this giant swing with this frenchie family. Just take that in."
After we left the small castle, we had free time to explore the town of Amboise. My friend and I walked around the town, taking photos and went to go eat some delicious gelato. We met up with the rest of the group at the buses, and left to go to this (I think it was) abandoned town. It was probably more of a village, but yeah, it was cute and seeing these really old and outdated buildings made me honestly want to break in some of the houses and see what was inside. I don't know, I just thought it'd be cool, haha. Some others and I looked through some windows to see what we could spot, but it was mostly nothing, or old furniture which I still find pretty interesting. After the random visit which wasn't planned on our schedule, we hopped back on the bus for the drive back to school. I think this was the night I got to attend my French correspondent's dance class and that was really nice, because I have a background in dance as well. By the way, _____, si vous lisiez ça, vous êtes une belle danseuse!
To be continued...
It's no surprise to me that I wrote a lot about this trip so far, so I decided to divide the France Exchange posts into different parts, to avoid posting one massive essay of 10k words... I don't even think I'm joking. Haha, but yeah, I really just had the best time in France, and I know that my whole group did as well. My goal is to put as many of my raw memories into these posts as possible. Stay tuned for more about the trip!
Peace out, Lindsey