Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is this really the end?

I am a horrible blogger.  I know.  I only wrote once in November and this is my first post in December.  School happened and visitors happened.  Chris came to visit me for a week over his Thanksgiving break.  It was the best Thanksgiving and we didn’t even celebrate it.  I was sick but oh well, they don’t do all the yummy carb filled noodles, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and many other good things.  Chris and I visited the castle in my town, ate dinner with my host family one night and did very French things.  We tried lots of different food and spent one day in Paris.  We got there at 8 and didn’t leave until 8 that night.  We saw everything that one could possibly see when visiting Paris, just all in a day, and we went inside the Louvre.  Being on top of the Eiffel Tower together was very romantic.  I am very thankful and lucky that he got to visit me.
I had a whole week of school and then my grandparents came to visit for a couple days.  They got to meet my host family as well.  We walked everywhere and I think I wore them out but we had lots of fun.  It was nice being able to show everyone my home away from home and my “family”.  My grandparents had done Paris before so we just stayed in my town. 
It snowed about a centimeter and that made everyone think the world was going to end because I guess my area of France doesn’t do snow.  The rest of the ISU students and I thought this was hilarious because we wouldn’t even consider what they had to be snow.  We still go to class when the snow is up to our knees or higher (and I like it that way!)
The days have been flying by.  It my days aren’t consumed by school then I am home writing papers or speeches or reading getting ready for finals week/week and a half.  From last Wednesday to next Friday, I have 4 speeches (which add up to an hour and ten minutes) and 7 tests.  I miss having 4 or 5 tests and being done.  I want to enjoy my last couple days here but school consumes about every minute of free time I have.  Until I get an urge to shop…
My urge to shop has been helpful because I am getting most of my Christmas shopping done, since I will only have 7 days to finish it when I get home.  I love giving gifts much more than I do receiving gifts (not that I don’t like to receive gifts).  I like the feeling of watching someone opening their presents and getting excited about what they received.  I love the look on their face.  Hopefully everyone will love their gifts from France. 
My host family put up their Christmas tree last week.  It’s a real tree and the first real tree I have ever had.  It looks kinda scrawny and naked to me because I am used to a big fake tree but it is very pretty.  There is also a Christmas market in the center of town.  All vendors selling things they made.  It is very neat and a great place to buy gifts.  What’s better than something handmade from someone in France?
I’ll write one more post before I leave but today is my last Saturday here living in Angers, France.  I have a wonderful roommate, Becky, who I will miss very much.  We only live about 6 hours away from each other in the United States but it will be very weird not seeing her every day and doing homework together.  We’re a good match and have a lot of fun together.  In a week I won’t be able to walk down the hall to her room and rant about school or home or life here or split a bottle of wine at night.  She’s a wonderful person and I’m very lucky to have had the chance to be her roommate.
I will miss the little things about living here.  I’ll miss the bakeries, the lightheartedness of French teachers and how every single day is a new adventure of learning the language and culture.  I am having the same feelings that I had right before I left to come here.  I absolutely love my town here and the size of it.  It’s exactly what you picture when you think of a French town.  I’ll miss all my friends that I have made here.  I’ve made really good friends from all over the world and they are all amazing and different.  But on the other hand, I’m excited to go home and see my real family and my friends from home, I’m excited to drive (sounds silly right) and to eat food that I know the ingredients.  Everything is a bitter sweet about leaving.  
I can’t believe that I will be home in a week.  It doesn’t seem real.  It feels like just yesterday I got to my host house and had a meltdown because I knew no one and was all alone.  Now that’s the last thing I am feeling.  There is lots of love in my program. (I love all you CIDEF students J). I am very lucky and thankful that I had this opportunity. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bitter Sweet

Lots to update since my last post.  I did not go to Brussels when I said I was going to.  It sounded fun but not 300 Euros just to get there fun so I changed my mind.  I did go to Porto, Portugal though with 4 other girls.  Getting there was quite an adventure.  Me and one other girl had to take a later train into Paris because we had a job interview.  We took the train and then had to sprint to the metro, ride 5 stops, sprint and switch metros, ride 8 more stops, get off and spring to the bus that was going to take us to the airport.  We had to look crazy to everyone else there because I have never seen anyone else run like we did in the metro.  We made it to the bus with no time to spare.  He was starting to pull away right as we ran up there.  Thankfully we made it on time and safe to Portugal.   We stayed in a hostel (which was my first time) but it was wonderful.  We had our own room and there was a kitchen and living room and dining room and the workers were very helpful.  We went on a four hour walking tour which seemed like it was all uphill but was amazing.  We saw so much and our guide was very helpful.  (After the crazy running we did on Friday and then the tour on Saturday, my legs were sore - And I walk everywhere now - so it was a little crazy that my legs were sore)  We also ate this amazing sandwich (which is a specialty of the town we stayed in).  It was two thick slices of bread, ham, hamburger patties, sausage, and cheese all grilled together and then topped with a fried egg and spicy beer sauce.  It was delicious and huge.  (I’ll post a picture later)  We got home Monday afternoon after sleeping in the airport and had to go straight to class (after wearing clothes for over 36 hours), I’m sure we all smelled and looked wonderful. 
I had school Monday and Tuesday and then was supposed to on Wednesday but didn’t go but with a good reason.  I was going to pick up my mom, step-dad and sister.  I needed to see them.  We joked and laughed and did all the silly things we usually do when we are together that I haven't had a chance to do in a long time.  I laughed more than I have in a long time.  We spent two days in my town and saw the castle in my town and shopped a little bit and ate lots and lots of bread and pastries and ham and butter sandwiches.  I pretty much live in the land of ham, butter and cheese.  We went to the mall too.  Then we spent two days in Paris.  We visited the outside of all the major sights and went inside the Catacombs which were really neat to see.  I loved having them here but it was kind of a bitter sweet.  I was excited to finally hug someone since I left home and show them my home here but saying goodbye was really really hard.  I’m a big baby right now who needs her mom.  Aren’t we all?
33 days left.  That’s it.  It has absolutely flown by.  I love it here but don’t think I could stay here for a whole year.  Chris comes in 6 days and my grandparents come the 2nd of December for a couple days.  For Thanksgiving there are rumors that my school serves Thanksgiving dinner which will be nice but again will be a bitter sweet because Thanksgiving is meant to be spent with family – but the other kids here have become my family away from home. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What happened to all my Tootsie Rolls?

Add another country to my list.  I am leaving for Brussels, Belgium on Saturday, October 30th for two days to eat waffles and French fries (the French fry was started in Belgium), oh and of course look at museums.  I am going with two other girls for two days and then will be back to reality Monday evening.  The week after I get back from Brussels is mid-term week here and I have about 900 tests and speeches and homework assignments due that week. All the homework is making me eat an insane amount of Nutella and tootsie rolls.  I look down at my desk after 30 minutes of studying and think to myself – Where the heck did all these wrappers come from and who ate all my tootsie rolls?  After the week of the hell that is tests and speeches I am off to Porto, Portugal for the weekend with 5 other girls.  After the trip to Portugal that will put my European country count to 4 – Hopefully more when my grandparents come! (Love you grandma and grandpa!)
I have to give a speech in my “homeroom” class in the next couple weeks about something that is special about where I live.  We have to be able to make our speech interactive too.  I was thinking about doing Chicago style pizza and making a pizza and bringing it into class.  I’m not sure though.  I know I’m not from Chicago but its close enough.  So if anyone has any better ideas let me know.  My speech has to be around 15 minutes.
Speaking of Chicago, I am told almost every day that I have a very thick Chicago accent.  There are around 5 or 6 students here from Illinois and I live the farthest away from Chicago but supposedly have the thickest accent. All my friends and family from Illinois – say to yourself Chicago, socks, Alaska.  Most people here, no matter what nationality here say “Chi-cog-o.” and we actually pronounce the “A” in the word.  You probably have one too and don’t know it.  I’ll test you all when I come home.  It’s the craziest thing to be told that you have a thick accent and never notice it. 
Countdown: 2 days until Brussels
                     8 days until Portugal
                    13 days until Mom, Bill and Kels get here
                    23 days until Chris gets here

Saturday, October 23, 2010

L'automne (That's Fall in French)

Halloween in France is not near as big of a deal as it is in the United States unfortunately.  I’m not a huge fan of the dressing up in a skanky barely there costume but I love carving pumpkins, seeing all the trick or treaters and decorating the house.  I just love the feeling an smell of fall at home.  Not that it doesn’t smell like fall here, but it’s not quite the same.  Today we carved pumpkins at a bar where the bartender is American.  She had pumpkins for the group and we all sat and watched a rugby match (the equivalent of football in the US.  I think the game of rugby has no rules.  It’s crazy.  In the match we watched, I saw people throw people, put people on their shoulders, throw the ball, roll the ball, kick the ball, and carry the ball.  I don’t know what you can’t do in rugby.)  The pumpkins at the bar were like the pie pumpkins we have at home.  When I think of carving a pumpkin, I think of a Sam’s Club size pumpkin on steroids, but sadly they don’t have those here.  My roommate, her two friends and I “dressed up in costumes” like the invitation said. I was a peacock, my roommate was a devil, and her two friends were a bunny and a cat.  I woke a green sweater, a feather headband with other feathers in my hair, huge colorful earrings and some pretty intense eye makeup (which I was quite proud of since I just learned to wear makeup.)  On the way to the bar we got honked at 4 times within at 6 block walk because people here don’t dress up for Halloween.  I’m glad I got a little taste of what Halloween is like at home.  My mom isn’t putting up any decorations this year since I’m not home which is really sad.  CELEBRATE WITHOUT ME!  IT’S OK!!! 
Tomorrow I am eating dinner with another French family.  Our school set up a program for students who wanted to meet other French families around the area.  I have my first meeting with mine tomorrow.  They are picking me up around 6.  They have 4 kids which are all under the age of 16 which is exciting.  (My host family has kids but they are all older than me.  Now I will get to see what French kids are like)
School is pretty intense with homework right now but that’s ok.  That means I’m learning.  (I’m a geek and like to learn)  Sometimes when I skype with my family I have a hard time thinking of the words in English. 
Friday I fulfilled all my addictions.  After school I ate some nutella and took a nap and then went to H and M and got 5 new sweaters and 8 new things for my hair.  As long as I know I have a problem then I think it’s okay, right?  And clothes are an essential!
12 days until Portugal!
17 days until my mom, Bill and Kels are here!
27 days until Chris is here!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Exciting things to come!

I am doing better from my last post.  The feeling of homesickness has faded for a while. (Not that I don’t still miss home and the people there)  Last week was my first real week of school here that I get a grade for.  I love all my classes and my teachers.  All my teachers are really passionate about the subject that they teach.  My schedule is good for the most part.  Two days a week I have class until 7 pm but I have time during the day to nap (very important).  Doesn’t get much better than that, right?  We started reading a book in my language class and I completely understand it all.  I was so excited.  I think that’s a sign that I’m getting better.  My hardest class is phonetics. (How you move your mouth to form each sound)   There’s not a lot of homework in any of my classes but class never lets out early like it does at home. 
I booked a weekend trip to Portugal with 3 other girls.  There all really fun and I am excited to see another country.  It will be my first time staying in a hostel but the reviews and pictures looked really good.  Even if it is only for a weekend I can’t wait to experience a different culture. 
I got a job teaching English conversation classes at a high school for an hour or two a week.  It pays 12 euro an hour!  AMAZING!  I think I’m more excited for the experience than for the money (not that the money won’t come in handy – yay extra shopping money)
I experienced my first French strike.  There had been plenty since I’d gotten here but this was the first big one that I saw.  It was not a strike at all!  At least it didn’t look like one.  It looked like a giant parade.  People were handing out balloons and singing and some had their face painted.  There was a giant car that had speakers on top playing techno music.  This was like a celebration instead of a hostile strike.  It was neat to see. 
I shouldn’t be allowed to have a debit card or money in Europe.  I went to find a winter coat this weekend and also returned home with a sweater, tights, 2 belts, gloves and a scarf.  Someone should seriously hang on to my money until I really need it for a legit reason (although I think shopping is a good reason). 
Countdown:  19 days until Portugal!
                     23 days until my mom, step-dad and sister get here!
                     33 days until Chris gets here!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In need of some chicken salad

Today is the real first day that homesickness has hit me.  Everyone in the foreign exchange program told me that this time would come. Up until now, I have been in the “vacation” stage.  Life has just felt like an extended vacation.  But not anymore.  Today it feels like everything here sucks.  It doesn’t really and I like it here 95 percent of the time but today it is really hitting me hard.  I mainly miss my family and all the comforts of being home but it’s the little things too.  Today is my sister’s 18th birthday and this is the first time I haven’t been home for anyone in my family’s birthday.  Right before I left my sister and I were the closest that we had been in a while and it makes me sad that I can’t be there for her birthday, especially for this big of a birthday.  I know we will celebrate her birthday properly when she comes here (the drinking age here is 18) but birthdays are a big deal in my family. 
I miss running errands with my mom, I miss driving (anywhere), I miss laughing at the silliest things with my sister,  I miss my friends at home, I miss dinners with my dad,  I miss my step-dad’s stories that I hear a million times, I miss absolutely everything about my boyfriend.  I know my family and boyfriend will be here in about a month but this next month is going to seem like a lifetime. 
I know that I am pretty much in the culinary capital of Europe and all and I should be eating and trying all the new things I can but I can’t help but miss food from home.  I think I would trade an arm and a leg for a taco bell meal.  It’s not just fast food either.  I am so sad that I will miss Thanksgiving.  It’s one of my favorite holidays – what’s better than great food with people you love.  Luckily I won’t have to spend Thanksgiving alone.  Chris will be here to visit me.  I think I miss homecooking (American style) the most, I need some of mama’s meat loaf and chicken salad (I know, I know, most people think those are the two grossest foods ever).  My mom always says that whenever anyone is having a bad day or needs cheered up or the day just isn’t going right that chicken salad will solve everything.  I am definetly in need of some chicken salad today.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Feels a little more like home

I think a vacation is what I needed to make this place feel a little more like home.  Being away from my host home and being in Spain for 5 days made me realize how much I actually missed my host home and family. (But not near as much as I miss my real family and friends.)
 Monday was our first day back from break.  We were grouped by how we did during September in our month of intensive language class.  I was put in the highest group you could be placed in.  Then all the kids in my group (about 60 of us) had to take another test to divide us up even more.  The test was reading and answers questions and then there was another part where we had to write an essay.  I am very confident in my writing skills but I am not a very good reader in foreign languages.  After I got out of the test I felt HORRIBLE about the reading part.  I pictured them posting the results and I would get bumped down to beginner because of how bad I did.  Like the director of the program was going to send me a note telling me to just quit studying French now.  But no, thankfully out of the 5 possible levels to place in, I got placed in the second highest class – exactly where I wanted to be.  The students in the highest level have to write a 30 page research paper by December.  I have a wonderful teacher and I like my class.  All this week is a week of trying out classes and figuring out your schedule.  There are about 20 classes we can choose from and then we can go to them and see if we like them and if we do then we keep going, if not then we don’t go anymore.  I think they need to make this in the United States.  This is the best thing ever. 
My mom, step-dad and sister will be here in 35 days, my wonderful boyfriend will be here in 45 days and my grandparents will be here in about a month and a half too.  (Not like I’m counting any of those days down or anything).  I can’t wait for all of them to get here so I can show them my home away from home and just hug family.  I just want to hug my own family.  Coming from a rather affectionate family and then being completely on my own is a little difficult.  But I am getting used to it.  I have only been here a month and would suggest studying abroad to anyone and everyone.  It is the most hard, scary, crazy, terrifying, frustrating, fun, and exciting growing up experience that I have ever done and probably will ever do.  You think college makes you grow up…No way.  We’re all still babies in a disguise of an “adult” body.  We all still call our parents when things don’t go our way, don’t go to class and make excuses about everything.  It’s a whole new world here.