December 17, 2009

Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night

As I'm sitting here, rolling my clothes up into tiny balls so as to fit into my suitcase perfectly, I can't help but feel into the deepest parts of my bones just how much this semester has meant to me.
I've had a ball. I've learned more than I ever expected. I've made some of the best friends of my life. I've traveled alone, and I've traveled in groups. I've made cultural blunders, and I've said things that probably translated horribly. I've cried, I've been sick, and I've missed home. I've loved, I've danced, and I've had nights filled with some of the most interesting conversations. I've felt on top of the world, and I've been constantly inspired. My view of this world has expanded tremendously, and I will never be the same. I am still me, but now I have this little treasure that I will keep forever as a part of who I am, and that is Paris.

Today, on my last day in Paris, it's snowing. I woke up this morning to everything covered in white fluff, and it was beautiful. It was like Paris decided to say goodbye, and now it's really time to go. I still have this one last night, and tonight's gonna be a good night.

December 7, 2009

Making A List, and Checking it Twice

In anticipation of having a whole semester in Paris, I made an extensive list of places I wanted to go, things I wanted to see, foods I wanted to taste, and things I wanted to learn. I have reached the point in the semester when I have suddenly realized that if there is anything left that I want to do, I better do it now before it's time to hail a taxi to Charles de Gaulle.

So I have my list, and now I am checking it twice. Have I left anything out? Is there anything I want to add? The interesting thing about checking my list is seeing how the list has evolved during my semester. At first, it resembled something of a checklist from straight from a Rick Steves guide book. However, as time went on, the list began to reflect much more of my personal interests and goals. For example, I have come to love Macarons. These little nuggets of joy are a Parisian specialty, and I have made it a goal to seek out the best macaron artisans in town. That's just one, small, tasty example.

In this last week and a half, I will be turning things I "should have done" into things that I "did do." Am I hoping to accomplish every possible thing in Paris? No. That is impossible. I'm simply trying to accomplish everything that my 21 year old student self can do. As the current list is being checked off, the next list is being made. One day, I will come back to Paris (preferably after establishing a good career and having lots of money to spend - believe me it's easy to leave a good chunk of change behind in the City of Light) and experience a whole new "list" of Parisian delights. For now, I must profit bien with while Paris is still at my fingertips.

November 30, 2009

The New York Times Should Hire Me

Today, I decided to grab a delicious lunch at L'As du Fallafel, the most famous fallafel joint in Paris. Every day, lines of people stand outside waiting to buy their beloved fallafel. You have the option to get it to go, or dine in. Today, I chose "to go." Some people come every other day, some once a week, some once a month, and some for the first time. Either way, it's messy, it's vegetarian, it's top notch, and it's delicious!

After I returned chez moi, I decided to search the web for some supplementary information on this delicious resto. I found this article in the New York Times, and I almost fell off my figurative chair in disbelief of the similarities between the photo I took of my own fallafel today and the photo in the article! See the comparison below:

My Photo:

Photo from The New York Times:

After this find, I realized that I definitely have a future in photo journalism. What do you think?

November 18, 2009

Here, There, and Everywhere

I was lucky enough to start my day with this spectacular view of Sacre Coeur, as seen from behind a giant clock in the Musée D'Orsay. As a part of my History of Art and Architecture of Paris lecture, we have field studies on a weekly basis. I like to snap pictures from our different locations, and this is one of my favorites so far.

During my recent trip to Chamonix with my good friend Mary, we discovered quite possibly the most delicious fall drink I've ever had: Vin Chaud. We came across this tasty and warm treat at the town market, and it completely made our day! It's sweet, it's hearty, it's warm, and it tastes like fall perfection. I have yet to brew a batch myself, but I can't wait to try this with my friends and family back in the States.

Clementines are prevalent in the French markets at this time of year, and aside from tasting great, they also make for beautiful streetside sites. There's nothing better than the smell of a freshly peeled clementine. I love the evolution of the market fare, because everything is based on what's in season. It defines the seasons that much more as different fruits and vegetables decorate the markets at certain times of the year. Parisian markets are second to none.

Now, onto Fall Break:
During our 5 day weekend off from school, four girlfriends and I packed our bags and headed East. We stayed in Munich for 4 nights, and explored different places each day. We spent our first day in Salzburg, pictured above, which is not only Mozart's birthplace, but also home to The Sound of Music. We were the only tourists there, it seemed, and had a great day exploring the small town of Salzburg. A highlight was mounting the fortress, from which we got a great view of the whole city as well as the Alps in the background. After tiring ourselves out by walking up and down and all around, we had some hot chocolate at a café that Mozart once frequented. We ended this day with a hearty Austrian meal, and trained back to Munich for the night.

I snapped this picture of a great-looking Bavarian couple in Salzburg. I loved how they were dressed so characteristically. Don't you just want to go up and talk to them?

"Work will set you free"
We spent the majority of the second day of our trip in Dachau, which is the site of the first concentration camp of World War II. It was a moving and emotional day for all of us. Most of my study abroad experience has been defined by beautiful and fun experiences, but this was surely different. It was a sad, moving, and important experience. We learned about the tribulations of the concentration camp prisoners, as well as the psychosis of those who ran the programs. I say this was an important day because, as crazy as the idea of the Holocaust seems, genocide still occurs in our world today. Learning about the terror of the whole experience really brought to life how painful it must have been for the prisoners. It kept me wondering what can be done today to cease and prevent genocide.

Here I am pictured with two friends in the town center of Munich. Munich was a traditional German town, full of German people and traditions. It was a great place to spend our nights. The people are friendly, the food is hearty, and the beer is delicious.

On the final day of our trip, the girls and I trained to Fussen, where we saw the castles of the Romantic Road. We saw Neuschwanstein, which is the castle that Walt Disney used to model Sleeping Beauty's castle, and also Hohenschwangau. Don't ask me how to pronounce the names, but they were beautiful places to visit! It was like a fairytale come true, as you can see from the picture above. All that was missing was the knight in shining armor.

Recently, I've been traveling a lot and having a great time! Now, however, I'm ready to stay in Paris for a solid final month and really soak in my last moments here. The semester is flying by, as I was told it would, and I keep clinching to every last bit of Paris I can reach. In the words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around every once and a while, you could miss it." So, I'm looking around, a lot.

November 3, 2009

A Few Recent Photos

Grand Place, Brussels.
Playing in the leaves in Brussels.

The line of Parisians outside of the famous Pierre Hermé, known for its macaroons. You would think they were made of gold.

French Pastries leave their mark everywhere, with crumbs. A pastry isn't good unless your jeans look like this after eating it.
Parisian rooftops seen from the Centre Georges Pompidou.

Girls love bouquets. Girls love gelato. Girls really love bouquets of gelato.

October 28, 2009

Une Semaine Très Chargée

After a couple months of fun, laughter, discovery, traveling, photo-taking, and Paris, I had to focus more on the "study" part of "study abroad." Yes, it may come as a shock, but I have been attending classes and doing assignments in between all of my European adventures and Parisian discoveries.

Last week is what a typical university student would call "midterms." Quel dommage, I actually had to spend my week studying and taking exams. Pauvre moi. Throughout study time, I had a few experiences that really brought smiles to my face. Most people would say I was just procrastinating. However, after some research, I found that there is no direct translation for the verb "to procrastinate" in the French language, thus it's impossible for me to truly procrastinate in France! This is my theory, at least.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
This past weekend, I spent the majority of my time either sleeping or trying to absorb information from class notes, books, and powerpoint presentations. On Sunday, I decided to take a break from my studies and use the chocolate chips that I single-handedly imported to France. I love to bake, and I tend to bake when I want to take a break from my responsibilities. Thus, I had the perfect opportunity to bake on Sunday afternoon! It was a unique baking experience as I used Madame's old-fashioned scale (in grams, nonetheless) in order to measure out the flour, sugar, etc. Also, I couldn't help but chuckle at her reaction of just how much butter and sugar go into a batch of chocolate chip cookies. After a bit of language-barrier-enhanced recipe interpretation, and ingredient substitution (who knew brown sugar wasn't a staple in French homes), I successfully made a delicious batch of chocolate chip cookies! The whole family enjoyed them, and all 36 of them were polished off within two days. A little taste of America was savored by everyone, including yours truly.

French Story Time
This week, Madame and Monsieur have been hosting their adult children and grandchildren. I must say, it's felt a lot more like one of my own family gatherings with little kids running around everywhere. The children, ages 7, 4, and 1, are very well-behaved, and seem like my own nieces and nephews. I have gotten a full dose of French-little-kid-cuteness this week as Timothé, the little 1 year old grandson, has taken quite a liking to me. He runs up to me with a big smile on his face, arms outstretched, ready for a hug. It's irresistable! It also makes me miss my own 1 year old nephew, who I will get to see upon my return to the homeland. Dinners have been spiced up with childish banter, babies crying and laughing, and parents just trying to get through it all peacefully. The other night, instead of studying for my exams, I complied with the children's request to read them a story. This turned out to be one of my favorite familial experiences thus far, for a couple reasons. First of all, it was a great way for me to practice my French pronunciation and vocabulary. I had the help of 7 year old Lucile, who would correct my pronunciation and define words that I didn't know. Lucile commented that she liked hearing "my funny accent." Secondly, it gave me a real insight to a key in learning a new language. One must truly put aside pride and embarrassment in order to learn a foreign language successfully. I realized this after humbly taking advice from a 7 year old about pronunciation when reading a simple children's story.

My Little Café Around the Corner
At the beginning of my semester, on one of my neighborhood walks, I stumbled upon a little café right across from the Pont Neuf Bridge. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris, and just happens to be about 50 yards from my front door. Across from this monumental bridge is a very subtle café, just on the edge of a little neighborhood park in Place Dauphine. It's a quieter corner of a busy area, which may be what keeps bringing me back to this little place. I've been three times now, and each time I am more satisfied about my experience. On my first visit, I simply ordered an espresso. I was let alone to sit and tend to my studies and sip my café for a solid two hours, uninterrupted. Ah, the joy of French café culture: you can sit somewhere and be left alone! The second time I went to this little café, I had the Tomato and Mozzarella Salad... which is the exact reason I returned a third time. This salad is life-changing. Huge chunks of the freshest buffalo mozzarella are alternated with ripe and juicy red tomato slices, both which encircle a small bed (but more like a love-seat) of fresh greens drizzled with the most genius combination of olive oil and sweetened balsamic vinegar. After I had this salad the first time, I thought about it for a solid week and a half. It comes accompanied with the obligatory basket of fresh baguette slices, perfect for soaking up every last bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
After my third time of sitting in this quiet café around the corner, fully engaged in the heavenly plate in front of me, while writing in my journal and reading schoolbooks, something happened. Instead of the standard "au revoir" that is exchanged upon departure from a restaurant, I got an "à bientôt." This change in salutations is huge, because I went from the "goodbye" customer to the "see you soon" customer. That's right, I did it. I became a regular! As one of my good friends once noted, studying abroad is a succession of miniature triumphs and failures. This was definitely on of the triumphs.

The Eiffel Tower in the midst of its famous Light Show - with the Pont Neuf bridge in the foreground. One of the best things about my living situation by far.

October 24, 2009

Standing Up

Being away from my homeland has taught me many things, but the one specific thing I want to write about now is how being an American has impacted my life abroad.

The other night, I was sitting in a brasserie with a mixture of Americans and Parisians, and we started a conversation about patriotism. Patriotism in the United States makes me think of flying the flag, voting, celebrating the 4th of July, supporting our troops, and practicing and protecting our freedom.

Well, my Parisian conversational counterpart described the fact that, in her opinion, patriotism in France does not really exist. She had not felt patriotic in years until the other day when she participated in a grève, what we call a strike. Most people know strikes to be a preferred pastime, if not a national sport, in France. She also noted that flags only fly at City Hall and other government buildings, not out the windows of her French neighbors.

This made me think a little bit... that maybe citizens of different countries simply have a different idea of patriotism and different ways to express it. I have learned so much about how much French people love Frenchness - more specifically: French wine, French food, the French language, French art, French fashion, French cheese, etc. So who's to say that loving the cultural things of one's country does not show patriotism? Aha! I found my argument. I proposed this idea to her, and I was surprised when I got her response. She said (and pardon my French), "We don't really give a shit about those things. You see people here going to McDonald's all the time here, and no one goes and visits the museums." GULP. What?! Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that French people have an appreciation for French culture. I didn't know what to say at this point, but I still stand by my argument that the French appreciate their own culture.

Furthermore, Miss Parisienne explained how the movies and media portray an American idea that we all think that America is going to save the world. We think that everyone needs the "Americans" to help them, because American is the best and only way to be. Pardon moi? She continued to explain how we should just look after our own selves and not worry about everyone else. I saw a problem in her logic, so I begged further explanation by asking, "What's wrong with wanting to help other people who don't necessarily live in one's own country?" She was a bit stifled by this question, luckily. I continued to explain how her idea may be skewed because yes, many Americans want to help other people, but that doesn't mean wanting everyone to be American. I myself am a firm believer in philanthropy, whether you're helping an American or not. I don't think we should see borderlines as barriers when it comes to reaching out. I'm an American, but I don't think wanting to help people in the world means that I want everyone to abide by the rules of American democracy or even adapt an American way of life. This was the idea that she had. I was disappointed, to say the least, that Miss Parisienne had this view of my country. Luckily I was given the opportunity to offer my perspective, and have a real exchange about cultural differences and perceptions.

One thing I've learned while living abroad is how to stick up for what I think. The people of this world are so quick to challenge my foundation, my country, my faith, my personality, and my general way of life. I'm okay with this, because not only does it make for interesting conversation, but it also breaks down stereotypes and the barriers that stand between me and someone different.

I've come to notice that citizens from all over the world are misunderstood. What it takes is a true exchange with an individual in order to find out who they really are. Forget the guidebooks, the textbooks, the journals, the media, and especially the political representatives - the only way to really find out about a place is to get to know its people through true face-to-face interactions.

October 19, 2009

Amis, Connaissances, Rencontres

Friends, acquaintances, and encounters. My time in Paris has become defined by a number of things, the most prominent of which are culture, language, food, the city life, sites, and most of all, people.

Before I left to go on my overnight train ride to Barcelona this past weekend, I was chatting with Madame about feeling anxious for the travels ahead. I had never taken an overnight train - much less by myself. I told her that I was hoping to make some friends, amis, throughout the ride to make it more interesting, and she immediately corrected my vocabulary and insisted I use the word connaissances instead of amis. Connaissances translates to acquaintances. The French are very particular of the difference between friends and acquaintances, as it takes much more time to enter in to the category of a "friend" for them than it does for the typical American. Thus, there was no possible way in her mind that I would be able to make any amis throughout my 13 hour train ride, because that simply wasn't enough time to develop a friendship.
This exchange stayed in my mind throughout my weekend, and I meditated on how my amis, connaissances, and rencontres have shaped my time in Paris. I came to Paris not knowing a single soul here, so I had plenty of room to let others in. I have been amazed, surprised, comforted, challenged, and educated by the people I have come in contact with so far.

I have been blessed with a roommate who not only cheerfully asks how my day was every time she sees me, but even sends me text messages asking if I need to throw in any laundry with hers on a random Tuesday night. She also has accompanied me on social excursions in which I'm not quite confident enough to go alone. This is what I call une amie.
I have spent time curled over in laughter in the presence of the two most opposite personalities, who somehow get along perfectly, as they have shared with me a bit of their time studying abroad. Who knew that eating a sandwich in the shade could be such grounds for good times? Rencontres, Connaissances, Amis.
I have turned around while waiting in the line for the elevator of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to make pleasant French conversation with a group of ladies from Lyon. I always love finding French people when I travel to different countries, because then I can practice my language while being away from Paris. Rencontre.
A waiter in a cafe has made my afternoon by offering me their free wifi, all while leaving me to my business for a solid 2 hours, uninterrupted. Rencontre.
An English couple at a train station has entertained me during an hour and a half long layover after missing my connected train. They just so happened to know everything about the little town of Portbou in which we were waiting, and I learned that the man was a freelance composer. Connaissances.
The friends from my study abroad program have become my travel companions, lunch buddies, weekend going-out girls, and confidants. I can't be thankful enough to have good friends. Amies.
A few fellow study abroaders from another program in Paris made my 26 hours of time on a train to and from Barcelona worth every minute, just by being nice. Not to mention interesting, hilariously awkward, and full of refreshing conversations. Rencontres, Connaissances, Amis.

I started off scared, then I was surprised, and now I'm overcome with curiosity and gratitude. I am thankful for every single person who has made an impression on me, and my mission is to make it as hard to leave this place as possible. So far, so good.

September 30, 2009

Mon Anniversaire à Paris

For my 21st birthday, I got Paris. I could not have asked for anything more, as it was an amazing weekend spent with friends and with Paris. I got so many gifts, and I'm so so grateful! I will recap for you some of my favorite birthday gifts:

My girlfriends from school in Paris planned out an awesome way to ring in my birthday - sitting under the Eiffel Tower eating macarons ( a Parisian specialty), chocolate, and drinking champagne. As you can see, they even bought me a crown! It was the coolest feeling to see the lightshow start at the moment my birthday began - at midnight. We had a great time, and they really made it a great way to start of my birthday!

Another one of my favorite birthday presents was the arrival of my friend Mary! After my last weekend in Lyon, she visited me this weekend for the big day. It was her first time in Paris, so that gave us all the more reason to get out and explore the city. We walked all the way from the Louvre, through the Tuileries, up the Champs-Elysées, and up the Arc the Triomphe. We got out workout for the day, so we spent lunch time in the Luxembourg Gardens. Mary just kept saying, "I can't believe you live here!" Well, I guess I can't either. On Saturday, we spent time touring the vintage shops of Le Marais and la Place des Vosges. It was so fun to have a friend stay with my host family and see my life here. I can't wait to have more guests!

For my birthday, I got quite possibly the most gorgeous day in Paris. The weather was absolutely perfect, the sun was shining, and everything just seemed to be swell. It was a day when I kept having to pinch myself, and realize that this really was real life. I don't know if my amazement and wonder of Paris will ever cease. There's something new to discover every day, and my birthday was one of the best days to do it. Thanks, Paris!

One of the most fun things we did on my birthday was a spontaneous stop into the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It's the largest compilation of English books outside of an English-speaking country, and the character seeps through every nook and cranny of the place. There are books covering every inch of the store; you can use an old-fashioned typewriter to post messages (see wall behind us in the photo); you can play their vintage piano, or you can just lounge in hidden chairs throughout the store and read for hours. We had a great time taking photos and looking around. I'm definitely going to have to go back.

Above: Drew (my American housemate), Toupie (the dog), Docteur, Madame, and moi
I am so fortunate to have an entirely generous host family during my time in Paris. They cooked me a delicious birthday feast, and even surprised me with a necklace for a gift (the one I'm wearing in the picture)! We ate a delicious dinner, and Madame even made me a cake - I got to blow out the candles and everything. It was really great because I felt like I was at home, and they really made my night special.

After dinner, the girls and I hit the town for a typical 21st birthday night out! Here we are at a bar called Footsies. It's a stock market bar - which means that every 200 seconds, the prices of the drinks change depending on what is in highest demand. It's so fun! The earlier you go, the cheaper the drinks are. I had my fair share of red wine, because it was the cheapest, bien sur. Afterwards we went out and danced the night away at a very European Techno club. It was such a fun night, and I am so glad I had so many people with me to make it wonderful!

For a great birthday I have to thank my family, my great friends, my host family, and of course, Paris.

September 21, 2009

A Weekend à Lyon

I spent this past weekend in Lyon visiting my friend Mary, and it was an excellent time! We filled the time walking all over the city, eating delicious regional food, and having quality girl friend time. After being in Paris for about 3 weeks, it was a good time to go explore a new place with a familiar friend.

I took the TGV (Train à Grand Vitèsse - really fast train) to Lyon, leaving Paris at the ripe hour of 6:30am. When I was out the door headed to the train station, it was still dark out. However, just in case you were wondering, Paris is still bustling away at 5:30am on a Friday morning. It really never stops.
The train was a superb form of transportation - it was easy, fast, clean (a novel concept in Paris), and I got to look out the window at the French countryside on my way. I definitely want to take it again on my next trip in France. I arrived quickly to the train station in Lyon, where Mary met me with open arms.
We spent the whole day touring around Lyon, going to the Fourvière Cathedral, walking around Vieux Lyon, and discovering the artsy areas as well. Lyon has such a different feel to it than Paris! The architecture is more colorful, the streets have tons of graffiti on them, there are TWO rivers instead of one, and it's quite a bit more relaxed. Lyon has a lot of character, and I had so much fun walking all around the city. It's almost like comparing a big city in Northern US (like NY) to a big city in Southern US (like Atlanta).
By the end of Friday, Mary and I's feet were really tired! We had dinner with her host family, which was excellent as well! She has two French little sisters, and they couldn't be cuter. They take English classes in school, and were very eager to practice speaking. It was really nice of Mary's family to have me for dinner, as well as let me stay in their darling bohemian artsy home. Seriously, the house is like an art gallery. Mary's room is also at least 2 times as big as mine, and overlooks a very lively street of bars and restaurants.
Saturday was a great and relaxing day. We slept in, and went out for a delicious breakfast of Pain au Chocolat (one of my French favorites) and a café. We hit up the town market, and got to see almost a mile's worth of food vendors. I really love outdoor markets, and this one was up to my standards! There was everything from stinky cheese, to perfumed flowers. This worked up our appetites, so we headed to a Lyonnais cafe. We had huge lunches, and headed home for a post-lunch rest. We made dinner at home, as her family was out of town for the night. Afterwards, we went and saw a movie. It was a great girls' night, and some much-needed friend time.
I headed home on Sunday, and again decided that the TGV is the best thing ever. America needs one. Overall, it was a great weekend! I loved Lyon, and can't wait to show Mary around Paris this coming weekend when she comes.

A few of my pictures from Lyon:
Cathedral Fourvière and the Basilica at night

Mary and I making faces on the way up to Fourvière

Beautiful inside!

Me, standing by a graffiti display

Mary and I in front of the fountain by Hotel de Ville (French city hall)

Saturday after our grand lunch - note the imitation Eiffel Tower of Lyon behind me

Dinner on Saturday night

Lyon at night over the River!

September 17, 2009

Au Restaurant

Tonight I had the pleasure of joining my best friend Lilia's dad, Yvon, for dinner! Lilia and I have been best friends since we were about 8 months old, thus I've known her Dad for just as long. Yvon was in Paris only for the night, so we got together for a traditional French Dinner.

By traditional, I mean everything from the food, to the length, to the number of courses, to the waiter.

We had appetizers (in French, they call this the Entrée) of thin slices of salmon and beef with olive oil and parmesan for the beef, and Creme Fraîche for the Salmon. Mine (the beef) was delicious, and the salmon for Yvon looked great as well!

We each had a Plat (what Americans know as the Entrée.. I know, confusing) of duck and spiced potatoes. I had to choose the duck because I'm in France and had yet to have canard! It was delicious, and surprisingly well-portioned. We paired our dishes with a great glass of red wine, and the French surely know how to pair their wine with food. It's truly an art here.

We shared a dessert of traditional Creme Brulée - best I've ever had! It was so so delicious. By this time I was extremely satisfied and absolutely spoiled with a delicious dinner.

Now, I mentioned earlier that part of the whole French dining experience was the waiter. Well, to give you an idea of what French service is like, take this episode as an example -

My friend Lilia asked that Yvon and I take a picture while we're together, as proof that we actually met up. So Yvon (the French-speaking Canadian) asked the waiter (in French) if he could take our picture. I figured this was customary and wouldn't be a problem, but no.. the waiter responded with "Sure I will... once I find the time," and he scurried off about his business. I was a bit surprised, but sure enough, he came around about 20 minutes later and took our picture.
Then, as he was serving our dessert, he asked where we were from. Yvon said Canada, and I said "I'm from the United States." The waiter looked at me with a very French smirk and responded with, "Well, I guess not all of us can be perfect!" And we broke up into laughter and he again scurried off.

It was just so French! The food was absolutely divine, and we were left alone at our table for about 2 hours. In the states, the waiters would have been tapping their toes and hurrying us in order to bring in the next customer. Not in France. It is customary to take at least 2 hours for a dinner out, if not more. Also, it's never just one course. I think I could get used to the French way of dining, as long as I keep my sense of humor about being American.

All in all, it was a great evening and I was really happy to see a familiar face. Thanks Yvon, for such a great dinner and company!

September 15, 2009

Locks, Charades, Fromage, and Staring at My Feet

Bonjour mes amis! It's been almost 2 weeks since my arrival in Paris, and what a two weeks it has been! I've moved out of the "oh my gosh everything is SO exciting and AWESOME!" phase and into the "Wow I'm really living here... it's not just a sweet vacation" phase. I've loved every minute so far, but a few moments have indeed been frustrating, sad, confused, and altogether lost. It's all part of the process, or so I've been told. I'm writing this post to insert a dose of reality and feet-on-the-ground-ness into my blogging for the semester. That said, I'd like to share a few daily occurrences that have made my time here, well, French.

One day, I returned home to find myself unable to unlock my door. This happened at a very frustrated moment of my day, as I had just gotten finished with a 6 hour French class/field trip. It was a good class, but after 6 hours of hearing my cute little French professor speak her very fast French, I was done. I can only listen to French for so long until I start zoning out completely and getting frustrated with everything. So yes, after class I came home and my door wouldn't open. Conveniently, no one was home, and no one was answering their phones. I was trapped outside my door and all I wanted to do was go hide inside my room. It was officially a bad day. My first bad day in Paris! It ended up being fine, because I just went for a walk and when I returned, Monsieur was in the apartment to let me in. So, not really a bad day.

I've gotten quite good at charades, because everything I say to my family is said not only in French but also with hand motions. Like, "Does my key work to open the door now?" is said as I motion holding a key and opening a door. Also, my roommate and I have fun at dinner using hand motions whenever we don't know a certain word. Tonight, I had to "stir" the sauce before dinner. I didn't know the word, but I knew the motion. I now know the word, because Madame told me. So yes, I'm learning French and Charades. It works well... until I have to make a phone call in French. That's the real listening and speaking test. It's quite intimidating, but I've done it a few times and been successful. However, my cell phone is expensive and I simply can't make too many phone calls.
I've been thinking about ways to improve my French, and I think I need to take up TV watching. Supposedly there are gameshows like Wheel-Of-Fortune, and those kinds of things could really help with my vocabulary. My family and friends know that I don't watch much tv, but maybe I'll have to change my ways while in France for the sake of learning.

As I said before, we have a cheese course every night at dinner in between the main dish and dessert. I'm taking quite fondly to this habit. Tonight, Madame and Monsieur had their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren here for dinner. Not only were their two little children (1.5 and 4 years old) absolutely adorable, but the couple was quite nice as well. The father spoke Italian to his children, because he wants them to learn it. Thus, it was a trilingual dinner! Drew (my roommate) and I occasionally will say something in English to the other in order to more completely understand. Together, we can usually figure out what's going on at the dinner table and make pleasant conversation.
It's always funny being introduced to new French people by Madame and Monsieur, because they find Drew and I to be unusual Americans. Madame is shocked that I actually eat dinner with my family at home every night; apparently I'm the first of her American students to practice this tradition. Also, I like the French cheese. I try new cheeses every night, and they are shocked! The son-in-law tonight said that we weren't true Americans, because we actually like French cheese. I'm glad that I'm impressing them with my family traditions and my ability to embrace the French culture.

Staring at My Feet
I take the metro every day, and it's the best form of transportation ever! It can get me anywhere in Paris in about 30 minutes, and it's very simple to figure out. The lines are color coded, numbered, and named. Also, each metro stop has a different vibe and there are interesting French advertisements everywhere. However, with the good always comes the bad. My hands constantly feel disgusting after holding on to the poles in the metro, I get scared when going places by myself, it's creepy at night, and someone always smells bad. Also, I've learned that it's a French art to avoid eye contact. I've found that staring at my feet works best. Every day, I take inventory of people's shoes on the metro. Also it's a great place to scope out the latest handbags - anything to avoid meeting the eyes of someone else. Anyways, in the US I'm accustomed to making pleasant conversation with strangers from time to time. Here, you don't talk to someone unless you're saying "Pardon" while getting off the metro. I miss being able to be jolly and say nice things to people I don't know.

Tomorrow I start my first official classes! I've been doing French intensive sessions for the past week, but now I'm getting into the real stuff. Tomorrow I have "History of Paris Art and Architecture" and "Global Marketing." Both sound very interesting! My Tues/Thurs class are: International and Intercultural Management, International Political Economy, and Advanced French. It should be a good semester, and I'm ready to learn. I'm also ready to settle down into a routine. France is lovely, and I'm learning so much every day. I've experienced frustration, which is kind of like French growing pains. So as long as I'm growing, I'm good. I just hope I can absorb as much as possible!

Au revoir!

September 7, 2009

Sephora and 12-25

So I got to class this morning at 9:30am, which is the time I thought I needed to get there. Well, it turns out I didn't have anything at school until 2pm. So instead of going home or taking the metro somewhere, I just walked around the 14th arrondissement where my school is. This turned out to be very dangerous, as there is a Zara, Petit Bateau, and Sephora all on the street nearby. Not to mention there are countless other shops, I just can't remember their names now.

Sephora was a great experience because while I was upstairs sampling perfumes and eyeshadows, an older woman was being helped my a clerk. The elder lady turned to me and asked in French, "Excusez-moi madamoiselle, but I need your opinion on something. Is this color too much for an elder lady like me?" She was so cute, and I couldn't help but feel proud for being taken for a true Parisienne! I told her it looked lovely, and she thanked me when she left. I might just have to go shop there again. Oh darn.

Also, while on my temps libre (free time) excursion around the 14th, I decided to go to the SNCF store and buy my student discount card for the TGV, or carte 12-25. It's great because after you buy it, you're guaranteed at least a 25% discount off all train tickets, and up to a 60% discount. So it pays for itself after using it 1 or 2 times. The man who helped me was very nice, but he could definitely tell I wasn't French. He was patient however and made sure to speak clearly for me. I was just happy he didn't switch to English like many workers do for Americans. Alas, I bought my 12-25 as well as a train ticket to Lyon. I'll be heading there for the weekend of September 18, and I can't wait! My good friend Mary is studying there, and I'm looking forward to spending a weekend with her in Lyon.

This week, I'm spending my time in French sessions at school in preparation for classes, and then this weekend we're off for a trip to Strasbourg! More on that to come. For now, I'm still loving the post-entrée cheese courses at my homestay and getting to know the City of Light.

September 6, 2009

Chez Moi - A Bit About My Homestay and Life in Paris

Le Premier Arrondissement de Paris is home to yours truly for the next few months, and as you can see, it's directly in the center of Paris!
The first arrondissement (or neighborhood) is in the middle of Paris. From there, 19 other arrondissements snail outwards in a spiral. I must say I really lucked out on my location! I can't say enough good things about my host family and my living quarters.

My family is an older couple (I'm guessing in their 60s) who have three children who are married and in their 30s. They no longer live at home, however their 16 year old son and the dog, Toupie, do live here. So the apartment is fairly empty, thus plenty of room for students.

I have my own bedroom which is semi-detached from the apartment. I live upstairs along with another student and we have a separate entry/exit. This is known as a chambre de bonne (maid's quarters), however many people use this space to host students like me. It's great because I can enter and exit freely without disturbing the family; however, I know I'm always welcome to go downstairs and socialize, watch tv, play piano, or read in the salon (living room). I also have a magnificent view from my room - I look directly out onto the Seine, where tour boats are constantly passing by. I also can see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Palais de Justice, and many other wonderful Parisian establishments. I am constantly astonished when I look out my window, especially at night!

View from my window, looking right

So here are a few bits about my life in Paris:

- Dinner is the best time I get with my family, because we sit down for at least an hour every night and eat meals together. Madame cooks delicious foods, and I'm always hungry by dinnertime (the French don't snack, which is a difficult adjustment for moi). We always have a main course, a cheese course, and then dessert. We have an appetizer when it is a weekend dinner or when there are guests. Dessert has been either yogurt, pudding, or the chocolate cake that she made last night. The cheese course is wonderful because I get to try new cheeses every night. She actually is keeping a list of the cheeses I try so that I can take it home with me and have it as a guide. She's also recommended that I go visit her favorite fromagerie (cheese shop). Dinner is altogether a great time to really feel like part of the family. We talk about various things from food, to stories, to our days, to Paris, and most of about our cultures.

- Speaking French has been one of my favorite things about living in a homestay. Dinner is the time when I get to practice a lot of French, because they always engage in conversation so that we can improve. Madame is a teacher, so she's very good at correcting our grammar and phrasing. This is great, because it helps me learn better. The other night at dinner, my housemate and I were having trouble understanding a phrase, so Monsieur actually got up and wrote it out for us on their kitchen chalkboard. They sometimes will use a dictionary to help me learn vocabulary as well. It was a great decision to live with a host family, because it has helped my French more than anything so far. I haven't heard them speak any English, so it's truly an immersion at home.
I have come to realize how rewarding it is to be able to converse in another language. The first accomplishment occurs when I actually get my point across, and I give myself a bonus point if I can do it with either humor, sarcasm, or any bit of extra personality. Things like making my family laugh are very rewarding, because it's beyond the bare necessities of language. It's that extra something that makes me feel that much closer to fluency.

- French lifestyle is something I'd like to become quite familiar with while living here. The French have a much richer way of living. I'm not speaking monetarily, but rather tastefully. They sit for hours over lunch or a coffee; they buy fresh foods in small quantities to prepare the freshest of dishes; and their cheese smells just as strong as their coffee tastes. Also, they always look fabulous. French people are good looking, and well dressed. I have a great time every day trying to accomplish what most girls are doing - looking Parisian. There is something so simply put together about everyone on the streets of Paris.

- The apartment where I'm staying in is fabulous. I'm living in the most aged of places, with all of the character from the years forming the foundation. Their apartment speaks. Yes, that's right. When I walk down the stairs, they creak. When I walk down the hall, it squeaks. When I shut the entrance door, it slams. I love this because it represents the hundreds of years that this apartment has existed. It was Madame's great grandfather's apartment, and it's been in her family ever since. I think this is truly amazing. It's in the dead center of the city, which literally couldn't be a better location. I can walk five minutes down the street and see the Mona Lisa, a Monet, or a Van Gogh. I also live right by City Hall of Paris, which holds years and years of history within. I have so much to explore, but I already can sense the years of history, art, cuisine, and that certain je ne sais quoi that exists in the city around me.

September 2, 2009

Initial Impressions

Well, I’ve arrived! I had a seamless flight from Toronto to Paris, and my plane landed at 5:10am local time. Unfortunately I got little to no sleep on the plane. It was even still dark out when we landed. I got through customs just fine, and I passed the time in line trying to pick out who was French and who was not.

After passing through customs, I walked out to baggage claim and both of my bags were on the carousel right as I got there! It was perfect timing. Waiting for bags is always the most stressful part of my trips, but this time it wasn’t the waiting, it was the pulling. Before I left in Toronto I made the remark to my mom that I felt like a mule carrying all of my luggage. I had a giant travel backpack, a giant suitcase, a very heavy carry-on suitcase, and a messenger bag. All of them were filled to capacity, and they did not make for a very light load. In fact, it was about 100lbs. Ok, back to the Paris arrival. I got my bags, strapped them on, and wandered to the RER (aka suburban metro that goes in to Paris). I was basically guessing everything from where to go, which ticket to buy, and what train to get on. I got very lucky and bought my ticket, got on the train, and… AH! My luggage got stuck as I was trying to heave it from the platform to the train (the train was about 2 feet above the platform). I was already sweating so much from pulling my luggage, and I was so out of sorts. Luckily, a friendly guy on the train came to my rescue and helped push my bags onto the train. I don’t know if I could have done it without him! I said "Merci."

Then, during my 30 minute train ride into Paris, the sun rose. It was a lovely greeting, and definitely made me smile. On my departure from the train, I was having a bit more difficulty with my cumbersome baggage, and the girl who sat across from me came to my aid and helped me get my stuff from my seat to near the exit. I was so surprised as to how helpful everyone was being. I must have looked really scared or pitiful. Either way, it worked. I got of at the Chatelet-les Halles stop and maneuvered my way through the station to the Rue de Rivoli exit. It was like a maze trying to find my way out! Luckily, they had escalators the whole way. The worst part of it all was trying to get out of the platform. There are gate-like structures that open for a second and close after you assumedly go through to get out. The French, being so thin, have very skinny doorways. They were about 2 feet wide… and my giant suitcase is about 2.5 feet wide. So I got stuck in the doorway. Yup, it closed on me. I had no idea what to do or how to get out. I was wearing a giant backpack, carrying huge suitcases, and I was stuck in an automatic doorway that had shut on me. My life was ending before my eyes. Then, when a young French man entered his ticket to exit, the doors opened! He then proceded to push my luggage really hard so that it would get through, and I was very thankful. Finally I got to the last upturn towards the street, and after so many escalators… they were stairs! It was not going to be an easy task carrying all 100 pounds of my luggage up those stairs. Literally, I had 100 pounds. A semi-sketchy man was walking near me at the time, and no one else was around. He was looking at me funny, and saying a few things that I couldn’t understand. Finally, when I got to the stairs, he reached out his hand as if offering his help. Did I really want to put my luggage in the hands of a random sketchy-looking person whom I don’t know? Probably not, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him help me. I kept a close eye, but he kind of chuckled when we got to the top of the stairs and handed me my luggage. He said something else I couldn’t understand, and I said Merci. The French have so far been overwhelmingly helpful!

Getting out of that metro station was like being born into Paris. I walked outside, after getting very hot and sweaty while pulling my luggage, and the fresh air welcomed me quite nicely. My host family gave me perfect directions, and I walked straight to my door. Sidenote - I walked past two pet shops on the way, both of which had very cute puppies. I might just have to go play with them. So I get to the door, buzz the intercom up to my host family’s apartment, and my host mom let me in. I wandered to find the elevator, and let me just say that it’s the smallest elevator I’ve ever seen. I would say it’s 3x3. Yeah.. so me and all of my luggage crammed in to the elevator, and I had to maneuver about 3 times before the door would even shut. I really don’t think more than one person can fit in this elevator. Much less one person with 4 bags. It would have been a nightmare for anyone with claustrophobia.

My host mom greeted me at the door, and we kissed on both cheeks. She is very friendly, and immediately helped me with my bags and gave me a tour of the apartment. She showed me my room, which is complete with a bed, a desk, a dresser, a whole wall of corkboard (for me to “make it my own” said my host mom) and a view of the Eiffel Tower!!! My window looks right down to the Seine and just to the right I see the Eiffel Tower. It’s amazing, and I think I can get used to this.

I can’t believe I’m really here. I can’t believe I have a corkboard wall. I can’t believe that I got volunteer help from at least 4 Parisians. I can’t believe I can look at the Eiffel Tower whenever I want.

Right now it’s about 4am in my brain, but it’s 10am in Paris. That means it’s naptime.

A bientot!

August 31, 2009

It's Time

It's time for the land of Rene Descartes, Victor Hugo, Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Napoleon, King Louis, Claude Monet, Yves Saint Laurent, Baudelaire, and... me!

I figure that putting myself in that kind of company can't end up to badly, right? Well, it's time to go. My plane departs tomorrow, and I can barely sleep from all of the excitement. I take off at 4pm Toronto time, and I arrive in Paris at 6am local time. My parents suggest that I have a couple glasses of wine on the plane to induce a nap before I arrive. I'm not arguing with that.

I finally packed up my bags tonight, and weighed them with my mother's super-accurate scale to make sure they're under the weight limit (she works for Weight Watcher's, so I know it's the real deal). I'm bringing one large suitcase, one large travel backpack (like the kind people hike mountains with... except I'll be hiking up the Eiffel Tower), a small carry-on, and a très cute messenger bag that my sister got for me. It's Lesportsac, vraiment français. Hopefully all of this luggage will meet me punctually and in tact at Charles de Gualle.

I know I'm ready to go, because I've run out of pages to read in the Paris section of my "Rick Steves' France" book. So far, he seems to be very helpful and informative. I feel that Rick and I now have a connection of sorts... but really he's just told me where to go, where to eat, and what to see. It's nothing too serious, yet.

Additionally, up to this point I've spent countless hours trying to become an expert on French culture without actually being in France yet. I'm a people person and a communicator, so I want to make sure that I've prepared myself well for the barriers ahead that may set back my efforts to engage with others. These barriers may discourage my propensity to connect with the people around me, but with the help of many authors, bloggers, and study abroad-ers, I hope I can overcome those barriers and really reach into the heart of my new city.

I'm diving in, head first, into one of the most famous cities in the world. After all, how many people do you know would fail to recognize the Eiffel Tower? Not many, I'd guess. I'm taking this opportunity as an honor. It's nothing short of a dream to be jet-setting to Paris tomorrow. Tomorrow! Wow... and I've been thinking about this time in my life since I was about 13 or so, if not younger. I always knew I'd study abroad in France.

To my friends and family, au revoir! To Paris, bonjour! I will be updating this blog often, and I always check email. I can't wait to hear from you and tell you about my times.


August 25, 2009

Predeparture Jitters

What should I pack? How should I get to my host family's house? Will my host family like me? Do I have everything prepared? Will I make it in a French-speaking country? How much room does a peacoat take up in a suitcase? Where should I visit in Europe? How many pairs of shoes will fit in my suitcase?


I'm having predeparture jitters... filled with questions, excitement, worry, and anticipation. I am officially feeling the reality that I'll be in a new place this fall, as my home (Saint Louis University) started this past Monday without me. That's right, school started without me. I guess it's possible. Sigh, embrace ego-check. I am here in Toronto having a lovely last week with my parents and sweet dog Sadie before leaving, and missing the beginning of the semester at school has me realizing that I won't be there until... January. I know it will seem like a flash, but I can't help but wish I could be part of Freshman move-in or Syllabus Week parties.

However, I've had my brain to keep me busy. I can't stop thinking about preparing for my semester. I know I'll be fine in the long run, but seriously, I'm kind of freaking out.

My mains goals are as follows:
- Get to know Paris, not the touristy kind.
- Get to know myself
- Become better and more confident in my French
- Visit some really great places
- Make good friends
- Overcome tough situations
- Have a blast

I think that sounds do-able, right? I'm ready to tackle my new adventure, and I'm ready to meet the French version of myself. I've prepared long enough, and it's time to get this show on the road. Paris, here I come!

August 23, 2009

Hong Kong

Mark and I on the tram at night - headed for a night out in Hong Kong
A stand in the Jade Market in Kowloon
This bird just got a bath at the Bird Market
The night view from the Peak of Hong Kong - amazing!
The Big Buddha on Lantau island

Taken from the Star Ferry while crossing the bay

Me in front of Times Square

Hong Kong was an amazing city! I had a blast exploring all of the different markets and sites. On the first day, we went to the Jade Market, the Bird Market, and the Flower Market. I couldn't stop taking photos, because there were so many beautiful things! It's a truly international city, and everything is so modern and civilized. It's the easiest city to get around, with multiple forms of transportation. You can take the metro (MTR), the tram, taxis, buses, or ferries just about anywhere in minutes! The landscape is unbelievable - the skyscraping city is nestled between the harbor and a lush island on either side. I was definitely amazed when Mark took me up to the Peak. I've never seen a city skyline so dense and amazing! We had a great time going out at night, walking around during the day, and doing a little shopping here and there. I didn't feel quite as foreign in Hong Kong, because you can get by anywhere speaking English. I also had a great time seeing Mark's high school stomping ground. He went to school in Hong Kong, so I got to see that as well as his old home. Seeing someone's past definitely helps you understand them in the present.

August 7, 2009

CHINA - Shanghai

Finally, my post about China! I have far too many pictures to post on a blog, so you can check out more in my Facebook albums. However, here is a glimpse into my time spent in Shanghai.
Here I am standing in front of a random assortment of Chinese people. My mom says this looks photo-shopped, but I assure you it is not.
Much of what I ate was dumpling style foods, noodle dishes, and of course all of it was accompanied by my new favorite : Tsingtao beer!

Here I am perusing some of the goods in the Antique Market. It was amazing what kind of stuff they had for sale.

Standing next to YAO was a humbling experience... that guy is huge!

On our first day, we visited the Old Town. It was packed! I loved the architecture as well.

Here Mark and I are standing in front of the Pearl Tower.

I loved the retail genius behind this store in the antique market...

One of my favorite meals was the Peking Duck. It is roasted for 3 days before serving, and you eat it with plum sauce, onion slices, and wrap it up in a tiny pancake.

A few remarks about China -

It was amazing being in a place so new and unique, as I had never been to Asia before. I absolutely loved the experience of being in a place that is clearly going through a revolution. There is propaganda everywhere about making it a better city and society. It's so easy, having grown up in the US, to take civilization for granted. Never before had I ridden in cars that simply weave in and around traffic with no particular boundaries, or seen so many people walking around in pajamas (if wearing clothes at all), or seen babies peeing on the sides of any typical city-street. It was definitely eye-opening at first, to realize the different norms of their society.

As I grew more accustomed, however, it became background noise to the real sites, sounds, and smells of Chinese life. I came to realize that they are a fascinating, humble, and very hard-working people. They live their lives in community with one another, as personal space and privacy are rarities. The difference between living in spacious American homes, separated by lush yards and high fences, and living in a high-rise Chinese apartment building with no elbow room, definitely creates quite unique cultural and societal mentalities. I admire how accepting the Chinese are when it comes to occupations. I saw so many people pedaling vegetables, pulling weeds on the side of the road, or picking up trash. In America, one would expect these people to have bad attitudes, or be some sort of lower-class type. In China, this is someone's job, and they do it well without complaint or bad attitude. They inspired me to be more accepting of the day-to-day task that I may typically complain about, because, like them, I am part of a giant whole.

Pros and cons taken into account, the Communist way of life also opened my eyes to a greater appreciation of freedom. This sounds like an understood statement, but although I've been well-aware that communism exists in this world, the reality never occurred to me that billions of people's lives are literally controlled by government. I could not blog while I was in China, because blogs are banned. So is Facebook. So is Twitter. So is Youtube. That's right, not only did I have to do without "Charlie bit me" and seeing how many people had uploaded new photos -- I couldn't even Tweet! All sarcasm aside, it's a true gift to live in a free country. Freedom is a luxury for a large part of our world, and I've been blessed to live somewhere that it is a right.

I had an absolutely wonderful time visiting Shanghai, and I definitely would go back. It was a great time to be able to experience a new culture, and I was lucky enough to have my own personal tour guides. My boyfriend Mark and his family showed me a great time, and I'm very grateful to them for their hospitality!