Wednesday, March 6, 2013

5 Things I Have Learned.


-Maybe it's just the people I've met, but French people love two types of food: ham and pudding. Especially ham. So much ham.

-Americans need to learn to take their time and enjoy life. Spending hours in a cafe is a way of life. Except when walking. I hate you all for walking too slow.

-Some people are rude, regardless of stereotypes. I've met rude Americans and rude French people. It doesn't matter your nationality, all that matters is your personality.

-If you don't know how to manage your money before, you learn it fast when you study abroad and can't work. Put down that shirt because that money could help pay for a trip later.

-Study abroad is much more difficult than people make it seem. Regardless, it has been the most rewarding thing I have done so far.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Change.


“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.”
--Leo Tolstoy

Well it's been roughly a month since my last blog post. I'm not sure what to say as so much has happened..

Since my last post I have started school and am currently on break, though I start on Monday again. I was placed in the lowest level there was, but regardless, I really love my classes! I don't have any classes on Monday and go from 8:30 or 10:45am to 6:00pm on Thursdays and Fridays, but it's still nice. I feel like I've picked up a lot of French and my classmates are great. There are 11 of us all together, which is nice since it makes the class feel closer and I actually am able to connect with people. There are 6 Chinese, 1 Korean, 1 Ethiopian, 1 Venezuelan, 1 Australian, and me. Everyone in the class also speaks English fluently, except for the Venezuelan, but we are able to talk to her through French, Spanish, and English and we've become friends. I actually miss school a bit since all of my classmates are so nice and it's nice to have a set schedule. It's nice to be in the lowest level since you aren't afraid to make mistakes because everyone else is. It's made for a really great environment and has really added to my experience here.

On the other hand, my host mother has made my experience here fairly bad. She is very - not to be insensitive to people with this - bipolar acting. One moment she is asking me how my day is, the next telling me what I've been doing wrong and making me feel like I'm in middle school. She left for Paris the last few days and got back today. And today has been the worst day I have had in awhile. I am woken up to find my housemate Jason knocking at my door to ask if I can unlock the bathroom door. This was alarming, as Jason had been gone for the past two weeks due to a family emergency that left him having to travel back to the States. After I saw my host mom in the living room and asked how her trip was. She looked really upset and brought me into the kitchen. I had my friend over the day my host mom left for dinner as we left for Saint Malo the following day. I cleaned the kitchen after we were done with dinner and REcleaned it the day we left for Saint Malo. When we got to the kitchen she proceeded to point out countless things that I had apparently done wrong. The sausage was put in the freezer and wasn't supposed to be (we didn't have sausage nor move it), we drank a full water bottle (am I not supposed to drink water?), the steak she left me was bad and I didn't eat the pizza she left, I didn't eat the leftover apple tart (sorry that that was already old when you left it for me), and the towels were dirty (if you don't let me use the washer on my own, how am I supposed to clean them?). After she went through this, I calmly explained that I had cleaned twice and I'm sorry that I made some mistakes. This resulted in her rolling her eyes and asking me what she should do with the bad food in a rude voice (uhm, I don't know - throw it out? You're the one that bought it.) I left being so fed up with her that I began to cry when I got back to my room.

To put this into perspective, my host mom is constantly like this. Hot and cold, hot and cold. I spoke with my program director and she said that in order to move out, that I must first have an intervention. I decided that I would and when we had it my host mom became this innocent and nice woman that made a cake when my program director came over. We had the intervention and my host mom apologized and I tried to chalk this up to being a misunderstanding and that things would change. Unfortunately they haven't and my friends here are urging me to move as I've become too stressed out from it all. My program director returns from the States early next week and I will meet with her again with two girls from the program (they both want to come in order to vouch for me and add what they have seen happen as well) and talk about what to do next.

So that will be continued..

As that change should be happening soon, another change is going to occur in my life. Upon thinking about returning back to my school, I have realized that I am much happier here than I am there. I am beginning to look at different colleges now. I want to become a EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and currently my school only offers that as a master's degree. Considering how expensive my school is ($40,000+ a year) and the fact that I am going into teaching, possibly in a country where I will make even less than I would in the states, all add up to the fact that I need to change schools. I have been putting off searching, but it hit me today that I need to look and look NOW if I want to change by the fall semester. I hope I will be able to find a school that not only offers my major, but is a school that I love - both being something that my school now is not offering me.

On the subject of the future, my summer job is also looming ahead of me. I currently work as a summer tour guide at a museum. While I love the job, this entails that I must complete homework assignments on the museum during the year from January to June (when the job starts). The job only lasts until August and we have too many employees that I am never able to get many hours, where I need a full-time summer job one I return to make up a bit for spending so much here. Along with this, all of the people that I have become friends with there are not returning - some are switching departments, others are doing internships, and others are just changing jobs completely. So once again, I may need to change that as well.

Now that I've come to the conclusion of my post, I've realized what a time I am going through. I really will be completely different by the end of the semester. This moment in my life has even more change than when I came to college - and that's a little scary to think of.

And so it goes.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cidre & the Sea


"The use of travel is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are."
--Samuel Johnson

Beach in Guilvinec.

So I got back from the coast a few days ago. Since getting back, I have gained a new housemate! His name is Jason and he’s also studying at my school. He’s very nice, but I don’t see him too often. I’ve also been struggling with living with my host mom lately. You’ll see this from the look at my weekend as well, but it has actually gotten a bit worse now that Jason has moved in. She is really pushing for me to speak French around them, which is difficult because I really don’t know any French. I definitely am trying though. I have started getting worksheet assignments from my program director, and I’m doing alright with them!

Anywho..

On Friday we left in the late afternoon. It became undecided if we would go for a little bit because it had snowed that day. And by snow, I mean there was a dusting. But all of Rennes flipped their shit and there were school closing. The buses didn’t run. I’m from Western New York and we know our snow. This was just pathetic. But in the end we decided to leave.

After roughly two hours, the time it takes to reach the coastal house, we finally stopped. It was absolutely freezing and we pulled up to a newer house that was attached to others. Getting out of the car, I felt like we weren’t at the coast. There were no signs to even indicate what city we were in. My host mother met a younger man in jeans and a sweatshirt outside the door to the house. Walking inside, the place was bare. I was SO confused. There was no heat in the house and I stood there while the three (the man, my host mom, and Christian – my host mom’s boyfriend) walked around. This went on for an hour. This was also one of the coldest days in Brittany so far. Finally we left and got back into the car, where I realized that we had been at the house my host mom rents out to people. This house is in central Brittany. IIIIII’mmmm dumb.

So another two hours later, we made it to the house. It was a typical house for the area, a decent size with large windows. Walking in, I realized once again there was no heat until the fire was started in the fireplace. I was shown to my room and promptly passed out – dressed in sweatpants, a shirt and cardigan, two pairs of socks, and slippers.

On Saturday I woke to find the house a little warmer. When I went downstairs, my host mom asked if I wanted to go to the market. I love farmer’s markets, so I was actually a little excited. We left soon after and stopped at the sea first. It was only about five minutes, but I loved it. I always have wanted to live on the beach, but for some reason not where everyone else would want to live. I want to live in Scotland on the beach. Kind of weird, but since it was cold out; it felt like I was there. Then we went to the market. And by market, I mean we pulled up to a Super U. Once again, IIIIII’mmmm dumb. Getting back to the house, my host mom made galettes and we had Breton cidre with it. I’m in love with Breton cidre. Sooo good.

We ate early so that we could go to Quimper. I thought this was so that we could see a cathedral, as my host mom had said. Nope. We went so that she could go shopping. It felt like it was forever. When we left one of the dozens of shops we went to, we found ourselves in this huge crowd. When I pushed my way to the front there were traditional Breton dancers performing. It was amazing.


Traditional Breton dancers.

You would think that if we have to leave on Sunday, that it would be the least eventful day. Sunday was so packed that all of my pictures besides the one in Quimper were from today. We stopped by two different cities to go to the ocean, Sémaphore and Guilvinec. Guilvinec was by far my favorite, but both were beautiful. Here we went to the boat harbor was there had to have been over a hundred different boats. It was actually really pretty for being a boat harbor. Our trip continued to the beach, where I took a ton of pictures. Our day in Guilvinec ended at a small café, where I drank Breton cidre on their terrace that faced the sea.

Then we left and returned to Rennes to have a goodbye dinner for my old housemate Sunny, where her family from Taiwan had come to visit. It was nice, except no one spoke English the entire night, so I drank a bottle of wine by myself because no one was paying attention.

Yup. That's about it.

Guilvinec harbor.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's a House, Not a Home.


"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted."
--Bill Bryson

These past few days have been exhausting. I took my French placement test yesterday, and I get the results tomorrow. It’s obvious that I will be placed in the lowest level possible, as the test was so difficult that I just have to write “Je suis désolé. Je ne sais pas. I don’t speak French.” But I don’t mind, I’d like to be in the lowest class, because I really don’t speak French.

On another note, I was able to talk to my family for more than a few minutes last night. It was really difficult. I enjoy being in Rennes and France in general, but I really miss them. I cried for the first time since being here. Studying abroad is much more difficult than it appears. It is worth it, it’s just difficult.

But let’s get to the actual topic of my post; living in a new house. I’ve really been trying to not upset my host mom. I clean everything after I use anything, put it back into place, turn off all lights when I leave the room, etc. It feels as though I do not live in this house at all. I guess that is a good way to think about it. It doesn’t make you feel very at home, but that way you don’t really cross any lines.

It’s a house, not a home. 

It’s been difficult as there is such a language barrier between the two of us. She’ll talk to me fully in French and I just end up sitting there like an idiot. I mean, she’s been understanding of the fact that I don’t speak French, but that doesn’t keep her from speaking way beyond my level, which is understandable.

I also was able to experience my first dinner with her today. Usually she is at work from about 3pm to 10pm, so I eat by myself. It’s nice though, as I listen to music and catch up with keeping in contact with friends and family. But today her boyfriend, Christian, came over and the three of us had dinner. Christian doesn’t speak English, so every time my host mother left the room to check on dinner, the two of us would stare awkwardly around the room, smile at each other, and then take big gulps of our red wine. Dinner itself was strange. She served this soup that was chicken broth, carrots, and soggy bread. That’s right, soggy bread. To be blunt, it was disgusting and she made sure that I ate the entire portion of soup, or she was offended. The rest was fine. Mostly they talked in French, but when she spoke in English, she had a few things to tell me.

The first was that I would be getting a new housemate. On Monday, Sunny will return with her family and they will all stay at the apartment for two days. Along with that, the same day there will be a boy arriving named Jason, who will be staying in Sunny’s old room for the rest of the semester. Thus those few days will be incredibly crowded. I just hope that Jason is a normal guy, but knowing my luck, he won’t be.

Along with this, my host mother, Christian, and myself will be traveling to the coast for the weekend. She apparently has a small house near the water, so close that you can hear the ocean if you open the windows. While it will be awkward to spend all of that time with them, it will be good to get to know them. I’m excited to visit a new part of France and get to explore. I don’t believe the house has wi-fi, but I will take plenty of pictures and update you on my travels once I return!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bonding Over Perfume


"There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler who is foreign."
--Robert Louis Stevenson

In the evening of our final day in Paris, we took the train to Rennes to meet our families. After meeting with Teri's family, they took us to Hannah's house. My host mother was still at work so I stayed for an hour there.

Seeing such a lovely family gave me hope that my stay may turn out well. The mother fed us ratatouille with rice, saumon à l’ail et à l’aneth, and a soup that tasted a bit like a potato soup, but was a pale orange (hmm?). We walked back to the salon and watched a documentary on a French couple that did a pilgrimage from Paris to Jerusalem.

Marie Francoise then came and took me to my family. On the upper-left side of the centre city lies a small group of apartment buildings. Walking up to one, we saw two women walk out of the building. The older of the two was my host mother. Around 5ft with black hair and bright red lipstick, she smiled and began to speak quickly to Marie Francoise in French. My host mother is also Marie Francoise, so it gets a bit confusing. The other was a girl with a clearly American accent – Sunny – who was staying with her as well (though she will leave at the end of the week). After they said their goodbyes, the rest of the night seems like a blur. We went to the apartment, they laid out the rules, showed me my room, and allowed me to unpack. Before I knew it, it was 1am and I still had not finished unpacking, nor had figured out wi-fi.

The following day my host mother brought me to centre-city to meet Marie Francoise (the program director). I did not have wi-fi, so I did not know that the girl who was supposed to pick me up was sick (leaving me to wait in the lobby for an hour and a half). Upon reaching centre-city, we said goodbye to my host mother and went on to do a list of errands. First we stopped to get my phone, then la carte KorriGo so we would be able to take the bus and metro. I only put ten tickets on, but now I think I will have to add more quite soon. A few more stops later (including the 2€ store!), Marie Francoise dropped us off at a small cosmetic shop. Then it was just shopping, soldes, shopping, soldes.

At the end, Teri and I said goodbye and I looked at the map to see how to get home. Shit. After about ten minutes to even find my street, a nice girl came up and helped me. Bringing me to the bus stop for line 8, she left me. Then shit got real. After the fourth stop, I realized I was on the wrong bus. As I’ve never taken public transportation like this before, I got off at the next stop and walked. And walked. And walked. And got on a different bus. And missed the right stop. Then got off. And walked. Finally making it to the corner of Brest and Verdon, I was so relieved. I made it to the apartment, got in, got to the right floor, and then couldn’t open the door (I found out that you have to turn it three times, pull on the door while turning the third time, then push - so I wasn't being dumb!). Finally calling Sunny I made it in and put everything away. Then it hit me.

This is much more difficult than I had thought it would be. 

But then it changed. Madame Marie Francoise came home from work at 9:30pm and I sat while she ate. We had a broken franglais conversation, and I mentioned that I was looking for a perfume brand but couldn’t find it. Her face lit up and she excused herself. She came back a few moments later with a large bottle of perfume. With hand motions and me picking up on some French it appeared it was her favorite. Then she motioned for me to put my hand out and she sprayed it on my wrist. I told her I liked it and I could just tell that it made her happy. Maybe it will get better.

The next day was just shopping and going to the Institut franco-américan and such. And I made it home by taking the metro and walking. Yay!

 I’ve had so many difficulties this week. But it’s okay. I’ll figure it out.

 Somehow.

View from my window in Rennes

Excuse my French, but I'm in France.


"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life." 
--Jack Kerouac

A bit late, but our hostel in Paris didn’t have wi-fi!

Paris truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Arriving at Charles de Gaulle I was exhausted. I thought I had to go through customs and couldn’t find it. I then found it and when I asked the guy was confused as to why I was at customs – so of course I started to cry. After finally getting out, Ben and Hannah whisked me to the hostel we were staying at. We went to get breakfast and where did we sit? Right to the side of Notre Dame, so as I ate my first French breakfast of café au lait and a baguette with butter and jam, I was able to look at the side of Notre Dame. After we went in to Notre Dame and walked around, then went back to the hostel where we met up with Teri. Soon we met our program director, Marie Francoise, and then began walking. And walking. And walking.

We visited Le Palais Garnier first, which is a gorgeous opera house. Then got a café and went to Musée du Louvre. It was beautiful and more than I had expected. And very, VERY large. Teri and I split from Ben and Hannah after seeing the Mona Lisa – which, by the way, is tiny – like really, really tiny – and walked around. And by walked around, I mean getting lost too many times to count. Finally we ended up in a completely different section of the Louvre that people don’t think of when the think of the Louvre. It was all African art and was so different and interesting. Finally it was dark and we went out and got some pictures of the Louvre lit up at night.



After we went and got dinner and drinks with Marie Francoise. After she left we walked toward our hostel and got drinks at this small Mexican bar (I know, kind of weird). I ordered two drinks at the same time – I like to mix things up! – and a worker came up and asked why I did that. We explained and the rest of the night he would smile at me randomly and was so sweet. Teri left a note for me as we left, telling him to look me up on Facebook. As soon as we left he ran outside to say he didn’t have Facebook and to meet him for drinks tomorrow. This is so different for me. I don’t get hit on. I just don’t.

The next day was more walking. We went to Montmartre first and got a café as Ben and Hannah went to mass at Basilique du Sacré-Coeur. The café we ate at faced the Sacré-Coeur and was surreal. We walked around and shopped, buying lots of little souvenirs. We even went into a chocolate shop that had an Eiffel Tower made all out of chocolate!



After we met with Ben and Hannah and went to get lunch, stopping first to give money to a man playing the violin in front of the Sacré-Coeur. He motioned me over and offered to take a picture with me when I asked if I could take a portrait picture of him. Soon after there was a whole line to take pictures with him and we were happy that we could help him earn a bit of money.

Walking around Montmartre was beautiful and we even stopped by Moulin Rouge and Café des 2 Moulins (where the film Amélie had been filmed – which was not at all like it was in the film – kind of disappointing as it is one of my favorite movies).

Then it was off to Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. Beautiful, but I was too exhausted at that point to enjoy it. Also, missed getting drinks with the waiter because I fell asleep when I got back to the hostel. Awkward.

The day after we went to La Tour Eiffel. Absolutely stunning. I probably took 30 pictures of the tower alone. I was in awe the entire time. Getting back to the hostel, it was already late, so Teri and I got ready to go out. She wanted to go to a bar down the road, but I wanted to go to the Mexican bar to apologize to the waiter for missing our date (I guess you could call it that?). By the time we were ready it was late, so we went to the Mexican bar, where they were already closing. And then we realized it was Monday. Oops. He immediately recognized us and we invited him to get drinks to apologize. While we waited he gave us dry red wine (which I hate, but how can you refuse free drinks?) and we talked with another worker, Marcel. After they closed, the waiter (Jeannot, but we just called him John) gave us beers and the four of us (Jeannot, me, Teri, and Marcel) drank outside the bar. We went to a bar down the road, where they bought us even more drinks (so sweet!). We walked back and said goodbye, where Jeannot gave me his number so I could text him when I got my French phone. Yay!

The next day was straight to the train and off we went to Rennes.

Time to start a new chapter of my life.

Here we go.