By Maria Ashby 19'
Most Close students separate their school year by the two semesters, but after my spring break experience, I see my junior year as BPT(before Paris trip) and APT(after Paris trip)
At first, I was very apprehensive about the exchange. I didn’t talk to my correspondent until about two weeks before the trip. The fear of being mocked for my broken French prevented me from getting to really know her. After talking to some of the other girls on the trip, I found out that my experience was not unique. But as soon we entered the city limits of Paris, all of my fear and anxiety faded away.
I could write about the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower or about how over-hyped the Mona Lisa is, but the thing that really made the French exchange so special was not just the city, but the opportunity to immerse oneself into Parisian life. I learned how to use the Parisian metro. I got lost on the Parisian metro. I learned how to spot a bad touristy restaurant just by looking at its sign. And after a few days at Stanislas, my exchange’s school, I figured out that all you need to do to sound like a French teen is to place the word “hyper” in front of all your adjectives. Maybe my thinking is still clouded by the sugar haze from stopping at bakeries five times a day, but becoming a Parisian felt like a natural transition.
During those ten days, my host family sort of became my faux family. We ate breakfast together — a hearty meal of a baguette and butter — while listening to French radio. In the evenings, I would watch Netflix with my host brother as we both avoided doing schoolwork (turns out procrastination is a multicultural phenomenon). At dinnertime, my host mother would cook meals from her native region Brittany and teach me about the different parts of France that each ingredient came from. After all her instruction, I am confident that I could write an IHAP on wine and cheese. Occasionally, one of my exchange’s older brothers would come to dinner and we would eat and chat until midnight. Sometimes would talk about local French politics, but other times we would argue about whether or not the Kardashian family is the American equivalent of the British royal family. The jury is still out on that one.
But my time in Paris was not always a fairytale. There were some rough moments. I found the courses at Stanislas to be dull and uninspiring with the exception of PE class which was a joy. The classes in France are lecture-style, and there is very little student participation during the entire period. This lack of creativity in the curriculum stems from the goal of the French education system: pass the Baccalaureate exam. In addition, over the course of the trip, I felt myself getting more and more mentally exhausted from speaking French all the time. As my conservations with my host family and my exchange got more complex, my French vocabulary began to become insufficient to keep up the conservation. My hosts were kind and helped me figure what I wanted to say, but my previous confidence in my speaking skills greatly diminished.
But, overall, the French exchange was a very positive experience and I would highly recommend it. It gave me the opportunity to forget about school and college stress and do some self-reflection. I also gained some friends that I hope to keep for a lifetime. But before you go visit yourself, be prepared to be disappointed by American food when you get back.