Sunday, February 24, 2013

Le Nord... AGAIN!

Who knew I was going to spend another awesome time in northern France again?!  Similar to last time, my host family and I travelled back up to Nord-Pas-de-Calais (most northern region in France) to see their family and visit unique areas!
We first visited the Souterrain de Cambrai which is an underground tunnel integrated in the fortifications that enclosed the city of Cambrai back in 1543.  It was built under the control of Charles V, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  Cambrai was a very strong citadel until the Sun King (Louis XIV) conducted the annexation of the city later in 1677, destroying the walls.
The entrance of the souterrain

Soldiers who protected the city used these underground tunnels,
and they shot their guns through these small holes that pointed to the outside fortification.
After, I was super, super, SUPER fortunate to spend one of the best days here in France at Vimy Ridge:  the famous Canadian legacy of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  Heard about it before, but don't know why it's so well known in Canada?  Well it's because during WWI, it was captured by Germany and it was a very strong defensive position along the Western Front (a trench-fighting stalemate that stretched almost 1000km from the Belgium coast to Swiss borders).  However on April 9th, 1917, Canadian soldiers numbering up to 20, 000 went to battle against the Germans and successfully gained position of the area on April 12th.  Thanks to these Canadian soldiers in this battle and several others, these achievements helped Canada to gain international recognition and a separate signature on the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war officially.  YEAH CANADA!!!
I made it here!!!

The battle was at a high cost: 11, 000 casualties plus nearly 3, 600 were killed.
The others out of the 20, 000 are buried and honoured here.

Appalingly, the 1914-1918 "war to end all wars" was followed by another terrifying war,
yet more severe and widespread.

Trench of the Western Front

"No Man's Land" between the oppositions:
dead and injured soldiers who fell in it were often unable to be recovered

Underground tunnels used during war

Merci Canada for fighting with France.
Merci France for giving the land to Canada to commemorate for those who fought bravely.

I'm in France AND Canada!!
(Since the land was given to Canada by France,
I can say that I spent my break in Canada... can't I?)

The Vimy Ridge monument with my host family

The front of the Vimy Ridge Monument
11, 285 names of the Canadian soldiers who were listed as missing or dead are inscribed on this monument.
The day at Vimy was absoluetely incredible especially with the perfect weather and I can't thank enough to my host parents for taking me there.  The tour was unique because the guides were Canadian university students who spoke English and French, working there for 4 months.  Thus, thank you to France and Canada for commemorating those who battled in war by creating and preserving a magnific monument and site.
That same day, we also stopped by Arras, a lovely city near Vimy.  It was so gorgeous that I was twirling and dancing in the streets with so much happiness!  Yup, my host family was quite surprised, but they were probably happy to see that I enjoyed these visits so much.

City center and the Beffroi de Arras (Belfry)
Cute boutiques everywhere ♥ ♥ ♥
The Beffroi of Arras is a "flamboyant" gothic belfry that was constructed in the 15th and 16th century.  Why "flamboyant"?  Well from just looking at it, there are so many intricate details that makes your eyes glue on the building for more than just a good minute.  For example at the very top of the belfry, there is a lion d'or (golden lion) because the lion is the symbolic animal of the city including the rat.  Yeah, you can say that there are many lovely belfrys in France, but I tell you this one is especially beautiful.  And of course it is recognized in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Entrance of the Beffroi, facing outside
We climbed up to the top of the Beffroi and the view was fabulous!
The highest point for visitors is just where the clock is placed.
Undoubtly, that day was one of the most memorable days of my exchange.  I wish you were there too!!


If you ever stop by in France, you MUST try the famous frites of the north!  (Aka: French fries)  No, they are not healthy at all and no, "French" fries apparently do not originate from France... weird to say.  There's still no clear evidence, but historians believe it comes from Belgium in fact.  (Hint, hint... the region is just below the country.)  The term "French" was probably established when the American soldiers (who came to Belgium to fight in WWI)  tasted these fries because the official language of the Belgian Army was French.  Therefore, fries are actually Belgian.

Le Mitraillette (in Belgium) or an Américan (in France) that I ate.
Le Mitraillette also means machine gun in French...  like many people, I have no clue why.  It's Belgian cuisine that's made of fries, baguette, sauce (mayo in the photo), seasoning (optional) and meat, but specially in this photo (and horrifyingly for the health), it was a sausage known as frikandel which is hidden under the fries.  It was yummy anyways!

And of course you could have guessed... I visited Belgium too!!  What more?  I was also able to meet my fellow exchange friend from my own district in Canada (5360)!  His host country is Belgium and luckily my host family and I went to see him in the city of Mons, just 30 min drive away from the French-Belgian border.


My host sister, her cousin, my Canadian exchange friend and I beside the monkey.
(See it?)

It gives you good luck when you rub its head with your left hand!

A MUST try... Belgian waffles ♥ ♥ (Mine was raspberry flavour!)
Yeah, you might think that exchange is a lot about eating eh?
Well that is very true indeed.

I can't believe it's already the end of February!  So many things come and go, and I wish I can tightly grasp on these marvellous moments forever.  However, time can't stop and I've got to keep on going.  Come on March!  Here I go for more adventure!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Inbound Meeting #2

Once again, the inbounds of District 1750 got together for another fun weekend!  This time, it took place in Sainte-Marie-la-Blanche: a very small village next to Beaune, the famous wine village of Burgundy that I visited back in November.  We stayed in a really cozy cabin-style yet modern gite(cottage) the generous Rotary district rented for the weekend... it was a huge difference from our last stay in Londrevilles with the nasty spiderwebs hanging across ceilings, poor heating and outdoor toilets.

And WOW.  Everyone's French has improved a lot compared to the last time we met!  It has been about four months ago, and it's evident that now everyone can speak French decently but still with a bit of a touristy accent.  Despite that we have only three meetings during our year, I love how we can get to see each other's growth a lot more dramatically (in a good way of course)!  The moment we saw each other till we gave huge goodbye hugs and kisses the next day, we were exploding into sharing stories about our exchange lives so far... the ups and downs, the most daring things we ever did, life with new friends and families, funny anecdotes, our future plans... you get it.  We all spoke more French than a confusing mix of our natal languages, yet we learned how to say some simple phrases in other languages, and tried (... not necessarily succeeded) to sing in other languages.  We all screamed and shouted, took lots of pictures, played games, and had a blast overall.

Although we didn't go touring outside of the village we stayed at, we were always keeping each other's company at the gite and never got bored despite that there weren't many special events other than meeting the district governor Mme. Chantal Lutz and eating.  For me and including everyone else, being together as exchange students was just enough.  Enough to make us not want to end the weekend.  This extraordinary weekend went by too quickly and I wish I could experience it again.  But the fact that it happened makes me feel so warm inside... it's hard to explain, but it's that special awareness that makes us remember we're never alone no matter how far separated we are.  We all face difficult situations yet we find our ways to overcome it.  We understand each other unlike the others.  We are family.

Anyways, here are some photos taken at the meeting!  I hope you enjoy them!

We played an intense outdoor game: Capture the flag (we used our real flags!)
(And there's me far in the back with my hands up for surrender...)


Helping the Japanese exchange student to do her math homework written in English,
but explained in Japanese.  So weird to speak the two languages now!

Mmm... ♥ ♥ ♥  Apéritifs Français!!

Playing games past midnight

Exchange students of D1750 (missing 2 American girls) plus our district exchange officer (very left)
and Mme. Chantal Lutz, the district governor (fourth right in back)

Merci beaucoup pour le week-end incroyable, et a bientôt à tout le monde en mai!
Thank you very much for the incredible weekend, and see you soon everyone in May!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Exam Prep, Food, Snow and Thank you

Salut tout le monde (Hey everyone),

The month of January has been hectic at my lycée especially that I'm studying for the national Baccalauréat de Français exam (known as the "Bac") in June with the regular French students and also the DELF (Diplôme d'études en langue française) exam in May with the other exchange students.

The national Bac de Français is designed by the French government and it consists of writing and speaking about French literature.  On the other hand, the DELF exam is an internationally recognized exam of French grammar like TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) which is evaluated through oral comprehension, reading comprehension, written and speaking production. It's a unique opportunity for me since the results can be acknowledged in many countries unlike the Bac.  

Although these exams are near the end of the academic year, we, the exchange students of my lycée, are already doing hoards of work because unlike the French students, we still need to improve our French grammar, learn how to write essays their way, PLUS, understand the same level of French literature they're studying... all at once basically!  You might ask, why are you doing that if it's going to stress you out?  Very good question.

Well to simply put in words, it's for the experience.  I've went through days thinking no, I ought to sit back and enjoy a fun, relaxing and stress-free exchange ... but I realized something.  I realized that I could still achieve a wonderful exchange because my work would contribute to my fluency of the language, I would understand in much more depth about French student life, and I would be proud of myself in the end for trying my best even if I fail.  Perhaps it won't be relaxing or stress-free all the time, but it's just that exchange can't be that.  Exchange is a challenge, but a very rewarding one.

At the same time, I was also able to enjoy the month of January by doing several activities!  (To your relief, I wasn't just a bookworm during the entire month.)  I've got many things to share:

My grandparents who live in Japan sent me a box of ingredients for a special Japanese dish called okonomiyaki!  Remember that I made a Japanese omlette for my first host family back in October?  It was easy to do back then because its ingredients were easily accessible in French supermarkets.  However this time, making okonomiyaki was more than just a grocery shopping challenge until I received the box in surprise!

Okonomiyaki is a pancake made from a batter of flour, finely chopped cabbage, eggs, baking powder and others like cheese, vegetables, meat (ex: thin pork belly, squid, octopus), mochi (rice cake) or kimchi (Korean dish of fermented vegetables).  The topping varies, but it is mainly with okonomiyaki sauce (sweet and savory brown sauce), Japanese mayonaise, katsuobushi (super thin and dehydrated fish skin) and dried algae sprinkles.  It's usually eaten for lunch or dinner.  It originates from the Japanese prefecture of Osaka, but now okonomiyaki can be found and is served everywhere in Japan because it's so yummy!!  (My Canadian friend Amelia in Japan with Rotary also ate it recently too!

My current host family has never eaten a Japanese dish, so as a beginner, I cooked for the first time the basic recipe plus ham.  They LOVED it!!!

Due the steam, the katsuobushi were swaying back and forth,
making my host family think that they were still alive...

... but they appreciated it anyways!

いただきます!Bon appétit!

(Grandpa, Grandma, thank you!)

On January 6th, my friends and I ate a traditional French cake called the galette de roi, which is a puff pastry cake filled with a cream composed of sweet almonds, butter, egg and sugar, known as frangipane.   This cake is specially eaten on this day because it celebrates the Christian festival of Epiphany; the day when Jesus is presented to the three wise men coming from the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe.  What makes this cake unique is that there is a small charm hidden in the cake known as the fève.  The tradition (that has been continued since the 18th century) is that whoever has the fève in their piece of cake becomes the king or queen for the day. 

Nowadays in France, many people (including those who are not Christian) celebrate this tradition, and the galette de roi can also have apple, chocolate or sweetened fruit filling instead.  The fève is usually a porcelain figurine of Jesus, but now there are many different varieties of it and there are also fève collectors.

Another note of tradition:
The youngest goes under the table to determine who gets which piece of cake!
(That's my friend under the table)

Les gagnantes de la galette des rois! (We both won. Don't ask how.)

I guess one can say that French people eat almost everything that is alive and moves.
(No, I'm kidding.  Not everyone in France eat all types of French food.)

So you know that they eat les escargots (snails), les cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs) and les huîtres crues (raw oysters) as I have tried them already.  But guess what?!  I have also tried...

La langue de boeuf and le coeur de porc

...which I happily translate as cow tongue and pig heart.
La langue de boeuf avec des légumes
It tasted alright, but the soft, gelatinous texture was rather strange...
Le coeur de porc avec de l'ail et du beurre
Now, now... it's NOT that bad as you may imagine it to be! 
It tasted surprisingly good after it was well cooked!

... I just realized that I have just talked only about food.  Moving on!


Here in France, snow = panic.

I find the weather channel of France amusing to watch because when most of the country was covered by only 3cm of snow, the level of danger with rankings of white, yellow, orange and red (white as safe and red as maximum danger), it was red.  People were walking in the streets saying in French, "darn, because of the snow, I can't drive to work today" or "there's no school today!"  The whole country went completely nuts.

I think I've experienced the shortest winter of my life so far...  Now in Louhans, it's not snowing but it's raining.  Back home in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, the snow doesn't all melt until April or May for sure!  At least my host sister and I got to enjoy the last bit of snow a few weeks ago as we made a snowman in our backyard!


I was lucky enough to experience more snow last weekend because I went to le Jura, a sub-alpine mountain range in France located on the west side of the Swiss Alps.  My generous host parents took me there last Saturday with my host sister and friends for downhill skiing and snowshoeing.  Even the day after, I went to the same place again for cross-country skiing with my Mexican exchange friend and her host parents!  It was an absolutely fantastic weekend in the mountains!


The month of January was incredibly amazing.  Despite the amount of pressure at my lycée, I am also balancing my time here equally with many memorable activities (which definitely includes eating).  Furthermore, I finally showed my PowerPoint presentation of my Canadian life that I created before my exchange to my host Rotary club, and they told me that they really enjoyed watching it.  It felt extraordinary to be standing in front of non-English people and how I managed to talk in French all the way through.  I didn't have to write a script or rehearse it; the right words came out naturally, and they were impressed of how much my French has grown.  It is still far away from perfect, but looking from where I started, I think I've accomplished a lot.

At the end of my presentation, I thanked my Rotary club for hosting a student and deciding to take huge responsibilities for me especially that they are a small club and the exchange program is new to them.  I clearly don't know why and I didn't have the intention to, but my eyes started to pour with huge tears when I said the simple words, merci beaucoup.  They meant so much, and I think my club understood that.  It was so embarrassing because I was practically croaking like an old grandma!  But wow, what a stunning night.  I was overwhelmed by grateful feelings that I think those tears were tears of happiness.  Not sadness, not fear nor regret.  Pure happiness.

Thanks to numbers of people, my exchange has been phenomenal and I can't believe that it's just past the half-way point.  There's more to come!  What am I going to do in July when I have to leave France?!

Still on adventure and learning,

ps:  When I was downhill skiing, I coincidentally met a newbie!  (In Rotary Youth Exchange definition, a student who recently started his or her Rotary exchange.)  At this time of the year, the newbies are students who come from southern hemisphere countries because most of their exchange go from January till December.  Therefore, I met an Australian girl from another Rotary district and her host parents by chance at the ski hill!  Although we didn't have much time together, it was so awesome to talk to them!  Also, the host parents have a daughter who is currently spending her exchange in Australia, so I was also able to make a new connection with her too through email.  It's so cool how us exchange students get along so easily just because we share at least a thing in common: exchange.