Returning to the States

Hello everyone!

I have been back from France for about two weeks now and the transition has been a little difficult. It was hard to pack, study for finals, and say bye to the friends I grew so close with over the 4 month period. I felt as if I was just getting used to living in France when I left. As soon as I landed in San Francisco I was reminiscent of hearing people speaking in French.

It was not only difficult to leave, but also being back home. The time change was rough and so was getting back into my American life. I had feelings of sadness and still think back to cultural values France has that I wish were in the States. For example, I miss the restaurant culture and being able to walk everywhere. I loved how I could practice and better my French everywhere I went. I missed the unfamiliarity of it all.  Being home caused me to take a step back and truly reflect on the best experience of my life. I was able to travel to so many places for cheap, find something new to love, and meet new people from everywhere. Being back to the states, I was almost upset about how comfortable and easy my life had suddenly become.  Everyone speaks English and is overly kind, this is very different from France. Besides this, I also now have an appreciation for the States. There were certain values and lifestyles that differed from what I enjoyed in the U.S. In the States, I actually do enjoy how kind and willing to help civilians are. The culture of how to treat strangers is very different from France. Also, I enjoy the values of individuality. In France, you are French before anything else. In the U.S. there is more freedom in creating who you want to be and represent.

Although upset upon returning, I think I am readjusting well. By having friends and family consistently around and distracting me, it is easier to get back into my old routines and life. Studying in France changed my life in so many ways. Being able to go outside of my comfort zone like that was beneficial for my future and who I am today. It has even made me consider different routes for my continuation of education. I could do grad school in Europe or take a gap year teaching English in a French-speaking country. The possibilities are endless and going abroad helped me realize this.

I am glad to have been given this opportunity. I would not have changed a second of it. I am more excited than ever for my future and can not wait to be out of my comfort zone again. I will miss my experience in France but I also now have a new appreciation for the States. Going back to Linfield will be quite the transition, but I can not wait to see all my friends and be at my favorite school!

Sierra Miller

New Continent, New Experiences

As sad as it is, I have completed my last large travel while abroad. This past weekend I went to Fez, Morocco. I knew before coming to Aix that I wanted to travel to Morocco, I just did not know how excellent it was going to be. Being that Morocco is an Arabic speaking country with a very different culture from Europe overall, it was an experience unlike anything else. I feel very lucky to be able to experience so many different cultures and ways of life within a two-hour flight. The Moroccan people in Fez were nothing but welcoming. When my friends and I made it to our Airbnb, we were greeted with tea and great suggestions of what to do around Fez.

View of the city of Fez from my Airbnb  Painted wood work of circles and flowers in my AIrbnbPanoramic view of Fez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day one, we walked through the maze of the old city of Medina. There are endless thin, busy streets with artisan shops and food. Every street had its unique twist. If you paid enough attention, you could find art on every street. From the mosaics of tile to the woodwork of balconies, there was always something to see and admire. Being here gave me a great opportunity to purchase nice souvenirs for others at a cheap price.

We also did a cooking class in someone’s home. We learned how to make couscous and vegetable Tajine. We ended up staying way past the end of our class to talk to our new friend Yassine and his mother Maria. We learned all about Moroccan culture and got to listen to Arabic music he and his mother enjoyed.  This was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Donkeys going through the streets of Medina  Pottery shop with Tagines in the front; lots of decorative plates and blowls on the walls.Before we cooked the vegetable TagineMadrasa in Fez. Looking out over a balcony to balconies across the street.  Madrasa in Fez

Day two, we explored the outskirts and the new city. We were able to see the Jewish quarter, get beautiful panoramic views of the city, and learn more history of Morocco. We also ended up going back into the Medina to appreciate more of the architecture of the mosques, schools, and palaces. We visited the blue arc and a rainbow art street where there were more, unique artisans selling their products.

Men working in a pottery shope.  Man cutting beautiful painted tilesA large loom with right blue yarn.Rainbow street of art - paintings, rugs and many other types of artwork hanging on both sides of the street.  Looking out over the last place where they produce leather in medevial style

Studying in France has allowed me to take courses involving the culture and history of immigrants from the Maghrib (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) to France. By taking my courses in Muslim Presence in Europe, French Colonialism in North Africa, and my friend taking Islamic Art, we were able to get more than expected out of our trip. We were able to better appreciate the art and culture while teaching each other about what we were seeing and experiencing. We were able to learn and witness more of the religion of Muslims. We were also in the only city of Morocco where geometric art continued after the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This type of art can be seen from as old as the 14th century to the present day.

Out of all the places I have been in so far, this was the most culturally immersive. I was not only doing tourist things but also mingling with locals and furthering what I have learned in my courses. Fez was vibrant in culture, people, and art. I hope to come back to Morocco in the near future and explore more of what the country has to offer.

Student in the Al-Attarine Madrasa with a fountain in front.

Art in Al-Attarine Madrasa  The Blue Arc - surrounded by blue art work on the walls above and around it.

As-salam,

Sierra

Weekend in Amsterdam and More!

The second half of the semester is getting crazy with projects and last-minute work. Balancing work and travel has been very difficult lately. Something that happened by chance but I am thankful for is that I had every other weekend in Aix. Although Europe is perfect for traveling at a low price, Aix is beautiful and has so much to offer.

Something I have learned while being here is that no matter what you do, even if it is staying in town, everything is great! After all, I am in France.  Staying in Aix is equally as enjoyable as discovering a new place. I wish I got to know the city I live in a little bit more as my time closes here. Do not feel pressured to travel every weekend if it is too tiring or you simply do not have the means, Aix has more to offer than you think!

A narrow street in Aix, France, with windows lined with greenery    A historic building in Aix, France, with statuary along the top

On a different topic, last weekend my travels took me to Amsterdam! This city was different from any other I have been to in Europe. The differences culturally, gastronomically, and linguistically were insane. Amsterdam is known for its obscure buildings, beautiful canals, bicyclists, and much more. This was one of my favorite destinations because of its uniqueness.

One must do in Amsterdam is renting bikes and riding through one of their beautiful parks. My friends and I rented bikes for an entire day for only eight euros! Although it can be stressful to ride through the center of the city, you get used to the chaos quickly and enjoy the beautiful scenery you stride past. A unique and quite delicious pastry is a stroopwafel. At the Albert Cuyp Market, there is a stand where they freshly make these pastries for only two euros.

Of course, the most famous thing to do here is to visit the Anne Frank house. I did not know that in order to get guaranteed tickets, they need to be purchased two months or more in advance. 20% of remaining tickets are open for purchase at 9 am day off, but are almost impossible to get. Long story short, plan/buy ahead if there is a popular attraction you NEED to see! Amsterdam had so many museums and unique free activities/shops. I would strongly recommend trying to plan a weekend here if you are looking for something unconventional and fun!

My friends and I on our rented bikes

Windmill in Amsterdam    Stroopwafel

Sunset over the canals    fountain in a park of Amsterdam

Typical buildings in Amsterdam on a canal lined with barges

Onto my current home of Aix. They recently have finished setting up the lights for the holiday season. They changed the usual clothes market to a Christmas market(although, the clothes market still goes on, just on a different street). They set up little white home-like shops with diverse, local products! The items being sold can be for Christmas gifts or just souvenirs in general. The shops are individual and fun. They also sell hot cider, beignets, and the French version of churros. It has been fun to buy hot cider with a pastry and watch the bustle of people go through the market. The lights are beautiful and I am so happy to be able to celebrate a portion of the season in Europe where they really do go all out.

On the topic of holidays, I spent my first holiday away from home here–Thanksgiving. I think everyone experienced a little bit of homesickness, but IAU tried to make it less intense. The school decorated the main hall and provided us with an, as close as it can get in France, Thanksgiving dinner. It was actually very nice to have a large free meal with the friends I have made and share our traditions at home. IAU and Aix has provided me with a great environment and community. I am thankful to be able to be here and be able to travel the way I have.

Thanksgiving dinner from IAU: potatoes, gravy, turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing and green beans    Lights shaped like trees on the Rotonde in Aix

 

Happy Holidays,

Sierra

Fall Break

It has been an active week and a half for me in Europe! At IAU there is a week break after midterms and this is the time when most people go out and travel as much as possible. There are an infinite amount of options and I have friends who were able to hit four countries while only spending $350 in travel and stay. Personally, I took an even cheaper option and went to a few spots with my parents. Although I at first thought I would feel like I was missing out on what my friends were doing, I loved having them come and see where I live. It was also particularly exciting because it was their first time out of the country.

We started our vacation in Paris and saw all the main tourist attractions. We went to the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and many other must-see spots. We stayed a little bit outside of central Paris, but I have this app(that I strongly recommend getting) called “Transit”. It shows you all public transportation routes to where ever you want to go. For us, a 4-day metro pass was well worth it and got us all over the city. A fun activity we did was a boat tour on the river. We did this at night which was an interesting perspective of this beautiful city. Seeing the tower glimmer on the river was a unique experience. My parents also put a lock on the famous bridge of love in front of the tower which was once-in-a-lifetime for them.

View of the Eiffel Tower from Pont d'Alma A bridge in Paris in front of a large tower.

Selfie with my parents outside of l'Arc de Triumph

Next stop, we went to Rome for a few days. Again, their metro system was super easy and takes you to every tourist spot. My dad’s personal favorite from this trip was the Colosseum and Roman Ruins. It was fascinating to see such an old structure and how it had changed over time. There was so much history to take in and the views were wonderful! We also went to the Vatican and Spanish Steps. These were beautiful places as well. I wish we had spent more time in Rome!

Roman Ruins in Rome, ItalyMe outside of the Vatican standing in front of a large fountain.  Ceiling art in the Vatican depicting angels.

The Roman Colosseum

After this, we returned to Aix so they could see where I live. My parents enjoyed the market with fresh produce and cheap clothing one street over! We also visited Avignon for the day to see le Palais de Pape, and just like that, they had to go back home. My favorite part of this whole break was watching a slight culture shock come from my parents. There were a lot of things that they did not expect from Europe or Europeans. They were constantly asking questions and pondering why certain things are the way they are. Fortunately, I was more prepped for certain culture differences so it was fun to watch and explain to my parents the “why” and the “how”.  Feeling more like a “local” was a cool experience and I am glad my parents got to share an experience like this with me!

View from the top of Palais de Pape

Sierra

From Bonjour to Buongiorno

This past weekend was eventful, to say the least. My roommates and I wanted to see Venice before we left, but staying there was too expensive. In the long run, it was cheaper to stay in Milan and take a three-hour train to Venice. We flew into Milan on a Friday and hit the ground running. My friends and I went straight to our ADORABLE Airbnb and went to the Duomo in central Milan. This building is insane. The Duomo is a cathedral church with extensive details both on the inside and out. I could stand there for hours and find something new to look at every few seconds. Milan is not a place I thought of going, but I am glad I did. There is a lot of architecture, kind people, and great food.

Courtyard of our Airbnb
Courtyard of our Airbnb
My roommates and I in front of the Duomo
My roommates and I in front of the Duomo

  

We took a train early Saturday to Venice. I had a general idea of what Venice would be like, but it beat my expectations. My roommates and I stepped off the train and our jaws quite literally dropped. The canals had a unique blue color with colorful buildings surrounding it. The city was busy, but there were sections of the city less explored that were equally as beautiful. When trying to find the location of our gondola reservations, the GPS took us off the beaten path. We found a really good, small gelato shop and were able to look at the canals with less population. Concerning the gondola ride, my roommates and I originally were not going to do this because it is so expensive but then we found one for $30 instead of $85+ per person. The only thing with this is that the gondola is filled with 6 people. I personally did not mind a few strangers in the same boat as me, I found the experience outweighed the addition of a few extra people. Another section of Venice that was stunning was Saint Marco Square. This building was also beautiful in a unique way. It had peaks of gold and a unique structure. If you find yourself in Venice, do not miss out on seeing this!

Gelato infront of Venice canals
Gelato infront of Venice canals
View on gondola ride
View on gondola ride
Saint Marx Square
Saint Marx Square
My roommates and I on a gondola in Venice.
My roommates and I on a gondola in Venice.

 

Something I would suggest before going anywhere is to learn basic phrases in the native language such as “hello”, “thank you”, etc. Even though 9 out of 10 times a person knows English, natives appreciate the effort. Another pro tip, triple check the departure time of your transportation! My roommates and I were having a nice dinner in Venice and thought our train left at 8:30 pm when in reality it left at 8:00 pm. We thought we were so prepared being at the station over 30 minutes early when suddenly it hit us. When I saw the big clock say 8, the connection was finally made. We RAN to the platform and, like a scene of a movie, saw the tail lights of the train slowly leaving. We got lucky because another train was going back to Milan 15 minutes after that, but if there was not, we would have had to sleep in the train station or pay for an expensive room. Long story short, always triple check and never be too sure.  Luck was in our favor, but that will not always be the case!

Sierra

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

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
Monaco
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.

Sierra

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
Sainte-Victoire
Sainte-Victoire
Spices at the market
Spices at the market
Fresh offerings at the market.
Fresh offerings at the market.

Sierra