At the beginning of January, I switched to my second of three host families. I didn’t really know much about where they lived — just that it was a small town named La-Chapelle-du-Genêt, about 30 minutes by car to the bigger city of Cholet. I looked it up online and not a lot of results popped up. I learned from Wikipedia that the population is 1,200. There was also a picture of the chapel that the commune is named for. It’s exciting to move somewhere you don’t know anything about; I was happy to discover my home for the next three months.
Every morning, I leave my house at 6:45 a.m. to take the bus. The French are very punctual — the bus always leaves at exactly 6:52, so more often than not, I end up running down the street in the dark to catch it. This is artwork done at the “arret bus” by the kids of the Chapelle.
For the first couple weeks, I didn’t see much of my neighborhood. It was dark when I left in the morning and dark when I got off the bus after school. However, I got to see some beautiful “couchers de soleil” over the French countryside from the bus windows.
I walked around the block with my host brothers to explore the village a little bit. They took me to see the exotic bit of La Chapelle: their neighbors’ pet wallabies and alpacas. They live outside in an enclosure. I thought it was too cold in France for wallabies, but apparently not.
L’eglise Notre Dame, built in the 1900s, is next to the bus stop, and in the center of the little town. Just opposite it is a little bar and a boulangerie. My host brother, who I was walking around with, remarked that the tree behind the church is over 100 years old. He says he’s scared it will fall on him one day.
There are a lot of chickens here that don’t have to live in fear of bears. I told my host family that some people in Juneau use electric wire to protect their chickens from the black bears; they think Alaskans are crazy.
Quite a few backroads like this one — they make me feel like we really live in the country. Sometimes, being in the house, I forget with my host brother playing video games and the dogs running around. When I go outside and smell horses or cows, however, I remember that we are in a little village. You don’t really get the sense of isolation here — I know the school and bigger cities are a relatively short car or bus ride away. France is good in that sense, because it’s not too big. You can be in a big city in less than an hour in many directions.
As we were walking around, I saw tulips sprouting. I’m excited to see La-Chapelle-du-Genêt in the spring when there will be more sunlight.
• Bridget McTague is a Juneau-Douglas High School student who is spending her junior year abroad in Cholet, France, as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange. Follow along with her travel adventures by reading her bimonthly column “Bridget Abroad” in the Juneau Empire.