By Katie R.
Walks along the Seine, the glistening Eiffel Tower, and perfectly flaky, golden croissants are just a few of the things that come to mind when thinking about France. Of course, I got my fair share of all of the above during my 10 day trip over spring break. However, I think that all 10 of us who participated in the French exchange can agree that the experience went so far beyond the cliches of baguettes and berets.
We all started off our journey incredibly excited, but also wary of the unknowns to come. Would we like our host families? How would our French hold up? Will people be rude? We had plenty of time to ruminate over all of our questions during our eight hour flight to France. Yet, from the very first “bonjour” all of our families proved extremely welcoming and put our great initial fears to rest.
Nonetheless, the first few days seemed long and exhausting. Not only did it take some time to adjust to a new schedule, home, and family, but there was the constant task of translating everything that I was hearing and saying. What made it even harder was the fact that during the weekends we were all alone with just our host families so there really was no safety net. The inability to retreat to the comfort of my own friends did feel nerve racking and somewhat isolating; however, without that push off the deep end I don’t think that I ever would have received as much from the experience as I did.
I visited the Louvre, took a four hour car ride to Mont Saint-Michel, and toured Versailles during those weekends I spent with my French family. These were all amazing, unforgettable experiences which I am so grateful for. But I think what affected me even more were the little moments that we all spent together – the time that my exchange student, Gaeline, and I watched “Gossip Girl” and I translated all of the drama to her, or when her dad would stop by the boulangerie to pick up the pain-au-chocolats that he knew I liked, or when her brother would blast Miley Cyrus’s “Flowers” throughout the whole house. These moments were less expected, but helped me feel more at home among those who had originally just been strangers, thus opening my eyes to a completely different world outside of just my own friends and family.
That being said, the times spent together with our school group were also incredibly enriching. I will never forget exploring Paris together by riding the Bateau Mouche, lunching under the Eiffel Tower, and wandering about the Champs-Elysee. We struggled the whole day to try to blend in with the local Parisians, but in the end just gave in to our American ways and bought the most touristy berets we could find along with a few “I Love Paris” shirts.
Yet we also participated in some less predictable outings as well, visiting a plethora of castles and chateaux, meandering through quaint little towns such as Senlis, and even biking about 25 miles through the French countryside. Yes, 25 miles. Even when things proved challenging, such as sitting down the day after said bikeride or struggling through a French chemistry class, I felt myself becoming a better version of myself. I realized my own ability to be thrown totally out of my comfort zone and still land on my feet, a feeling that is both freeing and highly rewarding. My French, while far from perfect, still helped me to get along in a foreign place which gave me the motivation to continue to learn and improve. Overall, that’s what this trip taught me – to learn and improve. So if you’re ever in my shoes in two years when the exchange trip is being offered again, I highly recommend going for it. While there will most certainly be bumps along the way, the rewards will be well worth it. Plus, I’m seriously not kidding about the croissants; they’re to die for and would make any trip well worth it.