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,

Elin

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.

Elin

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!

Elin

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

The Importance of an Opinion

Hello again,

Sunset in Nice
Sunset in Nice
Carnival de Nice
Carnival de Nice
Carnival de Nice
Carnival de Nice
Carnival de Nice
Carnival de Nice

Linfield’s study abroad opportunity to Aix is unique because they pay for pre-orientation (called early start), which means you arrive a week prior to the first day of class. Over that week you can take a cooking class, go wine tasting, visit nearby monuments, get a tour of town, and get extra French practice. I highly enjoyed my time at early start and met most of my friends here during that time. I especially appreciated the information we received regarding French and American cultural differences.

During pre-orientation, IAU Dean Leigh Smith said his advice for us was to get a perspective on American politics and to form that opinion now. Everyone from your French friends and host families to your professors want to know exactly what is going on in the United States. One professor, and head of the school of Business and International Relations, then reminded us of the prevalence of American politics and the power of our elections on other nations. He is an Arab Muslim and a journalist. He described how recent policies and statements from the United States government had impacted his and his family’s life. He reiterated the statement made by the dean: have an educated opinion. Understand how interconnected we all are.

During the study abroad orientation put on by IPO last year, we role played what it would be like to be asked about American politics so we had a semi-prepared response. I was reminded of this at early start. People are going to expect you to be an expert on American politics even if you aren’t.

Last weekend I was in Nice for the Carnival de Nice. The carnival is a 160 year old tradition that celebrates the city. It involves a massive parade with floats and entertainers. This year the theme was cinema. The culmination of the parade, the curtain closer, was a massive float of Donald Trump styled after Pennywise the clown from “It.” In his hand he held a figurine of French president Emmanuel Macron. Running underneath the float were entertainers wearing costumes of paper boats. The boats were made out of executive orders and international agreements Trump has either made or bowed out of. Marching alongside the Trump clown, were various dictators also dressed as Pennywise but not as large. Directly preceding this was a float of Russian president Vladimir Putin carrying what appeared to be Trump (dressed in drag) in his arms over the Kremlin.

It’s humbling to watch the president of your country act as the punchline of a joke while crowds of French people around you laugh. And he will be.  American students studying abroad should anticipate this and know how they to appropriately react.  

– Elin Johnson

Another update from the south of France…

Salut!

From a day trip to Nimes.
From a day trip to Nimes.
St Paul
St Paul

It has been exceptionally cold for the typical winter in southern France.  Or so I’m told.  I’ve found it rather mild without too much rain. To poorly paraphrase a French saying “it can’t be a Saturday without sun,” so most days have some sun. The wind here is notorious. They call it the mistral and it blows down the river from the alps. There is a plethora of urban legends about the mistral. Some say that in the 1600’s people who had committed a crime while it was windy would blame the wind saying it made them do it. It was like an insanity plea. They also say that the wind only blows for an odd number of days. I have not necessarily found that to be true. The decent weather has made me want to spend all day in one of the lovely parks, but alas school is an essential component of this process.

At Linfield I study journalism and international relations. While I am in Aix, I am primarily focusing on the international relations component.  IAU, the program here in Aix, has a school specifically for business and international relations. This means that there are many other students who are IR majors here, and the IR classes are strong.  I am taking classes on monotheistic religions, the history of French colonialism in North Africa, the European Union, and refugees and immigrants into the EU.  I am also taking a French class which is required for every IAU student.  I am excited to learn more about France’s role in the European Union and about their policies on refugees and immigration.  I think that a lot of students believe that the classes you take abroad are easier than the ones at your home university. This is not necessarily true. Classes are just as intense when you’re abroad.  Some consider it more challenging, because while taking classes in a different setting than you’re used to, you’re also growing accustomed to a new culture and a new country. My advice would still be to challenge yourself with classes. The course offerings at your location are as unique as the location, and offer a new perspective on things you’re learning about.

A plus tard,

Elin Johnson