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!  http://ameliasadventuresinjapan.blogspot.fr/2013/01/update.html)

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.

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