I can’t quite believe that I’ve only spent one week here in Saint Médard en Jalles, France. It feels like I’ve been here for so long already. My world has been completely flipped upside down and nearly everything has changed, even if just slightly. Honestly, most of the time I have no idea what the heck is going on. For example, the second day after I arrived here in France, I was told we were going to some party with other students. So I’m just thinking to myself “Okay, great. I’ll get to meet some more French students, hang out, whatever.” It wasn’t until we literally arrived at the place and I saw the sign that said WEP (my exchange company here in France) that I realized this was a party for me, with other exchange students. You can imagine my surprise. That experience is an accurate depiction of my life here so far.
School in it of itself is a whole other battle. When you speak or listen to your native language, you don’t realize how quickly you speak or how easy it is for you to listen. Let me assure you, it is no walk in the park for those trying to learn. In my classes, I understand maybe 27% of what is going on, sometimes more, sometimes less. Who knew the things I would best understand over here would be the Cold War, derivatives, and sexual reproduction? School for me essentially means going to class, writing down whatever notes the teacher writes on the board (as best as I can understand it considering it is written in cursive as well as French), and just listening to the lecture to see if I can understand anything that is happening.
**Little side note here: when I am listening intensely to these lectures, I experience a strange sensation in my brain where nothing is happening. Truly, it’s as if my brain is buffering, waiting to understand a small fragment of a phrase or a word sometime soon. No other thoughts are in my brain, nothing else is happening. I’m just waiting. I’ve decided to call it a brain buffer period (or BBP).**
There are some very obvious things that have changed for me that many of you are curious about, so I though I would spend a bit of time explaining and sharing some of those differences.
My house here is in a typical French style with a clay tile roof and visible wooden beams supporting the ceiling. Notably, the toilet and shower are in separate rooms and every bathroom sink I have encountered thus far has had one option: cold water. In my house specifically, my bedroom doesn’t have a window on the wall but rather a skylight to provide natural light for the room.
The meals here are an event. In school, we are allotted at least one hour everyday for lunch, usually more depending on the classes you take. Sometimes, I have as many as three hours in between classes to just hang out and eat. At home, it’s typical for meals to last somewhere between 1.5-2 hours. Usually it begins with the main part of the meal, followed by salad, followed by a selection of cheeses, followed by dessert (normally fruit or yogurt), followed by coffee, tea, or an infusion. Not to mention, having delicious bread, usually baguette, at every meal.
In terms of clothing, the French have a quite different taste than Americans. The boys here will usually wear Puma or Adidas fashion sneakers, accompanied by cuffed pants, a knitted sweater, and a fashionable coat with a scarf for when we go outside. The girls will usually wear suede New Balance sneakers or ankle boots along with skinny-fit pants (sometimes cuffed) a scarf, and a jacket of some sort, usually leather. You will never see anyone wearing athletic clothes or sweatpants to school or in public. Ever. But you will likely see someone wear the exact same outfit multiple days in a row or the same article of clothing for an entire week (ex. Scarf, pants, shoes, sweater, etc.).
School schedules here are very different than in the US. For one thing, you have a different schedule every day of the week, but the same weekly schedule all year. There is a “bell” system that goes off every hour (I say “bell” because it’s not so much a bell, but more of a jingle, like from a TV commercial). You have each of your classes with the same group of 30 people, unless you elect to take a less traditional class like Euro English (the equivalent of AP English Language) or Russian, then you’ll have different people.
Here, I am in the classes set on the business track, so I take classes like business, math, English, French literature, Spanish, history, and a gym class. I have English two days of the week and I so look forward to having that little time when I know exactly what is going on.
Also, if your teacher is not there one day for one reason or another, you just simply don’t have class. If it’s your first class of the day, you can just come in late, and if it’s your last class, you can leave early. The French school system operates under a complete “open campus” model. Students are free to come and go as they please as long as they are there for their classes. Smoking is also very popular among teenagers so in between classes or during the lunch break, many students will go outside in front of the school for a smoke. Students who smoke and those who don’t will all congregate and just have social time. So far, I have not been pressured to smoke at all.
So much has happened in this first week, it’s hard to comprehend. So far I have visited Bordeaux twice, gone to the supermarket, met the other exchange students in my program, and gone to a movie premier where there was a famous French actor. I have to say, I think this exchange is off to a great start and I can’t wait to see what else this experience has I store for me!