Ahh, I apologize for not writing for so long…I have been trying to live “la vie française” – meaning staying in the moment and enjoying life as it passes — and this seems to mean completely forgetting my schedule I set for myself to post on the blog! From now on, expect posts to come Mondays recapping the weekend and Thursdays recapping the week. If not, someone call me out! 🙂
So far, the weeks have been flying by. Classes are Monday through Thursday, so I have a really nice schedule and a lot of free time during the week. Last Saturday, a few of us went to Montpellier for the day and walked around the city. We took a Bla Bla Car – which is basically a carpool/hitchhiking/a very long Uber ride for people going to the same place! We picked it up right in Aix, and then it dropped us off right outside Montpellier along the tram track. 6 of us ended up going, and 4 of us took Bla Bla Cars (2 in each car) and the other 2 took trains. It was interesting to try and meet up with everyone once we got there without using our cell phones to communicate! We did cheat a little bit; my roommate Clee and I found wifi at a café once we got there to tell people where the new place was that we should meet. We went to the Botanical Gardens there (the oldest one in France!), a cathedral, an archway, Place de la Comédie, and just spent time walking around and taking the city in. I have noticed that every major city seems to have some sort of archway/Arc de Triomph and a cathedral. The European cities really let their history and age show. It was a little rainy during the day, but we can’t waste a weekend in Europe by just staying inside! We went to Vitrolles this past Friday morning, a small, sleepy town just outside of Provence. The big (and only) attraction in the town is a limestone rock – called le Rocher – that dates back to the 5th century. Standing at 50 km (look at me using the metric system), it was used as a prison, a quarantine for people with leprosy, and protection from enemy attackers. It was cool to see, but just a quick little morning trip!
School: Like I said, classes are going well. I had my first test in Advanced Conversation already, and in the first week handed in two French papers: an analysis of a poem by Maupassant and a reflection of my first few weeks in France. My favorite teacher is Mme Martin – she teaches Advanced Conversation. She is a free-spirited, food-and-wine loving French woman who speaks impeccable English. She studied abroad in the U.S. when she was young, and her son is studying in Indiana for a year now. Last Friday, we went to see a local band that her friend plays in at a live music joint in Aix. It was so much fun – the singer (her friend) is also fluent in English and was born in New Orleans, so we could all sing along to the songs she was singing as well! We went to see another concert of theirs this past Friday night. They’re called the Jukin’ Mamas, and sing a lot of jazzy-New Orleans style music. Going to events with a professor was extremely unusual to me at first, but I kind of like having such a close and open relationship with a professor. She clearly wants us to take in the culture of France and I feel like I am learning just as much with her outside of the classroom as I am inside. This week we went on our second “taste tour” of Aix, too – trying calissons (an almond-marzipan specialty of Aix), Madeleine cookies, nougat, navettes (biscuit cookies in the form of ships), and pastisse (a liquor that tastes like licorice and is also a specialty of Provence).
Internship: I am working for Les Blouses Roses, a nonprofit here that has volunteers spend time with patients and residents of hospitals and nursing homes in France. If you want to read more, here’s some info on them (you may have to translate the page 😉 http://www.lesblousesroses.asso.fr/ )
On Mondays I am at the nursing/retirement home (la maison de retraite) and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I am in the pediatrics wing of the local hospital. I really like both positions for different reasons – the people at the nursing home are so sweet, and we spend time singing French songs and chatting. This is a great opportunity to practice my French – if I think speaking French with people on the street is hard, speaking French with elderly people is even harder! Sometimes I do not understand what they are saying due to their advanced age, but I think they enjoy my smile and nods just as much; they just want someone to talk to. I sang “Jingle Bells” for them last week because they have a song with the same tune in France. I also know some old French singers as I am trying to immerse myself in the France language as much as possible, which includes their music, so I think the volunteers were impressed by my knowledge of older musicians. This was also useful when we went out one night and a French song from the 1990s called “Pour un Flirt” came on – I knew the words and the tune of the song and was able to sing along a little bit. Clee was laughing at me, but I felt very proud of myself for knowing it!!
I take the bus to the retirement home and walk to the hospital (it is about 10 minutes away from my apartment). I had quite the interesting bus ride on Monday – I didn’t realize you have to actually flag down the bus when you want the driver to stop for you…3 busses had passed me before I figured out this trend, and by that time I just decided to walk the mile home! Learning things slowly here!
There are a few things I have found really interesting after observing the French healthcare system – first of all, there is a lot less security or documentation. My first day of the internship they didn’t even ask for my form from the doctor saying I was okay to volunteer, and I didn’t hand it in because the director had left for the day. I didn’t even need to check into the hospital, either, I just walked right up to the pediatric wing. Also, it is much less strict in terms of cleanliness and sterilization. I volunteer with Yididia, one of my new friends here from Vandy. She has volunteered at Vanderbilt children’s hospital for years, and she said that people have to sterilize and wipe down the toys after each time a child plays with them. She also said her training process took months – we didn’t even receive any training here, we were just allowed to start. Sometimes this makes me think that the U.S. is a little too strict on certain things – why would we need specific training to play games with kids?? I understand the concern for cleanliness in the U.S., but it is really interesting to see the differences. I feel like there is also less stress put on privacy in France. One of the volunteers outright told the exact reason why one of our child patients was there and about her mental health, and I was shocked about her being so laid-back about it. Another thing that I find funny is when I walk into the hospital everyday, there are at least 5-6 people smoking outside. Sometimes I even see a patient hooked up to an I.V. who is still smoking a cigarette – French people just love to smoke!
Extracurriculars: As one of my goals is obviously to try and live the French lifestyle, I decided to sign up for sports through one of the local universities, Aix-Marseille University. I figured that if I was going to take chances and try something new there wouldn’t be a better place to do it than in France, so this week I decided to try out….badminton and jazz!! Badminton was always my favorite sport in middle and high school gym class. My old friend Casey and I would always look forward to the badminton unit in gym, and it is fun to be able to play again! On the other hand, jazz is definitely not my thing. We learned 30 seconds of choreography for almost 6 songs in the first class alone, and the girls in front of me knew it perfectly by the end. I, on the other hand, was turning left when I should have been twirling right and had trouble with the rhythm. Needless to say, I solidified the fact that I am quite directionally challenged. It was funny though; all the songs were in English and at one point the teacher asked me what the lyrics were. She didn’t know he was saying “10 times MORE” because it sounded like “10 times MOLE.” I’m glad I was at least a little useful!! Afterwards I immediately texted Sam and told her how jealous I was that she was so naturally good at dancing, and also how I am turning in my dance shoes once again! Hey, at least I tried.
Yesterday morning I tried my first French yoga class – it was a little less strenuous then the ones at home, but I definitely got a good stretch in and was glad to have some time to focus on my breathing and relax. I had to look around quite a bit at the other yogis in the room to make sure I was doing the right thing, and it was definitely a review of French vocabulary for body parts! My favorite – downward facing dog was “chien tête-en-bas,” or dog with head on the ground! Afterwards, I went to a café to have a pain au chocolat and café au lait and read about the French Riviera + Provence and places I want to go…la vie française! Clee is doing her internship with the Aix-Marseille rugby team, so we went to the game she was working at afterwards.
Other stuff!: Today we went to Les Calanques in Cassis – a really cute town in Provence. However, it was raining ALL day and we got soaked during our hike! It was definitely an adventure, but I want to go back eventually so we can enjoy the sun and the beauty there.
Gros bisous !