Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Big Jet Plane

It’s interesting when I think about the number of songs that I have had come on shuffle throughout my travel back home. Maybe it’s because there’s something about being in between a place of departure and the memories that are left behind and the destination where the possibilities of what will happen next are infinite. I’m now experiencing the inverse of being over the Atlantic Ocean. The Return.

                  Since my last post I have been lucky enough to experience life to its fullest during my last few weeks, days, and finally, hours in France. Whether it was when my crazy awesome mother came to visit me two weeks ago and I had the pleasure of sharing her glimpses of the life I made for myself over the past ten months, with friends from school downtown Saint Raphael, with my host family as we chilled in the pool, or with my family of exchange students. My sendoff was neither regretted nor paced out in any way. I literally feel like I’ll be going back to school to see everyone in a few days.

                  The amazing thing about exchange, and the part that I feel like allowed me to be an exchange student, is that I had to accept that even after all the effort I put into making friends and feeling like a part of a family that at its high point that I would have to leave it all behind. And be okay with it.

Alright, maybe you should talk to me in a few days and we’ll see what my response is…

One thing that helped me cope with the fact that I am the only one who will understand what my year was like was that my mom came to visit me for ten days. Even though it was completely different than my normal life (I ate lunch for more than ten euros; it made me cringe and think of all the shampoo, socks, and train tickets I could have bought instead) she is now able to have a better perspective.

Here’s a bit about our trip:

We went biking with Diatou, my lovely host sister, the first morning and ate tiep with family friends. Then we left for Antibes and spent time on the beach and in town where I showed my mom some of my favorite places in France. Next was Nice and we based ourselves out of our hotel there in order to go to Cannes, l'Ile de Lérins for an incredible picnic and Villefranche-sur-Mer (BEAUTIFUL!). When we came back from our adventures we spent the last two days taking a boat to St. Tropez with Diatou and then going to Agay, which was the first beach I went to and swam in the Mediterranean. 

After my mom got on her flight home, evidently being on the same flight as Martha Stewert and being forced to stay overnight in New York, my “lasts” began.

As I was on my way to my friends’ house to give her a gift yesterday I realized something. I came to the conclusion that we either all matter as people or no one matters. Walking by strangers to her house, getting looks from people in the airport, and saying goodbye to my friend, Rebecca, in a freaking Monoprix grocery store earlier this week, I thought to myself each time, “These people have no idea what I’m going through.” But yesterday I realized, isn’t that true for everyone?

No one is going to go through the exact same experiences as I am but I can’t assume that whatever the other person is going through isn’t just as significant. I’ve had plenty of “me, me, me” going on this year that this realization made me step back a bit. This came just in time because I’m preparing to come home with not expecting the world to have stopped just because I left. That’s where my self-reliance will be my crutch.
While I have this blog for a little while longer I would just like to take a little bit of time to say an enormous thank you.

Thank you…

 To my host family: El Hadj, Simone, Lucie, Marie, and Diatou as well as all of the extended family that I had the pleasure of meeting. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience while at your house. I learned so much about cooking, the culture, language, the environment, and especially about myself. I will never forget your hospitality and the incredible moments we shared.

To my USA family. Without your support I would not have been able to fully immerse myself and enjoy my ten months in France. It takes a lot to trust another family and organization, but most of all, me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to become a more mature, confident, and independent young adult.

To my classmates: I had the best class in the world. I am so touched that you threw me a surprise party; that will forever be one of my favorite moments ever! Each and every one of you were so welcoming and always politely corrected me. Thanks to you guys I’m fluent in French. Special shout-out to my guys – I know Castle won’t be the same because I’m not there to kick your butts, but I’ll come back. I just expect everyone to be able to shuffle like bosses.

                  To my girls: Emma, Caroline, Sarah, Fiona, Marine, Claire, Clara, Malou, Anaëlle, Marie (#1 and 2), Eléa, Darline, Amandine, Paloma, Johanna, Marie, Celine, Clelia, Léa (#1 and 2) and Lorelei. I love you guys and I couldn’t have done any of this without your warmth, understanding, and kindness.

                  To the Northfield and Fréjus Rotary clubs: This is an amazing organization and I can’t believe how safe, taken care of, and happy I was where I was placed. This was another extremely successful exchange and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your organization and support.

                  To my faithful readers: Thank you for reading my blog! Not only will this help me transition back to Northfield because I won’t have to explain my year in two sentences, but I also have this wonderful souvenir of an online journal. Wow. Thank you so much.

                  Before I sign off I think you all deserve the greatest Madge Update in the history of Madge Updates. I had been gone for quite a while because of break and I traveled around with my rotary and my mom so I didn’t see Madge for some time. Then I was granted with the opportunity to ride solo with her so we had a nice chat about my exchange and then how she wishes she could have vacation for after vacation to recuperate from “having a good time.” However, after two days of Madge, there was an incident. A boy on my bus was calling a girl a name and she followed him out of the bus when he got off at his stop in order to talk to him. She came back on the bus huffing and puffing with a face as red as a tomato. We all pretended like we didn’t have our faces plastered to the windows. The next day, Madge was not there nor the next day, and the day after that.

I am sorry to say that Madge was suspended. This means that I have no picture for you guys. In a way I think it has to be like this because those of you who looked forward to Madge Updates had a certain image of her in your head for over nine months and I’m not about to change that for you.  

P.S. I also met two Northfielders in Saint Raphael. Who knew?! The guy was proudly sporting a St. Olaf t-shirt so I had to go up to him and ask. The world is so small.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Euro Tour, Cannes, Returns, and Corsica

“I don’t know how many times I have sat down to blog and I just end up staring at the screen thinking it would be so much easier if each and every one of you just took a trip here. You are only getting half of the story and it’s the people I have met who have made my experience amazing. Nevertheless, I have to tell you about the Euro Tour.”
I would just like to add on that I have now increased my list of enormous things to talk about by quite a bit. This blog will be brief snippets of the Euro Tour, Corsica, my birthday, and the Cannes Film Festival.

My adventure started the morning I headed off to catch the train for Paris with those in my district who went on the bus trip. I literally had three minutes until the train LEFT the station, you have no idea how lucky I was and how relieved for that matter. About halfway through our trip up to Paris we had the chance to meet a freaking awesome group of exchange students from the district right next to us. Ironically enough we ended up hanging out with this group only during our last two months of exchange and they were so close to us all this time.

Our entire group on the Euro Tour

Near the Louvre

Hyesoo (South Korea) and I in front of the Eiffel Tower

Paulina (Colombia) and I being weird...

                  After a brief tour of Paris and a little free time our bus of forty-eight exchange students, two rotary members, a chauffer, and two young women who accompanied us headed off for Reims, France to spend the night in a youth hostel. Just to clarify for those of you who have heard about hostels, they really are surprisingly nice and not creepy, sketchy or dirty like they can be in the movies and I’d recommend them if you wanted to travel cheaply.

                  We left for Strasbourg the next morning where we went on a boat tour, ate sauerkraut and sausage, took pictures with our flags in front of the cathedral, and shopped around. The colors of the buildings and the unique architectural style are incredibly beautiful. Strasbourg is also in the part of France known as Alsace where Alsacian is spoken. It’s a mix between French and German because there have been multiple times where it switched between being a part of France and Germany.
Courtesy of Eamon Murphy (Canada)!
Eamon and his girls
                  Nuremburg, Germany might have been my least favorite place. It honestly wasn’t bad or anything, because the downtown area was quite pretty. However, we saw the stadium where Hitler gave many speeches and an arena where victims of the Holocaust were selected. That was difficult for many people to digest.

                  Overall, our visit to Prague was my favorite. They honestly love tourists there and it was an overall happy atmosphere. We had one guy give us a pamphlet for a nightclub and found out that he came from England, so we naturally became best friends. He even left his job for ten minutes to walk us to a really typical, hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we had the best food! One of my good friends, Bobby from California, started calling the Czech currency a czechle deckle instead of the Czech koruna. It became kind of a thing.

Ime, Bobby, and I
                  The next city we went to was Vienna, Austria. This was probably the most beautiful city architectural-wise because the buildings evaded the bombings during World War II. We took a Ferris wheel to get a better view of the city and it was breathtaking. Although we visited Vienna briefly, I would definitely love to go back after my first impression.

This picture was taken from atop a ferris wheel in Vienna
                  After Vienna, we descended down to Italy and the beautiful, tranquil city of Lido di Jesolo where we had our first evening on the beach. I loved the hotel we stayed in because it was a small walk to the beach and right down town and our room had a balcony. When we woke up the next morning, we headed over to Venice on a ferry! It was a rainy day, but we still packed in a guided tour, a gondola ride, expensive pizza, shopping, and feeding the pigeons.

Everyone on the beach our first night in Italy
My buddies and I in Venice
Americans! Genesis, Jason, Sarah, Hannah, me, Clay, and Corinne
Hannah H. (USA), Bobby (USA), Rebecca (Canada), and Eamon (Canada)
                  We took the bus over to Milan where I had gelato with my some of my best friends, Paulina from Colombia, and Hannah from California. Then we met up with the others for a tour of the fort. The guided tour we had basically turned into me goofing around with Bobby, though…

                  After our stay in Milan we headed out for a stay in Chamonix, France and we were all astonished at how 1. There was snow but the sun was so hot that gelato was needed and 2. We could use our phones for free for the first time since leaving Strasburg! In Chamonix we saw the glaciers and even took a tour through a “fully-furnished” ice cave.       
Next we went to Geneva, Switzerland to take a tour of the United Nations building and shop around. The UN building was a pretty powerful thing to see and just know that it serves a great purpose. This was our last time in another country before going to Dijon, France and then Paris where we all left from our respective train stations.

Bobby (USA) and Lucca (Brazil), Rebecca (Canada) and I

                  While at the Paris train station (Gare de Lyon) there was an unaccompanied suitcase and therefore, it had to be terminated. Personnel progressively blocked off a large area of the station and when we were on the second floor we heard the blast. This was where my district and the district to our right who were taking the same train but getting off at another stop had to say goodbye. It was honestly awful because we got so close, and everyone was absolutely exhausted. We got on the train and I was already a mess and we started reminiscing.

                  I still keep in daily contact with most of that group and I had the chance to go to the Cannes Film Festival with Dylan (Canadian), Lucca (Brazilian), and Clay (American) just a few days ago where we stayed with Paulina (Colombia). We didn’t see much for stars, except for the two leading actors in “The Artist” and Eva Longoria, but we just missed Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Carrie Mulligan, Liam Hemsworth, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicole Kidman, and Lana Del Rey. But most importantly of all, Emma Watson, whom I can say I was in the same city as her, so I’m pretty happy. The same night that we were at the festival there was a crazy guy who had a grenade in his hand and fired blanks but luckily we weren’t present at that ceremony – instead we enjoyed a nice warm pizza…

                  My next voyage was in Corsica and happened a week after our Euro Tour. The other exchange students from my district and I took a ferry (basically a less fancy version of a cruise ship) and spent eight hours on the sea where we woke up at six and found ourselves in Corsica. It’s best described as a mountain in the ocean with beautiful beaches, wonderful smells, and scenic routes. Corsica is absolutely beautiful and we were lucky enough to visit the capital, Ajaccio, and Bonifacio as well as the calanques, or rocky inlets. Corsica has a culture of its own even though it’s a part of France. There is another dialect that sounds a bit like Italian, and they have stronger cheeses and meats. I might even go as far as to say that it’s even more chill than the south of France.

Fifi, me, Paulina, Hannah, and Rikki
Paulina and I!!!
Rikki, Hannah H., Paulina, Fifi, Emily
Eamon and I
Charlotte, Gabi, Tina, Rikki, Hannah H.
We were invited by the governor of our district's house 
Me, Charlotte (USA), Emily (USA), Rikki (Australia), Paulina (Colombia),  Tina (Canada), Eamon (Canada), Hyesoo (South Korea), Hannah H. (USA), Hannah S. (USA), Gabi (USA), and Fifi (Indonesia)
                  The only problem I had was that on our way back when we took the ferry, there were strong winds and I got incredibly sick. I couldn’t move to the interior of the boat because if I moved I’d have gotten sick over tons of people so I ended up staying in the sun for six hours and looked like a lobster when I finally could stomach going inside. Pardon my English (not French…) but that was a trip from hell. There were passengers splayed out on the hallway floors groaning from seasickness. It was that bad. But in any case we arrived safely and I was able to spend the afternoon and night with my lovely friend Paulina from Colombia. The next day we made a tarte au citron (lemon pie) and had a traditional Senegalese meal called a tiep where everyone eats sitting down on the floor around a bowl and takes a spoonful of food from their respective corners of the bowl.

This isn't the picture of the Tiep but a good example - Simone's was better!
My host family was so sweet! They gave me a bag with the name of my town on it and a purse as a birthday gift!

                   During the school day on my birthday my classmates held a surprise party for me! I had to ‘accompany a girl who was sick’ to the nurses’ office and when we came back we opened the door and found my whole class around a table of food and candy saying, “Happy birthday Maggie!” We had a fun time taking pictures and I gave a speech, thanking them for their kindness and thoughtfulness.

My class!
Lyssandre, Nongbee, Florian, Gregory, Adem, Moheddine, Lucas, Lucie, and Lucile
                  Diatou came home this morning and I am so excited to see her and be able to actually talk to her. We met briefly in the airport in Minneapolis when I was leaving and as she had just arrived. Now, at the end of her exchange and me in the last few weeks, we will be able to hang out and share stories about our exchanges.

                  In about three weeks my mom is coming to visit me and I couldn’t be happier! We just made reservations in hotels (I can’t lie, it was a loooooong process…) and I can’t wait to be on the beach and traveling around the French Riviera with my mom.

                  There you go. My extremely brief version of what has happened in the last month!

Ciao et bisous,


Sunday, April 14, 2013

11 Cities, 6 countries, and 50-some exchange students in 12 days

This might be the shortest blog post I will ever do, but I wanted to write something a little more uplifting and current before leaving for the Euro Tour. In less than eight hours I’ll be driving to the train station in Les Arcs to take the train up to Paris where I will meet a bus-full of exchange students from all over France.

                  Each day we will take the bus to a new city and sometimes a new country, go out and explore, buy lunch on our exchange-student budgets, and take a million pictures!

                  Just quickly before I need to catch up my blog on the happenings of the Euro Tour, I just have to apologize for what I’m about to say. I was outside in a t-shirt and shorts tanning/freckling/burning today. Poor Minnesotans! Poor Diatou! On that note, school is also just getting better and better friends-wise. I feel so welcome and loved!

I will update in two weeks time!