Sunday, September 9, 2012


My school schedule
Wednesday September 5th was the first day of school. Some of my first impressions - Lycée Ernest Pérochon doesn't look too different from an American high school in terms of its hallways and classrooms. However, the significant difference is that there are no lockers and no huge gym or sports facilities. The French students are VERY organized. They all have their pencil cases in front of them from the start of each class, and they color code their notes in their notebooks, writing extremely neatly.
My first day of school, like my first day in France, was very difficult. I was overloaded with the French language. Teenager talk is complex enough in English, so when I overhear conversations in French, I can barely pick up anything. Also, none of the kids in my class spoke to me, so I felt lonely the whole day. I was even introduced as an exchange student. At the end of the first day, I went home feeling scared and discouraged, because all I really wanted was some French friends. From that day, I learned some important lessons.
I am never alone. The teachers all offered me help if I ever needed anything, and I particularly like the English teacher. It threw me off though because he spoke in PERFECT English, just like a teacher in the US would. Also, my other exchange student friends had similar experiences, which was relieving.
Good friends don't come right away. They come gradually, especially here in Europe where people are generally more reserved than in America or in Asia.
I'm gonna have to do a bit of a personality change here. I'm the type of person who expects things right away, who worries about things too far ahead and takes things too fast. Il faut que je prenne mon temps-I need to take my time.
Although nobody talked to me, there were two kids who smiled at me, and it made me incredibly happy. I had no idea of the massive effect a smile could have on a person until that day.
I dreaded the next day just a bit, but bravely walked into school anyway. During one of the breaks from class, one person talked to me, and he asked, "Where in the United States are you from?" (in French) I happily told him I was from Oregon, the state above California. That one sentence made my day instantly better, because somebody finally talked to me.
As I headed over to German class, another one of the boys greeted me with a, "Hello!" The day got better after that. I got around to asking people's names, and for some reason, that helped.
A little anecdote on German class. I have never taken a German class before, and this one had kids who had been taking it for a few years. The teacher spoke ONLY in German, with the occasional French. I must admit, it helped my French a lot... I also asked my seatmate for help, and he was very nice and showed me the German-French translations in my notebook. Then the prof went around the class having every student say a sentence based on our lesson today. I had somehow managed to keep up with the lesson and had a few sentences written, so I bravely said, "Der Held ist eine Erwachsener." The prof beamed and praised, "Sehr gut!" as she clapped for me. In the past, doing something like that in French class was not a big deal at all, but here in France, in my first German class, I couldn't help but feel immensely proud of myself.
Feeling brave again, I approached one of the kids in my class and asked him if he had the same one hour break as me afterwards. He did. I asked if I could go with him, and we ended up chatting outside the school for the break. I felt a lot better about myself. He, similar to most everyone else in my class I have talked to, has never met an exchange student or an American. I think the kids in class have yet to get used to having such a foreigner in their midst. I don't know if they understand the concept of exchange student, but eventually they will get used to my presence.
It's like the magic word for me right now.
People here are nice to me, but I don't have any real friends (outside Rotary) yet.
In this town in the middle of nowhere, however, it is such a help that I know how to speak French well. I simply can't imagine going to school not knowing a word of French other than "bonjour" and "voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir." (Not that I'm saying those aren't important ;)
By the third day, people started greeting me with the bisous, so I decided that I was making progress little by little. I don't know how well things will go next week, but it's part of the adventure. What disappointments I will have, what incidents will inspire surges of pride, and what surprises there will be. Already exchange isn't going as I expected it to go.

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