A Travellerspoint blog

Settling into a routine? Not really...

sunny 6 °C

After two weeks of classes, one might think that my life is calming down and/or settling into a real school-year routine. But in this case, one would be mistaken. I am definitely “settling in” to school in the important ways (e.g. going to classes, doing homework, etc.), but this in no way feels like actually being in school. I’m only in classes for 15 hours, four days a week, with very few other engagements. So I’m still able to do a lot of wandering, impulse outings, and reading in parks (although it’s starting to get a bit chilly here for that last one).

For example, I had the time to teach my South Korean and Taiwanese friends how to make chocolate chip cookies on Monday night. Baking is not a big thing in either of their cultures – Gabrielle is an amazing cook (I’ve eaten two of her dinners…), but she had never baked from scratch before, and Claudia had baked a couple of cakes in her childhood. So it was truly a new experience for them! They got to learn about the importance of using room-temp butter (of course, this step was forgotten ahead of time, so Gabrielle got to warm the butter with her body heat while Claudia chopped the chocolate bars).

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They also tasted brown sugar for the first time and discovered that the raw batter is just as good as – if not better than – the final product! In the end, we had a great night and made (and ate a surprising portion of) a batch of wonderful cookies!

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I had heard from multiple friends that there were other Nebraskans studying at the CLA, and I kept hoping that I would find them. Finally, I met them at the weekly international party downtown. (Side note: These parties are on Tuesday nights – further indication that my schedule is really surreal right now!) The other Nebraskans are actually both from UNO – one is from Plattsmouth and the other is from Omaha too! So that was really fun. I don’t know if/when I will see them again, but it’s cool to know that there are fellow Omahans in the vicinity!

Wednesday started out normally enough (aside from the fact that waking up after being up so late on Tuesday night was less than awesome). I ended up on the same bus to class as my friend Nicolle (the other American girl in my classes). We got off the bus about two blocks from the building (it’s actually kind of an office park, of which the CLA takes up about a quarter) where our classes are held, and when we turned the last corner, we discovered that all of its occupants were standing in the street, watching a cloud of smoke billowing from our corner of the building! It turned out to have been in the parking lot behind the building, but after we had been standing in the street for about twenty minutes and it was clear we wouldn’t be going in any time soon, classes were cancelled for the day!

So, finding ourselves downtown at 10:30am with nothing to do, Nicolle and I went in search of a post office for me and a lunch to go for her. She found this bakery, which is apparently hiring a patisserie apprentice. (Eva is making arrangements!)

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After Nicolle bought her sandwich, we turned the corner and ran into four of our classmates sitting outside at a café. So we stopped, ordered coffee, and chatted for two hours! This turned out to be extra fantastic, because one very important thing that has been missing from my life over the past few weeks has been a good coffee shop. Believe me, there is NO shortage of cafés here, but it seemed to me like they are generally used for chats between two or three people or for meals (every café that I have seen is also a restaurant – but usually without a full menu, just the “plate of the day”) and I really didn’t want to commit a cultural offense by parking myself at a table alone for hours and just order tiny coffees. But I got the feeling that this would still be ok.

So guess what I did yesterday?! I had three hours between classes, so I went back over to The Green Man (the name is actually in English), and did exactly that. The place is really interesting; it’s pretty small, with maybe six or seven tables inside; it has kind of a rustic atmosphere and some really cool antique instruments for decoration; and the stairs down to the toilette make me feel like I’m in a castle!

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Also, on an exploration of a new neighborhood, I came across a promising candidate for the ugliest apartment building in existence:

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Language wins of the week:
1. Understood class lecture even through my dozing state.
2. Ordered a coffee (or three) like a total French person!
3. At the post office, I dropped a colloquial grammaticism that I that I have observed, and when I said that I’d need international postage to the US, he seemed genuinely surprised that I was American. (However, I have gotten the vibe that Americans are generally held to a lower linguistic standard than other travelers. Often in conversations where people know from the beginning that I’m an international student (that’s pretty much every conversation; it’s pretty obvious!) they are surprised when, later on, it comes up that I’m from the US. It’s pretty much a “Really? But you speak so well!” kind of thing…

Language fails of the week:
1. I passed a man in the street and said, “Au revoir” instead of “Bonjour”…
2. I continue to slip up and use the informal version of “you” with adults.
3. When I went to the bank to pick up my ATM card, the secretary explained to me that the transfer from my American account had not yet been received so my card was not yet active (I understood that part fine) but then she went on to say that I would need to come back to make a withdrawal in order to activate it (I thought she said that she couldn’t give me the card until there was money in the account, so I’d have to come back later for it). So I thanked her, turned around, and started to leave. I was at the door when I realized that she was trying to call me back. No – she was going to give me the card today, but I would have to come back later to activate it. To make things worse, this last part was in English. And then she apologized to me for her “bad” English…

Posted by NKammerer 22:47 Archived in France Tagged school fire cafe nebraska bakery cookies baking Comments (3)

One Week Down (or three weeks, depending how you count it)

Also, a day spent exploring the Haut-Doubs.

rain 19 °C

Tomorrow will mark the three-week anniversary of my arrival in Besançon, but so much has happened in the past 20 days that it feels like it has been much longer.

I survived my first week of classes without sustaining too much damage – I feel like I am really in the perfect position - spending my first semester at the language institute and my second in mainstream university classes. (The CLA – Center for Applied Languages – is technically an academy of the Université of Franche-Comté, but the vast majority of students are either foreigners [traditional and nontraditional students; there are a few adults in my classes] who want to learn French, or are French and studying a language other than French.) Interestingly, I am the only student on this split track, and all of my professors were a little surprised and intrigued when my situation was explained to them. I’m not really sure how I ended up where I am…) All of my other international friends have just been dumped into mainstream classes, and some are faring much better than others. So I am grateful to be in a slightly more cozy and supportive environment where I can focus primarily on really deepening my understanding of the language. It’s kind of fun, because all of the people in my classes are definitely in the same boat; we are all intelligent individuals and dedicated students, but are essentially adults stuck with the vocabulary of a sixth grader. So many of our classes are an interesting mixture of discussing advanced ideas and concepts and elementary school activities (like standing in a circle and making gestures to convey our inner/emotional state, while the rest of the class offered up synonyms or phrases to describe them)!

At least as of now, it doesn’t look like my workload will be too heavy this semester, which is also nice. And all of my classes are pretty small – the largest is probably about twenty-five students, while the smallest is seven. It’s also fun to have so many shared classes with some students. On Wednesday, I went over to the University restaurant with a girl from Buffalo, NY for lunch between classes. We found ourselves in line right behind two guys from Canada and Japan who were also just coming from the same class (Written Composition/Comprehension). So we all sat down together and shared our adventures and challenges of the past weeks. Over the course of the discussion, we discovered that three of us were going to the same class right after lunch (Contemporary French History). It’s also nice to be able to sit in one class and ask your neighbor for clarification about an assignment in another class! Also, I’ve talked to multiple people who have referenced other Nebraskans studying at another level in the CLA, but I have yet to run into them….

This week, I found a yarn store! This was quite an accomplishment; I had looked online for shops last week and did not come up with ma,y results, except for one downtown. I looked for it after class one afternoon, but the address that was listed was actually the front door to an apartment building (the exact same thing happened the week before when I was looking for a place to stock up on school supplies…). This store – The Yarn Box – is actually within walking distance of my dorm, and the lady who was working there (I think she is the owner) is very friendly and an amazing knitter (she was working on one of the most beautiful sweaters I’ve ever seen). So now I’m all set to start on my hat and scarf for this winter!

The Yarn Box is next door to a supermarket, which I thought I’d check out while I was in the neighborhood. I wasn’t compelled to buy anything, so after about ten minutes of wandering around, I started to walk out. But my backpack (which I had completely forgotten I was wearing) set off the alarm, and I turned around to see a man in a black suit walking toward me with a very stern expression on his face. He ushered me back into the store, and – I think – asked me if I had bought anything and whether I had checked out. I only think that that is what he said, because my brain was unfortunately not quite functioning at full capacity at this time. Thankfully, I think that the combination of my deer-in-headlights expression and my flustered, nowhere near grammatically correct sentences convinced him that I was really not a shoplifter. I was a bit surprised that he didn’t look through my bag (which at this point contained mostly yarn and crochet hooks…) but just reminded me that I need to check my bag at a register next time. So that was exciting!

Yesterday, (Saturday) was another ESN event – an exploration of the Haut-Doubs region. Besançon is located in the Doubs department of France (the Doubs is the river that runs through town), and the Haut(“high”)-Doubs is the mountainous region to the South and East of Besançon. We had a really full day of sightseeing, from 7:45am-7:15pm. You can zoom in on the map at the top of the page to see our route. We started at a farm museum in Montagnon, which is both an historic farmhouse and a working “chimney” for smoking and curing ham in the traditional Franche-Comté fashion. The first room that we entered was the chimney pictured below, where hundreds of pig legs have been hanging and curing for, as we soon learned, the past nine months. It was a bit stinky.

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Next, we visited the fruitérie (cheese factory) at Noël-Cerneux (a little commune with a population of about 360). This fruitérie is one of the producers of comté, one of the regional cheeses that Franche-Comté is known for. We got to tour the factory (there were four or five different rooms, and each had a very different temperature and its own unique oppressive smell!) and then we ate a bunch of cheese. It was quite fantastic.

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Then we went for a little hike up Mont Vouillard, where we had a lovely view overlooking the town of Morteau (the name is derived from the words for “dead” and “water”, because the Doubs ends here). We stopped for a picnic here, quite literally in a cow pasture.

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After lunch we got back on the bus and went to another trail head, which we followed to Le Belvédère du Bassin du Doubs, an overlook of the river (here, the other side of the river is Switzerland), then our hike continued on to le Saut (waterfall) du Doubs, where I crossed a bridge into Switzerland!

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Our last stop was a father-son dairy farm, where we got to see a bunch of cows and some awesome dogs. We learned that, in this region, it is typical for a dairy farmer to send all of their milk to one fruitérie. If I understood correctly (it is entirely possible that I didn’t) there are 26 dairy farms in the Haut-Doubs region whose milk goes solely to the production of comté. The farm that we visited supplies to a fruitérie other than Noël-Cerneux, and because each fruitérie produces a slightly different product, we got to taste MORE comté! Nobody complained.... Also, to accompany our cheese, we sampled milk straight from the tank that collects it fresh from the cows. It was pretty intense.

Today has been a relatively quiet, very rainy day spent organizing all of the photos I have taken - I didn't realize how many there are - and doing pretty much all of my homework that was assigned last week (there is ALWAYS something more attractive that homework here!).

Posted by NKammerer 06:52 Archived in France Tagged museum waterfall farm picnic switzerland cheese classes cla esn haut-doubs Comments (4)

Back to School!

(And the epic saga of my quest for chocolate chip cookies...)

sunny 22 °C

Sunday was my last day of the summer, and it was a relatively quiet day...I slept in really late after a late Saturday night, then met Théo downtown to visit the Museum of the Resistance (Besançon has a rich legacy as the hub of one of the most powerful Resistance networks during WWII, and Théo, a fellow sucker for interesting history - and whose great-grandfather actually spent the war falsifying documents for escaping Jews - wanted to show me a bit more of the town's more recent history). We got to the museum at about 3:00 (the museum is actually inside of the citadel - you climb the big hill to a parking lot and some outbuildings and a huge gate (that’s as far as I had gone before), but inside the gate is a big park with *another* hill up to the citadel proper, which houses the Museum of the Resistance, a historic chapel, a museum of the culture of Franche-Comté, and a zoo, all mixed in throughout the citadel buildings. It's pretty interesting up there. And there is a staircase that you can climb up to one of the battlements that overlooks the whole valley, which was quite beautiful.

So - we got to the museum at 3:00, and as many of you know, I am probably the most painfully slow museum patron of my generation. I read everything. And when it’s all in French, it takes about half again as long. Suffice it to say, the museum has 20 rooms, and we saw nine of them in the three hours that we had before we got kicked out. And the way that the museum is laid out, the first eight rooms are dedicated to the rise of Nazism and the very early war, and as you progress, you get deeper into the history of the region. So we really only saw stuff that I already knew about! (However, it was very interesting to see the story represented from a different perspective. As you can imagine, the important players are different in France; instead of Truman, Roosevelt and Churchill, I got to learn more about Maréchal Pétain and Charles de Gaulle.) As we were herded out through the last rooms on the first floor, I could see that there is some really interesting stuff. Definitely going back, but maybe at 9:00, when the museum opens!

Monday was my first day of classes - I had my oral comprehension/expression class at 1:30 and my French Literature class at 3:00. It's bizarre - on Mon. and Tues., my first classes are at 1:30pm. It's kind of messing with my internal schedule! Because I tested into the higher level, our core group is pretty small. My oral and written comprehension/expression classes are the same core group of 13 students, and we are from the US, Canada, Chile, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Spain, and I will see them every day, Mon.-Thurs. My literature class is only 8 students, many of whom are the same as that core group. It was a bit exhausting to be listening to lectures in French for four and half hours straight, but I was pretty pleased with my level of comprehension and participation. Our first book will be Nausea (La nausée) by Jean-Paul Sartre, and we spent the majority of the class in a lecture on the historical context, namely, WWII and some of the stuff that I had learned about the day before!

Tuesday was my written comprehension/expression and Semiology classes (unfortunately, it looks like Semiology may be cancelled because there aren't enough people registered...it's too bad; it was a fascinating class period!) Again, I was pretty happy with how it all went. One thing that I am looking forward to as a result of this semester is an improvement in my ability to put my thoughts into words more accurately and eloquently. (I fear that, because of my limited vocabulary and my formal, "classroom" French, my personal expression is a strange mixture of five-year-old and proper 18th century novel...) In our semiology discussion, I struggled a bit with conveying my ideas in an intelligible fashion. And I got called on A LOT. I suspect it was because French professors have no problem with the name Natalie (or "Nathalie") but names of Asian original are a bit more difficult!

One of the things that has been slightly less than ideal about my dorm is the kitchen situation - the information that I received before my arrival said that there would be a shared kitchen on each floor of my building, which made me very happy. But, alas, the "kitchen" is a room with a sink and four electric hot plates...conducive to pasta, eggs, and not much else. So I spent the first two weeks in slight homemade food withdrawal. Also, I really felt the need to do something to thank Théo for all of his help and patience. So after some deliberation, I concluded to use these two reasons to justify the purchase of a toaster oven for my room. (I'm still not 100% sure whether they are actually allowed in the rooms, but I am going to claim foreign ignorance if the need arises!)

I decided on an easy, tried-and-true (and pretty American) thank-you gift - chocolate chip cookies. (Here they are called biscuits aux pépites de chocolat – “pépite” is also the word used for nugget, as in gold nuggets…). So I had Mom email me the recipe that we have always used in our family, and I set out on Monday morning to buy all of the necessities. (It was interesting, because my shopping list also included some very important but easily taken for granted objects like a big mixing bowl, a spatula, a measuring cup, and the Tupperware that I would use to transport my nuggety goodness.) I had heard that chocolate chips are a bit of a novelty in France, and this was proven to be true. The store only sold them in tiny packages containing about a cup (I needed two cups for the recipe) and which cost 3€. That’s almost $8 worth of chocolate chips! So I just spent about 2€ on some chocolate bars with the intention of cutting them up later. The next fun surprise was the mysterious lack of baking soda. I realized at the store that I had no idea what the French name is for it, so I had to look that one up on my phone (It’s “bicarbonate de soude”, if you’re wondering). But I couldn’t find it in the baking aisle, the bread aisle, the cooking supplies aisle, or even the cleaning aisle. And there was NO ONE around to ask. By this time it was getting late, and I still had to drop everything off at home, grab a bus, and take the 20 minute ride downtown to make it to class. So I just gave up.

After class (it was 6:00, because Mondays are my late days) I went to the grocery store downtown, where, again, there was no bicarbonate de soude to be found. But I was able to find someone who escorted me to the correct aisle. And there it was – right on the end of the dog food, next to the salt! How did I not think of that?! And of course, the only box they had was HUGE. So I guess I’ll just have to keep making cookies until it’s gone, to get my money’s worth! After the successful purchase of the baking soda, there remained only one final, but crucial step. The acquisition of the mini oven! I made it to the store about 20 minutes before they closed, and was soon the proud owner of a $35 USD mini oven. So I got to be the crazy lady on the bus with a big box of baking soda sticking out of her purse and an unwieldy kitchen appliance blocking the aisle. (The supreme irony – Théo’s apartment is literally right across the street from the electronics store!)

I got back to my dorm (it was 8:00 by then), busted out the mini oven, and started it on its recommended cleansing maiden voyage. The room quickly began to smell like melting plastic, which was troubling, but that went away in about five minutes. So then I cranked up The Cranberries and set to work chopping up chocolate bars on top of my mini-fridge (don’t I have an exciting life?) After converting the recipe into metric units, I was ready to go! The worst part of baking cookies is always the waiting in between batches in the oven…this was amplified by about 40x because I was only able to fit six cookies at a time into my adult easy-bake oven. I checked on the first batch after about eight minutes, only to find a soupy mess of flat and melty cookies. I had forgotten to take the altitude into account; I’m about twice as high here as in Omaha! So much more flour later, I was cranking out tiny batches of gorgeous looking cookies.

Our recipe makes A TON of cookies, and the Tupperware that I bought was only so big, so I invited my friends Claudia and Gabrielle (from Taiwan and South Korea, respectively) over to share in the bounty. Neither of them had ever had homemade chocolate chip cookies, only store-bought, so they were hooked pretty quickly. (And they have asked me to teach them how to make them ASAP.) When I told them that they were a thank-you for my parrain, they both looked at me a little funnily. Come to find out, in both of their cultures, the exchange of treats/baked goods is often a romantic event…good to know! So we spent two hours hanging out and eating cookies (they were still coming out of the oven this whole time…I lost count somewhere around eight sheets!).

Alas, now that classes have started, I have responsibilities and things, so I should probably get on that…

Posted by NKammerer 11:35 Archived in France Tagged shopping museum citadel classes cookies baking Comments (7)

The Adfrenchures Continue!

sunny 16 °C

Today is my 13th day in Besançon, but it feels like I have been here for a lot longer than that. Not in a bad way at all, but I am happy that classes will be starting on Monday. This two-week "vacation period" has been such a perfect way to become comfortable here, both physically and mentally. This past week I've kept busy with school preparations (placement tests, paperwork, class registration, etc. - more on that at the end...) and more touristy stuff. On Thursday, I visited the Musée du Temps (the Museum of Time), which is housed in a palace built by a wealthy citizen in the 16th century. It is partly dedicated to the history of the city, and partly to the history of horlogorie (clock-making). Both subjects were very interesting, but I found that the clocks started to tick me off after a while...

My other big event of the week was this afternoon, with ESN (Erasmus Student Network) the international relations group on campus. They have a huge calendar of events, and today we went for a hike starting in downtown Besançon and ending in Morre, a little village on the other side of the hill that the citadel sits atop. We got to see a bit of the countryside and stopped for a very French picnic (bread, cheese, grapes, tomatoes, and wine) on the top of another hill, with a gorgeous view of the Juras. (see photo gallery for more)

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Aside from that, I have kept busy with some important business-y things, like mailing off the form for the final step of my visa (now I definitely can't be deported, unless I manage to do something highly illegal), collecting my first monthly food stipend from the University, and opening a French bank account. That last one was pretty big for me. I didn't want to become a helpless pain in my parrain's butt, so I summoned up the courage to do it on my own. Surprisingly, it all went incredibly smoothly, and I'm still pretty proud of myself when I think back on it! But it's a good thing that I didn't realize beforehand how involved it is to set up a new account, otherwise I probably would have talked myself out of attempting it alone. My appointment lasted a good hour with lots of paperwork and questions about my financial/living situation as a student abroad, but the woman who helped me was extremely friendly and helpful. There were really only two times that she had to stop and find a different way to explain what was happening. There is some specialized financial vocabulary that just isn't taught in the first two years of French instruction...

That being said, I am continuing to get more comfortable in conversational settings - I do still find myself planning out the opening sentences to a conversation when I am able to, for instance, "Hi, I am an international student at the University and I would like to set up a bank account." or "Hi, my name is Natalie Kammerer, and I was told to come here to pick up my stipend for the month of September?" But I'm way less awkward at improvised conversations than I was a week ago. (One thing that continues to trip me up is the change at around 5 or 6 pm from "bonjour" to "bonsoir". I have managed to blurt out a few different unintelligible hybrids of these deceptively simple phrases...) I'd also like to think that I am becoming less of an obviously foreign presence (I actually understood everything that was happening when the lady at the cash register told me that the student discount doesn't apply to meals, only to purchases of bulk cheese or bread, and when the bookstore didn't have the novel I need for class, the man behind the counter automatically started the process of ordering it in for me.)

However, one thing that still manages to escape me is a solid knowledge of the town's layout. Many of you probably know that I do not have an innate sense of direction, and this has proven interesting. I know the neighborhood directly around my campus quite well, as well as that of the centre-ville, and I have a pretty good sense of the major connecting streets between the two. But every time I go for a run, I feel like I'm in a rabbit hole. No matter how well I map my route ahead of time, I never quite manage to get home the way I planned to. (It doesn't help one bit that street signs are definitely not something to be taken for granted here - they really only occur at the beginning and end of a street, and there are very few streets that keep the same name for more than about five blocks. Thankfully, I have not yet gotten truly lost, and the fluidity of my schedule these past two weeks has been very conducive to some navigational trial and error.

My adventures with transportive food experiences continues, as should be expected. The Franche-Comté region is known for three cheeses - Comté, Morbier, and Canciollotte. So far I have only tried Comté, but my, is it good! It's a relatively mild white cheese that is equally delicious sliced with bread and tossed on a salad. There are some more involved regional dishes that use it more creatively, and I am excited to check them out, as well as the other two types of cheese. Also, I made the monumental discovery that my neighborhood grocery store sells CANNED VEGETARIAN RAVIOLI. The filling is a paste of onion, zucchini, spinach, broccoli, and carrots, with a tomato sauce with onions, black olives, and basil. I can already see this becoming one of those random guilty pleasures that I will miss like crazy in the US...

On Thursday, I ate the most delicious sandwich of my life thus far. (It was at the place that doesn't do the student discount for meals, but I am TOTALLY going back.) The store is called Le Trou de Souris (The Mouse Hole) and they sell all kinds of regional specialties (mostly cheese), but also breads, yogurts, and wines. And sandwiches. I ordered "Le Grec" (Greek). The lady reached into the case and pulled out a log of the crustiest looking bread I have ever seen in my life, tied off with two pink ribbons. (Side-note: Ready-made sandwiches are a very typical street food here. They are reminiscent of Subway, except that, Subway's bread in comparison is like it has been soaking in water for ten minutes. I feel like a T-rex trying to eat these sandwiches. And they are HUGE. Pretty much baby baguettes.) So anyhow, Le Grec (pictured below, just before I begin round two - it was twice that size originally) was served on a poppy seed sourdough bread. It had lettuce, incredibly fresh and tangy feta cheese, tomato tartine, balsamic vinaigrette, and giant green raisins that added a magically sweet twist to it.

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Finally, my classes begin on Monday! I took four placement tests last Monday (written expression, written comprehension, oral comprehension, and oral expression) which would determine the level of classes I will take. The levels are A1, A2, B1, B2, and C1. In order to get into the program, we all had to have a level of at least A2, so they were placing into B1-C1. I managed to receive a C1, so I had some pretty cool course options, including the ability to choose a "dominant" subject. The dominant that I chose is Literature, so I am taking French Literature and Comparative Literature, in addition to "Perfection of Oral Expression and Comprehension", "Perfection of Written Expression and Comprehension", Contemporary French History, and Semiology (which is, as I learned very recently, "the study of meaning-making and philosophical theory of signs and symbols"). I'm pretty stoked. And I managed to arrange all of those classes into a Monday-Thursday schedule, so I'll have a three-day weekend for my anticipated jaunts to the far corners of the European continent!

Also, in case it isn't easy to see for someone who doesn't know the ins and outs of this website, I have uploaded a BUNCH of pictures over the past week. There is a gallery on the right side. I'm not super happy with it, because I can't create different albums, of even really organize the images very effectively, but it works.

Merci à tous pour votre intérêt et votre soutien !

Posted by NKammerer 11:16 Archived in France Tagged food school hike cheese esn museedutemps Comments (3)

The International Experience!

sunny

I have time to actually sit down and write a post this morning, but I'm planning on going downtown today to go all super-tourist and take a bunch of pictures so you all can see a bit of Besançon. So I'll post those either tonight or tomorrow.

I've been here almost a week, and have met SO many new people, both French and otherwise. There are 127 international students on campus, and I think four of us are Americans, so it has been quite exciting to meet people and share interesting quirks about our cultures - no one can believe that I'm still a minor in my own country (drinking ages vary from 16-18 pretty much everywhere else), or that I have been driving for four years (the driving age is 18 in most European countries) - very interesting.... So far, I have met people from England, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Russia, Brazil, El Salvador, Tunisia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tenessee, New York, and various parts of France. There is a very strong International Relations club at the University, and they have all kinds of parties, events, and outings to help us share our own cultures with each other and to experience France together.

Aside from all of the worldwide cultural networking that I have been doing, I have also been able to experience some really fun parts of the French culture. On Thursday night, I went with my university-appointed buddy, Théo, to dinner at one of his friend's apartments. Mind you, this was a dinner consisting of five college students - dinner started at 8:00, and when we arrived, there were hors-d'oeuvres and wine on the table (julienned carrots and toast with green olive tapenade). Then we had a second course of sautéed turkey and cheese (for those of you who don't already know, I have decided to suspend my vegetarianism for this year, in order to be open to the full cultural experience, and to not offend anyone who is kind enough to cook for me!), followed by a third of spaghetti. After about twenty minutes of digestion and conversation, our hostess busted out a big bowl of fruit salad, which served as course number four/dessert, which was then followed by tea. We left at about 10:30. But then all went downtown together (in Besançon, and maybe France in general, Thursday night is when ALL of the students go out), and the group that I was with ran into someone they knew on almost every street, so our group sort of morphed between four of us walking on the sidewalk to a mass of eight blocking the street. (Also, it was more than a little weird to see so many high school students walking all over the neighborhood, nonchalantly carrying and drinking from bottles...) Not only was this night a super fun exposure to more intimate socialization, but I was pretty deeply entrenched in native French for about five hours, which just made my brain hurt. Everyone talked so fast, and a few people had regional accents that made them quite difficult to understand. But it was good for me! And it has been really interesting to observe that people my age greet each other and say good-bye quite formally, even if they are good friends (guys always shake hands, and girls and girls and guys do the kiss on each cheek (a "bisou") - which kind of threw me off the first time!).

I am definitely feeling more comfortable with my identity as a foreign person in this country. It has helped a lot to meet other students who are both more and less advanced than myself with the language. I am much less scared of talking to people, but I find that I am still WAY more comfortable with other non-native speakers (I think it's going to take a long time for that to go away...).

Even though it is pretty far away (about 20 minutes by bus), I think that I have gone downtown every day since I have arrived. I'm very glad that my classes are going to be in that part of town. It is just so fun to walk around such a beautiful space. I also discovered that, just across the river from this original old town area (the "centre-ville"), there is a slightly less chic and crowded, but just as charming neighborhood that has a lot of residences, as well as more cafes and little specialty shops (yes, there is an entire store dedicated to French olives). I also went up to the old citadel the other night, and it was absolutely breathtaking. I was too late to go inside, but just walking around the exterior was incredible. I have seen my fair share of super old stuff in museums, but there is something magical about seeing something so old in its original location. The citadel is *only* about 300 years old, but street at the base of the hill leading up to it is guarded by a Roman arc de triomphe (the Porte Noire, which is more like 1,900 years old), which is just surreal to pass underneath.

Tomorrow, I will spend the day taking tests to determine the level of French courses that I will take this semester! I'm very excited to get back into a formal study of the language, even though I think I have learned about as much in the past week as I could in a semester of classroom instruction.

Pleasant surprises about life in Besançon:
- EVERYONE uses reusable bags for shopping
- The coffee is super strong everywhere
- Biking, walking, and waiting for the bus are just a part of daily life, and the longer travel times are a non-issue as a result
- The bus system ROCKS (at least compared to Omaha)
- Most people are very patient and helpful with non-native speakers
- Amazing bread is incredibly cheap

Less pleasant surprises:
- Some people are not so patient and helpful with non-native speakers
- Almost all of the other international students have been speaking English longer than they have been French, so it sometimes becomes the default language (not necessarily bad, just an interesting surprise)
- There are a lot more cars than I had expected, and traffic is CRAZY, especially near downtown
- It costs more to sit outside on a bar's terrace than inside (but it's only about $.30 USD, so it's totally worth it)
- Some toilets just don't have seats, and it appears that hooks on the doors of bathroom stalls is not a thing here
- If you order water at a restaurant, the waiter will probably ask you if you want tap water (free) or some form of sparkling water (really expensive). Because you often don't learn things like this in a classroom setting (and because my instinct in such situations is to panic and not ask questions), you may just blurt out whichever of the two choices that the waiter gave you is easier to repeat back to him. It just so happens that the easier of the two is the $6 bottle of sparkling water...

Photos to follow soon!

Posted by NKammerer 02:13 Archived in France Tagged dinner international citadel besançon centre-ville Comments (4)

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