December in Aix

Hello from Aix!

It is finally December here in the south of France and I could not be happier. Don’t get me wrong, France is lovely. But at this point, I miss home so much that all I want to do is go back to Oregon and resume my normal life…

Town Square in the evening Christmas Tree

For this blog post, I want to give you an honest update of the past three months here and get some things off my chest that I have been holding back.

For those of you who don’t know, I came here to study wine. I enrolled in a Global Wine Studies Certificate program that was supposed to provide a unique wine-based education that I could not obtain at Linfield. I chose to take classes that I felt were closely aligned with my interests, namely the Food and Wine Paring for the Sommelier class, and the Wine Marketing and Analysis class. As a Wine Studies and Marketing double major, this seems like it would be a great fit, right?

I am so sad to say this, but I am very disappointed in this program. I don’t want to get into it too much, but needless to say, I feel frustrated that the program was marketed to me as one thing and hasn’t fulfilled those expectations at all. I’ve learned over the past month that the program experienced a substantial shift in structure right before the semester started, which left IAU scrambling to find a professor to fill the newfound void. The ramifications of this hastened hiring fell directly on the students, and unfortunately has resulted in a very dissatisfying semester.

I personally have been extremely discouraged with the situation and have wanted to say something but I feared I would come off as an “entitled American student that was just complaining.” I went back and forth trying to decide if saying something was the right thing to do, if the school would take me seriously or not, and whether or not I was the only student felt the way I did.

I finally decided that I couldn’t take it any longer, and I spoke up to the Administration. This turned out to be a good move that brought me an immense sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and it lifted the weight off my shoulders that I had been carrying around since the middle of September. It feels great when you are able to speak up for yourself in a professional, articulate, and genuine way. However, I am very remorseful that I don’t have better things to say about this program. There are some redeeming aspects and I have learned plenty of new information. But I came all this way for a niche wine education and I do not feel like I have received that.

At the end of the day, I hope that the purpose of this study abroad experience reveals itself to me sooner rather than later. I feel like the challenges I have faced are not often talked about, and I would love to share the nitty-gritty of daily life with anyone who wants to listen… but I won’t bore my readers with that!

I hope the best for other study abroad students, both those who are currently overseas as well as those who are gearing up to go. There are always things to learn, but sometime things go wrong that are out of your control. My best advice for you if you find yourself in this situation is to take it day-by-day and remember that it is all temporary.

Homemade hot wine English Christmas Carols at the Cathedral in AixPicture of Cassidy sitting on a bench

Hope you are well,


Happy Thanksgiving from Aix!

Hello and Happy Thanksgiving from Aix!

This year I learned that Thanksgiving is huge in France! There is canned pumpkin, fresh cranberries, 20-pound turkeys and Stove Top box stuffing everywhere you turn!

Just kidding.

Thanksgiving is as big in France as Bastille Day is in America. This means that when your host family comes to you and wants to celebrate Thanksgiving just like an American, you have to be prepared to get crafty. This year, the actual holiday of Thanksgiving passed just like any other Thursday of the week. Which, if you know me at all, you know that I am a Thanksgiving fanatic! I love to cook, eat, and nap… it is the perfect day! I never imagined that I would live through the 4th Thursday in November without a heaping plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, ect…

But alas, I got to celebrate the holiday after all! On the Saturday, November 30th, my host mom invited 13 of her friends over to our comfy little apartment and I showed them how to celebrate like an American. This may sound all well and good, but there is so much more to the story than the festivities of Saturday at 1:00pm.

It all began 2 weeks before the big day. I compiled a list of recipes for my host mom to look over, and we patch-worked a menu together that she felt her friends would enjoy. It wasn’t until much later that I realized she was deciding on recipes that she has never heard of! But luckily, when it comes to Thanksgiving food, it is hard to choose the “wrong” dish, right?

We meditated on that menu for a week, making changes almost every night until we ended up with the perfect line up. Meanwhile, I worked on decorations for the big day…

A menu for thanksgiving dinner a list of things to do each day before thanksgiving

My host mom went food shopping every day after work for the next week. Mind you, she was didn’t know what any of these recipes looked or tasted like! But after a few phone calls, translations, and Google searches, we finally ended up with everything we needed. The cooking commenced on Wednesday when I cut up the bread for the stuffing.

On Thursday, I decided to prepare the turkey… the biggest we could find was a 7-pounder from the local butcher. Now I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but this may have been one of the most disturbing things I have ever done. Why? Because when you are expecting a Butterball Turkey that has been de-feathered, cleaned, and trimmed, and you get a bird that, in short, “needs more attention,” it’s an emotional experience! I was so unprepared for the task at hand and was so queasy that I almost had to stop. I was plucking feathers from the legs with my fingers, cutting off excess pieces of the bird, and literally crying through the whole process from the realization of what I was doing.. And the smell. Don’t even get me started. I rubbed garlic butter under the skin seasoned the top of the bird with fresh herb salt and put it back in the fridge. WHEW!

Once I collected myself (lol) I started on the cranberry sauce, using only dried cranberries since fresh cranberries apparently DO NOT EXIST in France. The same can be said for pumpkin puree. I had to solicit Zach’s help in bringing out 2 cans when he visited me during Fall Break!

On Friday, I got home after class, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work! I started with homemade mushroom soup for the green bean casserole, then made stuffed mushrooms with sausage, white wine, and cream cheese, and then began working on the pies. I made a pumpkin, of course, and my momma’s apple pie! (I quickly realized that we were at a shortage of baking vessels for these pies. However, through a little Macgyvering, I made it work!) I finished the dessert menu with a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies.

When my host mom came home, we finished up the dishes: creamed corn, marinade for the pork, maple-glazed carrots, and extra gravy. We then spent the remaining hours of the night putting up the decorations, rearranging the living room only to rearrange it all back to the way it was, and cleaning the apartment.

banner across the window that says Happy Thanksgiving Fall decorations on the wall to celebrate Thanksgiving

On Saturday, we woke up around 8:00, and tackled the most challenging task of all…Baking everything with the sometimes-working and unpredictable oven. This took some serious finessing, but we stayed calm and remained faithful. Guests started to arrive a little after 1, and by 1:45, all 13 of us were squeezed around the dining table with all of the food displayed as a buffet. It was all warm, the turkey was moist, and I was thrilled. Though there was a language barrier, I was happy to find that everyone loved the food and EVERYONE went back for seconds and thirds. I even got asked to share a few recipes!

side dishes for Thanksgiving dinner keeping warm on the kitchen stove desserts for Thanksgiving spread out on a table Marielle and i in the kitchen

For those of you who have cooked Thanksgiving dinner, you know that a direct byproduct of the delicious food is the mountain of dishes that lie in wait in the kitchen. Perhaps the best nightcap to this episode of “Thanksgiving in France: a Parody” is that the kitchen sink was clogged AND the dishwasher died. Every last dish ended up being washed in the bathtub…!

dirty dishes in the kitchen after making Thanksgiving dinnerdirty dishes being washed in the bath tub after Thanksgiving dinner.

Overall, this was one of the most rewarding, enjoyable, and fun experiences I have had in my time here… and of course it involves cooking. I was talking to my host mom after all of our guests left, and she told me that I changed her friends’ opinions of American cuisine. In retrospect, this is all I could have hoped to do!


Hope you are well,


Autumn in Aix

Hello from Aix!

It has been awhile since I posted an update, which is good because I have a lot of information to share! So, here is what I have been up to in the last few weeks…

The week after midterms was IAU’s Fall Break. This was such a fun and exciting time for me, especially considering how mellow and calm my daily routine has become. It all started when my host parents came home with Pepa, an 8-week old Shih Tzu puppy! Are you a fan of Shih Tzus? To be honest, I wasn’t either (haha) but after meeting Pepa and experiencing her joyful and goofy personality, I have been converted! She’s adorable!

Pepa, a Shih Tzu puppy

The fun continued on Saturday when my boyfriend Zach (shoutout dude!!) flew out of the country for the first time to spend the week with me! IT. WAS. AWESOME. I got to show him the apartment I live in, he met my host parents, he met Pepa (?), I showed him the university, the bakery I go to, the stores I like to shop at, and the beauty of the surrounding area. Then, we rented a car and drove to Lyon, France for one night, then to Switzerland for three nights, then to Italy for three days, and finally, we spent a night in Monaco! We laughed so much, drove over 1800km, ate like champs, played cards in every country, and explored with so much joy and contentment for the moment. Saying goodbye to him was hard, but it marked the exact halfway point before I return home!

Zach and I eating French croissantsMe at the Leaning Tower of Pisa

(If you are planning to study abroad in the future, I strongly suggest that you find out if and when your program offers a break and make preparations in advance to take full advantage of your “free” week. Most students that I talked to had grand plans of traveling all over the place, especially because it is so inexpensive in Europe compared to in the United States. Make a list of the top 3 or 4 cities that you want to see and just do it! Or wing it like Zach and I did… Either way, I truly believe that some of the best memories from studying abroad will occur in this week. Just be careful not to be overly ambitious when you are making plans because traveling is EXHAUSTING.)

The weekend following Fall Break, my host family went out of town for the long weekend (November 11th is Armistice Day in Europe, and the entire country of France takes the day off…) and is and left me in charge of the house and of Pepa for three days! I was excited for the peace and quiet for a few days, and spent my time working on homework, talking to my family back in the states, taking Pepa on walks, and COOKING! I had a blast buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the market and coming back to the apartment to cook lunches and dinners for myself. I made a silky butternut squash soup to pair with a Sancerre (white wine) from the Loire Valley, and let me tell you, it was delicious! If you are at all interested, here is the recipe I wrote for the soup! (Serving: 2 hearty bowls)

Homemade butternut squash soup



  • 1 med-large butternut squash
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil (again)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • ¼ cup bacon, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (again)
  • 1 oz. goat cheese
  • Heavy cream


  1. Begin by heating your oven to 400°F. Peel the butternut squash, slice in half to remove the seeds, and then cube. Toss in olive oil and roast for 30 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove from oven and allow time to cool.
  2. In a stock pot on the stove set over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is up to temperature, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 2-3      minutes. Transfer the roasted squash to the pot and cook for 3 minutes, adding the salt, pepper, nutmeg and maple syrup.
  3. Transfer the items in the stock pot to a blender along with the chicken stock. Blend for 2-3 minutes, stirring to make sure that the soup is smooth throughout. Then, transfer the soup back to the stock pot, taste, and make adjustments as necessary. (You may need to add more stock, depending on what consistency you want the soup to be!) Turn the heat to medium-low and allow the soup to cook for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the garnishes! Add the bacon pieces and minced garlic to a frying pan and cook over medium-high heat until the bacon is browned and crispy. Drain on a paper towel to remove excess grease.
  5. Finally, prepare the dish. Drizzle a ring of cream around the center of the hot soup and top with the bacon pieces, goat cheese and a sprinkle of Herbs de Provence!
  6. ENJOY!:)

Anyways, I hope you are doing well… Thank you for taking the time to read all of this, it is fun to share my time here with you!

Town Square in Aix-en-Provence

Until next time,



Beaucoup de Vin! (an update from Aix)

Hello from Aix!

Is time moving as fast for you as it is for me? It is already MIDTERMS here at IAU! How did that happen so fast?!

Since my last post, I feel like I made some big strides in the right direction and I am excited to share them with you… A few weeks ago, I travelled to Nice and watched the sunrise from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Last weekend, I spent three days in Bordeaux where I got to see the new wine museum, Cite de Vin, go wine tasting at a beautiful vineyard in St. Emilion, and indulge in some of the most delicious pastries in the world while sitting next to the Garonne river.

I have been learning more and more French every day, and finally know enough to hold (rather short) conversations with my French host family. I go to the market and find fresh vegetables, meats, and cheeses to use for dinner, I go into wine shops and buy wines that I have never heard of, and I’ve been baking cakes and cookies with my host mom, converting every “cup,” “pound,” and “teaspoon” into grams. Needless to say, I am learning so much!

Pastries in Bordeaux
Delicious Pastries in Bordeaux
Cite de Vin wine museum in Bordeaux, France
Cite de Vin Wine Museum in Bordeaux

Speaking of learning, I have been wanting to write about the Wine Studies Certificate and overall wine education I am receiving here for some time now. For those of you who do not know, Linfield’s Wine Studies department has partnered with IAU to provide an opportunity for students to travel to Aix-en-Provence, France for one semester to study wine. At the end of the semester, the student emerges with a Global Wine Studies Certificate. Ergo, “Hello from Aix!” ?

My curriculum consists of a Biochemistry and Chemistry of Wine course, a Wine Marketing course, a Food and Wine Pairing for the Sommelier course, and a French language class that, oddly enough, is kind of like a wine course in its practical application when I go to the local wine shop and speak with the French wine steward!

French Class having picnic outside
French Class Having Picnic from Market

Other classes that IAU offers for the certificate are an International Wine Trade course, an Overview of Wine course, and a course on Major Wine Regions and Economics.

Overall, the education here is wonderful. Why? Because the topic at hand is an integral part of the French culture and way of life. It is everywhere, inside and outside of the classroom, and therefore it is truly an immersive field of study. If you are a wine studies student who has taken the 200 level wine courses from Linfield and is planning on travelling to Aix to obtain the Global Wine Studies Certificate, you will most likely find that there is a considerable amount of overlap on the information shared when you get to IAU. However, I believe that this is nothing but a testament to Linfield’s wine education – it is thorough, relevant, and comprehensive on a global scale. It makes me feel good knowing that the information we are receiving in the classrooms in McMinnville, Oregon is the same as the information they share some 5,600 miles away in Provence, France.

Overall, if you are considering this program, would like to learn more about wine from a global perspective, or are looking to solidify your foundational knowledge of wine, I recommend this program. However, if you are looking for something more intense and challenging, I might recommend considering other options. The course work here has been straightforward and the homework is minimal (knock on wood…)! This allows for ample time to explore, reflect, and enjoy where you are for three short months of your life.

I hope you are well, I will check back in after midterms are over!


Take care,


Selfie of Cassidy by Mediterranean Sea
Selfie by the Mediterranean Sea in Nice, France

An Update from Aix


I cannot believe that I have already been in Aix-en-Provence for almost a month! At times, it feels like I just stepped off the plane and got into the tiny, orange Citroen waiting for me outside of the Marseille Airport. Other times, I feel as though I have lived here for months – I have my routine, I am making friends, and I even know a few store owners in town!

Multi-storied apartment houses with allies inbetween.

However, it was not an easy road for me to achieve the comfort level and joy I have today.

The first three days after I arrived in Aix may have been the hardest three days of my life. The homesickness, anxiety, and confusion I felt were so powerful and at times, they were completely debilitating. At the time, I wanted to go home more than anything in the world.

I only say this because I promised to be totally honest in my blogs. I am not trying to deter future study abroad students, and I certainly do not want anyone to think that Aix isn’t a wonderful place to live. I just want to highlight the fact that if you are not mentally prepared enough to leave your home, your family, and your life as you know it and being again somewhere completely foreign, it will hit you like a ton of bricks… and boy does that hurt.

However, I have discovered that the key is to take it one day at a time. After the first three days, things really started to turn around for me. The Institute for American Universities (IAU) was so supportive, empathetic, informative and helpful. They understood exactly what I was enduring, and they could assure me that I was going to be OK. (Which reminds me, if you are planning to go to IAU, I highly recommend participating in the Early Start Program. It presents you with an opportunity to learn about the school, the city, and to explore the surrounding towns… it also happens to be a great time to get your homesick/shock-induced meltdowns out and over with before classes begin! Wahoo!!)

As a group, the Early Start Program took us to the Mediterranean Sea, to Chateau du Seuil (a winery), to a cooking class, to the city of Avignon, to the city of Beau de Provence, on a hike to Lac Zola, and to the wonderful food and clothing market on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix’s city center. In retrospect, the week and a half after we arrived in Aix could not have been choreographed any better. All of the activities served as a welcomed distraction from the slew of emotions I was experiencing, and by the end of the week, I felt like myself again. Additionally, I was eager to get started with classes and begin establishing a routine! Everyday got a little easier, I felt less and less overwhelmed, and I could feel my excitement for this incredible opportunity building up inside of me.

Cassidy with green trees in the background.

As of today, I am writing you from a small café in the city center. I have a hot lemon lavender tea, a freshly baked baguette, fresh raspberry jam from the market, and the sun is shining on my face. I am SO happy!

What a whirlwind of emotions, right?!  But what is the good without some bad? I’m a firm believer that there is balance in everything, and that there is something beneficial to take away from both the happy and the sad times. I have learned a lot about myself, how to have patience, how to endure the hard times, how to lean on the people that you love, and how to live and learn without giving up and going home.

One last (unrelated) thing. THIS TOWN HAS EYES. Literally! There are plastic googly eyes all over the city on signs, posters, and even the trees! I don’t know if you knew that the French had this kind of humor, but I am here to report that they do! While this succeeds to makes me smile everyday on my walk to and from school, it also reminds me to be observant – to keep my head up, my eyes open and to be present in the moment.

Googly eyes that are on street signs throughout the city of Aix.
Googly eyes that are on street signs throughout the city of Aix.

Until next time!


The Countdown Begins!

Hello and Welcome to the semester abroad at IAU (Institute for American Universities) College in Aix-en-Provence blog!! (What a mouthful, ha!)  I would like to thank you in advance for following me on this journey – I  am excited to share it with you!

Now, a quick (and what I deem a necessary) disclaimer:

I promise to keep these posts truthful, raw, and sincere so as to best capture and preserve this time in my life. 

– Cassidy Robinson


The Countdown Begins!

We are officially 13 days away from the highly anticipated take-off date of August 30th! As you might imagine, there are a number of emotions running through me right now… Excitement, nervousness, gratitude, happiness, fear, sadness…  with no one emotion reigning more powerful than another.  I don’t think that I have ever felt this many mixed emotions before, and I especially did not expect that I would be SAD of all things! However, after some serious reflecting on myself and where I am at in life, the sadness makes sense.

I feel sad because I already know how much I will miss the people I love, the place I have come to call home, and the comfortable routine I have established.  I will miss the ease of contacting my friends and family, and the familiarity of American culture. Most of all, I will miss the person I am now in this time and place because I know I will never be the same again. That said, I plan to hold on to the overwhelming happiness and peace that I have cultivated over this past year, and use it as a foundation to my growth while in France.

(For those of you who think that I shouldn’t be sad, you’re right! I shouldn’t be bummed out with this amazing opportunity at my fingertips… and just so you know, I truly am getting excited to travel to France to study WINE!!!!  However, please understand that the sadness is just one facet of my emotions right now. Additionally, I would like to acknowledge the fact that it is only three and a half months away from home and I know everything that I will be leaving behind will still be here when I get back! Thank goodness!) 

At this point in the pre-departure stage, I am most focused on getting all of my ducks in a row. That entails everything from traveling down to San Francisco to obtain my long-stay Visa, to inquiring about who my host family is and where they live in relation to the town center. A few other small things that I am working on is finding a debit or credit card that I can use while abroad that does not incur a foreign transaction fee, making sure that I have European adaptors, and that I have the appropriate clothes.

I am not sure if she will ever read this, but I would just like to give a shout out to the Linfield student traveling with me to IAU this fall… She has been so helpful in reminding me to do things, making suggestions on what to bring, and most of all, she has been so kind in making an effort to get me excited for this trip! I look forward to traveling with you, and am already grateful for your familiar face! Thank you!!!

That’s all for now, and hopefully the next time I write will be from a small, quaint cafe in the town center of Aix!

Take care,