by Katie Fair
Bonjour! I have so much that I want to share with y'all about my last week or
so! I have had the chance to explore some of the museums and exhibits here in
Brussels last week. Then I spent my 3-day weekend in three different cities: The
Hague, Antwerp, and Bruges.
First up, the museums! While Brussels does have a ton of museums, I only
visited two of them and one traveling exhibit. The first museum I visited was
the BELvue, which is basically a museum dedicated to the more recent history of
Belgium (from around the time of their independence in 1830 to present).
Although pretty much all of the exhibits were in French or Dutch/Flemmish, I was
still able to learn and to see many really cool historical artifacts. The second
museum was the Musee de la Ville, which shows historical artifacts from the city
of Brussels. One of the coolest rooms (and one of the sole reasons I went there)
was for the costume gallery of Mannekin Pis. Unfortunately, cameras were not
allowed, so I couldn't take pictures. Mannekin has hundreds of costumes, but
they rotate which selection are shown in the room. I was fortunate enough to go
at a time where they had the Elvis costume on display. That is a sight that I
will never forget!
The traveling exhibition that I was able to go to was on Leonardo daVinci.
While they did not have the original artwork available, they did have replicas available to view (including both the front *and* the back of the Mona
Lisa). They also had journals of daVinci's. The exhibition included many re-created inventions of daVinci's from his notes in his journals! It was so amazing to see
some of the things he came up with, and how similar some of them are to things we use nowadays!
Friday I went on my first trip out of Belgium. I visited The Hague in the Netherlands on a solo day trip. I took a 3 hour (ish) train to the city. While there I was able to see some of the main
city, but that was not my main focus. First I visited the World Forum area, where I saw the buildings for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Europol, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Next, I went to the Peace Palace and did the short tour
through their visitor center. While I did not get to see the International Criminal Court (but I get to go back to visit it in July), I did walk down a couple miles to see the beach! I had no idea there was
a beach there, so I wasn't really prepared to get in the water. It was a lot of fun to visit, though.
Saturday I went with Alina, Rachel, and Mollie to see Antwerp. We had originally
planned to go to Amsterdam, but we hadn't planned far enough ahead which meant
tickets were super expensive! Being the flexible travelers we are, we instead
bought tickets for the next train to Antwerp. The city of Antwerp is very unique
in its mix of old and new, often side-by-side. Most of the other areas I have
seen have old sections of town and then newer, more modern sections in a
different part of town. So that in and of itself was really cool to see. We had
a great time walking around, and we had these huge "personal" pizzas. I'm using
the quotation marks because I'm pretty sure that our personal pizzas were only a
little smaller than some of the mediums back home. Anyway, it was a beautiful
city, and it was both warm and sunny (which we don't tend to see too many of
here in Belgium).
Last, but certainly not least, I went with Alina and Rachel to Bruges on
Sunday. Bruge is by far my most favorite city I have been to. Ever. US and
Europe combined. Aside from the tourist shops and modern conveniences, the town
could have stepped right out of history. I joked with my friends saying they
could just go on back to Brussels without me. There were horse-drawn carriages,
boats on the canals, beautiful bridges and buildings, and huge churches and
cathedrals. All of this with no real "modernized" city in sight (ie sky
scrapers, huge apartment buildings, etc). If I ever decide to one day live in
Europe, Bruges is at the top of my list!
University de Savoie
Wow. I don't even know where to begin. It seems impossible to sum up my experience here in a few words. There's no way to explain how much I loved France, the people, and how I'll always cherish the memories. Why do goodbyes have to be so hard?
This last week flew by! On Monday I went canoeing, on Tuesday and Wednesday we went to the lake for the last time (we really loved the lake). On Wednesday evening, we had dinner on a boat! We went on the biggest, natural lake in all of France. It was a great opportunity to get pictures of everyone one last time. Friday, my friends Antoine and Marco hosted a cookout for me and my friends and after we went out. This last week was absolutely perfect.
If I think about the initial goals and fears that I had before I came to France, I feel so accomplished. I was really nervous about making friends. Not only did I make friends, but I made best friends. It's remarkable how in six weeks you can meet people who you feel you've known forever. The best friends I made were Ivana (from Canada), Ariane (from New York), Katie (from Montana), Antoine (from France), and Marco (from France). I am literally so happy that I made real French friends. It was amazing to learn the real slang of France and not just what the teachers tell you. They helped us out so much by telling us where to go, what places are dangerous, what's happening in the city, and they helped Katie send her baggages to Rome. Maybe it's just because I'm in a good mood, but...I have faith in people. There are marvelous people out there in the world. I'm never going to forget the ones I met here. We've made promises to see each other again, and I believe it will happen. How can I not see people who were with me when my dreams came true?
Goodbyes are so hard. They have always been hard for me, and always will be. It's hard leaving a place and people who have been such a big part of my life. Will I remember everything? I don't want to forget anything! Pictures can only do so much. I'm afraid this will all become a dream to me; it's too good to be true.
On a brighter note, I can tell that I've changed. I feel that I'm a little more confident in myself now. Navigating airports and depending on public transportation is so stressful, but I think I can do it. It's nice to know that I can depend on myself and that if I need help, I can ask someone in French. I also think I've become more personable. Meeting people and conversations are so important. For me, I need to keep my eyes open to meeting as many people as possible. For example, when I get back to Maryville College, I want to become friends with as many International students as possible. It's easier now to see where they are in their lives and how to talk to them. We're all the same, and it's wonderful when we realize that.
University de Savoie
One day when I was at the lake with my friends Katie and Morgan, this guy approached us. He said he heard us speaking English and he wanted to introduce himself. After a few words of greeting, he sat down right next to us and continued talking. Seeing as how I was in my bathing suit and not knowing who this guy was, I was a little unnerved and even a little annoyed to be honest. He surprised us by inviting us over to hang out with him and his friends later that day. Are people just nice over here or does he have some other intention? By trusting our instincts, we decided that he was a good guy. And indeed, he is. When we went over to his friends house, he introduced us to everyone, translated for us, and walked us home.
From all the times that we've hung out with Antoine, I've come to know him as a funny, fun-loving young man. He loves to say, "Swag," "D-O-Double G", sing American pop songs, wear American brands, and listen to rap. He's has also actually taken care of me and my friends. Every time we hang out with him, he walks us home. He is persistant that we shouldn't walk home alone because the park that's very close to our apartments is very dangerous at night. And the other day we were going to go see fireworks, but he told us that the area that we planning to go to was the most dangerous in Chambery. And today, I'm going to a huge music festival where LMFAO, Blink-182, and Garbage are playing. I wouldn't have know about he festival if it wasn't for Antoine. He lets us know what's going on and where the best places are to visit. I'm glad we've made a good friend here.
Two days ago Antoine took us to his friends' concert. While there, he introduced us to all his friends and bought me a drink. On the way home, I asked him, "Hey, do you think Americans are cool? Because we think French people are really cool." And he said, "Of course! Americans are great! The more I spend time with you, the more I think we are just the same." I was very happy that he said that because internally I have been thinking the same thing about people all over the world. I'm glad my persona doesn't scream, "I'M AN AMERICAN!" Antoine has also said he would make me a French culture list full of music, movies, songs, and sayings so that I can continue to learn French when I've returned.
University de Savoie
For my program, we were given a handout that listed the trips that were open to us. A while back, I "starred" the most important trips to me and visiting Paris was number one. When we walked off the train and I took my first few steps, I just couldn't believe I was finally in Paris. Paris - the place where Roland Garros tennis champions played, where the Mona Lisa is located, and where the most gorgeous building in the world was built.
The first thing our group did was visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Instead of graves, this cemetery had what seemed like tiny houses with one single room. In the single room there was usually one window made in the shape of a cross. Some rooms had chairs, branches, or other seemingly random things. But the more I thought about it, I came to realize that these little rooms are probably prayer rooms. The architecture of each grave was so different and each had a unique door. The size of this graveyard amazed me. It was so beautiful and creepy at the same time. It actually inspired me to image stories or photoshoots that would capture that certain beauty. This graveyard was also the place where I glimpsed the Eiffel Tower for the first time.
In the morning, our group went to Roland Garros. This was my second place to see in Paris because my brother is a huge tennis fan/player. I pleaded with the guard to let me in, but he said that the facilities were being cleaned. I still can't believe that I was near the place where Roger Federer, Steffi Graff, Bjorn Borg, and so many other tennis players have been. I wish I could have traded places with my brother so he could have seen it with his own eyes.
Next we went to the Champs-Elysées. I have to be honest - I didn't really know what was the big deal (haha). Yes, it was beautiful and there were plenty of beautiful, expensive stores, but that's pretty much it. In fact, the friends I was with at the time decided to go off onto one of the side streets to eat. There, we found this little pizza place called Flam's. I was rather shocked at Flam's because they gave us English menus and our server willingly spoke English to us. I had always heard that Parisians were not fond of tourists - let alone Americans. I guess generalizations aren't accurate anywhere.Of course, the only monumental thing on that street is the Arc de Triomphe. It was such an experience to see it with my real eyes. So much detail came in sight and I was able to appreciate the grand size of it. This was also the place of the greatest roundabout I have ever seen. Cars were driving and swerving all over the place while honking and slamming on breaks.
THE EIFFEL TOWER. The Eiffel Tower is where I went next, and my mind was blown. Pictures, movies, and postcards do it no justice at all. Upon walking under the Eiffel Tower, I started to cry. It's hard to explain how I felt at that time. It was like a big, seemingly-impossible dream finally came true. After having so many little replicas in my room, pictures plastered in lockers and walls, and necklaces with it, I was finally under the real tower. I am a little embarrassed to admit that over half of my pictures taken that day were of the Eiffel Tower. It seemed to look different from every angle and under different weather conditions. I might sound like a dork, but it seemed like a structure from out of this world. It's size is unbelievable. It creates shadows over everything else in the city around mid-day. Luckily, Ivana (my Canadian friend) and I went back the next day and actually went up to the second floor. If anyone has seen Disney's Pixar movie Ratatouille, they know was I'm talking about when I say that the view was spectacular. I have finally been on the most beautiful building in the world. Now, when I look at my little replicas, I'll be able to imagine me on the second level looking around.
Next, our group went to Notre Dame where I tried to imagine Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame take place (I love Disney movies, by the way). The gargoyles were actually real! I wanted to go into the building and explore, but the line was too long and my friends wanted to move on. Again, actually seeing the real life building took my breath away. I decided to actually run up and touch it to see if it was real. Paris most definitely has the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen.
The Moulin Rouge was next on our list. After leaving Sacre Coeur, the walk to Moulin Rouge turned from relaxing and beautiful to scary and strange rather quickly. We were warned ahead of time about the district that the Moulin Rouge was in, but that still didn't prepare me (haha). Let's just say that I'm not ever going there when it's dark. But the Moulin rouge itself made me smile. It had the red tower and the sign that I saw in the movie. It's hard to believe that one city contains all these monuments.
Now, my three friends and I literally saw everything that was on our list: Roland Garros, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, Moulin Rouge, and the Eiffel Tower at night. But to do this, we had to descend into the depths of Mordor (at least it seemed that way to me) and travel on the Metro. Oh, the metro. At first, I was lost beyond all comprehension and followed the others. But throughout the day, I became more comfortable. There were a few instances when musicians would hop on the metro and ask for money. There was one guy in particular who had an amp and was singing. That was actually really fun (haha). By day two, Ivana and I had mastered the metro and were able to spend time at the Eiffel Tower and eat our last Parisian crepe by the Seine before heading back to the hostel.
University de Savoie
In 8th grade, when my parents bought me my first French phrase book, I became fascinated by how a common English phrase could be easily translated into a French one. I was amazed by how some English words resembled French ones while some were completely different with strange little accent marks all over them. After 5 years of studying French, that amazement hasn't died down, and now that I'm studying abroad, I've thought about so many other things about languages. From listening to other people's thoughts about how languages sound, to using my French in unusual circumstances, and appreciating how creative languages are, I've realized that language is indeed a study all in its own.
This past week in my French class, there was a young German girl named No Ra. She reminded me of my sister (who I miss A LOT), so I walked right up and started talking to her. I think I've decided that German accents are one of my favorites. Yes, it does sound harsh. But I also think it sounds beautiful at the same time. All the "chts" and "ines" are sounds that would take me years to perfect. The funny thing is, one day during class when No Ra and I were partners, she told me that she thinks English/American accents are the best. She said that my accent sounds fluid and hip. Imagine that! I always thought my accent was rather dull and boring, but I guess to some, my accent is pretty cool. Okay, I have to admit...one night at a bar, these French guys were telling me and some of my friends that American accents are so hott (hahaha). I wish I could hear my accent with an unfamiliar ear.
During the week, I have had a couple of circumstances where I had to use my French to communicate with people. For example, during this past week, a woman had been screaming from her apartment while a man would harshly whisper. I would yell in French if she needed help, but the screaming would stop and no one would answer. Since this was a major shade of grey area, I didn't know what to do until the third day when the screaming continued. I finally realized that this woman's safety was more important than my getting into trouble for calling the police. Which is what I did. The operator didn't speak English, so I had to quickly think about (probably the quickest I have ever thought) and translate everything I heard. When the emergency vehicle came, the gentleman said "Ah bien, elle peut parler Francais." I have to admit, I was rather proud of myself. The emergency vehicle men thanked us for calling them. I feel I did some good that day. Another example of my having to use French was with a Japanese friend I made on the way to Grenoble. She didn't speak English, so my friend Ivana and I had to help each other with finding words in order to communicate with her. I was glad we took that chance to talk to her. Every conversation helps me get over that anxiety of speaking French.
One day, on the way back from class, Ivana and I were talking about how great languages are. We both have admitted that we are kind of nerds and that we like "language talk." We talked about how there are thousands of languages in the world and how every language has words to describe the same objects, feelings, places, and people. We thought that "Yes, people can be dumb, but their ability to speak is pretty amazing."
France is amazing. I am having the time of my life here. It's still hard to believe that I am halfway across the world, in a foreign country, trying to speak a language that I wasn't raised in. One thing is for sure...I'm glad I'm a language kid and not a math kid :).
Universite de Savoie - Chambery, France
Mon Dieu! Over the past five days, I have experienced so many firsts! From flying, to navigating cities and airports, to using the French language in "real life," to eating real French food (finally), I have seen, laughed, cried, and learned so much in the first three days that I can't even imagine what I'll learn over six weeks.
Le premier jour (the first day): Let it be known that airports were a foreign concept to me before this trip. I was haunted by how movies portray them (Home Alone 2 was the main reason I was apprehensive about flying). Although I was nervous for the duration of traveling, I learned that I am capable of taking care of myself. I grew to love that feeling of accomplishment of being able to find the correct gate and arrive on time. Luckily, I am easily amused so the plane rides were really fun for me! My boyfriend gave me the perfect song (After the Storm by Mumford and Sons) to listen to while I was consumed in the clouds. Even though, I was nervous, hungry, and excited, I was able to ask people around me how airports work. I gained a little more faith in humanity during my excursions through airports. People are really nice :).
Being alone in Dusseldorf airport, I was able to "people-watch" the French people who were going to be on the plane with me. I began to listen to them, and I became so excited! On the flight over, our attendant was french and so was everyone around me. Landing in France was unbelievable. Literally everything was written in French. I feel like my mind immediately began to recall everything I have ever learned about the French language. Suddenly, I was remembering words I had learned so long ago. I have to say, I was rather happy about that. After a small panic attack and finding the bus, I met a fellow ISEP student from Iowa who was waiting for the same bus. A wave of relief came over me, and I internally congratulated myself for traveling successfully for 238,900 miles. Culture shock wasn't a bad experience at all for me. I was overjoyed to see all of the different road signs, markings, building names, street names in French. My dream of being in France was finally true.
After the enjoyment of moving into my room (first floor with a view of the street), fellow ISEP students and I walked around town and found a cute little restaurant. That was just one time where I had to use French. I'm finding that speaking French makes me really nervous. I am trying to get over that fear soon. Every French person that I've talked to has been really sweet, repeated what they said, and slowed down for me. The first night, however, was really rough. Exhaustion, unfamiliarity, and a sense of loneliness came over me. Luckily, the morning went much better, and I have been happy ever since :).
Samedi, Dimanche, Lundi, et Ajourd'hui: These first few days have been so full of observations, making friends, concentrating in class like I never have before, and appreciating all of the beauty here. Honestly, one of the first things I have noticed in France is fashion. Americans have the potential to stick out like a sore thumb. In Chambéry, sandals, neutral colors, cardigans, pants (including jeans), and huge leather purses are apparently in this summer. I feel that no matter what I wear, I will be seen as an American (and that's okay, I suppose). Fashion here, I feel is essential to culture. Everyone in this city looks polished and hip. Speaking of fashion, the clothing stores here are very expensive (comme 100 euros pour une blouse!).
In my journals before leaving, one of my biggest fears was not making any friends. Everyone kept telling me I had nothing to worry about, and they were right. There are 20 students in our program most of whom are from the United States, but some are from Nigeria, Argentina, and Canada. Every student is nice. So far, every evening, most of us have made dinner together in one of our apartments and shared wine (wine here is around 2 euros, by the way :) ). I am learning that people are alike everywhere. We all have to go grocery shopping, we all have family, we all talk, but the ways in which we do things is different. I love how in this city, the French people ride bikes EVERYWHERE, carry their groceries in bags, and go to many different stores in order to purchase food.
Yesterday was the first day of class. Summer school here is a wonderful adventure. In the mornings, my fellow ISEP students and I walk to the University. I love it! The University is snuggled between mountains ranges like I have never seen before (and I live in Tennessee!). We will have three teachers over the course of six weeks, and so far we have met two of them. The first day was focused on grammar (a love of mine). Madame Laetitia never said one word of English. Instead of resulting to explaining concepts in English, she would continue to explain things in French. I appreciated that so much. Already, on the second day of classes, I feel like my brain has absorbed so many things. I don't think I have ever concentrated and tried so hard to learn as I have here. Today, as I was talking to my friend Ivana, we both said our heads hurt from concentrating so hard! Even though it feels like we are in elementary school at times, my elementary school kid spirit is trying to take in everything she can.
I have leaned, in conversations with people, that I am very appreciative of my surroundings. I think everyone who likes to travel is like this. I love to admire buildings, signs, cars, fashion, roads, etc. Here in Chambéry, everything amazes me. The trees seem different, the cars are all so small (I want one!), and the buildings seem to have history seeping from their foundations. I am frequently wishing that America was more like France. I have met people from all over who want to go to the United States. They ask how it is, and I tell them that the US is quite different than France. I wish America was more appreciate of its history and treasured old things like France. Ah, well. I guess it makes me more glad that I am visiting here!
These first few days have been wonderful! I have gained this new independence and I love it. I have had many adventures (salsa-dancing, ordering drinks?!, meeting people from all over, and finally listening to Mika while walking down a road in France!). I wish I could better articulate my love of being here. Right now, I am too overwhelmed to write anything of major depth, but I hope to soon :).