Around Europe in 16 days

So I apologize to readers for not writing recently, but I’ve been rather busy. Between classes picking up some the last month and two trips I haven’t had much time to pop on and write updates. However, I promise several in the next week hopefully as I begin to recount for you the adventure of a lifetime. Here begins part one of my epic saga.

A friend and I decided early on in April that for spring break we were going to have an epic adventure of trying to see as much of Europe as we could in a little more than 2 weeks. And thus, I have quite the tales to tell you as I finish up my last day of our amazing journey.

So I’ll try to give you little snippets of my journey, accounts of each place we stayed and then of course some traveling advice for anyone looking for it.

What my friend and I managed to find was a Eurail pass. For any who don’t know, Eurail is a company that provides tickets that can allow you to hop on any trains not needing a reservation. They provide ones for specific countries, but also a global pass covering most of Europe. It’s a very different way to travel than anything I’ve ever experienced, but if you’re looking for a way to get around multiple countries without paying individual tickets at each stop. Anyhow, as I go through each day I’ll tell you what to expect in each country with the pass, because while it’s a good bargain in some like Germany and Austria, in France and Italy it’s less so since most good trains need to be reserved in advance.

Anyhow, hope this can be a helpful blog to anyone else trying to travel. I have to say I’m not sure I’d do Eurail again, but it was a great experience and anyone who likes unexpected spontaneous trips this is a great idea for you. Anyhow, look for more updates from me soon as I fill you in about my amazing adventure!

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New Cultural Experiences

So I’ve been bad about keeping my blog up so I figured I should write this post quickly. Anyhow, I thought I’d give a quick update on some of my most recent cultural experiences.

One of the most amazing things about being here in France has been getting to be a part of a variety of different cultures. I assumed when I got here all I’d learn about was the French, their habits, their ideas, their customs. However, with international classes I’ve also been able to learn about other countries alongside the one I’m currently housed in.

We’ve been learning about gastronomy lately and it has been very interesting to hear about what different dishes are served, what traditional table manners are. I’ve never thought about the fact that like we have place settings for our forks and knives, each different Asian culture has a placement for their chopsticks. It’s just so fascinating to me and I love every minute I learn new things. For example, did you know in France it’s considered rude to have your hands in your lap during a meal? You have to have both hands on the table, but not your elbows! Fascinating stuff! Both my housemate and I were surprised to learn this and felt embarrassed to have done it before in public.

To go alongside all my learning about gastronomy, I was able to go out to lunch the other day with several of my friends from my class. We went out to get Thai food and it was very tasty. The experience was interesting for me because I was the only American to go along so it was me, 3 Chinese, 3 Koreans, and a Japanese girl. It was very interesting to be with people from places that seem so foreign to me. We had a lovely time eating and chatting, asking questions about other countries.

And on Sunday I had a more French experience. My host family’s son was singing at mass that morning. As some of you may know France is a traditionally Catholic country, though today it remains fairly secular, but it maintains those traditional roots.

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I had wanted to attend a mass since I’d first come to France. I happen to be Protestant Christian myself, and I was curious to see the traditions of Catholic believers as I knew it would be an interesting experience.

It was a bit nerve wracking in some ways. Being placed into an unfamiliar situation often can be. There were times I felt a bit lost in what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what to do, when to rise, when to sit, when to cross myself (or should I not do that at all?), what prayers to say, how to greet people around me, if you sang to the hymns or not depending if the choir was singing or not. Complicated stuff church is.

My grandmother is traditional Lutheran, and they’ve kept some of the original Catholic traditions, but of course it’s one thing to know the prayer in English, and quite another to translate it over to French on the spot. So it was an adventure, but nonetheless one I enjoyed getting to see and be a part of.

And of course the singing was absolutely lovely. The acoustics in old cathedrals are simply magnificent. I only wish I could have listened to more.

So of course as I’ve been here one of the best parts has been getting to experience new things. I only hope that I will continue to be able to do so over time.

 

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Adventures in Geneva

I had the joy of getting to go on yet another excursion with CIEF (my French program) last weekend. We crossed over the borders into Switzerland to enjoy a day in beautiful Geneva! It was an incredible trip, and I’ve been so blessed to get to be a part of so many cool experiences like this one.

We started out quite early in the morning, all of us in need of some form of caffeine to get us going in spite of the excitement. We drove for a few hours, made one quick stop to allow us to use the bathrooms and of course purchase much needed coffee. And after a long drive we at last arrived in Geneva and started our day.

Our biggest part of the excursion and probably my favorite part as well was a visit to the Red Cross Museum. The exhibits were marvelous, well organized to make things interesting and making good use of modern technology to bring history to life. We were given audio guides in French (except the Japanese who had ones in their own language) and walked through the exhibits getting to practice our oral comprehension skills if we wanted. Sadly much of the museum was hard to really capture on camera, but I’ll do my best to give you some pictures as an idea of what it was like.

Statues to represent the oppression of women in the world.

Statues to represent the oppression of women in the world.

Badly photographed but of course you can see the Museum of the Red Cross Geneva sign.

Badly photographed but of course you can see the Museum of the Red Cross Geneva sign.

These are over your head as you walk into the museum.

These are over your head as you walk into the museum.

Cool interactive section walking through chains to get through to the next exhibit

Cool interactive section walking through chains to get through to the next exhibit

Touching letters from children separated from their families. Just four of many on display.

Touching letters from children separated from their families. Just four of many on display.

Hundreds of children separated from their families

Hundreds of children separated from their families

One of many items of art on display. It was made by a prisoner of war during his imprisonment.

One of many items of art on display. It was made by a prisoner of war during his imprisonment.

Interactive booths where you can hear stories from people helped by the Red Cross around the world.

Interactive booths where you can hear stories from people helped by the Red Cross around the world.

You press on their hands and they talk to you like real people. Very fun to see and experience.

You press on their hands and they talk to you like real people. Very fun to see and experience.

After we finished at the museum we headed back into the bus and drove through Geneva. We passed the United Nations and many of us were disappointed to not stop. However, apparently it’s closed to visitors on Saturdays, so there wasn’t much point in going there anyways. So all we had was a brief photo from the bus passing by.

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After that we were ready to get off the bus and start our short walking tour. Our guide (aka our teacher Stephan) led us through the city looking at random sites, explaining bits of history and culture that we should know. He even showed us the best place to buy cheap chocolate…which was a bad idea because I bought way too much. However, it was pretty delicious so thus far it seems worth the spendiness.

One warning to anyone going to Geneva that it is VERY expensive there. Not only are prices just higher in general (because the Swiss minimum wage is higher) but the Swiss Franc conversion rate is awful! So be warned that it is not a place I recommend spending long amounts of time in especially as a poor college student. Buy some chocolate and keep it at that, otherwise your wallet is going to be empty when you return.

Anyhow, we continued walking around for a bit and then were released for lunch when all of us started complaining about our hunger. I will of course just show a few of the things we saw on our walking tour first before getting to the rest of the day:

Bus getting ready to get off with Stephan at the helm.

Bus getting ready to get off with Stephan at the helm.

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Clock made out of flowers!

Clock made out of flowers!

Show of Genevan tolerance with Protestant and Catholic churches mixed together in the same city.

Show of Genevan tolerance with Protestant and Catholic churches mixed together in the same city.

Our group walking up hill in our tour.

Our group walking up hill in our tour.

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Of course after Stephan released us we had to decide what to do. The group I was with headed towards a restaurant but I didn’t want to spend that much so I decided to head back towards a nearby market and see what I could find. Thankfully one of my friends stuck with me too so I had someone to keep me company.

We grabbed chicken sandwiches at a nearby bakery. And they were actually surprisingly enjoyable! And of course a bit cheaper than a restaurant but still filling and good. We had to laugh when we found out there were eggs on them. “All stages of the chicken” as my friend put it. Definitely good though and worth the money in order to give us some energy to walk around the city.

Since it was sunny our first thing we decided to do (after buying chocolate of course) was to head over to the gigantic Jet d’Eau, a fountain coming out of the lake. It was beautiful at the time, sun and warmth, so we figured it was a good time to go walk over and take pictures and see it up close.

The Jet d'Eau

The Jet d’Eau

However, she wanted to see it a little TOO close. There is a long walk out into the lake where you can go past the fountain. Depending on what direction the wind is blowing sometimes the walkway is covered with water. And there are no railings. If it was in the United States I guarantee they’d just block it off. But in Switzerland a warning sign about possible slipping does just fine. We started heading out only to have the wind change and start blowing water into us. So I changed my mind and headed back to wait until it had passed. She waited only a few minutes for it to change again before making a risky move and heading out. I hate to say, she did manage to snap some pretty photos so it was worth it for that. However, just as she was coming back the wind changed yet again, blowing water onto the path…and of course effectively trapping her there.

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Heading into the fountain

Heading into the fountain

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We both waited a while. I just stood there feeling a bit helpless unsure if there was any way I could help her. At long last she simply charged through the water getting thoroughly soaked. I just shook my head and went to meet her with her bag, watching in amusement as several others on the walkway laughed at her. We went back over to sit down and let her dry off some. She was ridiculously wet. So wet we decided to go see if we could find cheap pants for her to buy to be less cold later on. And of course right around that time the sun decided to hide behind some clouds.

The rest of the afternoon we wandered through the streets finding random shops to look at, snapping photos, having fun. There was an antique bookstore both of us had been interested in. However, it was closed by the time we got to it sadly. It was fun to just wander and look around.

Well, we finished up for the day and got back in the bus. I of course got to enjoy some of my chocolate. We took several hours to get back to Dijon but it was enjoyable just chatting with other people, singing frozen songs, and of course munching on this deliciousness.

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So now I’m back in the mustard city and back into normal life. Just looking forward to future chances to see the world! This study abroad has definitely been one of the most amazing experiences.

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Simple Sunny Days

So not every day has to be an adventure to be fun here. I love doing excursions and other interesting things like that, but today I had the enjoyment of simply living and relaxing.

It was absolutely beautiful. The sun was out. And as a Friday many of the French were out enjoying the day as well. I am lucky enough to have only two hours of class in the morning on Fridays, and so that provided me with plenty of time to do as I pleased in the afternoon.

My housemate invited me to go to coffee with her. So she met me at the tram station after class and we headed over to her favorite place called Miss Cookie. It’s a bit more “American” style coffee. For those who haven’t been to Europe the French tend to drink very strong small expensive amounts of espresso, which can be frustrating for those of us who don’t like our coffee quite so strong. As a mocha lover myself who enjoys more of a coffee flavoring to go with my milk and sugar (rather than a coffee with a bit of milk and sugar) it’s been sad not having that option in France, especially since we don’t have a Starbucks in town (I really sound like a spoiled American now don’t I!) Well, there are the occasional places that offer slightly bigger espresso beverages for a better price, such as the one that I was shown today.

Anyhow, we enjoyed some mochas together and talked for a bit. And then they started putting out sandwiches for lunch and both of us were drawn to the salami and pickle ones. Always fun to find people who share in your interesting tastes. I have to say sandwiches are one fantastic part of France, though like everything they are expensive. The other day I had a marvelous brie and walnut one that melted in my mouth.

Anyhow, my friend and I weren’t hungry yet so we headed off to go see if she could find someone she knew to get an interview for her internship. We glanced through the Friday market, though she’d already looked at it so we didn’t spend too much time.

We ended up spending a few hours of the afternoon sitting out in the warm sunshine. She did some homework while I worked on writing. It was fun to just people watch…although at some point a drunk man did wander over and scare both of us a bit. But otherwise we tossed some crumbs to the pigeons, watched kids running around, a waiter muttering to himself as he swept up a glass he’d broken accidentally. It was very enjoyable. After all the rain we were glad to finally get some sun. The last few days have been amazing and hopefully it will last.

So here are a few pics in the sun:

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All the students enjoying the sun

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Cool of the view of the cathedral from where we were sitting

Anyhow, finishing up the day procrastinating homework on the internet and such. Nice to just have a relaxing day to enjoy France in the sun with friends.

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Excursion to Lyon

So I promised a more positive post after my last one ranting about Americans. So…here you go.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of going to visit Lyon with 40 of my fellow classmates. For any who don’t know Lyon is one of the largest cities in France after Paris, it’s also known for being one of the places in France with the best food (though honestly isn’t all of France known for great food?)

We started early leaving around 7:30 and driving in a tour bus to the city. It took about 2 and 1/2 hours to get there, though we stopped for a restroom break being warned it would be harder to find one in the city.

We drove up a big hill up to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a grand church that was built in honor of the Virgin Mary in the late 1800’s. Our bus stopped to let us off and then we walked around and looked at the inside. It is extremely beautiful and my pictures just don’t do it justice.

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After going to the basilica, my group headed down the hill along a steep path. The impressive thing is that there are Roman ruins near the basilica, and our guide was telling us in the ancient days the Romans hauled all the rocks to build up the hill. It would be hard enough walking up carrying nothing, let alone huge boulders.

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It was a beautiful sunny day so the walk was enjoyable. We were very lucky to avoid having any rain like Dijon had while we were gone.

We walked down to the old quarter. Looked around and explored older streets while learning some about the history. And then we were granted some free time to go find lunch. For more on the meal debacle look to my last blog post. I don’t feel in the mood to write about it again.

Anyhow, regardless I got to eat a delicious salad and some sausage and lentils. It was very good but I ran out of time to take pictures sadly. Of course afterwards I managed to buy a praline which is a local sweet treat made with sugar coated almonds. And I got mine in the form of a tart at the store that our guide recommended. It was absolutely delicious. I highly recommend it if any people reading my blog ever get to Lyon.

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So that made up for some of the problems of lunch. After that we walked down to the more modern quarter of the city looking at some sites along the way.

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So above you see a statue two guys in our group imitated. You see a building painted with all the famous people from Lyon. And the opera house. Figured that’s a good start. I took a ton of photos but of course don’t want to upload them all and overwhelm my readers.

After taking a tour of this area we were released for more freetime to do what we wanted. The sun had started going down though so it became pretty chilly. The other Americans and I walked around took a break watching some skateboarders and found some food for dinner. I declined to eat and decided to wait until I got back home.

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It was dark by the time we left. We headed off on the bus back to rainy Dijon. It was definitely fun and I’m glad I got to go. Anyhow, here’s a more positive summary of my trip. :)

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An American in Lyon: Exploring Cultural Differences

American in Paris

So I had the privilege of getting to go to Lyon this weekend and I feel so happy to have had the opportunity. I will try to post a much more positive post in the next few days to let my readers know all about the fun things I did. But for now I’d like to just talk about why there’s this negative perception of how the French view Americans. To be honest I think a lot of it is true…but I think it’s true for good reason.

I suppose I want to write this more as a cautionary tale for Americans rather than a negative review of the French. Yes, I’m going to sit here and critique my own countrymen. And I feel no guilt in doing so after today.

So I was left with few choices of who to spend my time with in Lyon. Sadly my school has the problem of “nationality clumping” in terms of friendship groups. Each person is supposed to spend time mostly with their own nationality…or at least a nationality that speaks the same language (example: Canadians, Americans, Australians etc.) It is particularly frustrating to me because I really have developed a liking for some of the people I’ve met from other countries, but it’s difficult to be that one kid who stands there while everyone else converses in a different language I can’t use. So of course I was left with the options of: being a loner, being that awkward person who disobeys the unspoken nationality clumping, going with the Canadians who I did not know, or going with the Americans who I had formed some acquaintanceship with. It might have been a poor choice, but it seemed semi-logical at the time.

So we had an hour and a half for lunch. Let’s just start with this: Americans do not understand French eating. I suppose that’s the majority of what I’m addressing today, but I’ll just say it’s what I had the worst experience with.

Now, having visited France before I should have known better, but I’m afraid I just wasn’t thinking when we chose to sit down at an actual restaurant for lunch. Lyon is known as one of the places with the best cooking in France, and so I was eager to try some. We talked a bit and drank our water (tip for any Americans that not all places have free water, so you might want to ask about that before asking for it). The time passed quickly and we ordered. Glancing at my clock I guess it began to dawn on me that we didn’t really have enough time for a meal, but none of my comrades seemed worried so I tried to just let that go.

I should have clued in. I should have realized none of them knew anything about the rules of French dining in spite of having been there longer than me (some had been there two months, others more). Unfortunately, they were unaware and I just spaced out.

Rule 1: The French take a long time in a restaurant. If you’re in a hurry do not go in a sit down place. Waiters don’t come check up on you ever minute to take plates, orders, etc. You sit for a long period between each course and are expected to take your time in eating the actual meal. So, if you want fast go to McDonalds. Don’t treat the servers like they are stupid for taking so long with your meal, this is to be expected to actually enjoy it and let it digest. Having a meal take a long time is not considered bad service in France. In fact bad service might be considered just the opposite of being rushed.

By the time we were finished with our first dishes we had 20 minutes left to get back to our meeting point with our group. Unsure how to really proceed we asked for the bill early to try to save some time and hoping it might indicate we were in a bit of a rush. When the food got there we gulped it down in an embarrassing fashion. Several of the French people in the room were staring at us.

Rule 2: be polite, take your time, and don’t be too noisy. You will stand out as a tourist if you don’t, and will likely receive a few glares that may make Americans believe the French hate them. This is not the case. You are simply not obeying their rules of dining and they don’t appreciate it. Things are different in France and you have to live with that.

The actual plates were one of the most interesting parts to witness my fellow Americans eating. Again, because I’ve been to France before I’ve absorbed some basic knowledge and it just seems like everyone should know it to me. So I was utterly surprised at some of the reactions to our food.

Rule 3: Red meat: Always be aware the French like their meat to be pink if not red on the inside. If there’s no color to it they consider it burnt. So do not expect a perfectly well done steak like you’d get in America, even if you ask for one done that much. The French have a different taste in terms of meat. If you do not like pink in your steak then do not order it. Sometimes you will have waiters argue with you if you try to request it to be well done as they consider that a ruined piece of meat.

Rule 4: the French eat weird things. If you’re not open to trying new things then make sure you know exactly what you’re ordering. One of the things that bothered me most was a person in my group ordering coq a vin and being surprised by the amount of bones. If you don’t understand a dish and things like this will bother you, then don’t just make your best guess on a menu. Ask a server to explain if need be, bring a translator, or just stick with something you know you like. If you’re more adventurous go for it! But don’t be surprised and make a fuss if it’s not exactly what you thought it would be like. Better to go in without expectations.

Rule 5: the customer is NOT always right in France. I earlier mentioned that waiters might argue with you over your steak if you ask for it well done. My comrades decided to go complain after the meal and of course were met with more arguing. In the United States I wouldn’t have been surprised if the restaurant gave a discount, especially considering we didn’t have time for our dessert and had to leave before eating it. But this is France, and you are not right. You are a stupid American who didn’t obey the customs of the country you are in. So stop thinking you have the right to sit there and complain and get your way like a toddler would. You won’t.

So there we go. A few basic rules for dining. If I notice more cultural things I think Americans need to understand I will post them at another time. For now just know that the French tend to be quiet, formal, polite, reserved, and not quite as warm and friendly as Americans might want them to be. But this doesn’t mean the French are bad people or hate Americans. I’ve met a number of amazing and wonderful French people in my life. They just have a different way of living and thinking, and unfortunately sometimes their ideals clash with ours. So while in their country be respectful guests. Speak French unless you’re addressed in English. Keep your voice a little quieter, especially in restaurants. Always be respectful. Don’t act “chummy” with strangers (the French do not understand this at all). If you go in with an attitude of respect you’ll find things a good bit easier. Be humble and ready to learn. That’s just a part of traveling.

Anyhow, done with my American critiquing review. Just a few basic pieces of advice. I promise a more positive post in the next few days.

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Vous Me Manquez

Tu me manques: you are missing from me
Vous is plural for you, as I address this to all the important you’s in my life.

So I’ve been having a wonderful time in France, enjoying seeing the country and getting to know new people all while perfecting my language skills. However, there do come times when one is not quite so happy to be in a foreign country, and I’ve experienced those a bit in the last week.

Last Sunday I just feel into a slump. I sometimes have that happen for no particular reason. Sometimes it lasts for months. Sometimes just a day. But that day in particular there was really just a sense that life was hard, and that I really just wanted to be back in my apartment at George Fox with my amazing roommates, attending classes with familiar English speaking professors, and talking to my family about the next time I’d get to see them. And I guess I just suddenly had the realization that I was halfway around the world from almost everyone I knew and loved, and that I had very few real friends yet. And it’s just not the same.

My host mother noticed the change in my behavior within a few minutes. I suppose I was surprised because even my close friends and sometimes my family don’t always notice when I’m depressed. I usually just do my best to put on a happy face and muddle through, but Sunday was not one of those days.My host immediately just knew something was wrong, that I was obviously feeling down in the dumps. And the homesickness just wasn’t helping things.

I knew it would happen. I always knew it would. I’m just one of those people who forms really strong attachments. I don’t make a lot of friends, but those I do choose to let into my circle of loved ones I treasure forever and always, no matter how much they may get on my nerves at times. We have our ups and downs, but I never want to let go. Not if they’re a true friend, or a person who’s family (blood related or in my heart). Some people are good at moving on. I am not one of them. I experienced the same thing going off to college, angst, crying, and even some nightmares about old friends abandoning me. And so I anticipated this happening being so far away from my old familiar world. But I guess sometimes knowing something will happen and actually experiencing it are two completely different things.

I am lucky to have an awesome host who insisted I could not sit in my room and pout all day. Those who know me will tell you I’m good at doing that…when I’m depressed I tend to go into a hibernation mode of locking myself in my room, eating excessive amounts of chocolate, and doing nothing productive for hours on end. So the change of pace was a relief and I allowed myself to get in the car and go for a walk around the nearby lake.

When we were walking my host mentioned to me something that made her really sad. And she reminded me that there are very sad things in life, and that being in France is not really one of them. Very few Americans get to study in France, she told me. She reminded me that it was ok to miss people, but to not let it pull me down too long. There were much sadder things to cry about after all.

At the time the “suck it up” message was a bit frustrating, but afterwards I did find some value to her advice and had to admit she was right. There are better things to shed tears about. But that doesn’t mean I can’t miss the people I know and love.

In French we don’t say “I miss you”. Instead the language has an odd phrase to describe being apart they say: “Vous me manquez”, which translates literally as “you are missing from me”. It’s something very beautiful and simple at the same time. It’s not pent up emotion and hurt, it’s not pain of being separated. It’s the simple statement that the people you love no longer have you in their life, and that it’s different and there’s an obvious sense that this must one day be remedied.

I suppose I like the French way better in some ways. There’s more simplicity. I still express what is true, that I know my life has changed thanks to being apart from the people I love. But I also avoid over thinking and wasting time crying over what is not.

To make it all better my host took me for a pastry and hot chocolate. I am grateful to have such caring people watching over me while those I know on the other side of the world can only send their words through instant message, emails, packages, facebook posts, pinterest conversations, and of course online pokes (you know who you are). It definitely makes it a bit easier to have someone here to take care of me and recognize when something is not right.

To all friends reading this know I miss you lots, and I can’t wait to see you when I return. I know you are missing from me and I am missing from you. There’s something wrong with that. And yet I cannot change it at the moment. And instead I live as happily as I can in the moment, awaiting only the moment when my world will finally be returned to its whole state rather than the one lacking the people nearest and dearest to my heart.

PS: before you worry too much about me I’ve been much better this week. But I still wanted to post about homesickness. So, know I’m adjusting and it may take time, but I’m happier than I was on Sunday. Hope to update you on my trip to Lyon tomorrow soon. Look for photos on Facebook!

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Just an Ordinary Day

So I finished my first week of school, and I figured I’d post something for you guys. However, I haven’t really done anything extraordinary, just had my everyday life going on. So I thought to myself, perhaps this would be a good time to write a post about what my daily life in Dijon looks like.

I get up every morning and have the debate about whether I should lie in bed a while longer or get a hot shower. The hot water in our area shuts off in the afternoon/evening so the only time to shower warm is early. As a night owl who prizes her sleep, I have a hard time making myself get up. However, I’ve found I care more about hot showers than sleep. I get up early to go do that. Sometimes I let myself go back to sleep for an hour to let my hair dry (I am not a hair dryer person).

I proceed to grab a bite of breakfast before heading off to classes. Most days I start at 9, but thankfully Monday and Wednesday I start at 11. Breakfast in France is not considered a big deal. As long as people get their coffee they’re happy. I usually have some toast, or some fresh bread if available. If not usually a slice of cheese or a yogurt. The French people do love their dairy (other than milk which comes in boxes that don’t need to be refrigerated…which still weirds me out).

At 8:15 or 10:15 depending on the day, I walk out of the house and through the gate to our little courtyard and then down through several pedestrian only streets until I reach the tram. It usually takes under ten minutes. I then get to wait for the right tram heading towards the University of Bourgogne (Burgundy). It’s not a super long ride, of course it depends if there are problems, or if it’s super crowded or not.

I arrive at the University and head over to a kind of student union building where most of the international students hang out. I wait there until class is ready to start because our building for classes have no waiting room inside, so it’s pointless to get there early.

My classes aren’t really specified in what they are. They’re all just French language classes. So everyday I arrive and we practice the four basic things all language students need to understand: reading comprehension, oral comprehension, written expression, and oral expression. Right now my level is working on learning about health so we read articles about the French healthcare system, do worksheets that expand our vocabulary, do exercises in class, and of course write or discuss our own country’s healthcare.

My class has a wide range of nationalities, though there is a large Asian concentration (or at least larger than I’m used to being from some very “white” areas of the world). I believe we have seventeen students with five Koreans, four Chinese, two Japanese, one Russian, one Indian, two Venezuelans, and two Americans (myself included). I love getting to learn more about other people’s cultures and being immersed in such diversity. I’ve never had the experience of being around so many different races, ethnicities, cultures, it’s just fabulous and I love it. It’s definitely something that I don’t get a lot of back at Fox no matter how hard my University tries to achieve diversity, it just isn’t like this.

Classes go for two hours and then we’re released for a lunch break. Thankfully I ended up with good times to go eat at the cafeteria on campus when it’s not super crowded (12 o’clock is rush hour) so I usually head over there. For any Fox students reading this I will tell you I like the Bon food better…so…we have a better cafeteria than that in France. However, the food here is cheaper probably partly because they have a points system rather than an all you can eat buffet. However, I know little about how either place is run so I won’t complain too much. Either way, 3 Euros for a main dish, side dish, veggies, two items from a yogurt/dessert/fruit/salad/cheese bar, and a piece of bread is nothing to sneeze at. Food here can be expensive so unless I’m eating at home it’s probably the most economic option.

I grab my tray, pick my choices of food. They always have French fries so…that’s always a good option when all else fails. As always yogurts and cheeses which are pretty much amazing. And there’s always bread, though I’ve taken to wrapping mine up to take home for an afternoon snack, because dinner is a bit later than I’m used to.

I head back for afternoon classes except on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Mondays I get the pleasure of having a bigger civilization class with all of the students in my level. We meet in one of the big lecture halls to sit through two hours talking about statistics, history, all kinds of things. Other days I just have my regular language classes.

I take the tram back home for the afternoon once finished with class. As I get more work I might stay and work in the library or the international media center, but for now I find my room a pretty good place to settle in and get some work done. It’s small and private and I really love it. My host was worried for a while that I wouldn’t like my room, but it really feels like home and I feel happy every time I come in. My family has also been super nice and put internet in my room and bought a new lamp since it was a little bit dark. Some days I like to sit on my bed and look out at the rain. Other times I just sit at my desk so I can better work on homework.

I don’t have too much work yet. I’m not feeling too stressed out. There is a possibility I might change levels and if so I’ll have more work. But for now it’s all good. One of the things I’ve been doing to improve my French is listening to the radio most days for a half an hour. I don’t always understand everything, especially if I’m looking on the internet or multitasking. But I can get the gist of it.

I suppose that’s been one of my happiest revelations is that I can function here in France. Even if I’m not perfect with the language, even if I’m not in a super high leveled class, I’m able to get to and from school everyday. I can buy stuff at the store, order a pastry, go to a restaurant. I can have pretty good conversations with my host, explain a movie I watched, tell her about my day, and even sometimes talk about more in depth things like my fears or my past. I’m living in France, speaking the language everyday, and I’m doing fine. And that makes me so happy.

Anyhow, evenings tend to get pretty late because the French don’t eat at the same time we do as Americans (or at least my family does). Usually it’s getting around 8 or 9 by the time we sit down, so I’ve taken to eating something light in the afternoon like my bread I take from the cafeteria.

Dinners are pretty great. My host keeps things pretty simple, but even so they’re delicious. Also living with other international students lets me try new foods sometimes. The Indonesian student here made some great pasta one day, and we had some pretty awesome meatballs from another girl living here. Tonight I believe it’s going to be soup which is always lovely especially on a cold rainy day like today. Having good food definitely is a perk of living with a family rather than out on my own trying to cook for myself. I’ve been told I might have to help sometimes, so we’ll see how that adventure goes. I’m not much of a cook, but maybe this will give me a chance to learn. Yesterday Lydia (the other American student) and I made crepes which were delicious. So that was a success at least!

Evenings are just used finishing up homework and relaxing. I try to head to bed semi-early (for me) to get a good start on the next day.

So, that’s my everyday life. Hope to have some more exciting updates in the future. Next weekend I’m taking a trip with CIEF (the organization I’m studying with) to Lyon, a nearby city. It should be really fun. I look forward to sharing that.

Categories: Life Update | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Adjusting

So I suppose I’m really starting to settle in. It’s feeling a little less like a weird dream and more like the real deal. I received my class level assignment, I’ve bought my bus pass, and I’ve officially toured most of the old downtown area along with some of the biggest attractions. And today I finally took my first few classes, which if anything are too easy.

In my civilization course we talked a lot today about how people view the French. And I have to say there is some truth in the stereotypes. The French do tend to be more reserved and closed off. They don’t smile at everyone. And of course they often do leave dog poop all over the sidewalk. So I suppose this just reminds me that there are some things that I do still have to figure out how to deal with while here.

As I’ve been to France several times I wouldn’t say there is anything that really comes as a culture SHOCK so much as a minor nuisance I’m still getting used to. Nonetheless here are a few things that I’m struggling to get used to.

1. French- Ok this one’s fairly obvious but I’ll go ahead and put it on top because it is definitely the most difficult. There are so many things I do and say everyday that I don’t even process are in English. Knee jerk reactions to things still very much tend to be in English. Like when someone knocks on my door I have trouble remembering that it’s “entrez” not “come in”. And sometimes it just takes me a while to process things when they’re said quickly. Like a few days ago a random guy tried to tell me my backpack was unzipped but I had so much trouble understanding him even for just that little phrase. I basically feel like I have to reset my brain everytime I get out in public.

2. Formality- this goes along with language, but I really hate all the formal rules when it comes to addressing someone, and it’s especially confusing being a student because I’m never sure if I’m supposed to use it with my peers. I mean the whole point of formal tense is to not sound overly familiar with someone, and the people in my classes are complete strangers. But there is no way to get around it when asking questions like “how are you doing”, “where do you live”, “what level of French are you in”. It seems to be mostly informal, but the problem is I’ve put myself so much in the mindset of never using informal that sometimes it just slips out and then I feel weird about it. I definitely love that in English there are just words you use to make it more formal rather than a whole tense.

3. Smoking- Honestly, I’m just someone who really despises the smell of cigarette smoke. And unfortunately the French still seem to really like their cigarettes. I don’t know why that is. They’re healthier than us Americans in terms of diet and exercise, but I swear smoking is everywhere! I was rolling my eyes the other day at a student smoking right in front of a sign saying that the building was a smoke free area. And even in classes professors refer to breaks in the middle of class as a time to go smoke rather than use the restroom.

4. Coins instead of bills- As a person who despises carrying change in the first place I hate having my 1 and 2 dollars be coins instead of bills. It honestly just makes everything harder trying to keep track of my money.

5. Lack of peanut butter- this sounds stupid but I’m someone who has super big cravings for peanut butter at semi-random times. And in France peanut butter is something kind of weird. I looked in the grocery store and saw a jar for almost 5 Euros that was probably a quarter the size of a normal jar you’d see in a store here. The only thing that makes up for it is the huge nutella jar for the exact same price. But I do already miss my peanut butter. I ate off the last of my peanut butter m & m stash today. It was a sad day indeed. Ah, but with nutella and other things I’m sure I’ll find supplements.

6. Energy conservation- Electricity is expensive in France and unfortunately that does take some adjusting to. Whether it’s using an adaptor for my American plugins, dealing with minimal lighting from my tiny lamps in my room, stumbling around the house at night because every single light besides the ones in use are off, or not being able to take evening showers because the hot water shuts off, there are a lot of things that I feel blessed to not have to deal with in America. The showering one if definitely the hardest. My roommates would tell you I habitually took midnight showers Sophomore year and I HATE getting up early for anything that seems unnecessary, especially since I don’t have a hairdryer with me and have no desire to buy one that can only be used here. I’ll probably start doing weird afternoon showers to get around it once I get back into normal school schedule but we’ll see. Should be interesting.

7. Bathrooms- whether you’re squatting over a Turkish toilet, pulling tissues from your pockets to replace the non-existent toilet paper, crouching over a toilet with no seat, cringing at dirty floors, or tipping someone to let you into a stall, bathrooms in France can be very different from what you might be used to in the US. For whatever reason cleanliness is not as much of a priority, or if it is you’ll likely have to pay for it with a bathroom attendant. I was just a bit surprised that my campus bathrooms were filthy, lacking toilet seats, and without toilet paper. But hey, things can’t always be perfect. Anyhow, so to fellow travelers out there, be warned that even though France is a modern upgraded country, bathrooms are a whole different world.

But of course there are good things about Europe too. So I suppose in an effort to not sound too negative I’ll comment on those:

1. Food- pastries, chocolate, fresh bread, French cheeses, delicious produce, and an assortment of other options. There are so many amazing food here that I just can’t help but love. My host bought me real Brie the other day and it is amazing. I’ve also made a promise to my father to buy a delicious pastry once a week. So that should be fun.

2. History- I love the amount of history I see even just walking down the street. It’s amazing.

3. Free and discounted- As a student I tend to get things for lower prices, like my bus pass, or other things like that. In France many things are discounted for 26 and below, helping all us poor young people who don’t have much money. I also love that almost all the museums in the city are free. It’s incredible.

4. Cafe’s- The cafe life is amazing and I cannot wait until the weather is better so I can go sit at one and sip some coffee while people watching. France is the perfect place to sit at a little outside table and just enjoy life for a few minutes.

5. The smile issue- while some people find the French reservedness offputting, I like it because it makes me feel like I fit in more. In America I’m always being told to smile more, even by random people I don’t really know. To be honest it’s something that makes me really angry. I don’t like people telling me to smile. I don’t like them acting like they know my life, or know my mindset. But nonetheless it bothers me immensely when I have friends tell me that others think I’m snobby or overly critical just because I don’t have a stupid grin on my face all the time. I like that in France I blend in. I like feeling acceptable for going about my day not looking overly happy, just living life as I want to.

6. Public transportation- obviously this is partly because I have lived most of my life in small towns in the West, but I just love how easy most of the transportation is here. It makes life so much easier for a poor student like myself without a car.

7. Pedestrian only- I love the quiet streets of the inner city of Dijon. I am so blessed to get to have a cute little pedestrian street outside of my window. I love the quiet, the peace, and yet the city life that goes on as people walk from store to store, chat in cafes, and take a stroll with their dogs. This is definitely something I am very much enjoying about Europe.

So that’s some basic analysis of how I’m settling into my life in France. I think that’s a good start, but maybe I might post more about this later.

Here are some quick pictures of my room here in France:

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Categories: Advice, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

What to do with a Week of Freetime?

So I was somewhat misinformed about everything, and it turns out I actually have a week before classes start. To be honest that’s super nice and I’m really enjoying just being able to relax and sit back a bit.

I did a similar thing that I did yesterday and spent the morning relaxing and then went out in the afternoon. My jet lag is still affecting me so woke up wide awake at four and didn’t fall back asleep til 8. Fortunately that is the good thing about not having classes in being able to sleep until 10:30. I spent the morning talking with my host and then researching about things to do in Dijon. There are a lot of free museums, but almost all of them were closed on Tuesdays, so I’m waiting to do those.

This afternoon I walked around more. There is a cute walking tour that is marked by little owl plaques. I didn’t have the guide with me, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to just walk it myself and see some of the more significant parts of the town. I was very proud of myself because I didn’t pull out a map once.

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I think I have figured out my bus route, so hopefully I’ll get to try that sometime in the next few days to practice and see how long it takes. I’ll be using that everyday to get to class which should be interesting. I’ve never had to take public transportation everyday, so I’ll be curious to see how this works.

So, that’s it so far. Hopefully I’ll be doing more tomorrow.

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