Exchange Diaries: Reaching the halfway point

Chloe Grande is in France on exchange for the upcoming year. She will be sharing her experience as a regular contributor for QJBlogs.

The halfway mark hit me hard. On Oct. 22, I realized that I only had two short months left in France. With exactly 61 days left, I still had so much to cram in. Among other things, I wanted to meet more French people, eat raclette and visit Paris. Meeting French people is easier said than done. In my classes, I’m surrounded by English-speaking students. Last week, however, I attended Franglish – a conversation exchange event that matches native English speakers with French ones. You spend seven minutes speaking in both languages with each person. Although I was nervous to begin, the event turned out to be a confidence booster. I received compliments on my French and even made plans to meet again with some partners. I’m sure the free drink also helped ease my nerves.

Raclette may still on the checklist but I have devoured many other French dishes. Fondu, escargot, foie gras, duck confit, chocolate fondant and crêpes are a few of the delicacies I’ve been fortunate enough to try. I’ve come to the conclusion that the French can never get enough cheese. As a cheese lover myself, raclette is a must. Although the dish originates from Switzerland, it’s quite popular in France. The cheese is heated by a raclette grill then scraped onto a plate and served with potatoes, bread, dry-cured meats or pickled vegetables. What makes the meal unique is that the grill is brought to the table. Messy, yes, but I’m sure it will be worth it.

Paris also remains on the checklist. Train tickets have been booked for mid-November, yet in the meantime I’ve taken the opportunity to explore the Rhône-Alps region. Weekend trips to Annecy, Chambery, Aix-les-Bains and Grenoble are quick (no more than two hours by train) and relatively cheap. Lyon is such a huge city that it’s nice to take a breather and visit smaller places. Alp towns are filled with breathtaking views, and most feature local dishes.

As much as I’m enjoying France, my week-long trip to Spain was easily one of the top highlights so far. In just over an hour, we landed in Barcelona, where the temperature hovered in the low 20s and it hardly rained all week. Prices were considerably lower in Spain, the people seemed friendlier and the atmosphere overall was much more laid-back. Tapas (Spanish appetizers such as fried calamari, spicy potatoes, cold meats and omelettes) were a refreshing break from French cuisine, but I still think French takes the cake when it comes to food.

I now understand why people kept telling me four months isn’t enough time for exchange. Nevertheless, my limited time here has pushed me beyond my comfort zone. As long as there’s still time to sightsee and eat cheese, I’m happy.

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