It seems only fitting that I dedicate a blog post to Thanksgiving so that I can think about and share what all I am thankful for.  This is my first Thanksgiving away from home, and though I'm thinking about my family and how they are coping proceeding with their day of thanks without me, I feel like the luckiest girl alive for many reasons.

Family

My family is the most important thing in the world to me, and without them, I wouldn't be here in France, gazing out my school's library window at the cobblestoned streets reflecting on this crisp Thanksgiving day.  I miss my family a lot, and I'm thankful that I can say they miss me too.  I can picture my dad and brother, clad in their khakis and flannel, smelling the smoky aroma billowing from the turkey in the Big Green Egg by the marsh.  I can see my sister meticulously placing each marshmallow on top of the sweet potato casserole.  I can see my mom pulling out everything from the oven, perfectly timed for the most highly anticipated lunch of the year.

Picture
I'm thankful for my French host family, who has so generously opened their home for me.  Marie-Dominique is unfaltering in her kindness, and I'll always remember our time talking over dinner and recounting our days to one another.  Without the host-family experience my time in France would be extremely different.

Friends

I'm so blessed to have friends far and near.  Though I don't talk to all of them every day, I'm thankful to know that they are well and doing wonderful things with their lives.  Brilliant friends who are dominating through their first semester of graduate school, successful friends who are already out working in the real world, caring friends who are fighting poverty in Africa, loving friends who just call every once in a while to say hello.  I'm also lucky to have friends I've made here in France, who, without a doubt, will be friends for life.  I can be nostalgic today for those far away, but I can also take advantage of the limited time I have left with these friends I've made over the past 3 months.  I'm thankful that I can return to my friends from home in three short weeks, just in time for Christmas.

Picture
Education

I will always be thankful for the education I received at Clemson.  Clemson taught me so much about the world, about myself, and about International Business/Political Science (had to squeeze the major in there somehow)!  I'll always be grateful for my time there and will cherish it for years to come.  I'm also very thankful for Institute for American Universities (IAU), where I am studying now of course!  This university allows me to pursue my French interests alongside Americans from all over, opening my mind and challenging my opinions.  I'm also thankful for the Thanksgiving feast they are preparing for us tonight, so that we can literally have a taste of home in a foreign country.

Health

I'm so blessed to be healthy.  Sometimes it blows my mind, as common as sickness is, that I'm able to make the 25 minute walk on my own two feet to school while enjoying breathing in the chilly clean air.  That I'm able to use my brain to learn in school every day and to work together with others to find solutions in group projects.  To use my voice to Skype or call my family and friends back home and tell them how much I love and miss them.  To not have any allergies to inhibit my experience of French food (or any other kind of food, for that matter).  Must give thanks for health every day.

These are some of the most important things I'm thankful for.  If I were to list them all, I'd be still writing well into New Years!  I wish all of you who are reading a Happy Thanksgiving, know that I am thankful for YOU, and I can't wait to see you when I get home!

xoxo

Holly





 
 
Eastern Europe: Land of meat & potatoes, exquisite castles, Communist history, beer, and favorable currency.  Over our generous 10-day fall break, Hillary and I decided to do the unconventional and go on a tour with Bus2Alps called "Eastern European Loop." This journey took us from Slovenia to Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.  We knew that we would be covering a lot of ground and seeing beautiful sights; but the surprises and rewards this trip brought were astronomical. 
Picture
The first portion of the trip was in Ljubljana (Loo-Blee-Yana, which I thankfully learned to pronounce right before we left), the charming and picturesque capital city of Slovenia.  Because we arrived before the rest of the group, we checked into Hostel Celica (a former prison restored to a "hip" inn for youngsters like us), and went to walk around the town square.  We were greeted by friendly faces, colorful buildings, statues of dragons, and bustling markets.  Famished from our long trip from France, we treated ourselves to a huge plate of ravioli and chocolate cake.  After our little exploration, we returned to the hostel-prison to nap and taste the local brew, since there was a pretty nice bar in the lobby.

Picture
Around 4AM, we were awoken by two strangers coming into our room, who turned out to be some of our closest friends by the end of the trip.  Taylor and Becca, who were studying abroad in Rome, were also part of the Bus2Alps trip, and their bus had just arrived.  They were our hostel-mates.  A few hours later we all awoke to do a walking tour of the city and have some free time to explore a medieval castle looking over the city.

The next day, the bus took us to Lake Bled, right outside Ljubljana.  We had hours to walk around the lake and have lunch, so a group of six of us decided to rent a rowboat.  If we had time to explore a lake, why not do it the right way?!

Taylor is a former rowing athlete and was pleased to be our captain.  The water was cold and clear, reminding me of Lake Jocasse back in South Carolina.  We saw fish, ducks, and swans, and the lake was surrounded by beautiful fall-colored leaves.

Above, some new friends (from left): B, Jessie, Taylor, me, Hillary, Vivianne, Lizzie, Becca, Annie.

After our time at Bled, it was time to get back on the bus to head to Budapest, Hungary.  About six hours later, we finally arrived.  It wasn't until the next day that I noticed a dark hue on all of the older buildings, as if the Communist shadow had left a mark on the areas it affected.  Our tour guide was a knowledgeable young lady whose childhood took place during the Communist regime, so she had a very interesting take on her hometown.

Budapest was a spectacular place with lots of fun activities for us; two of my favorites were the dinner cruise we took along the River Danube and the caving expedition.  One luxurious and relaxing; the other adventurous and dirty!  The dinner offered us all sorts of traditional Hungarian food and stunning views of the well-lit buildings along the river. The caving took us underground to walk, climb, and army-crawl through the caves that served as former bomb shelters.

Picture
We also got to swim in the Roman baths, which was a nice way to relax after a long walking tour.  A special thanks to Lifeproof for allowing me to take some waterproof pics!

After Budapest, we headed to Krakow, Poland.  Krakow was my favorite city of all, and I can't really pinpoint why.  It may have been the gigantic open square market, which is the largest in Europe.  There you can buy Polish pottery, fur, amber jewelry, and all sorts of treasures for a small fraction of what you'd pay for these in the states. Dollars go a long way here!  It may have been the pierogis, which was my favorite Eastern European (or maybe just Polish) delicacy.  It could have been our tour guide, who was hilarious and bizarre at the same time (either way, he had a bank of knowledge about the historical and modern city of Krakow).
Krakow also has a great deal of significance regarding WWII, because of its Jewish ghetto and proximity to the concentration and death camps at Auschwitz.  Going to Auschwitz was the most terrifyingly real experience I've ever had; everything was so well preserved and recent.  I was glad to leave that place, but I'm glad I had the experience of visiting it for its historical value.
Picture
Because we spent so much time on the bus, the Bus2Alps crew had lots of good films for us to watch to help pass the time.  One of them, very fittingly chosen, was Schindler's List. I had never seen it before, but I am so glad I watched it on the way to Krakow.  It definitely put the experience we were about to have into perspective, and we even got to walk on the set of part of the film.  Though unpleasant to think of what happened on the soil where we did our walking tours, it was a very deep, moving, and important experience to have.

After Auschwitz came our final city: Prague, Czech Republic.  Prague was spectacular, and I had high expectations having heard such positive things from friends who had visited the city before.  We had two walking tours of the city, where we saw the Charles Bridge, the John Lennon Wall, a gorgeous castle complex (because people still live there) overlooking the city, the Jewish quarter, Old Town, New Town, and many other places I wish I could remember.


Picture
This trip was definitely the trip of a lifetime: I visited four countries in ten days, experienced different lifestyles and saw historical monuments, and made some new friends that I hope to keep, wherever life takes us after life abroad.

Fall Break, marking the halfway point of my semester in France, made me realize how quickly time is passing and how important it is to take advantage of every day.  It also made me really miss France, though it was a wonderful change of scenery.  Upon boarding the plane back to Marseille, a young French couple asked me if I minded switching with one of them so that they could sit together.  I can't tell you how much joy it brought me to be able to speak French again, and the fact that I, for a change, was able to help one of them!  All the Slavic languages of Eastern Europe were 100% foreign to me, so I was a classic tourist who didn't even know how to say "Hello" in Czech.  All I needed was a fanny pack to seal the deal.

I missed Marie-Dominique and her motherly presence, her cooking, and my comfy room (though I loved my new friends, I was excited to not share my room with 7 others).

I also missed our friends from IAU, who had scattered all throughout Europe for their own different vacations.  I felt like I was coming home after being so far away; it's strange though to refer to this place as home, when my real home is thousands of miles (and only a month or so) away.  But for the time being, Aix-en-Provence is a wonderful home, one to which I definitely hope to return in the future.


 
 
Family is the most important thing in the world.
Welcoming the rest of the McKissick clan to Aix-en-Provence two weeks ago was literally having the best of both worlds.  My family, satisfying a nostalgic craving for a taste of home, meets my new French stomping grounds.  Impressively, the two melded seamlessly to create an exhilarating week of living like a local and creating new experiences for the both of us.



Picture
This is not to say the language barrier wasn't there; it clearly was, from the moment my dad stepped out of the cab and accidentally called the driver "Señor."  Wrong language.  I could see the mortification creep over my sister Caroline's face, and my brother, Smyth, looked at me to try to take control of the situation and interpret.  Luckily the man was a good sport about it, and all was well. "Oh well, let's tip him well and go have lunch and a glass of wine," was our conclusion (even though tipping isn't customary here).  We also needed English menus wherever we dined, which most restaurants catered to beautifully.  Other than that, there were nearly no difficulties in communication while they were here.Our weekend consisted of exploring the local Aixois markets on Saturday and visiting the crystal blue waters and rocky cliffs of Cassis on Sunday.  The markets proved to be a very exciting outing that offered something for all of us.  Caroline employed her haggling skills to acquire a new purse; my mom indulged in the local crop of lavender to bring home sachets for some of her gal pals, Smyth bought a lovely painting for his girlfriend (and enjoyed the French beers and wine at the cafes), and my dad just enjoyed watching everyone have a good time.

Being avid beach-goers and boaters, we adored Cassis and its picture-perfect boats playfully bouncing up and down in the harbor with the rhythmic waves.  The men spotted an old Boston Whaler at the dock, realizing that they may have a lot more in common with the French fishermen than they thought.
Picture
My mom and I searched the pebbly beach for sea glass that had been washed and smoothed over for years and probably could have done so for hours.  For lunch, we decided to take the recommendation of my savvy host mother Marie-Dominique and go to Nino's.  By the looks of it from the outside, you wouldn't think it was any different from the other port-side restaurants, but once we got inside, we realized how happy we were that we'd already called for a reservation after seeing others being turned away. Must be a local secret - well, I guess the secret's out!

Picture
Nino's specializes in seafood, so naturally, we were in a good spot.  Smyth and I split two dozen oysters, successfully emptying every shell, and the others got fish (I can't remember what kind).  Needless to say, we were all quite satisfied.

Sadly, the men had to return to work after a long weekend, so the girls were left to shop, explore, eat, and make perfume.  We decided to take a day trip to Grasse, which is the world capital of perfume, and we had the unique opportunity to visit a factory and make our own, customized scents!  There is a lot more to making perfume than I ever imagined; our workshop gave us 90 different scents to choose from, but we learned that the experts use over 1,000.  That was an excursion that the boys were probably glad to miss, but we were in a fragrant paradise!


Before my family arrived, I was stressing about what all we were going to do.  "We need to get Caroline to Paris, my dad needs to see the riviera, mom needs to see the art museums and galleries, how is my dad going to do this with no set agenda..." but in reality, I was missing out on the most important part, which was just spending time together.   We were able to cover a lot of ground in the limited time they were here, but it is impossible to do everything.  It didn't matter if we sat in a cafe for hours; the true gift was being able to share new experiences as a family.  We are getting older and older, and our free time is becoming scarcer and scarcer.  All in all, it was magnificent to be able share my new life in Aix with my family so that they can see what a valuable experience it is for me to be able to do this, but most importantly, to have another rare chance when our hectic lives can align so we can be together.
The family is the first essential cell of human society.
Restaurant Recommendations in Aix-en-Provence:

  • Mitch - 26 rue des Tanneurs
  • L'Alcove - 19 rue Constantin
  • La Mado - 4 place des Prêcheurs
  • Chez Grand-mère - 11 rue Isolette
  • Pasta Cosy - 5 rue d'Entrecasteaux
  • Grand Hôtel Roi René - 24 boulevard du Roi René


Until next time,

Holly

 
 
This morning I write from the comfort of my cozy bed, with my window cracked so I can hear the light storm outside.  This is one of the only times it has rained since I've been here, and it's Sunday, so naturally I'm lazing about sipping a cup of coffee and not leaving my bed any time soon.

MANY things have happened since my "sour grapes" incident - wonderful things, so here are some of the highlights of my come-back post:

Last weekend's expedition:

Picture
A friend and I decided to embark on a last minute, weekend trip to Nice, Monaco, and Ventimiglia (Italy).  By last minute, I mean we booked a hotel an hour before the train set off and bought our train tickets right in the nick of time. When we got to Nice, it was late evening, and we were both famished so we went to a Thai place near the hotel and scarfed down a big plate of chicken pad thai.  Not the most French thing we could do, but it definitely satisfied a craving.

Picture
Along the Promenade des Anglais, which is a wide pedestrian walkway that stretches for miles along the ocean, people are just beginning their fabulous evenings.  The Promenade des Anglais brings together all kinds: some are dressed to the nines, presumably heading to the opera or a fancy cocktail party on the beach (the kind where there's a commercial backdrop for you and your date to have your picture taken upon entrance, like you see on E! News - but on the beach).  Others are casually strolling just to stroll, with no agenda (my friend and I fell into this category).  Surprisingly many others are jogging or rollerblading, which I suppose just reinforces the trend that people who live in Nice are a stunning species and must maintain their perfect physiques.

Picture
On Saturday, we covered a LOT of ground.  We took the bus from Nice to Monaco, which is a tiny principality bordered only by France and the Riviera.  Home to a) the famous Monte Carlo Casino, b) a marina glistening with flashy yachts, and c) (no big deal) Prince Albert II, this country packs a punch for its size of only .78 square miles.  The water was impossibly blue and clear, making it a huge attraction for boaters, fishermen, cruise liners, sun bathers, and any other maritime enthusiasts.

Picture
To see a glimpse of the life of the royalty that reigns over Monaco, we decided to do a tour of the Prince's Palace, which is most definitely fit for a prince (or princess!).

The Palace is heavily guarded, and we were lucky enough to witness the ceremonial Changing of the Guards.  Unfortunately the Prince wasn't home (I guess I wouldn't be  either if peasants like me were touring his house).


Picture
This is the marina, where you can see some world-class yachts preparing for the yacht show only a week away.  A boater's paradise.

The mountains that stretch into the distance reach the end of France and the beginning of Italia, where we would be heading next.

Next stop: Ventimiglia.

Ventimiglia is a very small beach town, practically on the border of France and Italy.  This was our third country in one day!  Since we arrived during the European 2.5-hour lunch break, not many places were open, so we just went to the pebbly beach and people-watched.  After a few hours of sufficient people-watching, sipping mid-afternoon drinks, and strolling around, we went to have a real Italian dinner - spaghetti and bolognese gnocchi, and of course a scoop of gelato.  Our stomachs thanked us, and we were fueled to make the journey back home.

Language: Slowly but surely improving

This week, I've begun to notice that I'm starting to blend in a bit better with the French.  By no means do I walk/talk like a native (not sure I'll ever get there), but it's progressing, and part of that has to do with the language.

The other day I was walking to school and I heard a man call from his car with his window rolled down.  Normally I would have kept walking and not looked up, but curiosity got the best of me.  So I looked over, and in French this man asked me where the hospital was, and I successfully gave him directions back in French! Because I had gotten so lost in the city on day 1, I was familiar with the hospital, because I had to ask them for directions back to my house.  Funny how things work out!  So that was cool.

The reason this made my day is that people have asked me for directions before, and I wished so badly that I could help them (like a native would), but just didn't know where they were trying to go (and didn't have the capabilities to communicate it, even if I did know).

Internship: Vermillon

Last week I interviewed with a few different companies to do an internship while studying here, and am excited to be starting one with Vermillon.  This company manufactures and sells interior design products, and they're looking to expand into the English-speaking market, which is why they hired me.  I had my first day on Friday, and it was an intense French-immersion day.


Picture
The office looks like a workshop, with paint/tile/ceramic samples all around, and people are buzzing about.  I was greeted by the lovely and stylish Delphine, who fixed me a cup of coffee and showed me around the office.  I share an office with two women - Marine is a graphic designer, and Myriam is the web master.  I'm going to be working with them to translate and localize their website and business presentations.

I'm the only American there, and even though I have a decent level of French, they probably think I'm extremely quiet and awkward because it is just very difficult to keep up with the speed of their speech.

At lunch (which is a full hour, accompanied by lots of conversation, coffee, and for some [not me], cigarettes). I joined about six or seven of the employees outside to dine, and it took me a solid 15 minutes to feel like I understood exactly what they were all talking about.  It turned out, Delphine was entertaining the group about her family dynamics, particularly with her mother-in-law.  Oh la la.

This company offers training sessions for decorators, and next week they want me to come so I can see hands-on what their business is all about.  Who knows, maybe I'll learn a thing or two that I can apply to a future home!  I'd love to know how to add little French flair.

That's all for now, it's probably time for me to get up and do the Sunday usuals of laundry and homework.  Thanks for reading, and until next time,

Bisous!

Holly


 
 
Picture
With my first few entries of this blog, I was aiming to paint an illustrative, inspiring, and too-good-to-be-true image of my life here in Aix-en-Provence.  Everything I wrote is how I truly see it, bona fide Holly's point of view. While this place continues to amaze and surprise me every day, and I do absolutely love it, today's entry serves to allow me to vent a little, and to show my readers (especially any of whom may be a tad jealous), that it's not always peaches and cream en France.

The bus system here.

Because Hillary (my dear friend and housemate) and I live a considerable distance outside of downtown, we decided to try to figure out the labyrinth that is the bus system.  I originally thought maybe I'd just walk every day so that I could enjoy the fresh air and get a daily walk in, but that was just a little too ambitious.  Heavy books + laptop + potential bad weather + early mornings means I'm taking the bus every once in a while.

One day after school we went to a bus stop near the university to await bus #21, which takes us right to our street.  21 was boldly posted on the list of routes that stop there - perfect!  We were becoming Aixoise pros right away.  Piece of cake.

... I wish.

Bus 21 never came, and it finally took me asking a bus driver of a different bus what the deal was.  His response (in French) was something like, "Oh yeah, 21 doesn't come here any more.  It takes them a while to update the lists."

Are you KIDDING me?  I'm sorry, but it's times like this that I think, This would NEVER happen in New York.  Or Chicago.  Or Philadelphia. Or Charlotte.  Even the CAT bus at Clemson. Or any other American city where people have places they need to be, on time.  Sorry to vent, but it's true.  Americans would not put up with this nonsense, and neither would I.

Customer Service

Here at IAU, we've been well trained to make sure we say "bonjour," "merci," and "s'il vous plait" whenever we enter a store.  La politesse is very important here, and just like at home, having good manners is very important, and it means a lot to the store managers.  I couldn't agree more.

Well, today was no different. I was at the grocery store called "Casino" with Hillary, picking up a few necessities to get me through the week - pens, wine, grapes, bread, et cetera.  I always get just a tiny bit stressed going through a grocery line in France, because people who wait behind you can practically smell the "foreigner" in you, even though I've tried painstakingly to fit in here with my blue striped shirts and scarves and black ballet flats.

I'm waiting patiently in line, giving the people in front of me plenty of room.  When it's finally my turn, a man jumps in front of me to ask the cashier if she has change for one of his 50 cent coins.  (Really? Change for a COIN?  I've heard of change for a $20 but really...)  So of course the cashier disregards me and deals with the man who needs coins.

Now it's my turn.  I say "bonjour," smile, and start putting my groceries on the belt.  Everything's going smoothly, until she gets to the grapes. Oh, the grapes.  I had picked out these lovely grapes, the kind that you'd imagine a Greek goddess eating.  They're dark, natural looking with a little farm dust on them, and the perfect ripeness.  I had placed them in a plastic bag, but forgot to mark the weight of them.  So the lady gives me this look, as if I could not be any more moronic.  There are maybe 7 people behind me in line at this point.

I run back with the grapes to the produce section, weigh the grapes, and print out the sticker.  I come back in line, perfectly willing to wait at the end of the line, because I didn't want to inconvenience anyone.  But the lady yelled at me to come forward, since she'd already started ringing me up.

So I proudly presented to her my freshly-weighed and priced grapes, and she took the bag and held it like it was a dirty diaper.  This time, she looked at me like there was something wrong with me, just shaking her head as if I was a lost cause.

I never did understand what I did wrong, because there was no way I would remotely consider contributing ANY business to that store, ever.  So I left my pile of groceries on the counter, unpaid for, for Madame Baguette-up-the-Derrière to sort through and put back where they belong.  I was starting to miss my grocery stores at home, who know about customer service.  (And have the technology to just weigh the grapes at the register for you).

Sidewalks

I dont think anywhere in the world is more strict on parking regulations than Clemson University.  Believe me, I've been to the Parking Services office a number of times to try to appeal tickets for being in the wrong spot.  It's people like me who keep them in business.

While it would have been nice to catch a break every once in a while, here in France, parking is simply not regulated.   On the walk to school (since, as you know, the bus can't always be counted on), I have to dodge more cars parked on sidewalks than I can count.  Which is dangerous, because that leaves nowhere to walk except for the busy street.  It seems that cars can just post up wherever they like, whenever they like.  Parking spot?  Psh, who needs those.  I'll take the sidewalk.

It's not just cars, though.  Construction seems to be happening constantly, but instead of creating a safe, alternate route for pedestrians, we're just on our own, to cut through a gas station or walk in the street around the piles of debris.

In closing, I hope this has at most provided some entertainment.  I still feel incredibly lucky and happy to be living in Aix, despite these harmless interactions I've had.  Hey, it's all part of the experience, right?!  It just goes to show that no place is perfect, no matter how good the food is.

I strive not to feel embittered by these cultural snafus, but instead, to be all the more thankful to be a citizen of the capitalistic, caring, schedule-oriented, and free place that is the United States of America.


 
 
Picture
Re-bonjour,

It has now been almost two weeks since I've begun to call Provence my home, and they have been some of the most relaxing, eye-opening, yet chargés (busy) days of my life.  Finally I have a few moments to catch my breath on this lazy Friday morning, since I have chosen to forego Friday classes.  Gotta keep my weekends open!

Last weekend concluded the Early Start Program, which was monumentally helpful to my transition to the French life, giving me three specific advantages to coming early:

1.  An entire week to adjust to the jet lag and get on a normal schedule before classes start.

2.  An opportunity to meet and make friends with 50 other students who also chose to arrive early.

3.  Day trips and tours to attractions around Provence (basically an extra 7 days exploring France, why not?!).

This photo (right) is a group of us who ventured out into the cool blue Mediterranean off a beach at La Ciotat last Saturday.  A special thanks to a very kind and patient Frenchman who took the photo!

And me (below) inching closer and closer to the edge to get the best possible view of Cassis down below.




Picture
I promise, even though it has been a vacation thus far, there will be (and already has been)  some studying involved in this fantasy French adventure that I have presented!  La Rentrée is a buzzword I've been hearing and seeing around town for the past several days, because it means "back to school."  You see it in advertisements for school supplies on signs in bookstores, hear the dread of it in the voice of young adolescents on the bus, and the relief of it in the voice of busy parents.  It's that time of year, when the chill in the wind (in Provence, called le Mistral) blows right through your t-shirt, and you contemplate bringing a sweater and scarf with you on the walk to class, even though it's still early September.  I could not be more excited to bring out the boots and scarves!  Bring it on, Mistral.

The lovely thing about this week is that, like the leaves beginning to fall, I'm starting to settle into a routine, but each day undoubtedly brings something different and exciting.  La rentrée for me consists of a brisk 25 minute walk to school, during which I pass bakeries, cafés, and mysterious, beautiful French people who are either taking a smoke or walking their dog (or both).  My classes are in two different buildings: one, the original IAU building since 1958, has actually been around for over 400 years.      


Picture
It is made completely of stone, and the main hall looks like it was once a chapel.  I go up a spiral staircase to visit the library, and even further up another staircase, where I have to duck my head because it is so small, to my classroom on the top floor.  It has huge glass windows that open to let a nice breeze in during this wonderful transition into fall.

The other building, named Manning Hall, is just around the corner from the first building.  It is brand new for IAU this semester, so our lucky group gets to be the first to break in the new classrooms.  This one has its history too though, even though you can still smell the fresh paint when walking up the stairs.  In these classes I'll be buried in books about Provençal History, French Linguistics, Contemporary French Identities, and many other things, I'm sure.


Picture

This weekend will truly mark the transition from play to work, since we have a day trip to Nice planned for tomorrow, as well as an afternoon exploration of Marseille on Sunday.  Some time in there I will need to prepare for class on Monday, so this will put my time-management skills to the test.

I digress from la rentrée just for a moment to discuss food, undoubtedly a sacred aspect of French culture.  I'm very lucky to have scrumptious dinners prepared my my host mother, Marie-Dominique, 6 nights out of the week.  She is a fabulous cook; some of the highlights have been spaghetti, crêpes,  pizza, quiche, and other homemade delicacies, ALWAYS accompanied by cheese - goat, camembert, brie, you name it.  That leaves one night to go out to dinner, and let me tell you, this dinner from last Saturday was phenomenal.  A group of girls and I went to a restaurant in town, famished after our long day of traveling, to treat ourselves to a big plate of pasta, wine, and dessert.  I just had to share these photos:



Picture
The main dish is linguine with goat cheese and a delicious glass of the house red (wish I remembered the name), and the other plate in the background that my friend ordered is a lasagne aux trois saumons (salmon lasagna). The dessert was a fraisier, which the waiter talked me into ordering instead of just a simple café au lait.  Best decision I made all night.

This entry barely scratches the surface of the wonderful experiences I've had so far; I only wish I could capture every second and squeeze it into a place where I could keep it and relive it for years to come.  Thank goodness for the practices of writing and photography (and the internet!).

To conclude, I'm very enthusiastic about la rentrée and everything it has to offer.  This semester is about learning just as much as it is about experience, so I look forward to sharing this process in the months to come!

A bientôt,

Holly




 
 
Picture
Bonjour, mes amis!

After a harrowing experience that was my flight itinerary (delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage, no sleep), I finally let out a deep sigh of relief upon arriving to my lovely new Provençal home in the south of France.  The house is clean and orderly, with a kitchen laden with glass jars of spices, small blue cartons of milk, cookbooks, and bread.  A small white dog, named Poppei, prances over to greet me along with his sidekick, a tiny ball of energy and fur named Chat (cat).

Most relieving of all upon this introduction is the soft, kind Marie-Dominique, my host mother.  She has short blonde hair, a simple style, and very loving eyes.  Her demeanor is laid back but purposeful, and she could tell that I needed a glass of water, sleep, and some clean clothes.  Within minutes, that was what I got.

My room is typical French country - a white bed with floral blankets, a stately armoire which will be my closet, a pale blue chest of drawers, and an old wooden desk where my "study" abroad will take place.  My favorite part is the window, flanked with blue toile curtains, which allows the sounds and sights of Aix seep into my room.  Blue wooden shutters open to fresh air and squeals of delight from our child neighbors.

I have officially begun my program at l'Institute Universitaire Américain, an very old study abroad program for American undergraduates, located in the heart of Aix-en-Provence, France.  My reaction to the experience so far, after only five days, is one of continual pleasant surprise and enthusiasm.  I've come for the early start program, which is a language-intensive week of orientation and local excursions, and very importantly, meeting my classmates and friends for the next three and a half months.

Picture
Any anxieties I had before about making friends with the other IAU students have been erased; the people here are here for the same reasons I am: to enhance their studies by living in this beautiful country, traveling, improving their French, and stepping out of their comfort zone.  I'm confident that the semester will do just that for each and every one of us.

Picture
A few things on our agenda have been: Wine tasting at the Château La Coste (along with a tour of the vineyard and cellar), exploring the open-air markets of downtown Aix, taking a Provençal cooking class, and seeing a glimpse of the lively and romantic night scene.


The beauty and history of this place is astounding.  The building where our university is located is hundreds of years old, so I walk into a stone and marble marvel where I feel like I'm sharing thoughts with the philosophes themselves.

Fresh food is everywhere, as the marché (market) is open every day.  Locals recommend buying a baguette with some fresh ham and cheese and maybe some fruit and vegetables as a way to save euros when taking your daily lunch, as well as filling your bottle with water flowing from one of the town's many fountains.  How fabulously idyllic!

Picture
It's hard to believe all of this has happened in less than a week.  I can feel my life changing day by day, and I look forward to seeing how this semester will develop me into a better person and world citizen.

That's all for now, but I'm sure I will have many more experiences and adventure to share another day.

Bisous,

Holly




 
 
Right now I am sitting in my room in the middle of piles and piles of clothes, under which my cat Lucky may be hiding, having a something like a wardrobe crisis.  Oh là là.  A wardrobe crisis is not something I’m unfamiliar with, but the scope of this crisis is much wider than “What am I going to wear today?” – I’m dealing with a semester in the south of France.  Squeezing my entire tangible life into a 50-pound suitcase is a challenge, and “packing light” is something I’ve always struggled with.  Is twelve pairs of shoes excessive?

My name is Holly McKissick, and I am from Greenville, South Carolina.  I am a Clemson Tiger who is preparing to make paw prints in Provence while having an inner battle to determine whether I should leave my orange behind (I hear the French are mostly into neutral colors).  I’m also a Francophile who loves to travel, so I’m anticipating that moving to Aix-en-Provence for three and a half months is about to blow my mind.

With all the excitement and stress of packing, I decided to take a break and take a crack at my first ever blog entry.  Because I couldn’t possibly fit everything I’m packing on this entry (and to avoid disassembling my silos of clothes), I’ll be brief: here’s my top 10.

1.     Passport/visa.  Enough said.

2.     Laptop.  Because I’m taking college courses, of course.  And to continue with the blogging!

3.     Camera.  To capture the rolling hills and coast of southern France (and other travels), and of course the new faces of friends I hope to make along the way!

4.     My French-English pocket dictionary, so nothing gets lost in translation.

5.     Boots.  Probably my go-to for those fall and winter days to keep my feet warm and attempt to look put together.

6.     Sweaters.  I hear layering is important, so I am bringing plenty of these.

7.     Scarves.  Ditto on the layering, and how European and chic?!

8.     Sandals.  In hopes of a solid month of late summer climate.

9.     My moleskine journal, a gift from my brother.

10.  A gift for my host family.  Don’t want to spoil the surprise on the internet…

Looking back at what I’ve just written, it seems like I’m using packing as a distraction from the reality that in one week from today, I will be leaving my comfortable and routine life, as well as all the people I know and love, to jump into a brand new one. 


This summer, I could not have had it easier.  I lived at home with my loving parents, had a sweet internship with a company called Foreign Translations, Inc., and worked at a stylish clothing store called Traveling Chic Boutique.  I still had plenty of time to spend with friends and loved ones, enjoy family vacations, even take a trip or two back to Clemson.  It appears that maybe I’ve gotten too comfortable, and it’s time to get back outside of my comfort zone and shake things up!

For one thing, I know no one on this program, so I’ll be starting from ground zero when it comes to making friends.  In hopes of developing some meaningful friendships and making the experience awesome, I need to acquire some travel/study/shopping/croissant-tasting buddies ASAP.  Hopefully there are others in the same boat!  Secondly, my French is rusty. It’s been a while since I’ve practiced speaking en français, so I’m anticipating some rough few first conversations upon arrival.  Désolée!  Lastly, and most difficultly, I’ll be leaving my wonderful family and friends for quite a while.  I’m extremely blessed to be surrounded by incredible people that I love and care about – if only I could fit them all in my suitcase!

To say I’m not nervous would be false.  However, I know that across the Atlantic there are so many opportunities: to learn, experience, meet new people, and bring home a more worldly perspective.  Au revoir South Carolina, et bonjour la France!

A plus tard,

Holly