Saturday, January 29, 2011

this week in photos!

i've found that posting pictures on here is not the most simple of tasks.. it takes a little formatting to make it look right. so i've decided to stick to facebook for my picture postings. i just posted a full album entitled "january in france" which has all the pictures i've taken so far! please go check it out. :)

but, as promised, here is my dorm room:

i'm serious guys, this room is like a shoebox. but it's definitley growing on me.. for one person, it's not bad at all. and even though it is a little space capsule, having my own bathroom is a blessing!!


Friday, January 28, 2011

"wait, WHAT time is it??"

hello again!
let me just begin by saying that i love french. and i know that you all know that, because i’m sure it’s pretty obnoxiously obvious. but seriously, i still get a little giddy when i walk around the city centre and see signs in french. duh, jill, you live in france, of course the signs are in french. i know it sounds ridiculous, but i just can’t get over how great it is to be here and be immersed in it. it’s awesome.
anyway, since i was out pretty late on tuesday, wednesday morning was a slow one for me. but still, i got up around 9:15 and made it to my 10am with time to spare.. living on campus is such a blessing. i don’t have to worry about taking the bus every morning to a different side of town like the tourism students or the medical students. i just have to walk about 200 yards. win! i had a translation class (version – english to french) which was pretty fun (and harder for me!). i went to the caf with djamel (decent lunch again, it’s growing on me!) and afterwards, we hit up the library for some homework time. i got a decent amount of translation done, thankfully. then i went to a class called “techniques d’expression orale” – which is essentially a speech class with a focus. this semester’s focus is “words and images” – which means we’re giving little exposés and talks on different works of art! the professor is SO nice, and really integrates the foreign students into the class. it’s going to be a fun semester in there for sure. i came back to my room for a little siesta and then we all started to make dinner... and that is where things went wrong.
so, the kitchen here consists of a stove top, a sink, a microwave, and lots of counterspace. no oven. which means that all the stuff i like to cook (manicotti, baked goods, etc) is a no-go here. and i’m the first to admit, i’m not the greatest stovetop cook. i can pretty much do pasta dishes and quesadillas. so by wednesday night, i’d gotten kind of sick of just making pasta nearly every night. but it’s so easy! and cheap! and quick! i decided i’d look up some more interesting pasta recipes to spice up my life. i found one that was this cheesy tuna noodle dish.. sounded great. i went to the super U to pick up tuna and stuff for a salad. problem. i bought my stuff (including bowtie pasta!), came back, and started cooking – which involved opening the tuna. it was DISGUSTING. i had (thoughtlessly) purchased tuna in OIL instead of in water.. and the tuna itself was this dark brown colour, all ground up and mushy. i’m not kidding, i almost gagged when i popped the lid off. it was straight-up cat food. but, i was brave (and hungry) so i tried to drain the oil and add a little mayonnaise. wrong choice. not only did the oil not drain well, the mayo just made it this pasty, slimy, smelly mess. i abandoned the tuna and decided to just do cheesy noodles. except the cheese i had was NOT adequate. it just made this runny cream solution. so i added some red sauce to get a sort of rosé cheesy tomato sauce and stirred in the pasta. it was looking pretty bland. so i added my salad to the pan – spinach, tomato, and raisins. that was the saving grace – the meal actually ended up being pretty good once it had some colour and flavour variety! dinner was alright after all.
that evening, i watched the classic animated film “an americal tail” – about the little russian mouse fievel mousekewitz – my friend shane’s favourite movie. he’d been wanting to watch it for about a week, so last night we decided to make a little party of it. it was me, shane, danielle, and (halfway through the movie) emma. we sat in shane’s room and ate vienetta ice cream cake and ferrero duplo bars – great fun. after the movie, i went to emma’s and we had girl talk until the wee hours of the morning. wonderful. :)
thursday was another earlyish morning, with two translation classes back to back and 10 and 11. they were both thème classes, french to english. the first was a level one course, slightly easier. the second was level two, in which we translated a passage with a little more literary value. there were some seriously nice french people in that class! we had a good time comparing translations and vocabulary. after class, i came back to do some homework and nap (again – love the siesta). a bunch of us had made plans to go to a film screening in town that evening. this week, the film festival “premiers plans” is going on. it’s actually a pretty big deal in france – some famous directors were discovered at it in previous years. we all met up at the bus stop around 6 and headed into town for the 7:15 movie. when we got there, rachel informed me that one of the judges of the festival was clémence poésy – the actress who played fleur delacour in the harry potter movies!!! i was overjoyed. the feature we’d picked didn’t really have a title – it was just a double showing of a short film and then a longer one. they were official entries, though, so we figured they’d be good. or at least good examples of artsy, indy french cinema. we were right, but in the second sense. both the short and long films were SO MESSED UP. like, stories about depressed suicidal german hipster teenagers and paranoid homicidal swedish medical students. if i had known what either movie was about, i would have never gone to see them. but oh well.. now i can at least cross “artsy, indy film festival” off my list. check. AND clémence walked literally within 2 feet of me after the film. so that was cool.
after the film, a couple people of our group broke off to go to a party in town, and the rest of us went to the casa de cuba. i got my chocolat viennois (delish) and ended up eating half of jessie’s whipped cream. but i did walk like 2 miles yesterday. so that’s not too bad, right?? right. we stopped by another bar called “les varietes” to listen to karaoke for a while and then caught the 12:50 bus back to campus. emma had a pretty tough night, so she, shane and i hung out in her room once we got back. we talked and talked and watched youtube videos and talked, until all of the sudden.. it was like 6:30 am. oops. bedtime for me.
i ended up not sleeping TOO late.. just until like 12:30. but i did make myself get up and shower, and then do a bunch of homework (and write this blog) so that i don’t feel TOTALLY lazy. later tonight, i’m going to a farewell party for one of the british students. he’s headed to spain for the semester! should be a fun night.
miss you all!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

plus belle, la vie.

there is something comforting in the thought that lazy days are great all over the world. it doesn’t matter if you’re in your bedroom at home, dorm room at school, or shoebox overseas.. there is nothing like waking up late, staying in bed all day writing and doing homework, and then sitting in the kitchen talking to people – it’s just great no matter where you live.
that pretty much sums up my sunday. i was exhausted after the day trip to saumur on saturday, so once i made it to bed around 2am, i was down for the count. i think i woke up somewhere in the ballpark of noon on sunday (rare for me, but i was seriously tired). i then proceeded to grab my laptop and write the previous blog entry about friday and saturday. but not only did i blog. oh, no. i wrote TWO of my assignments for the third year writing class i’m taking online through belmont. and i did half my writing self-assessment survey! it was an extremely productive lazy day.. if that makes sense. i did a little bit of cleaning and decorating once i decided i needed to leave my bed, so my room looks a bit prettier now (i know i need to post pictures of it, i will soon!).
the highlight of my sunday was DEFINITELY tuning in to the live feed of the 11am service at rolling hills community church. i’ve always noticed the camera guy at church, mostly because he is the reason pastor jeff is rockin’ the double big screen. i knew that the services were online, but i’d never needed to watch from home, considering how close i live to rolling hills. this week was different. around 5:45, i pulled up the page, hoping that my internet connection would be fast enough to support the feed. right at 6, the familiar sounds of the worship band came ringing through the airwaves.. out of the amps and across the ocean, right to my speakers. i swear, i could have cried. and to be quite honest, i stood up and sang like i was in the sanctuary with the rest of my college ministry. the connection was a little rocky, so it did pause a few times.. but it was SO GREAT to have that small piece of home. and they played two of my favourite songs! “and if our God is with us, then who could ever stop us? and if our God is for us, then what could stand against?” love it. i even got to keep up with the “momentum” series! pastor jeff’s sermon was fantastic, and very applicable (as usual). it’s more important than ever for me to keep my momentum going – these are trying times. and there are certainly things standing in the way of my walk with God here! (not the least of which being the lack of a church..) but i can’t complain. i just praise the Lord for the internet!! the best part of the whole service, though, was a part of it that i usually dismissed as unimportant. this week though.. it was amazing. at the end of the service, as a means of dismissal, pastor jeff says “let us stand together and i’ll pray a blessing over all of us.” typically, that just means “get up, it’s time to leave” for me. but this week, when i stood up, i knew that 4,000 miles away, there was a whole congregation standing with me. and that the blessing wasn’t just prayed over the people in that room, but over me too. because i am part of a community. one that cares enough about its congregation to extend a sense of belonging and welcoming all the way around the world. words cannot express what that truly meant to me.
that evening, i cooked dinner in the kitchen on my floor as usual. this week has illuminated a pattern that i’ve come to love. the usual dinner crew is a lovely mix of irish, canadian, and american students. we all get along famously. and after dinner, we usually just sit around the countertops and talk about random stuff for a couple hours. they’ve really made this place feel like a home. i hate to say it, but i think i like the dorm life here more than i do at home.. (sorry TK). the ability to gather in a kitchen is something you just can’t beat (even with a sweet theme song).
monday morning rolled around much, much too early. and by that i mean, i had a class at 10:30. i woke up around 9:30 (painful, considering how late i was up) and got ready for an epic battle of a class. on paper, it doesn’t seem so bad. “histoire de l’art” – art history. except it’s a level two course. and, oh yeah, it’s taught in french. i think the only thing that saved me was that i had studied art history in high school, so i had a little bit of a boost. the professor is so awesome! he’s this little, middle-aged french man with a moustache and large round glasses. he wears a long coat and scarf while he lectures. and he totally calls people out in class. it’s great, because it makes the 30 person “amphi” class seem very engaged. we talked about the renaissance artist rafael and some of his works. it seems like that class will mostly be memorization. which might be all i can handle, considering i have to catch every bit of the lecture, take notes, make sure what i’m writing is actually what the professor said, and THEN memorize it. yeesh. there are a few other foreign students in there, though, so we have a small support group.
the rest of monday was spent running errands, eating at the RU (“restaurant universitaire” – cafeteria), and – yet again – making dinner with the usual group. we were going to watching a movie, but ended up talking –again! – until it was way past our bedtimes. definitely sensing a trend here. it’s just so hard to tear myself away from great conversations though! and since we’re all new to each other, there’s always so much to talk about and learn from each other. maybe by the end of the semester, we’ll have normal bedtimes. :)
today was also pretty relaxing. my schedule is working out so that i don’t have classes on tuesdays or fridays, which is great! i got up this morning and showered before heading to the RU for lunch with djamel and his friend wecim. i ate the french version of a pig in a blanket, which is pretty much a regulation-sized hot dog inside a croissant. not bad at all. the rest of the afternoon was more errands – it takes a lot to get settled in a new country!! i picked up my debit card from the bank, got my foreign insurance situation figured out, and ate a tarte aux framboise (essential to the errands, i promise). i was going to go get my library card at the english speaking library, but i’d left the always necessary ID photos in my room.. merde. back to campus i went, without a single book. ah well. same story with dinner, except today i had BRINNER! cereal, banana with peanut butter/nutella, yogurt.. the works. it was delicious. around 9:30, we went to a bar called “l’abbeye” for a friend’s birthday. we ended up staying until midnight, just talking and having a good time. i’d say about 85% of the conversation i had was in french – win! and even more of a win, they were playing a rerun of the blackpool/man united match! and the tv they had was AWESOME. it was a giant projected screen, inside this super ornate and pretty gilded frame. it was wonderful. midnight rolled around, and we took the bus back to campus. nights like tonight make me so happy to be abroad – good people, good conversation, good atmosphere.. “ici, la vie est belle.” life is beautiful here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the french walmart and a ten-mile day.

have you ever walked into walmart and thought to yourself, “we are probably the only culture on the planet with a store like this – you can find anything you need under one roof, it’s cheap, the parking lot is perpetually packed...” no? well i have. but on friday, i learned otherwise.
rachel (a fellow exchange student from belmont) had organized a little shopping excursion for us with her friend mathilde, a french girl from angers who had studied at belmont two years ago. mathilde came and picked us up in her grandfather’s car (another tiny citroyen, comparable to a small civic, i’d say) and took us to the french walmart – carrefour. it was in a shopping centre that included clothing stores, electronics stores, jewelers, bakers.. it was pretty all-encompassing. i went into carrefour with several specific goals. 3m hooks, a curtain rod, pencils, NORMAL paper... sadly, i only found 2. they indeed have curtain rods, and way better ones for dorm rooms! and of course, pencils. but unfortunately, 3m hasn’t made its way to france yet. and let me tell you about the paper. i know it sounds silly, paper is paper, right? wrong. here, they do not use regular lined paper. instead, they have 2 options – regulation graph paper (even though they’re not doing math!) or this weird lined paper / graph paper hybrid. it has the regular blue lines, but then four thinner, lighter, purple lines in between them. and a vertical line every centimeter! rachel and i are extraordinarily frustrated. but mathilde explained that when french children learn to write, they learn to form their letters very carefully and specifically. that explains why every french person i know has ridiculously well-spaced and even handwriting.. but yeah, no luck on the paper. i decided to give the weird hybrid type a try. after that discussion, we picked up a few more things (grocery shopping in a different country is always an adventure) and then headed back to the dorm to drop our things off. once it was all put away, rachel and i went downtown to run several errands before the businesses closed for the weekend. we got back around 6:30pm. we had intended to go out, but i ended up eating dinner and just chilling out, i was so tired from this week! i hung out in the kitchen (the usual community hang-out spot) on my floor with jessie (from maine), emma and shane (both irish) for a long time. jessie invited me to join her group for a daytrip excursion to saumur the following day, which i was excited to do! a bit later, three NEW irish people showed up!! there are nine here this semester now! emma and shane couldn’t believe it. but the new students were very sweet (and overwhelmed!), and we all talked for a long time. sleep would have come easy for me, if it hadn’t been for the alarm going off in the room directly below mine. literally all night. thank goodness i had earplugs in my backpack still!!
saturday was a very long but marvelous day. i woke up at 7am (much to my chagrin) and made myself get ready for the daytrip outing. i met the group outside my building at 8, at the bus stop in the freeeezing cold. the sun doesn’t rise here in the winter until around 8:30 or 9 right now, so it was pretty frigid (not as bad as home though! haha.). we took the bus to the train station, bought our tickets (8 euro for the round-trip! not bad), and sat in the café waiting for the 9:30 train. after drinking tiny coffees and snacking, we headed to the platform. once we were on the train, we got this SWEET compartment that fit all 8 of us!! it was two half-circle benches with tables in the middle, one on either side of the aisle. we felt like celebrities. our little group was comprised of three irish (emma, keith, and john), two canadians (natalie and andrea), a german girl maggie, and two americans (myself and jessie). the twenty-five minute trainride to saumur was too short – that train was so warm and cozy! but alas, all good things must come to an end.. haha. we hopped off the train and got to walking across the bridge to the city proper. saumur is a sweet little village, around 30,000 people. it is full of history and beautiful architecture. we walked around the saturday morning market for a while, and then walked up the hill to the chateau. unfortunately, like most public sights, the chateau was closed for winter. but we still got to walk around the grounds and get some good pictures of the castle and surrounding scenery! afterwords, we walked around the town some more before settling on a café for lunch. there is nothing quite like quiche lorraine in france.. yum. our return ticket was for 5pm, and we finished eating lunch around noon. saumur is a small place, so we had lots of time to kill.. it turned into a day of aimless wandering through the little back streets  of the village, which was lovely. we found the horseback riding academy and sat at the base of a big monument for about an hour, just talking and laughing. the sun had come out, so we warmed up enough to be comfortable. after a while, we decided to keep walking. around 4, we headed back across the river for the train station, where we caught our return train at 4:55. once we were on the train, i realized how much we had walked that day – i’m not exaggerating when i say it could be ten miles. phew! but it was a wonderful bonding experience. another short train ride found us back at the station in angers. we got onto the bus and headed back to campus. since the markets are closed on sundays, everyone needed to go to the market (the superU) to pick up groceries for the weekend. i came back and made pasta with greenbeans and bread/cheese as sides – so easy, so good. a bunch of the group went out again after dinner, to a big party that some of the spanish students were having. but it was way on the other side of town, and they were going to be out super late, so i declined. which ended up being a great choice, because i had a fantastic time talking with emma and shane. (emma, i know you’ll probably read this, so don’t make fun of me. :P) they are just so awesome, and have made my first week in angers (and in this dorm) so much better. plus, i’m learning a lot about hiberno-english, the dialect of english spoken in ireland. it is so beautiful, and i love how much it makes me think about linguistic differences. hooray for more bonding! we talked for quite a long time, and around 1am, we decided it was bedtime.
as i got back to my room and was getting ready for bed, i couldn’t help but think about how quickly the last seven days has passed. i’ve already accomplished so much! opening a french bank account, visiting a chateau, going to classes, using public transit.. my tiny little shoebox room is even growing on me, with its space capsule of a bathroom. it’s wonderful. i feel so blessed to have met such great people here too, and i know it only gets better from here. it’s strange to think that in four months, i’ll be done with school. and then in a little less than six months, i’ll be back in the united states! ah! i am going to try my absolute hardest to make this six months count for as much as i can, because who knows when i’ll get an opportunity like this again? probably never. that’s a deep thought. i can already feel myself growing and maturing – and it’s only been a week. i can’t wait to see who i am at the end of this semester abroad.

Friday, January 21, 2011

this week in photos.

as promised.. here is a snapshot of my first week here! :) enjoy...

     SNCF train station      first class car on the TGV

                      the view from my window        sunset over the university! :)

                            the chateau d'angers               view from halfway up.

                            a very excited me!           look how pretty my new city is.

                               love those little alleys.      the maison d'adam.

the cathedtral                  gigantic organ!

                         art at the casa de cuba               le place du ralliement

                       le place du ralliement, pt.2           the theatre at night! 

                                     the tramway.             maison d'adam, pt.2

                          the back of the cathedral          le place freppel

                               some fun nighttime shots from our walking tour!

             in heaven with a tarte framboise        swanky private room at the bar!


Thursday, January 20, 2011


eek! i forgot to put my address on that last post! so, without further ado..

jill barrett
cité université de belle-beille – ch. 970
10 bd beaussier
angers, france   49045

and just to round out the post, tonight i made a FANTASTIC dinner with natalie, a canadian exchange student. really, she made it and i ate it. but it was a salad with warmed beets, goat cheese, pears, almonds, and balsamic vinaigrette. and yes, it was wonderful. we went down to a residence hall cake-eating party and chatted for a bit, and then watched one my favourite french movies, amelie. good, good, good.
picture post tomorrow!

settling in.

HOLY CANNOLI. the past four days have been a whirlwind of activity! hence the lack of blog post. sorry about that. gird your loins for another long entry...
MONDAY, 17 jan 2011.
this was a day of great productivity, as it was my first business day in france. i had many items on my to-do list, which seems to be a never ending entity. the first thing i did was go to the ‘secrétariat’, where i filled out a couple forms and paid my administrative fee. since belmont is paying the majority of my housing, i had to ask her to draw up an invoice and whatnot.. so i ended up not paying rent that day. but i did get my ethernet cable!!! huge win. and djamel was kind and thoughtful enough to give me his login information, because i wouldn’t have mine for several days. i ended up being one of the first people in the dorms with internet. :) after that, i went to the ‘pôle accueil’ – basically, the international studies offices. i did some more paperwork, looked through the big pile of ‘free for international students’ things (stuff left by previous foreign students), and headed over to see my academic advisor, monsieur darmon. he’s a tricky man, let me tell you. he hasn’t answered my (or anyone else’s) emails for the past few weeks. he was very nice and helpful in person, but i was instructed to come back because he had a meeting in five minutes, etc. so i joined a group of students who were going downtown to pay their ‘sécurité sociale’ – 200€, please. yeesh. we spent some more time in the city centre, just walking around. i went to make an appointment at the bank, but ended up just opening my bank account right then! we did a little more shopping, and headed back for dinner. there is a little kitchen on each floor of the dormitory, so my new friend natalie and i decided to make our own meals. i bought a few vegetables and made pasta. i cooked WAY too many noodles, so i shared with friends. :) we were joined by some other students, some of whom we knew and some of whom we didn’t. it was fun to mingle! my other belmonter rachel found me (finally), so i went to her room to help her set up. i was going to stay and watch a movie in the other building with some exchange students, but i decided to come back and skype instead, because i finally had internet! i talked to drew (my boyfriend) for a while, and then to my parents. it was great to see their faces and catch up a little, but it was also really hard. ALERT: harry potter nerd moment coming up. skype is like the mirror of erised... you can see what you want, but it’s not really there. it’s very frustrating. i have to admit, i cried for about half an hour afterwards, mostly because it is so emotionally draining to want to be in two places at once so badly. but that was the first skype session, so i expected it to be difficult. i pretty much went straight to sleep afterwards.
TUESDAY, 18 jan.
tuesday started out quite interestingly. i went to a large ‘amphi’ (lecture hall) to take my french placement exam. the test consisted of six writing prompts, ranging in length from 50 words to 200 words. each prompt was slightly more complicated and advanced than the last. some of the prompts were pretty normal – refuse this invitation, answer the interview questions. but the last two were more difficult – mainly the fifth one. the scenario was that we had just opened our phone bill and discovered an error. we had to write a letter disputing the charge and asking the company to fix the error. so it was not so much difficult as it was just a weird prompt. the last question was “is it possible for people to be happy without money?” – ap test question, much? haha. that was easy. i’m not sure how i placed, but i’m pretty confident that i did well. after the test, rachel and i went to the ‘Resto U’ – aka, the caf. it was very interesting, but not bad! i love observing all the differences in culture – they’re manifested EVERYWHERE. here, there are definitely no buffets, second helpings, or refills. and people wonder why the french aren’t fat. hmmm... the food was good, though, and it was a cool experience. after we ate, i went back to the secrétariat to pay my deposit and rent. no problems there. rachel and i were joined by two of our friends, claire and newton, and we went back downtown to buy bus passes, go to the bank, etc. funny story – rachel and newton went to the same high school in lexington, ky. they had french classes together and everything. they hadn’t seen each other in about 4 years, since rachel goes to belmont and newton goes to UK. but get this – they are literally nextdoor neighbors here. like, they share a wall. how crazy is that?! it boggles the mind. anyway, we came back to campus for a general information session about classes and whatnot, which was very enlightening, and made me pretty excited to get classes started! i met djamel in the library afterwards and he helped me find some good classes to try. during the meeting, the professor had mentioned a pizza and games night at the english language library in angers. it sounded fun, so i invited djamel to join rachel and me for the evening. it turned out that several exchange students were going, so it was about 9 of us on the bus into town together. that night was AWESOME. i met some seriously cool people at the library. they were there to speak english, so i definitely did that, but i was able to speak french a good bit too! we ate and played games and talked and just had a grand old time. after the library closed at 8, the 9 of us decided to walk around the town “for a few minutes”. as usual, we got a little carried away and ended up walking probably 2 or 3 miles, over the course of two hours. once we figured out how late it was, we were a little worried about the bus situation, because the night buses run on different lines than usual. but it was no big, because there is a stop right infront of my new favourite café, La Casa de Cuba. yes, it is a cuban-themed french café, but it is so cool. we hung out there and got drinks (CHOCOLAT VIENNOIS FOR MEEEE – nom) and got on the LAST bus – 10:52 pm. the funny part came when we got on the bus, and the driver told us that he had a 26 minute break coming up. so we stopped at the bus depot and waited for half an hour. oh well. djamel, rachel, and i had an awesome, awesome conversation, so the time passed very quickly. i got back to my room around 11:45, and decided to try skype again. this time was MUCH better. i talked to drew for a while, and then my sister colleen. it was great, i just wasn’t tired! but 2:30 rolled around, and i made myself go to sleep. awesome day.
WEDNESDAY, 19 jan.
as i had stayed up quite late, i slept in on wednesday. i finally turned in my ‘sécurité sociale’ receipt to the student ID card guy (he was sick tuesday), so i got my ID and my internet login information. rachel and i decided to go downtown around 2. if you haven’t noticed a trend, pretty much everything happens downtown, in ‘centre-ville’. it’s only 2 or 3 miles, but it’s about a 10 or 15 minute bus ride. we went to look for the SMEBA office, which will eventually provide us with a means of proving we have french insurance if we find ourselves at the hospital. we also ate some FREAKING GREAT raspberry tarts. rachel went to open her bank account, and i waited in the lobby and played angry birds. hah. afterwards, we tried to catch the end of the children’s hour at the english language library, but there were already enough volunteers. we were going to get our library cards, but had to go get ID photos. that is one thing about france that i do not understand.. i have never in my LIFE needed so many ID photos!! seriously, i’ve probably had to provide around 15 for different purposes since i started this study abroad process. i think i’ve been asked for maybe 2 in the states. it’s hilarious. anyway, we walked up to the monoprix, which is like a giant grocery / housewares / office / clothing store.. it has everything. including a photomaton! yes, they have ID photo kiosks – called photomatons. we got our pictures and did a little shopping. and we stopped by H&M (in the same building as monoprix) before heading back to the library. unfortunately, we arrived literally as they were closing. oops. but we’ll be back, so it was no big deal. the plan for the rest of the evening was to find this creperie rachel wanted to try, and then go to a langauge exchange party i was invited to on couchsurfing. we had an hour before the creperie reopened for dinner, so we stopped in a few different shops. at 7, we went and ate delicious crepes. yum. :) the restaurant was pretty and the food was great! since the couchsurfing party was at a bar, we went to scout it out beforehand. the organizer of the soirée was smart enough to reserve the room upstairs for the party, so we got to hang out in this swanky little private room for the night. natalie met us there around 8 as well, and the other people started showing up around 8:15. it was only awkward for like 5 minutes, and then we relaxed. around 8:45, we were nearly 20 people. we went around the room and introduced ourselves, fracophones in english and anglophones in french. it’s always tough to do linguistic exchange, because people don’t want to speak in their native language. but we split up into small groups and just mingled and chatted. i ended up talking to a french guy, a french woman and a guy from syria. their names were roman, stefanie, and chevan. stefanie and i talked for a while, and then roman and i got into a conversation about mcdonalds, movie dubbing, and train travel. interesting, eh? after about an hour, i was starting to get a headache – probably from the combination of concentration, thinking in french, and the room being super crowded, loud, and warm. we switched to english for a while so that roman and stef could get their practice in, which helped alleviate the headache a little. at 10:45, i realized we were not going to make the bus. trouble. but my new friend stefanie (another angel in disguise!) offered to drive us back to campus. phew! it was about a 10 minute walk to her car, which was parked at her apartment complex across the river. thanks to all the construction in the city centre (and the close walking proximity), she hadn’t driven downtown in nearly two years! we got about a third of the way there when rachel realized she’d left her phone at the bar, so we hurried back to get it and then headed for the car. once we got driving, it was only about five minutes back to school. it was MUCH better than walking for an hour!definitely another french blessing. stefanie drives a very common french car. that is to say, about half the size of my car. i’m not kidding, when i walk through parking lots, i can see over every single car. they are so small! it’s adorable. everything is small here though. i got back to my room and went right to bed.. thanks to an exhausting and wonderful day.
THURSDAY, 20 jan.
today was my first day of class trials!! super fun. i went to a translation class at 10am with my advisor, m. darmon. there are two kinds of translation classes here – ‘version’ and ‘thème’. in version, you go from english into french, and in thème you from from french into english. this morning’s class was a thème class. it was the first level, so it was pretty easy, especially because i am a native english speaker! i did learn something very interesting though. in france, students learn british english. so, one of the sentences translated to this: ‘within twenty years following the war, japan made a most spectacular leap.’ when i translated the sentence, i said this: ‘in the twenty years following the war, japan achieved one of the most spectacular leaps.’ still weird, because the original french sentence was weird, but i DEFINITELY wouldn’t say ‘a most spectacular leap’! haha. anyway, after that, i attended a class called ‘histoire de la langue.’ i was super stoked, because i took the english version of this class last semester at belmont. except when i got in there, i realized i was in WAY over my head. all the classes this semester are continuations of last semester... so i’ve effectively missed half of the material in all my classes. yay. but even more than that, linguistics was hard as crap in english! and then she handed out this paper with a passage in old french, and i knew i was done. it was CRAZY. and i was frustrated, because i could understand what she wanted from the students, and i’d heard the kind of phonetics and technicalities she was explaining before, but i just couldn’t get the french. it sucked. but i’m definitely not going to torture myself through that class, i’m just finding ones that are more at my level! rachel and i got lunch in the caf again, and then sat in the library for a while. we’re trying to buy our tickets to london for winter break soon, so i did a lot of price comparison and research. she left to go take a nap, and i went to talk to m. darmon about classes. he seemed confident that i could take mostly translation classes, in addition to the art history one i found and maybe another culture one. tonight, i’ll probably spend some time getting ahead on my homework for his class. i seriously think i can do the entire semester tonight... it should be pretty simple, and i’d love to get ahead, considering i have to take probably 7 or 8 classes! eeek!
man, this is a ridiculously long entry. i’m going to try to myself post every other day, so you guys don’t have to read so much each time! and i hope to do a photo post tomorrow with pictures from the last week.
miss you all!

Monday, January 17, 2011

le premier week-end.

and voilà, i am here.  i ended up taking a taxi from the train station on saturday, seeing as i didn’t really want to lug my suitcases on and off the bus. turns out that was a good choice, because i had an excellent conversation with the taxi driver – about how surprised he was that i am american (sweet?), how americans are seen in a better light now that bush is out (sweet!), and how there are several soccer teams here that i can go watch should i so desire (sweet.). plus, he brought me right to the door of the dorm offices, which i would not have found on my own. he waited for a few minutes while i checked that it was the right place, got my bags out of the trunk, and sent a ‘bon courage!’ my way as he left. 
getting from that point to my dorm was certainly an interesting experience. i cannot describe the feeling of relief when i saw my name on the ‘expected arrivals’ list. the nice woman behind the desk gave me a little bag of information, along with a set of sheets and my keys, and then walked me to my building two doors down. my new home is on the top floor of the building (of course) – which is the fourth floor, but they call it the third floor here because the “first” floor is actually the ground floor. logical, if you think about it. stairs aren’t a problem for me, so i’m happy with it – the view is better. :) dragging my bags up the stairs was DEFINITELY the hardest part of the day, though! hah.
my initial reaction when i walked into the room was “oh yay, my favourite colour!!” – and that’s not sarcastic, half the room is this wonderful robin’s egg blue/turquoise and the other half is a white textured wallpaper. my second reaction was “good thing i don’t have a roommate, this room is MINISCULE.” the floor space is about three feet wide, twelve feet long. lining one wall are the cabinets/desk and lining the other wall is my “closet” (an open cabinet with a clothing bar), my bathroom, and my bed. the bathroom is a TRIP – about one square meter, with a tiny sink, toilet, and shower stall all squished in. really, it’s just a shower with a sink and toilet inside. :) the whole joke about being able to sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth in a european bathroom is true – trust me.
once the initial shock of arrival wore off a little bit, i had two goals – find internet and get food. since i arrived on a saturday, i would not get meet with the ‘secrétariat’ to settle my arrival (get my student card, set up internet, etc) until monday, which meant no internet access in my room. plus, pretty much everything is closed on sunday, so i needed a way to nourish myself until the university restaurants opened on monday. on the way out, i met two girls in my building, who gave me some advice on what not to buy (cooking stuff – they had it.). i figured the library would close before the supermarket, so i headed there first.. only to find out that i couldn’t use the internet without my student card.  great. i told the librarian why i needed it (“to tell my parents i am alive”) and she immediately let me use the other staff computer behind the desk, because she was a mom and she understood. i knew i loved librarians for a reason. it did take me six minutes to type out a three sentence email, however, because the french keyboard is different than an american one. but regardless, i had made contact, so that goal was checked off my list. i then headed to the ‘superU’, a market right down the street from my dorm. honestly, if it weren’t for the giant tree in the roundabout outside my window, i would be able to see it. i loaded up on some essentials (toilet paper and nutella, of course) plus a few other things (hangers!) and walked back. it turns out that my dorm is in an awesome location – only a two or three minute walk from the market AND the library. winnnnn. this is a blessing, because the campus here is MUCH bigger than belmont!
i had to wait a few minutes to get back into the building (no student card, no access), but it was nice out so i didn’t mind. someone came and opened the door, so i got back up to my room and started to unpack. it took me about an hour, but my room looks really great. i only needed two drawers and the closet space for my clothes, and the drawers aren’t nearly full. the decorations i brought ended up being perfect – they make this little space really seem like it is mine. i was super tired (and pretty bored, honestly) by 8pm, so i decided to go to bed early. in retrospect, that may have been a bad choice. i woke up pretty much every hour until 1am, which was frustrating. i had a little snack and tried to go back to sleep, and by 2am, i was out. and boy, was i out. i woke up at 10am when my alarm went off, and immediately turned it off. so i got up at 1pm. hopefully that RIDICULOUS amount of sleep will take care of any jet lag i may have gotten.
even though the weather turned cranky, sunday was wonderful. when i woke up, it was mid-50’s and sunny – a great way to start my french life. except by the time i left my dorm, it had gotten pretty overcast. but no rain, so that’s a win. my friend djamel, who studied at belmont last year and worked the language lab, came to campus to show me around. on his way here from the train station, and as can only happen in a small world like ours, a few girls had overheard him talking to me on the phone about the train schedules being different on sundays, and asked him how to get back to campus. as it turns out, they were from chattanooga. weird, huh? he gave me ‘un pétit tour’ of the school – the gym, the class buildings, the library – where we met newton from kentucky. he decided to join us in our venture to the city, and asked if his friends could come. naturally, those friends were the girls from chattanooga – claire and hope. a group of southerners was not exactly what i expected on my first day in france, but they were so great and we spoke french most of the time.
our two main stops were the chateau and the cathedral. the chateau d’angers started out as a lookout post, built in the 9th century. it was built into a true fortress in the 13th century. we went to see the tapestry first, which is 100 meters long and 4.5 meters high – you can’t imagine the magnitude and detail of this tapestry. it was breathtaking. the tapestry depicts the apocalypse according to saint john – but the political context of the time leads historians to believe that it is really describing the ravages of the hundred year’s war between france and england. after gawking at that for a while, we climbed to the top of the tower for a superb view of the city – i really felt like i’d arrived in france. it was great. the cathedral was also breathtakingly beautiful. while there, a sweet old french lady stood and talked to us for about ten minutes about the history of the cathedral, the town, and how the french are revolutionaries at heart and are going to hell because france is no longer religious. she was great. newton, claire, and hope headed back to campus around 6, and djamel and i went to find dinner. we ate these huge sandwiches that were so good – except the restaurant was so-so in his opinion. after we finished, we went to a little cuban-themed café for drinks – i had  hot chocolate – ‘un chocolat’. he had ‘un chocolat viennois’. turns out, the difference is that ‘chocolate viennois’ has a GIGANTIC pile of whipped cream on it. needless to say, i’m going ‘viennois’ next time. ;) after the café, we went back to the apartment where he is staying the night, right down the street from my dorm. he watched ‘i am legend’, while i used the computer (the internet was a luxury.). i tried to watch the movie too, which was fun, because it was dubbed and the actor who voiced will smith was amusing.
i can’t lie, saturday was rough. the traveling wore on me after a while, and i was feeling pretty isolated. but spending the day with a friend on sunday made me feel so much more comfortable here – djamel is truly a blessing! he’s already helped me with like.. one thousand french words. haha soon i will be fluent.. soon. i’m starting my ‘words i learned today’ list tonight! maybe i’ll post it when i come home. :)
anyway, today is my first business day in france, so i’m going to get down to it and figure out my school stuff! here goes nothing.. :)
PS- i decided to do a new post with just pictures in the coming days.. it's easier than integrating them into the text. :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

now boarding...

well, just as we suspected.. the day has come. i spent the last week running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to complete the mother of all to-do lists. to be honest, i became so reliant on that list that i would write down every thought, just in case i needed to remember it later.

the vast majority of yesterday was spent packing, with the help of my long-suffering and endlessly patient mother (and several spacebags!). we did a little magic and got most of the things i had intended to bring: clothing/shoes/desk and school items/decorations... the list goes on. somehow we got all of this (and a boatload more) into these two bags. really three, the backpack counts. seriously, my mother is a saint. she did, however, have me walk up and down the street with my bags. there were heavy (50lbs and 35lbs respectively..) but i managed. thank goodness for wheels.  haha.

my sweet boyfriend was kind enough to come and keep me company through the wee hours of the night after my parents went to sleep while i finalized travel plans, checked (and rechecked) my bags, consulted various lists, and tried to stay calm. somehow, i felt confident enough in my packing to get a normal amount of sleep!

thanks to yesterday's productivity, this morning was very relaxed. drew and i ran to hobby lobby to get a mini sewing kit, i ate my last eggos for the next six months, drew tormented my dog.. pretty normal. we left the house and headed to the airport around noon. (colleen was lucky enough to miss half her school day in order to see me off, bringing her grand total of school this week to approximately 4 hours.)

as most of you know, spontanaity is my middle name. ...not. i like having things planned. but i will say, i have become much more flexible over the past few years. so when we got there, the airline informed me that no, i would not be flying from philedelphia, as the plane had a flat tire on the runway, so my flight would  have arrived in philly 15 minutes before my overseas flight departed (not good). that's alright though, because they were able to get me on a flight to charlotte only thirty minutes later, departing for paris at 8pm (instead of 6pm from philly). so i get there a few hours later, no big deal. except the train i had intended to take departs 15 minutes after i now arrive (sound familiar?), so i can't make that connection. hmm. my biggest worry was that i wouldn't be able to inform my friend in angers that i would be arriving 2 hours later than expected - it's not good etiquette to keep someone waiting at a train station for two hours, especially when they're there as a courtesy to you. i'd like to say that i kept a cool head, took it in stride, and calmly accepted the changes. but this new wrench in my plans, added to the impending goodbyes, upset me a little. my entourage sat with me in the waiting lounge for a few minutes, but at 1:30, i made the move to security. saying goodbye was hard, mostly because my hormones are all out of whack and i was still worried about my train situation. so i was a little wobbly getting through security. plus i was nervous that the security people would take my curling iron (i don't know why). thankfully, my bags made it through the x-ray thing with only a brief pause over the backpack. i arrived at the gate with only a few minutes to spare before boarding, so before i knew it, i was on a little plane, seated next to an elderly businessman. pretty unexciting. except when i asked him how long the flight to charlotte is, and he answered me, i realized - this man is french.

that's when it hit me that maybe this whole flight change ordeal was supposed to happen. what better omen could i have than to sit next to a kind frenchman who spent about twenty minutes giving me advice about when to visit the french riviera? he informed me that a friend of his (also on the flight, a few rows back) would even be on my flight to paris! after the SUPER SHORT flight to charlotte (45 minutes!), we waited planeside for our checked carry-on baggage and i met said frenchman's friend. we chatted for a few minutes (he asked if i was french!) and then we said 'bon voyage' and i headed to my next gate.

and here i sit. the first thing i did was check the train schedule, so i should be okay on that front. and if not, i'll figure it out. (see how flexible i am?) my flight takes off in two hours, so i only have a little more time here in the states to contemplate the next six months in europe. and thanks to the free wifi, i can update the blog once more before i fly away! technology is so neat. speaking of which, i have skype for communications purposes - if you'd like my username, let me know. :) not as technological, but if you'd like my postal address, i'll be putting on here as soon as i find out what it is!

i'd be lying if i said i weren't nervous. i'm insanely nervous. but as my daddy told me at the airport, i'm getting to do something that few people do - live out my dream. it's been eight years in the making, but all the viewings of beauty and the beast, all those french vocab quizzes, all the guidebooks i've read - they all add up to bring me here, to this moment. let's be real, it's been my whole life in the making, but i am so happy to be at the place i am in my life.

i'm moving to france today! :)


Monday, January 3, 2011

my lucky number.

11. it was my soccer number first, but throughout the years, it has turned into my go-to "lucky  number". and now, that's the number telling me how many days left until i move to france! this whole process has been so crazy, stressful, exciting, scary, frustrating, even numbing at times. i feel like i've waited my whole life for this opportunity, and now that it's here.. i don't know what to do with myself! it's going to be the adventure of a lifetime, that's for sure.

as of now, i have a to-do list about a mile long. naturally, it's colour-coded. i'm slowly chipping away at it, and it looks like i'll finish before my departure on the 14th (thankfully!). of course, visiting my friends is on the list. but unfortunately, there are just too many people to see! that being said.. if i don't get to see you before i leave, i still love you. and i'll be back in july.. with pictures and souvenirs and stories a-plenty.

to be honest, though.. the thought of saying goodbye to my favourite people makes me a bit more than sad. i'm going to miss everyone so much! and i wish i could just take everyone along in my pocket so we could all share this experience together. but alas, i do not have willy wonka's shrink ray. so the internet will have to suffice in terms of maintaining communication.

speaking of the internet, i'm going to try REALLY hard to keep up with this blog (it's one of my new year's resolutions!) so please, please read it often and comment!! i'd love to hear feedback on what is surely to be a very wacky and colourful record of my time abroad. if you want email updates, subscribe to the email list (top left of this page, follow the link!).

i'm so thankful for everyone who has helped me along this process, from linguistic help to emotional support. i am so blessed to have such amazing people in my life! :)

well, that's about it for now. the official countdown begins tomorrow.. :)

"how lucky i am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." -annie.