Now that I have been living in Auch for three months, I feel very comfortable and well-acquainted with my town, family and school.
School has been in session for three weeks since our last break, which means that winter break is in three more. I have spent the last few weeks waiting for winter with confusion, only to be told that it is actually winter: a combination of temperatures in the 30 to 40 degree range, grey skies and occasional drizzles. This is what the season consists of in southern France. There is no snow to be seen (it snows an average of one to three days per winter here) and most trees are still busy losing their leaves. However, even if nature doesn't seem to know it's winter, the commercial world definitely does; holiday chocolates and decorations are popping up in all the shops and a giant Christmas tree made of lights was recently put up in Auch's central square.
My personal holiday preparations consist of rehearsing to play in two holiday concerts - one with the saxophone quartet at the local Ecole de Musique (School of Music), and the other accompanying the choir of one of my host Rotary club's members.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to Toulouse as a class to attend a college/career fair called Infosup, which was very important and informative for my classmates. Because I won't be going to college in France, I simply walked around and practiced my accent by talking to the representatives. In France, one's career choice must be made directly upon entering college and cannot be changed; what's more, certain specializations (such as political science) accept only the very top students and normally only those who took the literary or social sciences track in high school. Therefore, career choice is a tricky game and is unchangeable very early on. At school right now, students continue to work hard as the bac (end-of-the-year college entrance exam) steadily approaches.
For my part (and without the stress of the bac), I'm still immensely enjoying my classes of philosophy, Italian and history-geography.
Our last lesson in the latter was on the United States as a world power and interventionism vs. isolationism, which was fascinating to study from a European perspective. In fact, I've found that one of the unexpected phenomenons of being the only American at my school (and one of few Anglophones) is being expected to speak as a representative of my country and language. I get questions nearly every day from students and teachers alike ("What is lunchtime like in American high schools?", "Is there as much homework?", "Do you really spend all day singing and dancing on lunch tables like in 'High School Musical?'"). My philosophy teacher verifies the roots of English words and American cultural references with me, my literature teacher asked me to explain to the class how the Anglophone world sees Shakespeare and my history-geography teacher recently had me do a presentation on my view of her latest lesson.
Some of the interesting questions I received then included "How do Americans see the French, or Europeans in general?" and "What are American teens' relationships with their parents like?"
Though it's not always easy to speak for such a large community, it's also thrilling to be a direct source of cross-cultural understanding. So, as they say here, la vie est belle (life is beautiful)! Adieu for now!
Editor's note: Sierra Parker is spending a year in France as a Rotary Exchange Student through the Houghton Rotary Club.