I've spent the last five months living in France and traveling around Europe and after a wonderful semester abroad I am finally back home in Austin, Texas. It's such a strange feeling to be back here. I'm back to having to take 30 minute car rides to get anywhere instead of just walking everywhere. And instead of fresh food markets I'm back to shopping in large grocery stores over-packed with junk food. I guess I'll have to look into the Austin Farmers Market. But despite the overly long car ride home it was nice to spend my first night back resting on my back porch, listening to the summer cicadas chirping and feeding a deer that walked up to me bleating for some bread.

I'm sad to have left Europe. I'm going to miss how easy it was to travel to different countries (everything is so much closer together there!), I'll miss the French language and the food, I'll miss being able to walk everywhere, I'll miss all the people that I'd met.

I've grown a lot as a person in the past few months. My grasp of the French language has improved tremendously (though I still have a long way to go). When I first arrived I remember being confused on how to answer the simplest of questions and was stunned when my host family spoke in nothing but French. Only later did I realize how much they simplified their vocabulary and slowed their speech so that my housemate Niki and I would be able to follow. By the end of our time there they were speaking much quicker to us and I was able to follow and even translate for others.

My family (mom, brother, and uncle) came and visited Aix at the end of the semester and got to meet ma famille d'accueil (my host family). My wonderful host mom prepared an apéritif for us at her house. I translated for both of my families.

With the ending of such a great experience, I've gained a few new fears. I'm scared that I'll lose a lot of the self-confidence that I gained while I was abroad. I'm scared that I won't continue to meet new people and that I'll become a recluse. I'm scared of forgetting all my French. But then I think back on how scared I was coming to France in the first place and how easy it was for me to push that fear aside once I arrived in Aix. Then I think that these new fears are not that bad. I already traveled half a world away to live on my own in a foreign country and was able to survive that. In comparison this will be easy.

Sure, I'm going to miss France, but now I have the motivation to work even harder so that one day (hopefully sooner than I think) I'll be able to go back there. Maybe even find myself an internship or job and live abroad again (at least for a little while).

Advice

I'll think I'll end this final journal with a bit of advice for anyone else who is going abroad.

1. If you leave all your medicine at home and get sick (I'm not sure why but I happened to be sick most of the semester), don't panic! There are a ton of pharmacies which are marked by a green cross and the people working in them are very helpful. For the record, I definitely recommend Stodal if you can't stop coughing.

2. Have a way to backup your computer and back it up often! My computer died while I was there and I had to take it into the French Apple store (off Cours Sextius near IAU), but they were not able to save my files and I was computerless for over two weeks. Keywords: disque dur: hard-drive, sauvegarde: backup

3. Go out! Even if you aren't much of a social butterfly. You will get to know fellow students better and this is also the way you'll meet French students.

4. Pack lightly! You can always buy toiletries and other simple items while abroad. The more space in your suitcase the more room you will have for souvenirs and cute new French clothes.

5. Visit some of the surrounding towns and take advantage of the IAU excursions. You'll end up going to some pretty amazing places.

6.  Hike Mont Sainte-Victoire while you are there. It was a wonderful hike and the view from the top is amazing. Make sure to bring some food as well (you can pick up bread, cheeses, meats, and fruits from one of the morning markets). Oh and if you plan ahead you can even spend the night at the old abandoned monastery near the top of the mountain - you'll need to bring your own blankets and stuff. I wish I had spent the night but I didn't learn about this until I was already hiking up.

7. Have picnics and sunbathe in the park. It's relaxing and great way to de-stress.

8. One of the glace shops on the Cours Mirabeau sells macarons with ice cream in the center. Eat as many flavors as you can while you're there! Despite how plain it may be, the vanille/vanille one is my favorite.
 
 
With the art students leaving for Venice the night/morning after my birthday, it was decided that it would be best to celebrate my birthday a few days early. So two days before my birthday my host mom cooked up an amazing dinner and allowed me to invite over three friends from school.

Figuring that I probably shouldn't be in pajamas for my dinner I got dressed in my new French shirt that I had bought earlier that week (hey my birthday was coming up... I'm allowed to buy myself presents right?) and waited in my bedroom until dinner was ready and everyone had arrived. Rachel F. showed up first to work on a paper with my housemate Niki before dinner. 

I hung out with the two of them until I got a text informing me of the arrival of my other two guests: Forrest and Becky. After I showed them inside, my host mom set out the apéritif - which ended up being a delicious mix of champagne and some sort of strawberry mixer. This of course came along with the usual bowls of chips, pistachios and cubed cheese. 

My friends and I sat around with my host family and talked for a while until dinner was ready. We started out with a salad topped with smoked salmon (my host mom obviously pays good attention because smoked salmon is one of my favorite foods). After that, we moved onto the second course which was a mouth-watering chicken dish served on a bed of rice. This, as per the usual, was followed by a plate of five or so different cheeses. Finally finishing with the beautiful homemade chocolate cake posted above. Have I mentioned yet how much I adore my host mom? Because I do. She's absolutely perfect!

Throughout the meal we also drank quite a few bottles of wine, so everyone ended up going home in a food and wine coma. Later Becky and Forrest joked about understanding why I'm often too tired after dinner to come out with them.

As amazing as the food and company was, one of the most memorable things from that night was seeing how much my French had improved in comparison to other IAU students. Both Rachel and Niki are in a high level French class and were able to communicate very well in French. But the interesting thing is that I was too! For once, I understood everything that was being said... and when did that happen? I even found myself translating for my friends, Becky and Forrest, who would often miss what was being said.

I noticed, for perhaps the first time, how much quicker my host family had gotten when speaking to us in French. (When Niki and I first arrived they spoke slowly, so that it would be easier for us to understand). And though I still found it difficult to quickly add my own dialogue to the conversations at hand, I was still able to contribute and best of all I was able to understand all of them. It was such an incredible realization. And it ended up being a truly unforgettable birthday.
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From left to right: my host mom (Marie Jeanne), myself, Niki (my housemate), Forrest, Rachel F., and Becky. Not pictured are my host mom's daughter and granddaughter.
 
 

Lourmarin

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Can you believe these are only €1?
On Friday, everyone from IAU went on a school-sponsored trip around the region of Luberon. First we stopped at a market in Lourmarin to stock up on fresh food for our picnic later. My sweet host mom had packed me a small lunch of tabouli (she is actually the best!), so I only bought a few smaller things (like olives) to share with everyone else. My friends got freshly baked bread, multiples types of cheese, and bright red strawberries. Later on, we would end up spreading everything out for our small group to share. 

Tucked away at the back of the market, we found a man selling bite-sized desserts for only €1 each. With prices like that I wasn't able to help myself; and instead of choosing between the two chocolates I was eyeing I just bought both. It was definitely a good decision! I also bought some lavender soap carved in the shape of a cicada (turns out the cicada is the symbol of Provence, which I was all too happy to learn). After wondering around for a little longer we headed back to the bus and onwards to our next destination.

While on the bus, the French teacher leading the trip talked about the history of Luberon and some of the places we would be visiting. Unlike the first school trip we took (to Nice and Monaco), this lecture was entirely in French. It took some concentration to understand what he was saying, but the great thing is I did understand! After weeks of feeling like I had hit a brick wall with the French language and stopped improving, here I was understand en entire lecture spoken in French. How exciting!

When I got off the bus, I even made an effort to speak in French with my advisor Dr. Leigh Smith. He then taught me a neat trick regarding the names of all the different fruit trees we were coming across. For any type of fruit, all you must do is add "ier" to the end of the fruit to get the name of the tree. For example: for apple tree, you take the word "pomme" and end up with "pommier", for cherry tree "cerise" becomes "cerisier". We continued to walk along the road lined with cerisiers and olive fields until we came to the cemetery where Albert Camus, a famous French writer, is buried. We had a few minutes to explore the cemetery and take photos before we were ushered back onto the bus so we could head to our picnic location.

Lacoste

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Lacoste is a medieval village built on a small mountain. It is also the location of the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) France campus. Because of this I was hoping to meet some fellow artists that were studying abroad, but the day we arrived the entire village was deserted. Perhaps, like us, they too were on a school-sponsered trip to other villages.

The trek up the to the top was tiring for many, though I found it to be quite fun. We twisted our way through empty cobblestone streets that became increasingly more vertical. It was worth the hike. At the top of the city was a wide open space where the ruins of the ancient Château de Lacoste hung to the side of the mountain. And a few strange large-scale modern metal sculptures adorned the space. My favorite feature of the area was the beautiful cherry blossom tree that stood directly in the center of the bright green clearing.

I've always been a bit of a monkey. Luckily I've made friends here that are too, and after we finished lunch we all rushed to the tree and climbed it together.


Roussillon

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Myself and Adelaide
Roussillon was the final stop on our trip and it was amazing. It is a place that is best known for its bright red, yellow, and orange dirt. Seeing all of these shades of ochre was especially fascinating for me because they are used to make the different shades of ochre paints, which are used in oil painting.

I didn't even know that dirt could naturally come in such bright colors. And seeing the vibrant orange hues against the bright blue of the sky and the green of the trees was beautiful. I easily could have stayed there and painted the landscape, and if possible I would love to go back and do just that. Besides orange/blue and red/green are compliments (thanks art school!), so I know it would be lovely to paint. For now though at least I have plenty of reference pictures - I took a ton while I was there.

 

72 hours

01/24/2013

1 Comment

 
With only a few days left until I arrive in France the excitement I feel, along with the bundle of fear that has been sitting in the pit of my stomach, is growing. Part of the nervousness that I feel comes from the fact that I will be away from my mom, my college friends that I finally feel comfortable around, and my long-term, long-distance boyfriend of nearly three years. I'm used to being away from my boyfriend, but California to France is a much larger distance than the one spanning from California to Texas. I'm worried about how the relationship will play out when we are half a world away from each other. Not only am I concerned about leaving my home and comfort zone, but I am also so incredibly nervous (and excited!) about actually having to use my French. Will I be able to communicate with my new family beyond just a simple "Je m'appelle Brittany"? I would hope so; after all using and improving my French is a big reason for why I'm going abroad.

Some advice I would like to give out to those going through the visa process is get everything done as early as possible and double check that you have everything. Make copies of all your documents before you send them off. And don't be afraid to ask questions and get help from the advisors from both your current school and the one you'll be studying abroad at.

My visa process went smoothly at first, as the CampusFrance online application was simple and quick to fill out. I ran into issues when they lost the Acceptance Letter from IAU that I had mailed to them. First I received a call from a French woman working at the institution asking that I call her back. Her heavy French accent made her English hard to decipher. She asked me to resend my "American" Acceptance Letter. But did that mean my home university in America or the American university I would be studying at in France? I thought I had only needed to send one letter (for those of you going through this process the letter from IAU is all you need). After trying unsuccessfully to figure out which university she was talking about, another woman got on the phone and told me it had been a mistake, they had it all figured out, and I should be receiving the confirmation email soon.

I wish that had been the end of it, but apparently the problem hadn't been fixed, as I realized once a few days had gone by and had still not received confirmation that my application had been processed. I called back, but was met with no answer and no option to leave a voicemail. After a day or so of this, and one consulate rescheduling later, I sent them a fax to their emergency number demanding my confirmation ASAP. Finally I got a response. I re-faxed my Acceptance Letter and within a few minutes I finally had my confirmation! I was ready to go to the consulate.

The consulate, despite the obnoxious drive to Houston (sorry Houstonians, but as an Austinite I've never been much of a fan), was very easy in comparison. Everything went smoothly, with only a short (though admittedly stressful because of my neurotic tendencies) trip to the post office, where I changed my visa envelope to express shipping so that I would have tracking number if my passport got lost in the mail. Within a week, I had my passport back at home complete with a shiny new visa. I was officially able to travel: how exciting!

Now the only things I have left to do are to finish up my packing. Makeup, a few of my favorite art supplies, enough clothes to last me a few weeks: check, check, check! I guess we'll see how well I've done once I start my life abroad.

In less than 72 hours I will be in France, where I will be staying with a family I have never met, for four months. And it is finally starting to feel real. There is no turning back now! I can't wait!

This is Brittany signing out.
The next time I write I'll be living in Aix-en-Provence, France.