Thursday, January 20, 2011

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!

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