As difficult as it was adjusting the first week, things have been pretty excellent. My weeks of classes go by quickly, with the simplification of my satellite life over here, there isnít much else to do other than go to class and complete my homework. No jobs or family things or social engagements. Things are just simpler and I think it will be reflected in my grades. So far, the weeks have been quiet, filled with reflection, and mostly by myself. Which sounds mildly depressing but I think it is exactly what I needed. As I have gotten older I have come to cherish any time I get to myself, and at home this seems to be getting less and less.
The weekends however, are a different story. There are five of us who have sort of formed our own little group and have been enjoying the sights together. Thursday night we went to a hookah bar for some relaxation and really good tea. Friday night we went to someone in our schoolís host familyís house who allowed him to have a BBQ for other students. The mood was welcoming and it was sort of exactly the way I like to spend a Friday night, grilling burgers on a Provencal estate on Southern France with good wine and better conversation.
The weekend was comprised of two beach trips, some cliff jumping, numerous naps in the sun, and one hell of a tan. I have decided that when it comes to study abroad there are two options: Go to a place where the culture shocks you and the life is difficult so you come home with a different view on life and a better perspective on how much you actually have. Or, go somewhere where the people just know how to live. Life here is slower, but not less productive. The food here is better, but not much more expensive. Nightlife is more fun with less emphasis on enjoying others company rather than getting drunk. There is less of an emphasis on having the most; on the contrary people tend to strive to live simpler. It is trash day today and as I look outside my window I see one kitchen sized trash bag per household on the street. That is UNHEARD of in the states. I had an apartment in Lowell last year and it looked like everyone was moving out every Friday, 12 trash bags and old furniture on everyoneís steps. However, fashion is definitely more important here, as is personal appearance, it is sort of my favorite part, everybody looks GOOD.
Study abroad in an interesting experience in terms of itís definite end point. We are sort of all in agreement that when we went to college there was a really big emphasis on making it feel permanent and getting close to the people around you. But here, this only lasts 4 months. So I am almost trying to maintain a certain disconnect from the people and the situations while trying to take in everything I can at the same time.
As I am sure everyone knows France has nationalized health care. Everybody gets healthcare, even the homeless people on the street can go to the doctor, it is pretty fantastic. In comparison to the American system it is far more organized and an endlessly better system. I could rant on about this for pages but nobody really wants to hear that in a study abroad blog. Anyway, last night we were about to eat dinner when my host dad told me that they had to go to the hospital for my host mom but wouldnít tell me why. So I sat down to dinner by myself confused and not expecting them home for hours (as we all know in the states you canít get out of an emergency room in less then three hours). I had barely finished eating my chicken when they were back in the house. Ladies and gentlemen Veronique saw the doctor, had an ultrasound, and was back in the house in 45 minutes. 45 minutes!! Oh, and there is no co-pay. As a huge supporter of nationalized healthcare I have to say, that only reaffirmed my stance. Oh, and my host mom is ok, she is just pregnant =)
Weekend trip to Brussels tomorrow which I am very very very very excited for and will take numerous pictures of me doing things like eating Belgium waffles in Belgium.
They city is beautiful. It is not like Paris or London where you feel like tourists are only there to be robbed and trying to talk to a Frenchman is ruining their day. I honestly feel like an invader on the quiet life of this city. The townspeople don't pay much attention to us but then they do they are patient and helpful. Most of Aix consists of yellow stone buildings with light blue shutters; it was the home of Cezanne and was built for the aristocrats of the time. Not to shabby.
I flew into Marseilles with three other girls from the program who were from the Boston area. After a 53-euro cab ride we got to Aix, carried our luggage up three flights of stairs while the Monsieur who owns the hotel chuckled and shaked his head. He was the kind of man who could maintain complete politeness to you through verbal language, but his eyes and his body language blatantly said the French version of "I think you are a schmuck" but other than that things have been pleasant.
We walked through the streets like kids in a candy store and stumbled upon our school accidentally. It is across from a cathedral and run by people who clearly love their jobs. We were a day early and greeted with much enthusiasm. The school buildings are always available to us as well are the staff, you can tell they pride themselves on making this place feel like home.
We continued to walk around the city until the lack of sleep the night before and the pressure of travel finally overcame us and a nap was necessary. The most glorious hour and a half nap and longer than normal shower followed. Glorious I tell you, glorious. We met up with a girl from Pennsylvania who is also staying in our hotel waiting for classes to start and went to dinner at an outside restaurant; it was 8 o'clock (as that is when they eat dinner here) and still perfect weather. Always perfect weather in Aix, except for the 60 days a year it rains. A glass of wine, a salad with goat-cheese and a mango gelato later I decided I could stay here forever (but it is only day 1...)
Meeting my host family today and slightly freaking out about it. My extreme lack of knowledge on the French language is going to make for an awkward few weeks, but I am hoping my winning smile and cute outfit make up for it a little (it works that way doesn't it? yea I didn't think so...) My roommate left about 20 minutes ago so now I have nothing to do but sit and wait anxiously, throw my pride out the window and make the best of the situation. I do not doubt my ability to pick up the language, "Je voudrais urn verre de vin rouge" see? I learned that yesterday. Semi pro already.
...So, my family speaks perfect English. Figures. And by family I mean Bruno and Veronique. A photographer and a graphic designer in their late forties who have the French gift off looking thirty. The house is lovely. Four stories and right near school. I have my own room and bathroom and it is even complete with a cat named Millie. They have made me feel so at home and have been very patient with my terrible French and kind enough to speak English with me, but we are slowly going to phase it out. They took me to Marseilles to go to the beach yesterday, I jumped off of the coral and snorkeled with the fishies in the clear water. You can literally just bend over on the coral and see to the bottom of the ocean. Our beaches don't hold a candle to these. Lunch followed at Bruno's sisters house with his parents who don't speak any English but brought me Obama's book and said "J'adore Obama, J'adore! To make an overly generalized statement, everybody in France LOVES Obama. It was lovely to eat a long lunch with wine and cheese with a table full of people speaking French. I am so glad I did a homestay already; I wouldn't have traded that day for anything. Bruno's father tried to teach me how to pronounce "urn peu" without sounding like an American but by the look on his face I don't think I was making any progress.
Today I had my orientation. My classes are in the building next to Cezanne's school and across from his church and are old yet beautiful. I had my first taste of the two-hour lunch break today and I have to say, I don't hate it. I am meeting up with the girls I flew with tonight to finally go to a pub and experience some sort of nightlife. As a professor said today "we French love to sit at Cafe's for hours and judge the people walking by" so clearly I must try this.
My host family continues to be amazing. We only see each other at dinner every night but the conversation is lively and dinner is always followed by dessert, and perhaps a game of scrabble and a movie. They are as respectful of me as I am of them and it works out great. Two of the girls I have gotten two know have not had the same luck. They live with an older woman who yells at them in French a lot and barely feeds them. The last straw was when she presented shredded carrots as dinner. They are moving into a new home tomorrow.
Met up with some girls and sat at a cafe late into the night on Monday. The waiters made fun of our poor French but that is going to be the case for a while. We savored two drinks over the course of the night and laughed and relaxed and got to know each other it was fantastic but I now know why people don't go out on Monday: It makes getting up on Tuesday very difficult!
Two classes with the same Professor today. He walked into class wearing shorts, hemp sandals, and the kind of puffy collarless shirt that Fabio wears, with less exciting sleeves. His hair was set in an untidy ponytail with hair going every which way. He is from San Mateo and moved to France as young man, found love, lost love to cancer, and stayed in the place they loved. I have yet to figure out if he is one of the most interesting people I will meet here, or only the most arrogant, time will tell that.
Samedi 12 Septembre
Went to Nice today with school. I have been there before and was equally unimpressed with it this time. The history was quite impressive but the rest of the city has been quite rundown since its glory days when Grace Kelly and Carey Grant ran around the city in ďTo Catch a Thief.Ē But a fun day anyway. I broke apart from the girls I had been hanging out with and sat down with random people at dinner who seem to be a better match for me than the others. It has definitely been hard to meet people with the homestay program. Everyone is spread about the city and the only time we really see each other is in class. It is a good thing I am not shy or I would most likely be miserable.
Cassis was the opposite of Nice in my mind, but my host family thought I was crazy when I said I liked it better. It is a small fishing port near aix where Matisse and Picasso spent many years. It is quaint and reminded me of the French version of a small New England town. The beach was amazing and I spent all day baking in the Mediterranean sun. Cíest Bon. I will be going back there many more times before I go home! Classes this week with lots of homework, whoever said that study abroad classes were easier lied, or at least never studied at IAU. I am already up to my ears in work but the classes are all interesting and the professors are great so I donít mind doing it. I hope to go to Barcelona this weekend but plans are not set yet.
We all keep mentioning how we feel like our life in the United States is so fast paced compared to life here. Even my host family has a way more laid back lifestyle. They have two hours at lunch during the week in which to eat lunch and take a nap. Everyone should get that! I do all of my homework for lack of anything else to do, in a good sense. When I am bored I walk around the city and simply look at the architecture, as it is that breathtaking. Weekends are filled with beaches and sleeping. I can get used to this.
Mardi 15 Septembre
Rain Rain Rain. It hasnít rained in Aix since July, so of course it pours for a week when the New England girl gets here. I must have brought it with me. It is rather cozy; it makes you want to drink a cappuccino and read a good book but I do miss walking around the city on my breaks.
My class of 9 girls went over my professorís house last night for dinner and a movie. Considering he was the only other male, we were all quite skeptical and kept making jokes about how terrible the night could turn out. He picked us up at school in his mid 90ís Peugeot and drove us out of town and parked at the edge of the woods. So needless to say, the jokes and stifled laughter continued. We walked into the woods a little way to find a 17th century traditional French home with stone walls and a smoke coming out of the chimney. The place was almost entirely original and made us all remember that we were in fact, in France. We had a large dinner of pasta and red wine and conversation was not scarce. It was nice to finally have another chance to get to know some people here. He lives alone in the house in the woods as he is a widower and apparently has students over for dinner quite often to fill the house with noise. It was a lovely evening.
Today I only had one class and it is still pouring and cold. I have sufficiently wasted the day listening to music and hanging out in my room, something I have not done since I have been here. It has been kind of nice, but only as an alternative to exploring the city. I should start studying now; it is funny how the weather interrupts my scholastic motivation. Our cat Milie had surgery today and is little body is currently entirely wrapped in bandages even down her legs, so is trying to hobble around the house and kind of just falls over its kind of funny and kind of really super sad at the same time, poor Millie..
Samedi 19 Septembre
Very little has happened, as rain has been happening. Nobody wants to trek into town for a glass of wine in the pouring rain and exploring on my own is not enjoyable in the rain either. I was supposed to go to Barcelona this weekend but it never happened, hopefully things will get brighter (literally). However, thanks to the European heritage weekend all of the museums in Europe are free. Picasso, Cezanne exhibit here I come..
Complacency is the end to growth and learning, in my opinion. College is for growth, intellectual experience, and adventure, if one can be so lucky to find one. With these thoughts in mind I gave up spending time with my college friends and a comfortable semester with the professors I know and love to hopefully stumble upon some adventures. After months and months of planning, I am writing from Aix-en-Provence, France. The city is set between the foothills of the Alps and the beauty of the ocean speckled with lavender fields and wineries. So here I go, off to live with a family in a country with a language I don't speak and customs I am unfamiliar with. But that is why I decided to study abroad, to wake up everyday feeling nerves and apprehension at the challenges that lay before me, and to meet them head on.