Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thanksgiving in France

Hello there, everyone. This post will be more photos than text.

While AFS tells us that the holidays are the hardest part of the year, I found them very exciting.

I made Thanksgiving dinner with another American named Allegra for our host families. We were told everything tasted good, and that's all that matters, right? My host dad told me he wants to celebrate Thanksgiving every Sunday because he liked the food so much!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I haven't posted in over a month. Oops. I will not apologize for neglecting this blog.

School (which will be another post) has been going well. I was in the same class as Ségolène, but I changed classes because it was too difficult to be always with her. We get along just fine, but some students, though it was mainly the teachers, didn't talk to me. They asked Ségolène questions about me, (EX: What's her name? What state is she from? Does she like it here?) and I had known how to answer those questions before I had even arrived in France! Because I didn't get the practice of talking and I didn't have much independency, I wasn't improving as quickly as I would like to. Also, because I had a wonderful French teacher in the USA, the slope of my progress is significantly less steep than that of other exchange students. I have improved more than I could ever imagine, but I still don't speak as well as I would like to.

From the 18th of October to the 4th of November, I had off school for the Toussaint holiday.

I went to the family's beach house twice--- once with friends and once with the family.
Here are my favorite pictures from Ambleteuse, the town where the beach house is. Unfortunately, my friends have decided that no one is posting any pictures from the weekend containing people because we all spent it in sweatpants, and the French only like to be seen when they are dressed nicely.
A wall that I just thought looked really artsy

 The Fort of Ambleteuse

 The town of Ambleteuse
 Beach house

After Ambleteuse, we took a day trip to Bruges, Belgium.
Umbrellas with Margot, my hostmom

On a boat tour of Bruges.

Here are just some pictures from around Lambersart and Lille
 One of the two courtyards in my school. This is the one we are NOT allowed in. Picture quickly and discretely taken through a dirty window

 I pass this sign every day to go to school. It makes me laugh a little, as it tells me where I am not, but not where I am.

A river I pass on my way to/from school. It is usually raining, therefore not this pretty

The street where I live
Yes, I know this post wasn't very profound. It let you know I am not dead though, so it will suffice for now.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Guys... we're in France!

Coucou, tout le monde!

I've been very busy for the past two weeks! I'm having such a wonderful time that it's difficult to rip myself away to tell about it. As you all should know, I left Middletown, Pennsylvania on the 4th of September. Since there were multiple people from my area going to New York on the same day as I needed to be there, I got a ride with some girl going to Spain. My mom does not like big cities, so this worked out well for her. The place I said goodbye to my American family was not very elegant: we said goodbye at a gas station. When I got to New York, I was handed a t-shirt, a name tag on a lanyard, and a room key. Right away, I was greeted by a peppy group of exchange students (who later decided to call our little group "la famille française"). I loved the energy at the hotel! Everyone, even though we were all a little bit sad from saying so many goodbyes, was full of excitement. Everyone was determined to have the best year possible. We were prepped on a whole bunch of social and cultural situations that we may have to deal with, many of which we have heard a million times before, but our excitement made everything seem like a great novelty.

This picture was the epitome of the New York Orientation. This group of exchange students, after knowing each other for less than a day, became closer than one could ever imagine.
Voilà la Famille Française! From left to right, pictured are McKinzie, Aidan, Katie, Annie, Erik, Lily, and moi! We are the best of friends now.
After one sleepless night for Natalie, the 49 exchange students on their way to France headed to the JFK Airport in New York. Every person in la Famille Française was in awe that this moment that we had been waiting for was finally happening. To quote the lovely Katie, "Guys... we're going to France!" This was repeated so many times throughout our journey that it would be impossible to count.
Every second of waiting in the ticket line, the security line, and to get on the plane passed so quickly and anything that I could say about the experience would be minor and trivial.
This plane ride was the best plane ride I have ever been on (says the 16 year old who has only before taken a plane for four trips in her life). I was surrounded by friends, the headphones were complimentary, and the food didn't suck. It didn't hit me that I had completely forgotten to sleep during the 8 hours I was on the plane.
After landing in Zurich, the giant group of kids had just enough time to go through customs, which was the easiest thing in the world--- our group leader explained what we were here for to one of the tellers, and we just had our passports stamped without any questions. I, along with my friend Allegra, who is in the same suburb of Lille as I am in France, brushed my teeth, and we then got on the plane to Paris. Katie, when the wheels of the plane touched down in France, had a revelation. She could no longer say, "Guys... we're going to France." She had to say, "Guys... we're IN France!"
After collecting our luggage, we awaited the kids coming from Germany. We were so jealous of these kids--- their flight was only one hour long, and they had no time change. The rest of the day was spent being tired in a not-so-great hostel, and most of us didn't have outlets in our rooms or things to shower with, but we didn't care because GUYS... WE'RE IN FRANCE! We passed the time just talking to people from every corner of the globe, all of which spoke amazing English! I attempted to converse in French with people, but the general consensus was that they would prefer to speak in English, even if it wasn't their first language. The problem with being an American is everyone knows English when you want to speak another language, and no one knows English when you don't know how to speak their language.
Allegra, my aforementioned tooth brushing buddy, was my roommate, along with a girl named Carlotta from Italy. We all got along very well, and we are in the same area in France.
The Paris orientation, honestly, was what we heard at the New York orientation, only with a French accent. That is, until we left the hostel for a tour of Paris! Since I had, until then, be surrounded by English, I didn't feel like I was actually in France until I saw la Tour Eiffel. We were all in awe. Yes, it's a beautiful structure, but for me, it signified that I was truly in France, and my adventure was just about to begin.
Natalie à la Tour Eiffel
Aidan (my friend from PA who doesn't like how I've described him in previous posts)

Katie, my lovely friend who I swear I share a brain with
La Tour Eiffel
I have a very similar picture hanging in my USA house

I love the intricacy of the tower.

L'Arc de Triomphe

La Seine, the river which runs through Paris
After the tour, which was rather short, we  returned to the hostel and were briefed on the train procedure for the next morning. We got to take the TGV, which is pretty much a really fast train. By car, the trip from Paris to Lille would have taken about 2 and a half hours, but by TGV, it took less than an hour.
When we arrived, we could do nothing but smile. Our host families, whom we had known only through photographs and an exchange of letters, were now standing right in front of us, and my vocabulary diminished from that of an average citizen to that of a toddler. Here is my first picture with the Defebvre family, minus Luc, as he took the picture. Ignore my appearance--- the hostel didn't have a working place for me to plug in anything to do my hair.
All the AFS kids in our area, most by foot, (but my family got my luggage situated in the car and we drove) had a little get together. All of the exchange students had to say, in French, their name, where they are from, and the name of their host family. I was one of the few people who wasn't set into panic mode by this. My host family later told me that they were very proud that I could pronounce their last name, as it is difficult for Americans to say.
Unpacking was the greatest feeling in the entire world. Living out of a suitcase is never fun. I finally could say I was home, instead of in a hotel. I get along very well with this family, and I know studying abroad was the right choice.
I have done a lot since I've been here, but that will come in a later catch-up post!
Au revoir!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"How lucky I am to have someone who makes saying goodbye so hard!"

"How lucky I am to have someone who makes saying goodbye so hard!"
      -Winnie the Pooh

Tonight is my last sleep in my bed. Tonight is my last meal in my house. I can't even think about being nervous--- the level of excitement I am feeling is inexplicable.

I will miss my friends and family. You are all so sweet, and thanks for supporting me in my journey. I love you.

Au revoir, Middletown! À la prochaine!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Dear Natalie

Dear Future Natalie,

     At the time I started writing this letter, there were 30 days until I am on program with AFS. It has also been over a year since I decided to study abroad and I started actively pursuing my goal. When I told my mom that I wanted to study abroad, the answer was initially negative. I knew in my heart that I wanted to go to France, and I was already telling people "when I go to France..." When I found out that the only way possible for me to study abroad was to win a scholarship, I quit telling people about it. I wasn't very confident, even though I wrote wonderful essays. I didn't want the embarrassment of having to tell people that I couldn't go. When Deb Felak, at my interview, told me how many kid were applying, I started crying. She told me that 60 kids were interested, and 30 would get the scholarship. Even though those odds are absolutely amazing compared to ones I could encounter for college scholarships, I was still afraid that my dream could be ripped out from under me at any second. Luckily, my dream was not ripped out from under me. I will be boarding a plane on September 5th and flying to France. I get to meet my wonderful host family, who you surely know very well.

     Now, dearest future Natalie, you have come back from France. I'm sure you have changed in more ways that I can even imagine.

     I hope you are more independent. I know, I am very independent to begin with, but I still need approval before making decisions. I hope you have learned not to get caught up with simple decisions. I hope that you are more spontaneous. I hope that one time during the year, you looked at the menu and picked something random. Something that you have absolutely no idea what it is, but you will be surprised. It may be pleasant, it may be objectionable, but you'll live.

     I hope that you are fluent in French. That is my biggest hope for you. I want you to be able to speak to anyone in French without fear. You surely will have made mistakes with your French grammar, but perfection isn't my goal. Just as my English will never be perfect, my French will never be perfect. There will always be a verb that I conjugate wrong or a word that I mispronounce, no matter what. Future Natalie, you will have realized that this is okay. I know it to be true now, but my face still becomes bright red every time I make an error.

     Have you had a great time and used every opportunity you could? If you haven't, I'm honestly disappointed in you. You were in France, silly! Do something!

      Have you come up with an occupation where you can use your French skills and your other skills?

     What do you know about the world that you didn't know before?

     Have you offered the appropriate amount of thanks to Jenny and Mike Messner for their selfless funding of the very scholarship that sent you over?

      Will you keep in contact with your host family? I really hope that you do. I adore them so far. Do you want to move to France? Have you made any decisions about your career or college?

     When you return from France, I expect you to write back to me.

Until later,

-Natalie Alyssa Souders
August 26, 2013

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

Right now, there are 9 days left until I leave for France. Nine days. Neuf jours. Neuve días. Today is the first day of school for all of my friends. While it saddens me a little to know that they are starting something new without me, it also excites me, as this means my adventure is right around the corner.

I did a little bit of packing. I went through my closet and get out the things I want to bring. Only clothes that I like are coming to France. I then army rolled them and put them in a suitcase. I am keeping a running list of everything that goes in and comes out of the suitcase. When I weighed the suitcase, it only weighed 20 pounds. Mind you, I haven't yet packed my athletic clothes, shoes, or electronic devices, but the weight limit is a lot easier to meet than I had originally thought.

As for the title, it is the title of a song by Jack Johnson. I enjoy Jack Johnson, so there will likely be more quotes from him to come. If you would like to know what I'm talking about, a lyric video for "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" is below.

Until We Meet Again

There are ten days left until I am on program with AFS. While I know that I am leaving, it still seems far away.

Two days ago, my lovely best friend, Alexa (along with her equally lovely mother, Karen), threw a surprise "Bon Voyage" party for me! It was the absolute sweetest thing someone has ever done for me. It was great to see my best friends all together before I leave for France. My other best friend, Brynne, made me a cake, and it was absolutely adorable. The cake was striped two different colors of pink, and it had an Eiffel Tower shaped cookie on top. Alexa strung lights around her dining room "for ambiance," in her own words.

Alexa got me a shirt with a great pun on it. Enjoy the following pictures.

Alexa also got me socks with Eiffel Towers on them and a Tinker Bell blanket to remember her by.
I will miss all of my friends from Middletown. I love you all.