27 May 2011

Välkommen till Sverige

That's right, I will make you google translate the title.

I've officially been moved out of my apartment in Rennes for a week now!  Last Friday morning I caught the early train to Paris, took the metro to Gare du Nord, took the Eurostar under the English Channel to London, caught a train to East Midland Parkway, and caught a bus to York!  I spent a wonderful week (ish) with Lauren, a friend from Hope, sleeping on her floor, meeting her friends, and exploring the charming city.  I have two new loves: clotted cream, and a British show called "Miranda", which is on youtube if you're curious.  Start with season 1, episode 1, and do it right. :)

I arrived here in Stockholm, Sweden, yesterday evening, and I'm spending the next week (ish) with some relatives that I met three years ago when my family did our family-tree trip, who thankfully speak English.  There are two blonde girls, ages 7 and 9, who make me think of what it was like growing up with Gretchen.  (As in, awesome and really goofy.)  We've eaten a good amount of salmon so far (yay!), and this morning I took a bus into the city center and wandered around.  I was mainly concerned with rediscovering my memories from three years ago, like eating a shrimp and egg sandwich with lemon and dill, or those wonderful ginger cookies I can't spell.  My favorite part was when I turned a corner in Old Town and discovered the exact square that we'd seen last time on Swedish National Day.  It's small, but there's a grocery store, a little cafe where we ate, and a short statue of some poet or something, and last time I'd taken a picture with little girls with flags in front of it!  All in all, great fun.  The younger daughter and I have been engaging in sneaky tickle wars while watching TV, and the older one has started playing the cello and has a concert tomorrow on a farm!  Ja!

Well, I'm going to show my "aunt" Facebook, so I've got to go!  Until we meet again, enjoy summer weather if you have any!  It was terribly cold (12 degrees C) and windy today, but it's still light out, and it's 21:30.  Night!

10 May 2011

I Am Channeling Rick Steves.

Dear blog readers,

Some days I go onto this blog just to stare at the statistics.  It doesn’t tell me who you are, don’t worry, but it tells me that I get over 2 views a day this month.  And it’s been a month since I’ve posted.  Got to love the internet.

Well, I’m back from my wonderful two weeks of break!  It’s actually kind of finals week right now, and I have tons of stuff to be doing, but I looked at the blog and thought, “If there are really two viewers checking this every day” (Hm, who could they be?) “…then I can’t disappoint them!  I’m going to write!”  So here is a very short summary of my vacation.  I have meticulous travel notes, but I can’t type them all up right now. :P


I left on April 23 with 7 other friends for the far-off Ryanair airport in Beauvais, near Paris, and after a very long day of travel, Dana, Bri, Courtney, and I arrived at our destination, a monastery located near Moone, near Dublin.  It’s a small country town with lots of ancient ruins and cows.  I tasted the incredible Barry’s tea (I brought 158 teabags home), frolicked around with my friends, and celebrated Easter in the chapel with the monks (the sweetest, most generous people in the world).

We then spent a night in a B&B and saw Blarney Castle (kissed it!), then spent a night in Galway seeing Kylemore Abbey (awesome), and returned to Dublin for a night in which I got to see Jess, Leah, and Lauren from Hope, who were also in Ireland for break!  I ate lots of toffee and bought a wool scarf and ate lots of black pudding and generally loved it.


Bri and I went to Edinburgh, missed our second train, and ended up stranded in Glasgow for the night.  It was pretty much heartbreaking.  Non-refundable train and hostel reservations.  We were crushed.  Neither of us had phones that worked there, and our iPods were dead.  We finally got walking directions to a hostel that were pretty vague, but on the way we saw an…


Can you hear that music playing? 

Yeah.  As much as I already loved Apple (which is a lot), now I owe my safety to…  Well, God’s using them to give us a safe place to stay, but still.  Awesome.  We went in with our backpacks and rolling suitcase and looked on hostelbookers.com.  We found a hostel, checked into the cheapest room they had (14-female dorm), and stumbled out to eat.  We found the Crystal Palace, a classy pub with a football (soccer) game on.  It was also curry night, and cheap.  The crumble was amazing too.  God can sure turn things around, can’t He?  I admit to having down some serious praying.

Anyway, the next day we camped out there again and watched the Royal Wedding, and then we went to Edinburgh and spent a few days there.  One day we took a bus tour through the Highlands (Loch Ness!), and we had a nice guesthouse to relax in for the evenings.


Then I went to Italy.  Our family is friends with an amazingly welcoming Italian family in Padova, near Venice, who picked me up, gave me an amazing room, and fed me and translated for me.  There’s so much I could say about that week (They’re such wonderful people!), but I guess for now I’ll just tell you where I went.  Venice, the Dolomites, a cherry orchard, lots of picturesque Italian towns…  It was fabulous.

And now I’m back for my last week and a half of classes.  There are tests and papers and teaching internships and stuff, but I feel so relaxed and energized after my trip that I’m not too stressed.  I mean, I’m also feeling that (although I am making an effort) the grades are such a small, banal part of this experience…  Well, I like it.  I’m also planning to spend some time in Sweden with relatives (I love it when people take me in!), and in London with a friend, and some other plans are shaping up.  My FAMILY will be here in 3 1/2 weeks to visit me and explore the country of France a bit.  Traveling the world is cool and all (really really cool), but that’s the trip I genuinely cannot WAIT for.

Please pray for my relationship with my host mother during my last week here.  Things are a little… stiff right now, and that makes things harder, and I don’t want that!

17 April 2011

Brissac, Villandry, Chenonceau, et Amboise

I really like bullet points.  They’re neat, they keep me relatively concise, and I can spit out a whole bunch of information at once without scaring you away with large paragraphs.  Plus I haven’t started my homework for the weekend, and it’s 23:13.

My program went on an overnight trip to see the chateaux (castles) of the Loire Valley, which were really pretty and photogenic, if a bit smaller than I had imagined.  It was a fantastic trip.  It was fun to sleep somewhere different for a night, eat quality food paid for by the program, see everyone at once, and look at the gorgeous castles.  A few notes…

-Our bus was driven by Georges, a Frenchman with a semi-bald head and a ponytail in spite of that, who had spent five years in England and refused to speak French there.  He’s been driving this group-travel bus since 1988, if I heard correctly.  He was quite a character.  I sat next to him at lunch today, as well as Daniel and Staci, our program director and administrator, respectively.  Good times.

-Staci took two semesters of French in college, dated and got engaged to a French guy, and decided to move to France to get married.  She’s been living here for about 20 years now, has two  kids (and a husband) whose primary language is French, and thus fascinates all of us.  She told us that she didn’t speak very much French when she got here; now she’s fluent, but she doesn’t speak English on a daily basis, and she misses it so much that she dreams of going to England for a weekend to see a play en anglais.

-Another fun fact about Staci: she got married in a little church by the mountains, which was gorgeous but very crowded considering that they invited a standard amount of people.  She loved the location, but she didn’t understand all of the ceremony.  (DUDE.  This woman is intense.)  Their wedding cake was a French one, which means no tall slices.  All French pastries and cakes are no taller than a pie.

-The castles were really pretty, (I know I keep saying that), but after a while hearing about ceiling detailing got a little old.  We invented a human version of the board game “Clue” (Cluédo en francais) right at the beginning; I guess that shows our interest level in ceilings.  I got to be Mrs. Peacock, and among others, our director was chosen Mr. Green and murderer, and one of the French monitors was deigned Mr. Body.  We didn’t tell the program director, but we did tell the monitor, and he didn’t get it at all.  All I heard of the conversation was “OK.  You’re dead.”

-Five of us hung out in a room at the hostel last night and talked about our lives, and Courtney received her first back massage.  It was an interesting night.

-I recently discovered the Tenth Avenue North song "Beloved", a love song written from God's perspective.  It's in 3/4 (waltz rhythm), starts with a piano solo, and is really sweet.  It's been in my head all weekend, which just made everything better.  The best part was when I got to wander around the famous gardens of Villandry with it playing on my iPod and worship in the castle gardens.  Never thought I'd get to say that!

-Dana and I (among others) sang Disney songs for a large part of the afternoon bus ride on Saturday.  Funny how I can always find people to sing Disney songs with me…  I like what that says about humanity.

-I am totally getting better at speaking French.  Hooray!!!  However, I unknowingly traded in my efficacy in English to accomplish this.  Even as I type, French words are attempting to make their way into this blog.  Not in an italicized, let-me-teach-you-a-word sort of way, but in a random and confusing way.  For example, I typed the word “same” only after having thought “même" in my head.  Always an effort to be made in some form or another, I guess.

-On the bus back today, a few of us invented alter egos (as in total opposites) for each other.  It was really fun, and it also showed how well we've gotten to know each other.  I recently bought a little floral purple scarf that I wear in a bow around my neck (think flight stewardess), which makes Bri think of Nancy Drew every time she sees it.  Thus my alter ego is named Nancy, always wears scarves tied in bows, is always on time (no, early!), and has to plan everything in detail.  Watch out!  Maybe she'll post someday.

-We stopped at the same gas station that we went to on our first bus ride into Rennes, right after many of us had been told about our host families and others were still waiting to hear.  I remember feverishly demanding to know the housing logistics of people I barely knew, and being really nervous about living in a downtown apartment with only my host mother during the week.  The store had the Breton waffles in the same place (hopefully not the same waffles), which I had wanted last time and bought this time.  It was a very strange, mixed experience, in that it brought some closure to my semester here.  Not that I’m gone yet, but it’ll be here soon.  This time, though, I sat and talked with my friends, knowing where I was returning home.

I will be leaving for Ireland, Scotland, and Italy, respectively, in  6 days.  If I don’t post again, think of me on Easter weekend.  I’ll be in that Irish monastery.

Prayer requests:  God has been really present with me this week.  Praise Him for that!  It’s been amazing.  Please pray for safe travels for us coming up!  Also, my sister is in Mexico with her high school for the week.  Please pray for her (and their) safety, as well as God's intimate presence during the week.

11 April 2011

Non, je ne regrette rien.

The frightening thing is that I’m almost done.  This experience has been very challenging, demanding, interesting, so much so that I’ve concentrated all of my efforts on “settling in” and “starting off well”.  Well, I realized at church today that even though it was only my fourth time there (given vacations and visits to other churchs), I won’t be there for another month, and I’ll only have two Sundays left.  (I’m going on a program excursion to the Loire Valley to see some castles next weekend, and then I have two weeks of spring break.  When I come back, I have two weeks of school left.)

This led me to more panicking.  You always have so many ambitions when you first start out on a big project.  Some of those never happen.  The important thing is to let them go and realize that you don’t need to have crossed everything off your list.  I may not have taken my language notebook to every meal, but I’ve still had a lot of good meals!  I haven’t had long enough with the people I’ve met here, French and American alike, but with only one semester here, that’s the way it’s supposed to feel.  I have taken pictures, explored, read, sipped, inhaled, watched, helped, wandered, learned, talked, listened…  I have done a lot this semester.  I have pictures and stories to prove it.  It isn’t over of course, but it’s nice to remind myself that my time here hasn’t been a waste.  And of course, it kicks me into higher gear, to do everything I want to fit in!

Little side notes:
-I cooked Chinese food with two Chinese friends last weekend.  We spoke French the whole time, and I have recipe notes.  Unfortunately, I had a slight reaction to something we cooked with.
-My new favorite music is by Nolwenn Leroy.  Look her up!
-I ate my first large piece of foie gras tonight, with toasted bread.  I enjoyed it.
-I also took a book for class to the park today, snuck over to a bench by the playground, and fooled the surrounding parents into thinking I was watching a child while reading.  I miss kids.  They make me laugh when they put gravel on slides.  Not so much when they throw it into the air.
-I will be gone for the orchestra concert this weekend, so I won’t have played in one.  I have to skulk back tomorrow and give them their cello back.
-The parks in Rennes are giant and beautiful.  And numerous.  I’m just discovering that now, but the weather’s great for it!
-I’ll be in a monastery in Ireland in two weeks, for Easter weekend.  My mom finds the best travel books.  Also on the horizon are Scotland and Italy.
-My host parents were gone on Saturday night, so I took the opportunity to open all the windows, drink some juice, sneak out onto the balcony, and look at the stars.
-I’m planning on finding some French comic books to bring back to my American bathroom.  Unfortunately I don’t have enough postcards to line the walls, and I don’t have a radio or wooden man on unicycle riding the toilet paper roll, so my bathroom can’t be as cool.  Told you it was my favorite room, remember?
-Oh yeah, I’m in some classes too.  They’re all right, I guess.

Prayer request:  Joy in every day!

21 March 2011

A Spring Fling and a Cultish Ceremony

The Fling

This weekend was interesting.  Obviously.  After getting back from a daytrip to Carnac and Vannes on Saturday, which are both really interesting and beautiful but left us all very tired, Courtney and I decided it was time for dinner.  After a unique (okay, not that unique) series of events in which we kept postponing the meeting time, I hustled to the wrong meeting point, Courtney called me to tell me she was lost and powerwalking down the Rue de la Soif (the bar street), and we were told the vegetarian Lebanese restaurant was full, we ended up…at an Indian restaurant.  Which is where the weekend first earned its permanent spot in my memory.

Our waiter served us little champagne glasses of something light pink as he handed us menus, which led to, “I wonder what that is.  Courtney, will you ask?  I wonder if it’s free.  Courtney?”  Fortunately, we were assured that it was white wine with cherry syrup and was in fact free.  The waiter then brought me little samosa-like pastries with an accompanying centerpiece of carrot flowers on toothpicks, wedged into a tin-foil base.  I was so excited to see pieces of carrot that big (It’s been a while!) that I had polished off three flowers when it happened.  The toothpick wouldn’t come out of the base.  Until suddenly it did, launching the carrot flower across the table in a high arc and into the mirror next to us, where it bounced and landed in some fake ivy.  Oops.  Then the waiter came to take my plate and said, “Those aren’t good!” with deep consternation in his voice when he saw I’d enjoyed the decorative vegetation.  Double oops.

The meal finished with us waiting at our table for the check, then deciding we were supposed to go upstairs.  Oh, but we weren’t.  We stood awkwardly next to the cash register while the waiter tallied up our meal, then had a long, hushed discussion about correct change (not tips- you don’t give them here).  I guess all this made him sympathetic, because when we handed him the money he said, “Thank you, that’s very nice of you.”  Three strikes, and we booked it out of that restaurant, deciding we’d definitely earned the title “Stupid Americans” that night.

The Cult

I’ve been going to a student Bible study on campus, so when my friends there told me that they all went to the same church, I was pretty excited to check it out.

Nota bene:  Based on the title and first sentence, you’re probably freaking out.  Let me tell you right now that it is NOT really a cult, they do love Jesus, and I was perfectly safe.  Okay, let’s continue.

Sunday dawned, and Kylie and I took the metro to the end of the line, where we met some other students and the man whose family hosts the Bible studies at their apartment.  We piled into their cars and drove about 20 minutes into the countryside before turning onto a dirt road and parking in front of a secluded farmhouse.  We walked around to the back, and inside we discovered a modern-looking auditorium complete with Bible, fold-up chairs, and congregation.  The service was good and the weekly potluck that followed was great, but Kylie and I were laughing the whole time at her mental image of us running out screaming and bleeding, robed in white.

I promise it was a real church.  But the story is pretty great…

Prayer Request

In other news, Gwen, my friend from high school is arriving tomorrow for a week-long visit!!!  This is terrific, but unfortunately I've been feeling sick all day.  Not terrific.  I've cancelled everything I can to give me time to rest up before her arrival, but prayers would also be much appreciated and more effective!  Thanks!

15 March 2011

Happy Two-Month Anniversary, France!

It’s been an abysmally long time since I’ve posted, I know.  Long story short:  I went to Spain and Italy for nine days, and one of my travel buddies sent me a 20-page blog post that she had written about it.  I was going to write my own off of hers, but then I just didn’t, I guess.  Maybe later, but now it’s time to write about what’s happened since, or I’ll never use this blog again!  If you're really curious, I've attached Rachel's blog post here.  http://franglais2.blog.com/2011/03/08/frangespagnitaliono/
Just remember, I warned you that it was long!

Part I:  WWII and Something I Didn’t Eat

            I think the following is a pretty good example of host mother-daughter communication.  At 19:30 on Friday night my host mom said, “We’re going to Saint-Cast tomorrow.”  (Googlemap it; it’s where they have a summer cottage, and it’s really pretty!)  I said okay cool, and then wandered back into the room after a minute and said a couple sentences about the trip using very pointed “you guys” verbs until she added, “I mean, you don’t have to go if you have other stuff,” at which point I said, “Oh, I’d love to go if you guys don’t mind,” to which she said “Oh, well for our part, we’d be delighted to have you, of course.”  Well, at least we communicated.  So I went to Saint-Cast for the weekend, and it was gorgeous (even though rainy).  It’s a little coastal town that must have quite an interesting WWII history because it’s right across the Channel from England.  When I asked later, Béatrice said that her dad was in the Resistance, and that a family member was a doctor during WWII, but he was killed by English soldiers when driving his car without a Red Cross symbol on it.

We had (as usual) a five-hour dinner party with some coastal friends of theirs while we were there, too.  This was actually an important moment for me.  When I left for this semester I vowed to eat everything, but I backed out this time.  The delicacy they offered me: bone marrow from the spine of the cow we were eating, still in vertebrae.  I stand by my decision.

Part II:  Tulips and Fanny Packs

            Now that I’ve gotten your attention with that title, let me tell you about my week.  Monday I got out of class at 12:30, sat a couple hours in front of my computer screen, and then decided that such actions should be outlawed while in France.  So I took a walk.  Not a run, not a power walk to a destination, not a desperate search for a smoothie or a hamburger, a walk.  This was big.  I ended up sitting on a bench in my nearby park and people-watching and praying.  (They look pretty much the same.) :) 
            First a nice white-haired Frenchman walked past and joked about having taken my picture, I guess because I looked posed.  Then a mother walked past, followed by a toddler with the most luminous, gray-blue eyes I’ve ever seen.  I literally had to do a double-take when I saw him, and then I had a really hard time not creeping his mother out with my stare.  Then I walked past another white-haired Frenchman with a hat and walking stick and under some interlacing tulip trees (magnolias, I know).  It was refreshing after rushing to pack, rushing to do a group project, rushing to lesson plan, rushing to travel plan, rushing to sleep (that’s just not okay), to just enjoy the day and share it with God.  I took that peace back with me to my computer and travel planned.
            Monday nights are orchestra nights, which leads me to announce a new blog feature.  From now on, I will try my best to give all of you back at home an accurate, honest look at the French culture and people by featuring…Laurent’s wardrobe!  Laurent is the first-chair cellist in our community orchestra.  He’s forty-ish, a cello wizard, and the craaaaaziest dresser I’ve ever seen.  Case in point:  This week Laurent came in (carrying his coffin-shaped cello case) wearing oatmeal-colored corduroy slacks, a green-yellow corduroy jacket, an overlarge blue polo shirt sporting a very 80s plaid design, and a FANNY PACK.  Which he left on for the two-hour rehearsal, even when the orchestra accompanied him through the amazing, incredibly difficult Saint-Saens cello concerto.  Maybe he’s not the stereotypical Frenchman, but nonetheless…  I was feeling outlandish wearing a long blue skirt without tights underneath, a pale yellow shirt, and a bright pink sweater, but then I noticed that two people next to me on the metro were wearing red pants, so I decided I was all right.

Anyway, prayer requests:  A balance of patience with my language abilities and enthusiasm and perseverance to get the most out of this experience.  Also, I still don’t really have any French friends yet, and (while not a necessity, all people are valuable!), that would be cool.  Thanks!

18 February 2011

Glimmers of Things to Come

I was sitting at my desk eating the world's smallest granola bar (all they sell here) and listening to the click of my alarm clock (the one that tells you that you got up twelve hours ago), and I realized it's been a while since I've blogged.  The reason for that is pretty simple:  Travel plans.

We get one week off in February and two weeks off at the end of April and beginning of May, and everyone tries to make plans before their friends become unavailable and the prices go up.  This means that in the month of February I went from not having any plans to booking a massive amount of plane, hostel, train, and bus tickets.  We're ALMOST done, and I am really excited to have time to do homework before midnight again.  I've learned that you really earn the money you save through the hours of research you do on cheap tickets.  I don't think it's minimum wage (at least not in CA), but it's still worth it.  (I told my mom this week that I feel like a part-time travel agent.)

Anyway, that has consumed my life to the point where I've forgotten to be excited about my trips.  As someone who absolutely detests spending large amounts of money, I've had to chant "You're only in Europe once" constantly.  I realized today that I'll be in Barcelona one week from tomorrow, and my reaction was to stare blankly at the wall and wonder if we'd finished all of the necessary reservations.  The new challenge:  recapturing the excitement of getting to travel!!!  (Feel free to help.)  ;)

My inspiration for the title of this blog was a Tennyson poem that mentions "Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untraveled world..."  I've already experienced living in France for a month.  I remember leaving the airport in Paris, getting onto the metro, and staring avidly out into the dark morning, when every glimpse of a graffitied shack or a light in a house made me excited.  I remember walking off the metro with my giant rolling suitcases, pausing when I reached the sidewalk, and then casting my gaze every which way as I rolled off down the street, glorying in the lampposts and the billboards.  I get to do that in Barcelona, Rome, and Florence in ONE week.  In a monastery and a castle in Ireland, in Scotland, in Venice, in two months.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!

07 February 2011

Des Petites Histoires (Some Little Stories)

            I’ve decided to dedicate this blog post to stories.  Most will be from a few weeks ago, thus ones that have been memorable enough to last a few weeks in my overworked mind (which I am very proud of).  Here goes.

-Let’s start with a quick one.  January 8th.  I had flown out from San Francisco early that morning and was now anxiously sensing the end of my layover in D.C.  I remember standing with my giant backpack and pea coat, scanning the people around me and thinking “Some of them must be French!  Real French people!”  (I do that every time I’m in an airport and I pass an international gate.  In my defense, I’ve studied the French language for years in classrooms in America, but the only non-English-speaking country I’ve visited for a reasonable length of time is Mexico.  Imagine my excitement when I discovered that it isn’t all just a giant con designed to waste my developing brain, there really is a country full of people that speak that language!)
            Anyway, I was staring at people and mentally questioning their country of origin when I heard it.  The Marseilles.  Yes, the French national anthem, wafting through the sweet French-breathed air through the co-pilot’s harmonica.  I saw him standing near the door to the plane entrance; he alternated between that one song and Frère Jacque, and then chortled softly to himself.  I suddenly knew this was going to be all right.

-The night I met my host mother is definitely in my mind to stay.  We’d taken a bus from Paris to Rennes, where I’d learned the details on my host family.  We pulled into the university parking lot, and all forty-two of us rolled our massive suitcases (two each) into campus, past the staring French students and into a large foyer.  The host families stood on one side of the giant room and watched us roll up and dump our things on the ground.  Then we stood whispering to each other and guessing which one we would get.  If anyone is familiar with the Orphan Train, that was us.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphan_train)

            My host mother was intimidatingly small (yes, that’s right) and fashionable.  And brusque.  We drove off with little talk and had a few short conversations (in which I sounded like I’d begun learning French a week previously), and she said something about leaving for work for the weekend and a friend who we would visit (who I later realized would be staying with me).  Then we pulled up to a house and were welcomed by a nice-looking middle-aged woman, and I was in the middle of attempting to describe my eating habits (I’ll eat anything, a medium amount) when my mother had the realization.

She had left her scarf at the university.  She ran to the car and searched the seat, ran back inside and collected me, and we were off (frighteningly quickly) to search after I said I understood.  It was a Hermes scarf.  If you don’t get it, Google the phrase.  I had seen Princess Diaries enough to know that if Queen Clarisse used one to tie Mia’s posture into submission, it was probably valuable.  I sat, clenching the door handle slightly.

Anyway, then we didn’t find it, went to the apartment (WOW), where she found it, and approximately two hours later I discovered how quirky my family is and it was all good.  For proof of this, I will just say that the bathroom is my favorite room here (STOP judging me!  Now!)  and that I hope to post pictures of it later.

-Then there was tonight after orchestra. I take a bus with the orchestra-lent cello (being dramatically less expensive than my Stradivarius-poser), so I was just getting off with the clunky case when two girls with half-empty beer bottles ran up and asked me a question.  Generally I’ve found it’s a good idea not to let people who’ve had a questionable amount to drink know that I’m a foreigner, so when they asked me if I played the cello I said “Oui” really quickly and mhmmed for a minute while one girl told me she’s been wanting to start playing and asked about prices.  Of course there came a point where I had to open my mouth, and they immediately began guessing my nationality, going from German to Danish to other countries I didn’t know the French names of.  Finally they gave up and I told them, and after a couple minutes of language-learning conversation, one girl told me in faltering English, “But you really don’t have a strong accent.”  They went into the Irish pub near my apartment, and I waited until I got into the stairwell before questioning what had just happened and rejoicing in this unusual compliment.  I’m still grinning about it now.

In other news, I’ve been booking planes, trains, and hostels for my week of February break with a couple friends.  I think it’ll be really exciting when I calm down from the total cost tally (even though we’ve been VERY dedicated to keeping it economical).  Barcelona, Rome, and Florence, I’m coming!!!

30 January 2011


Tonight my host brother and his girlfriend came over for dinner, and the five of us had a three-hour raclette dinner.  It was amazing.  They warned me beforehand that it's a dish eaten a lot in the mountain regions, and that it's very heavy.

As we had visitors, the meal began with an aperitif and pistachios.  I had extremely tangy passionfruit juice.  After 20 minutes spent chatting in the living room, we moved to the table and the fun began.

Raclette is beautifully described in this article if you're really curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raclette
But basically, you take a large slice of cheese (I forget what kind^) and put it in a big spoon/little shovel on a hot table apparatus, and while you wait for it to melt you fill up your plate with potato, red cabbage, French pickles, onion, thin slices of Italian cured beef, etc.  Then you pull the spovel out of the small hot table and pour it over your concoction.  While you eat this mountain of steaming cheesy goodness, you put another slice of cheese on the spovel and repeat the process.  It's pretty darn good.

Of course, after that came dessert (thin cookie crisps and oranges with a cinnamon sauce, a Moroccan recipe), and after dessert came a tisane (herbal tea) and chocolates.  Needless to say, it was an amazing evening, made even better by my new cello (Stradivarius-modeled 150-yr-old), the new cookies I bought (not good timing, but tasty!), and the Edith Piaf CD I discovered yesterday.  Her song "Non, je ne regrette rien" is featured in Inception, which is where I first heard her, but now I relentlessly play the CD to the point where my host family finds themselves singing Edith Piaf as they walk through the apartment.  I love Saturdays.

28 January 2011

Chocolat Chaud

It is Friday afternoon, I don't have any class today, and I went to a movie last night and then slept in until 10:15.  Life is beautiful.  At the same time, I finally went running this morning, and despite my layers and gloves I was pretty chilled by the end.  Result:  I'm camping out in my room, catching up on travel journals and blogging.  I ventured out for lunch at a chain bakery (shameful, but the only one with tables where you can bring a book and eat slowly), and I'll be picking up my rental cello with my host mother in an hour.  That's right, I found a cello!  It's over 150 years old and the shop owner doesn't usually rent it out, but that's all he's got left.  This is perfect timing because I had an audition for the Rennes community orchestra on Monday night, and I got in!!!  (Despite forgetting to bring any music and playing the instrument for the first time in a month.  Phew.)

In other news, all of the American students have pretty much settled in, which means we're starting to miss things from home.  Peanut butter, I didn't bring you because I thought you weren't important.  I hope I find you here soon.  Also, I'm definitely hoping to eat at a pizzeria soon (they're everywhere).  I bought popcorn kernels on Tuesday and made some on the stove for the first time.  (My host mother thinks I'm a typical American because of the popcorn and the large amounts of bread that I can eat.)   I also found a "café-bar"that has about twenty kinds of chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), as well as chocolate chip cookies.  I'm pretty sure that all the Americans go there, but that doesn't stop me!  Overall, of course, I'm still loving the food!  Bakeries are the best.

Exciting news:  Classes started yesterday!  Apart from the fact that it's nice to finally have my class schedule (for the most part) and not be waiting for more changes, the program is looking really interesting.  Okay, I'm not really talking about the classes, although they do look interesting; I'm talking about the people in the program.

Let me see if I can make this simple.  I'm here in France with CIEE, with other American students from universities around the country.  Our program is the biggest of ten (totally guessing) international programs that all tie together with the program CIREFE at the Univerité Rennes II.  We have the option of taking classes at the university itself, but the majority of classes are taught by CIREFE professors to the hodgepodge of international students who all speak some French.  This is really really interesting.  So far I've met students my age from Brazil, Argentina, Albania, China, and Japan.  That's only with one day of orientation and one day of class, so I'm excited to see who I meet next!

I should probably also mention that during my week-long winter break, I'm going to cities in Spain and Italy with two friends from the program.  Tickets will be bought ASAP, and then I can tell you what cities.

Lastly, a little language update:  It's getting easier.  There are ups and downs, of course, like when I saw my newly-made friend from Argentina in the cafeteria line, and no matter how many times he repeated himself I had NO idea what he was talking about.  But the ups are more frequent, like last night, when I talked to my host mom Beatrice while she cooked dinner and we ate, and I realized that I'm forming phrases more quickly than a few weeks ago.  And then when I went to see a movie (a French film called "La Chance de ma Vie", a mediocre chick flick), and I followed what was going on for the most part.  Even better, things that used to be tiring and frustrating like keeping my Facebook set in French, reading a French translation of an Agatha Christie book I've already read, or leaving French websites that I visit in their actual language...  I don't notice it very much anymore!!!

Prayer requests:  Encouragement and energy to take advantage of my time here
Honestly, God is taking such good care of me.  He's provided friends, family, church, adventures, working internet...  What a loving Savior I serve!

23 January 2011

Now read it aloud!

Let me teach you a useful phrase.  It’s probably not what the cool kids are saying, (as in, the real French urban teens), but it’s pretty popular in French classrooms throughout America.  Take a deep breath, snap or swing your arm nonchalantly or something, and say it with me:  “Zut, alors!”  (zoot, Al-ore)  Rough translation:  Well, shucky-darn!  (No, really.  A squeaky clean phrase.)

It’s come in very handy today.  Firstly:
When I got to a new church this morning (on time) the entire congregation was late.  A greeter let us in and led us upstairs, paused, and said, "Um... Tous le monde n'est pas encore arrivé..."  Then the five (literally) people who were there gave us bises, and I haven't felt that awkward in a while.  And that's saying something, living here.  I was so glad I came with a friend!  Don’t get me wrong, they were all amazingly nice!

Another good example of prime usage time:
I like snacks.  And the wonderful thing about snacks is their texture.  I’m not one of those people who can have an ice cube or a yogurt or juice and call it a snack.  In fact, I’m kind of in awe of those people and hope to be one someday, but I probably chose the wrong country to be living in then.  Zut, alors!  (Very good.)  Anyway, I like bread or pretzels or cookies or something not nutritionally a good idea that might not even taste that good, but you can chew it and feel sustained.  The family tends to have bread on a cutting board in the kitchen, which takes care of that, but lately the bread availability has been a little low.  Today I get back from church to see my host parents taking their grandbaby for a walk, and what do I do?  I scurry to the kitchen (remember there was a dinner party last night) and find four (four!) loaves of different kinds of bread.  Anyway, throw into the mix that they didn’t get back for a while and that we ate lunch at 2:00 and dinner at 8:15, and you’ll get… one repentant bread-eater.  There must be a French word for that.

It’s bedtime!  (Oops, that was 30 minutes ago.)  I’m in the bathroom washing my hands (salle de bain, translated "room of bath" because the toilet’s almost always in a separate room "toilette") when suddenly the lights go out!  Say it on your own now!  I literally did say it aloud this time, in the dark bathroom.  Now all is well, however, and you know a new phrase!  (Unless you’re one of those many French students out there. I’ll teach you slang terms for police and boyfriend another day.  Still from a classroom, so still nice and clean.)

22 January 2011

Bon appetit!

It's been two weeks now!  I'm settling into the customs and the language a bit more, although I still speak way too much English, but I've noticed something.  Today we took a walking tour of the city of Rennes, and a guide brought my attention back to the ancient buildings and the tucked-away churches.  I'm already taking this place for granted.  I want to wake up every morning with the realization that I'm so blessed to be here, because I'm not here forever!  The language, the FOOD, the cobblestone streets...  What a great place to be, even at 7 in the morning!

I should probably mention that my host family's grandaughter is staying here this weekend.  She's 4 months old.  And really really really cute.  Also the most fashionable baby I've every seen.  When family or close friends get together here (in my classy, haute couture slice of French life), they show each other their new clothes and talk about the designers.  Or artwork.  I just stare at the champagne and wonder how many sips I have to take to be polite.  Tonight I politely bowed out of a dinner party that started at 8, and I can hear them still talking through my door.  It's midnight.  The French and their dinners...

It's time to talk about cultural differences.  You know, like the difference between hugging (American) and giving "bises"or kisses on both cheeks (French), which is very overwhelming for someone with a personal bubble like mine.  Or the difference between "vous voy-ing" and "tu-toi-ing", the more and less formal ways to address someone in the second person.  I still use the more formal "vous" for my family (with frequent slip-ups into informality), while a lot of my friends were told to "tu-toi" their families at the first meeting.

The biggest cultural difference, though?  FOOD.  Oh my goodness, yes.  Where to start?

Breakfast ( le petit dejeuner): Usually small, like coffee and a piece of bread (My host mother bought me cereal, thankfully.)

Lunch (le dejeuner): I've eaten at lots of creperies as well as the Resto-U (school cafeteria), and I can promise you that the restaurants are better.  (Surprise!)  I live in the Brittany region of France, which has a culture that's sometimes very unique from the rest of France, and one of the regional specialties are galettes.  They are sometimes called crepes in other regions, but they use a darker flour and usually include cheese and egg.  Delicieux!  Today we had oysters* and smoked salmon (yum).  
*I've had them in soup as a kid and didn't really like them, but I thought I'd give them another try.  They looked like they came straight out of the sea, and my family informed me that in Brittany you swallow them without chewing.  Okay, I thought, I can handle that.  Funny thing is, when you swallow an oyster without chewing, all you taste is salt water.  Not my favorite food.

Afternoon snack (le gouter): This one is mainly for little kids and the occasional American college student.  This one is my weakness.  I've visited a boulangerie every day after school this week.  My extremely thrifty Michigan college self is shocked!  But it's worth it, even if every day I have to promise myself that I'll start running tomorrow...  I've gone through several "This is my absolute favorite place and I'm going to be a regular!" phases so far.  Also, this one grocery store has massive bars of Swiss chocolate that are okay, I guess...

Dinner (le diner): This depends on the family, but mine is an extreme case: 8:30-9:00, somewhere in there we'll start.  I KNOW.  Hence the gouter.  My host mother serves lots of fish and vegetable dishes, which sounds healthy, right?  They're all amazing, and there are two very good reasons for that.  Butter and cream.  That sentence about running also applies here.  We eat bread (baguettes without butter) with every dinner, and I was introduced to a dessert called "fromage blanc", or "white cheese" the other night.  It tastes like bitter plain yogurt (to me) that you sweeten with jam.  Hm.

In case you are wondering, I have eaten escargots, and they were amazing.  I have not seen frog, rabbit, or deer pate yet, or I think I would have tried them.  I am also developing a large cheese repertoire, but we're still working on that one.

And the best part is, I've only been here for two weeks!

16 January 2011

Am I French yet?

Bonjour tout le monde!  I've been in France for exactly one week now, and it's about time I updated the people in my life about... my life.  One intense, great, jam-packed week, in one (hopefully short) blog post.

First, the progression of my thoughts on speaking French:
Day 1:  Hey, not bad.  I can totally communicate!  Sometimes I might even pass for French!
Day 2:  If by communicate I mean get my point across eventually, sure!
Day 5:  Oh...  Wow.  That thing called grammar?  My brain can't do that as fast as my mouth can talk.
Now:  As long as everyone is patient and I don't panic, it will be okay and hopefully I'll get better.  No promises on becoming fluent.

Basically, every time I open my mouth, I have to stop and make a conscious decision to try using French, which is much harder for me and much messier for other people.  But I'm trying!

Well.  I left the guesthouse on Monday morning, and after a (frankly) horrible metro ride with two huge suitcases, one of which lost a handle during the trip, I met up with the other Americans in the CIEE Rennes program and started orientation.  We stayed in a hostel in Paris until Thursday, explored all the local sights (I finally have a picture of me with the Eiffel Tower), and tried to speak French to each other and the four French students that are our "moniters".  It was great, to summarize a lot, and then we filed into a bus and drove to Rennes.  As is customary in this program, you are placed in a host family after a personal interview with the program staff, which takes a lot of facilitation, so we found out who our families were... on the bus ride to Rennes.  I had about two hours to process my information: Middle-aged couple, lives in a nice apartment "au centre-ville" (downtown), internet, no smoking or pets, husband is gone during the week for work, adult children visit occasionally.

We got off the bus and poured into a room on campus with all of our luggage.  The host families were on the other side of the room, and we all watched each other surreptitiously until they started pairing us off.  The madame who came to get me is small, brusque, and very very fashionable.  I was so nervous that I told her my sister was "fifteen hours" instead of fifteen years old, and that took about a minute to come out of my mouth.  Huh.  She was pretty intimidating for the first two hours, until I realized how quirky she and her husband are.  Now I love them, and I barely know them.  They both have big black glasses, look very French, and are really funny.  As for the apartment...  WOW.  I have a giant, beautiful room, and the whole apartment is... huge, beautiful, and classy.  Hard to explain, but maybe I can put up some surreptitious pictures later.

Anyway, today we went to the fresh-air market (second-biggest in France=HUGE), where I tasted the world's best cheese and saw loafs of bread with a diameter the length of my calf, every kind of seafood imaginable, and tiny skinned lambs.  That last one was pretty sad.  It's the kind of place where I badly want to take pictures but desperately don't want to look like a tourist.  After that, crepes and cider for lunch (slightly alcoholic- I'm proud I tried it), finally buying a cell phone, and exploring.

In the Disney princess movies, the girls always have some special secret place where they go to sing and hide from stepsisters.  I think, largely because of the movies, that I've always looked for those, and today I found the best secret nook.  My apartment's location in downtown Rennes is both great and a little too much city, so I was thrilled to discover a giant park two blocks away.  By park I mean mossy little stone statues, a merry-go-round, rose gardens, and a 30-minute walk.  I'd been having a little bit of the lonely blues (which amazingly haven't really been a problem so far), but this surprise gift from God completely cured it.  How beautiful.  Bed now, church tomorrow, the world on Monday.

09 January 2011

Bonjour, Paris!

I have finally checked in to the guesthouse where I am staying, and I am so ready to crash.  However, so many amazing things have happened already that I have to write this now, or I would sleep away all memory of it.  (If there are typos, French keyboards are SO different from American ones!  You will note the lack of contractions; I cannot find the apostrophe!)

The flights went pretty quickly (and I slept a lot), and I walked out of the airport and into the train terminal around 7:15.  Riding the train in to the City of Lights (it was still dark) was interesting; I got to sit and look out the window, but I had to haul my two rolling suitcases through some challengingly narrow turnstiles.  I arrived in the neighborhood of this guesthouse and spent the next half hour trudging through the suburb dragging my bags and getting weird looks from joggers and early-morning dog-walkers.  Let us just say that the guesthouse looks just like an apartment, and I was picturing a monastery.

There was no one around, so I stashed my bags in a luggage closet and, after hastily digging through my carryon and changing running shoes and sweatshirt for peacoat and flats, I took a long walk, hugging my purse and trying to look as Parisian as possible.  I think I could have succeeded if I did not keep abruptly turning the other direction in an attempt to navigate.  Let us blame the jet lag.

All in all, the people I have run into seem much friendlier than I had pictured them.  Two middle-aged women bonded with me over a confusing turnstile, a little girl on the metro might have told me that she was enchanted to meet me, and tons of people have dogs, which just makes me happy.  I went to Hillsong Paris after the standard wander past, turn, wander back, repeat.  (Unfortunately I am wearing my red coat, so people might start to notice.)  It was great to be around a welcoming, dynamic group of Christians, and not only did I learn some French worship songs, but the (bilingual) sermon was really encouraging.  It was about the future and the plans of God, (the future is not before us, it is within us), which was encouraging to hear as I start this new adventure. 

In short, God is still the same, everything else is different, and I like it that way!  Bed time!!!

Prayer requests:  Energy, peace, and and a smooth transition on the metro tomorrow (more hefting really heavy bags) and into orientation.  Thanks!

01 January 2011


It's been a couple of years since I began to think about studying abroad somewhere, and suddenly I leave in seven days.  It really hasn't hit me yet, that one week from today I'll be landing in Paris and roaming the city for a day before meeting up with my program for orientation.  When I realize that for a moment, inevitably I start jumping up and down.  For the most part, though, I'm slowly accumulating ethernet cables and skirts and advice, and waiting for myself to fully understand that I'm about to move in with a French family for five months.  I heard someone say once that waiting periods are very hard for humans to handle well, and I would have to agree.  It's time that I get on the plane and see for myself what I've been imagining for such a long time.

I found this Tennyson quote years ago, but it's perfect for the coming semester:
"Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life!"