I stared at the plate of the most awful looking cuisine I'd ever seen. The foie gras, which is duck liver, sat there as if daring me to try it. It was one of the worst things I'd ever tasted, but, to the French, it's a delicacy. Little did I know, that in the same town my friends were sitting down having the same sort of experience as foreign food was placed in front of them.
It all started when seven of us girls were waiting for our flight to France, sitting on the floor of the airport, speed talking about how excited we were while fidgeting impatiently. We were all an hour early, and waiting for the only boy, Robert Collier, to arrive so we could go through security.
Along with me were Heather Reynolds, Cassidy Neider, Johana De La Cruz, Keeley Daily, Kelsey McVaugh and Natalie Porter.
We were accompanied by our chaperone, Lakewood Ranch High School French teacher Susan MacDonald.
When Robert arrived we scooped up our bags, hugged our parents goodbye, and ran off toward the direction of our flight. We had no idea just what was in store.
"After spending two years learning French I was so excited to go to France and see all of the amazing sights and monuments I've always heard about," said junior Cassidy Nieder.
The eight-hour long flight seemed to flash before our eyes we were so excited. We rushed through the Charles de Gaulle de Paris airport, darting for the tour bus that would take us to our hotel. All of us gazed out the windows as we drove by countless monuments and shops, taking pictures of virtually everything we saw.
"My first impression of Paris was awe," said senior Kelsey McVaugh, "at how beautiful, old, and historic everything was on each and every street corner."
In the two days that followed we spent hours wandering through the Notre Dame, climbing up the Eiffel Tower, and devouring various French crepes. We stayed up at night listening to the Paris city life, while waiting for the sun to finally go down by midnight.
After Paris we took a train to the city of Lorient, Brittany, where we would spend a week with our exchange families. "I was really nervous," said senior Keeley Daily, "but I knew that staying with a French family was going to be an experience like no other."
Lorient is nothing like Bradenton. In fact, it's the polar opposite. While Bradenton is filled with modern buildings, new houses, and huge office buildings, Lorient is a town of gorgeous old houses and monuments that look like they belong in an antiques store. We walked down cobble stone streets, and sat at small, unique coffee shops.
Each of us stayed with a different French family while there. They live so differently -- eat strange foods, and have unusual customs. For example, while we are accustomed to showering every day, the French shower once a week, and, while we wear different outfits every day, they wear the same for up to a week.
Each of us had a different experience, making it such a unique trip. We visited historic villages, rode bikes on a French island, and ate the unusual foods of foie gras, snails, and authentic French crepes. It was something we would never forget.
"My favorite part of the homestead was getting to experience a new culture and compare it to what I'm used to, while making foreign friends," said junior heather Reynolds.
The French students became our friends really fast, and we all took to our new families. It was like nothing we'd ever experienced before, so when it came time to leave it was bittersweet.
We took the train back to Paris and were soon on our flight back home. As sad as we were to leave, we were homesick and couldn't wait to see our families again. It was great to finally be able to once again understand everything that was going on around us.
"The French exchange was a culture shock and an experience that i wouldn't trade for anything," said Robert Collier, "and one day I'd really like to go back."