We all go through different phases of change, whereas in this case, I would like to call it growth. From the perspective of someone who came from the beauty and chaos of Africa, to the potential in the US, going to Europe for four months was not a culture shock to me. As the program went on, I at times wondered if I really was experiencing anything new. It would turn out to be the best time of my life thus far. It was near perfect from the staff, the traveling, the experiences and to the friends who I shared those experiences with. So here is my attempt to sum up my experience abroad, and the life changing effect it had on me, because truly, this experience would need a book.

Like many of us arriving in France, some of us had expectations, goals, and uncertainty. In my case, my expectation was no expectation because I came with a blank open mind, trying to see what the little treasure in the south of France had to offer me.

The French culture as I learned, varied depending on the region. French people are some of the proudest and most genuine people in the world, and rightfully so. With France being the size of Texas, they have accomplished a lot. At the beginning, it was difficult to really put yourself into the culture. Knowing about it and being apart of are two different things. Most of my preconceived notions began to crumble as I began to meet more and more French people with my appreciation of the culture growing.
Even though the program was filled with many Americans, we all contributed to each other’s experience in our own ways. The friends I have made through my study abroad program helped me to learn about myself and grow on so many levels. Even my host mother in all of her expressive ways grew on me. I didn’t realize how much Aix became my home until it was time to go.  I also realized the impact of how much of an influence one person could have on you. Even though I know not the future of our friendship, this person taught me to question the world around me and see the whole world for what it is. The thought and reflection of everyone leaving and going their own ways was somewhat of a downer. Every single person you meet is going to either give you something, or take away something from you. Whether it is an impression, idea, or even change, that how it is from my perspective. 

Things I will definitely miss

1.The Friends
2.The Memories
3.The French girls (Especially after my first kiss with a French girl :) 
4.How well the French Girls dressed
5.The Steak Frites w/ sauce Algerian and Bar Street
6.The Culture (With the Wines and the Food)
7.The Excursion and the IAU Staff
8.Walking through Aix and Cours Mirabeau
9.The Feeling of Aix being home

After all is said and done, I will always remember Aix, and I may forget some of the people I met there because that is life. However, the experiences, the travels, the memories and everything we all created together will always be apart of whom I am. As I look back on my experience, I will remember the few tears that dropped on my last walk home and my last bowl of cereal breakfast with my host mom. I have grown on so many levels, and it is amazing that all of this happened when I blindly applied to this program the day before the application was due. The end result was true satisfaction of an experience that can never be replicated. I really wanted to give a final blog that really communicated my experience, but no words on paper can truly do it justice.  As the saying goes, "Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu'on a perdus" (Google translate it if you have to). So Aix-En-Provence, I leave you with this. Farewell, but not goodbye. 

It's crazy that it's about that time already. As I sit here writing, we only have 2 weeks left in the program before we are forced to go back to our boring normal lives in the states. When we first arrived here on September 7th, this current week was no where in my mind because I felt that I had all the time in the world. Of course, it is easy to lose track of time when you're having a great time and are lost in the experience. As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, I don't know how much I have changed so far as a person, but maybe it is not mean to be evident until I get back to the states. 

My time here in Aix has been more passive aggressive than anything else. I preferred to let everything come at me for the most part, and take them on as they come with as little resistance as possible. I didn't do that much traveling because I am here to study abroad in Aix and with the hopes of not missing out on what this little town had to offer. Aix itself is quite but has so much energy that it is almost a contradiction. Every day I walk to school, with my 40 minute walk up hill from my house. Yes, the first 20 minutes of the walk is miserable at times because by the time I get to Centre Ville, I'm about to bust out in sweat and heavy breathing. But I no longer worry about that because I have adjust to it as well. When you arrive at the heart of the town, where the beautiful and large fountain is, you can start seeing a big city within a small town mixture. There are cars everywhere zipping past one another with horns blowing. Students both college and high school are rushing to get that coffee or cross the street because they have to get to class. 

Going through the city at times can be likened to trying to get through a busy hall way during busy passing periods, like back in the good old high school days. It is really annoying, but within that 10 minutes that you are trying to get through the rush hour on foot, you completely forget about the size of the town. The language all of the sudden becomes part of you as you are saying "Bonjour" occasionally to people you may have met before. At other times, your tongue is stuck on the repeat of "pardon" "excusez moi" or in your mind where you're just like "OMG GET OUT OF THE WAY!" Again, you learn to appreciate these things as time begins to run out on you. So here I am again saying "only 2 weeks left" while I am crowded with work loads. Papers coming up, tests coming up, and everything else that I experience in the states during finals week. The only difference here, is that it is frenchified. Yes, frenchified is a word I made up and I like it. I still have a couple more blogs left in me, but I can't help but divide them up because I realize how sad it is that my time in this beautiful place is coming to a close. I guess all that is left for me to really write about now, are the impacts I have felt from this program and how it shaped my view of this experience.

Maynooth Campus in Dublin the first night
The wall that divide the protestant(left) and catholic(right) community
We often hear of people coming back from study abroad “discovering” whom they are. Although I am not lucky enough to say the same, I can truly say that I am discovering who I am not, and along with this, is the ever-changing state of my mind.  This state of mind will be expanded upon more when I return to the states.  What I am about to write here, will fail in comparison to what I experienced in Ireland at the peace conference. There is so much I want to say, but I can’t the words and it is difficult because my mind and experience is so scattered.

One of the Actors of one the most powerful plays I have experienced
During the first half of our Fall break, I, along with 9 other students from IAU were blessed with an opportunity that had profound impact on our study abroad experience. We went to a conference in Ireland on Divided Societies that was student lead conference. The first day of the conference, we stayed at a university in Dublin Ireland. Obviously with it being a Fall break, most of us that were going imagined a lot of sight seeing.  Well, that ended up not happening. To begin things off, we went from a nice 75 degree weather in southern France to a 40 degree temperature when we arrived. Luckily, we all brought our somewhat winter jackets, but the fact remained that it was cold!

We waited for about 45 minutes for our bus to come pick us up at the airport because of some type misunderstanding. As the wind blew, and cold freezing temperature sank into our bones, it became easier to complain. However, we had to keep in mind that all of this was being paid for and that there were other students who would die to be in our situation. Therefore, everyone kept their mouth shut, and endured the cold the best they could.  Finally, the bus came and we headed to the university where we would be staying the first few days. All I really cared about was how amazing it felt to be warm again.

The first thing I noticed in Ireland was that everyone drove on the left side of the lane instead of the right! I was about to lose it, but I figured the bus driver knew what he was doing so we let him do his own thing. When we arrived at the university finally that evening, we were all jetlagged and hungry. However, just like the bus, the food was coming in a little late.  Luckily there were other students who were at the conference. Half of them came from Europe in the countries of Germany, Croatia, Spain, Belgium, and Ireland. The other halves were students from all over the US who were studying abroad in various parts Europe.  As we got to know each other, the experiences and stories shared, broke the ice and prepared us for the topics we were going to discuss in the morning. Again, the topic of the conference was Divided Societies and how to overcome these divided societies and create peace.

The next morning, everyone got up early and got ready to begin the day early. The worst thing for me that morning and all the guys, was the ice cold shower we had to take. We waited for 10 minute with the water on hoping it would warm up, but with our luck, nothing changed about the water temperature. Anyways, we eventually got ready and began the first day of our conference. We began the day off with a presentation about the Irish conflict mainly in Northern Ireland in which most of us felt ignorant about. Due to this conflict, we would later see why Ireland is literately split in half when we got to visit Derry. In any case, we did not realize the violent history that had torn Ireland in half up till mid 2005. After we were finished with the historical presentation, we began an exercise that put us out of our comfort zone. 

The youths of the conference.
The issue with society today is that we have become so complacent; we resist looking at things from a different perspective. The way exercise was set up required you to choose a side of agreement or disagreement. It was not an easy thing because we had some very controversial topics that were brought up, and you had to approach it as a black and white answer. This made us realize how much we generalize other things and that for resolution to occur, we must learn to find the middle ground. We finished the conference off by spending the next day in Derry where we really witnessed the division of the society with the Protestants on one side and the catholic families on the other.

The biggest part of the Ireland trip that changed me was the 2 plays we attended. The first one was a Palestinian soldier whose daughter was murdered by an Israeli soldier. The big change however, was that the soldier did not want revenge or anything of the sort because he wanted the violence to end. He said he only wanted justice, not to get back at the soldiers and retaliate. The second play we saw, involved actors who grew up during the peak of the Irish conflict the in the mid 80s who played who they were during that time.  We got to hear both sides of the story, as the aggressor and the oppressed. Standing face to face well aware of their history, they forgave each other for their past sins. I truly wish I could express what I experienced on this trip, but it will take a book to give a full detail. I can definitely speak of this, better than I can write it. One thing is for sure, my world view has been changed, and this arguably, is one of the highlights of my study abroad experience.  

It has only been 2 weeks and I feel like I have been here for a long time. I guess my bank account can kind of relate to me. There has been enough memories and stories these past weeks that I can tell for months. However, we won't go there for various reasons. Besides, I would prefer to keep this post PG 13 at the worst.(Just being honest) This past weekend was incredible as we went to Monaco and Nice. There was nothing negative that I could say about Nice, other than, I could not float in the water. It's because I'm black so it's justifiable, just google it if you don't believe me. I can swim....just can't float!
Glass of white wine makes everything great
Halfway through out the day after I got my amazing tan on, we got real hungry. You can't have a blast and be somewhat on a vacation in one of the best beaches in Europe on an empty stomach! That was a mouth full.....get it?.....okay bad joke. Regardless, we had to try out some Nicene food and we didn't have to look far. The only name I could remember is Mussels and Fries, which was very délicieux! But that was nothing compare to the rest of the things we had. Sorry, I wish I could tell you all the names, but all I remember was this, they were really good, and too bad you didn't get to eat with us. ;) 

I wish you guys could see this with your own eyes
After the food we got the chance to hike the hill of this amazing waterfall. In terms of cardio, I was in shape back in Colorado, but with my time in France, I can see why obesity is not an issue! You walk EVERYWHERE, and scenery is so great. Pictured right was my reward atop the waterfall. Neither pictures, nor words can describe the majestically beautiful view from the top. This will be some of the cheesiest things I have ever said, but we live in such a beautiful world. It is a sad reality to say I and most people will never experience 1/5th of the beauty, that is yet to be experienced throughout this earth.

It's time to go to Monte Carlo in Monaco! It's surprising how well everyone cleans up when need to.  So it was time to get to Monte Carlo Casino and though we didn't have the money to exploit the place, everyone certainly looked the part. I didn't feel like gambling because, for starters, my champagne was 18 Euros for a little glass. In case you have not been following the news, our economy has been hit, and 18 euros is 23 U.S dollars. I quickly realized that I was still a college student, and that was the last thing I spent money on in Monte Carlo.....where as others chose massacre their bank accounts. Of course, there were high class bars and restaurants down the street for an expensive yet, cheaper drinks and dinner than the world renowned casino next door.

Thanks ladies
Aside from the ridiculous price of the champagne(I should have gotten the Martini instead....it was a couple Euros cheaper) I had a great weekend. Nice blew my expectations out of the water, where as I over sized my expectations for Monte Carlo and was a little disappointed. We got St. Tropez coming up this weekend, which is supposed to be 10x better than Nice. I can't fathom that yet, but we will see when I arrive. I can say, for doing so much already in only a week being here, I can't imagine how awesome the next 3 months will be. God willing, there are more great times ahead, and I'm so blessed for this opportunity. Until the next post, I'll be wine tasting, doing more fun stuff, and of course, studying really hard....seriously. 

I have finally arrived in France, and dang, I am tired. I really don’t know where to start because even as I write this, I am really tired.  I ended up meeting 4 other students that are in my program at the airport randomly, which made the 20ish hours of no sleep somewhat more manageable. We arrived in Marseille after missing our flight in Paris because one flight from JFK Airport in New York took about an hour to take off. Regardless, we got a heart warming welcome by the program’s directors and eventually, our host families.

One thing I noticed right away was how small every car was here and how beautiful the women were along with how EVERYONE seems to smoke here. Yes…..I said it! There will be more on that in another blog. When everyone around me was speaking French, along with my host mother and dad not knowing any English, I realized I no longer was in the US.  I was so tired though, I didn’t really care because I just wanted a bed to lie on. After our hour dinner around 7, I passed out on the bed at 8:30, and this is the earliest I have fallen asleep since 6th grade.

So far, the parties have been legit. I won’t lie, this is a very youthful town with all the colleges, but it also has so much art; Mainly by Cezzane’s influence which will also be in more future posts. I’m having fun with all the people I am meeting so far, and I really didn’t know what to talk about yet because there are so many. I just wanted to let everyone know I got here safely, and with what I see so far, I can see myself living here for a long time.

This baby pictured here and I have had so much in common this summer. I have been finished with my summer internship for almost a month now. I have a lot of responsibilities on my campus here at DU, but those can only keep you busy for so long.

Study abroad in France, and to be exact, Southern France! Throughout the whole year, everyone had been asking me “are you excited yet?” Most of the time, the answer would be “not really”, or “I guess”. Now as I think about it, the excitement is slowly beginning to creep in. Within 24 hours, I will be flying out from Denver Int’l Airport to begin my journey. When I put things in perspective, I really have a lot to look forward to. Yes, that should be obvious. However, when you have been as bored as I have been this summer, you quickly forget it ha.

As any college student can attest to, procrastination is the key to success in many things. Ok, maybe not all college students, but a lot of them. So with regards to packing, it’s done in my head, just not in the suitcase yet. It’s ok though, I do best under pressure. Who knows what my experience abroad will be, regardless I can say I am finally getting rid of my boredom with excitement. So little baby pictured above, I hope your time has gotten better since this picture was taken. With that, I would like to end this with #swag!. Such horrid grammatical error……..oh well……France I’m coming!