Ok, so I realize I haven’t posted anything on here for a while, but we just got reliable internet on Monday. In apology for the lack of posts, I’ll try to summarize what I’ve been doing in the past 2 (almost 3) weeks and throw in some bonus pictures! This is probably going to be a really long post, so I won’t blame you if you don’t read the whole thing.
First off, I’m finally settled into my apartment. It’s not the fanciest place to live, but I like it here. My roommate is really nice and a lot of my friends live here to, so there’s always something to do. My orientation started and ended since I talked to you last. I’m glad I signed up for it because since arriving here, I’ve also found out that I am the only student in all of my courses and the orientation program has allowed me to make some friends.
There have been a few more rough patches in regards to housing and things like that, a few of which have yet to be resolved, but overall things are going really well. Everyday life here has been challenging sometimes because of the fact that my French is even worse than I thought. I’ve been able to navigate the grocery store, go to the bank, and even get a French phone while here though, and every successful experience with everyday French boosts my confidence in my speaking abilities. There are times when I definitely wish I had taken opportunities to review my French vocabulary and practice speaking more before I got here, but there’s nothing much I can do about it now.
The last few weeks have seemed pretty surreal to me. On my first Friday here we had our large orientation meeting for all exchange students, and I met another girl from Michigan. It was nice to meet someone who understood all of the weird little things that I miss about home and who I could talk to about Michigan. With our orientation program we also went to the city’s museum and did a little road rally type thing to get to know Guyancourt better. It was interesting to learn more about the town and also to get to know the other students better.
That Saturday morning we went to Le Base de Loisirs to do parcours. It was kind of like a high ropes course, with ziplines and climbing high up in the trees. It was fun, but also challenging, scary, and tiring. The most exciting part of Saturday, however, was that we went into Paris that night. Our orientation group decided that it would be nice for us all to go into Paris together to see the sights and get to know each other a bit better. We got in late because of the train schedule, but seeing Paris was great. We saw the Notre Dame cathedral during the day, and also at night. We went to a café near there as well. I felt very prepared to order food in the café because of all of the dialogues related to cafes that I used to do in French class in high school. Additionally, I got to have my first real French macaron. It was almost to pretty to eat. My first impression of Paris was that it was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been in. There are grand old buildings on every street, which is quite a contrast to most places in the United States.
The next day, a few of us went back into Paris for the day. We saw the Eiffel Tower and as cliché as it sounds it was even bigger in than I had imagined. Having studied French for almost 6 years, I’ve seen my fair share of pictures of the Eiffel Tower. It was amazing to finally get to see something that I had learned about for so long, something that is such an iconic symbol of France, in person. After that, we went to a café and I had my first croque monsieur, another piece of France that was talked about many times in high school French class. After lunch we walked to the Champs Elysees and got to see the shops there as well as l’Arc de Triomphe. This part of Paris was the part that reminded me most of cities at home, not because of the arc, obviously, but because of the shops. I was reminded of Michigan Avenue in Chicago while walking down this street. Michigan Avenue isn’t quite as picturesque because the buildings are newer, but shops are shops, for the most part, no matter where they are. After spending some time in the stores, we found free wifi at a café. Considering that we still have no wifi in our apartments, this was very exciting for us.
Monday, I attended a meeting about a wetland project that is being proposed for water purification in the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines area. Admittedly, I didn’t understand most of what was going on in the meeting, but it was still interesting to see a solution being proposed at a meeting with government representatives, and seeing how people reacted to the proposition, both negatively and positively.
That Tuesday, was one of the best days of the orientation so far. I had my French course in the morning, which was admittedly not so exciting, but in the afternoon we went to the Chateau de Versailles. It was a beautiful place, but I couldn’t believe how crowded it was. We only saw the main chateau, not either of the trianons or the gardens, but it was a beautiful place. It is amazing to me that people actually lived in such a big place. I can’t believe there are over 2000 rooms! All of the wee furnished very well too. I think the part that was the most amazing to me was that there was art everywhere. There were beautiful paintings on the ceilings of most of the rooms. I can’t even imagine having paintings like those on the ceilings of rooms in my house. Inside the chateau, I wasn’t as impressed by the size as I thought I would be, but I think that is mostly because there were so many people so the rooms didn’t seem as large as they actually were. From the outside though, the chateau was immense. After going to the chateau, most of us wandered around Versailles together.
Last Friday, my orientation program took a trip to the Louvre. I was really excited to be able to finally visit the Louvre, considering it was another important part of France that I’ve learned about in French courses ever since I can remember. I knew it was a big museum, but until we got there, I couldn’t really appreciate exactly how gigantic it actually was. We spent about 5 hours there and still didn’t get to take in even half of what was in the museum. There was a great collection of Egyptian artifacts and many beautiful paintings as well as sculptures from ancient Greece and other places. I was struck by how large most of the paintings were. I can’t even imagine how long it must have taken to paint them because of the large size and great detail. I was happy to find a few impressionist pieces in the museum because I thought that the Louvre mostly had classical works of art. One of the exhibits I found most interesting was the section on the history of the Louvre. I only saw about half of it, but there were paintings of people looking around the Louvre in the past and other works of art depicting the Louvre’s history. After the Louvre, we had dinner at a really nice restaurant in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. The restaurant served more traditional French food, which was nice since I hadn’t really had any French dishes since arriving here. It was also the biggest meal I’ve had since getting here considering it had three complete courses.
Last Saturday afternoon, we went into Paris again. It’s still hard for me to believe that we can take a forty minute train ride and be in Paris. It rained a lot, but we went to a nice café and had really good hot chocolate and crepes with Nutella. Afterwards, we went to see the Eiffel tower again. We were lucky enough this time to see the flashing lights on the tower. I truly think that I could visit the Eiffel tower every day and still not get sick of it. It’s beautiful to look at during the day, and even better to see at night when it’s all lit up. Even in the rain, it’s a wonderful sight to see.
On Sunday, I went to the Musée D’Orsay with my friends Jack and Charlotte. This museum was the one that I was the most excited to visit because the museum has several very famous Van Gogh paintings and Van Gogh happens to be one of my favorite artists. The museum was really nice and not overwhelming like the Louvre. That day, I also got to walk along the Seine and go to Shakespeare and Company. Visiting all of these famous and historic places in France still seems amazing to me. I think it still hasn’t really sunk in that I’m here and that home is so far away. Going into Paris on the weekends and seeing the Eiffel Tower have become weekly occurrences for me and for that I am so thankful.
The opportunity to study in France is such a blessing and being able to experience such a beautiful and ancient culture daily is such a wonderful experience.
In other news, this week my orientation ended with an International lunch. It was really cool to be able to sample foods from all over the world with the other students in my orientation. Other than that lunch, I haven’t done anything major this week. I’ve spent time in Versailles with friends and I’ve started individual French courses that are being provided courtesy of the program between Albion and UVSQ. It’s really hard to be the only one in the class, but I think that at the end of these courses, my French will have truly improved.
With all of the things that have been going on the past few weeks, it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been in France three weeks on Monday. It seems like I’ve been here so much longer and yet so much shorter at the same time.
Since it’ll take too long to put all of the pictures in with this blog, here’s the link to the pictures from the trip so far. there are more to come 🙂