A summer in France

Destiny Harvel, Feature Reporter

This past summer MCHS senior, Emma Zaknoun got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime trip to France through Indiana University. MCHS has had three other students go on this trip, but this year Emma was the only one.

Originally she heard about the program from her sister, Monica, who participated in this trip four years prior. She told Emma that the trip is a once in a lifetime experience and everything that she would learn in France would last her for the rest of her life. This is now something that the two of them are able to bond over and and they plan to go back soon to visit both of the families that they stayed with.

For Zaknoun, the first step to being accepted to go on this trip was a test to make sure that she knew enough of the language to survive in the country for six weeks. Twenty students were picked from this, and they then had to fill out a personal application. Three teachers and adults in their lives had to fill out an application to give an “inside look” of the students as well. After this, an interview was conducted where personal questions about their lives were asked and an open conversation in French was held to see their skills in the language first-hand.

About a week after the interview an email notified her that she had been selected for the program. “I was ecstatic as well as extremely nervous, because reality was finally starting to hit and I was  realizing that I would be in a foreign country, totally out of my element, for most of my summer,” said Zaknoun.

To be able to afford this trip, a lot of saving was done. Zaknoun worked extra hours at her job, sold Fannie Mae chocolate, and even started a Go-Fund-Me online.

As the trip got closer, an orientation day was held at the IU Bloomington campus where she met everyone else that was going on the trip with her. At this meeting, hard facts about how to prepare for the trip were given out. This included details about packing, money, and insurance.

Specifically, they were told to bring two pairs of pants, five shirts, and to be sparing on all other necessities. Being someone that likes to be prepared, she completely ignored this and packed almost her entire closet. Luckily for Emma her luggage was still five pounds under the weight limit.

“I totally overpacked, which is one thing that I regret the most because I had to throw out half my clothes on the way back,” Zaknoun laughed.

Nervousness started to set in as the trip got closer as well. She was afraid that she did not have enough knowledge of the language to be able to communicate at all, considering that she was only allowed to speak French while in the country. No contact with friends or family from home was allowed during the trip either. “Another things that made me nervous was that I did not know who my host family was until about a week before leaving the country so I was not in contact with them until then.”

Arriving in France was a strange experience for her as well, she described. They spent time at the airport trying to get to know each other, and it was easy because they were using English. As soon as they landed in France though, conversations came to a halt because they were only allowed to speak French and no contact with friends or family from home was allowed during the trip either.

Each day they attended a school that was directed at four different things: literature, culture, grammar and communications, and linguistics.

In literature they read poems and stories that were written by famous French authors and discussed what happened in them. Just as America has old English, France has old French, making this class even harder than it already was. Zaknoun says her favorite poem was about a man trying to find himself, which seemed to be ironic in her life at the time because she was able to discover new things about herself that she never knew during the trip.

Their culture class was one of the most fun for the students because they got to play a lot of games, bring in different foods, and learned how factual the stereotypes between Americans and the French really are. One of the assignments they had in this class was to make a dessert with their host family and she made quatre-quarts, which is a cake made with four basic ingredients of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter.

The grammar and communications class helped them in their everyday life because they were able to learn different rules about the language and how to correctly communicate with everyone there.

In linguistics they were able to learn about the history of the French language, including where it came from, its Latin base, and how English and French are intertwined.

Along with their schooling, they went on excursions to different places throughout the country. They got to see different cities that had castles, shopping centers, and beaches. They also got to see the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysées, Le Louvre, Notre Dame, Panthéon, and the Eiffel Tower.

Zaknoun also learned that community is very important to French culture. At every meal, they would sit down and spend time with their family and friends. Their lunches were an hour and a half long and the amount of choices they had were abundant. Their culture cared more about the quality of food rather than the quantity.  Most meals were home cooked, and, even going to the grocery store, it was the opposite of how it is in America. Frozen foods were more expensive, while the fresh foods were cheaper. Most families even had their own gardens. “Not only did I improve a lot in speaking French, but I also learned how to keep an open mind to cultures and mindsets that differ from my own,” Zaknoun said.

Coming back home was both relieving and depressing for Zaknoun. She missed her loved ones, but she knew that as soon as she was home she would miss all of the amazing people she had met on the trip.

“When I was getting ready to leave my host dad said to me that if I ever came back to France and did not stay with them he would come find me and drag me home by my ear.”

Before getting on the bus to go to the airport, parents were saying their goodbyes and everyone around them was crying. “I think it really showed how incredible the bonds are that were made on this trip. It was an unforgettable moment in my life, and I will always have the image of everyone gathered around each other laughing and crying about how great the experience was and how much we would miss each other.”


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