As a French Language student at Palos Verdes High School, I was encouraged to sponsor an exchange student for a month during the summer of 2011. Amelie Lejeune was from Luxembourg and from the moment we met we became life long sisters! After an amazing time in California, Amelie went home but invited me to visit anytime, the sooner the better. We planned the trip via Facebook and a few phone calls and coordinated our Easter vacations. With the help of my father’s flying miles we purchased a flight from LAX through Washington, Dulles and on to Charles de Gaulle, France. It was the first time I had ever travelled internationally alone and my mom was in a bit of a panic due to the stop in Washington. I managed to get to France in one piece. Amelie was in school so her mom, Ms. Lejeune, was the designated greeter. The problem with this arrangement was neither Ms. Lejeune or I knew each other. All she was told us was that she was tall and blonde and miraculously as soon as I stepped out of the gate she knew exactly who I was.
We drove to Luxembourg where I spent the next three days learning about Amelie’s home, school, friends, and daily life. I was fortunate enough to attend a day at school, where I learned at an international school there are many different ways of greeting people. When one greets a Frenchman you kiss once on each cheek. However, other nationalities have different ideas. Imagine my confusion greeting French, German, Swiss, and Italian students who all had a unique greetings. These greetings involved one cheek kiss, two cheek kisses, and even three cheek kisses.
The next week we went to visit Amelie’s father’s side of the family in Chambery, France. This time was spent exploring beautiful Swiss and French Alps while living amongst aunts, uncles, cousins, both younger and older. One of the hardest yet most rewarding situations was speaking with the younger children, due to the fact that they knew more French than me but absolutely no English. My first full conversation with four-year-old Candice was about what was on my teeth. She had never seen braces before! The amazing places I was able to experience during day trips included Geneva, Switzerland, and Annecy, France; both architecturally and culturally dynamic and so different from my life in California.
At the end of my trip, Ms. Lejeune drove me back to Paris to catch my plane. We had one day to explore ALL of Paris, the most amazing city I have ever seen. My favorite sight was walking under the Eiffel Tower at precisely midnight when the flashing lights made the tower appear to dance. Tres incroyable!
The last and most nerve-racking leg of my journey was the flight home. Coming out of Paris my flight was delayed so that I missed my connecting flight in Dulles, Washington. Normally this would not have been a problem, however the next flight out was not till 12 hours later which would involve sleeping at the airport all alone…The good news was that because I was a minor the airlines were responsible for my well being. This involved a quiet room, meal vouchers, and an entourage of United Airline employees following me EVERYWHERE, including the restroom! I felt as if I was a princess with my security detail and now have a new respect for celebrities that live that type of life. The next morning as I boarded the plane I waved goodbye to my personal staff, and hello to being a normal California teen.
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