It has been officially two weeks since my return from France, and I still reminisce about my days there. The photo below is of my last day in Aix, after my Art final, on my way home to pack for my 4am flight. I was looking forward to go home since this had been the longest I had been without my family, but on that last friday, I just did not want to go home. I was taking everything in for one last time, and thinking about how I would no longer be seeing so many outdoor cafés, no longer be hearing French being casually spoken about me, or just walking on a French street, where hundreds of years ago, things were not that different. I had experienced history, and in those six weeks, I had become part of southern France's history. I think one of the funniest changes I saw while I was there was that in the first three weeks I was there, I would get so excited every time I heard English, especially from an American; but by the last week or so, my housemates and I were able to recognize the "Americans", and the feelings towards them was not the same...But, oh well.
Reflections about my time abroad are many--they go beyond the educational scene, and touch upon my personal growth, and my global awareness. I cannot stress enough how much I loved my classes there. My politics and society in Europe was phenomenal. What I would always tell my housemates/friends there was that I felt like a sponge--everything I was learning I was just soaking up, and I couldn't get enough! I would be sad when the class ended, but at the same time that made me look forward to the readings, and the next meeting. Now, I had never experienced this feeling before, so the fact that I got to experience it for the first time in a politics/society class about Europe while in Europe, just made my time there so much more exciting. A part of my final for that class was discussing politics with the professor at a café. We had had class in a café already, so that was really chill and a nice way to participate in the French lifestyle. I truly feel that the professor prepared all the students to achieve the class objective of being able to talk European politics at a cocktail party (or, for a more laid back environment, a café); any takers for talking politics with me?
My other class--French Modern Art--was also great. I am not an art major, but this class was an elective for my major, so nonetheless a requirement. I didn't know what to expect, but it was so insightful about art itself, but also about southern France's history. I mean, there must be something special about France's southern region that has attracted artists since the 19th century--and I feel so lucky to have been able to see it and experience this southern specialty for myself. Below is a picture I took with my phone of Mt. Saint Victoire from the exact spot where the French artist Cezanne made his own numerous renditions of Aix's famous mountain. The entire art class went there and had class there one day after visiting Cezanne's studio. All the art excursions were great, too! 
Experiencing the French culture through the host family, the daily walk to school, nightlife and excursions was enlightening. I was able to practice my French thoroughly, eat delicious food, learn interesting customs, and live the experience of a lifetime. I met some amazing people that I know I will be keeping in touch with, and like good with the bad, others that I learned a lot from. Nightlife was pretty awesome. Ladies Nights, good beer, good music, and good people always meant a good time. Living on your own abroad is different from being on your own in the States in the fact that not only must you be able to communicate with the population of the area where you are, but you must also adapt to their customs. I definitely feel more humble upon my return. I got to see how people in a different geographical location live, and how their culture has transcended throughout numerous generation--how their political views are different, and how their societal views are different. There is so much history in Europe, so much culture... I can't begin to describe how it feels to be found in the middle of it all.
My first time buying groceries in the States, it was inevitable that I would be searching for produce that reminded me of France: cheeses, baguettes, and the like. To my great surprise (and delight), I stumbled upon the exact same apricot jam brand/case thing at my local store--Fresh & Easy. I kid you not, the exact same thing. The jam pictured at the left is exactly like the jam my host family had back in Aix, that provided me with the most delicious baguette-jam breakfasts every morning. It provided me such comfort to see that they had it there! I did not buy it because I have enough jam at home, but I will be definitely heading over to Fresh & Easy first thing after I finish my jam at home.
The transition back to my summer routine has been alright. I experienced jet lag for the first time ever. It is not so hot. I would crash by 4pm. And since I work a summer camp, the first week I was back consisted of me working, sleeping in the afternoon, and being a nocturnal creature until work the next day... I repeat: not so hot. This second week is much better, I am better adapted now. It is amazing to see how much humans are creatures of adaption. 

I loved this summer experience. It has opened the doors to many other thoughts, and plans to study abroad in the future. I would definitely recommend this program to anyone--whether this will be your first time studying abroad, or your last. Make the most of it. Make memories. Live.

-Laura V.  
Sorry for not writing in a while... I thought I would've had more time to dedicate to this blog, but as it turns out: life abroad tends to be busy, busy, busy... I have been active pretty much every weekend--with all the excursions with Georges and my housemate, homework, and Aix nightlife, it really is a challenge to find the time to write on here. 
Today was the IAU sponsored trip to Gorges du Verdon. As you can see from the picture above, it was beautiful. France really is magical. There has not been one outing in which I have not been impressed--and I come from California where I like to believe there is a wide variety in landscapes! The day was pretty active--we stopped at two cities prior to making it to the man-made lake here where we took a nice--and much needed--swim. The first stop was at Vinon sur Verdon, which was a little town where we stopped pretty much just to buy baguettes for lunch. Oh, yeah, the baguettes here are amazing, by the way. Every food here is amazing. So if you're a fan of food, France is for you. You can find a wide variety, too--middle-eastern restaurants, Italian, Chinese...they got it. And pizza...lots, and lots of (cheap..and good!) pizza. The second town, Moustiers, was a little bigger. There was a market, and a chapel at the top of some hill that you could climb to if you were up to it.
On our way home after our stay in the lake, we stopped at some lavender fields and took pictures. The fields were quite extensive and beautiful, but there were not that many. The summer this year is arriving late, and therefore many of the fields have not yet bloomed--but luckily, we were able to find this nice field, and stop to take some pictures. It was the icing on the cake for this day. It was really chill and relaxing--just what I needed to help me push my way through the last week of classes here. I cannot believe this is all coming to an end--so soon! 

After walking around at night with my housemate, I was saddened by the idea that in a little over a week I would no longer be in Aix, enjoying a nice summer night out in town, with 1 euro wine glasses, and the beautiful French language buzzing around. Although I am ready to go home, at the same time I know I will miss just being in Aix. It is such a comforting town, buzzing with life at all hours. Well...except Sundays in the evening. But that goes for all of France. 

Oh, and did I mention Tour de France passed through Aix yesterday? No, but that's okay: I'm telling you now, ain't I? Well, as you can see to the right, there are some bikers riding by. Please excuse the bad picture quality. It truly was a fleeting moment kind of shot. But it was awesome to know that I was present for such a historic event--they were celebrating their 100th year of Tour de France! Exciting! However, I was surprised by the low outcome of spectators. But that's okay because that gave me the opportunity to be as close as I was. 

Oh, happy belated fourth of July, everyone!

Until next time,

Outdoor markets are the bomb! Not only do the markets radiate vibrantly fresh colors, the aroma of the food and the nice vendors make it really difficult for you not to come back. The big markets take place Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but you can find a small market everyday at the Place Richelme. It is also important to know that on Saturdays, the main market takes place on Place des Precheurs/Place du Verdon, and throughout town that same day, there will be smaller markets as well--so definitely take a stroll and check it out. Only available on Saturdays, but soooo worth it, are the most amazing madeleines--Madeleines de Christophe. You can also find Paella, crepes, and other goodies. But food is not the sole thing you will find at these provencal marchés--clothes, accessories, books, art--you name it, they have it! I am just a big food fanatic, and am consequently gravitated to photograph the food...
PictureClock Tower
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the main market (accessories, clothes, etc) is found on the Cours Mirabeau, but Place Richelme will still have the food, and the flower market will be found in the next plaza over by the Clock Tower.

So without further a'do, come one, come all! To the great, provençal marchés of Aix! They are not only a great place to get lunch for some good prices, but you can also find provincial goodies to bring back as souvenirs to friends and families. Interacting with the vendors there is a great experience-- and not only will you get to practice your french, but you will ultimately be rewarded with French produce! I am a big fan of farmers markets in the States, but this just has no comparison. 

Enjoy your shopping!

French windows in Aix--love!!
French windows in Aix--lovin' it!
Today was the first day of classes, and I feel the excitement of what this summer semester will bring. To the left you can see the road that leads to the main IAU building, where orientation took place, and where you can find the computar labs, the cave (student lounge), and library. They are pretty neat. The building itself is to the left, right when the road starts to lower. 

The walk to the school from my homestay is not too bad--20 minutes. I really enjoy it, and since I cross the Cours Mirabeau everyday, on market days I get to experience that aspect of French life. In addition, there is a market everyday on one of the plazas by our school, which makes buying fruit for lunch very convenient!

The courses I will be taking this summer are European Culture and Society, and French Modern Art. As an International Studies major at my school, these are required courses, and I feel so lucky to be able to take these courses while being in a European country. This way, I can digest my learning by observing life around me. In addition, what better place to study French Modern Art than in the south of France, where so many of the modern artists escaped to for inspiration?

I have already met some really cool people--plus I have an awesome housemate who is in another program with whom I can tell I will be spending a lot of time with. I think it'll be cool to know people from IAU and CEA (the program my housemate is doing). I can see how each program works, and if I ever decide to study abroad again, I have something to compare it to. My housemate is only taking a french course--however, it is a Monday through Friday, four hours a day, extensive French course. I think it will be very rewarding in the end. I am kind of regretting not taking a French course, but after giving it some thought I have realized that I am living IN a French city... speaking French is unavoidable. Therefore, I will make it a personal goal to speak French everyday with someone outside of my host family. Let's see if I can get rid of my American accent (or at least make it less noticeable).

 I think this will be a very eventful and enlightening summer.

Until next time!
First French lesson learned today at orientation: the importance and value of saying Bonjour in France—this is in the market/grocery setting, NOT on the streets; they will think you are a weirdo. French are very nice people, they just don’t bother with the superficial stuff. Unlike many places in America, you do not go about town saying hi to every one, or smiling—you just mind your own business and if you see someone you know, then you can actually say Bonjour and take some time to talk to them. It is different, and I must admit it was hard to stop myself from smiling all the time—especially with so much beauty that makes up Aix.

So, on to the lesson: when you enter any boutique, or small store, you say Bonjour; if you don’t, the French will find it rude. Before you talk to anyone or ask for anything, you say Bonjour Mademoiselle/Monsieur, and afterwards you always say Au revoir. It was stressed a lot during orientation, and I decided to experiment a little afterwards to see how true it was.

Résultat : C’était vrai. Dire Bonjour est très important pour les françaises. At the (small—not Monoprix or other larger) grocery store, they will not ring you up until you say Bonjour. After you say it though, they are chill and very nice people. It feels good to say it, too.

Today I bought my first baguette, and some strawberries and an apple at the open market. I felt very satisfied because I was able to do all the transactions (ordering and paying, asking for how much it was and all that good stuff) in French. I also bought some other French goodies here and there—some caramel candy and some cookies.

Je suis désolée pour n’avoir pas des photos. I will make sure to bring my camera with me tomorrow.

A bientôt !



Aix, ça peut-être vrai ?

In a week and a half I will be departing to the beautiful southern region of France. It has been my dream to go live in France since middle school, and now that I have been given the opportunity to do so, I am more excited than ever! I went to Europe last summer, so most of the safety tips are still fresh in my head. I think this will be a great opportunity to practice my French and learn more about the French culture first-hand. This is so exciting! I am looking forward to taking classes with my university professors, since both of the classes I am taking are being taught by professors from USF, the university I attend here in the states. I know these classes will not be a breeze, but I do not expect them to be. I think it will be great to learn about European culture and society while I am in Europe. I am also looking forward to living with a French family. I will not be speaking English to them since I don’t want them to speak English to me; therefore, from the moment I first see them, to our last goodbye, I will be communicating with them strictly in French. Additionally, I look forward to the food they will be providing. I love food, so the fact that I will be cooked traditional French food is such an exciting thing to look forward to.

There are some renown sites in Aix that I am stoked to see. First off, there is the City of Books library. The outside looks like three books stalked on a book shelf—the famous Le Petit Prince, and Camus’ L’etranger. I can’t wait to take a picture right in front of it! Secondly, there is Cours Mirabeau, which is supposedly “Europe’s most captivating street”. In my future blogs I hope to be able to upload pictures so that you are able to feel with me the great essence of Aix, and see France’s beautiful Provence region.

Until next time!