Thursday, December 26, 2013

Adventure time

All packed up and ready to GO TO THE ALPS!

Today I'm going to my 3rd host family's house because tomorrowwwwww my third host dad, host sister, host cousin, and Rika are going on a road trip to St. Gervais in the French Alps for one week of snowy (I hope), mountain-y, skiing bliss.  I am SO PUMPED.  I've missed mountains so much and I'm probably going to squeal like a little girl when they come into sight.  Cannot wait.

Sadly my absence will mean no blog posts for the next week or so until we get back on the 4th of January, so you guys are gonna have to stick it out till I come back with a million more photos and hours of blog-reading-mouse-scrolling time for my next post.

Have a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! And I'll be back in 2014 (whuut!)

Cheers :)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Joyeux Noël!

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND FELIZ NAVIDAD AND JOYEUX NOEL FROM THE CANADIAN IN FRANCE TO ALL YOU BLOG READERS! I hope each and every one of you has as amazing a Christmas as I did this year.

I bought a dirt cheap Santa costume way back in November that I ended up having way too much fun with doing a one man photo shoot alone in my bedroom one day that I wasn't at school...  I'll be sprinkling those Santa surprises throughout this post to keep everyone in the proper holiday mood:

One of the biggest things exchange students tend to dread about going on exchange is Christmas.  It's that one time during the year when there's a huge emphasis on family time and being somewhere you love with people you love, and we're warned before exchange that this could be the hardest time of the year for homesickness.  I've been getting pumped about Christmas since before mid-November, but a tiny part of me was still unsure if I'd really enjoy it considering I'm in a different family and different country.  Well that was a load of rubbish and worry for nothing.  My Christmas was FAAAABULOUS!

Back home, Christmas Eve is the day of anticipation and excitement, with the craziness of presents and the big turkey dinner held off until the 25th.  In France, the 24th is the big fête where all the family gets together and dines together, and presents are opened around midnight.  Yesterday Theophane and I decorated the Christmas tree and helped Yann and Marie Jo Christmas-ize the house before the dinner guests arrived.  

In Canada we eat Turkey for our Christmas dinner.  Yesterday we ate goose (first goose eating of my lifetime).  Yann also purchased this specialty Christmas mushroom called a Truffle for FIFTY EURO that he grated up and mixed into the accompanying mashed potatoes.  Yah you heard me... a fifty euro mushroom.  My jaw dropped too. 

goose hangin loose
Marie Jo models the Truffle *oooooooohhhhh*

virtual high five for anyone who spots the girl with the camera 

By the time Marie Jo's mom, and sister and family arrived, the house had transformed into a beautiful French Christmas scene with an ambiance that glowed with festive joy (candles are the KEY to a good ambiance people).

The meal spanned over a couple hours.  There was a tranquil aperitif in the comfy couches, then everyone lazily floated to the dinner table for some foie gras, then a little while later the goose touched down alongside some Truffle potatoe.  The wait in between the main dish and the cheese (DUH we're in France, there's a cheese course) was significantly longer, but sure enough then the cheese plate made it's way around, followed by not only a dark chocolate raspberry mousse log cake, but a vanilla orange ice cream log cake.  And I distinctly remember the presence of some macaroons and boutique chocolates as well.  The stairs became my Mt. Everest trying to go up with my full belly after that meal last night.  No guilt there. Let the Christmas vs. Fighting Off Exchange Weight games begin.

Aperitif! Not sure why I look so ticked off in this photo... I was in really high spirits I swear! 
Siobhan eating Christmas dinner in France whaaat
It really is a beautiful setup for a nice Christmas meal.
Presents were opened after all the eating was finally done, I loved being able to see the magic of Christmas I'm used to with my own family show in another family (okay gotta cool it on the cheesy Christmas lines...).  But for real, it was real nice.  My host mom even got me the most adorable pair of earrings and a cute little clock now sitting in my room, so kind!!

I woke up this morning and had my own little Christmas celly to myself in my bedroom opening up the presents sent to me by family.  I found myself getting just a tad bit emotional too (who AM I?!) because of how apparent the love from all the great people in my life felt as I opened gifts and received messages from friends far and wide (apparently I'm unable to not be a mushy gushy Christmas freak... sorry folks, but THAT'S WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT!) I was able to skype with my family and some of my best friends back home too, and it really didn't feel like I was that far away! So yeah I had a really great Christmas.  And I just want to say thank you to all the awesome people in my life for being awesome and making me feel awesome.  And thanks Rotary for giving me this experience, it's been one big major WOWTHISISGREAT the whole time (by the way we hit 4 months!).  And to my family for letting me go and for being the best support that ever existed.  And to everyone reading my blog, I really love that there's people interested enough in what's going on in my life to keep up with it, you guys are swell and I hope you have a swell Christmas too.


And have a very Merry Christmas :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Cool things that have recently been happening here and there in France:
I went to a huge soccer (football) match! Lille vs. Marseilles.  There was a player from the Lille team who recently traded to Marseilles and the crowd hated him.  Poor guy got booed like crazy.  The entire stadium was filled with the red of the Lille team, except for a caged off area to the right of where we were sitting filled with the significantly lesser population of blue shirted Marseilles fans.  They sang and cheered and chanted throughout the entire game... but it wasn't enough.  It looked like it would be a match without goals, until Lille scored in the last 5 minutes and the crowd went WILD! It was awesome! Cold! But awesome!

spot the tourist

panoramic view from my spot

I joined an all girl soccer (football) team! Early winter evenings, cold weather and long days at school have been sort of not been permitting me from doing any of the running I normally would to keep active during the week, and it began to drive me a little crazy.  I decided to find myself a sports team I could participate in, and soccer was my first choice.  It's a sport I've always regretted stopping, so why not use the opportunity of the "sorry I'm so bad, I'm foreign." excuse and get out and join a team.  Gabby wanted to get in on some sport activity with me, so the two of us found an all girls team (after some google back road searching) not far from where we live that didn't have a problem with two not so great foreigners joining the team.  Only been once so far, but it was really fun, exercise is great! Plus we met a really cool English speaking Swedish girl who's spending the year here as a nanny.  

One day during a break at school my friends and I hijacked the blackboard.  Look at the adorable note they wrote me! 

"Siobhan is the best Canadian of the world" 
With seconds left before class was meant to start, my classmates wrote a hilarious rhyme about our math teacher on the board.  They just finished before he walked in... and everyone held their breath as they waited for him to react once he saw it.  I had no clue what he'd do (mostly because I didn't have much of a clue as to what they'd written), but his face broke into a smile and he pulled out his iPhone to take a photo.

Marion snapped a pic of my between-classes nap.

Bus rides to gym class, these kids like to laugh a lot. <3

Hugo, Marion, Jean

Science experiments in chemistry.  You know things are intense when you have to wear the gloves and a face mask (yeah I couldn't tell you what we were even experimenting with and why..) 

Excuse my crazy twitchy looking eyes
Yesterday was my last day of school before Christmas vacation.  I am SOOO excited to not have school for 2 weeks.  Sleeping in feels like the old friend I need to get back in contact with.  Yesterday I walked to and from school for the last time, which is such a weird thought.  I'll be spending Christmas with my first host family, then the second week of vacation will go skiing in the Alps with my third host family (YAYAYYAYAYAYA SKIING!!! MOUNTAINS! SNOW!), and when vacation is over I will have moved on to my second host family, where I will live for the next 3 months of my exchange.

Captured a quick photo of the sun going down on my street on my last walk back to this house from school.
Today I got to really hang out and spend time with my second host family for the first time.  There's Valentine the mom, Mathieu the dad, Augustin-18, Louise-17, Edward-14, and Suzanne-11.  I hope I got all the spellings on those right... Mathieu's family had a big reunion at his sister's house in the country today that I was invited to be a part of.  There was a huge amount of aunts, uncles, and cousins there to celebrate Christmas and exchange presents.  They're such a lovely group of people that it felt really cool to see them all there together during these holidays.  I was happy to just be an observer, then Valentine surprised me with a beautiful scarf and gloves that she'd knit for me herself!! It was so unexpected but so incredibly thoughtful.  It's moments like those that make me feel at home away from home.  

Christmas is almost here, and then I'm off to go skiing in the French Alps.  I am PUMPED.  Yay Holidays!!! I love December.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not always easy peasy

Cue emotional and reflective writings which may or may not lead into a rant...

I feel I've been amazingly lucky with my exchange: I have great friends from France and from Rotary, my host family has been awesome, I've already been to so many places, and I haven't had to drastically change who I am or my routines in order to fit into a new culture.  Yes, there were some things to get used to, and things to learn to live without, but a lot of it had more or less to do with my attitude and mentality as opposed to environmental factors I don't have control over.

Things have been great, which is why I feel I don't have the right to complain... but I am definitely still adjusting to French school.  At first it was a huge shock: the long hours, the strict rules, the intensity of school life and the emphasis on studies in general, but as it became routine, the shock wore off.  That being said, I am still very far from following class without a hiccup, finishing homework all by myself without struggle and getting great marks.  The teachers here expect a lot from their students, I was wrong in thinking me, as the foreigner (and one who has already passed high school at that), would be an exemption.  I try to find a happy medium and to busy myself in class so as to not be a disruption or a deadweight who can't participate, but it's clear the teachers will continue to see me as the lazy Canadian as long as I'm not taking notes, handing in work, and keeping up with the pace of the class.  It's frustrating being seen as a disappointment, I can see it in the faces of teachers and occasionally classmates who don't get why I don't do all the work, but what's even more frustrating is wanting to prove them wrong and not being able to.  

I would love to understand the gibberish that gets written on the board during math class, but the fact that it's formulas and equations I have never even seen a hint of before in my life, combined with the whole in-another-language factor results in me sitting there like a zombie whose head is hollow.  Even on days, for example in Biology (or as the French call it "SVT"), when we touch on subjects I know and I recognize and the fogginess in my brain begins to clear... we change subject, and before I can catch my breath, move back into the great unknowns of the French curriculum.  When it comes to the complicated texts we have to analyze and discuss in French class... frankly I congratulate myself on understanding children's novels, so reading through high level French texts and finding the underlying meaning is something I don't see as being "my norm" in the near future. It's hard to stay motivated and continue to push through my confusion in an attempt to comprehend when I understand 10x slower than my classmates.  I often stop in the middle of beating myself up and ask myself why it's such a big deal in the first place.  This exchange is about learning French and being exposed to a new culture, on top of that I have already passed all my high school requirements, unfortunately it doesn't mean much to the superiors at school.

I think because my French has improved so much, and because most people don't see the change from North America to France as this huge culture jump, they figure that it shouldn't be that hard to just get on with life and routines, and to follow classes sans probleme.  In reality, I feel like aside from similar themes, there's so much of this curriculum I couldn't possibly hope to understand without the background base that my classmates have been building for the past several years.  

It's tough.  Some days feel like a mountainous trek, and other days pass by worry-free.  Despite it all, I have my friends, and that has made an incredible difference for me.  Like I said I'm very lucky.  It can be hard, but it's worth it, especially considering that almost 4 months in, so many things could have caused me grief had I been less fortunate, and my only big struggle has been school.  C'est la vie.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Last night I threw a party and it was wild.

My best friends altogether.  
To celebrate my 18th birthday, my cool host parents let me invite all my friends, French and Rotary, over for a night of enjoyment and good times on Saturday.  I made the theme of the night "The Great Gatsby." What with the huge movie that came out this year, and a current slow revival of fragments of 1920s fashion in a lot of the stores here in France, I thought it'd be a cool theme to spice up the night and everyone's party look.  Also Liz gave me the idea and everyone loved it, so that was that. I started prepping the basement for the party on Monday, Marie Jo and I went downstairs and took a look around trying to figure out what storage rooms we could transform into party worthy areas and what would work where etc etc.  In other words: Planning Stage.
On Tuesday, Marion, Sixtine and Ana came over after school to help clean up and arrange the basement rooms where the party would be.  By the time the girls left later in the evening, there had been huge progress, and you could barely tell it was the same room as the one I checked out on Monday with Marie Jo!
Throughout the rest of the week with the help of my friends and host family, the basement began to undergo transformation after transformation until it turned into this rather wonderful French Gatsby setup:

Walk down steps...

Turn right...

Enter the "lounging room" then turn right again...

the dancing room (and an adorable christmas tree with some birthday presents underneath)

lounging room
Those photos were taken moments before everyone arrived Saturday night, but it was busy busy busy during the day trying to get things to look like that.  School came and went Saturday morning (and felt like it lasted 80 days too...) and afterwards I went with Chloe to Marion's house for lunch.  I got to meet Marion's adorable and incredibly nice family and have lunch with them, then us girls headed out to come back to my place and start preparing.

From the moment we got back to my house till the moment everyone arrived for the party it was a bit of a rush.  We had to make sure everything was ready for my 24 friends that were coming to pass the evening.  Ana, Sixtine, and Louise soon arrived and after us girls made sure basically everything was good to go, we went back up to my room to start getting ready.  Thus follows Operation Feather Boa.  The next hour and a half was one of flying feathers that lost their mother boas, black eyeliner and red lipstick, and an explosion of hair pins partout.  It was crazy, but it was fun.  Afterwards, everyone seemed to come at once, and what followed was some embarrassing dancing, uncontrollable laughing and slightly-more-than-slightly-off-key singing.  It was just the greatest night ever.  It turned out better than I ever could have expected and I had a swell time.  I'm really so so lucky with the friends I have here on exchange, the French ones and Rotary alike.  There's something really cool about feeling like you have a family somewhere that is so far and so different from the place you call home. I'm also so thankful that my host family was so awesome in letting me celebrate my birthday with friends like this.  It meant a lot and there is no way I could ever forget it.

These are my favourite photos of the night, but be sure to check out the Photos tab above to see them all :)

L2R French friends: Romane, Marion, Chloe, Louise, Julia, Ana, and Maria (from India!) 

Rodrigo (Chile) & Guillermo (Bolivia)

Marie Jo didn't miss the opportunity to be dressed up and fabulous as well.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

18 and Fabulous

On December 7th I went to Paris with 34 other exchange students.  On December 8th I turned 18.  This was one of the best weekends of my exchange so far.

My host family had to suddenly leave for the weekend, so I ended up passing the entire weekend with Gabby and her host family at their house. Friday evening consisted of the usual sleepover shenanigans, fuelled by pre-Paris excitement and jitters.  I wish I could say we went to sleep at 9pm in order to be fully rested and prepped to meet for the bus at 6:45am the next morning but no, we went to bed late and woke up at the ripe old hour of 5:40am the next day. After a somewhat drowsy bus ride filled with a little napping and catching up with friends, we arrived in Paris around 10am.  Picture this: 35 students between the ages of 15 and 18, many of which have never been to Paris, almost 100% of which are a little hyped and over-tired, and maybe 9 of which speak decent French, bustling around at a Paris train station chaperoned by two slightly stressed adults.  Total chaos.  Trying to get our huge group from station to station without losing people here and there or taking the wrong metro was rather this huge task in itself, it felt like quite the accomplishment when we finally made it out to the Musée d'Orsay.

Hangin out waiting to get goin

The museum was COOL.

Oddly enough, I actually realized I'd already visited this museum when I was maybe 7 or 8 with my family.  I walked in and saw this big hall and the memories came madly rushing back.
After the museum we went and got some grub that wasn't really grub and more like fancy Parisienne lunch, no complaints there.

Gab and Suzanne checkin' that menu

The God of all salads
Once lunch was finished (you better believe I downed that salad all by myself), we walked to the Paris Christmas market that was at the end of the Champs Élysées and just around the corner from us.  From there we were told we had free time, so I went with Emily, Liz, and Karoliina and we soaked in the beauty (and smells... and maybe tastes too...shh) of the market.




spy kids

gotta get better at these "selfies with as many people as possible" dealios
Once free time was up we met at the Arc de Triomphe which was on the opposite end of the Champs Élysées from where we started.  The plan was to be able to go all the way up to the top, but running behind schedule combined with the insane amount of tourist-y crowds meant we'd kind of lost our chance.  So we utilized the moment for some photo opportunities and then jumped back into the over expensive overcrowded craziness that is the Champs Élysées for another 2.5 hours of free time.

always reppin'
There was rather a lot of confusion and undecidedness about what to do.  Some people wanted to try to make it to the Eiffel Tower and back, some wanted to wait in line to go up the Arc anyway despite the crowds, some wanted to brave the shops, and some were ready to do whatever it took to find Starbuck's ha.  In the end, Ty, Veronica, Emily and I decided we wanted to try to make it to the ferris wheel, located on that side of the Champs Élysées that we had just so bravely traversed.  We figured it would be the best of both worlds: get us a nice view of Paris but maybe avoid the crowds in line at the Arc.  None of us were in the mood to drudge along at the pace of the crowd, so our traverse turned into this hilarious game of "dodge the tourist" in which we walked (and sometimes ran) as fast as we could down the street when we found breaks in the crowd, while simultaneously avoiding running face first into the oncoming persons.  It was beyond hilarious, and without a doubt a highlight of the day.  We weren't prepared for the even worse crowds of the Christmas market though, and the density of the tourist pack was so much so that our fun game got halted, and we got slowed down too much to make it to the ferris wheel in time.  Instead, we grabbed greasy hamburgers from a rather questionable tiny stall at the end of the market (only food in sight), and escaped the crowds to go sit in an empty, peaceful, and totally tranquil corner on the edge of the Seine.  It was a 5 minute walk from where we'd been earlier but completely and totally different.  There were no obnoxious crowds, no bright lights, no loud sounds or weird smells.  It was the 4 of us, the lit up Eiffel tower, and Paris at nighttime.  It was really special.  I'm not going to forget that moment or the people I spent it with for a long long time.

Dream team.  And Christmas market crowds.  And a French photo bomber (he was proud of himself we showed him the photo after, that rascal.)
mmmm burger
After a little while it was time to head back to the meeting place at the Arc.  We had a hard time leaving our peaceful spot to head back into the hubbub of tourist nation.  We took a few back streets just across from the Champs that brought us to the same place but faster and with less stress.  We crossed one street that was really simply decorated by white lights wound around the trees that lined either side of the street and that was it.  We all agreed that for us, that was Paris.  No flashing lights or beckoning stores, just a peaceful night and some twinkling lights.  To top off our awesome night, we stopped at Haagen Dasz just before meeting back with the rest of the students.

just me, my milkshake, and l'Arc de Triomphe
It was an exhausted but content group of exchange students who got back on that bus to go home Saturday night, the day was busy but so so much fun.  We got on the bus, I was all the way at the back with Gabby next to me, when Gabby suddenly left to go "talk to Emily." She went up to where Emily was and almost right away announced in a loud voice to the entire bus that the following day was my birthday and that everyone should sing for me.  What followed was an awesome English rendition of Happy Birthday, then a French version, then a Spanish, Taiwanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Finnish version all sung by my friends in groups and individually in honour of my birthday while the entire bus listened.  And on top of it all they'd gotten me a piece of cake. I thought I was going to cry like a little baby right then and there.  It wasn't even my birthday yet, and my friends had already made it one of the most special and coolest birthdays I have ever had, I mean how can that not pull at the heart strings.  What followed was a hilarious, loud, and crazy bus ride home with a bunch of crazy kids.

Sunday was my official 18th birthday, the long awaited and coveted birthday of so many teenagers.  One which, back home, would be an event spent with friends at a club or bar, profiting from the benefits of being legal and no longer a minor.  My birthday was nothing like the traditional Albertan 18th but to be perfectly honest I don't think I would want it to have been any other way.  From the moment those kids sang to me on the bus I was content with my birthday, but the awesomeness didn't stop there.  Gabby and I woke up after a much needed sleep in and passed the morning looking at photos and chatting about the day before. Then we had lunch with her host family.  It was a delicious meal, which was followed by 2 delicious mini cakes covered in candles (18!!). I was completely surprised and not suspecting it at all, it was another moment that made me want to burst into tears of joy.  Then I went and burnt off some of my hair while blowing out the candles but that's just a typical Siobhan moment so I won't talk too much about that.  The cake was magnificent, and they even bought me a little present to go with.  They are such a lovely family, and even thought it was only my 3rd time being around them and staying at their house, they had already made me feel so welcome and loved.  It meant a lot.  

"Siobhan you burnt your hair" "OH MY GOD! I burnt my hair!!!"

Gabby's host family minus Quentin.  They yanked me across their knees just before taking the photo ha.

After lunch, Gabby's host parents took us to Bruges. 

 I need to take this moment to appreciate Gabby.  I know she played a big role in making my birthday so special, and without her I don't know what I might have done.  Also she's basically just been an amazing friend this entire exchange so far.  And our handshake is pretty cool.

Gabby's host parents!

They're hilarious and adorable. 
Well I did it folks.  Made it alive to 18. In Bruges.
My weekend ended by being able to Skype and talk to home and chat with all the people who had made my birthday special too, even when they couldn't be with me.  Incredible day.  I'm so thankful for all the amazing people exchange has brought into my life. I couldn't ask for things any other way.