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.