Remember that time I told you I would try to blog every day? I hate it when he doesn't do stuff...
Yeah, that didn't really happen. So now I'm going to finally write an entry to let everybody know what the heck I've been doing in France since I got here a little over three weeks ago. This will be a lengthy tale of tales; so brew your coffee before getting started, put one of those puffy little back pillows behind you in your shabby little computer chair, kick your feet up, take off those worn-out leather loafers, and get ready to be mesmerized by my story from abroad.
I'm going to begin this chronicle with my arrival to my house-mother's home on Sunday, June 1st; which just so happens to be exactly eighteen days ago. Funny how the best of intentions to write in this blog can go awry when you get to a brand new country with a language that you barely speak and hundreds of new, awesome people to meet. That was me when I got to Aix-en-Provence, except that I was also jetlagged and exceptionally tired. When my house-mom picked me up from the airport, I think I spoke like three words of French on the 25 minute trip to her apartment from the Marseille airport. I knew the language well enough to converse, I suppose, but I was intimidated by my terrible accent and, frankly, I don't think that my school's classes really helped me that much with speaking.
When I did finally get to the apartment, I found out I was the first one to get there (because I knew I was going to have a housemate named Michael Alan, whom I briefly talked to on Facebook prior to my arrival in France) and had the choice between a twin-size, baby bed or a much more reasonable full-size, adult bed. I think you know which one I chose. First come, first served right?
I then unloaded my suitcase in a whirlwind of movement, frantic pacing, putting my stuff in designated locations, with a few interruptions of poorly worded french conversations with my house-mom, and then proceeded to pass out like a grizzly bear in the Kodiak winter on my new bed. I was supposed to go with my house-mom to pick up my housemate, but I absolutely slept through that alarm and about five others. I woke up exactly when he was arriving at our new French home, giving him the distinct pleasure of meeting me bleary-eyed and zombie-like almost immediately after arising from my coma.
To say that I was jet-lagged would probably be a little bit of an understatement. I was uber-super-heavy-duty-jet-lagged and I literally did nothing that day except sleep and recover from the lengthy trip to France from Austin. I think that I may have had dinner at some juncture that evening, but I can honestly say that I don't recall eating anything at all that first day. I'm quite confident that my roommate, Michael, thought I was going to be a homebody who didn't like to go out or do anything fun because I chose to not do anything my first night in France. I can't say that I blame him, but he may have been slightly mistaken. Just ever so slightly though.
One of the first people to talk to me, Paige. She gave me this look quite often...
Yeah. I don't party. Like ever.
The following Sunday, IAU held an informal orientation at the main campus in the downtown (or in français, le centre-ville) area of Aix for all the students had arrived the day before. I, being a completely ignorant American who had never traveled outside of North America and Hawaii who could say like ten sentences in French, was offered a ride by my house-mother. I obviously accepted that offer, and she drove me to the area of Aix called The Rotunde and led me to the school. During the walk, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the city. The streets are narrow, full of various shops selling every good that you can think of; but it was the buildings that struck me. They are incredibly old. And beautiful in a way that only ancient things can be. It was really an eye-full just to take in the scene of the downtown area of Aix and appreciate it.
After traveling a little ways in to the city, we arrived at my new college. It is situated by a millennia old cathedral, down a little narrow street, and in a building that is almost as old as the cathedral itself. The building that IAU now fills was once a place where criminals were hung and tortured, a part of the church just up the rue, and also a halfway-house for reformed prostitutes. And that sort of history is typical here in the main cities of France and Europe. The countries here have ten times the history that America has, and many of European buildings here have weathered war, destruction, and many, many generations of man. It's a really illuminating place to dig for history.
Anyways, back to the orientation. I got there with my house-mom a bit on the early side and sat down next to myself for the first ten minutes. I had a very entertaining conversation with myself about all the cool things I wanted to see in Europe, how much money I was hoping to not spend (but still did), and all the cool people that I was hoping to meet while studying and while I was backpacking through Europe. While I was having this vibrant conversation with myself, I'm pretty sure I got some weird looks from the other early people. I kind of felt judged.
After this conversation, I decided I would start talking to some other people in the IAU program this summer and I met Tim while I was still sitting down. Turns out Tim is in one of my classes, Ethics of War and Peace, and I would be getting to know him much better later in the week. I also met a whole bunch of other people, predominantly girls because, hey, more girls want to go to France than guys. Why this is, I do not know, but it still suits me just fine. After talking to Kelsey, Paige, Tatiana, Katie, Kate, and everybody else, my house-mom interrupted me to tell me that she wanted to go home. If anybody knows anything about me, it's that I like to talk, and I felt like I had only been there for a hot second, so I begged, in the worst french ever, to stay for 10 mor minutes. This request was hesitantly granted, and I was happily allowed to talk to people for exactly 10 more minutes.
Just Ten More Minutes!
I went home after that, went to bed, and began Monday with orientation. I don't recall much about that day except that I was painfully bored and grew quite weary of listening to rules, regulations, how to get to school, stories of needing go to class, blah, blah, blah, blah. I did however get to talk to Paige and Kelsey a whole lot during orientation and we became fast friends in the world of summer abroad. (A hint- studying abroad in a relatively small group of students forces us to become friends extremely quickly. It also invites lots of drama. More on that later.)
Since I didn't write a blog post everyday as I had thought I could, I don't really remember that first week all that well. I made great friends with the people at IAU, and I went out almost every night. I know this is frowned upon by some of the more conservative members of the school, but I'm only here with these people for 6 weeks and I want to enjoy every single second that I can. This means that I stay in for about one night per week and the rest of the time I am with my friends. I've stayed ahead of my studies and have worked hard in my classes, but I also have enjoyed lots of wine and drinks with friends exploring Aix and getting to know the French people along the way. Wouldn't you want to live life to the fullest?
Anyways, time has literally flown by until the present time. We have TWO freaking weeks left in Aix, and I try not to think about it too much. Part of the fast-moving friendship part of studying abroad is that you also form really hard bonds with those that you fall in with. One of my best friends here, Paige, left last week and it was really quite a sting to my heart in many ways. Our friendship endured just a touch of turbulence while she was here, but I found out the last couple days that she was here just how awesome of a person that she really is. I got to hang out with her mom in Aix, the last Saturday that I saw her, and we just had a really awesome time. She had French class with me in the first three weeks, and I'm not sure that the second one can be the same without her. Even if it's not, I don't think it is the last time that I will see her or the rest of the unbelievable people here in Aix.
I'm going to make it a point to see these new friends of mine as often as I can. I think it would be awesome to plan a trip every so often so that we can all hang out, catch up, and maintain the bonds of friendship that we found in narrow streets of Aix-en-Provence.
Lastly, I have been to several places since my last post on this blog: specifically Ibiza and Barcelona. I also was a part of a huge musical festival in Aix called La Fete de la Musique. I think that this post is waxing on the lengthy side of things, so later this week I am going to post some flashbacks of these trips. Smaller posts encourage me to actually write something and also make it easier for you, my ever loyal fans, to read my posts. I will post oodles of pictures and hereby swear to post on each of these weekends before the next weekend arrives.
Ever your friend,
When I look at my old pictures, all I can see is what I used to be but am no longer. I think: What I can see is what I am not.
- Aleksandar Hemon
Pictures coming here!
It's Time To Fly to France...
Yeah, bloody freaking early....
Lots o' crap.
Four in the morning can sure roll around quickly...especially when you go to bed after midnight the night before that particular morning. And that morning arrives quickly even more especially if you go to bed at midnight, but can't seem to fall asleep because you have a big trans-Atlantic flight the next morning taking you to a place you have never been, but have been fantasizing about incessantly. Oh yeah, and you have spent the last two months planning the trip; saving up money (and by saving I mean begging your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. for their coin jars and extra cash) completing an annoying amount of paperwork to apply and be officially accepted in to a study abroad program, and then, lastly, spending all that money on things that you are confident you will need in Europe because...just because man! I was that guy this morning. I finished packing my suitcase, backpack, and associated daypack at around midnight to midnight-thirty on Thursday and was determined to fall asleep immediately. Let's just say that I failed miserably.
I had the determination to sleep immediately because I had spent the previous 48+ hours awake doing what I guess could be called pre-packing, finishing that cacophony of paperwork, and just generally completing the other associated crap that my various schools require for me to study in France and actually get credit for it. But, I was admittedly mostly packing Wednesday night. And I was packing last minute because, for whatever reason, I get a sub-conscientious fulfillment out of putting things off. I was even a Boy Scout earlier in life. Figure that one out.
Then, after having stayed up for way longer than any self-respecting human being should the Wednesday night before I left, as in no sleep at all, I decided to listen to my sister and go on a river-floating trip in San Marcos, Texas with her and my roommate on Thursday. Yeah, the last day before flying out, I decided to drink and float on a tube down a river while accomplishing nothing. It was an awesome way to spend the resulting half-day with my little sis, who I won't see when I get back because she just became a big girl and graduated before me, but it was still a half day of my last day to prepare for my studies in Aix-en-Provence and for my backpacking trip after that. Then, shockingly, that half-day blew up to approximately 7/9ths of the day when I got home to my apartment in Austin, TX and passed out on my couch thanks to the lack of sleep the night before, the sun exposure on the river, and just general lack of sustenance outside of the several (ok, several several) beers enjoyed on the river.pour modifier.
My family is better than yours.
It's a very tough life I live.
When I woke up I had to immediately leave my house after packing nothing the entire day to meet my mom, step-dad, and the same incorrigible, little sister at Black Star Coop Brewery and Pub for my last meal in Austin before leaving. It was a horribly delicious plan that involved a certain amount of craft beer, the best shrimp and grits I have ever had, and a plan to become a member of the Coop when I return. I didn't tell my parents about that last part though. It's kind of a secret. Hook 'em! For Liberty! And America!
But, I digress. The meat of my story lies after waking up this Friday morning.
I did manage to pack everything, although I regret not putting an international adapter in my daypack. I deeply suspect I will be a sad and depressed American in about an hour or so, when my iThings become iDead in Brussels, Belgium. Maybe I'll luck out and find a charger, but I kind of doubt it. I don't even know how to say charger in French, Dutch, or German; the three languages of Belgium. (A fact that I learned enroute to the aforementioned country courtesy of a friendly seat-mate.) So, if my iPad can hang in there for a little bit longer, I will post pretty pictures of my aircraft travels to Brussels and then on to Marseille.
In those pictures, you will see that I left Austin at around 7:30 this morning to land in Philly. My whole family saw me off because they are just awesome people. I bought some Texas-sized gifts for my host family before leaving Texas, which caused me a little bit of trouble in Philadelphia when I wanted to leave the airport to check out Philly's downtown. I really wanted to see the Liberty Bell, the Constitutional Historic National Park and eat at Good Dog Bar and Grill (from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives). I managed to do all of those things, but I had to get a bit crafty with one item in particular.
What specifically caused me issues was a medium-sized bottle of hot sauce I purchased in Austin for my host family. In case you weren't aware, you can't carry liquid things through security, which I needed to go through again in order to reenter the airport to catch my flight to Brussels. They don't let you carry liquids through security because that liquid could actually be bomb water in disguise. Normal people always have bomb water disguised as hot sauce laying around their house willy-nilly. Anyways, my hot-sauce-appearing bottled bomb water was too big to leave and reenter. Why can't they just stamp it with an approval notice or something since I bought it in the freaking airport in Austin?!
Anyways, my clever idea to keep the bottle of hot sauce AND still go downtown after I was told that the info desk couldn't hold on to it for me was to hide it somewhere deep in the bowels of the Philadelphia International Airport. Where did I hide it, you may ask? I stuck it in the bottom of one of those toilet paper cover dispenser things and simply hoped that the janitors would not take an interest in a single jammed dispenser. They did not and therefore my evil plan to take over the world from Aix-en-Provence has not been thwarted by Captain Super Cleaner. At least not just yet. I'll be waiting...
After I saw the Liberty Bell, I took the Airport Train back to the Philly International Airport, breezed through security, went to the USO for some free soda and water, and managed to catch my flight to Brussels with time to spare. I actually had a really excellent seat on the plane right next to the door. However, the food they served me was pretty bloody awful while their excuse for complimentary "wine" might as well have been soured grape juice. I rectified the situation with a bottle of authentic French bordeaux, which sadly cost me some money. Still, better to enjoy the million plus hours on this plane with good wine than suffer without it. That is a saying right?
After 9 hours or so on that plane, I did finally make it to France in Marseille where my brand new foster family was waiting to meet me and take me to my new home. I will be living in an apartment to the west of downtown Aix-en-Provence with Camille, my foster mom, who is a retired grandmother that takes in students who study at IAU. She doesn't speak much english, so I'm going to be forced to speak French a lot to communicate with her. And anyone who knows me knows that it is best to take away any shortcuts that I could use to cheat fluency. I'm actually going to have to come by it honestly. Kind of a bummer.
Either way, it has been a very long trip to France and I am very tired. I didn't end up getting my hot sauce through customs in Brussels because it was over 100 milliliters, which apparently is verboten in the EU. So, my craftiness in Philly was completely wasted. Additionally, don't tell the customs agents in Belgium that you are staying in the Eurozone for 83 days with only 100 euros to your name. Mention that you have an international credit card after saying how poor you are. Lesson learned.
Lastly, I did manage to deliver the chocolates I got in Austin to Camille without them being tossed by security or customs, and she LOVES them. I've had two awesome French meals now with Camille and my housemate Michael, which we concluded with my chocolates.
I'm going to walk around the town tomorrow as much as I can and I also have an orientation for most of the day with my school as well. I will post another update tomorrow night or the next night and really start to get in to a rhythm with this thing.
Here are some more pictures since you are probably tired of reading all of my rambling:
Liberty Bell in Philly
The amazing burger at Good Dog Bar.
The awesome view flying over France!
Just me classin' up the joint with a new Friend from IAU, Tessa.
Yeah...Going to France and Stuff
I think I need more survival gear!
This is me. I am not in France. Common misconception...
Waiting for France.
For the past couple of months, that is literally all that I seem to have been doing. While I was sitting in my classes this semester, walking around my admittedly awesome University of Texas campus, talking to my friends, watching movies and TV shows, and even when I'm all alone in places like my tiny, little, college-student-status shower, all I can think about is how far away my trip to Europe is from that exact day, hour, and minute. Even now, I have a free little app on my iPhone called Dreamdays that is counting down the days to my departure from sunny Austin, marking the beginning of my transcontinental European odyssey this summer.
And with Dreamdays counting exactly 12 days left until I jet for Marseille, I don't know that my excitement could peak anymore than it already has. I have excitedly purchased every little thing that I think that I might need: from a Swiss army knife (you know, in case the zombie apocalypse happens while I’m in Europe) to a very small and easily packable bath towel. I have purchased literally anything that has popped in to my mind that I might need. I have gotten a new camera with GPS functionality to record the trip, a map of Europe, a compass watch, and literally just an amalgamation of things that some blogger told me would be SUPER important for any trip to Europe. Survival strap with a fire starter? Yep, I got it. Brand new shades to look fly as Michael Jordan? Oh yeah, you better believe I got those. And I might still be getting some new clothes and shoes just to be as stylish as those Europeans.
But I have an additional reason for buying a whole bunch of new stuff; I am going to be backpacking across Europe for almost 40 days after I’m done studying at IAU in Aix-en-Provence. This means that I am essentially bringing two different sets of personal items and clothes, one for studying in Aix and the other for backpacking across the continent. For studying, I need to look reasonably professional and dress well enough to feel awesome when meeting local French people, but when backpacking the key to packing is all about being as lightweight as possible. Some of the items for both stages of my European odyssey can cross over, like my lightweight bath towel. But some things don’t cross over at all, things like that brand-new Swiss army knife and a super-lightweight sleeping bag. So, I am having to get pretty creative when it comes to packing for France and Europe. In fact, I am bringing a suitcase to send back to the States after studying in Aix while also bringing my backpacking backpack to keep with me for the remainder of my time in Europe.
My brand-spanking new backpack!
Yet, I must say that I am extremely excited to get to France and meet my host family and all the people that I am going to be studying with in Aix this summer. I have this very detailed idea in my head as to how awesome my French family is going to be and how fantastic the food they cook will be. I’m kind of hoping that I get a family with a kid or two, as I have heard that children can really, really help me towards fluency in the French language. They are much more carefree about what they say and aren’t afraid to say things that others might feel are culturally unacceptable or something that an adult would be uncomfortable saying. And, let’s be honest, little kids are the coolest people on the planet anyways. So, here’s to hoping that I get lucky with my homestay family. I’m sure whatever family I end up getting that I will be extremely happy regardless. Free Drinks? Yes. Yes, please.
As long as there is somebody to show me around the French delicacies and culinary excellence, I will be happy as a clam. A clam covered in a creamy, wine-butter sauce served with a glass of French wine and a crème brûlée for dessert that is. I think that IAU’s demi-pension plan is a brilliant way for students to get to experience what French families eat at home and what they eat at restaurants and cafés. I’m really excited about this aspect of my living in Aix and will do everything I can to eat as much French food as I can. I’ve been told it is just fantastic!
To be perfectly honest, there are just too many things that I am excited about for my summer studies in Aix and my follow-on backpacking trip through Europe. My excitement has led me to do quite a few things in preparation for my trip as well. For instance, I decided to get in better shape for this trip and have managed to lose over 20 pounds before leaving the states for Europe. I have also been working with professional teachers on a fantastic website, italki.com, in order to be prepared to speak as much as I can in French when I arrive at the airport in Marseille. I’ve gotten an amazing haircut, a brand new suit, and done so many things in preparation for my trip that it has just become part of my pre-departure routine.
And the routine is just about over! 12 days and a wakeup are all that separate me from my flight to Aix and six amazing weeks of studying there. I truly can’t wait and I don’t think it is possible to be more excited than I already am. Let’s toast to my finishing packing and the long flight from Austin to Marseille. I will see everyone on the other side of the Atlantic.
- J. P.