I spent last weekend with my cousins, Lise, Olivier, and Camille, who live in Étampes, a city close to Paris. I love visiting them and being in a family setting, regardless of how different it is from being with my family at home.
When I first got to Étampes, Lise decided we needed to go to a supermarket to find matzah for me. Even though Passover didn’t start for another three days, she thoughtfully knew that it was an important part of our culture and we should have a few boxes. Matzah is not the easiest thing to find in France, and Lise spent a good twenty minutes running around the store with me trailing along, having a word with everyone who worked there until she found the only two boxes of Matzah.
We got to their house around 6PM and Lise put dinner on the table. The thing I don’t understand, though, is that even if dinner is ready, we don’t eat it until 9. It’s so different from what I’m used to at home.
While waiting to eat, five-year-old Camille and I watched La Reine des neiges, which is the French title for Frozen. We watched it once in French and once in English.
The next day, we drove to Versailles and spent the whole day touring the château and the gardens. I had been to Versailles before, but I hadn’t spent the whole day or visited the gardens.
The château is gorgeous. I would love to see what it looks like without being full of tourists and without the ropes blocking visitors from getting to close to the furniture. The whole day, I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to call that palace “home,” to be able to walk out into the gardens with a book whenever I felt like it.
It was a lovely weekend altogether. Aside from visiting Versailles, we mainly just stayed in the house. It was nice to be able to just relax with family after being away from home for three months. And, because my cousins don’t speak English, I basically studied all weekend!
When registering for this program, we were told that we would get two excursions throughout the semester with lodging and transportation paid for. I’m not too sure what’s going on, but we keep getting free trips thrown at us.
This past weekend we enjoyed our third excursion, a trip to Luxembourg, Luxembourg and Metz, France. Saturday was a long bus ride to Luxembourg. We stopped along the way at a truck rest stop to have some lunch. Since the Europeans love their meal times, we had over an hour to relax. We hopped back on the bus and were soon at our hostel.
After we unpacked in our rooms we jumped back on the bus for a tour around the town, the first half on the bus, the second walking around the breathtaking scenery.
After the tour, we were off on our own for free time and discovered Centre Ville. I was told that Luxembourg was a rich country and, boy, did I believe it. The architecture was incredible and the views were unimaginable.
We all met back at the hostel for a dinner of salad, chicken, potatoes and vegetable stew. They spoil us. Soon after, we headed back out into the city to enjoy the clubs. They were everything you would imagine a wild European club would be. We tired ourselves out dancing the night away and returned to our rooms for some sleep before our next busy day.
The next morning, they served us breakfast and we were off to Metz, France. Our first stop was Le Centre de Pompidou. At first I did not expect to enjoy this modern museum because I am the last one to find meaning out of abstract shapes, but to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Reading the captions and absorbing the atmosphere helped me enjoy the artwork.
We then went to the fourth floor for the “Paparazzi” exhibit. Upon entering, you have many cameras flashing at you, microphones moving, and a recording of a crowd nagging you. It was a simulation of the red carpet that I’m sure is not nearly as bad as real life. They then had tons of racy photos of female celebrities, which I learned that the Paparazzi follow some of these women for years before getting a truly suggestive and inappropriate picture. Though this exhibit made me extremely angry and disgusted, I really enjoyed the experience.
After the museum was free time in Centre Ville. I found myself in La Cathèdrale Saint-Étienne de Metz on Palm Sunday, the cathedral with one of the largest expanse of stained glass in the world. The only way to truly appreciate it is to see it in person, photos don’t do any justice.
Trish, Gissel and I enjoyed lunch at an Italian restaurant afterwards where they ate tortellinis and I had pizza and fries, which I did not think went together until I arrived in France. The meal was extremely delicious and satisfying and afterwords, we walked around the town seeing the park, games in the street, and Le Graoully, the legendary dragon of Metz. Unfortunately when we saw him, a leg was missing.
Soon after, we had to catch the bus back home. The day went by extremely quickly but we were definitely exhausted and ready to go back home. It was a great weekend and us New Paltz students were told we have another prepaid trip for the day to Germany. So many things to look forward to!
For weeks I had been looking forward to spending a weekend in southern France with a friend from New Paltz who is studying in Holland. We bought our train tickets in February and had been counting down the days.
On Friday, my friend, Julia, arrived in Besançon and then early Saturday morning, we went to the train station all ready to go to Marseille. When we had purchased the tickets, the website left us with no option but to print our tickets using the Automatic Ticket Machine in the station. The website did not tell us, however, that those machines do not recognize foreign credit cards. We had paid for tickets, but we did not have tickets.
We didn’t know what to do. The ticket office in the train station opened at 8AM, but our train was meant to leave at 7:36AM. I knew though, that after spending the money on the tickets and looking forward to the trip for weeks, I would not be leaving that station on any mode of transportation other than a train to Marseille.
We showed the train conductor a screenshot on Julia’s phone of our ticket receipts and explained that we couldn’t get the machines to print our tickets. The only solution he gave us was to buy new tickets (which were much more expensive), but assured us that the more expensive tickets would be refunded once we arrived in Marseille.
So that was that. We paid for the tickets and were off to Marseille.
And as soon as we got to Marseille, we waited on the long line to the ticket counter, where we explained our situation. We were very surprised to hear that we would each only be refunded about a third of what we paid for the tickets.
Angered and annoyed, we tried to forget about the ordeal and enjoy our time in the beautiful city. We found our hotel, which was right in the middle of Marseille’s Vieux Port, a boat harbor filled with seafood restaurants and ice cream shops.
We walked to a beach and spent the whole afternoon there. The sea was beautiful and it was great to be in the sun. I really am grateful for that afternoon and how fondly I will remember that part of my weekend in Marseille.
Julia and I stopped back at the hotel before going to a wonderful Middle Eastern restaurant for dinner. It may have been one of the best meals I’ve had in France. It’s been pretty hard for me to be away from falafel for three months. While we were at the restaurant, I received a text message from my mom asking me to call her on the wifi once I was back in the hotel. I was a little surprised that she texted me, because she pays my phone bill and knows the international fees. I just figured she must have been missing me and wanted to talk.
Even though we were tired from our long day, Julia and I didn’t go straight back to the hotel after dinner. Instead, we got ice cream and sat by the water, watching the sunset. It was another memorable moment from a weekend that was about to take a turn for the worse.
When we did get back to the hotel, I didn’t immediately call my mom. I’m pretty grateful that I waited, because once I did hear the news, nothing was the same. I at least had another hour of ignorance.
I’ve been a dog owner my entire life. I had four dogs the past year, which is a lot, but they are really one of the greatest parts of my life. I knew going into this semester abroad that there was the possibility that I wouldn’t be going home to four dogs. Big dogs have short lifespans, but they were all in good health when I left. I knew that losing a dog was a possibility, but I didn’t actually think it would become a reality.
When my mom told me that my 8-year-old French Mastiff had died right before she sent me the text message, I fell to the floor in tears. I had a pain in my stomach, wishing that I had been able to spend the past three months with her, knowing that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. At that moment, there was nothing I wanted more than to be home in New York, grieving with my family.
The next morning, I begged Julia to return to Besançon earlier. Our train tickets had been for 10PM that night, and I knew that, as beautiful as Marseille is, I just could not make it through that entire day.
We took a train that was meant to leave at 3:19, but didn’t leave until 3:45. The conductor kept making announcements that there was something wrong with the train, making me wonder whether I had made the right decision to leave Marseille early. We did make it back to Besançon at a reasonable hour and returning to a place that wasn’t home but was familiar did turn out to be best for me.
This week has been hard. I’ve now gone through the deaths of four dogs, and it never gets easier. If I were home, I could grieve with my family, who are all feeling the same as I am. Here, all I can do is distract myself with the various pleasures of study abroad, such as new friends, beautiful views, and the focus it requires to learn a new language.
After a day of traveling, Trish, Gissel and I arrived in Nice around 7pm to meet Anna and Gabby at the next apartment we reserved through airbnb. All of the palm trees made it feel like a true vacation.
Once we settled in, we walked through town to find a place for dinner. We landed at Poupon & Marinette, a small traditional Nice restaurant. There were two men and a woman working, which I assume were the owners. I had honestly felt like I was just invited into a grandmother’s house because the woman taking care of us was so inviting.
She decided that we would be eating from the prix fixe menu and she decided almost everything else for us but I was totally fine with that. We started off with bread, raw vegetable that we dipped in a fish paste, and some more bread toasted with olives because you can never had too much bread in France. She then decided we were going to have a bottle of red wine with that.
For the main course we enjoyed gnocchi and a stew of our choice. Gabby had beef, Anna had chicken, Trish had lamb, and Gissel and I had rabbit. I wanted to try something knew and I was definitely not disappointed.
After being completely stuffed, we had dessert and an after dinner shot almost against our will. It was a delicious meal and an incredible experience.
The next day was the Carnaval de Nice, the reason why we traveled over 8 hours from Besançon. During the day was the flower parade where women on the floats threw thousands of flowers into the crowd and many different countries were represented.
After the carnaval, we rested up before heading out at night for the Festival of Lights. We grabbed some pizza from an Italian pizza truck on the way, each ordering a personal pie. that definitely is up for the running for the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had.
We were caught in a torrential downpour on the walk to the night session of the carnaval and the rain soaked right through our jackets. So we ended up turning around, heading back to the apartment and streaming Girls for hours. We ended up having a fun night regardless before we had to spend all of Sunday traveling for over 9 hours back to Besançon. This break beats any other break I’ve ever had.
It’s been my ultimate goal for a few years now to work in the fashion industry. As a Creative Writing/Art History major in a school without a fashion department, I’ve been able to write research papers and poetry about fashion, but it wasn’t until this semester that I was able to take a legitimate fashion class.
Unfortunately for me, the only classes offered at Lycée Jules Haag are design classes. I was expecting to be led into a lecture hall my first day there, and was instead brought into a design studio. In high school, I had been really serious about Studio Art, but I hadn’t touched a 2B graphite pencil in three years. But regardless, I accepted the spot in the class, knowing that any opportunity is a good opportunity.
I also didn’t know how to sew, so I was quickly taught how to use a sewing machine, all in French. I now realize what a great skill sewing is, though. It could potentially save me a lot of money on clothes.
And the design class is the only class I take with French students. They were pretty excited to have someone to practice their English on, but when I asked them to speak French to me, they happily agreed and have helped me so much when I make mistakes. I’m also learning French terms for various fashion elements, which I could never get from writing research papers or reading magazines.
This design class has also taught me that I made the right choice trading my 2B pencil for a pen. It showed me that I would rather create ideas about fashion through writing than to create new types of clothing through design.
This past Wednesday marked the eleventh week that I had been in France. Eleven weeks away from my dogs, my sisters, my best friends. But it doesn’t really feel like it has been eleven weeks already.
I looked back at some photos from my first few weeks here, and I seemed like a completely different person eleven weeks ago. I can tell that this experience has already changed me in ways I don’t even realize yet.
I remember the week right before leaving for France, I spent many sleepless nights stressing over how I would pack four months into a suitcase. Those sleepless nights did nothing for me. I ended up packing and repacking my suitcase every few hours up until just before I left my house for my flight to France. And I didn’t forget anything. I actually overpacked. I spent every day that last week running to different stores to get each thing I thought I would need over these four months: cold medicine, vitamins, snow boots, rain boots, notebooks. Most of those things didn’t make the final cut into what actually came to France. And all of those things could have been bought here. (Even though I had cold medicine in my dorm here, I was in Paris for a weekend the only time I got sick and had to buy more cold medicine. And it worked just like American cold meds.)
All of the stress I felt right before I left was irrelevant once I got to France. The first few days were just weird. It felt partially like vacation because classes hadn’t started yet, and partially like I had fallen down the rabbit hole. I was suddenly in a new place, and I barely know the people who were the most familiar to me. There was so much to figure out– the most important at the time was the internet, but I also needed to learn all about a new city and how to navigate through it.
It took a week or so, but eventually things started to make sense and places started to seem more familiar. It still feels completely surreal; I don’t think this experience will be completely believable until I’m home and really reflecting back on this semester as a whole.
L’Université de Franche-Comté grants us a total of three weeks of vacation during the spring semester, starting with one week off at the end of February for winter break. I had the opportunity to travel with Gissel and Trish to Lyon first.
We found an apartment to stay in on www.airbnb.com. I greatly recommend this website for whenever you are looking for affordable accommodations during your travels. You create an account and can browse through countless offers, tailoring your search to certain price ranges, lodging types, and specific locations.
The first day in Lyon we discovered the Parc de la tête d’or to visit the botanical gardens and the zoo. Unfortunately it was too chilly so some animals couldn’t come out.
Unfortunately my camera had broke so my iPhone had to suffice for the rest of the week. The next day we explored Vieux Lyon where we found breathtaking churches and ancient Roman ruins.
We purchased tickets for a Segway Tour for our third day in Lyon. What started off as a joke turned out to be a great experience. Where can I find myself a segway?
And at night we attended Oh! Paradis, a one and a half hour drag show for 25 euros that included desserts to share and a drink each. Please excuse the quality of my photos, I was heartbroken that I no longer had my camera.
For my first drag show, I was not disappointed. I sang along to the songs I knew and just stuck to dancing for the ones I didn’t. Those three days in Lyon were incredible. Although three days was not enough, it was off to Nice to meet up with Gabby and Anna!
As I think about the past two and a half months of my life I can’t seem to understand how all of my experiences fit into that small span of time. So let me start from the beginning.
I can still remember the day I landed at the Charles de Gaule airport in Paris with seven other New Paltz students and no idea how to get around like it was yesterday. For the first few days I didn’t understand any signs around or anything anyone was saying. But my relaxed personality kept me from feeling a culture shock and I adjusted to French life almost immediately.
Looking back over two months later I realize many things have happened. Starting with the obvious, my French has greatly improved. But what I did not realize right away was that I had never truly had a conversation in French before my departure. My confidence in the language only arose from conjugating verbs in class and reciting prewritten sentences that I had plenty of time to construct beforehand. Now I find myself debating topics in class and bonding with people that don’t speak a word english.
So far this semester I have made a bunch of incredible friends from all around the country, I learned to rock climb with French directions, and I’ve been to two Rugby games.
I’ve also been lucky enough to enjoy the two excursions included in the SUNY program – the first to Haut-Doubs.
The second trip to both Geneva, Switzerland and Annecy, France was even better.
Though the culture here is much more relaxing than New York, I have had all but a dull moment this semester. We’ve even been lucky enough to enjoy a week off at the end of February for winter break, which made it possible for me to explore other parts of France, including the Carnaval de Nice. Stick around for my next post to see how incredible that vacation was!
Towards the end of my trip in France, I felt an overwhelming want to return and a desire to hold on to the moment a little longer. The food, the travel and of course the friends are all things I loved about being there.
Though, as I make my way through suburbia I feel myself slipping into a comfort coma. I missed being able to drive, seeing my friends, and having access to a plethora of stores. Like a drug, comfort is addicting.
Headlights beam through my windshield as cars pass me by. Each flash lights up the interior as I drive through stagnant roads – unchanged, familiar. I feel myself slipping into a welcoming place that is warm and friendly. With open arms, I’m greeted from France. Yet something has changed. I have a feeling of something even bigger and more wild than ever before. Every time I notice it, it smiles back in its immensity.
Living abroad for only four months, which is a droplet in my lifetime, has provided me with a profound sense of motivation and know-how for handling life. In such as short amount of time, I was able to kick down many of my own fear based barriers about traveling and succeeding. I had always known that if I wanted something I would need to work for it. This proved true for handling the application process to study abroad, to handling the documentation when there, to speaking the language.
Everyone should study abroad. It’s a chance to invent yourself and sharpen your skills. It’s liberating to to be in a foreign place. In the end, you truly see that life is entirely up to you. Where you go and how you handle it is only a mindset away…