Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winning Weekends

Sooooo I know it's already Wednesday and how lame is it of me to be posting about the weekend when we're already mid-week but there's this thing called exchange and it has recently seriously picked up for me and the idea of "free time" has slowly slid into a forgotten oblivion of the past.  In other words, I have none.  This blog post is being written past my bed time (gonna regret this tomorrow...)

I had an AWESOME weekend! Friday afternoon Chloe, Clementine, Jean and Marion came over because we wanted to make a video for our friend Romane who's surprise birthday party was Saturday night.  Valentine showed us the dress up box in the house and we went wild. It was hilarious...

what is Canada...?
Friday night was a Rotary organized laser tag outing at Lille.  All my international Inbound friends were there, along with future French Outbounds, and any friends of either les étrangers or the Frenchies.  There were a lot of us.  About 8 of my school friends ended up coming, so I had an awesome night because I was surrounded by a bunch of awesome people I love.  I'm kind of lame and only played one session of laser tag but in my defence it was because I was conversing and being social in English and French so it's not that bad.  One supremely exciting event, and probably the highlight of my night, that happened was when Veronica (from Spain) and I were speaking with a French boy named Jean who'll be going to Indonesia with Rotary next year.  Veronica spoke to him in French and asked him to guess where she was from going by her accent when she spoke... he said Germany.  Then I asked and he replied "Toi, on peut dire que t'es francaise" in other words "I could say you're French." What followed was a spazzy and loud happy dance happier than any happy dance I've ever had and jealous looks from Veronica ha! She looked at me and said "Lucky! That's like the best compliment you could ever get!" and she's right.  I've been getting a lot of similar comments in recent times and they make me feel awesome and give me more French speaking confidence.  It's really nice to feel so comfortable with the language when I'm only 5 months in, I've never been more thankful to have had that base when I first came!

A lovely group of friends! Exchange and French


Kids from school :) Troy (FROM VANCOUVER), Jean, Marion

Daniel, Liz, Veronica, Clementine
Laser tagging went late, and even though I didn't have to go to school Saturday I still had to get up early for a Rotary event.  We were all gathered together, this time just exchange students, for more formal, serious kind of stuff.  We spent the morning learning a song we will perform later on in the year at Rotary evening events/shows.  It was a kind of funny French song about all being friends and loving each other no matter where we come from or the colour of our skin.  Then we went out to a little restaurant for some grub, and came back in the afternoon to talk about serious Rotary stuff like trying to do better in school etc etc... hehe.  It was a long day that ended around 5pm.  Once it was over I bussed/metro-ed/tram-ed back to my stop with Ty, Ian, and Paco, and headed home.  I had about an hour to chill before I had to get ready to head to Romane's party.  We were all going to be there about a half hour before Romane showed up and give her a big surprise when she finally arrived.  She ended up getting delayed so we sat around a while (a good hour and a half...) but when she finally did show up the surprise went down amazingly.  We hid in the kitchen and it was the first place she showed up when she walked in the door.  She was so shocked she walked right in and out again... then in and out of the kitchen again. Man I love surprises.  Anyway the night that followed was full of shenanigans and good times spent with my Frenchie friends from school.

Clem!! (is crazy)


My people!
It was a fun night, but since almost all of us slept over I didn't get a lot of sleep, so after eating lunch at home Sunday I slept for a solid 2 hours, after which I went to Zumba with Louise! That was fun and hilarious and it felt good to get moving.  And that's my weekend.  Busy times good times.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Holy mother of all that is exchange related today marks the halfway point of my time in France...

August 22nd : Left Canada

June 22nd : Leave France

January 22nd : Freak out a little (maybe more than a little) because of how fast the time feels like it passed and because from this moment onwards it's the downward count to home time and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

But since thinking about the end of my exchange is much too premature and is always accompanied by a kerfuffle of mixed feelings I will avoid that topic and instead talk about all the radical and incredible things that I have done and experienced in the past 5 months.

Starting with a photo that sums up my general state of mind and level of awesome-feeling I'm at these days:

I thought about putting a bunch of effort into creating some kind of collage of my favourite moments captured by camera thus far on exchange, but there's way too many to fit into one single collage, and it would take too many hours I don't have.  Also why not keep things simple and take the above beauty that was taken way back in October in Sicily (...can't believe that's already 3 months ago...) because I get the urge to give that exact over-enthusiastic thumbs up every time I get asked how my exchange is going.  Once again a HUGE shout-out and thank you to Rotary, at home and in France, for making this year possible, can't believe how lucky I am.  

Now for a quick recap of my five months of AWESOME.  I have travelled to Belgium, England, Paris and Sicily.  I have skiied in the French alps.  I got myself locked in the French toilets (yeah we all remember that story...). I ran to Belgium.  I joined a soccer team (I can pass now, go me).  I made countless new best friends from literally all over the world.  I've eaten at least twice my weight in delicious French bread and goodies.  I bought a skate and occasionally ride it without looking foolish.  I got rid of what I call the "foreigner fear" where you're timid around locals and too scared to speak the language (at this point I just giv'r, even when there's a good 80% chance I will butcher what I'm gonna say).  I am queen of the metro (not really, but it's kind of a win that I can navigate public transport without getting lost).  I watch French movies and understand.  I even got to the point where my real mom had to stop me mid-sentence during Skype to tell me it was obvious I was thinking in French because I was forming English sentences the way French sentences are formed and it wasn't grammatically correct... "Hi my name's Siobhan I speak fluent Frenglish."

I'll be perfectly honest and say that it started off rough.  Culture shock is still culture shock even if you think you know the country's customs, you've visited before, and it doesn't feel like a huge jump in differences from one country to another.  No matter where I am in the world there will be things that are unique only to Canada, and chez moi.  That being said, my outlook and feelings about exchange have grown and evolved to the point where I wake up every morning excited about my day and with something to look forward to, even if it's just getting to see my friends at school. I've made such incredible friends and met the coolest people, French and otherwise, that I already feel kinda choked thinking about ever leaving them.  They are half the reason my exchange is what it is.  Also I've probably said it too many times already on the blog, but it is SO COOL to start feeling like French fluency is within reach.  It's really fun to just feel super happy and pumped on life all the time.  

I met the newbies today who arrived this past weekend.  They're all awesome! It was cool to look around and see them next to my other oldies who've been on exchange with me since August.  It was like comparing the past "us" with the future "them."  I know we've all grown and changed lots, but it's never been as apparent as it was next to the bright and shiny newbies today.  Pat on the back to all you exchange students reading right now. 


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lovin' Life

Another ridiculously awesome week has come and gone.  Life is FAAAABULOUS!

Nothing that exciting or spectacular happened this week, but since my family move I've noticed I've been soooo much busier!

Soccer is still going good, and I'm finally getting the hang of the basics which is always a positive when you're playing any sport.  I've been running lots too which feels sososo good! On Wednesday afternoon I went into Lille to meet friends and ended up hanging out most of the afternoon with David and Ty.  We explored Vieux Lille and found some of the coolest shops, and then went to my all time favourite clothing store in Lille called Tilt Vintage.  It's like a vintage/thrift store but French version, so it's awesome.

Ty found this hilarious jacket with a some United States/Canada unity.  Awesome.

On Friday it rained hard (on Wednesday and Thursday too... always a joy when one has to ride a bike to and from school - it's the one downside!) and the heating in the house stopped working, so when I came home after school soaking wet I put on my warmest clothes, made some tea, and popped a squat by the fire with Valentine to warm up.  Coziness to the max!

My socks are totally not distracting.  FUN FACT: I'm wearing the sweater my real Mum knit for me, and a scarf Valentine knit for me for Christmas.  Go knitters! 
On Friday I went and saw a movie called Jamais Le Premier Soir with a girl I met last week who's the daughter of family friends of my host family.  Her name's Eva, she just finished studying fashion at university in France and is potentially looking for work in Canada which is cool and exciting! It was fun to get to talk to a French person who wasn't planning on either doing engineering or medicine, because, no joke, almost everyone I meet here is going into one or the other.  It can be a little overwhelming for the Canadian girl who's interests and goals lie within the artistic area of work, so talking with Eva was really refreshing! The movie was great too.  It was basically a French chick flick and was quite funny.  There's something so realistic about French films that makes you relate to the characters and their lives, I don't know how to explain it, but I definitely understand the culture better now and know that I wouldn't have seen the movie in the same light had I watched it 6 months ago back home.  Not to mention that I UNDERSTOOD IT WOOHOO! Pat on the back for me.

Waking up for school Saturday after my late night on Friday was a rough go, but I managed to survive the dreadful 4 hours of classes without falling flat on my face with fatigue.  After a delicious lunch back at the house, I went rock climbing with Louise and 3 of her school friends! In French high school, they have final exams called the BAC, which is basically what their lives revolve around for their entire grade 12 year.  They have a BAC for every subject, even gym class, and since Louise and her friends are doing rock climbing right now in gym, they're going to have to pass a rock climbing BAC.  Kind of cool but weird to have a rock climbing exam... Anyway her friends wanted to get in some extra practice and I tagged along.  It was so much fun!! There's this really great rock climbing gym in the area, and they give you a harness and basically let you roam free.  We spent a good hour and a half climbing and man did it ever make me want to start doing it regularly.  Maybe I can fit it into my schedule ha.

We got home and within 10 minutes were changed and ready to go for a run.  Four of Louise's friends who were at the party last weekend and who live nearby were going running and we went to tag along.  It was awesome, there were 3 boys and 3 girls and we went off with our little clan.  They wanted to run this route where we could pass by a castle, but since it was dark and it had rained during the week, the path was muddy, swampy, and wet and we couldn't see a SINGLE thing.  We may or may not have gotten a tad lost.  We did eventually make it out though, and the group split up so we could head back to each of our houses.  We had mud up to our thighs from the run, and I was just DEAD.  But oh wait the night doesn't end there...!

Louise and her friends participate in these things called Rallies, which are pretty much organized parties that were established originally for dancing what they call "Le Rock."  They're student organized and happen once a month and often have some sort of theme.  Very cool.  Anyway we had to be at Louise's friends house to be ready to go within a mere 45 minutes after getting back from the run, so it was a little bit of a mad dash to shower and get ready.  There wasn't a theme for the Rally, it was more along the lines of Parisienne chic, so we had to look gooooood.

Busted out some high heels for once in my life! (Moi et Louise)
It ended up being loads of fun.  I got to see and spend time with the kids I met last week who are all super friendly and cool.  And I learned (or tried to learn) how to dance like the Frenchies... can't say I was all that great but it was still a blast.  It's so cool that they have these Rallies for the sake of learning the Rock and then spending the night dancing.  That's something Canada is missing.  Dancing like a hooligan (my forte) is one thing, but actually having a partner, getting spun around the dance floor, and knowing what your doing is on a whole other level of awesome. Great people and good times.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chapter 2

Well since my last post (which feels like FOREVER ago) I moved host families!!

Last Wednesday evening I had all my bags packed and ready to go because Valentine, my new host mom, was coming to pick me and my luggage up to get ready for the move!

May have had 2 full suitcases, 1 duffle bag, 2 paper bags, 1 oversized purse, 1 backpack, 1 camera bag, 1 violin, 1 canvas, and 1 skate... but I swear considering I'm approaching the halfway point of my exchange that isn't doing too bad.

Anyway Valentine came and I said my goodbyes to Yann and Marie Jo.  It was sad to leave them, and the house that I've been living in the last 4 months, but it's undeniably exciting (and a little nerve-racking) to be moving on to the next stage and family in my exchange! I arrived at the house and Valentine showed me my new room, and the odds and ends around the house that one needs to know in order to be a regular.  I'm in love with the house and my room and the family and everything! Things have started off amazingly well, I feel so welcome.

living room
View from backyard
This is on a door in the kitchen.  I think I will like it here. 
One of the cool things about changing families is now I sort of change routines.  I live farther from school so no more quickie 15 minute walks in the morning.  I get up earlier and now I ride a bike to school! All the kids in the family (there's 3 living at home, one at university in Paris) ride their bikes to school and when I found that out I was super motivated to try to do the same.  It turns out my school is only a 15-20 minute bike ride which is awesome! I do have the option to take a bus, which would involve 10ish minutes of walking followed by 15ish minutes of bus, but when there's a bike why not bike.  In Canada I took the car to and from school, 20 minutes, every day, so I'm LOVING all these new methods.  Also on my ride home the first day I tried the biking, I saw a glimpse of myself in a store window and couldn't help but feel really cool as it hit me that there I was... the Canadian... on a bike... casually riding home from school... in France... it's the little things people.  Exchange is very cool.

Another thing about the new place is that because of the new area I live in, it's not a problem for me to go for a run after school alone even if it's dark, which I have been seriously taking advantage of.  It feels SO great to be out running again! Also my new family is really sporty, so half the time there's someone up to go for a run with me.  Sunday I got up at 10:30 and ran 10km with my new host dad Mathieu and host sister Louise (who's 17).  They kicked my butt; safe to say I won't have to worry about the dreaded croissant pounds if I keep running with them (happy dance).  My soccer (or should I say football) practices have been going really great too! I'm absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, god AWFUL at soccer, but the coach and players don't mind and are really nice.  It's so nice to get back into some physical activity, I felt like a walrus made of lard there for a while and I've noticed a huge change in my overall attitude and positivity level since I've started all the activity!

The weekend that just passed was pretty eventful.  Saturday after school I went with Louise and Valentine to go faire les soldes, in other words GO SHOPPING. In France after Christmas, a lot like everywhere, there are huge sales that go on for 5 weeks and that everyone goes crazy for.  Lille has been buzzing recently with all the shoppers.  I managed to restrain myself and kept my poor wallet from getting lighter, but who knows what 5 weeks will bring mwahaha.  In the late afternoon I popped over to Emily's house, she lives(ed) just a quick 8-ish minute skate from my new place.  She went home to Australia on Sunday (cue waterworks), and she had myself, Gabby, Ty, Veronica, and Liz over to keep her company and calm her nerves and also give her a mini farewell.

our last photo with our Aussie :(
It was really nice to have everyone there, I was so sad to go.  Emily became without a doubt one of my best friends on exchange, and I can't get used to the idea that next time we gather in Lille she won't be there. Wah :( On the plus side now it's decided I'll be going to Australia so that we can hang out again. Yay!

The evening, I went with Louise and her close friend to the conjoined birthday party of two girls from her school.  The party was themed "metro stations of Paris,"  and since we were "Olympiad" we dressed ourselves up as sporty type folk.

Juliette, Louise, et moi, Les Sportifs!
A lovely French girl I met named Marion!
 It was such a fun party, there was a huge range of costumes, from things that were hilarious to things that just looked really cool.  I got to meet a lot of French people who were my age, and they were all so nice! I was told countless times throughout the night that I speak really great French and, not kidding, I had a happy dance moment each time.  Life is good!

This weekend the "newbies" as we call them will be arriving. Newbies are the kids from places like Australia and New Zealand, whose seasons are kind of the opposite to most of the rest of the world, and who are currently in the middle of or just starting their summer vacation.  January is when they start their exchange, so there's currently 4 new young'uns out there jittering with the same kind of nerves I was in August, and in the process of finishing packing their bags because this weekend and the few days following they'll all be arriving.  It's exciting to be welcoming new exchange students (we'll have 4!) to the district, everyone is eager to meet and welcome them!

School has gotten back into business, and I'm in the process of getting myself into the habit of really trying to keep up with classes.  Might as well since it doesn't hurt to learn and it'll help me improve my French.  So far so good.

Life is swell these days.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

BEST WEEK EVER (oh hey 2014)

First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!! May 2014 hold things great and magical and swell for all.

The day before yesterday I got home from a RIDICULOUSLY great week in St. Gervais.  I feel like I say a lot on my blog that everything on exchange is the best thing ever... but this truly has made it to my top 3 on the list of exchange highlights.  It's not going to be a week I forget.

Friday morning at 7:30am, my third host dad (Thibaut), host sister (Alix), her cousin (Thaïs), and Rika all piled into the car and left Roubaix on our 8 hour trip to the Alps.  It was a long drive but with some good ol' reading and napping it didn't drag on forever.  And soon enough the sweet glorious sight of the mountains graced my vision and struck me speechless with awe at their magnificence (WOW is that an award winning sentence or what.) For real though, I had a moment where I was super happy and wanted to scream but kept it to a muffled giggle-squeal because at that point my fellow road trippers were still kind of strangers and I wouldn't want to freak them out.  We drove out of a tunnel and suddenly there were mountains EVERYWHERE.  It filled me with the bestestestest feeling.  Apart from my family and friends the mountains are one of the biggest things (literally hehe) I miss about home, and it felt like being back in Canada when I saw them come into sight.

we almost there and we happy

We arrived in St. Gervais and drove to the chalet to drop off all our baggage, then headed right up to the ski hill to rent our skis and take touristy photos and freak out about being in the mountains and stuff (the last part was mostly me).

that's one happy Canadian

Then we headed back to the chalet and met all the other people who were staying in the chalet with us... all 70 plus of them.  The group was a big mix of family members, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends.  Thibaut and Alix weren't related to anyone but it was a bunch of Thibaut's old childhood friends and their families.  We got to bed and the next morning woke up nice and early for our first day of slope hitting.
Standing on the terrace just outside our room in the chalet
loving that rental gear
introducing the newest and most fashionable goggle re-awakening: VINTAGE
I thought that being in the town and seeing the mountains from below was exciting... and then we charlifted up to above and I may or may not have lost my ability to speak.  I can't explain it mountains just make me so happy, it felt like coming home.

Shameless selfies in the Alps 
Unfortunately Rika hadn't been feeling so good so she didn't ski that first day.  Thaïs, Alix and I skiied a great morning, and in the afternoon stopped at this mini cafe/restaurant situated on the hill to taste the famous hot chocolate they had there.

Yeah.  It was delicious.  No wonder it's famous.

The day was awesome, and we were hungry, tired, but very happy gals who took the gondola back down to the village that afternoon.

The rest of the week consisted of the same sorts of awesome.  We'd wake up early and breakfast at the chalet, walk to the gondola which took us up to the ski runs, get on our gear, and hit the hills.  Every day at lunchtime the whole group from the chalet gathered on the same run to eat our ham and baguette sandwiches with the occasional clementine orange and gateau.  HEAVEN. 

New Year's Eve came along and a big group of us hung out on the mountain later than usual to watch the 2013 sun set over the Alps for the last time ever.  It was really cool, there was a great group, and just as the sun disappeared behind the peaks we all got up and started sliding down the runs in our ski boots.  Total shenanigans but totally awesome.  There was about maybe 15 of us who skied down together then in the dark (questionable safety-wise) and we did this hilarious thing where we'd make our skis into "pizzas" and go one behind the other holding on to the person in front's waist.  We made one long chain and skied a good little while like that too before breaking up (even more questionable safety-wise).

Thaïs and I 

Alix Thaïs Siobhan

COUSINS! We hung out with these three lots.  L2R Joseph, Athénaïs, Charles

The rest of the evening was a blast.  Everyone got dressed up, and there was a happy and excited air about the chalet as we got ready to welcome 2014.  Dinner started late and lasted well into the night, with the striking of midnight celebrated with dancing and cheering and walking around kissing everyone you see on each cheek and saying "BONNE ANNÉE!" 

dinner setup

Alix, Thaïs, Joseph

moi et Rika

The next day, I will admit, we slept in.  But we still got up and out to go for a ski, even if we were looking a little bit tired........

That night big things were planned.  The woman in charge of organizing everyone at the chalet had signed us all up for a stellar night.  The plan was that we'd be taken up the ski hill on ski-doos, eat at a restaurant up top, then "luge" down.  The ski-doos came to fetch us, and it was basically one ski-doo with a wagon attached on the back.  2 people in the wagon, and 2 people behind the driver on the ski-doo. I took one look at the wagon and hopped myself onto the comfy seat of the ski-doo.  The drive up was way too much fun. Then we arrived at the restaurant.

We got there early, the place filled up later
Dinner was delicious, then we suited back up in our snow gear for our "luge" experience.  I was expecting something along the lines of the Olympic type luge because what other luge is there, but when I saw what we were really doing things made sense.  We were told we had to have headlamps, then we were basically set free on a good 5-10minute carnage on these one man sleds down the steep ski-doo trail at 10:30pm in the pitch black forest.  There were a good 30 of us swerving left and right and trying (sometimes not succeeding) to break at the right moment and not go flying face first into a ditch or tree.  I laughed SO hard the entire time.  It was so much fun and such an adrenaline rush, not to mention it was just so funny watching my fellow chalet friends get flung around on the steep slopes, laughing the whole time.  I honestly felt like we were doing some real live Mario Kart.  

The ladies getting prepped! (CANADA REPPIN)

This was my face the entire way down accompanied by giggling
The next day we woke up and it was pouring rain in the village... didn't exactly get any of us revved to hit the slopes, but we got out anyway because it was our last day to ski.  Things turned out alright though because there was a moment as we took the gondola up to the runs, where suddenly the rain changed into these huge fluffy flakes of snow that took my already good mood and skyrocketed it.  There is no greater sight than heavy fluffs of snow on a ski hill.

It was pretty cold and wet, and hard to see where we were going, so the girls headed in after one run for a hot chocolate.   I was tempted, but it's not everyday you ski a blizzard in the Alps so I stayed out and skied the morning with the boys.  We only lasted a few more runs before we too were too mauled by the crazy snow to continue, so we popped into everybody's favourite hot chocolate joint for a mid morning refresher.

goodbye hair... hello snow cone

hot choc gang

And Charles busted out the goods...

uh.. heaven?
The rest of the day was a blast because the snow was better than it had been the whole week.  I skied right to the end with my new friends from the chalet, and headed back to the village for the last time feeling exhausted but supremely content.  

It was such a great week, and when I woke up from my nap on the car ride home to see we'd left the mountains behind... I was definitely sad, felt like a tiny little piece of me had died I won't lie, but it's alright because there are some AWESOME things planned for the next 6 months... I'm going to Ireland, my sister and mum are coming to visit, I'm going on a Euro tour with exchange students... I really can't complain, life is quite fantastic.

ps. CRAZY FACT: Two weeks from Thursday is 5 months of exchange... aka... HALFWAY THROUGH.  Can't wrap my head around it.  Let the 2014 shenanigans commence.