It has been a week and a half since being in France and I can already say it has been one of the best experiences. The trip here was long, but be prepared to hit the ground running. When picked up from the airport I was immediately immersed in the French language. Although drained, I was speaking to my host mom in French the whole way home.
The living dynamic in Aix is different from what I expected. I have three housemates and live with a retired couple. We are in a large two-story home with a bathroom the four of us share. I have found that every homestay is different. Some people live in small apartments in the city while others live in more of a suburb-like neighborhood. It is important is to come in with no expectations of the living conditions nor the relationship you will have with your homestay. Some have bonded easily with their homestay family while others have distant hosts. Stay open-minded and eventually you will be settled in. IAU is very accommodating and does the most to make sure the stay is comfortable. For example, all four of us living in the house are vegetarian and our homestay parents cook THE BEST food for our needs.
The early start program is the best way to get adjusted and make friends before school starts. IAU had many activities and practical french classes to help with cultural adjustment. There are also excursions to places such as a vineyard and the beach. This is a great time to make friends and get a taste for the variety of beauty that France has. During class, there are small trips to the market as well. There are food, clothes, and flower markets. I would highly recommend trying the cantaloupe and tomatoes. The produce in general is a lot better than what is in the U.S. and not badly priced. This week of orientation has also helped a lot with my navigation of the city. At first it seems overwhelming and all the streets are the same, but it becomes easy after the week. The early start participants grow close to each other very quickly and it is nice to have friends before school even starts. Early start was well worth it and I am glad Linfield required it.
On a Sunday we had free, my friends and I climbed up Mount Sainte-Victoire and swam in a lake. There were wild goats and beautiful scenery. It is something free and easy to do for the day. There are infinite trails and the scenery is amazing.
The best advice I can give for the first week in Aix is to be open-minded and willing to get out of your comfort zone. There is a lot of socialization and activities that are draining, but well worth it. I have already made great friends and have experienced so much that Aix and France have to offer. The French culture is different but in the best kind of way. Have no expectations, go with the flow and you are bound to have an Aix-citing week in Aix!