Why I Refuse the Refundable Ticket

My choice- Surrender or Victory?

I’ve been in France for a nearly three months now, and I feel comfortable enough to say that I have a relatively decent understanding of the effects France’s most recent tragedies have had on the population. For anybody who has been living in a reclusive wooden cabin in the middle of the forest, there have been numerous, devastating terrorist attacks in the last year that have resulted in high casualties and low self esteem when it comes to security in major cities.

France is not the only country to endure major acts of terrorism recently, but the scale of their two most deadly encounters with extremists, Paris (13 November 2015) and Nice (14 July 2016) have been highlighted in the media as some of the worst in the world. These sorts of attacks are heartbreaking and terrifying, but with time, the community has to return to some sort of normalcy and figure out how to go on with their lives.  

Moving on after tragedy is hard enough on its own, but when the time comes for another highly publicized event, all of the emotions of fear and trauma arise again to torment the minds of every citizen within a 20 mile radius. Terrorism inevitable succeeds in its goal to instil terror simply by attacking and causing grief, but the extent to which it can truly succeed in breaking our society depends on how much control we give that fear. It was not until my host family told me to pay extra for a refundable train ticket to Strasbourg for the annual Christmas Market that I realized just how strong the hold of terrorism is here in France. My host family warned me that they might cancel the Christmas Market, just like they had canceled a festival in Lille last weekend and an air show in Marseille last month.

For some reason, hearing them talk about this broke my heart and filled it with fire; I honestly don’t think I have ever felt as bitter and angry as I did at that moment. I hated it. I hated that the French people were giving in. I hated that they were ready to ignore tradition for the sake of security. I don’t have a very extensive French vocabulary, but I managed to make my feelings quite clear in a three word phrase. “Je deteste ça.” I hissed.

My host family then looked at me very surprised and almost looked offended. I went on to tell them that the entire point of terrorist attacks is to make us live in fear and to make us feel unsafe- like every city is a war zone and every crowd surrounded by hostile soldiers. If we adopt that mentality, then they win. We say that we are engaged in a war on terror but if that’s true, then each time we cancel an event or chose not to go to a concert or a soccer match because of safety concerns, we lose a battle.

We keep surrendering.

I couldn’t seem to get this across to my host family- they didn’t understand why I was so upset. After all, this was meant to protect me. But the thing is, I want to make my own choice whether or not I go to that Christmas market. I want to decide whether I think the war against terror is a cause worth risking my life for.

If I wanted to shelter myself completely from danger in the United States, then maybe I wouldn’t go to school or shopping malls because of all of the mass shootings. I would never go to concerts or walk down Newbury Street or go watch the start of the Boston Marathon. But I choose to do all of those things because I chose to have faith in law enforcement and faith that the more I demonstrate my endurance despite the constant reminders of danger, the more I prove to terrorists that terrorism doesn’t work. Why? Because I chose to ignore it. I will respect the ones who have died in this war and I will be more cautious when I attend high profile events, but I refuse to stop living my life.

I choose to adapt to my new reality, not hide from it, and I trust my fellow citizens and government officials to do the same. I will ignore the flood of emails I receive daily from the State Department reminding me to avoid crowds, areas of worship, concerts, demonstrations, and basically every else that I walk past every day. I live in a world terror that I cannot escape, so I chose to live in spite of fear to prove that we will win this war.

I am alive and I am not afraid; I have already won.

Mandy Signature

Plot Twist! I miss American schools?

I’m currently writing this blog post whilst sitting in the upstairs lounge of a Starbucks in Lille with a hoard of Americans on my left, and a group of french lycée students on my right. Although I’m drinking my typical winter holiday latte, I’m munching on a pain au chocolat that I picked up at the boulangerie down the street. No moment has encompassed the entirety of my French experience better than this Saturday afternoon snack.

There’s a certain art to finding a balance between indulging in comforts from home and daring to immerse yourself completely into another culture. I need my American staples, especially as the holidays come around, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t exchange the free wifi at Starbucks for reading a french book outside a café tomorrow.

In today’s blog post, I want to talk about one of the French things that has challenged my American instincts the most these last 3 months… School.

If your anything like me, then schools in the United States are not exactly your favorite places. Ironically, the longer I spend in the French school system, the more I miss our governmentally corrupted American schools (this may be the only time I praise our school system, so value this moment)

School Day length: This is one thing that the US has really gotten right. Back home, I’m done with school before 2, giving me plenty of time to delegate between sports, homework, and, yes, because I’m a procrastinator, a few episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Extra Curriculars: Any american student knows that without a hefty extra curricular resumé, top universities seem completely out of reach. On a normal day, I have at least one sport after school, oftentimes two, all the while trying to participate in clubs, peer tutor, and work/volunteer. *sigh* no wonder I need the extra after school time. The french aren’t too big on the extra curriculars, at least not those offered through the school system. If your looking for sports or clubs, they’ll probably be organized by your town.

Teacher/Student Relationships: I don’t know how I would have survived AP classes without my amazing teachers. Building connections with school staff is encouraged in the US, but in France there’s a level of formality that makes it hard to get to know your teachers. That’s not to say that French teachers are all scary and mean, but it definitely takes student initiative to form a relationship, teachers aren’t going to constantly check in.

Grading System: Everything in France is graded on a 20 point scale, and 10 is truly considered average. A 11.5 will get you a proficient marking, while a 16 will be marked “trés bien!” The French love their dates and specific details, so it’s easy to slip up and loose points if you only know the big picture. Not to mention that your note can easily drop from a 19 to a 15 if your handwriting is two messy, you mess up the “méthodologie” or the specific organization of a dissertation (God forbid you use pencil on a DM in maths!)

Classroom method: The French are no nonsense when in comes to classroom behavior. Teachers will call you out for bad grades, announce your notes in front of the whole class, and gladly tell you to “Taisez-vous!” if the volume gets too loud. Most likely teachers will lecture for the majority of the class pausing momentarily while your write down definitions word for word. Although the language barrier and my pitiful spelling habits make diction a little difficult, there’s a beauty to the crisp organization of my history notebook.

There are things that the french have going for them, and I it wouldn’t be fair to not acknowledge that which the french have figured out that we Americans have not.

Recreation breaks every two classes

Longer lunch times

More class specification: Starting in the second year of highschool, (Première) you can choose between a Literature (L), Economic Sciences (ES), and Science (S) specification which basically means the the majority of your classes will be centered around the theme of your area of specification and will determine which version of the BAC (the big end of highschool test) you’ll take at the end of “Terminale”.

At the end of the day, we are all accustomed to the system we grew up with and it can be hard to accept a different manner of education, especially if you’re a university obsessed Junior like me. But it’s those differences that make an exchange so important, right?Mandy Signature

The Double Standard in Pop Culture

Sports Fans = Boyband Fans

There was a period of my life where one of my bedroom walls was completely covered in cutout One Direction photos. Yes, I was that kid who spent an entire weekend cutting up all my One Direction magazines and hanging my 5 posters on my Honolulu Blue wall. 40 Harry Styles saw my naked ass every night for six months.

My family loves to make fun of me for my juvenile obsession.  Constantly reminding me that my existence is unknown to the *four boys I’ve dedicated hours of my life to. Or mocking the tears shed over Zayn Malik quitting the band in 2015. Oh and let’s not forget that they take every chance to mention that One Direction is on an indefinite “break”.

But as my brother taunts me when I swoon over Harry’s magazine cover (#blessed), I remember that time he chased Patrice Bergeron, 1st line forward for the Boston Bruins, down Commonwealth Ave.. He couldn’t stop smiling as he looked over the paparazzi like pictures we took of Bergeron walking.

It’s easy to scorn teenage girls at a concert for screaming so loud and singing at the tops of their lungs, but for every teenage girl at a concert there is an adult male at a football game screaming just as loud. When was the last time a violent riot broke out over a boyband? How about a violent riot for a sports team? I don’t think there has been a violent riot over a teenage heartthrob; however in 2011 a large scale riot broke out in the streets of Vancouver, BC after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Why is there a double standard? It isn’t fair to shame boybands fans if we aren’t going to ridicule sports fans. Either way, neither should be ridiculed. If something like a concert or sports game can invoke so much positive and passionate emotion in someone it’s completely worthwhile .

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*Rip Zayn

Throwback to that time I flew to Peru just to recreate this photo with my friend……okay so maybe sports fans don’t take their dedication that far.

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I’m just kidding, this photo was an after thought.