Like many Americans, I had always thought that visiting Europe was something I'd never have a chance to do.
I'd look at maps of the world and envision myself across the ocean in the same way I would see myself as a rock star, or a famous actress: pleasant daydreams, but nothing that would ever really happen.
Thanks to two wonderful teachers, one of my daydreams became a reality.
When I entered Canfield High School, I enrolled in French language classes. At the end of my freshman year, I found out that Susan Eynon and Cynthia Perantoni, both French teachers, were going to take a group of students on a tour of the French-speaking nations.
Thrilled to discover such a great opportunity, I signed up.
After a year of planning, we finally embarked on our tour in June.
Anticipation: As we began our tour, I realized that the 47 people on my trip were all there for different reasons. Each of the 30 students had something in particular he or she couldn't wait to experience.
For me, a water lover, it was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. My artistic friend Erika Steiskal, a senior at Canfield, wanted especially to see the European architecture and the Louvre Museum. Many of the girls couldn't wait to shop at the Champs Elys & eacute;e in Paris. Most of the guys were looking forward to seeing the museums.
The 17 adult chaperons seemed eager to experience a visit to Europe while keeping an eye on us students.
Mrs. Eynon was about to take her eighth trip to France. As she told me later, "I wanted [the kids] to have a chance to practice the language. I wanted them to see the differences in culture ... the beautiful architecture and landscapes."
Culture shock: Of course, when we first arrived, we were all thrust into culture shock. It was even stranger than I'd imagined to hear nothing but French as I walked down the street, instead of the familiar sounds of English.
We noticed that the streets were much narrower than ours back home; the buildings were much older.
Our hotels did not supply washcloths. Trivial though that may sound, it amazed us.
When we traded in our American dollars for francs, we found that French bills were as colorful as Monopoly money.
Europeans, we learned, did not eat on the run; supper was several courses and could easily last over an hour.
I got on the bad side of a ma & icirc;tre d' at one Parisian restaurant simply because I did not order a salad before the rest of my meal.
To my surprise, despite these cultural differences, I began to feel more like a part of the world, instead of just a part of my hometown.
The sights: Naturally, we saw many incredible sites. We toured Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Castle of Chillon, among many other places. We took photographs of the Mona Lisa and rode a boat down the Seine River.
My favorite moments came when we first caught sight of the beautiful Mediterranean, and later when we actually swam in it.
By the end of our 10-day trip, we were all ready to come home. We missed America and our families.
Many of us, besides having a new feeling of global enrichment, also felt a new sense of appreciation for our homeland.
I realized, however, that though I sometimes had felt as though I'd entered a completely different universe, I really hadn't gone so far.
I took a picture of the sunset in Paris. It was beautiful; it looked just like ours here.
After all, it's the same sky.
XLouise Marie is a junior at Canfield High School and a member of the Drama Club, the Math Club and -- of course -- the French Club.