30 March 2010

And it's still the greatest...the greatest.

500 points if you can name that song.
Because, if you can, you will know what we were listening to during the moment of this photograph. I think it's my favorite I've taken in France. Wine bottle microphone (empty and shared by all), laughter, dancing, good music...no complaints :)

23 March 2010

Lilikim, meet Martin

"I think they're the names someone wants to name their children."
"No. I think Lili and Kim are a couple and their adoptive child is named Martin. That's definitely what it is."
That is the discussion Cari, Chantelle, and I have been having this semester about the origins of the username and password for the wireless connection we use here (no one knows how all the students found out about lilikim and martin; but truly everyone knows and uses their internet, whoever they are).
In the park yesterday, Chantelle and I met a little boy, whom we have now and forever named Martin. Chantelle is Kim and I am Lili, put us together and we make a beautiful family.
"Martin" played with us for a solid half hour, if not longer, and kept us wildly entertained with his love for "des canards" (the ducks), "des oiseaux" (birds), and a bottle of Sprite some kids shook up then exploded nearby. So far, he's my favorite French boy I've met, and definitely the most outgoing. Then again...it's hard to compete with a four-year-old for my attention; small children will win almost every time :)

21 March 2010

It's finally being springy

The weather this week has been nothing short of joyful. I haven't worn a coat, or even anything more than a light sweater, at all, much to the surprise of some of the wool-coated French people. For me, the idea of wearing warmth devices when it's already 64 degrees out seems a little crazy.
The weather has done what good weather always does, which is put everyone in a good mood. Everywhere I go, people are smiling, laughing, basking in the sunlight. Life is good.
I didn't have class on Tuesday, just work, which meant I spent all of Monday and Tuesday doing absolutely nothing and loving it. I had some homework to catch up on from missing class for Italy, but it was nothing major and easily finished.
Wednesday was St. Patrick's Day, and many of my friends spent the whole day painting faces, drinking beer, and playing the tin whistle in the park, but I had class and then I was sleepy, so I did nothing to celebrate the joyous occasion. Oh well, there's always next year :)
Thursday was just a normal Thursday and Friday I was supposed to go to Paris to meet Holly, my friend who I saw last weekend in Italy, and some of her fellow Benedictine study abroad-ers, but I realized Thursday evening that I had clicked the wrong option for my train tickets and that I wouldn't be able to pick them up at the station because I paid with an American debit card (you can buy them with American cards, but in order to be able to pick them up at a kiosk at the train station you have to have paid with a European chip card--I usually just have mine mailed to me in order to avoid that problem, but this time I accidentally did not.) Since it's significantly more expensive to buy a ticket to Paris the day of departure, it just didn't make sense for me to buy a new ticket just to spend one day in Paris, so I had to miss out on their company. I was sad to miss them, but glad I was able to get a refund on my train tickets, and I think they still had a marvelous time without me :)
Friday night I saw a Polish film called Tatarak; it was in Polish with French subtitles and it was very interesting. I liked it.
Saturday afternoon, Chantelle, Cari, and I wandered a bit and came across a little bar with a great band playing outside...they were great performers and people were dancing and clapping and loving every minute of their performance...it was excellent.

[my ginormous window, where i like to sit and absorb beautiful weather while also getting productive things like homework done]

[my "balcony"...more like a footrest, i think]

[annnndddd...what i see from said window]

14 March 2010

Defining What's Important.

Last night, I watched the Jayhawks beat K-State (for the third time in a row) live, on a TV situated next to a hotel room window overlooking Paris in all her majesty, including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. It was magical. It was expensive. But, it happened, and I have called it good.

Those two hours in the hotel are a good ending to a great weekend, a weekend I can't hope to encompass in just one little blog post. Here, however, are the highlights.

-Woke up at 5:15 so I could get to my 6:01 train. Realized when I was almost to the station (and also almost late) that I forgot my 12-25 card in my hotel room, which meant I was going to have to pay extra money on the train (the 12-25 card is a discount card for young people, but you have to show the card on the train or else they make you pay full price.) Went to see when the next train left only to have the man inform me that my train left at 10:26 and was looking at the wrong ticket. Smooth.
-Uneventful train rides to Paris then to Beauvais (with time to wander in both cities, which was fun) followed by an uneventful plane ride to Pisa [Well. My favorite pen exploded all over my hand. So that's eventful, perhaps.] Bus to Firenze (Florence), taxi to hotel and then....
-AMANDA!!!! This technically belongs on Friday, since I got to the hotel around 1am, but it was the ultimate culmination of Thursday's activities, so it's going to stay with Thursday. [Amanda is one of my dear friends from back home and she and two of her friends were in Florence at the same time, so I stayed in their hotel with them.]

-Woken up at 7:30 by a phone call from HOLLY [another friend from home who is studying in Florence this semester--she's the reason I went to Florence] asking Amanda if I was okay and if I ever made it the hotel. She never received my texts telling her I was safe and sound and thus stayed up all night worrying (sound familiar, Angiebob??) She even facebooked one of our mutual friends back home to see if she had any ideas (because it's always a good idea to contact people on other continents, not the same country, when looking for a lost traveler ha). However, I was alive and in the bed next to Amanda, so all was well.
-Wandered Florence, made the trek up to Settingnano, where Benedictine College has it's Florence campus, and saw MARTEL!!!!! [Martel was supposed to be in Austria this weekend but gloriously missed her train and thus was home to love Amanda and I.]
-Watched Paulo make cool paper, after meeting "Ohio," a hilariously outgoing girl from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania who struck up a conversation with us in the paper store by saying "So what state are y'all from?" With absolutely no preliminary pleasantries. She was hysterical and definitely a highlight of the trip.
(awesome paper Paulo made)

-Ate at Il Latini, a fantastic Italian restaurant with no menus, just options, for each course. Wine came with the dinner and we were expecting that to be all, but then when dessert came around our table magically filled will three other delicious beverages per person, causing us all to just stare at our food/drink, then each other, then back at the table for a couple minutes while trying to figure out what to try first.
(Amanda, Kevin, Isabel and I at Il Latini)

(overwhelming abundance of deliciousness that was our dessert)

-Hung out with Holly all day...we started out by going to Il Duomo, where I decided to try to go to confession. First priest I went to: only spoke Italian. However, he pointed me in the direction of another priest, who supposedly spoke English. I never found out if he really did, though, because the woman in front of me took OVER 45 MINUTES for her confession. After waiting 45 minutes with no signs of her stopping, Holly and I finally had to leave, because I really needed to go the the bathroom.
(Holly and I at the Piaza di Michelangelo, which overlooks all of Florence)

-Hopped on the train back to Pisa then my plane back to Beauvais. I had planned to get the last train back to Clermont-Ferrand, but we landed too late for me to make it, so I had two options: sleep in the train station, or find a hotel room. I'm usually down for sleeping in public places, but for some reason I was highly uncomfortable with the thought of sleeping by myself in Paris in a train station all night (it was only around 10:30pm and the next train didn't leave until 9:00am). So I decided that I would just go into the closet hotel to Porte Maillot, the bus stop for the shuttle between Beauvais airport and Paris itself, and ask for a room for the night. That hotel happened to be the Hotel Concorde la Fayette...one of the largest hotels in Paris, located just next to the Champs-Elysees. Read: 165 euro for one night. However, I was in no mood to wander Paris trying to find a cheaper hotel, and since it was already night, there were few easy options to find out where to go. So, in the Concorde I stayed, and in the Concorde I watched the Jayhawks and tried not to think about how little food, cell phone credit, and postage stamps I will be purchasing in the next three months so I can afford that one night of safe sleep in a warm bed.

(my $200+ view)

-Skillfully navigated the Paris metro system, hopped on the train, and came home. [Funny story about the metro: while waiting for the first RER to pull in to the station, an Asian couple came up and asked me in English where the line went and if it would take them to their stop. I told them it wouldn't take them to their stop and showed them the screens that list all the stops for the incoming RER. After they walked away, a French man walked over to me and said "Excusez-moi mademoiselle, vous parlez bien anglais" (Excuse me, miss, you speak very good English.) I just looked at him and said "Oui." There really wasn't much for him to say after that.]

Moral of the story: I actually saw virtually nothing of Florence. I didn't even bother seeing the leaning tower in Pisa. I saw my friends, loved my friends, made new friends. I saw my Jayhawks while seeing the Eiffel Tower. I didn't get hurt, robbed, or abducted. I laughed so hard I cried multiple times. I stared in awe at beautiful things. And that, I remembered, is what's important.

08 March 2010

Odds and Ends

Or, as my Irish friends would call it, "bits and bobs."

Not much has gone on over the weekend or even last week, just getting settled into finally having a schedule. My new daily schedule is either brutal or very easy, with hardly any in between.

Monday: no class, no work, completely free
Tuesday: work then class, with no breaks in between, from 8h15 to 14h45 (the French way of writing time...8:15am-2:45pm)
Wednesday: Class from 8h45 to 11h15 and again from 13h45 to 16h15
Thursday: Class, work, class, no breaks in between, from 8h15 to 16h45 (ugh, miserable, I plan on being very hungry by the end of the day)
Friday: class from 8h45 to 11h15

For those of you who might say that having a day full from 8-5 isn't all that miserable...you're probably right. Actually, you are right. However, I truly don't have any breaks for eating or relaxing my brain, so, at least at this point, it's a pretty long day for me.

Another interresting scholastic challenge I'm currently dealing with is that of finals...when I left home, I was under the impression that finals would be at the end of may, that my classes "run on the normal academic calendar." Well, we have the same breaks as everyone else, however, finals don't end until the 26th of JUNE. That's a pretty huge problem for me because, since I thought I would be finished by the beginning of June, I made arrangements to volunteer in Lyon with the Salesian nuns there for the whole month of June, then go with them to the town of Lille until July 18th. So, my current options are to cancel my volunteering in June or to take my finals early. I'm working on being able to take them early; since each class only meets once a week I would only be missing three class sessions for each course, and I feel confident that if I worked hard in May I could pass all my exams. (One helpful aspect of that theory is that European GPAs don't transfer back to K-State, just the credit, so as long as I pass my exams, I will get full credit for the semester.)

I would really like to be able to volunteer in June, I think I would improve my French maybe more than I would by finishing my classes since here in Clermont I have a lot of English-speaking friends, so I'm not forced to use my French all the time. In Lyon, I would speak only French, which can't help but be beneficial. So. We'll see how that works out, I should know by the end of the week if they'll allow me to take my exams early.

Other than that, not much has been happening; last week my late night activity was watching the Jayhawks dominate in both their back-to-back rivalry games (well...I didn't actually watch the MU game. But I knew it was happening), which was a lovely sight to behold. This week, my late night activity will be being in Italy with old and new friends, which should be equally excellent.

For now, however, I'm off to cook dinner (curry chicken and rice, mmm), bye!

05 March 2010

The New List.

I've been in France for 36 days...five weeks......four days of classes...three nights in Paris...two "holidays" [if you count my birthday]...one week of classes...and the realization that few things are ever going to get checked off on my list of "Things to do on my European Adventure" at the rate I'm going.

Here's why:

  • 1. Meet a handsome French man and take a tour of his city [I haven't seen many handsome French men yet]
  • 2. See Ireland on St. Patrick's Day [I have school. And I'm going in April]
  • 3. See Rome at Easter [I also have school. And I've heard it's not too fun, due to the massive crowds]
  • 4. Speak fluent French [a possibility, by July or so. A distant possibility, but a possibility.]
  • 5. Spend no more than five days in Paris [I'll reach my 5-day quota on March 21st]
  • 6. Take beautiful pictures [I think I'm succeeding at this one]
  • 7. Talk to little old ladies and learn about their lives [French ladies are slightly unapproachable. But I'm working on it.]
  • 8. Try five new foods I think I'll hate [accomplished that with the nuns in Jouarre, all the foods were basically just plates full of vegetables]
  • 9. Go hiking [do that. Or at least I walk a lot. And once it gets nicer we'll go hiking in the volcanoes outside of town]
  • 10. Swim in the Mediterranean [still a possibility]

So. Here is my newly revised list.
  1. Meet cool French kids while volunteering over the summer
  2. Kiss the Blarney Stone
  3. Get to my mom to decide when and where she's going to visit me
  4. Speak fluent French
  5. Spend no more than five days in Paris
  6. Take beautiful pictures
  7. Talk to more French people
  8. Continue trying new foods
  9. Go hiking
  10. Swim in the Mediterranean
I think I can do it.

04 March 2010

What this is all about...

Today I was going through some papers from K-State, trying to get ready to figure out my schedule for next semester, when I realized two things.
1. I'm doing this blog for a scholarship
2. I've done a terrible job of making it useful for future French studiers abroad.

So. Here are some lessons I've found useful to learn during my time in France:

-Many French people are proud to "show off" their "English skills" to you, as long as you speak French to them first. So, even though I don't understand everything French people say to me, I always try to start conversations in French, even if I know they speak English. It helps me learn and it seems to make things flow more smoothly.
-If you're at Université Blaise Pascal, in Clermont-Ferrand or in Vichy, Sue Davis knows what's up and how to get you what you need. So, if you need something, think you might have difficulty getting it, and don't have any French friends yet...talk to her.
-Any time you want to get something done, carry a photo of yourself, your passport with visa inside it, some sort of proof of European insurance, and a Visa card with you. With all those things, you're almost guaranteed to at least get the process started for whatever it is you want. I say almost, because the French have weird reasons why some things aren't acceptable one day but are perfect the next day. However, most of the time it's good enough to get what you want.
-If you're anywhere in France and need an internet connection, look for the wireless network "NeufWifi" and connect to it. Then when it asks for a name and password, type in "lilikim" for the name and "martin" for the password and POOF, you're connected.
-Don't be afraid to talk to strangers, at least once. After that first time, it's easy to decide whether they're worth another conversation, even if the first one was only 30 seconds long. But, French people are hard to become friends with. So, if you think you have an opportunity, give it a chance. It's not a big deal if they turn out to be non-friend material and if they do, so much the better.
-Ask questions, even if you think you know the answers to them. Sometimes the logical answers aren't the actual ones.
-Buy a 12-25 card...it costs 50€ but you'll earn it back through your savings within 2 train trips. Especially if you don't live in Paris and you plan on going to any other countries, the card saves a lot of money.
-Don't try to pretend you're French. Try to find a balance between learning about the French culture and finding things you especially love about your own. For example, I never realized just how much I enjoy an American house party until I went to a French discotheque. They're very different, not necessarily in tangible or describable ways, just...different. Suffice it to say that Cari and I left our first discotheque after 20 minutes of being there and would be quite content never to go back to one.
-Never fear the words "repetez, s'il vous plait" and "écrivez, s'il vous plait"...they can take you far.
-Keep in mind that, while you live in Europe and it's truly an "everyday lifestyle," it's also a million times more difficult to communicate with people in the event that something goes wrong. So, don't do stupid things that would encourage something to go wrong.
-French bread is delicious. Eat a lot of it.

Is that slightly helpful? I hope it is.

Peace and love.

02 March 2010

The Power of Anastasia

Some random thoughts from the past few days...

As I'm beginning this post, the song "Journey to the Past" from 20th Century Fox's movie "Anastasia" is playing on my computer and I'm having one of those moments when the song from an animated movie suddenly seems impossibly pithy and apropos. The song is about a girl starting on her journey to find her family, her past, and, ultimately, her future. While I already know my family and my past, this "journey" of living in France is, surprisingly, helping me become more connected to both of them than I was before I left home.

Working to find ways to stay in touch with friends and family, dealing with the fact that I can't send a silly text to a friend when I trip or say something embarrassing so they can laugh with me, sharing my life at home with new friends in France and my life in France with old friends at home yet knowing neither group will ever fully understand the experience I describe...it's a fascinating experience.

Over the past few weeks I have received six packages, six cards, and countless emails, Facebook posts, and Facebook/Google/Skype chats that prove to me how very much I am loved. Each package, card, or internet conversation made me laugh, often times awkwardly aloud while alone in my room. Each explanation of the gifts sent made the gift even more precious than they were when I first opened them. Each bite of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, each tiny explosion of flavor provided by American Skittles has been better than ever before due to the love that caused people to spend outrageous amounts of money on postage to get them here. It's been a great birthday.

I'm nearly 20% through my time in France, and I only started classes today. Has my French improved in my month without studies? Maybe. Have I made any astonishing discoveries or "found myself" during all this extra time I've had on my hands? Not really. Am I looking forward to the remaining 80%? Definitely. But, even more, I'm looking forward to the 101%, the day when I come home. However, if someone gave me a plane ticket to go home tomorrow, I wouldn't take it.

Cheese is truly delicious. Cheese, bread, and apples. As much as I loved all three foods before I got to France, I think it's safe to say these are now my three favorite foods. Put them together and it's my favorite breakfast or lunch. Wine, while enjoyable, is better suited to my tastes when it's served in a glass bottle with a cork and paired with comfortable, thought-provoking, amiable conversations than when it comes in a plastic bottle with a twist-off lid. [Notable note: the wine in the plastic bottle was not actually mine. But, I tried some.]