Friday, December 16, 2011

FRANCE: Distances

Traveling usually teaches you about geography and different perceptions of distances. I've discovered French people have a much different idea of a long car ride than Americans. Lately I went to Google Maps to explore a little, see how far away from things I am and learn a little about my current place in this wonderful country.
These are some of my discoveries:

How far I am from Middle of Nowhere, Missouri (aka Kirksville)

I had no idea I was so close to Mordor. Oh, Google Maps...

How far I am from one of the most famous cities in the world. 

How far I am from the beautiful city I will be visiting in about two-three months!

I had no idea Narnia was in Australia.

I thought Hogwarts was in Scotland. Guess I was wrong.

Cosmic distances are a lot closer than I could have ever imagined.

London town! I gotta go back there some day...

Note: Point A is Poussan, the small town outside of Sete where I am currently living with my second host family. I got to school in Sete.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! Also, thanks to Rotary for sending me on this great adventure!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

FRANCE!: The Great Perhaps

 This blogpost is not really about my exchange, it's more about some ideas that I've been pondering and answering a question.

So, I want to explain the title of this blog. I've gotten questions before on it and just want to clear things up. The name of this blog comes from the supposed (there are several accounts) last words of François Rabelais. He was a writer and is still studied today in French school because of different philosophical ideas his novels dealed with. The supposed last words he said to be "I go to seek a Great Perhaps" or un grand peut-être. I first learned about this when I read a book by the title of Looking for Alaska by John Green. In this book the main character decides to go to a boarding school because he didn't want to wait until he was on his own deathbed to go looking for his Great Perhaps. I found this idea fascinating and it was one of the things that actually motivated me to do this exchange. I don't want to miss out on an experience like this because it is really interesting in the way that one discovers a lot about themselves. I have learned some interesting things about myself, some good and some not so good. No one is perfect but we can work to be better so I do like seeing my faults because now I can try to change that as best as I possibly can. I find this as being part of finding my Great Perhaps, even though the definition of that phrase is not very clear. It can mean several things for different people but for me it means is an internal search that comes from an external difference. Learning from myself is what leads me to this thing. It's hard to explain but it's an important idea I thought about when I decided to be part of this program. Well, that's it, I hope this was intersting because it is for me. So, I shall continue my search for the Great Perhaps...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FRANCE: The Language

This is a short topic post just about the French language and how I've been progressing. But first, an update! Everything has been going well for me, we are starting a new trimester at my lycée and I'm actually really excited. Now that I have a better understanding of the language I am hoping for my grades to get better. My classmates are really nice and I am enjoying school so much because of the people there. My second host family and I are doing well. I am starting to talk more at home about little things like differences between families here and the U.S., movies, pretty much anything. But it's taken a while thanks to the language and my little knowledge of it. Let me start from the beginning...
So when I started high school I began taking French class. I took that class for two years and in the few months here I forgot and relearned practically everything (plus more!). It sounds weird saying I forgot it all but when I got here nothing, and I mean nothing, sounded like the French I had heard in class. A language in a classroom is boxed in, a bubble of dated vocabulary and grammar. Sure, teachers try to update their courses but since living languages are just that, living, they change and grow every day. Example: Some time ago I used the word "barbant" to say boring and my host mom told me that only really elderly people still use that word yet that is what we were taught in school. I've started to pick up more of the slang and modern grammatical structures which involve shortening sentences. I understand the language more and more each day since I listen and read it every day. I love French as a language because of how it sounds, where even boring sentences can have the rythem of poetry. I had a discussion a little while ago with my host father about how songs in English can litterally sound and be about anything while in French you have to be very careful with the rhyming scheme which limits it. Still, I am amazed by French songs and have been introduced to more of it through out my living with this second host family because my host father plays guitar and is a real music lover.
Another thing about the language is it's formal and informal states. Formal is usually used with older people you don't know or higher persons (either in school, work, institutions like that) while informal is used among friends or people around your age. Crossing this over at times can be a huge insult so it's very important for me to keep an eye on how I'm talking depending who I am with.
Like I said, I'm speaking more and that means the more mistakes I am making (and learning to do). It's a good learning process. One thing that has really gotten to me is the French pronunciation of the letter "r" in most words. I have spent a lot of time in the past week trying to pronounce the word "arbre" (tree) and still can't do it. My classmates and I usually have a good laugh at this everyday but I continue practicing, hopefully getting closer to saying it correctly each time.
Well, as my exchange goes and my knowledge of the language grows I will update on how it's going and different interesting things about French. One lesson this exchange has taught me already is the importance of communication and how to become better at it. First you have to have a want to be understood, which is a want understood by pretty much all of humanity. The need of being understood is what drives our daily actions and our conversations every day. It's what drives me to get better at this new language.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

FRANCE: Two months and counting...

So, I'm already two months into this exchange and I haven't written a blogpost! I actually have started writing several posts, got distracted, and never finished. But this time it's different! I'm going to give a short summary of the past two (crazy!) months. I will later do more themed posts about French culture, school, trips I've been on, things like that.  So, I'll start with the initial feelings I had when I came to France. When I arrived at Charles De Gualle with a group of around 50 other exchange students emotions were running high. It was as if we had made it, finished are long journey yet it was only the beginning. Everyone looked around, wide-eyed, making sure they didn't miss a second of their first day in France. I spent most of this time worrying about my luggage and trying to see if they were going to be on the plane to Montpelier with me (the airline told me yes but when I got to Montpelier... Surprise! not there). I like to describe that first day as sorta being thrown into the middle of a foreign film with the subtitles turned off. I tried to listen to what was happening around me, recognize words but nothing came to me. It was as if I had an idea of the movies plot but didn't really know any of the characters or what they were talking about. Thanks to the French Rotarians everyone met up with their families or were sent on their way to the different terminals spreading us wide and far all around France. I met up with a friend from Outbound Camp who was headed on the same plane to Montpelier because are towns are pretty close to each other. We got on the plane, it landed (late), my bags didn't arrive, found my host family and headed for the beautiful city of Sete (I still haven't figure out how to write out the accent but there is one over the first e). Seriously, it was the most beautiful day to arrive in France because there wasn't a cloud in the sky, it was really nice and warm, summer was still in full swing. As soon as I got to my first host families home they fed me traditional food from Sete, the tielle. Man, after eating really bad airlpane food this was so heavenly. For the first week I think I ate meat twice because the diet here is mostly centered around fish since there it is a port town. I've had the best fish in my life here, also the bread! I'll dedicate a post later on to food because there is so much to talk about when it comes to french cuisine. Well, right after lunch I slept for a few hours, trying to get used to the humid heat of the coast. This is a lot of what I did the first few days in France, trying to catch up on sleep and getting rid of the jet lag. My host family took me to a few museums and exhibits, a tour of Sete, made me really happy to be here and got me more acquainted with the culture. School started about a week and a half later. The first few days were really rough because of how large the language barrier was. I'm not perfect in French yet or anything but I've learned so much in the past two months that I sometimes surprise myself. One thing that I find fascinating is how much a foreign exchange is centered around communication, the want and need to be understood by others. As humans we try to get others to understand our situations and who we are but when you are on exchange you have to add the need of trying to be understood in the simple ways saying short sentences your not exactly sure how to pronounce. I can understand a lot of French now but still have those moments everyday when I have no idea what people are talking about. Those are getting less frequent, at least. Let's see, after about a week of school Rotary held a weekend meeting for the exchange students in my district in the town of Cahors. There I met a bunch of students from around the world who are staying here in the the more southeastern part of France. Really fun weekend full of canoeing, laughs, and very interesting conversations. Two other big news, I went to London and I am now staying with my second host family. London was really cool (I'll write a blog about it soon enough, hopefully) and it was really nice of my first host parents to invite me to go and show me around the city! And yes, I am currently with my second host family. I will have two host families here in France and I will be changing every few months between them. Both of my host families have been really nice and understanding of me and the things that go with being on exchange. And now I shall go because it's morning and I have a report to write in French to do. I'll try to write more often from now on, maybe a post every week about a specific topic and how everything is going in general. 

Au revoir!
Up in the air...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Before France #3:

I've been meaning to write a post lately but have been busy with packing and all that lately. I am currently listening to Abbey Road as I wait for my flight from Kansas City to D.C. to start boarding. No other RYE students around but I'll see some at D.C. I bet. Everything has gone well up to this point, except I am a bit mad about only getting three or four hours of sleep. It would have been nice to get a little more. I'll take a nap on the plane hopefully. This is a little more rambling than my usual blog posts mostly because I have to kill the time. I could read and practice my French but I have a five hour lay over in D.C. to do that plus most of the flight from there to Paris. I seriously can't wait to get to France tomorrow! I am a little nervous and anxious about the whole experience but that's normal. Expect to hear more from me soon!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Before France #2: The Art of Leaving

I've been thinking a lot lately about my exchange, trying to get my visa, and all that. I'm also trying to start a relationship with my first host family. All of this has made me think about leaving. Just the act of picking up a suitcase and not coming back for a long time. I, as I'm sure many people that are my age, have had this dream of taking a backpack full of one's prized possessions and leaving. Leaving your house, family, friends, your whole life. I don't know why but it's always a feeling I've had, since I was a small kid. I want to always keep moving, sort of like a shark. In the movie Up In The Air there is a line that goes: "The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living." I feel this to be true. If you're not moving forward, you're not doing anything at all. I really like being in airports for this reason, the mystique that surrounds a place where people are always moving, going forward. These people move in straight lines, an orderly fashion most of the time, trying to be as efficient as possible. All these lives and stories gathering in one location but very few are shared. This all amazes me, but it's just a way to romanticize travel.
I've been living in the United States for almost eleven years and as my exchange approaches I see it as my next big move. Eleven years ago I came to a country whose language I did not know how to speak, who had different customs, and didn't really have anything I really wanted. I was moving with my parents because of course they aren't going to leave me and they saw this move as a game changer, the same thing millions of other immigrants have dreamed America to be. In about a year I learned the language, the culture, and how to enjoy myself here. But in recent years I've been getting anxious, it's been way too long since I've felt completely out of place, not knowing anything about anything. I feel that if I get too comfortable I will never achieve things I want to do. So I see this exchange as my big game changer, my chance to redo everything I did a few years ago but this time with a job and minus the parents. My job is to be an ambassador, and I like that. It gives me a purpose, a reason to be there. I know more French than I knew English when I moved here, so thats a plus. There is another feeling in me, one that enjoys that I now can manage myself very well in the U.S. Almost my whole family has moved to the U.S., all my friends are here, and a lot of good things happened in the past year. This year was a good year because I feel like I finally know what I'm doing. But then will come that fateful day that I leave all of this behind, this control that has taken me   almost ten years to learn, and I like that.  I am moving forward, knowing that there are rough roads ahead of me. I can't wait.  For most of my friends and schoolmates it seems that they see my leaving as if I were falling off the face of the Earth for a year and then coming back. Some of them have expressed a want to do a foreign exchange but there are things stopping them from doing it. Family, friends, and school. They don't want to have to go through rough times without their families and friends. They are also afraid of falling back in school, and I don't blame them. As I'm doing all of these things to get ready to leave all of this comes to mind. I think this is why foreign exchange students mature four years in the year of their exchange. We leave the safety and comfort of our regular lives in search of something new, each with their reasons. For some it's to learn the language, other's to see the world outside of their hometown. For me it's the urge to keep on moving, to see life in as many ways as I possibly can before I can do it no longer. I want to learn as many languages as I can, experience as many cultures as possible, and see as many extraordinary places that people could only imagine. I know it's going to be tough and there will be times I will want to come back but that's all part of the experience, right? It's getting through all that that seems to make the experience enjoyable, which I have gathered from listening to the Rotex's stories about their exchanges. As the date of my departure approaches the mix of happiness and fear becomes greater. I see leaving no longer as an action, but art. A thing that is done sometimes with little knowledge of it's subject or where it's headed but after it's all said and done, you step back. You look at the thing you've created, the person you've become. And you smile.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Before France: An Announcement and Outbound Camp

Bonjour! Hello, mes amis! Comment-allez vous? So, a couple of months ago it was revealed to me that I would be going to Sète, France! Soon after the announcement I went to Google to see where this place was in France and what it looked like. Then I saw this picture:
I almost had a heart attack because this place looks so awesome! My excitement for the Rotary Youth Exchange program skyrocketed. For those of you who don't know, I was born on a small island called Puerto Rico. My earliest memories are of me at the beach. I was so excited when I found out that the beach is but a five minute walk away from my host family's home! But this isn't all fun and games. I'm currently working to get my visa so I can stay in France and practicing the language. I've had two years of French class and I know that is far from being enough to master the language. A few months ago I met a French person who was visiting my town and I stopped dead, forgetting how to say what time it was. I'm getting rusty about things that I learned less than a year ago! So, finally, I'm trying to get some needed practice (reading newspapers and listening to music, all in French). 
Recently I went to Rotary Youth Exchange Outbound Camp in Edmond, Oklahoma. I met so many awesome people who next year will do similar but extremely different treks than I will (confusing, I know). The uniting factor between all of us is that we all will be departing places (for some of us it's our home, and for others it's just a place to eat and sleep) and living in a new world outside of the United States of America for a year. I find this to be incredible, that there are others like me who are crazy enough to take a year from their lives and dedicate it to learning a new language and culture. In the few days we had at camp we learned so many things, preparing us to go all our separate ways. We also became a family there, one family who shared laughter and tears. This whole experience made my exchange seem more real in my eyes, reminding me it's just around the corner...
As my exchange gets closer and closer, the more real it becomes. Instead of this fantasy that I've had for the past few years it is becoming tangible. This both frightens and excites me. I'm happy to have both feelings because they balance each other out, hopefully making my eyes more open about this whole experience. Well, I shall continue reading Le Monde. Au revoir!