Wednesday, 10 February 2016

An Amazing Seven Weeks in Paris

PROGRAM: Language Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Stevie Young

The adventure of a lifetime began on the 8th of December 2015, with a large group of nervous parents (some more so than their kids), and students all wearing dark Antips tee shirts. 

And what an adventure it was – 23 hours of travel took us to Charles de Gaul airport near Paris. I think that honestly that bus trip was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of the entire trip… because I was sleep deprived, it seemed to me that I could speak absolutely no French. Not to mention that we were all wondering what our host sisters would be like. Would we get along? Would we be able to communicate?

However, within seconds of our arrival, I realised that our host families were just as nervous as us. I had the dubious honour of been the first Aussie called out of the bus (where we were still cowering) and I have never had so many butterflies in my stomach. But I was met with smiles and a hug from my host sister, and straight away I felt a thousand times better.

As we headed home (my enormous bag did earn me one or two raised eyebrows on the bus) I was amazed by how… French everything was. So many of the houses bore the distinctive oak plank design, and my host family’s house had the most adorable garden and sloped roof. I fell in love immediately.

And then, of course, came the food.

By dinnertime I was hungry, sure. But I was not at all prepared for what was soon to become a typical meal. We started with cheese. Little cubes of cheese served with baguette that Blandine (my host sister) and I had picked up that afternoon. And then we had soup, with croutons, which was amazing. Then more cheese, all the fancy French ones like Camembert and Brie – I have never been so full in my life.

And then … dessert came out. Dessert was a cake, and the French idea of a ‘small piece’ is not at all mine. But it was so lovely, and my host family were the best.

Other than eat about that much food every night (my suit case was not the only thing that weighed more on the way home), I was lucky enough to explore Rouen. The beauty of the Rouen Cathedral blew me away and the other churches in the area each time I saw them, and all the Australians on exchange in Rouen were shown the ‘Big Clock’ and the court yard where Joan of Ark was burned as well as given a quick rundown on the history of the architecture behind the Cathedral a week after we arrived, on our first excursion together.

Fortunately, I was able to explore some of the features of France outside of Rouen too! I went to √Čtretat, a beautiful beach with an adorable town nestled between naturally forming enormous arches that stretched into the ocean from the headland. Whilst all my photos of that day show glowing sunshine, it was not warm at all – we ate lunch on the beach, and all three of us were certain our hands were about to fall off from the cold. (This actually ended up being another common theme of the trip).

During the Christmas Holidays I also went up to Mont Saint Michel with my host sister, her older sister and my host Mum. It was truly stunning and I feel so blessed to have been able to learn about French history whilst seeing such a beautiful place. I believe some of the other Australians went to Paris during the Christmas Holidays too, and that they had an amazing time there!

Speaking of Christmas holidays, we all had Christmas in France, which was amazing! I didn’t realise how big a deal Christmas Eve is in France. It’s almost bigger than Christmas day, and no one sleeps until 3am. We had amazing food, which I got to help make, and we all got really dressed up which was fun! It was hard not being home for Christmas, but I Skype called my family, and my Mum packed me a present from her to open, so I didn’t end up being too homesick (not to mention how utterly wonderful and welcoming my host family was). Christmas day was much quieter, although we still managed to have a massive lunch. Overall, it was a wonderful holiday and I am so grateful for the experience!

After the holidays ended (As they always seem to) it was back to school for us! Blandine was in the science course, which meant a lot of maths and chemistry and physics, none of which I understood (and judging by the diagrams, English wouldn’t have helped much) Still, English class was always a relief, and I could sometimes pick up what was going on in History (Until it morphed into that pure evil, geography)

We had two more excursions before we headed home; one of them was to the battlefields of World War I and World War II, which was a fascinating and sobering excursion. The week after, we all also went ice-skating, and because I couldn’t skate I found it hilarious to watch – we stood out like sore thumbs clinging to the railing and using the aids meant for the small children (which they were too busy zipping around the rink to use). After we’d had enough, we all headed out for hot chocolate, a truly magical thing in France.

But unfortunately, like all truly wonderful things, our time in France had to come to an end. We caught the bus at 5:30 on a Friday morning to Paris, where we nervously checked our luggage (no one was 100% sure that they wouldn’t be over the limit) and talked excitedly with our friends about our experiences. 23 hours later we walked out of the arrivals gate to be met by our families, a wonderful end to a fantastic trip on every level!

It’s impossible for me to describe exactly how much this experience has meant to me, and how impossibly grateful I am for it. I know that all the other Australians feel the same, and that we’ve all had some of the best 7 weeks of our lives!

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