Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The French Schools, plus a little catch-up :)

So... It's been a while since I last wrote. I spent vacation in Normandy, visiting the debarkment beach, the American cemitary Deauville, Honfleur, and a few other really cool places. The debarkment beach and the cemitary were... amazing to see. There's so much history there, and it's so beautiful. On the way back, we stopped at Versailles, which is also really pretty. Here's a link to my pictures from the trip:

I also spent a Saturday in Paris (we left at 3:30 in the morning and stayed in Paris until 3:30 the next morning) with a bunch of other AFS people. We walked all around the city and saw the Eiffel tower at night, all lit up, and l'Arc de Triomphe, along with a bunch of other smaller sites.

Now, about the schools here. They start with the years of CP, which is like our elementary school. They take all of the same classes as we do in the US plus (believe it or not) English. My 6-year-old host sister has learned a bunch of songs in English and their French equivilants, and I'm often a bit taken aback to hear the English version of "Frère Jaques" being sung in the next room! They have the same teacher all day.

Kids start "College", which consitst of 6ème through 3ème, - our middle school - when they're about the age of our 6th graders. They continue with all of their old subjects and add one more language. In the private school here in Annonay, the choices for the second foreign language are Spanish and German. At this point, they start to have different teachers. They stay with the same group of studentsin the same room, and the teachers move around.

The equivilant of our high school - Lycée - starts in 2nde. It is only 3 years long. In 2nde, students start to think about what they want to do with their lives, and add more classes onto their schedules - they can choose from a few different classes, including Art Plastiques, Italian, and Latin. In 1ère, they choose which "track" they want to be in - L (literature), S (science), or ES (economic and social sciences). They will stay on this track during 1ère and Terminale years, and will take different standardised tests, depending on which track they're on. On the literature track, for example, a student has 6 hours of French class each week, at least 3 1/2 hours of English, and 5 hours of History, but only 2 hours of math and 1 1/2 of sciences. On the other hand, a student on the science track has fewer hours of history and French, but many more hours of math and science. In addition, every student chooses a "speciality" - English, math, and Art are 3 of the most common choices. They then take at least 2 hours every week focusing on this subject. At the end of 1ère, every student takes the French portion of the BAC, the standardised test that every Lycée student in France takes. Of course, this test is harder for the students in L than the students in S and ES, as they have spent more time working on the subject. Students in L also take the math and science portions of the BAC. During Terminale year, students in L don't have any math or science in their schedules, but concentrate more on literature, history, and languages. At the end of the year, every student takes the portions of the BAC that they have not already taken. The scores on these tests determine what they will be able to do after Lycée. Some people even repeat either 1ère or Terminale year in order to try to get a better grade on the BAC.

One major difference that I've noticed is the grades. All grades are out of 20. The thing that was the most surprising to me, though, is that most students are moderately happy with a 10. In the US, if I have a grade out of 20, I'm moderately happy with a 16. Here, getting a 16 is really good, and almost all of the students would be extremely happy with a 16 or above.

That's all for now. I hope you enjoy the pictures and have a great Thanksgiving!!


Monday, October 8, 2007


Guess who got a 19 out of 20 on the math portion of the DS when the class average was 15.8!!!! Yeah, that would be me. :) I'm much better at math in France than in the US, apparently.
I haven't gotten the results from the French portion yet, but I think I did pretty well. I think I'll find out this afternoon, when I have 2 hours of French class. Yay.

Really, though, I like my classes a lot. English is really easy (but what's new, right?), I'm enjoying Bel-Ami by Maupassant in French class, History seems like it would be interesting if I understood what was going on :), math is really easy (for the first time in several years), and I don't have to go to Spanish because everyone here has been taking it for 5 years already.

My host family is great. I really like talking to them and going out to do family stuff... It's quite fun. :)

So... Next time, I'll put in a little more about the school system, which is SO different.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Week 6


I've been here for 5 weeks now, and in school for most of it. It's been fun, exciting, difficult, funny, sad, great... everything, really.

I don't have much time right now (I have DS in 10 minutes - basically, every Friday I have to take a 4-hour long written test. Each week, it's a different subject or two different subjects. Today's the first one I'm taking, and they're for French and Math. Wish me luck!), but I just wanted to get that out there and let everyone know that I'm doing well.

My host family's great, as are the people in my class (I stay with the same group of people all day - the classes don't switch around like they do in my high school in the US).

I'll get a longer, more detailed note up either Monday or Thursday of next week.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Leaving On A Jet Plane


I had to put that title in, just for Mom. :-)

And the time has come at last: tomorrow I'm going to NYC for the Gateway orientation. From there, I will travel nonstop NYC to Paris on Thursday night, then spend a few days in Paris before a bus takes me and some other AFSers to southern France to meet our families.

Right now, there are 500 billion emotions all kind of whirling around my head. I'm scared and ecstatic and nervous and... I don't know. Everything. In a way, it's kind of surreal, too. I mean, it's a little odd to think that I just saw my best friends for the last time in 10 months and this is the last time I'll sleep in my room until I get home. As time goes on in France, I know that I'll make friends and I'll become comfortable in my new house. I really do know that, in theory. The actually believing it thing is what's a little hard to deal with right now.

It's getting really late now, and I have to get some sleep before tomorrow!


Monday, August 6, 2007

Ah, Vacation

I finally have more to write about/time to write!

For five weeks earlier this summer, I was in a leadership training program at a camp on Lake Ossipee. In the first week, I met and got to know the staff and the 23 other Leadership & Service people, all aged 16 and 17. For each of the four remaining weeks, I worked with a different cabin group and a different activity department. Throughout my time there in cabins and in departments, I worked with campers aged 8-15 and with staff, mostly aged 16-21. I had so much fun, and I think that it definitely helped in my ability to interact with different people and gave me A LOT more patience!

Since I returned home, I've been going through all of my stuff, sorting through papers and clothes, deciding what I'm going to bring and what I still need. I went to the French Consulate in Boston a week ago to get my visa. After getting all of the paperwork together for it (which was kind of difficult - there were many papers that we needed to wait for from AFS France and then we had to make two copies of everything and have it all together...) and waiting in the waiting room for 45 minutes, the meeting lasted about 15 minutes. Fast and simple. My visa was sent overnight and I got it the next day. Now that all of my paperwork is set, I just have to get together everything else! It's hard to start packing now, though, as I have to wear something for the next two and a half weeks... :-)

Oh, and I was just reading through my other entries and realized that I never said that Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidential election. Just thought you should know. :-)

More later.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Family!!


First of all: the Mass-Bay Area Pre-Departure Orientation was great. I met a bunch of the other people going to France (there were 5 others there who are going to leave at the same time as me, 4 of whom are staying for the year). I also got a lot of information about culture, other people's AFS experiences, and personal safety (so don't worry - now I know what to say if a guy I don't know asks me to go on a private walk... haha). It was so good to just talk about the different things that we're all worried about and excited about.

A few days before the orientation (May 2), I got the contact information about my family. As in, I got their mailing address and their phone number. I didn't know anything about them - not even if they had any kids or not. I was really nervous about contacting them before I knew anything more about them, but a week or so later I finally got up the courage to send them a letter. They e-mailed me back a week ago, and we've been e-mailing back and forth ever since!

They live in a small town of about 2500 people (that's only 1000 more than there are in my high school!) about 35 miles south of Lyon.

In the family, there are two parents and five kids : two boys, 15 and 13, and 3 girls, 10, 6, and 3. I'm going to be the oldest of six!

As everything is coming together, it's really starting to become more of a reality to me. I'm still pretty nervous, but I'm so much more confident and, if possible, even more excited than I was about my decision now that I've talked with my host family and I know a little bit about them!

That's all for now!


Monday, April 23, 2007

All of the Facts

Well. I'm still (slightly nervously) waiting to hear about my host family. However, I do have a pre-departure orientation on May 6th, and I have some homework to do for that. I'm supposed to bring a few facts about my host country along with me to share. I'll share some important/fun facts while I'm researching.

Here are some of the basics (area/population is for metropolitan France, which doesn't include the regions of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Reunion):
Country: French Republic (short form: France)
Capital: Paris
Area: 547,030 sq. km
Climate: temperate
Population: over 60 million!
Nationality: French (gasp!)
Language: French
Currency: Euro
Country Dialing Code: 33
National Holiday: Fete de la Federation (July 14 - also called "Fete Nationale" or "quatorze juillet")
Type: Republic
President Jaques Chirac, since May 17, 1995
-last election held in 2002
-next election: first round April 22, 2007 (changed from a 7-yr term to a 5-yr term in October of 2000)
In the first round, which took place yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy, a leader of the UMP (Union for a Popular Majority) party (right-wing), received 31.11% of the vote, while Segolene Royal, of the Socialist party, received 25.94%. Royal is the first woman ever to get on the 2nd round ballot.
-second round May 6, 2007
Prime Minister: Dominique de Villepin
Foreign Minister: Phillippe Douste-Blazy
Ambassador to the United States: Jean-David Levitte
Ambassador to the United Nations: Jean-Marc Rochereau de la Sabliere
Religion: Roman Catholic 86%
Muslim 8%
Unaffiliated 3%
Protestant 2%
Jewish 1%

That's about all I have time for today. I'll spend some time over the next couple of weeks finding some fun facts and I'll update you soon. Unfortunately, many things are region-specific, but I'll find something!


P.S. Here are the web sites that I used:

Monday, March 26, 2007

Application and Culture Trek

Hey, again.

So basically... I was so excited about applying that I sent in my pre-application in late August 2006. That was simple: name; birth date; parents' names; address; etc.

The full application was harder - 10 forms of medical information, tons of different numbers, and other things like that. I also had to send in a letter and a photo page to my host family. That was fun, as I got a chance to go through all of my pictures and have an afternoon of nostalgia. And some pretty cool people are on that page. :-) I finally sent in the completed application at the end of September... only to find out that it wouldn't be sent to France until January 1, 2007. The good part about getting it in early is that I got a $100 dollar discount on my tuition.

Later on the day I sent in my application, I realized what I had just done. It was exciting and really scary. It's been tough on my nerves, especially since I don't know a lot about where I'm going. All I can really find out is general info about France, but there are so many different places within France that it's hard to really be prepared until I have a specific town. But all the same, I'm ecstatic about being accepted.

In February, I got the Culture Trek workbook from AFS. It's basically a series of readings and activities designed to show you that all cultures are different and to better prepare the student for situations in which they may not know what to do because of cultural differences. There were also quotes from previous AFS students in it, and it was funny to hear about the people who spoke in French grammar for two weeks after they returned home and to think about myself doing the same.

On the host family front, I still have no idea who I'll be placed with. I hope I find out soon!!

I'm being called for dinner.



Sunday, March 11, 2007


Hi, all!

Many of you probably know me already, but for those of you who don't... My name is Catherine and I'm from Westford, MA. I'm currently thoroughly enjoying my Sophomore year at Westford Academy. :-) I'm pretty much a normal teenager: I love to hang out with my friends; I listen to a lot of music; and I'm addicted to House, M.D. and CSI.

There are a few things, however, that set me apart from the crowd: I read constantly; I have an obsession with punctuation and grammar; and I'm going to France for my Junior year of high school.

Yes, you heard (read) me correctly. I am leaving the comfort of the town I've grown up in for a place that is completely, well, foreign to me. One might possibly wonder, "What in the world would make anyone do that?" It's hard for me to answer that question. There's a very simple answer that is, at the same time, an incredibly difficult concept to grasp, even for me.

Here's the simplest answer possible: I'm going because I want to.

Please, don't read into that sentence too much. I'm not spoiled and I don't get everything that I want just because I want it. And it isn't even just a passing whim. It's a...*deciding on a good phrase* deep desire.

...Which brings me to the more complicated portion of my answer. My mom went on an exchange trip when she was in high school, so I've grown up hearing stories about her experience. When I was in the phase where I wanted to be just like my mom, I wanted to go to Norway, just like she did, for the simple reason that she had done that. Eventually, this started to mature into this idea that I could go to France. My dad grew up speaking French-Canadian (which is admittedly very different from Parisian French) at home and his whole family speaks French-Canadian, so I've also grown up not understanding what half of my family says unless it is translated. I started taking French in school in 6th grade, but there's a huge difference between learning French in a classroom and being immersed in the French culture while simultaneously learning French.

Culture is another huge part of my reason for going. It will be so fun and exciting to learn about the culture(s) in France. And, while I'm doing that, I'll get to teach other people about American culture. I strongly believe that culture is one of the things that we as a nation, as a community, and even as individual people need to understand about other societies in order to get closer to some semblance of world peace. Hopefully, by embarking on this endeavor, I will be able to help a few people towards understanding this importance of understanding and accepting other cultures.

These things, along with just wanting to have fun, brought this want for a different cultural experience to a much deeper level. As well as being excited when I heard that AFS-USA had accepted my application and I would be going somewhere (at this point, it didn't even mean I would get accepted by France), I was immensely relieved. I didn't know what I'd do with myself next year if I didn't go somewhere. I mean, I probably would have just gone along with what I've been doing and maybe even applied again for my Senior year, but while I was waiting for that call from AFS, I had realized something: since I was old enough to understand what an exchange student was, I had planned my high school life around getting accepted. Not getting accepted would have been devastating.

Alright. I'll stop being so deep. :-) Let's get down to more of the details about my trip. I'm going through a program called AFS (American Field Service). My mom went to Norway and we hosted a student from Norway through AFS, so we're pretty comfortable with the program over here at my house. AFS-USA's mission statement is to "work toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences to individuals, families, schools, and communities through a global volunteer partnership." So, you see, that's kind of perfect for me. :-) They're very focused on culture and its importance and, of course, having fun while you're having a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

I will be living with one family the whole school year and going to one of their local schools. I haven't found out who my host family is yet, so I can't tell you anything about where in France I'll be or my classes - or anything, really.

All I know so far is that I'm going to France and that I'm looking forward to it so, so much! Of course, I'm pretty nervous about it. As I said, I've lived in the same town for my whole life and suddenly I'm just moving to a whole different country. But I'm going into it in the right mindset, I think: Yeah, there will be some tough times, and probably even some times when I'm just going to want to catch a plane right back here. But there will be so many good things that happen there - things that will unquestionably outnumber and override the difficult things. And, hey, I'll learn from the hard things, right? :-)

That was pretty long. I promise my blog entries won't all be this long. :-)



P.S. Up next: The Application Process and Culture Trek