The Spirit of America

Today is not just a date on the calendar - the 4th of July. It's not just a day for BBQ's, family fun, and fireworks.

It's our Independence Day, and I absolutely LOVE it!

And no, I don't love it because of all the reasons I stated above - although I totally enjoy having BBQ's with my friends, playing with my kids, and seeing the fireworks - but there's so much more to this day for me.

After living for a year in France as an exchange student, I learned at an early age that even though we think of other countries as modern and just like ours, they truly are not. I lived in France the year Jacques Chirac was elected president. I arrived in August 1995, just three months after his term as president began. During the whole entire year I was in France, almost every imaginable group went on strike or protest to get the new president's attention and lobby for funds. The Post Office, teachers, students, sanitation workers, bakers, colleges, transportation companies . . . the list goes on and on. They all each held their strikes and protests at different times. Even the train lines held specials for people to purchase tickets at a discounted price so they could attend the different protests around the counntry.

I still remember arriving at school one morning to discover that all the students had gathered and were heading to the train station to attend a protest at the college in La Rochelle. Another day, I arrived at school and there were no teachers to lead the classes because they all went to a rally in Bordeaux. Most of the year I was there, the post office was on strike. Yes, they would start up again here and there, but I'd say at least 60% of the time I was there, the mail wasn't moving. My family sent my Christmas package at the beginning of October, but I didn't receive it until the beginning of May - just as I was packing things up to send home!

Aside from political differences, I discovered their education system was totally different. Children start attending school at the age of three and must start learning english, reading, and math. From there, school becomes more and more demanding. I attended classes with 14 & 15 year olds. During that year of high school, they had to decide what area of education they wanted to pursue (languages, literature, mathamatics, sciences, or arts), then stick with it for the remainder of their high school education. But it didn't end with high school. If they were selected to attend college, they also had to study in that same line of education during their college years as well. So at the age of fourteen, my friends were stressed out, trying to determine what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. One of the students in our class felt so much pressure and stress, he committed suicide. While it was completely shocking for me, it wasn't unusual for each school to see a few suicides a year because of the pressure of making choices.

Going to college is quite different in France as well. High school students between the ages of 18-21 (yes, I said 21), take a final exam called Le Baccalauréat (or Le Bac). At the end of their senior year, each student takes a Le Bac exam specifically designed for their course of study. If they pass, they may then attend college. If they don't, they can either leave high school and never attend college, or they can take their senior year over again (the complete year) and retake the Bac at the end of that year. Students have until they turn 21 years old to continue repeating their senior year and try to pass Le Bac. For the students who do pass Le Bac, there's a whole formula that dictates where they get to attend college. The criteria are based on 1) their age when they passed Le Bac, 2) how many times they took the exam, and 3) their score. Obviously, students who passed with excellent grades the first time get to attend the university with the best program. There are only a few select colleges in France. Like the U.S., they each have their strong programs and mediocre programs. It's very easy to know how someone scored on their Bac just by asking them what they studied and where they attended college.

Now, let's say one of these students is burned out from school by the time the pass Le Bac and just want to take a semester break from school . . . In France, this isn't possible. You either go to college right away, or you don't go at all. One of the reasons for this is the mandatory military service. Each French male must serve in the military for two years. If a student chooses to attend college, then his service is pushed back until after graduation. Many students who don't pass Le Bac, choose to make the military their full-time career.

As a 17/18 year old in a foreign country surrounded by all this drama and stress my friends were dealing with, I became extremely grateful for my homeland, my country. And I have never forgotten it. I may not agree with our current president, but I have the opportunity to let my voice be heard without disrupting the whole country. I may not know what I want my major to be in college, but I have the opportunity to change my mind as many times as I want and attend classes at any age. I have great respect for our military forces and for my family who serves here and abroad, but I'm glad military service isn't mandatory in the U.S. It's a choice.

And that's basically what I love about the United States of America. As citizens, we have a choice. We can live, learn, work, play, and raise our families how we choose. We have a unique freedom here that isn't found anywhere else in the world. We should cherish this gift not only on Independence Day, but each and every day of our lives.

This morning, I read an article about youth in Utah serving their neighbors. It reminded me of the spirit of America and part of what makes our great country so amazing. Here's a link to the article:

I hope each of you enjoys this wonderful holiday. Happy Independence Day!

Would you like to comment?

Nichole Giles said...

Wonderful lessons to learn at such a young age. What a great experience for you to live in France for a year.

Happy Independence Day to you and your family. I hope it's wonderful for all of you.


Danyelle Ferguson said...

Thanks, Nichole. I hope you had a great Independence Day as well!

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Hi Danyelle, I just saw your comment on LDS Publisher and found my way here. Great blog! I had to laugh because you and I must think alike - we picked the same 4th of July photo for our blogs. ;-D

I'm LDS, live in New Mexico, and recently sold a 3 book deal to Scholastic - woot, woot! First book is a MG that will be pubbed next July 2010. Hopefully I can send you a review copy! That would be great, and thanks for the offer in your comment.

Nice to meet you!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Kimberley - Welcome to QOTC! And congrats on your book deal. That's awesome!