In the summer after my junior year of high school, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to France for two weeks with my school’s French Club. I was one of nine individuals to travel on this trip and I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say it was a life-changing experience.
First of all, of course, was the flight overseas. We were immediately immersed in the French language, because we flew with Air France. The flight attendants all spoke French and English, but they automatically assumed that we spoke French. So yes, our teacher made us reply in French. It was a good lesson on just how fast the French speak, and an introduction into asking people to repeat themselves until they begin to doubt your hearing ability. The food on the flight was French and was the best airline food I’ve ever had. It was an interesting beginning to a wonderful trip.
The jet lag, as anyone who has ever traveled to Europe knows, was horrendous. Luckily for us, our first day in Paris was relatively low-key. The group of us, nine tired students, sat at a cafÃ© on Rue de la Convention and fell asleep over and over again, even with the sound of road construction, including jackhammers, in the background. Thankfully, that night we were brought to the outskirts of the city and given away, one by one, to the French families we would be staying with for a week. All of us were incredibly nervous, homesick, and exhausted– not a good combination, I will say that, but it worked out. My family was very kind, understanding, and best of all, they spoke English very well. Of course, as per my teacher’s instructions, I replied in French.
The family stay experience was one that I will never forget. I got to witness first-hand, as well as participate in, the complexities of French life, from riding the mÃ©tro to not having access to free public bathrooms. Which, let me tell you, is a pain sometimes. Of course my family did with me some of the most touristy things imaginable, like visiting the palace at Versailles and touring SacrÃ© Coeur cathedral. I also, however, did a lot of shopping in local boutiques and had a home-cooked, traditional French meal at my host sister’s grandparents’ house.
Then, at the end of that week, we were handed back over to our teacher and we commenced a five-day-long tour of Britagne and Normandy. Definitely the most interesting parts of that were seeing Omaha beach and the American World War II cemetary, and the Fete de la Musique in Honfleur. The former was incredibly educational and the latter was just plain cool, as we got to see French bands and hordes of drunk Frenchmen dancing in the streets.
For the last two days of the trip, we stayed in Paris, and my favorite part of that time was when we ate on top of the Eiffel Tower. The view was amazing and the food was even better. Of course, it’s about the most touristy thing you can do in the whole country, as evidenced by the staggeringly long lines. But, you know, when in France…
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