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.    

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Un voyage espagnol?!

Tuesday was a half day from school and was the last day of our month of intense language classes.  (Thank goodness!  The whole 9-5 thing was killing me!)  At 3 on Tuesday, 3 of my friends and I started our journey to Barcelona, Spain.  We started off taking a train into Paris, then the metro to another train that would get us to the airport and then a plane to Barcelona.  We got to Barcelona around 11pm at night.  We stayed in the airport that night because there were no busses or trains or cabs that could cheaply take us to our hotel (which we couldn’t check into until noon anyways) Sleeping in the airport was an adventure in itself.  I think I got a total of 2 hours of sleep the entire time we were there (Unless you wanted to sleep on the floor, you had to take up 3 chairs and lay sideways.  You had to stick your feet through one armrest and spoon the other armrest.  (Super comfy right?!)  Because none of us could really sleep we found an all night cafĂ© in the airport.  In my wonderful Spanish (which is seriously lacking because all I’ve spoken for a month is French) I asked which method of transportation was the best to get to our hotel.  The lady told me nothing….There is nothing tomorrow.  Finally we put together the pieces that there was a strike tomorrow.  Living in France we are totally used to strikes (in France, strikes are relatively quiet and no trains run and fewer busses run).  Spain is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.  We walk outside to get a taxi with a long line of people and out of nowhere this group of at least 25 people with whistles and signs and megaphones block the road and yell at every single taxi that drives by, leaving us there with no way to get to our hotel.  At this point we were a little freaked out but just figured the people yelling were the “scabs” and the taxis were taking their usual jobs.  We walked away from the airport and finally got a taxi.  In a mix between Spanish and motions and reenactments, I told the taxi that he couldn’t get through the group of people and had to turn around to take us to our hotel.  Luckily he understood me.  By the time we got to our hotel, it was only 9am so we started walking towards the nearest McDonalds to sit and get some breakfast.  On the way there we witnessed a group of 30 young kids throwing glass everywhere and then one threw a huge rock at a bus which caused glass to shatter all over us.  (Scariest thing ever)  We enjoyed McDonalds for our first wonderful Spanish meal… (My McBacon sandwich had a salsa sauce on it – totally Spanish right?)   When we could finally check in we all took showers and took a well needed nap!  We went to a Pans and Co restaurant which served Subway like sandwiches and my new favorite – Patatas Bravas.  Patatas Bravas are fried potatoes with mayo and hot sauce on top.  They were amazing!!! 
You’d think after that day I’d want nothing more to do with Spain. 
On Thursday we shopped and we shopped and we shopped and we shopped some more.  I tried on millions of clothes and ended up only buying a few things but really liked them.  For lunch we ate at a restaurant on the same street as all the shopping (Not a good idea). In all we ordered 2 pizzas, 2 paellas, 2 sangrias and 4 waters (no, water is not free in Europe) which came to a grand total of…..80 Euros!!  80 Euros just for lunch!!!!  After a long day of shopping we went back to the hotel and took another nap.  I am a big fan of siestas in Spain.  Then we met up with my friend who is studying abroad in Barcelona for the year who I have known since like 3rd grade.  We ate at an Italian restaurant which was amazing.  Much better than lunch.  Between 4 of us we had 2 pizzas, 2 things of pasta, a thing of garlic bread, a bottle of red wine, a bottle of water and 4 deserts.  Another wonderful price came with dinner…70 Euros!!!  And people in Spain don’t eat until 9 or 10 at night!  My grandparents would go crazy here!
Friday we went and saw Sagrada Famillia which is a huge famous church in Barcelona.  I took pictures but it was so huge that it was hard to get it all in the picture.  You are probably better off Google imaging it to see it.  After that we ate our favorite McDonalds and got some ice cream.  Then we went to Park Guell, which has a lot of architecture by Gaudi.  It also was on the top of what seemed like the steepest hill in the world.  It was hard for my little legs to make it that far as quickly as my tall friends did.  It was very worth it though.  (I will post pictures of this later)  If anyone is an America’s Next top Model fan, there was the finale fashion show here the season that Caridee was in it.  Then we did lots and lots of souvenir shopping.  Gotta get lots of stuff for the family and friends!  Again we took a nap after this and then went to my friend’s apartment and played circle of death.  Fun night and we just relaxed.   And prior to going to my friend’s apartment, I got two pairs of sandals for 10 Euro a piece!  Can’t beat that!
Saturday we had to check out of the hotel by noon and then again ate at our favorite McDonalds.  We saw the Picasso Museum (which I thought was very cool – I am not into art but it was very neat to see all of his work).  Then we shopped a little more, got some ice cream – Nutella flavored! YUM!  Then we saw some cool shaped apartment buildings and went to a fountain which was supposed to have a light show…but it did not.  It was cool to see the fountain though.  At 10:30pm we took the bus to the airport for another adventure in the world of overnights in airports.  I did not sleep one bit, instead I cleaned out my purse, reorganized my suitcase and sang to my friends who were all trying to sleep.  I made it through the flight successfully thanks to 3 xanax.  I don’t remember getting on or off the plane, which in my book is a good thing.  For breakfast in the Paris airport I we enjoyed hamburgers at 5 am.  Probably the earliest I have ever eaten a hamburger.
I am home now (Well my home in France) and it feels amazing to be back in my own bed.  Being both a Spanish and French major I love them both but I am definitely a Frenchie at heart.  I spoke a ton ton of Spanish and feel a whole lot more comfortable with my speaking skills which is good.  I can’t wait to get back to the United States and continue taking Spanish classes.