Posts Tagged ‘French’

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Grace: Korité, theft, & chocopain

September 8, 2011

Okay so let’s see, what have I done since my last post…I’ve finished my pre-session French class, learned some more Wolof, eaten lots more chocopain (the nutella-ish stuff that I love), completed the month of Ramadan (feeling like this is a major accomplishment, not that I fasted or anything…), celebrated said ending of Ramadan, had my cell phone stolen while buying an outfit for the aforementioned celebration, and made lots of new friends, both American and Senegalese.

Alrighty, let’s talk about Ramadan. I got to Senegal the day before it started, so I have gotten the full Ramadan experience. Before coming here, I knew what Ramadan was, but I thought all it really involved was skipping lunch. Turns out, it actually involves more than just not eating during the day.  During Ramadan, people don’t really hang out with friends, or go dancing (all the dance clubs in Dakar have been closed), or see their boyfriends/girlfriends, or wear makeup, or play sports. They pretty much avoid fun.

So on Tuesday evening, my family was frantically searching the night sky for the moon, which has to be there for the end of Ramadan to happen. We couldn’t find it anywhere. Thankfully, the moon-less sky was only in Dakar, and other places in Senegal saw it (don’t really understand this, but whatever). So Ramadan was officially over! This meant that Wednesday was “La Korité”, the end of Ramadan celebration. 

I really didn’t know what to expect with Korité, but I had heard that everybody buys new, traditional-style outfits for it, so last Saturday Anne and I went to the market to find dresses.  This was an experience. And I don’t really mean that in a good way. It was sooo hot, and there were pretty much a billion people there, pushing and shoving, 500 million of whom were trying to sell stuff to me or give me a henna tattoo. We had to squeeze our way into the center of the market where the pre-made, Korité-appropriate clothes were and try to find something that was a decent color and wouldn’t make us look obese. In the end, we were successful, and each found something we liked for about $20. We then managed to squeeze our way out of the market again and took a car-rapide home. And then I got home and discovered that I no longer had a cell phone…

So I don’t think I’ve explained car-rapides yet.  These are small, brightly colored buses that are the traditional means of public transportation in Dakar. Anne and I have been wanting to ride them this whole month, but we didn’t know how they worked and were a little scared, so we’ve just stuck with the boring old taxis. But Saturday was the day, and with the help of Ami, one of my family’s maids, who took us to the market, we got the car-rapide experience. Basically, there’s a guy hanging off the back of the bus and you hop on and tell him where you’re going and pay him (the going rate is like 20 cents).  Then you squeeze onto the rickety bus and try (and usually fail) to find a seat in between all the bodies.  When the bus gets to where you want to get off, the guy on the back hits the side of the bus and the driver stops and lets you off. 

Your typical car-rapide.

So after buying a new outfit, and hearing about Korité for weeks, I was expecting a pretty big shebang.  However, Korité day actually wasn’t that different. We ate lunch, which was new, but I’m assuming that starting today that won’t be that unusual. Oh, and we had this sweet yogurt-y stuff on top of oatmeal for breakfast (instead of chocopain like usual…this was sad).  Other than that, everyone just kinda sat around all afternoon and napped.  Towards the evening everyone changed into nice clothes, but nothing really special happened then either, except that the kids in the neighborhood came around to all the houses asking for money (it’s a little like Halloween, but not).


With my cousins (Aisha, can’t remember the baby’s name but she’s adorable, and Suley) in the courtyard of my house on Korité (note my new outfit)

Oh, and something else exciting that happened this week was that the rest of the study abroad group came! So now there are 18 Americans here, which means lots of new friends, yay! We start classes on Monday. I’ll be taking French, Country Analysis (culture/history of Senegal), Wolof (actually super pumped for this), International Development, and Public Health.  All in French. I’m pretty excited, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a semester before where I’m actually legitimately interested in all my classes.

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Grace: Ile de la Madeleine

August 20, 2011

Today I feel like a real study abroad student.  All the stories I hear about students abroad sound so adventurous and cool, and now I feel like I have one of those stories.

This morning (not sure when I’m gonna post this…today=Sunday), the other two students and I decided to go to the fish market and try to hitch a ride with a fisherman to Madeleine Island, a little deserted island off the coast of Senegal, where we heard it was fun to hike.  We found a fisherman to take us there, and agreed on a price for him to take us and pick us up later (hopefully…we were kinda putting a lot of trust in this guy that he wouldn’t just abandon us on a deserted island).

We got into his little brightly colored fishing boat and took off across the ocean.  Now from the shore, the ocean looks super peaceful. Sure, there are waves, but they just roll along peacefully to make the scenery all the more beautiful. But no. When you’re actually out on the water, they waves are like 10 feet tall, and the teeny fishing boat was rocked all over the place, with water splashing inside. Not quite the peaceful ride I had been envisioning, but definitely fun nonetheless.

We passed Serpent Island (basically a giant rock with lots of bird poop, but no snakes on it)

and pulled into the lagoon (makes me feel like such a pirate/mermaid to say that word) of Madeleine Island. SO GORGEOUS.  The fisherman dropped us off on a rocky beach and took off.  The sense of being alone with nature was overwhelmingly awesome. 

Goodbye, fisherman! (you can see the boat leaving the lagoon)

The water in the lagoon was clear and cool, and the cliffs around us were black streaked with white (from bird poop of course), and we could see between the rocks to the ocean beyond. It was breathtaking.

We sat on the beach for a bit just enjoying how gorgeous everything was and looking at the cool shells, and then we decided to go exploring. I climbed up and along the rock cliff thing next to the water and came to the far side of the lagoon where I could see waves crashing onto the rocks below me and the ocean stretching out in front of me. Amazing. I kept feeling like I was on the set of a music video or mermaid movie or something. The awesome thing too was that the island seemed untouched by humanity, and there weren’t any roped-off sections, signs, or anything.

To the right there was another little rocky cliff thing, and I climbed over there and saw an awesome ocean-creek thing (difficult to describe).  The ocean water would come in from both sies of the “creek” bed and then crash in the middle. So cool. The power of the water was just crazy.  I also saw some cool crabs that were purple, orange and green while alive and red and orange while dead. 

After poking it a thousand times with a long shell and screaming once, I finally determined that it was safe to kiss.  This was actually crab-kiss attempt #2 because I imagined that the first crab moved, dropped it, and it shattered. 

There were tons of other gorgeous and amazing things around the coast of the island, but as my descriptions are miserably failing to accurately represent what anything looked like, I’m just going to stop.  And unfortunately my pictures don’t really convey how amazing this place was. So you will all just have to come to Dakar and go see Madeleine Island for yourself 🙂

I will say that we hiked around the top of the island and saw some GIANT baobabs.  I’m talking 10-15 feet wide baobabs that have probably been there for a couple hundred years or so.  I climbed up one and totally felt like Rafiki in Lion King. There was a lot of red clay around and I was SO tempted to get some and draw a baby Simba on the baobab trunk, but I refrained. 

We swam some in the lagoon too (when I say “we” I mean Anne and I; David didn’t want to get “all wet and blech”), and it was sooo cool, because the water was super salty and we didn’t have to do anything to float.  It was actually difficult to keep our feet under the water, they kept just popping back up.  There were lots of little fish in the water, which at first was a little gross/scary, but they were obviously uninterested in nibbling our toes, so we got along just fine.

At about 5:00 (we got to the island at 11ish), our trusty fisherman came back to fetch us, and he took our sunburned selves back across the ocean to Dakar. 

So now I have one of those cool adventurous-sounding stories to tell about the fun stuff I did while studying abroad. Unfortunately, stories will never be able to convey how breathtaking this island was, nor how amazing this day was.  So like I said, you should all come to Senegal.

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Grace: A day in my Senegalese life

August 6, 2011

So we’re technically not supposed to be learning any Wolof for another 3 weeks when we start the class with the other students because if we start learning now we’ll get ahead in the class, but while living with a family who speaks primarily Wolof, it really can’t be helped.  Plus Aisha (the 12 year old girl I mentioned in my last post who I found out is actually almost 11) loves teaching me Wolof words. 

I’ve mastered all the greetings (you have to say like 10 different things every time you greet someone, so this is quite an accomplishment), what to say during meals like “Sourna” (I’m full), “Nairna” (it’s good), and random phrases like “Howma” (I don’t know) and “Rafettna” (it is pretty). I’m practically fluent.  Except that the pronunciations are so hard that most of the time people have no idea what I’m trying to say, but they smile and tell me I’m good at Wolof anyway.

And it’s hot. It technically averages like 10 degrees cooler here than in Atlanta, but without A/C and with sporadic electricity, it feels 50 degrees hotter.  The electricity means fans and cold water, but when it’s out (which is like 50% of the time) the only option is to sit and bake. Or use a hand fan, which I do a lot.  My right wrist is going to be so strong by the time I leave Senegal.  

So as for what I’m doing apart from trying to make the throat noises involved in Wolof words and not melting, I wake up every day at about 8am, take a shower (even though I took a shower before going to bed too…like I said, it’s hot), get dressed quietly as to not wake up Aida, my sister, and then eat breakfast (usually tea and bread with a nutella-like spread, butter or laughing cow cheese) by myself.  The rest of my family gets up at 5 am to eat breakfast and then goes back to sleep after (this is just for Ramadan, not normal).  Then I walk about 5 minutes to the street where the other 2 American students are living and meet them for the 25 minute walk to class. 

By the time we get to class, I am totally sweaty and gross and look like I haven’t showered in days even though it’s barely been an hour. But the classrooms are AIR CONDITIONED so YAY. Sometimes I actually get kinda cold in class, it’s crazy. Then we read difficult French articles that have to do with Senegalese politics, and learn lots of vocabulary/grammar, and speak lots of French.  After class gets out, we go to the computer lab for a few minutes (the internet is really fast so that’s awesome), and then figure out some place for lunch.

Because of Ramadan, most of the restaurants are closed, except for the really Western, expensive ones.  The last two days we’ve just gone to a little grocery store and gotten random stuff for lunch, but these meals have not been very nutritionally balanced (example of grocery store meal: big bottle of apple juice and a piece of cheese). We definitely need to figure out something new to do for lunch because we can’t spend $10/day at the expensive restaurants, but we can’t eat crap either. And I feel bad asking my family to make me lunch when I get back since it would be prepared just for me. 

Anyways, after lunch (wherever that may be), we have gone to the beach a couple times.  Which was fun until I got sunburned (typical.)  Then I come back home, where my family is usually napping or watching tv, and join them in these endeavors.  Oh, and I shower.  Definitely shower.

At about 6 or 7, the guy in the mosque calls out that the day of Ramadan is over, and my family (which at this point has expanded to include my cousins and aunts and uncle and maybe some others) eats dates and drinks coffee.  They give me tea, not coffee, but I don’t really know why…either they think I don’t like coffee or the coffee is only reserved for the Ramadan-ers.  After the coffee/tea, they lay out rugs in the courtyard and do the evening prayers.  For this, Tapha and Babacar (he’s back! But he’s leaving again tonight…and I now know its for his job) and my little cousin Suleyman and my uncle (if he’s there) are on one rug leading the prayers, and the women are are on the rug behind them, heads covered, echoing what they say.  But I’m a little confused because my brother Mario never prays with the men, and my mom and grandmother never pray with the women.

After prayers, everyone just kinda sits around and talks (in Wolof, of course, so I’m totally lost), and then we eat.  We sit on the floor of the courtyard on mats around a big bowl, which usually has rice with some sort of meat and vegetables.  It’s usually pretty spicy and super good.  No offense to my Togolese friends, but Senegalese food is much better. 

And after lots of them saying “Lekel, Lekel” (eat! eat!) and me saying “Sourna, Sourna” (I’m full, I’m full), the meal is over and everyone sits around and talks again. We usually eat some mangoes (YUM), bananas and oranges for dessert too.  At this point, I usually just play with Aisha and Suleyman because everyone else is talking in Wolof about things way beyond my vocabulary.  We play this game that’s kinda similar to red light/green light, and another game that’s similar to Sorry!, and they teach me Wolof and I teach them English and we laugh at each other’s mispronunciations.  It’s a lot of fun, but I’m pretty sure my family thinks I’m like the most immature person ever, because I’m always playing with the kids instead of being with the adults.  Oh well.  It’s funny though, because sometimes Suleyman and Aisha’s mom, who is this super dignified looking woman, always in full Muslim garb, plays with us.  She’s super nice and fun, but it’s just kinda strange watching her run and freeze during the red light/green light game.  

Everyone just kinda drifts off to bed, to watch TV, or to friends’ houses as they feel like it, and I usually go to bed at about midnight, once it’s quiet enough outside my bedroom to sleep. And then it takes me at least an hour to fall asleep because chances are there’s no electricity/fan, and I’m roasting. 

So yeah, that’s a typical day in the life of Grace right now.  Today was a little different because I didn’t have class (it’s Saturday), but I went to the pool with Aisha and Suleyman instead, and that was tons of fun.  They were incredibly impressed that I could do a hand stand AND a flip underwater, so my self-esteem got a nice little boost because at home, I’m not exactly the most talented person in the pool.  I can’t even dive.

Okay, anyways, I better go ahead and post this before the inevitable electricity blackout.  Sorry there aren’t any pictures, but the internet is too slow for those.  I’ll try to post some of my family/house eventually.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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