Month 4 was marked by the starting of Christmas celebrations- the hardest time for an exchange student. They always say homesickness starts around the time that you would usually be giving thanks with your family while sitting around a turkey and will go on until around the New Year. This month starts right off with thanksgiving and ends just before Christmas, so going in I knew it would be tough. My main goal for this month was to keep strong and share my usual traditions, alongside learning as many new traditions to share and treasure forever.
Within this month I…
Celebrated one US holiday
The other Americans and I saved the day with this one. Being upset that we couldn’t take part in the usual Turkey festivities that Thursday, we all got together that weekend and decided to make our own Thanksgiving dinner. Saturday morning, Shelbie, Kayli and I traveled to Toulon to meet at Caroline’s (the fourth American’s house).
After we ate lunch, all four of us went to the grocery store to buy some food to cook for the big meal. Shelbie and Caroline were in charge of the main meal: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and gravy, and Kayli and I had all things sweet: cookies, Cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin loaf, and of course a pumpkin pie. First off, I would like to say that finding all these items was not easy in France. We couldn’t find the ingredients to make the cranberry sauce, and canned pumpkin was didn’t exist either but most importantly, there were no full turkeys.
After about 6 hours of cooking, we were finally finished. There were some bumps of course, some cookies burnt, the loaf tasted dry, the turkey was actually just turkey legs and the stuffing was undercooked, but nevertheless it was extremely rewarding. We bonded a lot and learned how to cook the things our parents usually do. We cooked a turkey to perfection, baked a pumpkin pie all the way from scratch (we started with an actual pumpkin that we had to peel and boil), and it all tasted so good (even if Caroline’s host family didn’t believe us that sweet potatoes with marshmallows was not a dessert)
Went to five christmas markets (in order)
Christmas markets, otherwise known as “Marché de Noël”, are very popular in France. Each market has a different ambiance depending on the location of the city, and how big the city is.
The day after the Americans and I cooked our thanksgiving meal, we went to the downtown Toulon Christmas market. We ate crepes and other treats as we walked around the market looking at all of the venders. There was also a maze in the center, which had important landmarks from around the world, to show Santa’s route in delivering presents.
Because the last christmas market was so fun, the next weekend, Shelbie, Ana (the Argentinian) and I went to Nice to check out the market there. We went to the beach and then got pizza in “vieux Nice” which was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. After lunch, we went to the center Nice to check out the market. We got Churros with Nutella which was so amazing deliciously and was also Shelbie’s first ever Churro! After that we went to the ice rink which was lots of fun because it was Ana’s first time ice skating (which meant there was a lot of falling and a lot more laughs). After about an hour of ice skating we toured the rest of the market before taking the train back home. This was the biggest of all of the Christmas markets and also the most fun!
The town I live in, Mouans-Sartoux, had a small christmas market the same weekend I went to the market in Nice. Sunday evening, my host family and I walked around the market looking at the small venders and their goods. Mouans-Sartoux is a small with lots of countryside, so there were a lot of fresh, locally made products which was really cool to see (and taste) !
Sophia (also known as Hui-Yu, the Taiwanese exchange student in my district) came to stay with my host family for two weeks. While she was here, my host family and I went to the Cannes christmas festival and ate dinner there. It was very pretty with all of the lights set up, a new for me to see Cannes like that because usually I only see it during the day when I go to school. Sophia and I walked around with my family helping them pick out gifts for their kids. Once we g0t home, being in the Christmas spirit, I helped Sophia decorate her first Christmas tree! It was a lot of fun being with her because this season would be her first Christmas, and there was so much she wanted to see!
This month we had an overnight trip to Monaco which was a lot of fun. There is a huge christmas market in the center of Monaco with rides, people in costumes, and a lot of good foods! Sadly, we didn’t have much time at the market because we were on a schedule, but it is still one of my favorite festivals.
At the end of this month Kayli and I went up to Hyères for Shelbie’s 17th birthday. Last month, our overnight was in Hyères but it was so much different around Christmas time, and so much different seeing it with a new tour guide Shelbie. Hyères itself is no huge town so the market wasn’t too big but nevertheless it was enjoyable and adorable.
Visited 5 Churches
This Month I went to a lot of churches and toured the inside. In France, the most common religion is Catholicism, with over 80% participants. My school is also a private catholic school, and close to all of the people I have met here are Catholic. I’ve found almost all the churches I go to very beautiful and decorated with murals/stained glass.
Visited one new country
As I mentioned earlier, this months overnight was a day trip to Monaco with all of the exchange students. When we arrived mid morning, we first toured around the small country, seeing all the best viewing points, the royal palace and the changing of the Guards. When lunchtime came around we left to the top of the famous aquarium, Le Musée Océanographique. Up there, we ate lunch at the aquariums restaurant with an amazing panoramic view of Monaco. After finishing chocolate mousse, we got free time in the aquarium and in the nearby christmas market. It was a lot of fun being with everyone in a place none of us had visited yet, and of course it was fun seeing all the pretty cars and views Monaco had to offer.
Ate two new bizarre dishes that I ended up loving
Boudin Blanc :
This moist, white sausage called “boudin blanc” is a mixture of meat, eggs, starch, spices and either milk or cream. It’s typically eaten with warmly baked apples and as weird as it may sound, it was actually quite delicious.
Vietnamese pasta salad:
This is my host moms own mix of asian noodles, shrimp, mushrooms, and other vegetables
To wrap up
I remember going to one of the christmas festivals and hearing some kids asking, “What does Santa say?” When I heard that at first I was confused how nobody new the classic “HO, HO ,HO” that Santa was said to cheer put of his sleigh, but Ithen realized that the stories and belief of Santa Claus isn’t as big in France as it is in America. Everyday of this month was the same as that realization. I would see the Christmas tree and think it’s Christmas time, but then look out the window and see no snow. I would hear Christmas carols but see no old friends. It would be the last Thursday of November, but I wouldn’t be with my family- or be eating Turkey!! Despite all of what was missing this month I made up for it in what I gained. I took an Argentinian ice skating for the first time, showed a French family a Thanksgiving meal, gave my American friend her first churro, and decorated a tree with a Taiwanese for her first Christmas. This is just part one of the holiday months, I have no idea what the rest will be like, but I do hope I find and try many new French traditions, and share and keep many of my old, just like I have done already.