Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘studying’ Category

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! :)

Check out my newest piece for the Lost Girls – 10 Snacks and Sweets in Kolkata :)

I can’t believe it’s already the second half of March – where is the time going? The past week has been great. On Saturday morning Ashley, Elizabeth and I went to Loreto to go along on their weekly trip to the villages. Every Saturday, the older Loreto students (around class 7 and 8) go to nearby villages to teach. We had about a two-hour bus ride to the villages, and the whole ride I talked to a group of 4 girls in class 8 who were in charge of leading me around. They were very cute and very interested in me and how I’m liking India. The school in the village was more than I was expecting – a huge building with several classrooms for many different ages. The facilities were quite nice – I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I can tell how much my standards have changed from home…this was a great school but it didn’t have electricity or desks for the students. The girls I was with took charge of a class 3 classroom of about 25 students. These students didn’t know any English – not more than numbers 1-10, so I wasn’t able to help very much since I’m at about the same level in Bangla. The girls were pretty good teachers, but some of them were more interested in talking to each other than teaching the class. I watched most of the time since I couldn’t do any teaching, but I often felt more like a distraction than a help since the students would focus on me instead of the lesson. It was still great to see. It was definitely worthwhile for me to go, but I don’t think I will go again since I felt almost more of a hindrance than a help.

Bengali on the chalkboard - all I can identify are the numbers at the left. 6 (choy), 7 (shat), 8 (aat) and 9 (noi).

Sunday was a relaxing day at home doing homework, and I watched the movie Food, Inc. I loved it – and it was very similar to the book I just finished, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The author, Michael Pollan, was in the movie and so was one of the farmers he visited while writing his book. I’m learning so much about our food system in America – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I can’t wait to learn more! Next on my reading list will be Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Durgi

We didn’t have class this week since it’s mid-semester exam week for all the St. Xavier’s students. We only had one exam to study for – our elective course at St. Xavier’s, so for me that is Sociology. Since we didn’t have class on Monday, I had the whole day free but I made some productive use of it by going to St. Xavier’s to study in the air-conditioned library without distractions. I went to Loreto afterward, and I’m slowly but steadily enjoying my time there more particularly because I’m starting to build relationships with the girls. One of the girls, Durgi, is becoming more attached to me each time I come. She gives me a huge hug every time she sees me and makes sure to ask when I’ll be coming back before I leave. She even made me a really cute drawing and poem about how we are friends and she loves me – how cute :) I took out my camera to take some pictures of her and another girl, Parveen, but they became very rowdy once the camera came out. It was very hard to get them to calm down afterward – they were climbing all over me and yelling and stole my shoe as I was trying to leave. It started to wear on my patience, but I’m constantly reminding myself of how much these girls are really desperate for the attention. I came home for a nice relaxing yoga session before our big night of switching rooms! Elizabeth and I share a bedroom here and so do Ashley and Brynn – but one room is much bigger than the other and also has desks for studying so we wanted to switch rooms so everyone had a fair chance to live in the bigger space. I’m enjoying the smaller room so far, though I’m still adjusting to sleeping in a new bed.

Suman and Parveen

Tuesday was a great day – we went to the Cricket World Cup! Madhu tried to get us tickets to a game with India playing, but that didn’t pan out so we got tickets to a South Africa vs. Ireland game. South Africa is one of the top cricket teams in the world so I was really excited to see such a world-class team play, as well as go to my first world-level competition! I met up with everyone at New Market to walk to the stadium, Eden Gardens (which is one of the biggest stadiums in the world!). There was really strict security – no cameras are allowed, nor are plastic water bottles (apparently the fans would throw the bottles onto the field?). We were there a little while before the game started, and we had plenty of time to find our seats which were fabulously placed in the lower tier so we were really close to the field. It was incredibly hot at the beginning sitting in the full sun when Kolkata already regularly reaches 95°F. They don’t really sell water in the stadium either…they give you 3 little plastic pouches of water with your ticket though, and it’s the worst packaging possible. You just have to rip the corner of the bag, which spills water everywhere and the little plastic cups you could use to drink the water didn’t hold the whole bagful. Stupid. It was great to relax with everyone though – I felt like I should be at a Twins game at home! I felt like I could be in America, and really wanted the typical American sporting event snacks that go along with it – popcorn, pretzels, nachos, etc. but instead there was Indian snacks like papri chat and egg rolls. Watching the game was great – I didn’t know much about cricket going into it but luckily Vinayak sat near me and he explained whatever questions we had. I have a solid understanding of the basics now, so I could at least follow the game. People will often say that cricket is like baseball, but if someone tells you that just don’t listen. Cricket is not like baseball except that someone throws a small ball, someone hits it with a bat, you run, and someone tries to catch the ball. It was a lot of fun, but we didn’t stay for the whole game. It started at 230pm and was scheduled to go til 1030pm, but we left around 730 – turns out Ireland didn’t do so well at bat, and South Africa won by 131 runs. The form of cricket used for the world cup is one where you play 50 “overs” – an over is 6 balls – and there are only 2 innings. One side will bat for the first inning and one will field, and they switch for the second inning once either the 50 overs are finished or all 11 players of the batting side are out. The traditional form of cricket lasts for 5 days! I’m looking forward to learning more about the game and to watch Vinayak in a match!

Wednesday was the day of our exam. We left quite early so we arrived with about an hour to spare before our exam began. We had heard from Kia, who took her exam on Monday, that it’s confusing trying to figure out where you have to go so we wanted to get there in plenty of time. We went to the office to ask which room we would be given the exam, and turns out the administration didn’t even know we would be taking the exam! Apparently the departments didn’t notify them we would even be taking the exam, so we were not included in their very elaborate seating chart which separates each class into different classrooms and specific assigned spots to take the test. They put us all in the same room. Luckily the exam was not difficult – I had prepared enough so the questions were very straightforward. The kind of exam that is given here is an essay exam where you have to write down basically everything you had memorized from the notes the professor dictated in class. It’s very much a kind of regurgitation of information – and I’m glad I only had the one exam to study for, unlike the rest of the St. Xavier’s students. I’m glad it went well, but now we’ll have to see how they will be grading us. We’re not sure how the grade conversion will work, or how the professors will grade our papers since they know we are not Sociology majors and that we have had no background in Soc. or India before coming here. After the exam, we met a few of the visiting CSB/SJU professors – there’s a group of about 7 professors who are visiting from our campuses to help assess how the program is going and also to introduce more faculty to the India program so there may be potential future program directors from this group. Elizabeth, Ashley and I went to Loreto afterward which was okay. We showed up at a time when there were very few students, but I spent the time with Jhuma and Durgi. Jhuma thoroughly enjoyed combing and braiding my hair, and I helped Durgi with a little homework. That night, we met up with our visiting professors at a great Chinese restaurant called Bar-B-Q. It was a wonderful dinner and it was SO nice to talk to them. I miss campus a lot so it was nice to talk to someone from there, and it was even better to talk to someone outside our group who really understands how different home is from here. They much better appreciate the joys and frustrations we have here, and they were very keen to listen to us describe our experience and to hear all our feedback, both positive and negative. I’m optimistic that this group will seriously consider our negative criticisms and will take action to help make this program better and more established in the coming years.

Another post, another reflection…this time it’s about beggars. When I decided to come to India, I knew I would see poverty like I could never imagine. I knew I would see beggars and I knew I would see slums. I knew, but at the same time I didn’t know that seeing this would affect me the way it has. At home, there is most often a clear division between a well-off neighborhood and less wealthy neighborhoods – you may be driving along in a rich area and as you drive the city slowly changes into less privileged areas. There is a very clear distinction and physical separation of these areas. Here in India, it is not like that at all. There is no clear division between wealthy areas and impoverished areas – you may be walking along next to a giant beautiful fancy hotel and within the next 20 steps, you find yourself walking through a slum. For such a long time, Calcutta was the West’s image of human despair and suffering and today there are still many examples of suffering. It’s hard to see such abject poverty – there is a slum area right outside my house and I walk by so many people every day who literally have nothing. There are so many homeless people on every street, and beggars at every corner. It’s hard to see this poverty – it’s emotionally draining and results in an ethical/moral dilemma. The hardest part of seeing this poverty is to see the vast majority of indifference to it. People walk along without even noticing the beggars or the homeless and ignore them when they are approached. I understand now how or why there is such an apparent indifference – if you became emotionally invested in every person that approached you on the street, you simply would not be able to function. It’s certainly easier to just walk by them. But is that even the right thing to do? How can we walk along so involved in our own lives that we ignore the humanity and suffering around us? I’m surprised at how quickly and easily I’ve become desensitized to the poverty, and a bit ashamed. I can honestly walk down a street and not give a second glance to the dirty woman and malnourished child huddled in the corner on a piece of cardboard.  It’s also hard to know that they seek me out specifically because I am a foreigner. When I’m approached by beggars, I never give money. I have no idea where that money is going, if they will actually use it themselves or if it will be given away to someone else or spent on unnecessary things. I give food when I can, and unfortunately just say no and sorry to everyone else. There was one incident that really stuck with me the other day – on Tuesday, when I was in New Market. New Market is a very popular shopping area where you can find almost anything in a great selection and bargain your price down to something reasonable. I like going to New Market, but I hate how hassled I am there. Vendors and beggars follow me around constantly, and they are very persistent. While Elizabeth and I were standing trying to figure out where to meet up with the group, an older woman with a baby in the crook of her arm approached me. She was following us/me, saying “didi, auntie (terms of respect here)…help…please, no money, milk for my baby…”, touching my arm, etc. She was very difficult to ignore – and it’s really hard to say no to someone when they are asking for some real thing they need and not money. I was stuck so uncomfortably in this ethical and moral dilemma – do I give her money? Do I buy her the milk? Do I just ignore her? And I hate that I feel like I have to be suspicious of their motives – is she seeking me out just because I’m a foreigner? Is that even her baby? If she was really desperate, wouldn’t she be asking everyone else? It feels awful having to judge someone’s motives when they are clearly in desperate need. I hate knowing that I’m targeted and that they are relying on manipulating my emotions – and should they? Do they have that right? I’m always so self-conscious when I take out my money to pay for something, because then they (whoever they is) can see how much money I actually have. Whenever my wallet comes out, that’s directly where their attention is focused. I can’t be giving out money all the time. I may have a lot of money by their standards but I’m still a poor college student with a lot of student loans and not a lot of money will be coming in this summer when I have to pay for things in U.S. dollars again. But still – I know I can always get more money through some way or another, even if that money will be in the future when I have a salaried job which I am so privileged to be able to rely on and plan on having. So when I ignore the beggars, I just feel like such a cold-hearted person. In the end, we did buy her the milk for the baby, and she did seem appreciative or grateful. I did notice that her attitude changed immediately after we said yes though – it was like she had assumed the position of power and became very confident, she was triumphant. I just hope she actually uses it. I wish there were easier answers for this dilemma – there seems to be no answer as to what is the “right” thing to do.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I’m surprised that it has already been a week since my last post! Time is flying by now that my days are full of class, theatre, and tutoring! Let’s see if I can remember all that has been going on…

Last Sunday, we took a mini excursion to the nearby cities of Antibes and Juan-les-Pins. We woke up early and took the first bus headed for Nice (which stops on the way) and stopped first in Antibes. I liked the feel of Antibes – it’s surprising how a city only about a 10 minute drive away has a completely different vibe. We headed straight for the Sunday market – full of fresh food (even a whole roasted pig) and flowers. We stopped at a little cafe, where I had some tea and a croissant – yum! I was happy they brought me my own little tea pot again – so cute! Next, we all headed out as a group to the Picasso Museum. I always wish that I understood art more…I feel like I would appreciate it more then. I just don’t understand how some his drawings are considered great works of art when they are very child-like…like a fish and lines drawn in crayon. I keep trying to understand art, but I think I just have to cut my losses and realize it’s just not for me. I liked another exhibit more…it was a more modern exhibit that used superimposition of text on pictures – a lot of it was very dark but I feel like I got more out of this artwork.

The Picasso Museum

After the Picasso museum, we went back to the market and the nearby streets in search of something for a picnic lunch. I stopped at a little panini stand with some of the others and had a club chicken panini – very delicious! A thing learned about standing in line here: push your way to the front! Don’t be afraid to assert your place in line because others will just run you over if you don’t. We had a lovely picnic next to the Picasso museum before we headed to Juan-les-Pins, where there was supposed to be a huge end-of-the-season clearance sale at all the clothing stores. Mickey and I perused for a little while, but didn’t find anything we liked, so we stopped at an ice cream shop and headed to the park. We enjoyed relaxing on the park benches and talking before we headed back to Cannes.

When I got back to Cannes, I only had about a half hour to rest before I went to meet the family of the girl who I will be tutoring! It was just completely wonderful how everything clicked!!
He met me here at the College on Sunday night – picked me up in his SMART car! I was really happy I got to ride in a smart car, they are so cute and it has been a tiny dream of mine to be in such a tiny little car. He – Franck – was incredibly warm and friendly right away, plus he complimented my French! That’s one of the highest compliments – to be complimented on your French from a native! He said he was really surprised at how good my French was in the emails I sent (though I checked them like 5 times!). He was really easy to talk to, and I was just so happy with myself that I was actually speaking French and it was working and I wasn’t making (too many) mistakes! We got to his house and met his family and they were just as wonderful! They were all really happy and excited that I was there and were so welcoming. I met his wife, Souad, and they have 5 kids (!) David – 19, Nina -18, Sara – 14, Eva – 11, and Samuel – 7. I’m going to be primarily tutoring Eva, and I’m going to be helping her with her homework in all subjects – math, science, geography, reading, and history. She’s in an all English school now, and I think reading is the most difficult subject for her (which I totally understand, that’s what happens when you study another language).

Leah and I at Morrison's

And I’ll also spend a little bit of time each week with Sara, just have like an hour of conversation with her and explaining any grammar she doesn’t understand. So, we worked out that I will be tutoring on Tuesdays from 6-7:30 and on Fridays from 3:30-6:30. Fridays isn’t the most ideal since I would have preferred to have Friday afternoons to jump start traveling, but it will be so worth it. AND he’s going to pay me! I would do it without pay just because it will be such a good experience, but I definitely appreciate the extra euros (15 E an hour!!!!!). SO PUMPED. It all just works so perfectly – the bus picks me up right outside school and takes me to only a few blocks away, they’re really excited to have me – Franck said I could even stay for dinner after the lessons!!!! I am so happy about that, and so excited that I will be able to spend time with a real French family! Could this get any better?? I think not! I think this whole experience will really enrich my time here and make it more like I was hoping it would be – really connecting with the culture.

Just look at that backdrop! Antibes

I just had my first lesson on Friday with both Sara and Eva and this coming week will be my first full week of tutoring. I was happy that the first lesson went well. I walked to their house instead of taking the bus since it was so nice out and I figured I should familiarize myself with that area of the city a little more. Again, they were very warm and welcoming to me. I even got my first taste of home-cooked French food – a piece of apple pie that was delicious! My hour with Sara went very well – her English is pretty good and explaining the grammar was easy. The time with Eva was a little different since we covered more subjects, but overall it went quite well, and her English is very good for her age. I only felt bad when I had to explain math – my least favorite subject when I studied it, and I haven’t done math in a few years! I understood the problem and how to get the answer, but I had a very roundabout way of explaining it. I hope she understood like she said she did! I’ll have to work on my math explanations. I left a little earlier than we had scheduled since Eva was very tired after a several-day field trip with her school, and I took a nice long walk home by the beach.

I didn’t do a lot this weekend – went out to our favorite pub, Morrison’s, on Friday as a little goodbye for some friends who left the Collège yesterday. Saturday, Mickey and I headed into Cannes to do a little shopping – he bought some things for Christmas gifts, and I bought some scarves! The weather is getting a little chilly on some days, plus scarves are très chic here and will dress up my plain black sweaters. I also got to spend some time chatting with Karl – appreciated and enjoyed every minute of it! And, even though it’s October, the weather is still gorgeous! I even spent a few hours on the beach today :)

Otherwise, my classes have been taking up most of my time. Like I’ve said before, we virtually have no homework here (it’s a joke compared to what we have to do for homework at CSBSJU), but we have really long class periods so we’re in class a lot. We still have class on Mondays and Wednesdays for Beth’s class (our prof from CSBSJU) and her class is on the French Revolution. We are playing a game in class that has to last 6 class periods (only 4 left to go, thank goodness) where we are each a historical character from the Revolution. Some of us have names (like Mickey is King Louis XVI, and Evans is Layafette) and some of us don’t, but all of us have our own agenda and ideology. We each have a little packet that tells each of us our game objectives…and my character is a Jacobin (leader of the Jacobins was Maximilian Robespierre) so I’m pretty radical left and don’t want anything to do with the king and believe we can establish our own system of government.

strike a pose!

The game situation is that we’re at the critical point of the Revolution where we are in the middle of writing the new Constitution and all of us are able to “rewrite” history if we wish – we don’t have to do things according to what actually happened. It is a good idea for class (because unfortunately you actually have to READ and know wth you’re talking about) but it makes class so stressful and intense! We’ve had 2 sessions of the “National Assembly” where we debate parts of the proposed constitution and it just gets really intense since there are people with really incompatible ideologies. in addition to the meetings, we have to write newspapers  that talk about our views of what’s happening. I’m the editor of my group’s newspaper, so Tuesday night i was up til about 1:30am compiling everything, thinking, “Well THIS feels more like CSBSJU.” I’m glad there’s only 4 more class periods left and we can have a less stressful class again.

Leah, Me, Shawn, Evans

Tuesdays and Thursdays I have Societe Francaise, with Sylvie my grammar teacher, and Wednesdays I have Cinema class.  We filmed most of it our female-version-of-“The Hangover” movie yesterday, and have a few more scenes to film next week. Then, this coming Wednesday we’ll compile and edit everything. It’s only going to be about a 2 minute movie, and I’m sure we will put it up on youtube so everyone can watch it. Wednesdays are really long for me because I’m literally in class all day, from 9am-7pm. On the flip side, no homework but still, 9 hours of class in one day is too much.

The harbor in Antibes

And, theater has finally started! It’s actually not so much rehearsal time right away – but I think we will still have to rehearse more once the actual show comes closer. The director, Patrick, is also the director of the college, and he writes the play every year, and writes in parts according to our French ability. So far he’s only given us the first 4 scenes – he’s  still writing and rewriting the rest of it. The story is about these 4 roommates, and they kind of stumble along this elixir that will make you tell the truth. My character’s name is Sophie, and she’s the mean and self absorped roommate. I don’t mind playing a mean character though – those characters are more fun to act!  I’ve only had one real rehearsal so far, and Patrick just kind of tells us how to say the lines – it’s hard right now to read the lines and tell what kind of emotion he’s going for, so it’s helpful when he just tells us! The play is less about our acting, and more about improving our French – pronunciation, enunciation, projection, and intonation. So, I should be speaking wonderfully when the play is finished!

Leah and I on the terrace at the Picasso Museum

Other than that, I’m still trying to plan a few more trips. Some friends were planning to go the Loire valley and see all the marvelous chateaux this coming weekend, but it’s just not going to work out for me. Since I couldn’t leave until late Friday night or Saturday morning because of tutoring, it just would be too expensive for the actual time spent there. Instead, I’m planning to visit Monaco this coming weekend, which will be nice. I’m going to make a full day’s trip out of it, so I’ll see the castle, the Ferrari dealership and the casino, Monte Carlo. It should be a good trip! I’m really going to try to set up a trip to Cinque Terre for the following weekend, though finding train tickets has been difficult. I think I’ll stop by the train station sometime on Tuesday to talk to someone there about it, because the website is very confusing. And, I’m a step closer to finalizing my trips to Paris and London to meet up with my friend Kate. Can’t wait for all this traveling! :)

Love to all at home!

Read Full Post »

Bonjour tout le monde! I am overdue for a blog post, but the past week and a half has been very busy: 3-day-5-stops excursion to Provence, and this week switching classes/professors/levels and beginning afternoon seminar classes! Settle in for a really long post:

Friday morning, we got up early to leave for our group excursion to Provence. We had a quick breakfast in the cafeteria, grabbed our picnic lunch, and headed to the bus, which was exceedingly large for the size of our group! Imagine a coach bus for a sports team – it was exactly like that (sans bathroom though) but imagine this bus on the tiny roads of France! It was pretty funny having a group of 10 in that bus – only about 50 extra seats! It was about a 3 hour drive to our first destination – Avignon – and we had a little stop at a gas station that was remarkably similar to the gas stations at home, except for the fact that there were no toilet seats on the toilets. I’m not sure why, but that’s very common here.

Palais des Papes

We arrived in Avignon with only 10 minutes to spare before our tour of the Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace), so we had to wolf down our picnic lunch in the courtyard. The Palais is quite impressive – we had a tour with our guide, Nina, and explored some of the administrative rooms, the dining hall, kitchen, pope’s chambers, and the chapel. All of the rooms are empty, with the exception of the chapel, which now is somewhat of an art gallery. A little history lesson: In the early 1300s, a French pope was elected and Italy was in a bit of a mess of civil war, so the Pope decided to pack up and move to France, where he would be safer but also closer to the French king. So, Avignon became the new Vatican as the entire headquarters moved with the Pope. Avignon remained the papal headquarters until the early 1400s, though during this time Rome wasn’t thrilled to have a pope outside Italy, so they elected their own. There were 2 popes from 1378-1417! The last pope left in 1403, but the Vatican owned the palace until the French Revolution (1789). It has been used for various things; as barracks for soldiers (you can see great gouges in the stone walls where bunks were constructed), for various conventions, and even now there are some parts of the building that are not open to visitors because there are some administrative offices. I think my favorite part of the tour was seeing the Pope’s chambers – they still have the original frescoes on the walls, and the entire room is colorful, including the floors and ceiling!

One of the interior courtyards

On the rooftop of the Palais, looking out at the city of Avignon

Leah and I at the window where the Pope would give speeches to the people gathered in the courtyard below

At Pont St. Benezet

After our tour, some of us headed to the river (Rhône river) to relax, and for me to finish my picnic lunch. It was very peaceful, and we got a good look at Pont St. Bénezet (St. Bénezet Bridge). It’s famous for a nursery rhyme, which in English goes like this: On the bridge of Avignon, we will danse, we will danse, on the bridge of Avignon, we will danse all in a circle. For over 10 years in the Middle Ages, this was the only bridge that crossed the Rhone river! It was really nice to relax by the water in the gorgeous sunshine!

We got back on our oversized bus and headed to Arles for a stop at the Ancient History Museum. The museum focuses on Roman Arles – models, sculptures, and artifacts from about the second to sixth centuries. My favorite part was the models of Roman structures in Arles – models of the theater, amphitheatre, racecourse, administrative buildings, etc. I prefer these models over artifacts because I feel you get a better sense of how people lived and what things were like! Looking at the model of the amphitheatre made me realize how little we have actually advanced over the last 2,000 years; the Romans already had the idea of giant stadiums dedicated to sports…and they even had retractable stadium roofs! We only spent about an hour at the museum before heading to our hotel, L’Hôtel Constentin. It was a charming little B&B – family run, comfortable rooms, tiny bathrooms. Love it. We had a little time to settle in and unpack before we headed out to dinner. We went to a mediterranean/provencal restaraunt – one that specializes in regional dishes – called La Bohème. It took a while for everyone to order their dishes with a group of 10 and our serveuse looked irritated. However, I managed to get what I ordered, and it was great! I started with a salad with goat cheese and a lovely tomato mixture – very refreshing! My main course was the regional specialty, taureau – bull. It tasted similar to pot roast, but with a heavy flavor of olives from the stew – and do they ever love their olives here! The taureau was very good, with rice and green beans. For dessert, I had a dish of warm sliced fruit in a creamy sauce – delicious! It was so nice to eat out. I love the French approach to mealtime – slow, enjoying your food and the restaurant never rushes you. If you buy something to eat, that table is yours for as long as you like. I really appreciate that approach, but this dinner was definitely on the longer side – we were there for close to 3 hours! It was a little too long for me…I was so hungry from a long day of sightseeing, and the time between courses was a half hour or more – I was still hungry after each course and kept eyeing the kitchen door.

Pain au chocolat - YUM! Me, Mickey and Leah enjoying our breakfast in the market

The next morning, we ventured into Arles for breakfast and saw they were setting up the Saturday market! It definitely felt like fall that morning – crisp and a bit cold, with a breeze. Provence is known for being windy, particularly for a wind named Le Mistral – which can be up to 30-60 mph! Luckily, we didn’t experience anything that strong, but it was definitely windy a bit cold! Very different from the sunny cloudless Cannes. We stopped at a little cafe so Leah and Mickey could get some coffee. I’ve realized that I cannot drink the coffee here – it’s too strong for me. A straight up coffee here is the American version of espresso, and the closest thing to an American cup of coffee is a café crème or café au lait, coffee with milk and sugar. It’s still too strong for me; I don’t drink much coffee at home anyway, and this gives me headaches and stomach aches! I’ll stick with tea. After they had their coffee, we wandered in to the market for something to eat. We got some great pains au chocolats and croissants for only 3 euros – delicious! I love the markets here – so lively and fresh and they sell everything from meats to cheese to vegetables to breads to olives to flowers and more. I wish we had more markets like this at home! After our petit-dejeuner, we hopped on the bus and headed for Les Baux.

Les Baux, from the bus

Les Baux is a “dead city” of castle ruins and medieval town below the ruins. It’s just a tourist destination now, but it has been one of my favorite stops! It was incredibly windy, but the ruins were incredible – I felt like I should have been wearing a medieval dress and escorted by a knight. This place was a hub of activity in the Middle Ages, when the Lords controlled about 80 towns. As time went on though, Les Baux was included in the French kingdom and the Lords of Les Baux did not take well to the King. The King didn’t like this and destroyed the town. Later, they also fought with the Catholic Church, who also responded by destroying the city. And, the King billed them for demolition expenses. Ouch. The ruins are great though – and they are some medieval weapons – including a few trebuchets! My favorite part was the incredible view of the countryside – hills rolling into a valley full of vineyards. Absolutely beautiful!

La campagne! The countryside - so beautiful!

Ahhhhhhhh. *soaking it all in* JE SUIS EN FRANCE!

After Les Baux, we hopped on the bus to go to the Pont du Gard, a famous Roman aqueduct and one of the best surviving Roman ruins. Beth wanted to make sure we got to see the introductory film in English before seeing the aqueduct…but the movie was definitely in French! It was the most bizarre introductory film I have ever seen. They’re usually like a History Channel special, right? Not this one. It was a cheesy and silly film that was trying to decide between telling actual facts about the aqueduct and a silly scripted romance between a French girl and Italian boy. The two little lovers were having a romantic day at the bridge…it didn’t make any sense and they were very annoying. We all had a good laugh though. We strolled over to see the aqueduct – it was massive! Evidently, it’s the 2nd tallest standing Roman ruin (the Colosseum takes first place). The little river below was very pretty and it was a peaceful stop – made for some great pictures!

At the amphitheatre

After Pont du Gard, we went back to Arles for some free time to explore the city. Mickey and I headed out together, and we strolled along and looked at the théâtre and amphithéâtre again. We wanted to see St. Trophime Church, but couldn’t go in for a tour because there was a wedding. Weddings in a church are not as common here in France – marriage in general has much less significance. It’s just not a big deal here – nearly everyone gets married at city hall, if they get married at all. There are not many people that wear wedding bands and it is viewed more as a civil union. After passing by the church, we went on the hunt for an ice cream shop that was recommended in my guidebook – and we found it!! I was proud we found it in the winding tiny streets. I had some pear sorbet – there are many different ice cream flavors here that don’t exist at home! We meandered to a nearby park to enjoy our ice cream and then headed to the other side of town to see the Rhône river. We had a little over an hour to rest before dinner, so we went back to the hotel and I took a little rejuvenating nap.

The theatre

Our hotel - Hotel Constantin

Dinner was at another local restaurant, we I had a salad entrée, honey mustard chicken plat, and fromage frais for dessert. Apparently, fromage frais is a very common dessert here, but I didn’t like it very much. It is cheese but has a texture kind of like yogurt…and when plain tastes a bit like sour cream. They dressed it up with honey and pine nuts, and it was palatable smothered with honey. I only had a few bites – definitely couldn’t eat the whole dish! That’s another thing here in France – the entrée is the appetizer and the plat is the main course. I’m not sure why we call the main course an entrée in America. This restaurant was also very interesting in it’s choice of wall art – there were many pictures of dessert like things…on top of breasts. Breasts drizzled with chocolate, another that was dressed up like a cupcake…France is very open minded with art in public places. Needless to say, we all had a few laughs. As Mickey said, “Bon appe- tit!” We rushed back to the hotel to escape the merciless wind, but we ran into a parade! It was a parade celebrating rice…rice is one of the regional specialties here. It was entertaining to see some of the floats, but Mickey and I headed back only after a few floats because we were so cold. We got ready for bed while watching The Simpsons in French!

The next morning, we packed up our bags since we were checking out of the hotel that day. Mickey, Leah, Beth, and I stopped for a lovely breakfast at Café le Wilson – where we had a hot drink (tea for me, with my own little teapot!), a quarter of a baguette, a croissant and butter/jam – all for 5 euros! Jackpot! It was another fall-like day and were sad we were missing another market that was just setting up as we were getting on the bus. We headed to the Camargue, our last stop on our tour of Provence, which is a “wild” area in France – full of marshes and tall grass and cultivates rice and salt. It’s a habitat for pink flamingos and the famous white Camargue horses. Nous avons fait un promenade à cheval – we went horseback riding!! I was so excited about this – it has been quite a few years since I’ve ridden, but all the good memories came back! It was the first horseback ride for many people on the group, and everyone did great! We had a guide who lead us on a 1.5 hour tour where we saw flamingos, the wild horses, and the marshy landscape – we even walked through part of a lake! Our guide was so funny though – nonchalantly lit up and smoked about 4 times during the tour – so French. After our tour, we headed to a nearby town – I think it’s called St. Marie sur la Mer – and had lunch. We were all so tired, and didn’t spend much time lingering in town after lunch. We were all ready to go home since we knew were there were no more stops on our tour.

That's right - FLAMINGOS!

It has been a busy week after our tour! We started afternoon seminars this week – so I have class every afternoon now except for Fridays. We still have the grammar class every morning from 9-12 though, so the days are getting a little busier (not that I mind!). Monday morning, we met in the théâtre to be placed into our new classes. I’m not in a class of 13 with a teacher named Sylvie – and 6 other students are from my CSB/SJU group! 3 more of the students are from the AIFS group – so our class is mostly the American groups! There’s also a guy from Irland, a guy from Australia, a girl from Switzerland, and a few of the people from CSB/SJU were not born in America – Liz is from Trinidad & Tobago, Alejandra is from Mexico, and Evans is from Ghana. So, even though we have a lot of “Americans” we still have a bit of diversity :) Sylvie is a great teacher too – she’s very encouraging and gently corrects you when you’re wrong. She understands learning another language and that pronunciation is difficult since there are some sounds in French that don’t exist in English. It turns out I have moved up 3 levels! I’m proud of that – before I was in level B1.1 and now I’m in B2.1 – there are 3 levels with each larger level – kind of a confusing system, but I’m happy that I’m making progress. I do think my French is getting better, and it’s certainly easier to converse in French here than at home. I was thinking the other day that I’m going to be really sad to go home and have everything in English again. At least here we have the option of speaking in either English or French. At home, you get weird looks if you speak in another language, and there aren’t many people to speak French with! Monday afternoon, we also have Beth’s seminar on the French Revolution and we are just starting our historical game, where everybody is a historical character from the Revolution. Not everyone is a King Louis or Lafayette, some of us are anonymous, but we have a definite ideology and agenda. The point of the game is to write a Constitution that reflects your agenda – but you have to persuade everyone else to your side! We are able to re-write history – we don’t have to play at all according to what actually happened. It should be interesting, but a lot of work because you have to know your position but everyone else’s positions as well! I’m a Jacobin (Maximilian Robespierre was the fearless leader of the Jacobin party) and I believe in democracy and that there should be absolutely no monarchy. We’ll see who I can convince to come to my side! After Beth’s class I will also have Phonetique, and phonetics class that only meets 4 times, but that begins this coming Monday.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I have Société Française with Sylvie, my grammar teacher. In this class, we look at French society and for the first half of the semester we will be discussing great questions of society – education, family structure, politics, women’s roles, etc. Right now we are talking about education, and it is different from the U.S. I think I will really like this class – Sylvie is a great teacher and I’m glad to learn a little more about French culture. Wednesdays is a realllllly long day of class for me – I’m in class from 9am until 7pm! My class in the afternoon is Cinéma – from 1:30pm-5pm. I walked into the class and couldn’t believe my professor – he’s in his mid-late 20s, with a popped polo, aviators, and jeans hanging off his ass. He’s our teacher?? Yup, but only for the first 3 sessions where we will actually be making a short movie!! We brainstormed ideas for the first session and decided we will do a female version of “The Hangover” – should be pretty fun! This coming Wednesday, we will film it and the following Wednesday we will edit it and then be showing the movie sometime in October. After the filming section, we will change professors and move on to history of cinema. This should be a pretty good class – though it’s hard to concentrate for 3.5 hours straight! After my cinema class, I have Beth’s class again from 5:15-7pm. Long day.A total of 9 hours of class…that’s too much for one day! On the flip side – we spend a lot of time in class here but virtually have no homework. It’s nothing compared to homework at St. Ben’s, where it’s the opposite – little time in class but ridiculous amounts of homework. Sylvie was saying that these long classes are not typical of French schools, but is particular to this Collège. This is a very particular school because it is for foreigners and is a language school – the classes are so long because that’s where we practice our language skills! I’m glad I’m taking all my classes in French – that means I get a lot of French in one day, especially on Wednesdays! This Wednesday, we headed over to Beth’s apartment after dinner to celebrate Shawn’s birthday, which was on Tuesday. Beth made some fabulous chocolate cake with a raspberry sauce, and we met her partner Ross, who is visiting for the next month.

I still have another class that hasn’t met yet – Expression Théâtrale, my theater class. Our first meeting will be on Monday, and I’m anxious to see how this play will go and what kind of time commitment it will be! So, my weeks are looking a little busier now with these afternoon classes! It made this week go by much faster. In addition to new classes, I have something else I’ll be starting – I’m going to tutor a local French girl in English! Beth received an announcement that there was a man looking for an English tutor for his daughter, and I am definitely interested! I checked in with the secretary’s office and now I’m meeting the man, Franck, and his daughter, Eva tomorrow night. So far, I know that Eva is 11 and is in a bilingual school, and Franck is looking for me to come tutor twice a week. We’ll see how it goes – and I hope that we can work out a time for me to come over between all these new classes. I’m really excited about it – it will be a great experience and I will get to spend some time with a French family! (Besides, I think he’s offering to pay me – so a few extra euros would be appreciated!)

This weekend is already the last weekend in September! Time flies. Tomorrow we are headed to nearby Antibes and Juan-les-Pins to check out the markets and see the Picasso museum. It should be fun! October is creeping up quickly, and I still haven’t planned a trip to break up that month of 5 weekends! I know for sure I will take a trip to Monaco one of those weekends, and since I haven’t planned a far away trip I may have to settle for a closer trip, as things are getting expensive now that it’s only a few weeks away. My intense traveling will begin Oct. 23 –  if all goes according to plan, I would have 6 weekends in a row of travel that will look something like this:

  • Oct. 23 – trip to Aix-en-Provence.
  • Oct. 28-Nov.1 (my bday!) – group excursion to Paris
  • Nov. 5-7 – trip to Rome
  • Nov. 11-14 – group excursion to Lyon
  • Nov. 19-21 – meet up with my friend Kate in Paris
  • Nov. 26-28 – meet up with Kate in London, where she’s studying abroad!

Whew! That should make the time fly, because London would be the last weekend in November….I would only have one more weekend left in Cannes before I will leave the following weekend. Crazy! When I look at it that way, it makes it seem like the semester is slipping through my fingers!

P.S. for the many of you who don’t have Facebook, I’m thinking that I will set up an account with Flickr, a website where you can view all my photos. I’ll let you know when it’s up, so you can see all my pictures!

Read Full Post »

Today was the first day of school! But first an update of the rest of the weekend –

Shawn and I enjoying the view from St. Paul de Vence

We toured “Les Villages Perches” – the perched villages – medieval villages nearby Cannes that have some of the best panoramic views. They are relatively small, and now house many galleries and small stores frequented by tourists. The views are definitely worth driving the (somewhat dangerously) small winding road up the mountain!

Shawn, Leah, Regina, Laura and I at Tourettes sur Loup! This village was much more quiet than St. Paul de Vence and was so idyllic I felt like I was stepping into a postcard!

After our activities on the weekend, we wished we could keep this “on-vacation” kind of feeling for the next four months, but it was time to start the “study” part of study abroad…

Yesterday we had the placement test that everyone was dreading after a 3 month hiatus from French classes. It was definitely intimidating, but we all did fairly well. We had 20 minutes for each section, which included comprehension, grammar, a short essay and an oral conversation. This morning the real work began! We met our teacher and were led to the grammar class corresponding to our placement level. This grammar class meets every morning from 9am-noon, though we have “le pause” – a short 15 minute break halfway through class. In my class, there 7 people – me, 2 other CSB/SJU students, and students from the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, and Russia. Most of the students that come to the CIC (College International de Cannes) stay for 2-4 weeks, so our group is a big exception! However, since we will be here longer, we have more opportunities to practice and advance into the higher levels.

Leah, Regina and I relaxing in the sun out on the terrace before our next class

After class ended, we had lunch (pasta with scallops!) and another half hour to relax before our seminar with Beth – our CSB/SJU professor who is leading our trip as our study abroad director. She is a history professor, so her class will be about the ancien regime and the French Revolution. Should be pretty interesting – later on in the class we will be playing a game where we will each role play a figure from the French Revolution, and when we tour Paris, we will have to lead part of the tour at a site of some importance for our historical figure.

The grammar class and our study abroad seminar will be our only classes until the end of September! Then, our afternoon seminars will be added on – I will have French civilization, French cinema, a phonetics class, and a theater class. Et oui, all my classes are completely in French (with the exception of the study abroad seminar, though I will be writing my assignments in French to gain some extra credits)! So until then, after class we will take advantage of the gorgeous weather to go to the beach for some swimming and relaxation! :)

Shawn, Leah, and I swimming in the Med. Sea!

Ahhhhhhhhh la plage (the beach)....so relaxing :)

Pour  ma classe avec Beth – elle veut nous choisir un but pour les trois semaines prochaines – un but académique ou personnel. Je pense que je choisirai un but pour parler plus de français – peut-être je parlerai totalement en français de 8h jusqu’à midi. Je voudrais parler le français couramment, alors,  j’ai besoin de pratiquer parler ! Maintenant, c’est un peu difficile, mais après un peu de temps, ce devient plus facile.

Studying out on the terrace - my favorite place to do homework!

That’s about it for now – A bientôt !

Some interesting things I have noticed so far:

-there are no screens on the windows                                                                                         – everyone seems to have these little bag-on-wheels kind of things for carrying all sorts of things – groceries, purchases, and cats/dogs.
– lots of little dogs here, but they all seem well behaved. the biggest dog i’ve seen so far was a small lab. and, dogs are allowed to be in stores and go on the bus.
– they really hate mcdonald’s – though we’ve seen several. There’s a shirt I’ve seen that says McShit.
– when crossing the street, you just have to put your hand out and cross, they will stop for you. better when in a larger group though.
– Lots of smokers.
– It’s true – the french really do use their shutters on their houses. Every building seems to be tan white yellow or pink with a terracotta roof.
– The pillows are one long cylinder – not a square flat pillow.
– If you order eggs here in the morning, they always come with some lettuce, tomatoes, and a mushroom.
– they made pizza the other night and i tried one that was 3 cheese – definitely not like at home. they use good french cheese and a pastry like crust.

Read Full Post »