Recently, when I came home from my one class of the day (English), there was a package waiting for me on the dining room table: it was an American flag.
I bought the flag because last week, at my Rotary District Orientation, I was a bit embarrassed. All of the foreign exchange students in the Pays de la Loire region, about 40 of us, gathered in the city of Angers to go over rules, but more importantly take lots of pictures with our national flags. The Indians, Brazilians and Mexicans all stood out with their elaborate banners, and wore them like capes the whole weekend. There were six Americans — and none of us had Old Glory. There was only one thing to do — whip out my Alaska flag. I brought my Alaska flag to France. The other students asked a lot of questions about which flag it was, and what the stars represented. It was fun trying to explain “eight stars of gold on a field of blue” with the language barriers.
After having arrived just a month before, most students spoke very little French, so we were forced to speak in English. I was surprised to hear how well everyone spoke, and it made me want to learn Spanish and Portuguese to be able to speak with everyone, and understand every conversation. The language barrier made going over the Rotary rules complicated. First, a Rotarian said the information in French. Then a former French exchange student who spent a year in Oklahoma translated it into English. After that, an Argentinian student translated from English to Spanish. It was a very long process to get everyone on the same page. I’m looking forward to December when we all meet again, and I hope everyone will be able to speak in French! It will make communication so much easier.
After two days of fun with the other international students, none of us wanted to go back to our separate towns. That’s the beauty of an exchange — you make friends that you never would have met if Rotary hadn’t brought you together. It’s an amazing thing to be able to learn words from a New Zealander (chillybin = cooler), and share a room and traditional tea with a girl from Argentina. No matter what flags we wear as capes, we all share our cultures and learn the French culture together.
• 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.