Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joyeux Noël !!

Joyeux Noël !!

It's unbelievable... it's already December!!  Four months have passed by too quickly.  I exactly remember last December when I had no idea about my host country.  And voila.  I am here in France, with a wonderful host family, with plenty of new friends and an incredibly widened vision of the country as I never imagined it to be.  Sometimes, I find that speaking in English is harder than French!

Christmas is not very different compared to Canada.  It's the time of getting together with family and friends, enjoying LOTS of food and chatting to catch up on news.  Usually at home in Canada, my family and I eat roasted turkey.  However here, we eat raw oysters (well I tried it but unsuccessfully...), smoked salmon, escargots (in shells this time), smelly cheese and lots of bread.  (At least that's how my host family prepares for Christmas dinner.) 

My host father is busy with his work so we stayed in Louhans and ate as a family of four (me, my host parents and host sister), but this Thursday, we are travelling to a village named Cambrai located in northern France  It's very close to the Belgian border as it is around 45 min drive away from the biggest city of the region called Lille.  (It's where Bonnie lives!  She was a French inbound of my Canadian district and I will see her too!)  Thus, I am SUPER excited to see a new area of France as I was told that people there speak with a different accent known as chti, houses are made out of red bricks and they have delicious (and fatty) fries sold at La Baraque à Frites.  I am one happy exchanger.

If I didn't get any presents this year, I wouldn't be disappointed at all because being here in France for me is more than enough.  To experience this unique culture with wonderful friends and host families is like having a year-long Christmas present.  Homesickness is far, far behind me (as it really never reached me from the first place anyways) and ahead of me is another exhilarating adventure.  Thanks everyone in Canada for their Christmas greetings!

À bientôt dans le nord!


ps: I was however lucky enough to get Christmas presents from my first and current host family, my friends here in France and my dear friend in Japan.  Thank you to all, and I love you all very much!  ♥  Merci à tous, je vous aime beaucoup! ♥

ps: Here are some photos!

My first handball match! (Next to me is my Mexican exchange friend!)

I got a tour of my host father's workplace at the Gendarme!

My friends and I at the town's theatre to watch our other friends act in a play

My lovely second host family!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Les Lumières ★

Even here in France, the month of December is very busy, as it is the month of Christmas and later, New Year's eve!  Last saturday evening was the Illumination de Louhans which is a community event held along La Grande Rue.  Remember way back when I explained on this blog that it's the ancient cobblestone street of Louhans with many boutiques and arches?

There were many stalls of the village's local clubs (including Rotary) that sold snacks, drinks and dinners, and live music playing.  Many people of Louhans came to the festival to eat and chat with friends and family - it was a very lively atmosphere!  It was especially beautiful in La Grande Rue because there were Christmas light decorations that hung across the street, building to building.  (As it is Europe after all, the streets are narrow!)

For the evening, I helped my Rotary Club of Louhans Bresse-Bourguignonne to sell choucroute (in English, also known as Sauerkraut) which originates from Alsacian cuisine.  (Alsace is a north-eastern region of France, along the borders of Germany.  It was a territory that was possessed by either France or Germany (it switched a lot) until WWII when France won control over it.)  The Rotary Club and I managed to sell to almost 200 plates of choucroute, and the profit went towards the club's finance for future activities.

Me standing in La Grande Rue

The President of the Rotary Club of Louhans Bresse-Bourguignonne, selling yummy choucroutes
He is also known to be a very great chef at a local French-Italian restaurant!

On Sunday, I went to Lyon again with my host sister, a very generous Rotarian and his wife to see one of France's famous events of the year: Le Fête des Lumières

It's a festival that began back in 1852 to thank the Virgin Mary, who the lyonnais (people of Lyon) devoted to during the Middle-Ages.  The history of this unique celebration is fascinating:  It started on the 8th of September, 1852, when the city was going to place the statue of the Virgin Mary on the chapel of Fourvière.  However, the ceremony was postponed to the 8th of December, 1852, because the river that flows in Lyon (the Saône) overflowed and the worksite of the statue was therefore flooded.  Even when December 8th came around, it was rainy and the church authorities decided to cancel it again.  However at night, the rain stopped and thousands of the lyonnais were so thrilled that they lit lumignons (little candles) on their windowsills and balconies.  Thus, an annual celebration was born on the 8th of December. 

Now, famous buildings are also being illuminated, and the celebration attracts millions of visiters each year! 

My second host sister and I, and La Basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourvière behind us

Lots of locals and tourists in Vieux Lyon
La Place Bellecour: The Ferris Wheel and Statue of  Louis XIV
Known to be France's 3rd largest pedestrain square
Illuminated buildings at La place des Terreaux... breathtaking especially with animations and sound effects!
Cute Boules de Lumière that changed colours along with music playing!

The weekend was just absolutely fantastic, and I'll never forget it!
Le week-end était absolument fantastique, et je ne l'oublierai jamais!


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Time to Move On

I suppose the ultimate goal for any exchanger is to find a place where you can comfortably belong in your host country.  Once that place is found, an incredible feeling of success is felt because you realize that you accomplished to be part of your host family, your friends, the community, the culture... the country basically.  A week ago, I was there.  In that exact condition.  However just last weekend, a whole new pathway opened up for more adventure since it's that time of the year in the Rotary Youth Exchange program: changing host families.

Before I embarked on my exchange, I thought that changing host families would be a great deal.  Saying good bye to the people who took such good care of you, and then suddenly you're waking up inside a new house with your head screaming inside, where am I?!  This time, there is no young children in the house, always rumbling the house so cheerfully.  Instead, I have one 16 year old host sister who goes to the same lycée as me!  My neighbourhood is completely different.  In fact, I now live in a neighbourhood of gendarmeries - they are like policemen, but I will explain the difference below.  Also, customs of the new host family are slightly different, but not greatly. 

Despite that these changes took action within a single day, the transition was very smooth!  I miss living with my wonderful first host family who kindly helped me to settle in Louhans, but I am happy to also move on and so are they.  After all, living in different host families provide new experiences and broaden my view of family life in France.  Therefore I was more than confident to change host families and continue my exchange happily. 

Now I feel like I've fully integrated into my new host family already, and I am so glad to be with such a kind family again!


I find it so COOL (and frankly quite funny) how I live in my town's "safest neighbourhood" of gendarmeriesGendarmeries are similar to policiers (aka. police) since both occupations are assigned to protect citizens and maintain safety among civilian populations.  (Both gendarmeries and police exists in France.)  However the difference is that gendarmeries are part of the French army, while policiers are not.  My second host father is a gendarme and he explained to me that all gerndarmes of France only work in countryside villages and not in large cities, and it's obligatory for all of them to live in the same neighbourhood of their village.

Even the neighbourhood itself is unique.  The gendarmerie pays for the house and property fee of the gendarmes so they all live in either the same building like an apartment or identical houses.  On the other hand, the gendarmes are responsible for paying their own fees for electricity, heat etc.  Here in Louhans, they live in identical condominiums.  There is a protective fence that surrounds the entire place so it's a tranquil area.  My host father also explained that his work schedule is always different every week, and he must work whenever commanded.

What I found interesting is that gendarmes existed since the Late Medieval (approx 14th-16th century), and at that time, they were cavalryman who were born noble.  Even during the Ancien Régime (that caused the French Revolution), they existed but were named as the Maréchaussée.  Moreso, since the French Revolution in 1798, all single and child-less men aged 20 to 25 were liable to work in the French Army until Jacques Chirac (past president of France) abandoned the law in 1996... so not too long ago in my opinion!  (Thank you to my host father for sharing some history!)


Yesterday, I went to a Rotary dinner night at a lovely French restaurant with my Rotary Club of Louhans Bresse-Bourguignonne.  It was special because the governer of our Rotary district (1750) named Chantal Lutz and her husband came to visit the club!

I was truly inspired by Mme. Lutz when she talked about the importance of keeping Rotary International active and passing it onto the next generation.  She emphasized that it's important to recruit more people - especially young people - to Rotary because right now, the average age of the Rotarians of France is somewhere between 60 to 70.  She shared her wisdom of how Rotary needs to expand to the new generation or else Rotary cannot sustain itself later.  Also she explained that Rotary is an incredible organisation consisted of hard-working volunteers all around the world who take action to improve the world, and it's continuance is crucially important... which I completely agree!

The most inspiring part of her speech was how she exclaimed about the Rotary symbol pins (which are worn by Rotarians during meetings) must not be taken off when the meeting is over.  Because... why should they?  They represent the international organisation itself, and it can be shown to the others who may not know about Rotary.  They represent world-wide teamwork; it's a symbol that's worn by many nations working towards the same goals!  Mme. Lutz explained that we must be proud to say that we're part of Rotary International even outside of our meetings.  Although it may take a lot of work to publicly share our goals and accomplishments, it will help Rotary to continue especially if the young generation becomes involved in it.

Anyways, I'm proud to be a part of an amazing organisation and feel very privileged to be in their youth exchange program.  From the very beginning, I already knew that my responsibility was to share about Rotary among my friends who are around my age, and even now, I am still continuing (in French indeed).  I don't want to sound too pompous, but I sincerely hope you, the reader, understand the importance of Rotary International, and how much it does for our world.  If don't know about it, I suggest you to take a look at it and join it!

Some Rotarians of the Rotary Club of Louhans Bresse-Bourguignonne and
District 1750 Governor Chantal Lutz standing right side of me.

This coming weekend will be another busy weekend, so expect another update soon!