Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1 Month to Go!

As of today I have 7 days until my summer traveling begins-- this time next week I will be in Paris and ending my first day of touring with Kevin. Also this time next week, I will only have 25 days left to explore until I come home to Chicago in June. Yikes. The last two weeks have gone by very quickly and it's hard to believe that in less than a month my study abroad experience will be over! I have finished the majority of my finals, except for one this week, and will have to begin saying goodbye to many of my friends here soon. Some are headed back home right away, while others have decided to explore more of Europe as well. In the spirit of wanting to live it up our final weeks and weekends a group of us decided to make one last trip together this past weekend. Destination: Collioure, France.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Presque Fini...

These last couple weeks have been moving way too quickly! I am sad that the time for me to leave is getting closer, but thankfully I have quite a bit of traveling left before I leave. The last couple of weeks with my friends have been pretty incredible and I know we have enough time left to still make some more lasting memories.

St. Louis statue
Speaking of memories, I definitely have an unforgettable one to add to the ever-growing list. Last weekend we had our last exchange program outing. It was nice to be able to look forward to one each month and this one had most people incredibly excited. The trip? Visit the city of Aigues Mortes followed by horseback riding throughout the Camargue. I have been wanting to visit Aigues Mortes since I learned about it briefly in my Civi du Sud class. If you know of the walled city of Carcassonne, Aigues Mortes is also an incredibly well preserved walled city. The name "Aigues Mortes" actually means "Dead Water" and the area was sought after by King Louis IX, aka Saint Louis, to be the location of the only Mediterranean ports during the 13th century. Why? For the crusades, of course. The walled city itself was built over a number of years, but the main goal was to ensure it was incredibly secure. If my memory serves, this resulted in them creating walls that were 6 meters thick! Standing inside one of the towers you could see this thickness in the few windows that were allowed. We walked around most of the city by way of the fortress walls, and it was great to be able to see the city inside it on one side and the outside fields and water on the other.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spring Break in France: Mega Post

Typically, I do not go anywhere on Spring Break-- except back to Chicago to just relax for a week. This year, I got to have a two week Spring Break and celebrate my 22nd in France! Amazing. The only other time I've gone away for break was my senior year of high school, where I was lucky enough to spend a week in London (with Lana and Christina) and a week with family in Germany (Hi, Uncle Rich and Aunt Susan!). At this rate, maybe I can expect a trip abroad every four years or so? Haha! After my time spent here I hope it's even more frequent than that!

Normally, ISU gives us a week break-- this time I got two! I had so much time to play with and was excited when I figured out I just really, really, wanted to stay in France and explore it a bit more. For the first week my friend Sydney and I decided to go to Toulouse and Bordeaux and spend a couple days in both city. Although we hadn't experienced much rain in Montpellier, we ran into quite a bit of it in both Toulouse and Bordeaux. We made the best of it though: got a bit soaked a few times running for food, made sure to go out when it WAS nice, and had one wonderfully lazy day in Bordeaux.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The End is Near-- What?!

I am definitely overdue for an update, sorry about that! Things have just been a little busy with school here and getting things figured out back home (classes, housing, job) that I have neglected my blog a bit. The bitter(sweet) countdown continues-- as of next week I only have 4 more literature classes, 3 grammar and phonetics classes, and 2  civilization classes (and keep in mind 1 of each of those classes is the final!). I can honestly say I have enjoyed each of the courses and feel I have taken away a lot more than I do in the States sometimes. I think the biggest reason is the mentality is just different here. Teachers don't want us to stress out over tests or projects-- they'd rather see the progress. Back home, it's one test/paper/project after another to just give us a grade and often I feel some teachers are not as concerned about the overall progress their students have made or if they have even learned anything. This is definitely something I'll keep in mind  with my future students. My progress is hard to measure, but I know it's there. Then again, I feel like I still have a lot left to learn and it just makes me want to stay longer, especially since I feel at home. Also, fair-warning: long post ahead!

Over the last week or two I can definitely say that I have had some more cultural experiences, which are always interesting. For my Literature class we were assigned to go see a specific play called "Les Negres", a play by Jean Genet that portrays some racial stereotypes between whites/blacks and was supposedly written to be seen only by whites in order to scare/shock them out of their stereotypical views. Interesting idea, and I am sure if I had understood it I would have enjoyed it more. Getting to the theater itself required finding a bus and asking if it goes to the theater, then getting dropped off in a parking lot with no theater in sight. The bus driver wasn't sure, but he pointed off in one direction and we hoped he was right. Funny enough, we actually had to walk through a park with a giant mansion where we found the theater on the other side. As we finally sat down my friends and I joked about how we were probably going to have a difficult time understanding, but we all agreed we would just laugh when everyone else did. The play began and we realized that we weren't going to understand anything. The biggest issue for us were the actors' accents which seemed to be of African origin--  pronunciation was WAY different and even the words I should have known were lost in the thick accents. After 2.5 hours of trying to understand we emerged from the theater and all tried to figure out what we had just seen. I am still not entirely sure, but I know I have to write a paper for it! Even our teacher admitted she had a hard time understanding parts-- so maybe she'll go easy on us :)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Travel bug? Maybe...

This last week was pretty low key, though I was fine with that--I have had tests and papers scattered all around the last few weeks, and have more in the coming weeks. I can't complain though because I only have 5 weeks of actual school left, and plenty of vacation time throughout, but the end is definitely in sight which is definitely more bitter than sweet for me. Next weekend I will be visiting Anduze, France with my exchange group, and I am pretty excited because with just a little bit of Googling I can already tell it's going to be a really gorgeous city. My final exchange group trip will be at the end of April when we go to Arles and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer-- I'm excited for that trip because the description mentioned the possibility of horseback riding!

Trips, trips, and more trips. I love that I can fill my time with seeing new places and I have especially come to enjoy the smaller cities that have less of a tourist-vibe to them. That said, trip planning has really been the biggest stress for me at this point because I am doing a lot of it and it can take a bit of time. Don't get me wrong, I am NOT complaining because I much prefer traveling than writing essays or studying for tests, but it definitely takes a lot of effort to plan a bigger trip thoroughly. I have definitely caught a bit of the travel bug, but depending on how complicated the trip is we have a love/hate relationship. Day trips are my favorite-- quick and simple and you don't really need much of a plan! I will be doing MANY more of these throughout these (last :'( ) 9 weeks! Planning my trip to Toulouse and Bordeaux was really simple and we really just needed to figure out a few small details and decide how much we were willing to spend on transportation and housing. A 6 day trip? No big deal.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

13 Weeks Left-- What?!

Yet another week has just flown by! I recently counted my time left here, and it broke down like this: 13 weeks until I am home; 8 weeks left of being in school (2 of those weeks we have vacation though); 5 weeks until I turn 22; and about 4 weeks until my 2 week vacation in April. I am in disbelief, and the closer it comes, the more I wished I had come in the Fall and spent the whole year here! Don't get me wrong, I miss being home, but there's still so much I want to do while I am here. I just keep reminding myself that this will absolutely not be the last time I am in France, or Europe for that matter.

This last week I had most of my midterms, though I still have one next week, and I think things went well! One teacher in particular, who I am lucky enough to have for both phonetics and grammar, has made the classroom setting such an interesting place to be. She understands that grammar can be boring and difficult to grasp, so she often brings ways of integrating the outside world into our grammar class. After we read an article and analyze the verbs a bit, we often have discussions about the differences between American and French cultures. It gives us an opportunity to not only speak, and utilize the verbs, tenses, and vocab we have been learning, but it also allows us a better insight on French views.

Friday, March 2, 2012

La Vie en France

Can I just start this post by saying that I love my life in France? But really. Montpellier has been absolutely amazing, and it keeps getting better now that we are getting the gorgeous 60 degree weather. On top of that, I get to speak one of the most beautiful languages in the world on a daily basis! I don't know what I am going to do when I go back home and can no longer go back and forth between French and English regularly. There's even a part of me that is growing to love having to go to the grocery store every week or two, and I had already fallen in love with being able to get freshly baked baguettes whenever I want. Also, I finally found another Chi Omega in Montpellier-- I knew there had to be at least one! Funny enough, she was in one of my classes already and just so happened to wear her letters the one day a week we had class together. That's the other thing about France: school. I am going to have the most bizarre transition back to ISU because I am only in four classes, and I have SO much free time which is completely abnormal for me-- but it's been easy to get used to! But, just because I'm not in 18 credit hours worth of classes this semester doesn't mean I am slacking. I am truly in a constant state of learning-- and I love it!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

No Habla Español!

I'll admit it, I completely underestimated how much I would enjoy being in Spain. Of course it's warm, and gorgeous, and has really interesting things to see, but just hadn't made it to the top of my list of places to see. That being said, I am SO glad I was able to get there, and it looks like I'll go back before I leave. For all the difficulties that the French university system has thrown my way, I must say they make up for it by giving us completely random breaks: 2 weeks in February and 2 weeks in April (right over my 22nd birthday!). So for this first break I was able to go to Barcelona and Alicante Spain and was lucky enough to spend 4 days in both! Be prepared for a long blog-- I have lots to share :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Month of Fresh Starts

For me and many of my friends, January was a time of huge adjustments, overwhelming problems, and was just all around rough for everyone at one point or another if not all the time. Now that we are in February, I am trying to view this month as an opportunity to really take full advantage and have full appreciation of my time here. It's not that any of us didn't make the best of everything before, but I think now that we are settled and comfortable that February will be an easier month for all of us to navigate. After just over a month, I feel like I have just learned so much-- about life, culture, language, friendship, and that I have the ability to  overcome anything. Friends who had gone abroad before me had said that I would learn so much about myself as well, and even after my short time here, I can say that is absolutely true. Not having the things I know and recognize and am comfortable around really made me stop and reflect on many things. Being here, has truly has just been one of the most wonderful learning experiences I think I will ever have. I have only completed one month, but at the same time, that's a fifth of the time I have in France and five to six months just doesn't seem like enough time! I'm already searching for ways to come back over here and stay another few months-- there has to be a school where I can teach English when I graduate!

Classes are well underway and I am currently starting to study for my first tests that begin next week and continue after my 2 week break-- mid terms are already here! School really goes so much faster when you only have each class once a week. This last week had been rough in parts so I have kept it pretty low key and yes, lazy, but I still managed to have some wonderful experiences along the way.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

1 Month Gone Already!

As of a few minutes ago I have officially spent one full month in France, and that is truly hard to believe. Before leaving ISU, I was warned over and over about how it could take up to a month to feel fully  "at home" abroad. Looking back, I would say this is about accurate. My first week was painful, even though it was exciting. The second was more frustrating than anything. By the third week, most complications had been resolved and things started to feel more normal. And now, after my fourth week, I can say that I have a definite routine with my life here. All the things that felt overwhelming and new a few weeks ago now feel minor and I am now well-versed with the way of life in Southern France.

By this point, the only thing I can think of that will continue to be an issue during my stay here is the walking. No, no, not the fact that I have to walk, but rather the fact that there is NO order to walking and people are just plain AGGRESSIVE. I've mentioned it before, but it still bugs me. This is one thing I would rather not get used to because if I do, I will return to the States as an unreasonably aggressive pedestrian, and that is definitely not acceptable. I am truly thankful, though, that I seem to have adjusted rather easily even with minor frustrations and difficulties. I know it hasn't been as easy for everyone, and many of my friends have had a number of severe issues that have hindered the process.  I hope by the end of it all, though, that everyone can say that despite everything  that may have happened, we are all still glad we went abroad! I know I keep saying it, but I really just adore this city. I can tell it will be hard to go back, but don't worry Mom, I'll come back and graduate before I escape to southern France for the rest of my life :-)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Time is Flying by!

I realized today that I am starting my fourth week abroad. In some ways it feels like I've been here so much longer, and in others it feels like it just began. After spending nearly a month abroad, I have begun to find things that I miss, outside of the people in my life:
  1. Showers that you can actually move in. 
  2. Peanut butter sandwiches and being able to bake cookies.
  3. People not running you down while you're walking.
  4. Organization and Clarity!!!!
  5. Being able to understand what is on a menu. Fromage (cheese) and Jambon (ham) have quickly become a good friend of mine.
  6. Fast(er) internet, and access to all sites. Thanks for ditching me, Netflix, Hulu and ABC.
  7. Milk-- I am terrified to try it here. The pasteurized milk is unrefrigerated until it is opened, and the milk straight from the cow is in the refrigerated section.
  8. My DVDs and TV shows :(
  9. Driving (but only a little, and I would NEVER want to drive here)
  10. Cheap shopping with decent quality.
Even with all of that, though, I have found many things that I love about being here:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Allons-y! Exploring Nimes

Life is good and I am continuing to feel more at home here. Today is the first day in two weeks that I haven't done anything. It felt good to take a breather from the world because it's been so non-stop since I arrived, especially this last week.

I had my first classes this week, and the only thing I was worried about in any of them was the mention of oral presentations-- memorized. As most of you probably know, I HATE presentations. I am absolutely fine when I teach students, but when it comes to being evaluated, I get incredibly nervous. Thankfully, these are weeks away, and I will hopefully have had time to perfect my speaking skills by the time they roll around. At this point, it does not look like I'll be in courses with only French students. I had been trying to make this happen, but the system here (as I've said before) is a little dysfunctional. I sat in on a literature lecture that was supposed to revolve around mythology and I could barely keep up with what the professor was saying. To take this course for a grade would probably be a huge mistake, so instead I am looking to audit a lecture or two (probably literature or cinema) in order to still gain better comprehension. My courses will be language intensive, though, even if I am with other French language learners, and I think I will gain a lot (I already have).

Monday, January 9, 2012

J'adore la ville de Montpellier!

This title says it all. I love the city of Montpellier. It is truly one of the most charming cities I have ever had the chance of visiting, and even better: living in! There is so much history in this city, I feel like I could explore for days and still have missed another nook with something more. My friends and I have become more comfortable in navigating and exploring the city on our own, and have enjoyed being tourists a bit while we become more familiar. Just today, Jade and I wandered around after running some errands and were able to find the Post Office, on accident, as well as a book store with tons of office supplies, and yet another place to sit down and drink un chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and eat a pastry. As much as I LOVE Chicago, Montpellier just has this great feeling to it. Yes, it is busy like any city, but there are hardly any cars and most people either walk or use public transit (the system is great here). It feels like people live a much more stress free life here, aside from when dealing with the University, and I have really come to enjoy the pace of things here. I really cannot do it justice here, and would love you all to visit to see what I mean.

As you might have seen, I had a trip to Avignon and Pont du Gard on Sunday, and both places took my breath away. For one, there are a million stairs and hills to climb, but better yet, at the top of these stairs and hills you can find incredible views that are truly indescribable. We visited the Palais des Papes with our pre-session group, and my friend and I both had a hard time believing how long the building had been standing and how much history and life it had experienced. Avignon itself was a quiet town that Sunday, but there were a few streets we walked down just to explore the area. The set up of each of these cities is just so completely different and in many ways, a lot more interesting. Yes, I understand the ease of having a grid-like city like Chicago, but Montpellier and Avignon both have these amazing little side streets with tons of life, but in any other city in the US would be an alley and void of anything interesting to find. Each little street I have been down has something interesting to it, and I have quickly fallen in love with getting lost in these towns for a bit. Pont du Gard was absolutely stunning. We climbed to the top of it by way of some really, really, old stairs within a forest to reach the top tier of the aqueduct. Once there, everyone forgot how out of breath they were, and started taking pictures. It is an incredibly windy area, and as some of you may know-- I have an intense fear of heights. Luckily, the wind didn't push me around hard enough to fall off the mini-mountain and I was able to see the incredible view from the top! Here are some pictures of the view I had:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ma Première Semaine (My First Week)

Wow. That is the only way I can think of to effectively summarize this first week, just wow. Where do I begin? I can say I officially understand what people mean when they say there will be tons of highs, and tons of lows-- I've already experienced many of both. I'll begin with the not so good, and end on a high note, because in this moment I am absolutely content even though I am stressed.

As I said, there have been a number of low points to this week. The lowest point was definitely my first night here-- I couldn't sleep until 7am and had to be up at 11am, and I only had my American cellphone and 40% of battery on my barely functioning computer. In all, it was a lonely night, but as soon as I was able to get some sleep I felt much better. Another difficulty this week had to do with getting my rarely functioning DELL computer fixed. I have had this computer for about 2 months, and both months have resulted in needing repairs for the same problem: it keeps overheating and turning off. My dad spent hours on the phone trying to resolve some ridiculously ineffective international customer service, while I spent time trying to talk to a rude French DELL employee. The final difficulties of this week all had to do with the University. The best way to describe it is this: They give you very vague information, turn you loose, then say, "Time to sink or swim!". I know, this is a little (a lot) pessimistic, but this is how it's felt. We are constantly receiving conflicting information or last second details that we have to run around town for to try to complete. Filling out paperwork has been the most tedious process. If you plan to study abroad in France, or probably anywhere in Europe: Bring tons of ID photos (Walgreens does them) and TONS of copies of every document you have ever received from the University as well as Passports and Insurance information.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mes Premiers Jours (My First Days)

Bonjour tout le monde et bonne année!

I have made it safe and sound to Montpellier, France after a long flight on New Years Eve! There is so much happening right now that it has definitely been an overwhelming first couple of days. In addition to the obvious stress of traveling, I arrived in Montpellier only to find that the laptop (that had worked the night before) was no longer functioning properly and kept shutting itself down (again!). Thankfully, my dad thought ahead and purchased a warranty that would allow service to my computer within France. I have yet to get it fixed, but it has been working the last two hours so I figured I would try to make a post! Admittedly, this is a much longer post than I had intended, but there is so much I would like to share!

Jour 1 (12/31/11)

I flew out of Ohare in Chicago at 6:15pm on NYE. It was hard to believe how incredibly empty the airport was in comparison to other days of the year. For the first time ever, security didn't ask me to go through the metal detector-- but instead through the x-ray machine. I had to stand still for a few moments as I watched them pat down an old woman next to me who seemed confused by the process. I eventually made it to my lovely first class seat and was greeted by a very kind flight attendant who instantly insisted I get wine to celebrate the New Year... so I did. The flight was wonderful, aside from some semi-scary turbulence towards the end, and I was able to watch a number of movies, and eat some surprisingly good steak. Unfortunately, I was unable to sleep, so that made for a long first day in France.

Jour 2 (1/1/12)