Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Closure and College App Essays

I meant to make a final post during most of last year and then completely forgot for a while. I can't believe I started my exchange a little more than two years ago already.

What do I know now that I didn't know two years ago? Lots. Mostly, that going on exchange was the best decision I've ever made. I really think it was my year in France that motivated me to apply to Oxford (yes, the one in England) and that was in large part responsible for my acceptance there. I'm going to be studying French and Arabic (also inspired by my time in France) starting next month. And I'm not worried at all. If I was capable of going to France, I can most definitely go to the UK (and next year to Syria or Egypt!).

I'd like to leave you with two of my college application essays because 1) I think I expressed the way I feel about studying abroad pretty well in them, and 2) I'm too lazy to write something new.

On my connection to a place (and on saying goodbye):
"In my mind’s eye I see my host mom and brother waving goodbye to me. My host dad Hervé pulls the car, a blue Peugeot 806, down the driveway, and now I see the wilted geraniums in the window boxes, the side yard where I played soccer, the imposing shutters which stayed closed all winter but now are open. Laurent puts his arm around my host mom’s shoulders and calls after me with a half-smile, “Allez, garde la banane!” an untranslatable French pun on “Cheer up!” I laugh a little through my tears and wave until Hervé reaches the end of the driveway and turns right so I can’t see them anymore. I am sobbing now, and Hervé reaches over and pats my hand.

I remember all this because I wrote everything down, every day, filling seven notebooks in ten months. The writing forced me to notice each of the million tiny reasons why I loved where I was. I remember the saltiness of the tears in my mouth, the smell of the white flowers on the bushes outside the house, the brilliance of my host brother’s red shirt in the sun, the gentleness of his voice as he tries to make me laugh, and the warmth of my host dad’s hand on mine. The grace of these details offsets how much I miss 8 avenue du Moulinard, Osny, France."

And the essay I wrote for the Common App, which summarizes my whole year:

"No one could believe that I wanted to—that I would even be able to—study abroad. I was too shy. Still, I knew I wanted to spend my junior year of high school in France, attending a lycée and living with a host family, although I struggled to explain my reasons to my parents. No, I wasn’t fleeing San Antonio, and no, I didn’t just want to become fluent in French. Finally, the words came to me: “I want to be a braver person.” I hated being shy, and I wanted to change. Going to France, I reasoned, would be like tearing a band-aid off quickly and getting the pain over with at once. I would be around people I didn’t know, and I would just have to get used to talking to them if I didn’t want to be lonely all year.

In retrospect, I underestimated the effect that studying abroad would have on me. I did become braver, though in a different way than I expected. The world I knew had fallen away, and there I was in France. So I adapted. I learned to eat grilled cheese sandwiches with a fork and knife and to do my math homework in pen instead of pencil. But for all of the external changes, I clung to who I was on the inside. I realized that I had been wrong to think that I wanted to become a different person.

Instead I worked on being a more outgoing version of myself, on talking to classmates who didn’t talk to me, and on opening up to my host family. It wasn’t easy, but the turning point came when I connected with my sixteen-year-old host brother Laurent. On the day I arrived, he barely glanced my way when he said hello. For months our conversations were unsatisfying, brief and superficial.

One day Laurent came home from school upset, and he talked to me for a minute before going up to his room. I hesitated, but finally concern conquered my timidity, and I knocked on his door. The problem, a test that hadn’t gone well, was insignificant. What matters is that when I left that room he gave me his first genuine smile in three months. After that day, we were friends, siblings almost, and on my last day in France, he stayed by me, offering his shoulder to cry on.

And I needed that shoulder. By the end of my ten months, my host family really was like family, and I had close friends at school. The sadness that I felt, though, is also a measure of my success. I had found the courage to connect with people, to reach out across closed doors and language barriers. If these connections made it a hundred times harder to leave France, then they have also made it a hundred thousand times easier for me to be myself. I know now that I don’t need to try to be someone I’m not, someone who loves crowded parties and tells life stories to strangers.

When I returned from France this summer, my mother was thrilled to see how I had changed. She said it better than I can: “Lucie, you’re not a different person. You’re more yourself.” Now that I have explained the quadratic formula and told people I love them, both in French, English is easy. I am proud that I pushed myself to go to France, I am proud that I was successful in my year abroad, and I am happy to be who I am with the courage to face the world."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why I've Stopped Writing

It's hard for me to write in English now--tiring--and I'd rather just speak French.
Life is normal for me, now. I still LOVE it here but reporting on things has gotten a lot less interesting.

Those are my excuses. They're true, but they're nothing I couldn't overcome if I wanted to. After a lot of reflection (too much...), what I've come up with, as far as a real reason, is the following:

I think I started blogging in the first place as a way to be sure I still existed. At first (pretty normal for an exchange student, I think) I felt fairly un-connected to the people around me. I didn't know them yet, really, so how could I love them?

But that's different now. It's been a gradual process, the whole connecting-with-people thing, and you can see it in the way the frequency of my posts diminishes. Now I have people here who love me and who look out for me--my host family, in particular, and my two closest friends at school. So I'm connected to them, and I have no desire to publish my life. The people who are HERE, NOW, are more important at the moment than the people on the other end of the fiberoptic cables or whatever it is that carries the internet. Real life is more fulfilling.

To my family and friends in Murka: All my apologies. I still love you, and I'll tell you everything when I get back.

PS I'll write one more time, at the end of the year, to sum everything up.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Le Foot et le Salon du Livre

On Wednesday afternoon I played soccer (le foot) with my little host brother. The sun was shining, the flowers were blooming, and the wind was gusting: a typical March day. It was fun, even if Hugo does run circles around me. I've only ever played on a soccer team once, last year, and Hugo, while not professional, has clearly had some intense training during recess at school.

He can lift the ball into the air with his foot, put spin on it, and head it into the goal. I'm Inspired. I like baseball/softball better, but for the moment, I'm in France, and so soccer shall be my substitute.

Remarque: If I talk about le foot, people tend to think I mean le foot américain. And thoughtful people are always trying to spell my name L-U-C-Y. It's nice of them to be considerate of my Americanness, I guess, but I wish they'd spell my name right.

On another subject, I got to go to the Salon du Livre in Paris, which is a huge convention of publishers and authors and things. Do those exist in America? I hope so. Because it was cool. I loved the atmosphere (so book-y), and I got to meet my new favorite author (!), who happened to be there signing books. In case anyone cares, he's Jean-Michel Guenassia, author of Le Club des Incorrigibles Optimistes. My host family gave the book to me for Christmas, and I loved every one of its seven-hundred-and-something pages. The story was beautiful.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I have lots of excuses, particularly TIMEPASSESTOOFAST. I love it here. I wish I could think of a stronger word than love, but my vocabulary is pretty limited what with not speaking much English lately. And not reading much English. (AHEM. Where's my March Atlantic, mom?)

So I could write about learning to ski, or the AFS outing to see the Quartier latin, or all the time I'm spending in Paris on the weekends now that the weather is warm and sunny.

But I've already told those stories to people, and they're stale. Instead, here's a post about la langue française, which interests ME, at any rate.

Things I've Noticed, a List in No Particular Order
  • I figured out how to say like in French, in the Valley Girl sense of the word. The word is genre but when it means like you have to make it all mumbly and simltaneously make an N come out your nose and swallow an R. I haven't mastered the pronunciation, which is unfortunate because I like that word. Genre.
  • Kinetic energy = l'énergie cinétique with a C. So are the words kinetic and cinema related? (That blew my mind for an entire Physics class...So maybe I'm a little more littéraire than scientifique.)
  • I learned in French class that ball = le ballon but actually ball = la balle. La balle means bullet too, which is the basis for this really funny ad that comes on before NCIS on Fridays (which I always watch. I don't know if it's good in English, but dubbed in French, it's hilarious.).
  • The way you say To feel lazy (rough translation) is avoir la flemme.
  • I spent almost an entire Bio class wondering what bourgeon, a key word in the lesson, meant. Towards the end I figured out that it means bud, like in burgeoning in English, but until then, it was like morphogenèse des végétaux-themed MadLibs! There is absolutely nothing as wonderful as not being fluent.
  • I have a whole new ski-themed vocabulary that I only know how to say in French! dérapage, chasse-neige, bosse, téléski...gamelle (well, that last one means a wipeout, but it was probably my Most-Used Word that week, so it bore mentioning).

Happy now? Good. Until next month, dear readers,

With love,


Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'm Number (forty-)ONE!

My blog got ranked as the forty-first best exchange blog by!

Thanks for voting!

(And 41 is a much nicer number than, say, 1. Really. It means I have room for improvement.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Semaine Blanche

This week is exam week (semaine blanche in French) for me! Fun! So far I've failed a French written test (on humorous poetry; if there are two things I don't understand in French, they're humor and poetry...), failed a math test (but to a lesser degree than most of my classmates, I think), and DOMINATED MY FRENCH ORAL TEST! 17 out of 20!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm so proud of that. I almost speak French!

Tomorrow I'll pass Physique-Chimie, Thursday I'll fail SVT (biology), and Friday I get to go on a field trip. All in all a good week, since I only have two hours of testing a day. (Except Monday, when I had five hours, all in a row and all for French class, but that's over with now, thank God.)

I'm going to go study now, I think. Blah.

Le jour de Saint Valentin

Moderately interesting cultural difference, right here:

My real mom
sent me some of those heart-shaped candies for Valentine's Day (the ones that say I <3 U and CUTIE; you know the ones I mean), enough to share with people here.

My host mom
thought it was weird that I was sharing candy with people, because apparently in France Valentine's day is exclusively pour les amoureux, and if you give candy to someone it Means Something.

I shared the candy anyway, with my best American smile.