Bonjour! First, let me say how excited I am to have the opportunity to use this word every day, as I will be spending next year abroad as a Rotary ambassador in France! Thank you Rotary for the opportunity of a lifetime. My name is Sarah Wiegreffe and I am 16 years old and a senior at Bartram Trail High School. I have lived in Saint Augustine, Florida for the past two years with my mom, dad, and younger brother. We previously lived in Charleston, South Carolina for 9 years, and a couple other states before that.
I couldnít think of a better place to go than France for my year abroad. I love Europe, cooking, traveling, and most of all, the French language. I started taking French in 4th grade, and living in France has been one of my life goals since. Never did I think this would come in the form of an exchange, but this makes me all the more excited! My family is pretty multicultural- my dad was born in Germany, grew up in Brazil, and came to the U.S. for college, so I am both a German and American citizen, even though I was born here. I have had a few friends who were either inbound exchange students from other countries, or outbounds. I think a combination of these things has driven my desire to be an exchange student for a few years now. I know not a lot of people say this, but I like school. I love being able to socialize and meet people, and my favorite subjects are French (of course!), math, and history. I play tennis recreationally and guitar, and I like to hang out with my friends. I am in a lot of clubs at my school- I am the president of World Languages Club and Environmental Club and the secretary of Interact Club. Iím not really sure where I want to go to college or what I want to study yet, so I hope this year will help me learn more about myself and the world. I hope to make new friendships with people different from myself, and represent Rotary and the United States.
A huge thank you to Rotary for this opportunity, especially my district (6970), Ms. Roderick, Mr. Learn, Mr. Murray, my sponsor club- Rotary of Bartram Trail, my family, teachers, and friends for their support. I canít wait to embark on this journey.
ďSeize the moment. Remember all those women on the 'Titanic' who waved off the dessert cart.Ē
Sarah- Outbound to France
This has got to be about the third time I have
tried to write this blog entry. One of the hardest things I have come across
on exchange is trying to express my experiences adequately in words. With
the exchange students here I can never shut up about my exchange, but with
family and friends back home I find myself at a loss for words. I get asked
all the time by French people if I enjoyed something I did or somewhere I
went or something I ate, or if I like it here, and my answers may come out
simple in French but in reality everything is so much more- people are more
than nice, the food is more than delicious, and the things I do and places I
see are more than great.
Last week was four
months in France, and I wish time would slow down. I feel entirely at home
in my city, at my school, with my French family and friends, and with the
other exchange students. Iíve realized things I missed out on in the U.S.
that I would have never experienced had I not gone on exchange, from public
transportation to French pastries to being a middle child to escalade.
Public transportation. Iíve developed such a love/hate relationship with it.
Iíve had my fair share of running through the cold rain, waiting forever to
find out I missed the bus by 2 minutes, or squishing onto jam-packed buses.
Even though there are days when I miss being able to drive, I love the
ability to be able to go places without having to rely on someone to give me
a ride as might be the case if I did not drive in the U.S. The public
transportation here is affordable and accessible, as well as environmentally
friendly, and many people use it, considering gas is expensive, there is
little room for parking, and driverís licenses cost upwards of 1,000 euros!
At a young age kids here are able to have freedom like I never knew before
driving, because they have public transportation. I am lucky to live in a
part of the city with great bus access, and there is also a tram in the
inner city and the gare, or train station, where for 10 to 20 euros you can
h op on a train and take a day or weekend trip to other cities in the
region, perfect for visiting the other exchange students when we have our
French pastries. Or to make your
mouth water even more, letís just talk about French food in general. There
is very little, if anything, I have eaten here that I havenít liked. Bread
and cheese really are staples here. Even the school cafeteria serves
different varieties of fancy cheeses every day. From anywhere between 40 and
80 cents you can have a caramel cappuccino from a coffee vending machine,
and for 70 cents you can buy the most heavenly chocolate filled pastry
called a pain au chocolat at school during break. Needless to say I know
where the majority of my money has gone!
middle child. I am so lucky to have such a sweet and generous host family,
even though sometimes they probably think Iím crazy for my American ways. In
the U.S. I have one younger brother, now I have an older French brother and
a younger French sister. They help me immensely with my French, and I have
picked up a lot of slang and conversational things from speaking with them,
things that you canít learn from a textbook or in classes.
Escalade, better known to you as rock climbing.
The school sports are very different here. Because school can go from 8 am
to 6 pm several days a week, there isnít much time for extracurricular
sports or competitive sports teams. However, there are intramural-type
sports open to all students during the hour and a half lunch break, so I do
rock climbing with some friends for 4 or 5 hours a week. The sports in P.E.
class are also a bit violent. We did 6 weeks of French boxing, which
involved punching and kicking each other repeatedly in the forehead and
One thing I still cannot wrap my head
around after four months is the generosity and kindness I have come across
through my exchange, both here and in the U.S. Never did I expect to meet so
many people who have given their time and encouragement to make my exchange
possible, many of them people who were complete strangers before I got
involved with Rotary, some before I arrived here four months ago. I feel so
blessed, and I canít express my gratitude enough for everyone, especially
Rotary Florida, District 6970, District 1680, my host family, classmates and
teachers, Rotary clubs, and family and friends back home.
"It is our choices who show who we truly are, far more than our abilities."
-J. K. Rowling
A la prochaine!
Volunteering for la banque alimentaire (food bank) with my Rotary
La cathťdrale! The cathedral in my city.
I spent a week at a technical school! This was butchery class.
Ma famille franÁaise! My French family and I on Thanksgiving.
This Saturday at the Rotary conference in my district, Iíll
be giving a speech about what this year has brought me. Itís funny, I
can talk in French but I have so much trouble writing in English. Itís
honestly the hardest thing to describe my life here to Americans,
because to me everything about it has become completely normal.
So this Saturday. First of all, Iíll have to assure everyone that I
really do come from Florida, seeing as to how pale Iíve gotten. The
impression here of Florida is that it is like a continuous vacation,
Iíve been on exchange for seven and a half months now, and it honestly
feels like seven and a half weeks. The exciting thing about exchange is
that there are always new things coming up, from big events like school
vacations, holidays, changing families, bus-trips, or weekends with the
other exchange students, to the small events of the week, like lunch in
the city with school friends or volunteering at the food bank. Iím
always learning the most random interesting things, whether from the
other exchange students, from my French family and friends, or even from
what I pick up on in class.
What have the past almost eight months taught me? I could spend a day
talking about the obvious cultural differences, like the clothing, the
food, the weather, the school system. But what I find the most
interesting is how I myself have changed, which is what Iíll be taking
about Saturday. If I hadnít made the decision to take on this adventure,
I wouldnít understand myself at all like I do now. I see more clearly
now my strengths and my weaknesses, but I also see how I have changed. I
am so much more patient and flexible, more self-confident and assertive.
I keep on doubting my English, which is awesome. I know it would have
taken me years to develop the same qualities back in the U.S. These
things we learn as exchange students arenít like anything you can learn
from a textbook, with a teacher, in a desk. These are real life
experiences, and a ton of them packed into ten short months.
I now see that life is almost never black and white. Everything depends
on perception, convictions, beliefs. One thing Rotary Florida often
advised us Outbounds was to never think of the things that would occur
as bad or good, correct or incorrect, just different. This is something
I had memorized, like I memorized the words of La Marseillaise, the
French national anthem, before leaving the U.S., without really
understanding the meaning or the importance of the words. It took
experiencing another culture to get it.
Now I see that in reality, we live in the grey. Each person values
things differently, whether silence or speech, presentation or depth.
Itís clear that Americans will always understand me better than the
French or people of other cultures. But thatís the point of exchange- to
put yourself in unfamiliar situations, where you could say you lose
yourself to find yourself again.
The expression ďThe adventure begins at the end of your comfort zoneĒ
doesnít really translate into French, but Iíll be trying to communicate
it anyway. When I reflect on all that I have been able to do that I
would have either not had the opportunity to do or would have never made
the choice to do, I am ecstatic I chose this year for myself.
Rotary Snow Weekend
Paris-Barcelona Bus Trip