Thursday, October 24, 2013

Coucou!

Tonight was one of those nights I'm going to think of when I look back on my study abroad experience.

Every Monday and Wednesday evening, all of the international students (with the exception of a few) have French language class from 5:30- 7:45. We learned pretty early on that it's a great time to plan get togethers because everyone is starving and ready to relax after those looong couple of hours. Wednesdays have turned into our "international dinner" nights where one "country" prepares a traditional meal from their country. We all walk over to Ioanna and Thomas' after class and sit out on their patio and have wine while the cooking takes place. When we started this, there were 6 or 7 of us. Last week there were 20 and each time it's getting bigger! So far we've had Greek night, Mexican night, Japanese night, and this evening- Belgian night. Every week the food is AMAZING and so different! The Greeks made Souvlaki and authentic Tzatziki.. It was to die for.. For Mexican night, our friend Tito made Enchiladas and another friend, Lucia, brought bean dip from Guatemala! Mmm!

Tonight the Belgium guys made steak and of course, (french) fries. It was insane. So so delicious. The only thing I can't stomach is the mayonnaise with everything. They would slather it on their meat and dip their fries in it! Too much for me! Ketchup for the American, please haha

They didn't have an idea for dessert so I decided to make the Wesson Oil chocolate cake. I'd be lying if I said I didn't do it in part to satisfy my own personal craving haha I have missed my mom's (and Chelsea's!) cooking! And that cake never disappoints. Even when you are forced to make your own butter milk. And corn syrup. What an adventure! But it was so fun, and it turned out so well. Just what I was craving :)

After dinner, a French student who we've become good friends with pulled his guitar out and we all sat and sang, it was wonderful. I was sitting there thinking, I cannot believe I am in France right now with a group of people I met 8 weeks ago and who feel like family! I know I keep using the word surreal, but it is truly surreal!

Tomorrow my friend Kate is getting to Dijon!! I am so excited! First visitor! She's getting here during my last class before the vacation, and then I'm going to the train station to get her!

And then Saturday morning, Kate leaves and Chelsea and Wehan get here!! I don't think I've discussed what we're doing for the break- I'm showing them around Dijon for about a day and a half, and then they're renting a car and road tripping around the South of France! And they're taking me with them!! Hello Annecy, Nice, Cassis, and Aix-en-Provence!!! And then we are going to part ways and I'm going to meet up with my school to go to Venice and Milan!! First time in Italy! It's so unbelievable that you can do so much traveling in one week here!

My next post will have pictures, promise!

Love and miss everyone!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reconnaissant

     "So then as long as thanks is possible- I think this through- as long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible.
      Whenever, meaning- "now"; wherever, meaning- "here."
     The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be- unbelievably- possible! The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now."
                                              - One Thousand Gifts, Anne Voskamp 

When it was finally set in stone that I was moving to France for a year, I immediately began imagining what this year would look like. I envisioned the lady I would be living with and the home she lived in. I envisioned the friends I would make and the exotic places I would visit. I envisioned a year of being whoever I wanted to be, a fresh start. A new me. And it all looked perfect. Like a perfect escape from a not-so-perfect last couple of years. 

It only took 1 day in France to realize how immature my expectations had been. I adore the friends I've made, and I'm genuinely having a great time, but my expectation of arriving in France as someone else- someone better- that could not have been farther from reality. The reality is that, no matter where you go, there is no leaving your sinful heart behind. I'm thousands of miles from home and I'm still struggling with the same sins.. the same feelings of inadequacy, of needing to "do" something to prove my worth..the same feelings of constant worry and stress, always always convincing myself that I am in control of my grades, relationships, etc. Everyday I find myself feeling jealous, angry, envious, doubtful.. I am living in the most beautiful place in the world, and yet all this ugliness in my heart is more present than ever. 

However, as each day passes, I'm feeling more and more that God has intended this year to be one of change for me. Just not in the way I had envisioned. Due to the time difference, and difficulties of having a French phone, I can rarely (rarely!) call my friends or family when I have something to tell them, or merely just want someone to talk to. In these lonely moments (and they are often!), I find myself praying to God. I have prayed more in the last month and a half than I have in the last year. I was so naive to think that I was going to France 100% alone. It's so beautiful, God has been with me every second of my time here. I don't know why it took going all the way to France for me to not only understand, but to feel that he really is there every second of every day, and that he knows me better than anyone. I've heard those words my whole life, and now I finally believe them. And it's so comforting. 

Last February, my sister gave me a devotional called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Despite all the goods things I had heard about it, I didn't start it until this summer. And even then, I would just pick it up every now and then. I brought it with me to France, and have been reading it consistently and by the grace of God, my life is being radically changed. Everyday I write a list of things I'm thankful for. At first it felt trivial, but as the days go by, the act of physically writing down the things God has blessed me with, is bringing joy to the everyday. Everyday I have new things to write down, and everyday I'm realizing thankfulness is crucial in seeing the wonder of God. Not traveling, not visiting every place on my bucket list, and definitely not in some "mountain peak experience." Because in all those things, if there is no thankfulness, there is no joy. It seems ironic that God is bringing all of this to light while I am in "some exotic location."

But I'm thankful he is. And I'm so thankful that his plans are greater than any I could ever imagine.   

Friday, October 11, 2013

Frenchy FRIDAY

Bonsoir à tous!

So I'm currently snuggled up under 3 blankets, wearing sweatpants, a long sleeved shirt, my Northface and a huge scarf! After walking around in 40 degree weather all day, I am chilled to the bone! I'm not ready for winter. It's October! The month of perfect, crisp fall weather. Weather that makes you excited to go outside- not the kind that makes you want to go buy a parka and UGG boots (yep, I said it.). It's shocking the number of French people you see wearing UGG boots actually. Shocking/sickening.. Something like that ;)

So I thought this week I'd talk a little about French stereotypes and how living here has affected my thoughts about French people.

Let's start with the one we've all heard: Personal hygiene is France is lacking. French people don't shower, wear deodorant, or shave. I have definitely not experienced this to an outrageous degree but there are times when I pass someone and get a whiff of something just plain rank. Also, one time I was getting ready to go somewhere with my host and as we were walking out I said, "Oh, I forgot deodorant!" and she said, "Oh, you don't need deodorant, you just took a shower!" Ha! Don't think that's really how it works, or deodorant companies would be hurting. And I haven't noticed any super hairy legs, but then again French people do not wear shorts. Ever. So they could very well have the hairiest legs on the planet, and I'd have no way of knowing.

Then there's the typical Frenchman with his beret, carrying a baguette in one hand and a cigarette in another. This one is 100% accurate. First of all, old men (and women, for that matter) are always dressed extremely well here. It's so cute- I see so many little old ladies walking around in the old school high top Nikes, you know the leather ones. Or in high top Converses. And the old men, always clad in a stylish suit jacket with elbow patches ;) And no doubt with a cigarette in hand.

I've already talked about this a little, but the smoking stereotype could not be more spot on. Everyone smokes. Young, old, men, women. Fleur told me last night that she began smoking when she was 14. 14! Can you imagine!? And they know how unhealthy it is. There are these super graphic pictures on the packs of cigarettes of what smoker's lungs look like, but it doesn't phase them one bit.

And The French Baguette. It doesn't get much more French than that long piece of crispy, golden heaven. When you're out in the city, especially around 5 or 6 in the evening, every other person you pass will have a baguette in their hand, most of the time with the very end pulled off and already eaten, no doubt having bought it for dinner that evening. And it's nearly impossible to find any other type of bread here! Beware- because even the "loaves" are usually just baguettes in the shape of a square haha with that crunchy outside and soft inside. Every other shop you pass, there's a boulangerie selling fresh baguettes. And they do smell heavenly. Tonight on my way home, I passed the boulangerie with my favorite baguettes (they're always warm and soft on the inside, and perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside.. Mmmm) And for 75 cents, you've just bought a foot and a half of pure joy. ;) The way I talk about food is getting startlingly more French every day. They really consider it the greatest joy in life.

The laid back lifestyle is another that I have found to be extremely accurate. Shops close down at literally any given moment. My favorite café, La Chouette, closes sometimes between 4 and 5 if the workers decide they want to go have dinner.. It is so different than in the US! And the bank I joined takes an hour and a half lunch break everyday between 12:15 and 1:30. Can't tell you how frustrated I was when I figured that out.. After I had walked 30 minutes to get there.. Oh the French. Want to check online to see if a supermarket or restaurant is open? Forget it, the French are about as reliable on their internet sights as Obama is. With anything. The best example of this "laid back" lifestyle was when my mom and I were in Paris. Our last night we decided to go sit outside and have a glass of wine. When we were ready to leave, we noticed that we hadn't seen our waiter in a while, so we're looking around and my mom goes, "Oh look, he's sitting over there on his moped having a cigarette." And we both just died laughing! I mean, in what world!? hahaha You gotta love the French though.

We talked in class this week about jobs in France. Probably the most shocking thing I've learned about this country since arriving. So people working for the government get a minimum of 56 days off per year and they average a 35 hour work week. The most shocking to me was this- if a child is sick, EACH parents gets 5 days off from work! What?! Like, oh my child is sick, guess we'll have family movie night.. for 5 DAYS! Must be nice.. And then for maternity leave, mothers get 16 weeks off! And if they're having twins, they get double that! And TRIPLE THAT for triplets! After the mother has the infant she has the option to leave her job for three years (unpaid of course), and after those three years, if she decides she wants to go back to work, the job must take her back. It's also very common for mothers to not work on Wednesdays. Most take that day off completely to be with their children.

That's all for today guys! I promise pictures for my next post, I realize it's not as fun without them. It's just been so rainy here, I haven't been able to take my camera anywhere! I think I'm going to make a post this weekend showing how the Greeks taught me to make real Tzatziki :D It is to die for!

Bon nuit les amis!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Frenchy Sunday

Fail. I would be the Unreliable Blogger. This week was so busy! In my defense, I attempted to write a post when I got home on Friday night and literally fell asleep on my computer.. So I hear by declare this Frenchy Sunday. 

It doesn't have quite the same effect. Anyway.

This week was great. Tons of class and school work, but all very enjoyable. I really can't believe that I'm getting the opportunity to practice my French 24/7.. It seems too good to be true:) I gave a small presentation in class today, my first of the semester, and I was so nervous! But it went smoothly and I think everyone understood what I was saying. Or at least they pretended to ;) 

I made a new friend this week! A FRENCH friend :)) I have been dying for a French girlfriend since I got here, because as much as I love hanging out with the international students, we all speak English with each other, so it's not very good for my French. Fleur (yes, her name is "Fleur" and yes! I am living in a movie!) introduced herself to me this week in one of our classes and we immediately hit it off. She's gorgeous and so typical French- dark brown hair, brown eyes, dark skin. And always clad in ballerina flats and a black trench coat. After class she invited me to have a café at her apartment with her (also so French!). It was so cute and comfortable. The French are very hospitable. We sat out on her balcony and talked for a solid two hours. Fleur smokes just like 99.9% of the student population in France (ok, I just made that statistic up, but that's what it seems like) so when she offered me a cigarette, how could I deny?? It was so French- sitting outside having a café and a cigarette. And talking. In French. With a French girl. :) Can you tell how excited I am?!

Fleur is from Paris and she is 23. She has an older sister who lives in the US and is married to an American! She got a job in New York and I'm pretty sure that's where she met her husband, and now they live in Chicago. Fleur has been to visit her sister in the US and absolutely loved it. She actually knows a lot more about the states than most French people because her sister always talks to her about it. She told me that for Christmas last year, her sister sent her a Harmonica in the mail and she thought it was hilarious! Actually, I had to tell her that the Harmonica is a legitimate instrument that people play, because she was under the impression it was purely a joke. Haha we've had some good laughs. The best part is that she doesn't speak very much English so we communicate (almost) purely in French. It's soo good for me. Fleur told me that she is a practicing Catholic- which is pretty rare for a young person in France. Most students stop going to church after they move away from their family, but she goes to the Catholic church in Dijon every Sunday evening. I'm going to go with her this evening :) 

After we finished our cafés, we went back to school because the sign ups for sports were being held that evening. The school requires the French students (not the international students) to participate in a sport every Thursday afternoon. There are no classes that day because it's reserved for sports. When we got there, I didn't see a single other exchange student. So now I'm signed up to do Zumba with 30 French girls hahah Fleur's idea, of course. Can't wait to post about that!

Friday, after class, Fleur and I went and got a café and had more great discussions and she asked me if I like going to the movies. I almost shrieked, "YES!" Haha I have been dying to go to the movies. She said she loves going to the cinema, and that it's the perfect thing to do in Dijon because it rains so much. We decided to go see The Butler, but it was only playing in French. I have never laughed so hard hearing French voices come out of Oprah and Mariah Carey! Hahah so strange. And no one else in the theatre found it funny.. I guess they're used to that though. Hearing cheesy French voices coming from some of the most famous people in the world. I'll never get used to that! But nevertheless, I was so happy to be in a movie theatre. It's going to be tempting to go all the time. ;) 

Such a fun week! And tonight I'm going over to Ioanna and Thomas' to cook dinner for them :) Haven't decided what I'm going to make yet, but I'm sure I'll take tons of pictures :)

Now for the Frenchy part of this Frenchy Sunday..

1. If you are ever in France getting cheese burgers with your French friends, here is my advice: Never. I repeat NEVER pick up a cheese burger with your hands. Said French friends will stare at you with their mouth's hanging open. Of course, I don't notice this until I am mid-enormous-bite and they are all mid-classy-fork-and-knife-combination. I immediately drop my cheese burger like a hot tamale. I had no other choice really, given those looks. I don't think the reaction would have been different if I had jumped up on the table and started doing the moon walk. That's how bad it was. So I asked, "Wait, do you not pick up your burgers here??" and someone responded (let it be noted, this was a MAN who said this), "Well we don't want to get our hands all dirty and such." Hmm.. OK. Well you should know Mr. Frenchie, that if you said those words in America you would get SCOFFED at and then punched. I mean, who doesn't eat cheese burgers with their hands? And I swear it didn't taste as good eating it with a fork and knife. 

2. If you are ever in France and need a pumpkin, good luck. It doesn't feel like October without Pumpkins everywhere! :(

3. Education in France is not even comparable to the US as far as price goes. Private schools for elementary- high school age children are typically about 200 euros a year. And then public universities are completely free and private universities are typically about 8,000 euros a year. But it doesn't get much more expensive than that. Something else I didn't realize, if you want to study Business, you must go to a Business School like the one I am at. You cannot just go to a University like you can at UK and major in Business. 

4. I have yet to find white toilet paper in a French bathroom. They have some kind of weird fascination with colored toilet paper! If someone could tell me why they prefer to use orange, pink, purple, green toilet paper- please inform me, because I can't figure it out. 

5. When you're an American in France, you meet only two kinds of French people: those who love America and those who absolutely hate it. The America Lovers are usually a little over-excited when they realize you're from the US. They immediately begin speaking in English with this huge grin on their face, relaying every piece of information they've ever come upon about the US, telling you about the states they seen and want to see, and repeating over and over how lucky you are to be an American. Then there's the other type. The ones who have such a hatred for the US that when they learn you are an American, they throw you such an ugly look that you feel you might melt all the way to the ground. They do not speak a word of English, and when you attempt to speak their language, they simply raise one eyebrow and just shake their head. Many times this is accompanied by a disapproving "ts ts ts" under their breath as they walk away. It's an unpleasant feeling, approaching a French person- you don't know if they are going to make you feel like the lowliest creature on earth, or practically worship the ground you walk on. The very first French student I met in Dijon said these exact words to me, "Oh you're from 'Ahhhhhmereekahh,' I hate America. I want to make pee pee on your country." (not sparing a single hand gesture) I had to refrain from informing him that you don't "make" pee pee on anything, and that it's obvious he struggled in English.. I'm sure that would have made him like Americans so much more ;) But yes, that was my first day in Dijon. Wonderful, lovely. First impression of French students, check. Luckily, I've had many more good experiences than bad, but unfortunately that one will always stick out in my mind. 

So that's my Frenchy Sunday for you! Hopefully my next will be a real Frenchy Friday ;)

Miss and love everyone! Drink a Starbucks Cinnamon Dolce Latte for me, I've started missing American coffee terribly! It'd be nice if the French enjoyed anything other than a thimble-sized cup of coffee from time to time.. 

Bisous!