A Little Bit Stronger
Trip Start Jan 14, 2011
9Trip End May 17, 2011
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So I went through orientation last week, which involved a week-long intensive French course that helped us all adjust to having to communicate in French all the time. I met some other American students in the group, and it really helped to have that interaction with other people to take me out of my own thoughts. I have continued to hang out with a few of them, but it seems like some other members of the orientation group had different motivations for coming to France than I did. Alice Parish told me that there are three types of American students abroad: 1) those who want to have a real study abroad experience, 2) those who just want to party in a different country, and 3) and those who are using this time to fulfill their travel-around-Europe dreams. It seems like many people here belong to the second group, but I have also met several who are here because they genuinely want to learn and experience a new culture.
Last Sunday, for the last day of orientation, we all went to Avignon to visit the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), the center of the Avignon papacy after the pope moved from Rome to Avignon. I really enjoyed seeing all the history, but the tour was too short for my taste! I guess you can't see everything. Also, Avignon is ridiculously windy because of where it is located on the Rhone, so we were all freezing our buns off! Even our tour guide! So note to future travelers to France: go to Avignon in the spring or summer. In Avignon we also saw the famous Pont d'Avignon, about which there is a folk tale that French children learn in school, as well as many American students learning French. (Case in point: when I told my mom that we went to Avignon, she started humming the song...ish). However, we did not get to dance on the bridge, as the song goes. Tant pis!
After lunch at the Avignon McDonald's (my first French McDo experience), we went to a nearby winery and learned about sustainable wine production from the vine to the bottle. What's really cool about the winery that we went to is that it is connected to a high school for students who aren't university-bound. In addition to regular classes, these students learn first-hand (in the field, literally) about how to produce wine to better prepare them for later careers in the industry. After the tour of the vineyard, we went to the wine production room and then to the tasting room, which is equipped with light boxes and spit sinks to judge the color and taste of the wines. Although we were promised a "wine tasting," in reality we each got to try a small cup of either red or white wine, and then we could purchase some wine from the gift shop. A little disappointing. A few people in the group bought some boxes of wine, but I'd rather spend my money on cheese. ;)
This past week was the first week of classes. In France, during the first week of the semester students test out the classes they might want to take, so we were encouraged to go to more classes than we actually intended on taking. So I went to one on Monday...but the professor never showed up. Then on Tuesday I had three classes back to back: the first was an hour and and a half and the next two were two hours and a half each! And so on and so forth. I have decided to take two RI classes (just for Americans but taught in French), one class at the IEFE (institute for the study of French as a foreign language), and two integrated classes with the "real" university students: one English class and one comparative literature class. I think that they will all prove to be very interesting. I don't have any classes on Mondays and Wednesdays so I will need to plan stuff to do on those days, since I have found that my days go better when I have something to occupy my mind. Otherwise, I dwell on negative thoughts and homesickness, and it's bad, bad, bad! Montpellier has a lot of cultural activities to do, and once I get my student ID card, I'll be able to get discounted tickets to the museums, the opera, the movies, etc.
I've been getting a lot of different advice from a lot of different people about what I should do while I'm here to have the best experience possible. But the best advice has come from my family, who has encouraged me to just be myself. I don't need to force my experience into the "study abroad box" and try to have the same experience as everyone else. There is no right or wrong way to study abroad. This is truly a learning and growing experience. We don't start in the same place, and we don't end in the same place. But what's important is the journey of self-discovery. Studying abroad pushes everyone outside of their comfort zone, and we don't all adjust the same way or at the same pace. So I'm going to start forgiving myself for being who I am, and if I want to go to the garden and read, I'll go to the garden and read. And if I want to have dinner with friends, I'll do that too. But I don't need to do a bunch of things that I don't like to do because I feel like that's what I'm "supposed" to be doing. It's my study abroad experience, and I'm going to do it Rachel-style. No matter what happens, it will be an amazing opportunity and a life-changing experience, so I'm going to just sit back and enjoy it.