Lol. Luckily for those around me, I haven't been this person since I got back to the States. Maybe if I feel particularly pretentious one day I'll whip this line out, but I'm going to do my best to keep it to a minimum. 

Credit for this image as well as many other hilarious ones goes to: http://www.adventureseeker.org/travel-inspiration/the-50-best-study-abroad-memes-ive-ever-seen/ . The truth in this post is mindblowing.


I've now been back in America for a week. It almost seems like my time in Aix was a dream. I haven't had trouble readjusting to my life back in the States, and I don't feel like a completely different person. I mean, I guess that's because, after all, I was only abroad for a month and a half, not years. But I think it's more that I've returned to my country the same person, just a little better. 


Better is a weird word to use there. It's like "Allison, New and Improved" or something. I think what I'm trying to say is that after immersing myself in a different culture for half the summer, I was chipped and chiseled by the experiences I had, and have now returned as myself, but a more developed version of myself. Living in France gave me a window into an entirely different side of myself, a window that has remained open since I came home. Now that I'm back, even though I've fallen easily into my usual patterns, I am overall more aware of people, ideas, and cultures around me, as well as more aware of myself. I didn't stop learning when I left France - rather, France was just the starting point. I'll carry all of my lessons and memories from Aix with me forever, and I'll look at everything differently from now on as well. 


As easy as it was for me to reintegrate into American life, there are things I do really miss from Aix. Food is, of course, at the top of the list. You just can't get fruits and vegetables like the ones from the French markets here in the US. And I miss the hustle and bustle of Aix, the sounds of accordions wheezing in the streets, the smell of lavender wafting out of the shops. I miss being able to walk everywhere (though I do love being reunited with my car again, walking so much is great exercise). I miss people watching a lot. And of course, being me, I have to mention how much I miss the coffee. It is really good there (BUT WE HAVE STARBUCK'S HERE 8D ). And I miss a thousand other things, too (like the drinking age...ahem). 

It helps to remember, though, that somewhere, beyond the sea, Aix is waiting for me (and if that song is not stuck in your head now, I don't think I can really appreciate you as a person). And not just Aix, but a whole slew of cities and countries and people and languages for me to discover. The world is so enormous, and I want to see it all. Aix didn't nearly satiate my desire to travel, it merely threw gas on the fire. But it did also make me realize that there is so much to learn in my own country that I've never noticed before my time abroad, and for that I am extremely thankful. I've now realized that no matter where I go, whether it be a foreign country or just another small town in Pennsylvania, there's always an opportunity to learn something new and do something different. You just have to look for it.

Studying abroad was the most important thing I've done in my college career to date. I would do it a thousand times over, in a thousand different places - but I know I'll always have a soft spot for Aix. And will I return one day? 

Sans doute. 

Pour la derniere fois - bisous xoxo
 
 
So much has happened in the past couple of weeks, my mind can’t process how to organize it into one post. Plus I have this sickness where I can’t stop writing once I start, so this post is going to be a long one. I’ve spent weekends in Paris and Rome, and I got to go to La Fete de La Musique in Aix (The Festival of Music). I’ve divided up this post into a Paris section and a Rome section (I left out the music festival stuff – all you really need to know was that there was tons of music and drunk French people and I was in a conga line. It was great fun).

Paris!

Even though I’d visited Paris once before, the beauty of the city never ceases to amaze me. Pictures of Paris are gorgeous, but absolutely nothing can compare to the real thing. And especially after reading Les Mis, seeing the musical, and seeing the movie last Christmas (Hi, I’m Allison and I’m obsessed with Les Miserables), I was sort of fangirling about being in one of the main settings of the story (if it’s possible for one to “fangirl” about Les Mis…).      

            While we’re on the subject of movies I love, walking through Paris reminded me of the movie Midnight in Paris, one of my absolute favorites. Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, an aspiring writer who dreams about living in Paris during the twenties alongside literary greats like Hemingway and Fitzgerald (*sigh* don’t we all…). One of his things in the movie is that he loves Paris in the rain. And until that weekend, so did I. You try going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower when it’s freezing and you didn’t bring pants to wear because you packed at 5:30AM and overestimated how warm 60 degrees would be (I’m not of the clearest mind at that hour of the morning). Or try a nice relaxing walk by the Louvre when the wind is blasting rain into your face. Oh, and don’t even get me started on your hair – it will take you forever to untangle that hellacious mess.

            But enough of my bellyaching. It’s Paris, after all.

            Of course, Paris is by far the most beautiful at night. On Sunday night, my friends and I walked to the Arc and then to the Eiffel Tower. For a good chunk of that night I was preoccupied with locating the Starbucks on the Champs Elysees, because I had caught sight of a sign for one earlier and was determined to find it. Living in DC for a year as I did with a Starbucks right across the street, as well as on every corner, breeds a truly heinous addiction. We finally found the Starbucks after Siri lied to me multiple times about where it was, but my elation at the thought of coffee was only fleeting, as moments after we arrived we found out that it was closed. I was an emotional wreck. But I got through it.            

            Seeing the Arc and the Eiffel Tower lit up against the night sky cheered me up. We got to the tower right at midnight, just in time to see it sparkle. Though we got off the metro one stop too late and had to walk through some streets that felt a little Taken-y, we managed to make it there in one piece, and the view we got was totally, completely worth it. Instead of me trying to put it into words, just look at the picture. Look at it.

             

And I’m not even a good photographer. It’s not hard to see why I love Paris so much. What may be hard to see is why I would always choose Aix over Paris. While Paris is a great city, it’s one that I only ever want to visit. Aix, on the other hand, might not be as famous or as grand as Paris, but it’s quaint and homey and comfortable, while still being absolutely gorgeous. As much fun as I had in Paris, I was really excited to be back in Aix. 


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Rome!

            The weekend after Paris, with only a few days to prepare, we headed off to Rome. Rome definitely has a different feeling than Paris, and it’s not just the language difference (my semester’s worth of Italian didn’t really help much in that department). Our first day in Rome, we took a bus tour of the city on a double decker bus. We sat on the top of the bus for an hour and half and did the full cycle of the city. I got some pretty sweet tan lines out of it (and by “pretty sweet” I men terrible…my flip flop tan line is so bad that it looks like I’m still wearing shoes when I take them off). The city looks a lot different than I was expecting. Maybe it’s more congested or run down than I was expecting. I can’t really put my finger on it.

            The old city, though, is great. The Coliseum was amazing, and even though I didn’t really know a lot about the history of the Roman Forum and all of the other archaeological sites we visited, it was still really cool to know they’d been there for so long and had seen so much history.

            Four days in Rome felt like a really, really long time. Rome is such a huge city, but I feel like we saw so much. My favorite thing we saw was the Trevi Fountain, which we visited twice in the four days we spent there. We also saw the Spanish steps, and it was at the top of the steps that I experienced the forwardness of Italian men that I’m always hearing about. Two of the art vendors took a liking to me and started play fighting over me while I stood there and blushed like an idiot. They made my friend take a picture of me with one of them, and the other kissed my hand when I walked away. It was quite an experience. I think I like the American way of doing things, where when you like someone you pretend they don’t exist. Or is that just my way of navigating romance? I don’t know. I’m awkward, so it’s probably just me.    


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Like Paris, Rome is at its best at night (or maybe I just have a thing for cities in the dark). Something about the way the statues are illuminated in the dark is beautiful, and the sounds of the crowds of tourists turns from a deafening roar to a soft murmur at night. One of the nights we spent drinking wine in the courtyard in front of the Pantheon, with the sounds of “That’s Amore” drifting out of one of the restaurants, and it was just perfect.

            Our second to last day we spend walking along the Via Appia Antica, one of Rome’s oldest roads, which is lined with catacombs. We went into one catacomb, which was a great break from the blistering heat outside, and then strolled along the road to a tiny gelato shop where I had the best pistachio gelato ever (and I probably tasted all of the pistachio gelato in Rome that weekend, so I’m in a pretty good place to judge). We waited there for the bus to take us back to the city. Oh, one great thing about Rome – the buses are free! At least we think they were…

           

            After all of my adventures, though, a common theme has been my excitement to return to Aix. Coming back from Italy, I was just glad to be in a place where I could understand the language. But no matter where I’m returning from, Aix always feels like home. That’s why it’s so strange to me that I only have a week and a half left here. In the month that I’ve been here, I’ve developed a comfortable pattern of getting up, walking around the town, going to class, shopping, etc. I’ve found my favorite restaurants and cafes, but there are still plenty that I want to try and countless places I want to go. It’s going to be sad to leave this place that I’ve called home for six weeks…but for now, I’m still just going to focus on the now, and not think about leaving. I want to make the most out of the rest of my time here, not dwell in sadness about the time I won’t have here in the future. And even when I’m not here, I know Aix will always be with me, in a special place in my heart.

            And now it’s off to do homework and prepare for the celebrations tomorrow – the Tour de France is coming through Aix! And of course, it’s also the fourth of July, so we’ll be celebrating like true Americans tomorrow.  To all of my friends and family back in the States, happy 4th! Enjoy your fireworks. I’ll be enjoying bikers and French versions of American food like cheeseburgers – we’ll make do. :) 

Bisous xoxo


 
 
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This is the balcony where I'm currently writing this post.

Yes. That's right. Be jealous. 

Basically, my homestay is the best thing ever. My roommate and I have this balcony all to ourselves, as well as our own bathroom, and our host mom does our laundry for us. It's seriously just the best. 

Since I arrived in Aix, though, pretty much everything I've said has had some kind of superlative like "best" attached to it. "This architecture is the most beautiful I've ever seen," "The coffee here is better than at home," "Dear Lord above, that dog is the most adorable animal I've ever laid eyes on." Things like that. Needless to say, after only a week in this incredible city, I've fallen in love, and I'm not leaving. You can't make me. 

But what do I love best about being here? That's nearly impossible to answer. Even all of the little things are great - I wrote an entire journal for my French class about a bagel I ate this morning. That's how good it was. But I suppose my favorite thing about this place is that not a day goes by that I don't learn something new. There's so much to discover here, both culture- and language-wise. And because I'm so aware that I know so little about this place, I'm hyperaware of everything as I walk around town or sit at a cafe, and I eavesdrop constantly. It's the best way to test my French and to learn more about the way French people talk about things and what they say. The best way to become fluent in a language or to deeply immerse oneself in another culture is to be extremely observant of everything, and so I am. 

I've been given license to creep literally every French person I can, and it's totally acceptable because it's a learning experience. This pleases me. 

Being observant seems to be something that is not just reserved for visitors to Aix, though. It's a common sight to see someone sitting alone at a cafe, sipping coffee and casually regarding the goings-on around him or her. In the United States, if you're alone somewhere like Starbucks, you'd better have some work to do or a computer to look at, or you're likely to come off as a weirdo. But here, people are perfectly content to not appear occupied by other things when they're alone. If anything, they might read a book as they wait for their meal, or maybe jot down some thoughts in a notebook. On the whole, though, no one feels the need to stare down a computer screen, or immediately whip out their phones as soon as they're alone in the street to look like they're busy. They honestly just sit there, chat with the waiter, and observe. It's such a liberating attitude to have, and though I haven't spent time alone at a cafe yet, I'm definitely going to make it a point to do so soon so that I might creep a bit more (*ahem* learn a bit more, of course...). 

My amazement at this city knows no bounds. I walk around everyday mouth agape as I stare at the beautiful things around me. Walking around and stumbling across buildings built in the 1500s is not uncommon, and makes me realize how much history is embedded these narrow cobblestone streets. Anytime anyone says something in French to me on the street I'm thrilled, and my daily lunch of a demi-baguette, le fromage du chevre, and fresh strawberries is something I will dearly miss when I have to go back to the States (though I'm still convinced I'm just going to stay in Aix forever). There really is no better word for this place except incredible.


Well, maybe incroyable is a better fit. ;) 


It's now 22:00 (oh yes, I use the 24-hour clock now), and it's just starting to get dark. I suppose that's my cue to go inside and start my homework, though I could write forever about just this week. I haven't even touched on the amazing friends I've made while I've been here, as well as many other fantastic experiences I've had. But I have to save something to write about for next time. 


A bientot! (Let's just pretend I put the accent marks there so I don't have to actually figure out how to do it.)

Bisous xoxo
Allison



 
 
May 18, 2013

            It’s exactly thirteen days until my departure date for Aix-en-Provence. I know this because I’ve been meticulously counting down the days since I was accepted into the program. Most of that is out of excitement – I can’t wait to finally be in sunny Southern France, drowning in croissants and culture. But at the same time, I’m also riddled with anxiety at the thought of spending six weeks in a foreign land. It’s characteristic of me – I get myself worked up over having to get a different flavor macchiato at Starbucks when they’re out of hazelnut (which, luckily, they rarely are). So send me to a foreign country and I’m bound to be inconsolably neurotic for all the days preceding my departure.

            I’ve tried to identify what exactly it is that is eating at me, thinking that maybe knowing what it is would make me less nervous. And what I’ve discovered is that it’s everything. What if I forget all of my French? What if I say something wrong? How will I go on without my morning dose of venti iced coffee?! (I’m a bit of a caffeine addict, if that wasn’t already abundantly clear.) And then there is the concern about committing some sort of cultural faux-pas with my host family, or with French friends, or even just with a vendor at the market. Maybe the classes will be too hard, maybe I won’t understand the French dialect in Aix. Perhaps I’ll get lost on the streets and look like a “typical” blundering American wandering around, fumbling with iPhone maps and trying to make out street signs with a deer-in-the-headlights expression. And that’s truly only the tip of the iceberg. My neuroses go a lot deeper than that, but I’ll refrain from overwhelming you with the details.

            But if there’s anything I’ve learned from a lifetime of dealing with my awkwardness and anxiety, it’s that going through with those things that cause me the most inner turmoil are always the best experiences. Looking back on my life, the most colorful and joyful memories I have are from times when I’ve forced myself to do something that has made me nervous. When I decided to transfer to a new university after my freshman year, for example, I was terrified. I was convinced that entering Susquehanna University as a sophomore would mean that I wouldn’t be able to get myself included in any established friend groups, and that I would forever feel like an outsider. I remember the day I moved in, and the terror I felt on the drive up that manifested itself in my white knuckles gripping the steering wheel. But, lo and behold, transferring schools was the best decision I could have made for myself, and I’ve never once regretted it.

            And so even though I’m insanely nervous about being in Aix for six weeks, I know that it means that this is sure to be the experience of a lifetime. I’ll certainly embarrass myself a time or two with my limited knowledge of the language, and I’m likely to get lost. A lot. Like, all the time. But that’s part of the fun of studying abroad. Not knowing exactly what you’re getting into is the point – it makes you curious to know more. I know that six weeks in Aix is not going to be enough for me when it comes time to leave. I’m always going to want to learn more and more about the culture there. But I also know that in those short six weeks, I’m going to learn more than I ever could have dreamed about Aix, even if I don’t leave knowing the culture inside and out.

            Victor Hugo once said that “to travel is to be born and die at every instant.” As we pass through unfamiliar lands, knowing that this may be our only time there, we experience new feelings and perspectives we’ve never known before, and would not have known had we not left the comfort of our own worlds. So even though I’m nervous, keeping that quote in mind reminds me that there is so much ahead of me to learn that I can’t anticipate, and that I will only come to know as I spend my six weeks abroad. My anxiety of leaving the comfort of the States is surpassed only by my excitement of the promise of returning as a fantastically altered, more worldly person. Someone who will have been born and died at every turn during my fleeting, but thrilling, time in Aix. 

And with that, I have but one thing to say: A bientôt, Aix-en-Provence. 


Singing along to Couer de Pirate to practice my French - what better way? :)