Bonjour! My name is Clara Janow and I have been awarded the Rotary Youth Exchange Scholarship allowing me to study abroad in France for the 2018-2019 school year! I am 15 years old and a freshman at Buckeye Valley High School. I have always loved traveling and learning about new cultures, so this opportunity is a dream come true for me. In my free time I enjoy running cross country for my school and working as a rhythmic gymnastics coach. In addition, being a devoted rhythmic gymnast (a European dominated sport) has been my gateway to falling in love with European culture and studying languages. While in France I hope to make new friendships, become fluent in French, experience local cuisine, and learn about the history and wonders of France: Paris, The Louvre, Palace of Versailles, etc. No words can express how eternally grateful I am for all the amazing people at the Delaware Rotary Club and in District 6690 whom I owe for this incredible opportunity. Worth around $24,000 (the RYE Scholarship), I would not have been able to fulfil my dreams to study abroad without my sponsorship from the amazing Delaware Rotary Club. The RYE program is truly a family, and I have met numerous amazing and inspiring people who I am lucky to call my friends and mentors. I am so excited to represent Delaware Rotary Club, Rotary International, and the USA next year in such a beautiful country!
October 1, 2018
Hello everyone! I have officially completed my first month abroad in France, and what an adventure it has been! I arrived the 28th of September in Lyon which felt like a huge party – right when the other exchange students and I walked through the doors out of baggage claim we were all met by applause, cameras, as well as tons of Rotarians and host families. My first week here I didn’t have school, which was very nice because I had some time to adapt and practice my language skills. Here are some of my best memories from that week: I visited Le Lac du Bourget and ate an amazing waffle with nutella and whipped cream, the daughter of my host dad visited and brought us a pig’s leg from Spain (it was delicious), I learned how to do diabolo with my host brother, and I attended a beautiful wedding at the Château du Parc de Buisson Rond!
Of course the summer vacation couldn’t last forever, but so far school has been quite pleasant. In France you stay with the same group of students for all your classes, and I already feel close with some of my classmates. The biggest shock for me was the amount of breaks between classes, which sounds awesome until you realize that you don’t finish school until around 4-6pm, except on Wednesdays when you finish around noon. Of course school isn’t easy, especially since my French is definitely not perfect yet, but once I found out how to balance the language, my homework/assignments, and my participation in class things definitely became easier. I think it’s just learning to adapt and accept that has been the hardest part of this month, but I feel that the challenge of it has already made me stronger and taught me valuable lessons. During my second weekend in France my host family took me on two amazing little trips: the first one was on Saturday and I had the chance to explore Chambery (my city) with my host dad. It ended up being a perfect day because there was an exposition of all the clubs that Chambery has to offer! Then the next day we went to explore the mountains. It was such a beautiful and cathartic experience to be so high above the ground and be able to reflect on the nature, beauty, and wonder of the world, as well as life in general.
Near the end of the month my Rotary Youth Exchange Officer from my sponsor Rotary Club, The Delaware Rotary Club, was working nearby in Geneva so together with my host family we arranged a visit! We walked around my school, my city, and then had lunch. It was really nice because my Rotary Youth Exchange Officer from my host club (club in France) came as well, and he is an expert when it comes to the history and culture of my region. We even stopped at a French cheese stop and tasted some cheese. All the food here in France tastes so fresh and the genuine effort put in to each aspect of a meal is so incredible.
This past weekend was especially special as well, because it was the reunion weekend with all the other exchange students in my district! There are 43 of us in total as well as 5 other Americans. The first day consisted of a flag ceremony, tons of pictures, a volleyball game, singing, a dance party, and a lot of pin trading (a youth exchange tradition). The next day we all packed picnics, went hiking in the mountains, and played team bonding games. It was such a crazy feeling to be in such a beautiful place with other exchange students from all around the world, all united in one big exchange student family. I never really understood the bond between exchange students until now, but I will try to explain it – to be with other people going through the same crazy, new, and constantly changing series of emotions as you are is such a powerful feeling, because no matter how alone or homesick we might feel, we will always have each other. Overall, this month has been full of new experiences and challenges, both incredibly amazing and incredibly difficult, but I am already starting to understand that that is what makes everything worthwhile, and I wouldn’t trade all my new memories for the world. Furthermore, I can definitely tell that my level of French has improved so much and I’m pretty confident about my level – I am so thankful for all the time I spent studying this past year. The “B” I have been focusing on the most this is “be here now”. With all the new experiences and opportunities you have during your first month abroad it would seem so much easier to sit back and wait for things to happen, but living in the moment is such a big part of youth exchange, and without this “B” I don’t think I would be as close with my friends or host family, as successful in school, or have a lot of the amazing (and sometimes funny) memories from this month! It is crazy to look back and think about how last year at this time I was just trying to convince my parents to consider youth exchange and now I am actually here living my dream. I would like to thank my sponsor and host districts, the Delaware Rotary Club, and everyone who has helped make this dream a reality!
November 1, 2018
Wow it’s crazy to think that I have already been in France for over two months. This month completely flew by, probably because of how adapted I feel with my host family, my school, and my friends. At the beginning of the month it was still surprisingly warm, so I had the chance to continue some of my summer habits – like shopping! One of my favorite things about my city is the mixture of old and new. For example, there are tons of shops of all sorts and sizes, but they conserve the old buildings and architecture of the city, which makes shopping so much more beautiful.
In the middle of the month I was able to see all the other exchange students in the district at the informational meeting for the outbounds. We were all able to answer questions about our countries, talk about our culture, and share homemade desserts – I made Buckeyes!
To be completely honest, most of this month at school was spent waiting for the break, a mutual feeling between the students and the teachers. The Thursday before the break there was the school-wide running day – le jour du cross. All the students were sorted by grade and gender and had a 2 mile race. This wasn’t just for fun, since everyone’s grade depended on their time and the top students could go on to represent the school at other running competitions. My goal was to run in under 15 minutes, which I happily accomplished! Another major victory for me this month was in Spanish class, where I really tried to focus on the “be on purpose” B. I started taking Spanish around a month and a half ago and I absolutely understand nothing because the other students had been taking Spanish since middle school. My goal was try and learn even if it took lots of time. Even though the first exam didn’t go so well for me I was proud that I attempted it and that I could use the feedback to try and improve. Then on the Friday before the break there was an oral exam which I really wanted to do well on. As a result, I spent a long time studying and preparing. On the day of the exam I was able to understand most of the questions and I believe that my level of responses was about the same level as the rest of the class! Of course I won’t receive a perfect grade, but I am so happy that I met my goal and that my hard work paid off!
This month I also had the chance to try a ton of new and classic foods: goat cheese, fondue, pumpkin soup, mussels and fries, a maxi chocolate croissant (I’ve eaten them before but never one this size), chocolate lava cake, Kinder chocolate, nougat, oysters, a floating island (whipped egg dessert over custard), and a Gardiane (Camargue specialty – beef roasted in a red wine sauce and eaten with a side of rice).
Right now I am on break so I have spent a lot of time relaxing and spending time with my host family. Since it was super nice outside during the first week of vacation, we took a few walks around my town and spent a lot of time bonding with various members of my host host family. I also spent some time with an exchange student from Equator – we shopped, drank coffee, and ate nutella waffles (even though my waffle had almost no nutella on it).
The second week we visited a little bit of the South of France! Some of the highlights were: Les Carrières des Lumières, a light show in the caves underneath Les Baux de Provence; trying oysters and various other Mediterranean seafoods for the first time (my dish was stuffed squids); walking around a beautiful private beach; a site tour of Europe’s largest salt producer; Aigues-Mortes, an old prison now filled with tons of shops and homes; Le grau-du-roi, lighthouses, beaches, fishing boats, hot chocolate, and beautiful sunset views; walking around the beautiful and very old city of Arles. Even though the weather didn’t cooperate the whole time, I will always cherish this little getaway as well as all the fights I had between me, the wind, and my umbrella.
In France, Halloween isn’t really a part of the culture, so throughout the month I shared some of our American traditions, such as watching a halloween film, carving pumpkins, scary makeup, and eating roasted pumpkin seeds! I’m a little sad that spooky season is almost over, but I absolutely can’t wait for the holiday season to start in such a beautiful place!
December 1, 2018
I love November because of the mixture of fall and winter weather and the transition from the fall to winter holidays! At the start of this month was the Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos which isn’t celebrated in France. However, the Spanish classes/teachers organized a Dia de los Muertos celebration at my school so I had the chance to embrace some Mexican culture. Then later on the 10th I had the chance to view part of a military parade in my city in celebration of November 11th, Veterans Day. A major American holiday this month was Thanksgiving, and even though I am so far from home this day was an important one for me to reflect on all I am thankful for, which is definitely a lot. I didn’t have the chance to cook a meal on the actual day of Thanksgiving, but the other American in my city and I are planning on cooking one together at the beginning of December!
This month was a very busy one at school. For French class I read my first real book in French – Claude Gueux by Victor Hugo. Even though it is very short the message is very important and it is a great example of Victor Hugo’s writing style. Additionally, I have really tried to be more social this month at school, and thanks to lots of group projects I am happy to say I have made a lot of new friends. Trying to find people you are comfortable with while on exchange (besides just other exchange students) can be tricky, but once you do it is worth the wait. I am glad to have people who share some of my interests: food, Mario Kart, and Harry Potter!
I had two important Rotary events this month. First of all there was the district conference where us exchange students had the chance to present ourselves in front of our district with our flags and a little dance. The second event was one organised by my Rotary club and it was a special lunch based upon steam-cooked sausages – but with a twist. The liquid used to steam the sausages is a special kind of alcohol made from leftover grape vines and a special machine – it was a special opportunity because usually the use of this machine is illegal (think of Moonshine laws) but it was very interesting to learn about how alcohol was made in the past.
This month I have really been focusing on “be first”, especially at school to try and overcome some of my language and academic fears. For example I had a debate in history class, and I was scared of not being able to participate so I decided to “be first” and volunteer to start the debate. From then on I was less nervous of messing up and I ended up being an active member of the class during the debate. I have also focused on “being first” through presenting my schoolwork when the teacher asks for volunteers and making opportunities when they aren’t given to me, such as creating time to bond with friends! One thing I did was organize a time for 2 other exchange students and I at my school to bond outside of school, and we had a blast! We ate some ramen and shopped at a little antique market in Chambery.
Most importantly, here are some foods that I have been loving this month: Paris Brest, pain au chocolat, brioche aux pralines, Nutella B-Ready, Tiramisu, and the raclette (melted cheese eaten with meat and potatoes).
January 1, 2019
Happy December and happy holidays everyone! I have now reached my 4th month of exchange which feels crazy. Life here has become natural and I am picking up the language faster and faster.
At the beginning of the month I organized a surprise party for one of my friends, a fellow American (with the help of his host dad). It was at a Rotary concert and it was so much fun to spend time together with some of the other exchangers in my city. I also had the chance to spend an afternoon with him at a “dessert” party my host family hosted.
I have continued to have French class every Monday, so walking to the city I have been able to view the Christmas markets in my city. Even though Chambéry is not a very large city, there is still a lot of food served as well as trinkety items sold in the house shaped stands. One afternoon before French class I bought a sausage sandwich, and then right after the class I went back and shared some churros with my friends from Mexico and Ecuador. The week after that we all did a little holiday shopping together after French class.
Outside of exchange friends, I have been focusing on school friends as well. This month the one of my good friends invited me to spend the afternoon with her after school. We usually take the bus together to the same stop after school anyway, so her house was right on the way. We only had around 2 hours together, but we ate some crepes and played Mario Kart. We did the same thing the week after, and then we even spent an afternoon together in the city. We went shopping and we ate at an Italian restaurant together. It is so amazing to have school friends to spend time with outside of school! Then during the break we spent some more time together playing one of her new games for her Nintendo Switch.
School this month was a little intense because of the upcoming holiday break and I was pushed out of my comfort zone a bit. For example, I had to do a presentation about President Trump for history class, I had a Spanish oral presentation, and lots of tests to study for. There isn’t a lot of holiday spirit in the school but on the 20th we had the annual holiday feast- mashed potato balls, turkey, brie cheese, chocolates, la bouche de noel (traditional log Christmas cake), etc.
I am on Christmas break right now until January 7th. My friend from Ecuador and I spent some time together and even visited Grenoble, a large nearby city. We shopped at some of the Christmas markets (there were a lot more here than in Chambéry) and even rode the “bubbles” which took us up in the mountains where there was an amazing view of the city.
My host family actually celebrated Christmas on the 30th because before that their family was out of town. We ate a turkey, sweet chestnuts, fumed salmon, vegetables, foie gras (which I still don’t like very much), exotic fruits, and macarons. New Year’s Eve was interesting because I started 2019 six hours earlier than my family in Ohio! To celebrate we ate seafood platters and cheese.
This month I have been focusing on “be grateful”, especially with the holiday season and the fact that I will be switching host families at the beginning of next month. I am so thankful for all the amazing opportunities that I have been given so far and I can’t wait to see where 2019 takes me!
February 1, 2019
Halfway through me exchange – how is this possible? I hit the 5 month mark on the 28th which was crazy because I feel like I have been living here forever yet I also feel like I arrived just yesterday. I am really loving my exchange right now and I love bonding with all my Rotary and school friends.
At the beginning of this month I switched host families which felt weird at first but was also a nice change for the new year. I started school again on the 7th and in my new host family I live further from the city so I take a bus to and from school in the morning and at night. It was hard to go back to school after a full two weeks of break but I eased back into the routine very quickly.
Near the middle of the month I spent a weekend at the house of one of my best exchange friends. She is from Equator and her current host family will be my next host family. We went to rent skis together and try on ski gear together because we would be going skiing later that week.
This month it finally snowed here and it looked like all the snow from the last month had been piling up and all fell down at the same time – there was so much! Since it was a Wednesday I had sport in the afternoon and and I ran for 2 hours outdoors. Despite the cold it was so beautiful to run in the woods with all the snow and it reminded me a lot of Ohio.
The next day was the day I had been looking forward to for weeks – ski day with the school! It was actually my history teacher who found this opportunity for me: We were talking a bit about my exchange experiences and I mentioned I probably won’t be able to go skiing this winter because my host family doesn’t ski. She then told me that if I can’t find a way to go skiing then she would find an opportunity for me. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then a few days later she came up to me and said she got special permission for me to go skiing with my school even though my class didn’t qualify, and I made sure the other exchange students at my school could come too. I am so grateful that she did this for me and I know she must appreciate my presence/participation in class or else she wouldn’t have gone out of the way to do this. The actual ski day was amazing and I am so happy that now I know how to ski! I had to spend the morning on the bunny hill but in the afternoon I was able to experience some amazing longer slopes and I didn’t want to leave, even though my feet hurt a lot.
The final weekend of this month we had our district Rotary “snow” weekend. We all played in the snow, built snowmen, ate a Raclette (melted cheese dish), and had a dance party! The next day we went snowshoeing for a few hours and then we were all exhausted and chilled together until it was time to leave. It was so sad to say goodbye to all the exchange students in the district because I love them all so much and the next weekend is the “goodbye” weekend and is a few months away.
Time here is flying so fast!
March 1, 2019