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!

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