From the first day I stepped on French soil, I was bombarded with the stages of emotions that flood students who are studying abroad. Prior to my arrival in France, I read blogs from students studying abroad in order to be better prepared for the array of emotions and culture shock I might possibly experience. I assumed I’d experience a variety of emotions and to some extent culture shock; however, I never thought I’d actually experience nearly all of them, but I did. When I first arrived in France, I was both excited and sad. I was excited to be able to experience a new life and to have the opportunity to learn new things about French culture as well as about myself; however, I was also sad that I had no one to share that experience with, as I ventured to France completely on my own. I decided to partake in this adventure on my own because I knew it would be good for me. I needed a clean slate, mentally, and I wanted to have a better grasp on French language and culture. As I reflect on the past 4 months, I am able to confidently say that I made the best decision Ever! The first two weeks were filled with excitement and busy days – participating in new student orientation, starting classes in France, making new acquaintances (who later became good friends), doing homework, adjusting to life with a housemate and host mom, figuring out (and often getting lost) the directions in Aix and the buildings/rooms of all of my classes, which were switched around at least 3 times for two of them, traveling with the institute to Nice and Monte Carlo, and traveling with Georges to Saint Tropez. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for any other emotion or reflection because life at this point was on-going. After about two weeks, I was able to relax a little and absorb life in Aix. This is when I began to miss my boyfriend (at the time), my family, and my friends back in the states. At this point, I thought that maybe I made a mistake and should’ve taken the summer term instead because it is shorter; however, I’m glad I chose to stay an entire semester.

In October, I realized some things about myself and my relationship that I never would have discovered if I had never participated in this study abroad experience. Also in October, I met some French people closer to my age. Prior to that, I only knew older French people, which made it difficult to “fit in” with the culture. There’s one experience, in particular, that strikes me as the most important experience in France for several reasons. First, it enabled me to find a niche into French culture. Second, it made me realize that there was no need to waste my time on certain stressful situations that I experienced in the states. For a long time, and for one reason or other, I fooled myself into thinking I needed them or that they were “normal.” Meeting French people and getting a closer look into the culture changed my entire way of thinking, especially about relationships. I’m extremely thankful that I no longer feel the need to continue my life in that stressful way. Third, I met a nice, outgoing, fun, understanding, and… let’s be honest… attractive man who months later became my boyfriend (and from this point on he will be referred to as mon chaton). This experience happened one Friday night in October. It started out with my housemate and me heading with our host mom to her friend’s apartment. There, at dinner, we met her friend’s grandson, who truly welcomed us into the culture. After dinner, we invited him out with us. My study abroad friends and I assumed we would head to a bar called The Wohoo (one of our usual bar spots) after pre-gaming with other IAU students at the usual spot in Aix; however, something much more interesting and fun happened instead. I never thought that this French man would accept our invitation, but thankfully, he did. Instead of heading to The Wohoo, we followed him to The Sunset Café. It was there that we met some of his friends. Everyone, even those of us who hardly knew any French, were able to hold conversations with them. It was the best experience Ever! Even if we made mistakes and had to use hand movements, we still held conversations! Success! Who knew that with a bottle of wine and a couple of beers, we’d all be pro’s at French. It was that confidence and acceptance that lead me to a happier emotional state, which I kept throughout the rest of my time in France. As a result of this particular experience, I feel that it is necessary for study abroad students to meet and hang out with French people around their age as it enables students to feel more like they are being accepted into the new culture, even with the presence of cultural differences. Also, it gives students confidence. In this respect, confidence and acceptance go hand-in-hand. The fact that French people close to your age are interested in what you have to say about everything from politics to music adds to the feeling of “acceptance.” At the same time, when you find that you can communicate in one way or other and that (in some cases) their English is at the same level as your French, you start to gain confidence. And to be quite frank, we need to feel accepted in the culture and to have that confidence in our ability to communicate in order to appreciate and enjoy the study abroad experience.

In November, on Thanksgiving, I started to feel that sadness creep in again. It lasted only for a day, but it came hard. That was the last day I felt any emotion other than irritation for the relationship I had in the states. Aside from that, November was a great month! I finished a trip to Italy and traveled to Spain among other cool things.

When December approached, I felt irritated as a result of the terrible final exam schedule. I don’t know who was in charge of its creation; however, it left very little – no time to say goodbye to friends and to Aix. If I had been in charge, I would’ve had all of the final exams scheduled the week of the 10th – 14th of December. I would’ve scheduled the host family party on Monday, a trip to a chocolate factory on Monday, and the Goodbye party/talent show on Tuesday. Saturday and Sunday would’ve been left for packing and hanging out with friends. I was not in charge of the final exam schedule, however, so I had to deal with it as did everyone else. Though, it was difficult to study for any of my exams because I had to pack and say goodbye to my friends, especially mon chaton. Aside from the final exam schedule, December was great! I went to Lyon with friends, to experience La fête des Lumières. We ended up not booking any lodging because it was overpriced. We thought that we could stay up all night by bar hopping and walking the streets of Lyon. Unfortunately, the bars closed early, so we were forced to walk in the freezing cold and spitting rain most of the night. This wasn’t a terrible experience, but it was an experience that I never wish on anyone. We were lucky that the train station was open because at one point we could no longer keep our eyes opened but there were too many creepy drunkards taking over the bus benches, so we parked ourselves on some chairs at the train station and took a nap. The next day was awesome, even though we were all dead tired. We hiked up the hill (c’mon I’m from the Midwest, so I’d call it a mountain) to Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which offers a breathtaking view of Lyon. When we finally arrived at the TGV in Aix, I had never been happier to see mon chaton’s face… and his car! Needless to say, I slept until about 11:00am the following day.

The last two weeks in France were bittersweet. There were finals to study for, packing to be completed, and “goodbye,” or “à bientôt” to say to friends. The hardest of these were the “Goodbye’s”. My friends and I decided that we weren’t saying “goodbye,” we were just saying, “see you soon”. I hope I will see all of them sometime in the near future! It was particularly difficult to say goodbye to mon chaton because at that point, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see him again. In fact, when I got on the plane that was homeward bound, I cried silently. When I landed in Chicago, trudged through customs, and finally found my parents and my former boyfriend, I knew immediately what needed to be done...and it wasn’t going to be easy. I ended my relationship without knowing that shortly after that, I would be in another relationship with mon chaton. I always thought that I’d be with my former boyfriend for the rest of my life; however, my experiences in France opened my eyes to the unnecessary problems and issues we had that neither of us needed to live with forever. I don’t know if fate or destiny has a plan for us in the future, but I do know that I feel better after having ended things. I feel terrible that it took this long for me to realize something was off in our relationship, but I’m glad that we can try to remain friends. Also, he deserves someone who can give her all, since I unintentionally left my heart in France. After ending a 7-year relationship, I intended to stay single, treasuring the good times we had, and only missing the man I met in France. In fact, I missed him from the moment I watched him leave my host mom’s apartment on the last Sunday that I spent in Aix. I never thought I would end up with a French man, but he makes me extremely happy in ways I never experienced before, and not to mention …he managed to capture my heart when I was off guard. I’m happily trying this long distance thing so that I don’t regret not knowing what we could have had. Perhaps in the future I’ll start a blog on how to maintain a long distant relationship because I can already foresee that this will not be easy.

Since I’ve been back in the USA, life hasn’t been easy. Everything I do reminds me of something I did or experienced in France. I’m definitely irritating my family and some of my friends because I continue bringing up little things that happened while I was in France or cultural differences or similarities. They don’t understand that I need to hold on to these memories to keep my sanity. It seems that they assume I’d rather be in France than in the states with them, which to some extent is true. I’d rather be living in France; however, I love my family and friends, so living in France would be That much Cooler with all of them there, too. It’s tough trying to remain strong when everyone says such negative things about how they think you feel about them every time you bring up a memory or a fact about France. I just want to scream, “I love you all, but I also love France so can you just let me remember the awesomeness and share it with you?” My true intentions are to try and share my memories with them, not make them think I prefer those memories over the memories I have with them. In the end, we all have good intentions. At some point, I hope things will get easier. As of right now, it’s difficult, but every time I skype mon chaton, all of these troubles disappear, which amazes me. Also, talking with my study abroad friends helps ease the transition from French mode to USA mode. In any case, I know I will end up back in France soon! :)

As the semester comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on the positives and the negatives of life in Aix-en-Provence, France. I shall start by listing the negatives:
1.       There’s dog poop everywhere. This is an issue because no one wants dog poop all over the bottom of his or her shoes. Some days, it feels like I’m walking through an obstacle course, trying to dodge all of the droppings. Near the beginning of December, I started to notice fewer droppings; however, they still exist!

2.       The restaurants and cafés are expensive. This fact hindered me from eating at restaurants every day. As a student without a job, I was forced to manage money wisely. Thus, most days I opted for Crêpes-à-GoGo or Pizza Capris instead of Zinc d’Hugo. This is a negative aspect because I would have liked to experience more authentic French food; however, the expensive cost prohibited this experience.

3.       There are a lot of tourists. As I learned rather quickly during my first week in Aix, the tourists get old quickly. This is an issue when trying to walk to class, to meet friends, or to the market because the tourists have no consideration for the people that end up behind them as they walk abnormally slow and they are often rude.

4.       I have no car. This poses a problem if I want to travel. Train fare is expensive, thus it’s a wiser choice to use a car when traveling to other cities within and outside of France. Renting a car is an option; however, it’s also pricey. Sometimes, though, it’s cheaper to rent a car than to take the train.

5.       The French are wasteful. In some ways, the French are very resourceful and hardly wasteful such as with water and electricity; however, when it comes to environmental protection, the French are behind. In America, I recycle almost everything. France is not the same. It took over 3 months for me to get used to throwing everything in the trash. And even then, I still wince when I have to dispose of plastic bottles. I noticed that on the outskirts of town, there are recycling bins; however, in the city center and at my host mom’s house…these bins are non-existent.
6.       There are zero free public restrooms. This is a real problem in Aix because it forces people to pee on the street, which creates a foul odor and awkward moments when a bystander passes by an individual who is peeing.

The positives:

1.       Life is more relaxed. The atmosphere in Aix is completely different than the atmosphere in my home town in the states because (in general) everyone is more relaxed and less stressed. It seems that the French enjoy taking time to relax in all aspects of their lives. For example, a typical lunch break at school or work lasts from 12:00-2:00.

2.       The fruit and vegetables are always fresh. The French value the term, “locally grown,” thus the fruit and vegetables are always in season and usually locally grown.

3.       Aix has great open marchés. These markets are great for people shopping on a budget. They offer a variety of goods from scarves to dresses to books to antiques to food for decent prices. Also, the market is a great place for bargaining with vendors.

4.       Aix is surrounded with old buildings. It’s impossible to walk throughout Aix and not pass an old building. In fact, all of my courses were held in former cathedrals. America is such a young country that it’s easy for me to enjoy the beauty of the old buildings in Aix because I’m not used to them.

5.       The water is delicious. The water in Aix has a different taste than the water in the states. I attribute this to the fact that the water in Aix has fewer chemicals than the water in the states.

6.       Aix is beautiful, especially during Christmas time. Aix goes all out during the winter holiday. There are Christmas lights on nearly every street, shop, and fountain. Also, American Christmas music is played over speakers on the Cours Mirabeau, the most popular street in Aix. I’m not exactly 100% certain as to the reason the music is American, but it certainly gives a very homey and quaint atmosphere nonetheless. During the winter season, there are also the Christmas market & le marché de 13 desserts. I particularly enjoyed le marché de 13 desserts because, well let’s be honest, it consists of at least 13 different types of desserts! Le marché de 13 desserts is the best place to buy authentic and homemade macaroons.

7.       The dogs are extremely loyal. Even though owners don’t pick up after their dog, at least they train it. In America, in general, dogs are always on a leash (if they aren’t on a leash, they run away), they bark non-stop, and they attack people and other pets/animals. In France, dogs are rarely seen on leashes (they never run away), they never bark, and they are extremely friendly and laid back.

8.       It’s easy and safe to walk everywhere. Quite literally, I walk everywhere: to and from school, to and from the English Bubble, to and from Parc Jordan, to and from the bus stop, to and from bar street…etc…I walk uphill and downhill more than twice a day, so I’m happy to note that my calves, abs, and butt are in great shape. I only hope I can keep this up when I return to the states, where I am forced to drive everywhere.

Clearly there are more positives than negatives, which act as proof that I should live permanently in France someday. Here's to hoping for the future!

Last weekend, I went to Barcelona, Espagne with 3 friends. I rented a car, which turned out to be more cost effective than taking a bus or train. Each of us took turns driving – 2 on the way there, the other 2 on the way back. Driving in Europe is actually easier than I thought! At first, I thought I would despise the round-abouts; however, I realize that I actually love them! They are parfait because if you pass the street, you can simply continue circling around until you get to that street again.
I assumed Barcelona would be dirty and smelly; however, I was completely wrong. It is a beautiful city with a gorgeous beach, bountiful marchés, and excellent restaurants. We only had two days in Barcelona, so we tried to hit as many tourist attractions as possible within that time frame. I’m happy with the turn out. We saw the statue of Colombus, Esgléglesia Catedral de la Santa Creu, the Arc del Triomf, Parc de la Ciutadella, La Monumental (a former bullfighting arena), Basilica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, El Gato de Botero, Cadafalch and Gaudi architecture, and Parc Guell. The highlight of the trip was renting bicycles. Barcelona is a biking city, as there are bike paths all throughout. I hadn’t ridden a bike in over 3 years, so I found bike riding in Barcelona to be quite exhilarating. I recommend wearing tennis shoes for the bike and for hiking up to Parc Guell. Another highlight was the food. On Saturday night, we had Chicken Paella for dinner. It reminded me of the fried rice I make when I’m in the USA! For breakfast on Sunday, we ate churros with hot chocolate, which were also amazing.
The downside parts of the trip were lunch on Sunday and having to return the rental car. The lunch we had on Sunday, right before we left for Aix, seemed delicious at the time; however, I threw it up on Monday. We each ate 3 empanadas of varying flavors. The 3 I ate did not sit well in my stomach thus leaving me sick from Monday-Wednesday. Finally, on Thursday, my appetite returned! I was so happy that I purchased a Nutella crepe! It was difficult to return the rental car for several reasons – one being my stomach hurting, and having to drive with the pain; the other being carless again, as it was a wonderful feeling to be able to drive in Europe.

As I have previously mentioned, I was completely stoked about having a fall break. At my home university, I don’t get the luxury of having a fall break; however, I do get three days off for Thanksgiving, but one can hardly do anything during that weekend except work, shop (if you dare), and give thanks to everything in life with family. Like I said, it’s hardly a break. I usually work a 12 hour shift at 8:00pm on Thursday, so I don’t get to spend a lot of time giving thanks to people. Enough about Thanksgiving, I’ll save Thanksgiving in France details for a separate blog post.
Fall break was a success as I traveled with my “best study abroad friends” (you know who you are), and experienced Paris and various cities in Italy! It all began on Friday, October 26, when we hopped on the TGV to Paris. Upon arrival in Paris, I immediately fell in love. I had visited Paris prior to this trip; however, it was during this trip that I realized I could totally live there! For the most part, I had an amazing time. I saw more churches and cathedrals than I can count with my fingers, took the metro dozens of times, saw the tour Eiffel and l’arc de triomphe, admired the lover’s locks at Pont d’Art, and took photos of my friends and I doing the can-can in front of the Moulin Rouge (it just seemed fitting). The highlights of the trip were eating at Chipotle (we were craving American/Mexican food), getting in for free at Musée Pompidou (thanks Lizzie!), and the climb, the view of Paris at the top, and the view inside Sacre Coeur. I really enjoyed the museum as it offered a great view of the city, and awesome interactive sculptures! Sacre Coeur was amazing, too. Especially the view of the city, which was breathtaking; it made the hike up god only knows how many steps worth it. Also, Sacre Coeur was free! The interior of the basilica was equally as breathtaking as the view of Paris. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit such an amazing site. Paris was much colder than any of us thought, which made it tough to visit everything on our list...this means all of us have to return someday! After Paris, we went to Italy.

The trip to Italy was even more amazing. The first stop was Venice. Venice and I have a love-hate relationship. The “hate” portion began at the train station in the Provence of Venice. Everyone got off the train, but then we were confused as to whether it was the correct stop or not. All but one person got back onto the train. As the doors closed, we realized that was the right train stop.  As the train began to depart, we looked longingly through the windows, and we saw our friend standing on the platform. I will forever remember the shocked and scared look on his face, standing there all alone. We all freaked out, too. One friend pulled the emergency break, but to no avail. The conductor refused to open the doors and let us off or let our friend back on. Also, we had no idea where the train was going, for all we knew the next stop was in a different country! There was a very nice woman around our age who consoled our fears by notifying us that the next stop was on the island of Venice. This was good news because that’s exactly where we needed to be. The next challenge was trying to navigate our friend to the train station on the island. It was after 1:00am, and it was rainy, both of which did not help the situation. Also, none of us had been to Venice before, so we had not the slightest idea as to anything…Eventually, after multiple failed attempts trying to direct him to the train station on the island, we decided it would be easier for him, if we met at the hostel. Right in front of the train station was a water taxi stop. So, after waiting for what felt like at least 45 minutes at that stop, we ended up getting on a water taxi, which was a new concept for us…. A new & an EXPENSIVE concept. While the taxi was trudging along, the somber looks on our faces and the tear-filled eyes painted a picture of our distressed situation to any bystander. Until one of the bystanders just happened to be our friend! Oh, what a relief! How far can one go with coincidence or fate? He just happened to get on the same water taxi as us at one of the stops along the way to our hostel…In any case, I was extremely grateful! I nearly cried at the sight of seeing his face! Ah, there’s nothing like a reunion when you aren’t certain if you lost the person forever.
The “love” portion came the next morning. Venice is such a beautiful city, with its canals, churches, basilicas, street venders, and glass blowing. I can’t even count the number of pictures I took standing on various bridges throughout the city. Each bridge offered a different view of houses and other buildings, the overflowing canals, and the gondolas. Our first major stop of the morning was the train station because we still needed to book tickets to Rome, Florence, and back home to Aix. We were all incredibly nervous to hear the cost, but to our surprise it was less than 26 euros! Oh, what a relief! The employees are much more helpful in Venice than in France, it’s sad but true. The main highlight of this trip (obviously an aspect of “love”) was getting lost in the city. It’s easy to “get lost” in Venice, and it makes the trip that much more enjoyable. We found so many awesome, local sights while we were “lost.” Getting “lost” in Venice is easy, but it’s just as easy to look at the map and figure out how to get to the next water taxi spot. Thus, Venice is a safe city to “get lost” in… haha! Another wonderful aspect to this trip was ordering a huge box of pizza from a man in his 40’s who was madly hitting on one of my friend’s. To top it off, we sat in front of a church/cathedral to eat it. Also, watching real Venetian glass blowing was a real treat! I’ve seen glass blowing in the states, but there’s nothing like watching a true Italian complete a masterpiece.

The next stop was Rome. Right when we got off the train, there were ruins. That’s how Rome is…. IT’S FULL OF RUINS. It’s AWESOME!!! I’m thankful that I don’t live in a city where there are ancient ruins everywhere because I think I would become accustomed to them, and eventually disregard the beauty and history of them. It was Halloween when we arrived in Rome. I never expected to spend Halloween in another country… I didn’t dress up, didn’t go to a bar, didn’t dance and drink alcohol… instead I toured Rome! Unfortunately, this trip took a big chunk out of our wallets (specifically Venice), so by the time we ended up in Rome, we decided to stick to the free things, and we were quite successful with that. In fact, the major thing we spent money on was the Vatican, and that is a MUST do when in Rome. Unfortunately the Sistine Chapel was closed (boo!), but we still toured the Vatican Museum, which was ok, and the Basilica Papale di San Pietro, which was worth getting drenched in the rain. Actually, I ended up purchasing an umbrella while standing in line. It was originally 5 Euros… I bargained with one of the venders, and only paid 3 Euros. Thank God I got the umbrella… too bad I was already drenched through my clothes at that point.
Dinner in Rome was more appealing than in Venice. The first night I ordered pizza with Prosciutto! I love Prosciutto! The second night, I had a buffet. And by “buffet,” I mean I was given a large plate and told to pile as much on it as I could and that was it. No seconds, thirds, etc… The food was cold, which was a bit of a disappointment; however, I also ordered a dessert consisting of strawberries and gelato, which was delicious!
The lowlight of this trip was the pantheon closing right as we arrived in the front of the line! How disappointing. I guess this means I have to return to Rome someday…Oh and the Sistine Chapel being closed but not getting a discount off the tickets. That was a rip-off! But at least we were fortunate to see ancient statues and etc… in the Vatican museum.

The final stop was Florence. Florence is an extremely beautiful city. When we arrived at our hostel, we became friends with the hostess. She has been deemed our “hostel mother.” She gave us many tips such as the best cappuccino café, the best restaurant, the best/safest bar, and not to stay out after 2-3:00am. We tried the first two, but it was impossible not to be out after 3:00am since our train back to France left at 4:25am. When we were waiting for that train, we realized that she definitely gave great advice. Being out at that hour was a nightmare. It was a good thing there were 5 of us, as the Italian men enjoy harassing women who are not in large groups. The highlight of the trip was when my friends and I climbed the Duomo. The climb was an experience in and of itself; however, the view of the city at the top was breathtaking. Another highlight was eating a waffle gelato sandwich. It consisted of 2 freshly made Belgium style waffles with 2 large scoops of gelato in between. It was the best thing I’ve ever consumed! Also, I bought olive oil pringles, which were so delicious that I purchased another can to take home. The food in Florence was by far the best out of all 3 cities. For dinner one night, we ate at this restaurant that served the best pasta dishes EVER. The second night, we ate calzones at a café. We were at the café for over 3 hours, so the baker gave us free doughnuts!
All in all, the trip was a success. I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to travel to such wonderful cities with fabulous friends. I can’t wait to do it again!

    On October 7, I went with the university on a trip to the Luberon region of France. It was an AMAZING experience. The tour began at Château de Lourmarin. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to walk through the entire interior of the castle, but there was an art exhibit in one of the rooms, which we were allowed to see! There were olive groves behind the castle, but it was recommended not to eat from them as the taste would be left on your tongue for days. After touring the Château de Lourmarin, the tour landed in LaCoste, where we saw the Château du Marquis de Sade. At the castle, my friends and I had a pique-nique consisting of off-brand Nutella, a baguette, cheese, tortilla chips, and cookies. In my opinion, it was a success. After LaCoste, we went to Roussillon. At Roussillon, we hiked Le Sentier des ocres de Roussillon. I had never experienced ocre before, so I found the texture to be extremely soft and clay-like. Unfortunately, it’s forbidden to take some of the ocre off the land, so I only have photographs of it; but I was able to take enough photographs to last a lifetime. After hiking Le Sentier des ocres de Roussillon, my friends and I toured the village. At one of the local boutiques, I was reminded that I will be missing Halloween. The owner's craft is glass blowing, and there was a beautiful glass pumpkin sitting in the front window. Halloween is my favorite holiday. In my hometown, all of the bars and clubs pick a theme, such as zombies or pirates, and each club is decorated in that theme. Everyone dresses up in costume (not necessarily to fit the theme), and then there's a costume contest. People get very creative. One year, there a man dressed as Binder, from Futurama. He won $5,000! When I think about how I will miss Halloween, I feel a little sad, until I think about how I will be in Rome this Halloween, which makes missing Halloween at home that much more enjoyable!

The picture on the left is at Château du Marquis de Sade.
From the moment I arrived in France, my time has been spent doing this, doing that, going to this village, or that city; however, the past two weekends have been different. I had the past two weekends free, which has enabled me to get to know Aix. Aix is a beautiful city with its grand buildings, bountiful markets, and hordes of tourists. Despite the fact that the tourists are rather vexing when one is trying to walk to class, the tourists enable Aix to thrive. As much as I don’t want to admit it, Aix needs the tourists to survive, and without them Aix wouldn’t be quite the same. It is relaxing to be able to “hang out” in a city that is my home until December. In fact, I’m actually starting to feel like Aix is my second home. This is mainly due to the fact that I’ve started to make French friends. It is very difficult to make French friends since there are very few-no French students at IAU, and there aren’t very many ways to make friends outside of school aside from at the bars. Unfortunately, activities where one can make French friends, such as yoga is an expense I can’t bear to handle. There is a buddy program that IAU is hosting, which has enabled me to make some French friends. Also, my host mother has friends who have children and grandchildren around my age, so that has also helped in the French friend category. Along with making French friends, as the weeks fly, the ties between my IAU friends tightens. The close relationships make life in France easier to handle. We are all at varying levels of French, which makes it a great learning experience when we’re together because someone always says a French word or phrase that I’ve never heard before. That is the purpose I’m in France – to improve in my abilities to speak French. And I actually do feel as if I’ve improved a little, which I contribute mainly to 4 French classes, and living in France!

On another note, midterm week has ended. I can hardly believe that ½ of the semester is already gone! I had 3 midterms on Tuesday, and 1 was an oral exam. I would rather type a 12 page paper at home in French than take an oral exam, but oh well. Next week is fall break, which is something I’ve been looking forward to; however, the strike at the train station certainly put a damper on those plans. But, not all is lost, as the strike ends on Friday, which is the day my friends and I are scheduled to leave. Today, my friends and I are going to Paris, followed by Italy. There aren’t any words to describe my excitement. When I return, I will have much to say!

I’ve done quite a lot in the past two weeks, where should I begin? I suppose I should start with the trip I took to Saint Tropez. Two weekends ago, I went to Saint Tropez. It was not an excursion that was included in the tuition cost; however, it was a trip through Georges, who is somehow affiliated with IAU and the surrounding French universities. He plans trips to various cities, and in some cases to other countries, that would be difficult for students to get to on our own by bus or train. The trip to Saint Tropez cost 25 Euros, so I thought that it would be fun to see the village and the beach for the day. Saint Tropez was nothing like I expected. It was small (hence the "village" aspect), and there wasn't a whole lot of things to do. I climbed a hill/mountain to see the citadel, toured a church, walked around the village, and strolled through the open market. And then, I was done. In my opinion, this part of the trip was not worth 25 Euros; but, at least I had the opportunity to see another French village. The worst part of the trip happened when I ordered a crêpe. It was 7 Euros, which is expensive for a crêpe, and it was the worst crêpe I've ever had in France. So disappointing! However, my friend Jackie ordered a churro with Nutella suace, which was extremely delicious! Needless to say, I learned my lesson: stick with a churro when visiting other cities and villages. After touring the village, Georges took everyone to the beach. This was the best part of the trip because it was extremely relaxing. Balancing schoolwork, the excursions, and adjusting to French culture has its ups and downs; so, it was nice to be able to chill and do nothing but bask in the sun. Basking in the sun wasn't exactly worth 25 Euro, but at least I have the experience of visiting a quaint village and beach, in France, that I probably would've never seen had I not spent 25 Euro and gone with Georges. However, I recommend that before you go on any excursion, research the place, first. I didn't research Saint Tropez, so I assumed that the experience I had in Nice would be similar to the experience in Saint Tropez, but I was wrong. If you enjoy the beach scene, then you will probably enjoy Saint Tropez; however, if you enjoy adventure, then this trip might not be right for you.

Last weekend I did 2 things: I went to Marseille with 6 female friends, and then I went to Les Gorges du Verdon with Georges. Marseille has a lot to offer, so I recommend the city to everyone; however, it is necessary to travel in groups. Marseille is a rough city, as my friends and I discovered on Friday. Right after we got off the bus, and began the walk to the tourist office, there were two women fighting on the other side of the street. "Welcome to Marseille," I exclaimed after seeing the women. What a way to be introduced to a city. We were surprised because we didn't think it was That rough, but clearly, it is. We weren't mugged, raped, or bothered in any way, so I think this was a successful trip! As long as you travel in groups, and walk with a purpose then you'll enjoy yourself. Also, it's a good idea to have a map handy, specifically one on a smart phone as it enables you to keep your tourist presence to a minimum. While we were in Marseille, we saw two touristy sites: Port d'Aix and Le château d'If. Port d'Aix is an arc de triomphe that used to be the way people used to get to and from Marseille and Aix. It was on the way to the tourist office, so we stopped and took a picture of it. Le château d'If was amazing. We spent a few hours touring the castle. It's on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, so it was necessary to travel there by ferry. The ferry doesn't offer any discounts to anyone; however, the castle gives a generous discount to European residents who are students ages 25 and under. It's too bad I'm at the cutoff age. I'm still a student, though, so I feel offended that I can't partake in the discounts, especially since I have no job in Europe. It's absolutely ridiculous; but, there's nothing I can do about it. A combination of the dreary weather and the 16th century architecture made this trip well worth the price, though, so I shouldn't really complain.There was something about this castle that was both eerie and fascinating. It was first a fortress, and then it became a prison. Throughout the tour, I found myself wondering: Did any of the prisoners try to escape by swimming to the mainland? How did the guards treat the prisoners? Did anyone try to take over the castle during the time that it acted as a prison? So many questions, Zero answers, but that's 1/2 the fun! Also, this is the castle that is used in the Count of Monte Cristo! There's a shrine of Monte Cristo in one of the rooms. After touring the castle, it was time to return to Aix. On the way to the bus, we stopped at a boulangerie (bakery) and were pleased to find that the pain au choclat was only .60 cents! In Aix, the pain au choclat is .90 cents, so it was great to save .30 cents on something so unbelievable scrumptious! I'm proud of us because we managed to find the right bus & get back "home" safely without having to ask anyone!

On Sunday, I went to Les Gorges du Verdon. I can confidently say that it was money well spent! The gorge was breathtaking and magical. So far, this was the best experience I've had in France. I recommend it to EVERYONE! I rented a peddle boat with 4 other people, and we boated through the gorge, which made this experience That much better! After seeing the gorge, Georges took the group to Notre Dame de Beauvoir Chapelle. The chapel was at the top of the mountain/hill, so it took a good 30ish minutes to hike up to it, but it was worth the struggle. I got a great workout during this trip, that's for sure, which is good because a gym membership is at least 30 Euros. I'm shocked that a gym membership isn't included in the university costs, because in the states a gym membership is mandatory at nearly all universities, and it's included in the tuition. If I hike and peddle boats every weekend, then I won't need to worry about not going to a fitness center. IAU has decided to start offering Yoga and Pilates classes for a reasonable price; however, it's being mandated that students pay the entire semester sessions upfront. What if I don't like the instructor? What if I can't make all of the sessions? I'm not a rich student, so I don't know if I want to take the risk and potentially waste money on something unrelated to France. Even if the phrase, "I'm doing yoga... IN FRANCE" makes everything sound better. I'd rather use that money to travel around France and learn more about French culture.

    Last weekend, I went to Nice, and then to Monte Carlo, Monaco. After visiting Monaco, I went to Eze to tour Fragonard, a perfume factory, and to tour a quaint Medieval village with which sits Fragonard. This post focuses solely on Nice and its gems. This trip was IAU’s first group outing. It was a BLAST! I felt very fortunate to be seated on the same bus as Professor and Historian, Mark, because from him, I learned a great deal about Nice and Monte Carlo. Before this trip, I knew very little about both cities; however, after listening to Mark’s “lectures,” so-to-speak, I feel as if I know everything about them now.
    The first stop was a 7-11 replica on the way to Nice. I felt bad for people not part of the IAU group because we pretty much  took over the place. With about ninety-something females attending IAU, just imagine the line for the bathroom! At least most, if not all, of us purchased something to eat and/or drink. I bought Nutella on the Go, which is actually sold in the US, but it was small and not exactly candy, so I bought it anyway. It was a great purchase... Très délicieux! By the way, my housemate and I have an obsession with Nutella. After this stop, the bus took all of us to Nice.

__    Nice is a beautiful city with many gorgeous gems. From the magnificent Mediterranean Sea to the busy open market to the beautiful rues and cathedrals, Nice has a lot to offer. It’s a very hilly/mountainous city, so naturally it was love at first sight since I'm used to prairie-flat land cities. First, there’s the beach. It’s a pebble beach, so in order to refrain from destroying your feet, when you visit someday, keep your sandals on. It wasn't until I was ready to put my feet into the Mediterranean Sea, when I took off my sandals. The Mediterranean Sea is extremely beautiful! It’s crystal blue, and it has very relaxed waves. It’s probably not the best water for surfing, but it’s great for a relaxed day at the beach.

_    Second, there are many cathedrals, churches, and basilicas. Each of these is a gem in itself. Once a year, all of the cathedrals and museums that are not normally open to the public are open. My friends and I had the honor of touring these wonderful and magnificent places, especially with Mark, who taught us all there is to know about each of them. Even though there were a lot of tourists (aside from IAU’s student population), I’m glad that IAU scheduled this trip during this time because all of the places we saw were breathtaking. Most of these places did not allow photography; however, there was one place we toured that allowed non-flash photography. Yay! It took 3 days to upload all of my photos, so I'm satisfied that I wasn't allowed to take photos in most of the cathedrals/churches/basilicas. I don't even want to think about how much longer uploading all of those would've taken! The picture on the left was taken in one of the rooms inside the Palais Lascaris.

_    Third, there’s the open market. From soap and flowers to fruit, cheese, and fish, I was bombarded with many smells. The flowers, soap, and fruit offered the best scents. The scent of dead fish, however, was not quite as pleasant.
    Fourth, Nice is a city with a lot of narrow streets. Some people try to define the narrow streets by linking them to the lower class of people; however, this is not accurate. The city was purposely built in such a close fashion to enable the population to travel around in a more comfortable temperature setting. Even today, it is obvious that the further into the city one travels, the temperature drops a few degrees. This makes sense since Nice is on the Mediterranean Sea, so the weather tends to be on the HOT side. Whether or not the lower class inhabits this area makes no difference in the architecture and design of the buildings.

_Fifth, Nice is a city with a lot of cultural influences. The French multicultural festival was held on Saturday, which proved to be Fantastic! Sometimes, it’s easy for Americans to get wrapped up in the USA being the only country that consists of a melting pot of cultures. This is definitely false. France is also a melting pot of cultures, and I was able to witness some traditional styles of dress and traditional music on Saturday. In general, there were African-French, Caribbean-French, German-French, Asian-French, etc...Although I was unable to stay at the festival for long (since I wanted to participate in the tour of the cathedrals, churches, and basilicas), I absorbed the atmosphere and took note of the different cultures at the festival. There was one main difference between this cultural festival and cultural festivals in the USA (specifically Chicago). There are a lot of cultural festivals in Chicago, but none of them combine every single culture in one sitting. For example, Swedish Days consists of everything Swedish, Maifest consists of everything German, and the Chinese New Year festival consists of everything Chinese. Each culture has its own prospective festival; however, at the multi-culture festival in Nice, every culture comes together to celebrate. Seeing people in different traditional garments all along the place was awe-inspiring. Everyone was smiling and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

_    Although Nice has many more gorgeous gems, the five I listed above gave me a new concept of French culture involving the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to experiencing these gems, I also tried 1 scoop of gelato in a sugar cone. I’ve had gelato in the past; however, the gelaterie, Fenocchio, sells gelato and sorbet in all sorts of flavors including Jasmin, Thyme, and Lavender. I decided to stick to a traditional flavor because I did not want to have an upset stomach the rest of the weekend, so I opted for Strataciella. There are a few gelato shops in Aix-en-Provence that sell Lavender flavored gelato, so some day in the future I will try that. Nice was (and I imagine it still is) a beautiful city. I hope to be able to return someday with my boyfriend, family, and friends from the USA because they will love it! Also, I need to climb the hill/mountain to see the amazing waterfall in person and to see the breathtaking view of the city from that angle.

Bonjour tout le monde!

        It has been a week since my arrival in France, although, this is not enough time to debunk all of my pre-departure anxieties, it has been an amazing experience so far. This post contains a description of the beginning of my trip.

    I left Chicago with a smile plastered to my face; however, inside, I was not completely full of smiles. I was also extremely anxious and a little bit sad to leave my family, my boyfriend, and my friends. The generalization that “all” Americans smile “all” the time is quite true, at least it is the case for me. The smile that I carried at the airport permeated the outward appearance of strength, or so I hoped. Upon reflection of this smile, I realize that smiling gives me strength. I could’ve cried, I could’ve looked sad, and I could’ve cancelled my flight, returned to my college campus and called it “quits;” but, I did not. There were no reasons to outwardly express a few sad emotions when my loved ones knew I would miss them, but also knew I would have the best experience Ever! The only thing that was necessary to show was the strength and courage that I possess in leaving my comfort zone. After all, I will see everyone again in December, barring any problems.

    At the airline’s gate, I met two guys, Tyler and Vincent, who attend the same university as me; they are also participating in the IAU study abroad program. We hit it off well, and from them, I learned the true meaning of “excité,” which, to my surprise, does not offer the same connotations as the English word “excited.” In fact, it’s best if I just refrain from using it unless I want to embarrass myself, which obviously is not the case. Merci beaucoup (thank you very much) guys! Also at the airport, I realized that I hadn’t gotten my host mother a gift. During the entire month of August I contemplated about what to get her. I wanted to find something with a Chicago theme, but also something useful. Clearly, I found nothing and by the time I arrived at the airport, well, let’s just say, "Thank God there are Duty Free shops."

Once we boarded the plane, it took 30 minutes before the actual departure. During this time, I wondered if my mom and my boyfriend were still lingering around the airport waiting for the plane to take off. I was happy that I could still text during this time, as it made the minutes pass quickly. Apparently, there was an issue with the door handle, which is why the flight was delayed. Thankfully, this issue did not set the tone for the overall flight. This was my first time flying alone, so I was a little worried about the safety of the plane, and a delay of 30 minutes certainly did not help my nerves, but all-in-all it was a decent flight. Aside from some turbulence, there were no other issues.
    The plane landed on time at the airport in Amsterdam around 6am. Tyler, Vincent, and I met inside the terminal and decided to look around the airport, as we had a 2-hour layover. The guys were hungry, and we all needed to use the bathroom. I forgot to pack a roll of toilet paper in my carry-on, so I definitely hoped the airport had some, which it did. During the remainder of our time in the airport, I figured out how to use the “free” wifi, only to exceed the maximum limit of “free” wifi use. So, I was able to have some contact with the “outside” world (as internet use on my phone on airplanes is obviously not possible), but it was only for a short amount of time.

    When the plane landed at the Marseille airport, my adventure had truly begun. First, the plane did not pull up to a terminal. Instead, the passengers had to get off the plane by walking down a flight of stairs, and then taking a free shuttle bus to the proper airport terminal. This was the first time this has ever happened to me. On the flight from Amsterdam to Marseille, I sat next to Tyler and one other person whom I met, Lynelle (pardon my spelling), that is also in the IAU program. We were in the emergency exit spot, so we had to be schooled on how to open and remove the door in case of an emergency (thankfully there weren’t any emergencies). The pamphlet showed an inflatable slide that pops out after removing the door. So my question is: Why couldn’t the passengers have gotten off by using the inflatable slide as opposed to the stairs? I’m not trying to be lazy, but after that rollercoaster landing, the slide certainly would’ve been much more enjoyable than the stairs.

    In any case, we hopped onto a bus, and were shuttled to the luggage area. Inside the luggage area, we waited impatiently. As I observed each passenger’s face, I noticed that we were all thinking exactly the same thing: “I hope my luggage made it.” Thankfully, Tyler, Vincent, Lynelle (pardon my spelling), and I got all of the luggage we checked in. After removing our suitcases and duffel bags from the conveyor belt, we hobbled like penguins over to the exit. We had too many bags to deal with. On the topic of suitcases, it is definitely a good thing that I took 2 with me, even though it was a bit of a pain to drag them around the airport, and then again at the bus stop, and finally to my host mother’s apartment. I have plenty of room to bring many bottles of wine, many blocks of cheese, many bags of spices, and souvenirs back home!

    After retrieving our luggage, we followed the signs to the exit. The IAU staff was there to greet us. This part of the trip was much less stressful than I had previously imagined because the staff and other IAU students were gathered right at the door. We couldn’t miss them if we wanted. This is where I had my first real French “conversation” in France. Even though it only consisted of “Comment t’appelles tu?” (What is your name) and “Ca va?” (How are you?), I still consider it a conversation, short but sweet. After about 20 minutes, Yamina, one of the employees at IAU, escorted everyone to the proper bus that would take us to Aix-en-Provence. The bus ride was an adventure in itself. We passed by (and through in some cases) mountains, hills, deteriorating rocks, forests, towns and villages, and even an extremely large Ikea (it was a good thing the bus didn’t stop there). But those weren’t even the most interesting part. The most interesting part was the difference between France bus drivers and American bus drivers. In fact, this goes for drivers in general, but in this case, I first witnessed this difference with the bus driver. In France, no one seems to care about the exterior of their vehicles. We were at a bus station that just happened to take place underneath a viaduct - a very narrow, and 1-lane type of viaduct. What did our bus driver, who apparently didn’t like the idea of waiting behind another bus, do? He went around the bus. This is something that maybe I would’ve done in my car, which is a Mini Cooper, but not in a van, station wagon, BUS, etc.. I gotta hand it to the guy, he certainly has great depth perception, as we didn’t hit the other bus, not that the driver would’ve cared if that had happened, but we definitely were up on the curb for a bit. Of course, I was laughing during the entire time he maneuvered around the bus because it was just That funny. At this point, I didn’t care if I was loud. I was tired, jet lagged, and had the giggles.

The driver squeezed around another bus.
_When we finally arrived in Aix-en-Provence, it was approaching 1:00pm (13h). We were all very hesitant to get our luggage out of the compartment, as it was facing the street. And after witnessing the bus driver's “crazy” driving style, we didn’t want to get hit by another bus, especially on the first day! Eventually, we ventured into the street and removed our luggage without any problems (other than maybe pulling a muscle...). After obtaining our luggage, we found more IAU staff members who helped unite us with our host mothers, and in some cases host families. Thankfully, I found that my host Madame is très gentil et sympathique (aka very nice and friendly). In addition to meeting my host Madame, I also met my housemate (not roommate because we have separate rooms). She is also gentil et sympathique. What a relief!

    So far Aix-en-Provence has been great. More posts and pictures to come!

Hi, y’all! My name is Beth, and this blog will offer readers some insight into my life as I participate in a study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence, France. However, I have not yet commenced my travels, which begin today (September 7). In my “first” post, I decided that it would be beneficial to lay out my pre-departure feelings, and my experience with CampusFrance and The Consulat Général de France.

First, I have created a list of my pre-departure feelings/emotions. I am:

 1. Excited!
I am completely stoked about studying in a foreign country, and even more thrilled to be living
there for a little over 3 months! I am excited to integrate myself into French
culture. It will be a fantastic experience and I will probably feel a
rollercoaster of emotions throughout my stay. I can’t wait to see
Aix-en-Provence and everything that defines the city (i.e. fountains and
lavender). I am also excited to learn new things about Aix-en-Provence, French
culture, and French language. 

2. Hopeful!
I am hopeful that I will have “the time of my life!” I hope to be able to experience more of
France than I did during my previous visit. I intend to try new things, make new
friends (keep in touch with my friends back home, too), go on interesting and
exciting adventures throughout France, immerse myself in French culture, and
study the French language … a lot. I am also hopeful that I will gain confidence
in speaking French.

3. Nervous!
As excited and hopeful I am, I am equally as nervous. I am nervous about embarrassing myself
and looking like a fool in front of everyone. After all, my French is not very
good. But, hey, embarrassing oneself is actually a part of the study abroad
experience that every student partakes in, n’est-ce pas (right)? If I want to
embrace this experience whole heartedly, then I’m bound to embarrass myself at
some point. I am also nervous about missing my flight (departure & return).
I’m not a millionaire, so I’d rather not have to spend a lot of extra money on a
new flight just because I missed the one I already purchased. 

4. Scared!
First of all, I am terrified of being robbed, kidnapped or worse!
But that’s a typical thing for a woman to fear when traveling anywhere,
so I don’t consider this too much of a burden as long as I use common sense.
Though, the list of suggested safety precautions on IAU’s website sure seems a
bit intimidating. Secondly, I am quite scared about traveling somewhere without
anyone I personally know. When friends and family ask how I feel about studying
abroad without my boyfriend (of 7 years) or any of my close friends, I tend to
play it“cool,” and mention Skype and the possibility of taking my phone with me,
but in the end, none of these resources will be the same as a face-to-face
conversation. I think I will be fine since I keep telling myself, “it’s only 3
months, not like it’s a whole year…” Plus, feeling a bit of homesickness is a
part of the study abroad experience. If I don’t experience at least a little
bit of homesickness, then I would be worried about the “closeness” of my
current relationships. I’m sure I’ll miss everyone and as a result I expect I
will use Skype’s video chatting (since it’s free) throughout my time abroad.

Second, an explanation of my experience with CampusFrance and The
Consulat Général de France is in order. I had to register for a student visa on
CampusFrance, and make a trip to the French embassy. Registering on CampusFrance
was relatively easy; however, it took about 2 hours! There was a ton of
information to complete such as name, address, school information, and an upload
or manually entered university transcripts. After registering on CampusFrance, I
had to mail a money order of $77 before I could make the trip to the French
embassy. It’s a good idea to get tracking confirmation on that money order just
in case it gets lost in the mail or stolen. Thankfully, mine arrived without any
problems. Before scheduling an appointment with the French embassy, it is
necessary to receive confirmation of payment through CampusFrance. After
receiving the confirmation messages on CampusFrance (you have to print them out
and take them with you to the visa appointment), I scheduled an appointment with
the French embassy, as walk-ins are not allowed. I had no idea what to expect. I
found that the French consulate was extremely clean and well-organized. Also, I
didn’t need to check in; an employee called my name at the time I was scheduled. 
Here is a list of things I needed for the visa appointment: 

1. Confirmation of payment messages from CampusFrance.
2. A copy of the “Attestation,” IAU’s acceptance letter.
3. A copy of immunization records (I got these from my physician).
4. A copy of the medical document form. This is a form that I received from my home institution that I
had my doctor complete during my yearly physical.
5. A printout of the visa appointment.
6. My passport and my driver’s license.
7. A form of payment (either a money order or visa card). 
8. A USPS Express mail envelope addressed to yourself (they are very specific on the type of envelope). 

One notable thing: the employee kept my passport. At first, I was confused as to why she kept my passport, but I noticed that she kept everyone’s passport. I assumed that I would get it back in the envelope I gave her, and that was the case. It turns out that the temporary visa is a sticker placed on one of the visa pages inside the passport. Since  receiving the sticker, I’ve purchased airfare and have been imagining what  living in France will be like. I guess we shall wait and see! I can hardly wait!!!