Reflections from a French exchange


the writer in France

Nina Doody

What originally was two French exchange students became one. I flew to France by myself on March 9, 2018. Scared and alone at the airport, my heart was pounding, as this was my first international flight.

My nerves were so calmed when the security officer looked at my boarding pass and said, “Going on an adventure?” I quickly respond with “Yes!” and the smile grew across my face. The next 14 hours of travel were spent primarily sleeping, trying to avoid jet-lag that would happen with a nine-hour time zone difference. I woke up as the plane was landing in Nantes, and I could not help but smile the whole time I was waiting to get off the plane. I was so excited that I had made it.

French customs was a breeze and both my bags made it. I soon saw my exchange family holding up a sign that said, “Welcome to France Nina.” I could not have been happier to start my experience in France with such an energetic and engaging family. My exchange sister, Emeline, or “Emmy,” was incredibly welcoming to me, and I was so lucky to be paired with her. Even now, I still consider her my French sister. Her family was pleasant and the brother and sister were constantly trying to joke with me, and even if I didn’t understand, they would still laugh.

Shortly after my arrival and introduction to the family I went to school. While, yes, getting up at 7:00 am after flying across the world was a struggle, it was certainly doable as I was just jumping with nerves and excitement. I did not know what to expect, what classes I would take, or anything. Everything was literally foreign to me. I was placed right next to Emmy in the classroom, and luckily so, as the French speak way faster than I was used to. Emmy was so kind and would explain to me what I needed to do, and then give me the chance to answer in French. This was a huge reason why I felt my French improved.

School was great, but with good and not-so-good moments. One of the things that took me by surprise was every two hours we would have a 15- 20 minute break. I thought to myself that this would be a nice chance just to chill and take a break. But I was so surprised to find out that the teachers shoved us out of the building, locked the doors and forced us to stand outside for the break. I still do not know the reasoning behind this. One thing Emmy told me was the breaks were basically a time for students, and teachers, to go smoke. I was in awe. I never thought that smoking would be encouraged or even allowed on any school campus, but in France, I guess it was the norm. While I adjusted to it over time, it was odd to see a teacher smoking outside with the students. For the French it was more of a social activity, a chance to converse about students’ progress. It was really cool to observe such different behavior.

As the French smoking stereotype proved true, many other stereotypes of the French were true as well. The French LOVE bread. In Emmy’s family, her mom would go to their local bakery every day and buy four baguettes. And by the end of the day, all four were gone. During my time in France I only went to one bakery. Emmy’s family described to me that they are loyal to the bakery, that  they had tried every other bakery in town, and apparently none of the other bakeries were up to par with this one. I can see now why when Emmy came to America, she missed the bread just about more than anything. And now me too, I miss coming down to breakfast every morning and seeing a glorious baguette waiting on the table for me to rip open and eat away at. It was impeccable.

Beyond the bread, there were many other adventures I enjoyed along the way. My favorite was the sand beaches. I had never seen a sand beach before until I arrived in France. I absolutely loved the feeling of sand. It’s a memory I will hold with me for a lifetime: looking out as far as I could, and not seeing anything besides sand and the Atlantic Ocean. My favorite beach of the many I visited was called La Baule. La Baule is a little bit of a tourist’s town, which is perhaps is why I liked it so much. There was one main street with lots of high end shops and really good food, and then at end of the street was a wide beach.

I would not trade my experience in France for anything. Six weeks in a foreign country may seem scary at first, but it definitely is an unforgettable adventure. I highly recommend spending some time abroad at some point in your life; I just happened to be lucky enough to spend my time aboard very early in high school.