Wanderings and Ponderings

My Study Abroad Adventures in England & France

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I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d check in to tell everyone how thing’s have been – It’s been busy, that’s for sure!

I finally got registered for classes a couple days ago (after being here 2 months). Yep! – the classes I’m taking *at this moment* (I’ve just kinda been sitting in on them). Registering was an interesting experience. Part of the reason it took so long to do was because I had to talk to a professor who only has office hours one hour per week (during one of my classes, btw). I filled out my learning agreement form and everything, and took it to him on Tuesday. It turns out I had the wrong version of the learning agreement form, so he sat me down at a computer and I did it all again.

Then we walked it over to another faculty member where I ran into trouble but she was super nice about the whole thing.  Essentially, I’m taking a translation class that’s composed of two parts (FR –> ENG and vice-versa), however I’m only taking one single part. Despite the fact that I’d asked someone if this was ok (“of course!”)…apparently it’s not. Anyway, the guy was distressed that I wasn’t taking all the courses I’m supposed to and wanted to give me a zero for the translation course I’m lacking. The lady took my side and said it’s not my fault, and she wasn’t gonna have me fail. Basically I was just sitting there listening to them argue rapid-fire in French while they decided my fate haha. Very exciting.

But ended up being ok though, thanks to the lady who took my side ^_^

Immediately after this experience, I had a Skype interview for a job teaching English to young children through a company called Babylangues. The interviewer was British, so that made things easier, but the prospect of having a job in another country is still kind of mind-blowing. I did get the job! I get to choose between two families according to children’s age, location, etc. I’m very excited to meet a real French family – hopefully this will be a cool experience!

Since Halloween is approaching, I had the idea of carving pumpkins to make up for the fact we’re sort of “missing” it. To be honest, Halloween isn’t really a big deal here. Whereas at home, I’m sure everything in the stores is orange and black and purple, that just isn’t done here. Instead, Ikea has the Christmas stuff out. The pumpkins were over in the corner. It was kinda weird. I’ve never been a Halloween-obsessed person, but the lack of it has made me really miss the spirit! I found myself watching The Nightmare Before Christmas – something I’ve never had a desire to watch before. I guess you don’t realize how important something is to you until it’s gone. *Anyway* my friend Meredith and I bought pumpkins to carve them, and I invited a couple of my French friends over to do it as well – they’d never carved pumpkins before, so it was really fun! It was such a cool experience to see their reactions to the whole thing.


That’s all for now – À bientôt!

To everything there is a season.

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It feels like fall now (or “autumn,” whichever you like). The change of seasons always gets me. For a full couple of days, I can’t help but reflect on life. Reminiscing about days in the past that have felt the same as the current one while realizing they’re just memories. All the while progressing in life as it is now and making new beginnings. 

I think the change of seasons helps. It forces me to see and consider new opportunities. If the temperature is changing, I might as well do something new too. Walkways are full of people handing out pamphlets and brochures and walls are covered with signs – ‘join this’, ‘join that.’ And the fact that I’m finally falling into a routine makes it easier to consider these options.

France is the same. The beauracracy is the same. But somehow the coming of fall makes me realize I’m growing used to it now. I see all the things I want my France experience to be and feel much less defeated. My computer is broken. I’m out of phone data. I’m still not finished with paperwork, and I have lots of homework. But – I can’t explain it – I’m feeling better. 


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A Series of Unfortunate Events

I briefly considered stopping my blog. With so many things going wrong, I feel like it’s really just a downer and not the collection of adventures I’d hoped for (or even had last semester). But I spoke with my mom, and she said, no, go ahead and keep writing – future students need to know what it’s like. So, for the sake of future students, I’m plunging ahead! Here goes with sort of a gripey post. Even though it’s not all smiles for me, I hope some of you out there will find amusement in my situation :D

This weekend is a study abroad student trip to Mont-Saint-Michel. Good, right? Yeah, I thought so. I went in last week (during the registration time slot) to sign up and they said no, come back on Tuesday. So I went back on Tuesday. Whaddaya know, on Tuesday all the spots were full. Gettin’ a bit tired of your crap, France, to be perfectly honest. None of my friends got registered either, so we said you know what? Let’s rent a car and drive there ourselves. We’re making sure to get a car with automatic transmission, but other than that, we should fit all the age, etc. requirements. Fingers crossed. 

I still haven’t officially registered for classes. The only way to do this is to go meet with a man during his office hours. Which are ONE HOUR PER WEEK – LIKE WHAT EVEN?!?! And of course, since it’s just this one guy, I’m sure the line will be enormous…

I have to tell a story from my first week of class. So, basically, technology doesn’t exist here. There’s no IT department, if that tells you just how bad it is. I’ve decided I’m living in the ’70s. Anyway, class schedules aren’t posted online – they POST PAPER COPIES to ACTUAL BULLETIN BOARDS and then at 9:00 the morning they’re posted, all the French students go round and write down the course times and info. …. One time I had a class that changed times. Of course, we didn’t get an email, why would we? Technology doesn’t exist here. Was there a note on the classroom door itself? Psshhh, too simple. Gotta make the students really look. I had to go UPSTAIRS to the aforementioned magic bulletin board to find out what time my class was now being held. Great first class, I tell ya.

I don’t think fire safety is a concern here. One of my classes is so incredibly full that like 10 of us have to steal chairs from other classrooms every time we attend. Which puts the class people above fire code standard, but they don’t seem to be at all concerned. I mean, I get to attend, so it’s fine with me! Very different from the States or England though. Also, the very first day I was here, my fire alarm was beeping and they told me to “just take the battery out.” Yesterday, a full 6 weeks later, they finally come to fix it. I’ve already installed a replacement battery, thanks…

Yesterday, I had my medical exam. Basically, I couldn’t leave France without having it. To my surprise, I haven’t gotten lung cancer from the amount of second-hand smoke I regularly inhale. Most of the exam was pretty straightforward. Except you had to buy €58 worth of these “timbres fiscaux,” only to turn right around and pay with them. Like, why can’t I just pay by cash or card? At least I’m not paying in body parts yet, so that’s a solid plus.

Speaking of medical stuff…I asked about getting a flu shot, and the answer was SO sketch, oh my word. Basically you buy the vial of medication from any old pharmacy, and TAKE IT HOME WITH YOU. Sketch, am I right?? Then you take the vial to a doctor and they inject it for you. They emphasized heavily that you shouldn’t inject it yourself. What is life, guys.

However, despite all this, I luckily have some great French friends to show me the silver lining and speak French with every day. They’re super patient, even when I’m slow and make loads of mistakes, and I don’t know where I would be without them. Marie, Elisa, and Chloë, thank you! ^^

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Midnight in Paris

This weekend, our ISEP + 1 group spent the weekend in Paris! Despite the fact that, a few years ago, I swore I’d never go back, it was actually fantastic.

Friday night, myself and 2 of my friends (Rachel and Jourdan) took the train from Nantes to Paris., allowing us wander a bit that evening and get up early the next day to explore.

The first thing we did Saturday morning was visit a local bistro, where I had my first espresso. It was strong, but delicious! 

After refreshing ourselves, we popped into the church across the street to wait for the others to arrive. WHAT A MISTAKE. Sure, the church was beautiful. But as we were holding our phones up to take pictures of the ceiling, they made us move and guess what came passed by? A COFFIN. We felt terrible! Needless to say, we can’t show our faces there again!

We met the others in the garden outside. They’d not yet eaten, so we went to a different restaurant. Escargot was on the menu for a reasonable price, so Jourdan and I split a plate of 12. It was beyond weird. They had these little forcep-pincer-things with which you were supposed to hold the shell, and with your other hand you use a tiny fork to pull the snail out. The texture was a bit odd, but it mostly just tasted like  the garlic and butter mixture which filled the shells.

After that, we walked down a street filled with high-fashion stores. Since we visiting during fashion week, it was particularly interesting to examine the window displays. One store’s style was entirely based on construction. I was too engrossed by the bizareness of the design to check the prices, but another of our group said they saw a jacket for 7,000 euro!

We began to make our way toward the Eiffel Tour, and upon arriving, we found a fantastic bit of grass right across from the Eiffel. There, we were able to relax our tired feet! We decided to come back in the evening when the light was different.

After a bit of wandering that included a garden and a peek inside Notre Dame, we purchased some wine before heading to the Eiffel Tower, and drank it while sitting below and watching it hourly sparkle. The prices at the kiosks there were astounding. You couldn’t even buy a bottle of water for less than 3 euro! Needless to say, I said “non merci!” They aren’t the only racked-up prices – random people walked around with buckets of wine bottles (our goup haggled a bottle down from 20 euro to 9)

 Afterwards, we went to the Arc de Triomphe. It’s in the middle of this “étoile” (star) intersection, and the road circling round it is huge. Therefore, instead of just crossing the street, you have go below ground. We could not for the life of us find this underground path – only after asking three people and examining a map in the metro did we finally find it. By that time, it was unfortunately too late to go to the top, however we got to take pictures at ground-level. By this time, we were exhausted, so we returned to the hostel and prepared to get up early for the free museum day the next day.

It took ages to walk the line of the Louvre. So long, in fact, that Gina and I decided to take videos of it 

Gina, Andrej, and I decided this was too much, so we decided to do some other exploring. We crossed the Seine and got to see the lock bridges. One of my favorite things of the day was going to the Cluny Museum of the middle ages. When I was last there with my family, we wanted very badly to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries (btw they are the tapestries that cover the walls of the Gryffindor Common Room) but they were undergoing restoration in Japan. I was pleased to have another opportunity to see them! 

The fortress “la Bastille” no longer exists, but there’s a monument for it that we visited at la Place de la Bastille!

Then, we took the tram into a completely different area of town called “la défense.” Whereas the traditional Paris is historical, with centuries-old stone buildings, balconies, and narrow cobblestone streets, the modern arrondissement was expansive and open, reflective glass and metal skyscrapers (“gratte-ciels”) replacing stone. Yet it was beautiful. There were still plenty of trees, it was artistic and colorful, and the extra room meant you didn’t get bumped into! 

I was fairly dissapointed to leave that area, but next we went on to le Sacré Coeur basilica. I didn’t realize the first church-building we entered *wasn’t* the Sacré Coeur. Sure, it was nice, but I thought it was strange for people to make such a big deal over it. Then we entered the real Sacré Coeur – it was immense; I couldn’t manage to take a photo that captured the sheer size of it – the best I could do was a vertical pano haha

Then we raced back to the hostel to meet the others and pick up our bags. We grabbed a quick supper, said bye to Gina, Andrej, and Lauren (who were leaving earlier) and continued to wander. We’d found a great place called “La Belle Hortense” – a bookstore that also has a bar. We called it “The Boozy Bookstore” – what can ya do, it rolls of the tongue a lot better! Anyway, we thought it sounded simply fantastic, so we popped inside. The place was tiny, but very cool. There was a back room for socializing, a small hallway filled with books, and more books and the bar in the front room. 

We couldn’t stay long, cause we had to catch our train. Which was terrifying in and of itself. Despite having time to spare, as we approached, the train began hissing and puffing like it was about to pull away from the station! We ran as fast as we could wearing our backpacks and everything, and leaped through the doors. Well, we’d made it but we still had to find our car. We found the car, but the numbering system is beyond confusing so we never found our official seats listed on our tickets. When they came and checked the tickets of the table next to us, we got kind of nervous. So what did we do? We pretended to be asleep. I was about to die to laugh, but I didn’t! And we didn’t get our tickets checked! XD

It was a grand adventure, and I’m looking forward to more travels soon!

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On Communication

I thought I knew French. 

At least, I thought I knew it pretty darn well. I’ve been studying it for 7 years, and I’ve had some great teachers/professors during that time.

Then I got to France, and realized how completely wrong I was.

When I’m nervous, or thrown into a situation with new vocabulary (aka all day every day), my French begins to deteriorate. Not only my pronunciation, but my grammar/verb conjugation and comprehension. I keep telling myself “You KNOW better than to conjugate the second verb! Omg why can’t you just do the French “R” already, is it so hard?” And a zillion other things. But when you’re thrown into this whirlwind situation, it’s so, so difficult to do everything at once.

I’m trying ever so hard to make friends with French classmates. It’s, honestly, embarrassing and discouraging when I have to ask time and time again “Pardon? / Je ne comprends pas.” Sometimes accents make it even more difficult. I’m trying the best I can, and I see in their eyes that they’re trying the best that can. This barrier is real, and it’s emotionally exhausting.

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Le Nid by Night

Last evening, some friends (Harriet, Abi, Rose, and Jack) and I went to a place called “Le Nid”, a bar atop the tallest building in Nantes. The design is quite funny, because there’s a giant bird that stretches the length of the bar, and the body of the bird forms the bar itself. All the chairs and tables look like eggs, so its a bit strange and surreal – especially being in this weird location above the city.

Bar at Le Nid

Bar at Le Nid

There’s a balcony that goes all round the outside of the bar, so you can go out and feel like you’re in the Eiffel Tower, looking down at little French streets. It’s 1 euro to go to the bar once (there’s a fee to get to the top), or 3 euro for an annual pass. I got the annual pass cause I hope to come here more in the future – it’s definitely really cool!

After fully exploring the balcony, we went inside to get warm and chat. We were in the midst of planning a trip to Paris, when a guy strode up to us, introduced himself in thickly accented but well-spoken English, and asked if we’d like to join his group on the other side that was discussing a startup. After glancing around at each other, we said sure, why not, and followed him.

We never did learn what the startup was. However we *did* quickly learn that the guy was *extremely* drunk – he must have hid it well while introducing himself. He kept trying to “cheer” us all even though none of us had glasses to clink, so he spent 75% of the time with his glass in the air. And he kept trying to talk to me about the U.S. Which was a bit unfortunate because due to the background music and the fact that we were sitting fairly far apart, I had no clue what he was saying (even when he did speak in English). Just smile and nod. Uh-huh. Yep.

Spending the whole night with his glass in the air

Then, (when we were desperately trying to leave) – he asked Jack if the group would be interested in a French dinner at some point, and asked for a contact phone number. Upon polite refusal of the offer, the guy got extremely uptight, giving us a lecture on etiquette. We quickly said our “lovely to meet you”s and made our escape.

The whole situation was just totally, completely surreal. But it’s hilarious now that it’s over! The Nid itself was great, and I’m definitely planning on going back there soon.

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Coffee & Confusion

This Monday brought the beginning of my classes. Since I’m essentially taking a slew of GenEds (taught in French) with the local students, I was nervous to say the least. But everything went better than I expected. In my “History in the XIXth century” seminar class, I met two French girls (Marie and Elisa), my first French friends since being here! Marie had time to hang out and go to lunch together, so that was awesome. Definitely made my day a lot better!

The courses themselves were a little intense. Not necessarily in subject material (although yes, it is rather difficult) but I can only power the French side of my brain for so long. I had 4 hours of class on Monday, held entirely in French! After a certain point, I fall into a real slump and get soooo tired – and I don’t usually have trouble focusing.  Fingers crossed I’ll build up some endurance… In the mean time I think coffee is going to be my best friend.

It’s definitely a little daunting when you’re one of the few / the only ISEP (Erasmus) students in the class. Not to mention, a professor the other day said that out of a class of 300 students, she gives 1 A, 5 B’s, and the rest C’s or under. Eek! Cue the nerves! Apparently writing “ISEP/Erasmus” on everything will help the professors to be considerate of your circumstances, so I’ve been doing that as well as introducing myself to all my professors.

On Tuesday, I had an intro linguistics class, a “Methodology” class, and a classic literature class. The linguistics class is nice cause it’s essentially a repeat of a class I took back at UTK, only in French this time. However, the Methodology and the classic literature classes are going to be a lot of work, I can already tell. We have to read the entire Iliad by Tuesday, and ~1/2 of Les Miserables by October 5th…of course, this is all in French. >.< Luckily I’ve already read the Iliad and most of Les Miserables, so I got lucky this time around…

That afternoon, I was supposed to have a course on Language and Cognition – despite it’s being a level 2, I wanted to test it out. Well, I went to the classroom at 15:00, and there was no light or sign of sign of human life. Just what I wanted. After wondering if I was in the right building, I decided that I had to be, and had to figure out what to do. There was no note on the door or anything! My mom suggested I go up to where the courses themselves are posted (My mom has been helping me cope a lot this week), and sure enough, there was a note UPSTAIRS saying that the time and place had been changed. No email, no note on the real door – I literally had to walk to the place in the building where the course schedules are PRINTED on PAPER instead of being put ONLINE to find out that the location had changed…. Heavy sigh. Tears of frustration.

Anyway, Wednesday, was better. I attended a class on the history of Greek and Roman architecture – The professror was amicable and good-spirited, but WOW she spoke fast. While I could understand her (hanging for dear life on to every word she spoke) it was a bit difficult to process the information to determine the important bits at the same time. While I really liked the class, I have enough credits without it so I’m just not going to worry about it.

In the evening, I had my course in Italian (which I’d greatly been looking forward to). Yep. I’m taking Italian, and they’re teaching it in French. Why do I do this to myself XXXDDD But I *loved* it. It’s a beginner’s course, so it’s much less stressful than my other courses that expect me to be a native French speaker! I made a friend in that class as well, named Chloë – there’s a funny story that goes along with that.

It’s funny – in England, everyone does a little dance of politeness when they see you coming. Not so here. People, each of them in their own little world, like to just smack into you and continue on their merry way with little more than a sideways glance. Sometimes I just wanna walk down the sidewalk in peace, ya know? Well, Chloë accidentally bumped into be but then she APOLOGIZED FOR IT which STUNNED ME cause no one else does. I thought, omg, she seems really nice! And sure enough, she is, and we’ve hung out in both sessions of Italian ^_^

Thursday, I attended a different architecture class taught by quite a jerk of a professor. He spent the first 10 minutes (at least) talking about how in University, professors won’t care, they’ll do the bare minimum, and if you don’t understand something it’s your fault etc. etc. All of which I actually could have gotten past (I mean, one has to respect the professional environment at school), but after the class when I introduced myself as an international student and asked for clarification on something, he essentially brushed me off and offered no help whatsoever. I decided then and there that that class was not for me, and didn’t even go to the follow-up lecture.

FINALLY, Friday came, and with it came 4 hours of Italian courses beginning at 8 AM. I got to see the sunrise… I actually didn’t mind though cause I love the class, and I got to see my friend Chloë again from last time!

Whew. That’s my week in a nutshell – I’m really just glad it’s over. All I want at the moment is some familiarity and a bit of routine. I’m really hoping things will look up soon. I’m thinking about doing a year-long bike rental to get out explore the city more, so maybe that will help me see the shinier side of things :)