Wanderings and Ponderings

My Study Abroad Adventures in England & France


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Stand with Paris; Stand with the World

Well.

It’s been a terrifying past few days.

Paris, Baghdad, Beirut…while I’m not freaking out, that doesn’t mean I’m not scared. I’m scared for the world we live in. A place where all of this happens, and especially in such a short time span. 

I was 6 when 9/11 happened, and was actually fairly sheltered from what happened. Since we were all so young, the teachers didn’t turn the TVs on. I believe my parents came and got me soon after that. I mostly learned about it as I got older…..it’s weird for this to happen – essentially 9/11 for the French – and to be here. To be abroad. Away from home and everything you know, in a country where no one really speaks your language. It’s then that you realize how powerful the enemies are and how small you are.

You’re so much closer to things here in France. The States are so far away, so seemingly safe. The entire Atlantic Ocean separates it from Europe. Yet studying abroad – moving across that ocean – brings you so much closer to a lot of stuff. You can take a train to a different country in just a couple hours. And have to speak a different language. Due to the size difference, that’s like travelling from state to state to state and having to speak different languages whenever you cross boundaries. But when you study abroad, the danger gets closer too. Syria, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran – while I’m not next door to them, I’m a lot closer than I was. 

Now the Paris attacks. The country I’m studying in. For the danger to come this close really stunned me. 

Luckily, I wasn’t in Paris when the attacks happened. I was safe in Nantes, and I got a news alert from my BBC app telling me as soon as the shootings occurred – a moment during which I was grateful I’d set up news alerts (though my friend Jasmine was impressively quick to alert me as well!)

I never dreamed how huge it would be (most deadly attack on France since WWII). I stayed up till 2 am watching the news, both unable to watch and unable to stop. I had friends in Paris, and was terrified for them – Were they ok? What if they were struck next? Luckily all of them made it out ok, and I’m so, so relieved for that! They’re shocked and upset, of course, but alive. 

I was amazed at the number of people that contacted me, asking if I was ok – it made me feel so, so loved. Despite the fact that my family is far away, you made it feel like I was part of a large Facebook family, and I really appreciated that, especially in the moment. <3

Between Paris and the other disasters going on at the moment, myself and others are feeling quite shocked. What do you say on the Monday afterwards? The “How was your weekend?” small talk seems to pale in comparison to everything else. Frequently it’s just “How are you?” and an understanding “Well…” “Yeah…”

We had a minute-long moment of silence on Monday at noon. Apparently they organized it outside, however I was clueless to this, and was sitting inside with my friends anyway. It was nothing short of eerie when 12:00 rolled around. Whereas people had been clomping through the cafeteria, chatting, etc., they all stopped at once. There was no clock on the wall. They just stopped. No one walked or came through the doors. People grew silent. And a minute later things went back to normal.

We’ve had a couple false alarms now in Nantes – people leaving stuff behind in the train station & tram, and they’re evacuating. It’s scary. On one hand it’s good that they’re being so careful about things. But it also keeps me really on-edge!

Really hoping everything calm down soon. 

Much love & bisous xxx

 

Hung in one of my classroom buildings

 
 

Student-written notes of support & solidarity

 

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Cultural Differences, French Edition

For this post I’ll just do some basic points to compare the two cultures.

Fresh food & markets. In the US, you’ll rely on the grocery store for all of your shopping (except perhaps the odd farmers market during the summer). Nantes has multiple “marchés”, the most popular one being on Saturday. People come with backpacks and little wheeled baskets to buy their week’s worth of groceries, and the market remains busy all day long.

 

Goat cheese hearts – half moldy, half not

  

Marché Mediatheque

 
Specialty shops. While I came here knowing that France would have its fromageries, boulangeries, and more (cheese and bread shops), I didn’t expect it to this extent. It seems every single shop is a privately owned and run business, specializing in candles, toys, clothes…the list goes on and on. When I first arrived, all I wanted was a sense of familiarity. While I thought the specialty shops were cool, I couldn’t help but missing stores like Target. Chains where you know what to expect. I’ve come to realize that that’s boring of course – that’s not how things are done here and there are lots of cool places to look around.
Bottled water. Every time I go to the store, the main thing I see people buying are cases of bottled water. As if they will die of thirst without it. Not even the high-faluten sparkly stuff, but the plain water! Is the tap water that bad? It seems fine to me.

Fruit goes out of season. You may say “…duh!” at first. But seriously, think about it. In the US, you can get peaches and strawberries and watermelon in the dead of winter. Sure the price goes up, but if you really need them for a recipe, they’re available. This is not the case in France. I got hooked on nectarines pretty soon after arriving, and was fairly dissappointed  when the stores stopped selling them. Now the persimmons and fall squashes have come in, and it’s very cool to see the different options!

Grocery sacks. If you want a sack for your groceries, it will cost extra. A great way to encourage environmentally-friendly actions, right? They also sell reusable grocery bags at most every store (like Publix and Kroger have started doing).

Eating outside. Super popular (but costs extra). No idea what’s gonna happen when winter comes, but right now, outside is still the place to be. Perhaps cause you can smoke outside? Not sure. When it’s warm, the fresh air is nice, though.

 

These people have a cat on their table

 
Pencil pouches. In the US, if you choose to use real paper instead of a computer, you’ll probably just keep them in your backpack. Or maybe in a pencil pouch, but the pouch returns to the backpack! Here, everyone has pencil pouches complete with little decorative buttons and doodles and every student leaves it out on their desk throughout the lecture. This is so different to me! I had to buy a pencil pouch to fit in with all the cool kids 👍

Graffiti everywhere! Like, really. Covering the desks, covering the backs of chairs, and buildings, it’s everywhere! At first it struck me as horrid and grimy but some of it is actually sort of funny if you read it.

   

ZAD *everywhere*!!

“This is a pointillistic representation of your mother”

 Coffee, Smoke, & “Pause” (break). During long classes (so, like, *always*) the prof will let us have a break. During this time, it’s popular to buy coffee (from one of the vending machines, though I usually bring my own coffee cause it’s cheaper lol). Most everyone goes outside was well cause smoking is so prevalent.

 

Julien, Chloë, & Noémie during our long Italian break

 
No eye contact. This has been one of the most difficult things for me to learn. Especially in an environment like the tram where it’s just total strangers, eye contact seems totally taboo. It only ends in weird staring contests. That I always win mwahahahahahahah!

“Pharmacies.” These aren’t like the US pharmacies where you get prescription drugs filled, however they have huge selections of vitamins and general health stuff. A couple weeks after I got here, I was feeling a bit under the weather, and a lady was able to recommend a supplement with a combination of lots of vitamins.

Style. Truly, if you aren’t dressed predominantly in black, or maybe brown or maroon, you’re going to stick out. Similarly to England, everyone has black jeans, shoes, coat,with a bit of color in a scarf or something. The uniformity and classic black makes you look much more put together.
And here I’ll dump some pictures of other random different things I’ve seen:

A ruler with a handle – seriously, how genius is that?

A vending machine that sells apples and baguette sandwiches

I like the name. “Schtroumpfs” instead of “Smurfs” haha

Goat cheese hearts – half molded, half not. Yay!