Billy Strathdee’s First Month in France

Billy at his Rotary club with the other exchange students in the club and the club president
My First Month in France
When I first arrived in France I was super excited. I thought I knew what to expect but France is nothing like I expected. At the airport I was greeted with bisous (kisses on the cheek), which is very common in French culture. I have a 13 year old host sister Justine, an 11 year old host brother named Théo, a host father named Alexis and a host mother named Caroline. We headed off for home in the car and listened to French music. When I arrived in the city of Reims for the first time my first impression was really good. Reims is a beautiful city and when you first drive over the hill and can see the city, the big massive cathedral stands right out. This is the place where all of the French monarchs have been crowned. We sped around the city streets a bit and then arrived at the bakery. The bread and pastries here are amazing. When I arrived at the house, I found out that each meal is very important for the French. Breakfast is just baguettes with your choice of jam, nutella or butter, orange juice and tea. Lunch and dinner include an appetizer entree and a dessert. In my first week, I spent my time getting settled into my new surroundings.
Billy at the Stade de Reims match featuring the local Ligue 1 (soccer) team in his city

My city is very touristy so I went on the tourist bus and took a tour of the city. It is a city with lots of WWI history and many good restaurants and shopping available. My host parents hosted a big welcome party for me and invited a bunch of their friends. I made many new great friends as well as people who were about to become a big part of my new exchange year. The next week school started and I was a bit nervous that it would be difficult to make friends but I was very wrong. My classmates have been very welcoming. School here runs very different from school in Canada. Here in France you get the choice of four major subjects either E(Economics), S(Sciences), T(Technical) or L(Literature) which is what I have majored in. Literature is really good for my French learning and I find it very difficult to understand now but I am sure I will find it easier to progress in my language. I am studying Philosophy, History, Geography, French, Gym and English, which is a good class for the reverse translation. A school day is ten hours long depending on your schedule. However, French schooling has longer breaks than in Canada. For example, it is possible to have almost 4 hours off at a time. But school days can be almost ten hours long plus I even have to go to class Saturday Morning.
My second weekend in France I went to a vineyard to see where they make champagne. I got a tour with the other two Rotary Students hosted by my club (Shubham Oswal from India and Ana Karin from Mexico). We were given a tour of the whole processes of making champagne. First they harvest the grapes and put them in a big press to extract the juice. Then they put the juices in huge vats to age. Then the juice gets bottled with sugar and yeast. The bottle is hung upside down and the yeast eats the sugar. Then the bottle of champagne sits and ages. Last, the bottled gets labeled and shipped for sale. We then went to see the grapevines out in the field. It is a very busy time right now for champagne makers right now because it is the harvest.
In the city of Reims, there are lots of things to see and do. The cathedral is definitely the most famous monument of the city. It is a very good spot to hang out with friends as teenagers often enjoy sitting around the cathedral as it is surrounded by parks. The old architecture is beautiful. There are also many restaurants and cafes in the city, which sometimes I go to with kids after school to hangout. Reims is the largest city in the region Champagne Ardennes with almost 200,000 people. I was also lucky enough this month to go see Stade de Reims, the local soccer team play against Paris Saint Germain. In the 83rd minute Reims scored but just a minute after Paris scored to tie the game up 1-1. Here in Reims, once a week I play badminton. It is organized by the school and we go to the gymnasium and scrimmage. I am also taking guitar lessons here as well as occasionally playing with friends. I have a bicycle which my host family has lent me and I like taking bike rides in the city. My French has come a long way in just one month of living here. I still have a lot of work to do but I feel I am progressing well.
One weekend my host family and I traveled to Angers which is in the west of France. It was a five hour car ride and we got stuck in traffic trying to cross Paris. We arrived at the Chateau where we were staying at around 11 pm. It was absolutely enormous and beautiful. All of the walls and furniture were really old. In the morning my host dad and I kayaked down the river. I enjoyed the calm ride down the river. I have been in the city all of my exchange so it was nice to see the countryside. Then in the afternoon we went to a wedding service. The service was very similar to a wedding service in Canada. It was not a big wedding but I still enjoyed it. Afterwards at the reception there was wine and all sorts of conversation. I met lots of the friends of my host family. We then had dinner. After that there was a slideshow presentation about the new married couple and then there was music and dancing for the rest of the night. The next morning my host family and I went into the hot tub and sauna at the Chateau. We then packed up and left for a city tour of Angers. Angers is a beautiful city with a massive castle and I have so much more I plan to do and still haven’t fully gotten settled into France. I also look forward to the two bus trips they have available. The first one starts in Paris and does a tour of the south of France and finally ends in Barcelona. The last one does a tour of Europe and includes Munich Germany, Prague Czech Republic, Vienna Austria, Milan and Venice Italy and Geneva Switzerland. I have a lot more to experience during my year. I have made so many friends and learned so much. Thank you very much to the Rotary club of St. Marys, The Rotary District of 6330 and my parents for supporting me and helping make my journey possible.
Billy Strathdee
(If you would like to learn more about Rotary Youth Exchange or if your family would like to host a Rotary Exchange student please contact Mark Oliver at