Archive for the ‘Study Abroad in France’ Category


Michelle: Transitions

June 21, 2011

I’ve been back for about three weeks now. Often times I find myself wishing I was back in Montpellier. I don’t know if it’s the thrill of the big city or the charm of France that I miss, but there’s part of me that yearns to go back. I want to go back to the country where the tops of my papers were always wrinkled because they didn’t fit into the American binder I brought. I miss being reminded during every food-related publicity that « Pour votre santé, évitez de manger trop gras, trop sucré, trop salé ». Constant discovery has been replaced by the mundane. Dare I say it, I’m even feeling a bit nostalgic for the thrill of narrowly avoiding piles of dog crap on the sidewalks. Most of all though, the French people, language, and bread me manquent beaucoup.

Although I haven’t hit the dark place described in the literature given to us by the Minnesota office, I feel a slight twinge whenever I see something that reminds me of Montpellier and excitement if I hear French (even if it is coming from my selection of Francophone music). I’m starting to scrapbook my trip now and am transcribing my blog posts onto the pages to serve as a background for the pictures. Reading my posts from the very beginning, it’s interesting to see how my view of France and really of myself has changed. One that’s particularly interesting now is Test Anxiety. I’m generally not a worry-wart; part of me thinks I might have suffered a minor psychotic breakdown going between the US and France (must be the thin air on the plane). All those doubts and worries were faced, and gladly I can say I survived without too much difficulty.

Now, I find myself scraping at any opportunity to re-immerse myself back into French culture. I’ve watched a couple French films, joined a conversation group, tried to replicate some of the meals I had over there. Yesterday, I had most likely my last Friday Night Dinner (FND) in Waukesha with the menu centering on food I had in France.

Menu: Fish Soup with Croutons, Rouille, and Gruyere – Catfish with Almonds – Grilled Vegetables with Aioli – Cheesecake

This is my last post from this blog. Thanks for reading. Au revoir!


Michelle: There’s no place like home

June 7, 2011

I arrived home last week. After 4.5 months in France and ending with 10 days in Italy, I was ready to come home. On the train back to France from Italy, we passed a cornfield and all of a sudden I got a little homesick (I guess I really am Midwestern). From Venice to Montpellier was 14 hrs by train, then I spent 9 hours in the city, and finally Montpellier to Waukesha was 17ish hours total. The nine hours in Montpellier were spent taking advantage of my last night in the city and packing. My bag was exactly 23 kilos – the limit on Air France (a large improvement from the original 35 kilos I originally had in my large suitcase – I think it was the two bottles of wine that did me in). Thanks to the lovely air traffic control grévistes in Montpellier, my first plane was late resulting in me literally running through Charles de Gaulle (which is not fun with a suitcase that doesn’t roll). On my first day in France, there was a manifestation against Ben Ali – my last day there was a strike. I ❤ France.

During the flight, I took advantage of their selection of French movies trying to hear as much French during my last moments before returning home. I’ve asked a couple French people how to translate “awkward,” as in that uncomfortable feeling that occurs in social situations when you don’t really know what to do. One girl told me (jokingly), “we don’t have a word because French people are never socially awkward.” FALSE. Les Emotifs Anonymes is 1h20 min of pure social awkwardness. The awkward turtle could have swam to the US and back during this film. That being said, it’s a really cute movie about overcoming your fears for love and chocolate. But I digress…

Being back in America is somewhat strange. It’s weird being able to understand 100% of the conversations going on (even when I don’t want to). The roads are different. Even the things that were so ordinary before are now so different. When I got home, I went to pour myself a glass of orange juice and my first thought taking the carton out of the fridge was, “this carton is huge!” Then I went to get a glass and thought the same thing. One great thing about home was taking a long shower, with a shower curtain, and not having to turn off the water during the shower. It was glorious! So far being home is absolute bliss. Don’t get me wrong, France was great; great people, great experiences, but as Dorthy says, “there is no place like home.” My family celebrated my homecoming with a big bowl of Asam Laksa. Funny how one of the things I missed most about America is Asian food.

About a week before the program ended in Montpellier, we all got an e-mail about what to expect coming home. It’s makes returning to the US seem like such a sinister experience. According to the article, even “the most empathetic [of your friends] sometimes just won’t ‘get it,’” you’ll feel “rootless” and “no longer feel attached to [your] home culture, and may have a “fragmented sense of conflicted identities.” Sounds peachy, doesn’t it? Like I said, I’m still feeling a bit of the just-got-back-and-am-seeing-people-I-haven’t-seen-in-literally-months euphoria, but if I go crashing down into the inevitable endless abyss of depression and solitude drowning in nostalgia of memories past, I’ll let you know. For now, I’ll just enjoy home, and finish up the posts I’m lacking from the end of Easter break and let you know all about Italy! Until then.


Michelle: More of Provence and Paris

June 3, 2011

Over a month later… (I told you I’d right this, I never said when)

If you have heard of the town of St. Remy, you probably associate it with its insane asylum. This is where Van Gogh was treated for one year between 1889 and 1890. It was from his bedroom window that he created Starry Night depicting the city. As a patient, he had a habit of taking walks in the gardens. Some of his other works from the time portray quotidian scenes from this peaceful residence (eg Irises). Today, grounds are still used to treat the mentally ill and the patients’ artworks are for sale in the Gift shop. Indeed, those who see the world through different eyes seem to produce the most profound art.

Les Baux de Provence are considered to be one of the most beautiful places in France. The city name is derived from the regional word for a rocky spur, baou. With its unique character, it is easy to see why this city is revered.

Mt. Ventoux seems to be the Everest of the cycling world. A favorite stage in the Tour de France, this mountain challenges riders to a  grueling climb 1912 m into the air. Susie’s dad explained that every year, they see countless ambulances rushing by (you can see it from their house) to rescue some idiot, amateur cyclist who collapsed. Needless to say, my family drove.

The next day we headed to the beach house at La Capte. Although the water was still too cold to go in, we enjoyed strolling and eating beach side before heading to St. Tropez. The French Riviera is home to French and foreign celebrities a like. One such is Bridgette Bardot of Godard’s cult classic, Contempt. From twenty thousand euro outfits to yachts big enough to hold other boats inside them, this region is filled with luxury and gold seems to be the new black.

My last stop with my parents was Paris where we visited my uncle (not actually my uncle – it’s an Asian thing), his wife, and my aunt (also not actually my aunt). My uncle is the kind of guy who will open 3 bottles of wine with a meal: one to titillate the palate, one to accompany the main dish, and one with the cheese plate and/or dessert. My uncle kept filling my glass. At that point, I could honestly say that was the most alcohol I had ever consumed in that amount of time.

This wasn’t my first time in Paris, nor, I hope, will it be my last. Four years ago as a sophomore, I came with my high school. There’s a superstition that if you step on Point Zero which marks the center of Paris (in front of Notre Dame).

My first time in Paris was a little rushed. I think we got a total of about 3 hours in the Louvre. This time, I went back and did it properly spending the entire day there. The day after we did similarly with the Musée d’Orsay. Due to current renovation, the galleries are all moved around so works that are not normally placed together are now juxtaposed. Inside the gallery I heard an American say (rather loudly), “Oh, Van Gogh, finally some Impressionist art.” Sir, do you know where you are!? This museum is home to one of the most impressive collections of Impressionism in the world. Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Bazille all under one roof! Blows my mind!

Another must see in Paris is the Rodin museum. This was on my dad’s list of things to see from four years ago, so this time we really had to go. If there’s one thing I learned at this museum, it’s that bronze sculptures are ridiculously complex to make. Props to Rodin for his mastery of such a non forgiving medium.


Parker: Farewell dinner

May 24, 2011

As an end of program celebration, IES held a farewell dinner for all the students in my program. We had a wonderful three course French dinner all while floating through Paris via a boat on the Seine. Beforehand, my friends and I got together to take a few photos, prom-style (if only I could have taken my ACTUAL prom photos with an Eiffel Tower view…), on the Bir Hakeim bridge (which you may recognize from Inception). Throughout the course of the evening, I was lucky enough to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle THREE times (it never gets old), and spent a few last hours with some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure meeting. Our only hope (if I may be so cheesy) was that it was not “goodbye”, but instead “see you later,” as we said goodbyes before everyone headed back to their respective parts of the U.S. the next morning. Luckily, I am staying here for a few days, decompressing, getting ready to go home, and sneaking in a few last things I didn’t get the chance to do.


Michelle: Spring Break Part 2

May 21, 2011

As I was saying…

After leaving Montpellier, my Uncle and Aunt dropped us off in Avignon to meet Susie and her family while they continued to Bourg en Bresse where they have a summer home. Since I’ve already written about Avignon, I’m not going to do it again. I will however say that we had an amazing meal at Restaurant Christian Etienne.

Note: everything in Italics was copied from my notes during Spring Break.

After settling in at Susie’s parent’s place in Caromb, the next day her parents took us on a grand tour of Provence. L’Isle sur la Sorgue is not literally an island however it is by the Sorgue river. One of the coolest things about this cozy little town is its bi-weekly market. It almost seems to engulf the entire town with vendors selling everything from olives to antiques to Indian scarves. Most people are not accustomed to bargaining for their goods. As Americans, the only things we tend to bargain for are homes and cars (and even that tradition is diminishing). At most open markets, it is expected that you bargain for everything except food products (which are sold by weight). One of the nice things about a market as opposed to grocery store is that you as the client have a one on one connection with the vendor. At a nougat stand, my mom was talking to the vendor and he asked where we were from. “Malaysia,” responded my mom. All of a sudden, I wasn’t the one who had to translate everything. It turns out, the vendor spoke a little Malay. He knocked a few euro off the price of the nougat.

After finishing our first market, we continued on through the Provençal countryside. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of this next city. If anybody knows, please leave a comment.

Here, we looked at a lot of artisanal pottery that is typical of the region. This was definitely a situation of look, but don’t touch. Because it is all hand crafted, one of a kind, it comes with a one of a kind price. As with much of southern France, vestiges of the Roman empire are omnipresent. This is the Pont Julien that traverses the Calavon River. Pretty, right?

Next stop: Roussillon, “the Colorado of Provence” as Susie’s dad called it. We got to the top of this city on a hill just as the sun was starting fall behind the landscape. Seeing the light illuminate the ocher cliffs highlights the full majesty of nature. The beauty of the scenery seems to engulf every thought in your mind as you sit entranced by the view. Perhaps that’s a little hyperbolic, but it is really a simply breathtaking sight.


Stay tuned for the second half of my week with my parents and Susie’s family in one of the following posts. Right now, I’m getting ready to traverse Italy and I still want to right a wrap up of my stay in France. I promise, I will finish writing about Spring Break…eventually.


Parker: Dîner chez ma professeur

May 20, 2011
My French class in the gardenLast week, amid all of the preparations and stress that surrounded the last week of school, finals, and our last week in Paris, my French professor invited our whole class over for dinner at her house. To be honest, none of us were really excited; we had a lot of work to do, we were tired, she lives almost an hour away from where some of us live in Paris, and we didn’t think she would feed us much-there were 12 of us, plus her, her husband and her daughter. We were completely wrong. Not only did she have tons of food and drinks for us (aperitifs, appetizers, lots of delicious ratatouille, charcuterie, cheese, baguette, and wine), but it was a fantastic time, and a great end to our semester. It was a good opportunity to chat, eat some good food, and relieve stress. We also got a chance to peek into our professor’s life, and see the cute little suburb where she lived (in a HOUSE, with a GARDEN-something I haven’t seen in quite a while…)

Parker: Open Ears

May 19, 2011

Being abroad has not only brought out new parts of me. It has sparked new interests to my life as well. Some things are trivial, like my new appreciation fro cassis, some are odd, like my new obsession with skulls (see one of my favorites below), and others have come as a result of integral changes in my life. As I stated in post earlier in the semester, Paris is much quieter than being back with my friends and family in the U.S. People are relatively private, and tend to keep to themselves. If someone is speaking in a loud tone of voice, something big is happening.

These quieter surroundings have led me to listen in ways I never have before, and in doing this I have found that for me, one of the best ways to experience a moment is to just listen. It could be the sound of conversations on the metro (even if I’m not actually listening to what is said, but rather the low constant murmur of voices), the sound of people and cars on the street, or the sound of people celebrating, partying, or maybe even mourning. In the last few weeks, I began to collect these sound bites from my life (yes, I know it sounds like Save the Last Dance, but I haven’t gotten quite that intense about it…). However, in the process of uploading pictures and videos from my camera to my computer, they were accidentally erased. In some ways, I was extremely upset; these were parts of my life, parts of my experience, that I will never be able to retrieve, and therefore relive. But on the other hand, these moments as they existed are engrained into, especially the sounds.

For example, when I visited Marseilles a couple of weeks ago, on the way home from dinner, the soccer match ended and Marseilles was the winner. It just so happened that we were right on the main drag for bars in the city, so we were there as the road flares were lit and the crowd roared in celebration. The group of celebrants continued to grow, and did so all through the night. Through our hotel window, which was a little removed from the main action, we could hear the sounds of revelers late into the night. It was almost eery with the way the silent, empty streets were quickly filled with the sharp cries of people headed toward the celebration at the Vieux Port.

Although the neighborhood where my host family lives might not be the best in Paris, I have been blessed to have a panoramic view of the Parisian suburbs from my 12th-story French windows (which, I must add, are one of their greatest creations). When I am at home, I usually open the windows to let in a little fresh air, and with the air comes the quiet buzz of the neighborhood; children playing, cars honking, birds singing, and if I’m lucky, the sound of the bells tolling from the towers of the two churches nearby. Although I may be sitting inside, the sounds instantly transport me to the street, and I always feel connected to my environment.

Although it may seem like a small aspect of my 4 months in Europe, this newfound interest in the sounds that surround me has definitely become one of the things that will stay with me. Not only has it enriched my time abroad in experiencing everything with all of my senses, it has helped me to acclimate in every situation, by listening, learning, interpreting, and repeating.


Michelle: Spring Break Part 1

May 16, 2011

As I said, the next 2–3 weeks are going to be a bit hectic. Everything is wrapping up: exams, goodbyes, planning for Italy. However, I do want to share a little bit about my break  so this is going to be serialized through a picture or two per post and short description.  Here’s post number 1:

For me, vacation started with the arrival of my parents, uncle and aunt (from Paris) in Montpellier. On Thursday night we had an aperitif with my host family and one of the women from the Minnesota program who lives next door and her children.  Despite the children’s boundless energy, it was still nice to see everyone together. I will admit, I took some pleasure in seeing my host family speaking English to my parents. For the past 4 months, they’ve seen me struggle from time to time searching for words,  tripping over syntax, or misusing a time. That night, they had the chance to be in my shoes and they did quite well. I was especially impressed with Caroline who doesn’t have to speak English regularly like Claude.

The next day we took a drive to Palavas les Flots and Aigues Mortes. Palavas is where Caroline grew up. When she was a kid, she lived in an HLM there. Now, it’s all built up for tourists with resorts, restaurants, you get the picture. Despite the huge tourist appeal, it is a nice beach on which I laid out multiple times this trip.

Aigues Mortes used to be from where French crusaders would depart for the Holy Land. This is a statue of St. Louis, king of France who went on the 7th and 8th crusades. The city is also well known for the salt produced in the area. From the top of the ramparts that encircle the city you can see mountains of salt from processing centers nearby.

I now realize I don’t have any pictures of my parents in Montpellier. It’s so familiar to me now, I feel like it would have been similar to taking pictures of Minneapolis or Waukesha. I showed them my favorite parts of the city: St. Roch, Antigone, Comedie, the trompe l’oeils, and we spent a lot of time just walking around the small streets.

That’s it for installment one. À bientôt!


Michelle: State-internship

May 13, 2011

Today was my last day at my internship; saying goodbye to everyone was a bittersweet occasion. I’ve worked there since the beginning of February, and I’m now realizing I haven’t written a word about it since I’ve gotten here. 

During my stay here I participated in an internship organized by the University of Minnesota. After filling out a questionnaire about my skills and interests and submitting my CV, I was placed at the Montpellier’s Office of Tourism. There, I worked with the communication’s team. Basically, this meant proofreading or translating into English their publications for web and some for print. In seeing the faults of others in your language, sometimes you learn a little bit more about their language. Take for example this phrase:

“Le zoo de Montpellier n’est pas un poumon vert comme les autres.”

The original translation for this was:

“The zoo of Montpellier is not a green lung like the others”

Upon reading this, my first thought was, what the heck is a green lung? I changed it to:

“Montpellier’s zoo is an urban oasis apart from the rest.”

One thing I really learned is translations are hard work. It’s easy to look at bad translations and laugh, but once you try to do it yourself, it’s not that easy.

After all is said and done, I really enjoyed my experience there. Everyone was really friendly and good humored. A nice byproduct is I always had something to do during the weekend because I generally knew what was going on in the city or near it: festivals, free events, concerts…


Parker: Almost done

May 12, 2011

I have reached the last week of my time here in Paris, and things are getting very interesting. Last week I attended a re-entry session where they discussed re-entry shock, that is, the opposite culture shock that comes with returning home after being away for a semester.  It really made me realize that going home might not be as great as I sometimes dream it could be, with all the people, places, and food I have missed in the last four months. Everyone (I hope) will be interested to hear about my time in Europe, and I don’t know what I will share with them. I imagine it will be something like coming home after a day of high school to a simple “How was your day?” from my mom. I could expect it every day, but when it came, I usually had nothing to say, usually settling for a simple response of “Fine” or “Okay.”

Not only do I have to worry about going home, but first I have to worry about getting through school here. In the last week, I have had three 5-page papers due, given three final presentations, and had five finals, an even bigger challenge after the generally light courseload I have had this semester.  Obviously, doing work and preparing finals is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of all the things I want to do in my last weeks in Paris. In fact, I have quite a list of things to do. Yikes. Time to get on that.

I believe the main difference between a semester abroad and anything shorter, say, six weeks, is that in four months, you are able to really become a local. You get to know the city (or most of it…Paris is HUGE!), the places, the sights, and you have a chance to visit things more than once. However, it can be hard to stay on track when it comes to exploring the city. It is easy to find one place you love to go and revisit that place over and over. Then, when the end of your four months comes whipping around the corner, you are left with a couple short weeks and a list of things you have yet to complete before you leave. With a shorter program, I think it is easier to grasp the amount of time you have, which leads to more planning and less left to do when your time is up. But to me, that then becomes almost like an extended vacation.

I can’t say enough how glad I am to have had more than 4 months in this beautiful city, and to have been able to call it my home. It was always nice to come back to Paris after a vacation, or a weekend away. I wouldn’t trade this feeling of belonging for anything.

%d bloggers like this: