Traveling Tips and Experience in Germany

Being in France gives many traveling opportunities and it is fairly inexpensive. I have used multiple methods of travel while being here(bus, plane, train) and there are many things I learned along the way! Concerning flights, you must take a bus to get to the airport in Marseille. This bus is seven euros for a 30-minute ride, BUT if you get the cartetreize from the Gare-Routière (bus station in Aix), it is only two euros which saves you a lot of money in the long run! I did not know this the first time I went to the airport and overly paid for a short bus ride. The cartetreize is free and does not take much to obtain(just fill out an application online and bring your passport). I highly recommend getting it before school goes into full swing!

A popular airline used here is RyanAir. This company provides extremely cheap flights throughout France BUT there are many catches. For example, printed tickets are required and you can only print out tickets 24 hours in advance unless you buy a reserved seat. When in a hostel or Airbnb, it is not guaranteed there will be a printer, so buying a seat on the way back is ideal. These seats range from 4-7 euros, so it is not that bad. If you check-in/print the ticket at the airport, it is 55 euros(yikes!). Also, some flight attendants are very strict on baggage size. The free bag allowed on board is slightly smaller than a carry-on in the states. It is important to note this because it is more expensive to pay for the baggage when you are boarding the plane than to pre-buy a bigger size bag. It is perfectly doable to have a smaller bag(roughly school backpack size), but if you are a heavy packer, this is important to note!

Decorative doors on buildings in Munich, Germany. Clock tower in Munich, Germany.

Architecture in Munich, Germany.  Large building with lots of spires.
Cool architecture in Munich!

My first experience traveling was to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest and the journey to the city center itself was a little more complex because we did go a cheaper route. We took a plane into Stuttgart, Germany and then a 3-hour bus to Munich which was fortunately only a 15-minute walk from the hotel we were staying at. Many people go to the campsites associated with Oktoberfest which are actually kind of far from the “fair-ground” that Oktoberfest is located at. It is important to look into proximity to things you want to do and where you are staying or the cheaper stay might actually add up because of travel expenses. In Munich, a day pass for the trains/subways/buses was 16 euros for five people, so some locations can be cheaper than others. My friends and I went to the Dachau Concentration Camp(which is free!) and used this pass to get there.

A stone monument to people who suffered at Dachau, Germany.

The two main events of my weekend were going to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp and Oktoberfest. The camp was something extremely moving and was a very important experience for me. It is one thing to hear about these camps in class and another to see the conditions first hand. The displays also had more facts that are not taught in school that were hard to read/see. Although sad, highly recommended.

Several German girls in German dresses.   German girls eating pretzels.

I did not know what to expect for Oktoberfest, but it still was not what I expected. There was a large crowd and it almost felt festival-like. It was complicated to find a tent to obtain food and beverages at. It was also a very cool experience because there were people from all over Europe in these tents. While waiting to be served, I had conversations with people not only from Germany but also Italy, Austria, and the Netherlands. There were also many study abroad students–this apparently is typical of the second weekend of Oktoberfest. It was quite fun and allowed me to experience an event where all kinds of people and cultures could enjoy.

P.S. wear closed-toe shoes to Oktoberfest!

Sierra Miller

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!


Classes and Weekend Adventures

I have finished my first full week of classes at IAU and it has been surprisingly nice to have a routine. It was intimidating at first to walk into a new environment such as this, but it has not been as different as I expected. Class sizes are small and the professors are very personable–just like at Linfield! I was told from previous students that the workload would be small, and although it is not suffocating, there is still a decent amount. What I have found to be really cool about IAU are the staff themselves. They are very diverse and have unique stories of how they ended up where they are today. I have teachers from all over the world, not just France. This is enriching in understanding the cultural diversity that is in Southern France. I have professors from the local city of Marseille and others from outside of Europe such as Iran and Morocco.

On a side note involving school, I would recommend bringing certain school supplies to France if you are as particular as I am. I brought my folders and some pencils but no paper because my professor told me how nice it was here. The quality is great, but it is almost impossible to find lined paper. There is mainly grid paper in France that is longer than standard paper in the U.S. This is because children learn how to write with it and from there they do not switch. The paper is also cheaper in the states. It is not super-inconvenient, but I would have liked someone to tell me that beforehand.

The weekend of September 14th there was a trip associated with IAU to Monaco. You pay for the bus fare, but the rest is provided. We made stops to the palace, Monte Carlo, and a perfumery. There was a good amount of free time at each stop, but I would not do this again just because there are limitations to what can be done and one day is not enough for travel. Although, this is something easy, cheap, and fun if you have a short weekend with a class excursion. Monaco was beautiful and full of color. If you are feeling tight on money but still want to go places, know that IAU sets up fun and cheap trips such as this. (It was only 30 euros!)

Cathedral St. Pierre, Monaco
Cathedral St. Pierre, Monaco
Cathedra Sainte Pierre, Monaco
Cathedral St. Pierre, Monaco

The weekend of September 21st, I went on my first excursion with my Prehistoric Art and Archaeology course. At IAU they have educational excursions for courses that you are enrolled in. It was seemingly an inconvenience because of wanting to travel with friends on the weekend, but it was actually beneficial in multiple ways. For this trip specifically, we went to the recreation of la Grotte Lascaux (Lascaux Cave). In this cave there was prehistoric art created more than 400,000 years ago. The art was technical and beautiful. It was fascinating to see these creations and try to understand why humans would go into these dark, dangerous caves to create the art. There is no way of knowing why because there was no written language yet, but the theories were fascinating. This experience was also beneficial because I would not have gone to this cave nor this part of France without this push. My advice would be to take advantage of these FREE trips and take everything you can out of it. We also decided to go as close as we could to the actual cave which ended up having beautiful scenery.

Pont d'Arc
Pont d’Arc is a natural bridge over a river that was important for migration/hunting. It is near the site of the actual cave of Lascaux.


An Aix-citing week in Aix-en-Provence

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!

A typical street in Aix
A typical street in Aix
Made friends with goats on Sainte-Victoire
Made friends with goats on Sainte-Victoire
Spices at the market
Spices at the market
Fresh offerings at the market.
Fresh offerings at the market.


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,


Saying goodbye: a letter to future students of France

It’s been three weeks since I concluded my semester in Aix and one week since I returned to the States. I have taken this time to reflect on what I learned, on how I’ve grown, and the differences and similarities between French and American culture. I wanted to take a moment before returning to you to offer my final thoughts.

If I could summarize in a sentence: time flies, so do it all. I wish I had studied in France for an entire year. I felt like I was just figuring things and tricks out and getting into the groove by the end of the semester, and I knew my French would improve so much more. That being said, I was surprised at how much my French progressed and I’m sure you will find yourself feeling the same.

If I may leave you with a few final suggestion…. Take advantage of the opportunity to have a language conversation partner. Working with French students helps not only your understanding of French language and culture, but also can lead to some meaningful friendships. When you are packing to move to France, try and cut down what you bring as much as possible. You can get all your basic items at French department stores like Monoprix. I know figuring out how to manage a phone plan abroad can be stressful, but I found getting a SIM card from the French company Free to be the easiest. It was just under 20 euros each month for basically unlimited calls (even to the US), texts and data. Many students want to use their semester in France to travel all through Europe. While this is a fun adventure, it can quickly drain your student budget. This is something to be conscious of. Besides, southern France has almost every type of geography you could desire!

I never wanted my posts to be just about my adventures, but more about lessons you could take from me. Things I learned that I felt were valuable to pass down. At the end of the day, you will find your own adventures. You will be the one that creates your own experiences. You don’t need someone to tell you how great their weekend was, you’re going to experience that very sentiment. When you study abroad you meet some very interesting people. Everyone has a different path they took to their time abroad, but we all share the value of expanding our education. What I learned from my peers was that you could either have a great time or a horrible time, it’s up to you. I met people who had the privilege to study abroad in a breathtaking place with wonderful educational opportunities, who chose to squander it by staying focused on what was back home. Don’t do that to yourself. You left to come to France for a reason. Find that reason and hold on to it.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me,

Elin J.

Aix en Provence, France

Spring 2019

Highlighting Student Art
End of semester art show for IAU’s art students.
Sunset Over the Art Show
Another gorgeous sunset over Aix.
Cat Cafe Celebs
During finals week my friends and I visited the local cat cafe to enjoy petting sweet cats and drinking tea.
Elin, Paul and Mary
My two close friends Paul (center) and Mary (right) on the day of graduation.
Plaza in the Sun
One of the defining fountains of Aix.
Gold Stole
My graduation stole hanging in the window of my host room.

A Day in the Life in the South of France

The beauty of studying abroad is that every day is a new day and you learn something unique by the end of it. Even if it is just a regular school day, being in a new culture means you will see and experience something interesting or novel in your routine.

I want to walk you through an average day in a typical week for me. I hope this allows future students studying abroad in France to have realistic expectations of what their life abroad will look like.

From Monday to Friday I wake up between 8:30 and 9 am (I love getting the opportunity to sleep in a little). Each morning I like to get a jumpstart on my chores that my host mother requests of me. Those are to make my bed and open my window to air out room. We usually air out the apartment for 30 minutes to an hour in the morning.

Host families have to provide us with typical French breakfast materials every morning. Every morning I have hot lemon or mint tea, fruit and toast with Nutella available for me to prepare for breakfast.

After that I review my homework and study in preparation for class. I usually have a reading quiz each class, sometimes three in a row. If it’s nice out, and it usually is, I go for a run in the nearby park.

Then it is lunch with friends in a cafe or taken to the park if it is sunny. As you might be able to tell, park life is the best life.

Wednesdays I meet with my conversation partner and practice conversational French for about two hours. It is easy to connect with a conversation partner if you are interested. Many IAU professors also teach at University Aix Marseille, and they often connect their French students with their American ones.

I have class all afternoon into the evening. Classes are taught in a fairly similar manner as they are at Linfield. You might find, though, that they are more lecture based, and less focused on seminar. Typically on Wednesday nights, there are lectures put on by professors or professor fellows.

After class I come home for a traditional French dinner made by my host mother at about 7:30. This is later than many American meals, and some students here even have it later.

I’ve covered some of my weekend adventures in earlier posts, but will reiterate them a little here. Like many IAU students, I do not have any classes on Friday (lucky us). This means that as soon as homework is complete, it’s time to hit the train station. I’ve really enjoyed the ability to visit other cities in the French Riviera and exploring the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. In my opinion this is one of the best regions in France because it really has it all: cultural hubs, beaches and the alps. Closer to home, climbing Mt. St. Victoire can easily be done in an afternoon with the bus stopping right at the base of the trail. Class excursions can also take up most of the weekend. In the past I have attended field trips to Marseille, Brussels, art exhibits and the local mosque.

Until next time,


wine glasses with white and red wine
Wine tastings are a frequent event at IAU.
cheese on slice of bread with wine in the background
Learning what regional cheese pairs best with which wine.
Cheese, fruit and bread spread out.
Our French class got to taste local cheeses and breads.
picnic on the grass in front of a lake
Did you know that Lac de Sainte Croix is where La Croix comes from? The water naturally tastes like hints of fruit. (kidding)


A few of my favorite things!

Aix en Provence is a small town that feels like it is much bigger. Many people live outside of the city in nearby villages and commute in to go to work or attend school. It is a wealthier town, many older people retire here from Paris, so it is a little on the expensive side. City center is completely walkable and there are a ton of parks. It is a university town with several schools in the area (Bradley Cooper also studied abroad here). This means there are lots of young people, a youthful energy, and businesses aimed at young people. The town is filled with restaurants and cafes. You will never be out of options for a place to eat. Cours Mirabeau is the main drag just south of the city center. Walking along this wide open street you will pass many nice restaurants.

I have begun to pick some of my favorite places I have been to this semester. I hope if you study abroad in Aix you can put these places to good use.

Some of my favorite restaurants include the Mew Cat Cafe (for your furry friend fix, and a good pastry), Book in a Bar (the best bookstore in Aix, also serves coffee, scones and tea), La Table du Maroc (easily my favorite restaurant here. Delicious and authentic Moroccan food (try their mint tea!), SNF (Senegalese restaurant off the beaten path), Pizza Capri (late night slice of pizza to go).

On one of the many sunny days here you can grab a picnic and take it to the IAU art school campus, Marchutz, for a view of the city and some time in nature. Set yourself a scavenger hunt to find all the fountains in Aix, a city known for its many fountains. Parc de la Torse is another great spot for an afternoon lounge, or use their free gym equipment for a workout after a run along the trails. If you’re looking for a more challenging day, you must climb Mt. St. Victoire. Features a gorgeous view at the top and the public bus takes you right to the trail head. Of course with your student ID you get access to all sorts of events and free entrance into most museums.

If you’re looking for an easy day trip hop on a bus or train to a nearby day trip. Nice is great if you’re looking for a larger city with a great beach (perfect for a sunset promenade). Marseille is only a 30 minute bus ride away and is one of the coolest cities in France. It feels more urban and melting pot than other cities. Great museums and a port city. Known from the movie The French Connection. Cassis is one of my favorite coastal cities. Take a boat tour of the calanques, hike from one beach to another, and maybe take a dip in the Mediterranean sea. Going north if you’re looking for a historical trip, try Nimes or Avignon for that Roman feel. When you’re going to all these smaller French towns look out for some local festivals. Some festivals I enjoyed included the Citron, Mimosa and the Carnival de Nice.

Doing all this travel can be stressful. Downloading some of the following apps can help you plan your journeys and find good deals: Go Euro, Skyscanner, Flixbus, Ryanair, Hopper, and Rome2Rio.


Packing for the trip of a lifetime!

By now you probably know if and when you are studying abroad. Before you go abroad you  have to deal with figuring out what classes you will take, your visa application, and what to bring with you when you go. In fact, packing can seem like the most daunting part. How can you pack your entire life into one suitcase? How do you know what exactly you’ll need when you’re abroad? My goal with this post is to help provide some advice on this aspect so that the process goes smoothly for you all.

Hike overlooking village in Cinque Terre.
Hiking Cinque Terre in Italy. One example of an accessible trip from the south of France.

Before you leave, I advise meeting with the Registrars Office and your advisor(s) to figure out what classes you should take while abroad and how to ensure that those classes transfer back to Linfield in the way you want them to. Get your schedule approved prior to going abroad. This will lead to a lot less headaches later and keep you on the right track for graduation (which is the goal, right?). Make and bring copies of everything when you go. This includes your passport, travel insurance, course approvals and similar documents. This will help in case any issues arise while you’re abroad.

Cinque Terre Italy, national park on the coast.
Colorful houses fill many European cities.

The biggest thing to do before studying abroad is to save your money. This seems obvious but it is important to be candid with yourself and family about how much you plan on spending. Establishing a budget is key. Generously speaking I advise saving for 100 Euros a week excluding travel costs, or at least 2,000 for the semester. I got a second / third job to help save for this. Tell your credit and debit cards you will be leaving the country and what dates you will be gone. Other prep that should be done is with the language. Some of the easiest ways to do this outside of the classroom is by watching Netflix in the language you’re studying with subtitles in that language, listening to popular music from the country, or downloading a language learning app.

When it comes to packing your actual things, minimalism and essentialism is key. Don’t over pack because you’re going to inevitably buy stuff while over there. Try to stick to one checked bag and one carry on backpack, this will make your voyage through various airports much easier. Buy things like school supplies and toiletries abroad to save space and travel light. However, keep in mind that the notebooks and lined paper in other countries might be a little different from what you are used to. I found that having the city you will be moving to listed in a weather app a year in advance is helpful, so that you know the weather patterns. You can also look up the average weather at your time of being there. All of this will prepare you for what is to come, and help you know what to pack.

Now to be more specific to my experience in France. When packing, remember that Europeans dress differently than Americans, they’re typically more conservative in dress. It’s also warmer here in the south of France. Before I left, I asked some of the returning students two questions that helped me determine what to bring: what did you bring that you didn’t need, and what did you not bring that you wished that you did. The most important things I brought were sunscreen, my convertor/adapter, rain coat, and a good pair of walking shoes.

Train station under the blue sky.
Train station in Klosters, Switzerland.

Some classes (especially at IAU) take field trips or class excursions, be sure to plan your extracurricular trips around then. When it comes to travel, the earlier you make reservations or plans the cheaper and better. Travel by train and bus is very easy in the south of France. A perk of the Marseille airport is that it has one of the closest Starbucks,  as there is not one in Aix. This is surprisingly touching even if you don’t drink coffee, like a taste of home (or Riley Hall).

Starbucks cup with Lime written on it.
The closest Starbucks to Aix is in the Marseille airport for those of you looking for a taste of home.

Bon voyage!


Spotting Cultural Differences and Similarities Between France and the US

Some of the biggest things you’ll notice when you study abroad are the differences in culture between your home and host countries. Those are often the motivating factors behind taking the leap to study abroad.

One of the most obvious (and fun) is the number of carnivals. While I have been in France, I have experienced lots of historically rooted festivals and parades in celebration of holidays that still go on today. These celebrations highlight the history and uniqueness of certain cities and towns.

While the French may not like to change their traditional celebrations, they do like to have change. (I apologize for how bad that pun was, but I wanted a smooth transition here.) The French people like change – always have coins and small bills on you. I’ve heard that some merchants won’t even take a large bill if they can’t break it or if it would drain their coin purse. Coins are more popular here than they are in the US. This is especially true in the markets.

Markets are a major thing here, and are beneficial to broke study abroad students. They occur several times a week from mid morning to early afternoon. Here you can buy your fresh fruits and vegetables of the week for a reasonable price. Charcuterie and fresh fromage are abundant, and you can get a baguette for around two euros. This is a great place to grab you picnic lunch for the day or prep for a hike. Many host families do most of their shopping for the week’s meals at the market, as opposed to the supermarkets which dominate American culture.

In general I have found that people here keep different hours.  Many small shops close for an hour or so for lunch. Smaller boutiques also tend to close on Mondays. It feels like almost everywhere is closed on Sundays. This should be remembered before you make your lunch plans. In addition to this, my French friends stay out much later than I am accustomed to. For example, salsa night at the local cafe does not begin to get popular until the wee hours of the morning. As someone who prefers to go to bed at 9 pm, I have had to adjust to this lifestyle.

If you’re planning on studying abroad in the future, I’d recommend bringing along a really good pair of walking shoes. Aix has more of a walking culture with everything being so near in the city center. I have seen that there is reliable public transportation especially in between different, nearby cities because of commuting. Trains are more popular and run frequently. While you are traveling between places, you might notice how dirty the streets seem and how prevalent smoking is. It is not common practice to pick up after Rover. The increase in smokers was surprisingly hard to adjust to because I felt like I was always inhaling smoke while on my morning runs.

Cultural changes in the typical morning routine are evident as well. My host mother is emphatic about opening the windows every morning to air out the entire house no matter the weather. When I drink my tea with breakfast it is done so out of a bowl. This surprised me at first but I learned that it is typical for the French to drink hot drinks out of a bowl so they can dunk things (like pastries) in the beverage.

Being green, like at home, is emphasized. Families are more conscience of conserving energy and water because utilities tend to be more expensive in France. Turning off lights, unplugging electronics and taking shorter showers are strictly enforced. Going further with that, things are typically smaller here. Apartments, streets, cars, even dogs. People just tend to have less stuff.

I’ve heard that it is more common to talk politics here, but so far I’ve found it pretty comparable to back home. I think it really just depends on your interests. At French universities there is more of a divide or distance between students and professors. IAU in Aix is an American university so I have not necessarily found that to be true. College is less expensive and so are textbooks. For example, at IAU I did not have to buy a single textbook. All the required chapters and readings were given to us by our professors or scanned and online.

While differences in cultures are important to highlight so that we as people can learn more about each other,  students shouldn’t focus entirely on them. That can be alienating and isolating (it’s a part of the culture shock timeline). We should remember that there are similarities between cultures and we are alike in both our practices and values. That is what matters as it is what unites us.

-Elin Johnson, Aix en Provence