Study Abroad: The Come Down, Part I

I, for one, can say that I wasn’t ready. After the long drawn out goodbye to France, I’ve been home all of 3(give-or-take-a-few)hours and already find myself itching to do something. Anything. How was boredom so evitable in France but so quick to find me on my floral duvet in my room in NY? I never thought I’d say this but Lilli’s crazy cultural sheets and sayings may have some truth to them: there’s a huge come down from study abroad. I guess all I keep asking myself is, “what now?”

I guess first and foremost there’s the ever-so-pressing issue of NYE: the frazzled rush to find plans, the dodging of jet lag, the futile attempts not to compare anything you’re doing here with what you could be doing across the pond in say, Aix-en-Provence, France. Then there’s the issue of having 5 days at home and 6 valises of laundry to do before repacking and heading down south (“to the land of the pines/I’m—” Sorry, small tangent). Next, the strangeness of adapting to (again) only having one cell phone. I found it very strange to not turn on my very crappy, yet reliable, portable français upon deboarding the plane today at JFK. It’s going to be strange not to pay as I go and I’m sure I will grow wistful as the soundwaves reaching my ears start to lack that obnoxious ding-ing noise that it makes when it wants to alert you to an SMS or phone call. And finally there’s the most important of all issues: what is the fate of this (a)blog? After all, I’d be lying if I said that keeping it hasn’t been entertaining, but I’d also be lying if I continued an abroad-blog from, well, not abroad. I’ve loved the comments that I’ve received – whether it be from parents, family friends, friends, or just bored readers with nothing better to do who ended up getting a good laugh. I guess we’ll see…considering the number of people who incredulously listen to the events of my day to day and marvel at the fact that MTV hasn’t yet called me for at least an hour episode of True Life because “how does this stuff even happen to you anyway?” Thus, I’m sure there will be more stories to tell. But I would like to say thanks for it while it’s on my mind – for reading and for following along.

Well, judge me for this (or not) but I’m going to go stow away my french phone for mon prochain séjour (because there’s going to be one!) and then watch some Vampire Diaries. The “what now?” now applies to Damon’s evil doings, Stefan’s search for humanity and the Bella-esque heroine who doesn’t bite her lip and actually speaks. Oh, I am coming down and hitting reality fast.

Better to have loved…

I have to continually remind myself of this idea – that it’s better to have experienced, to have seen, to have learned, to have met, to have known someone than it is to not have had that chance at all. But with the series of goodbyes and au revoir’s over the course of the past week and a half, I’m still not too sure this is making it any easier – only showing me that the pit in my stomach is a sign that the past four months were worth it. I had the chance to meet the most amazing people: 31 people at AUCP who, each in their own way, made this experience unforgettable; a host family – complete with live in host brother – who, upon closing the door to my 3rd floor apartment for the last time, really felt like an extension of my real family; a certain fun loving, green/blue-eyed boy who made me laugh simply by looking at me and saying “thanks for it” and who made me realize that having no emotions means you miss out on, well, life.

And so I’ve seen that goodbyes, in any language, just plain suck. But I’ve also come to learn that the deeper the pit in your stomach, the harder it is to fight back the tears as you walk away from the car and the more you find a smile creeping onto your face simply at the mention of a word that makes you think of “that time in Aix,” the more worth it those relationships are. It’s the stories, the too many bottles (or boxes!) of rosé, the Thursdays where you got sucked into the abyss of RoMarc’s apartment and didn’t wander out until 5am – all the while wondering “how did we stay that for that long?”; the games of “Never Have I Ever” where you really never have had a ménage-a-dix with an entire fraternity; the massive 4 scoops of gelato ice cream on the Cours Mirabeau simply because “well, we had a hard day, right?” It’s Crêpes A-Go-Go every Tuesday or seeing half of the AUCP at Book-in-Bar at any given point, at any given hour, on any given day, probably drinking tea and eating a scone; it’s talking ourselves into random purchases because, well, pourquoi pas?..then again, it’s justifying just about anything with pourquoi pas?! It’s been an envie d’ailleurs and an envie de revenir; swearing to a Sober Oktober only to jump right back into a glass of wine because, bien sûr, you can’t say no to Martine and Didier.

And as I sit here at my computer, I can’t even pick apart my memories because they all seem too fresh to harvest – to separate and put into words, into descriptions on a computer screen – they just seem like yesterday. So my stories, my mini-escapades will stay as one big film reel of souvenirs for a few days more…I have an 8 hour plane ride, after all, to sort through them. But I do see now that it’s true: It’s better to have loved. Every song ends, but we can still enjoy the music. We do things for the rush, the thrill, the story. If for nothing else, we do it for the experience. And I’m happy to have had this one, no matter how hard it is to leave.

The Real World: Aix-En-Provence

I’ve always said that I would never want to be the last roommate to leave the house on The Real World. And so when I realized yesterday that I would be one of the last AUCP’ers to leave Aix this weekend (only to return and be toute seule aussi!) I suddenly began to sympathize with Snooki and all the last ones who came before her. Regardless, being last has made me start thinking about goodbyes. And a hard, sad, tear-filled goodbye it will be. But I can’t help but think its not all bad. That pit in your stomach means you’re saying goodbye to something that was worth having, worth cultivating, worth smiling and crying at at the same time. Now, coming from me, these sentences must be shocking. Afterall, I’m the person who truly believes that emotional separation from other members of the human race is the best way to avoid sadness – and trust me, goodbyes are made easier.

But I’ve come to see that this belief is, well, dumb. I adore the people I’ve met here. In fact, I owe most of them huge thank you’s for opening my eyes to the world around me. I’ve (re)learned that you can, and should, let people in and that being dark and twisty can also be coupled with lots of bright moments filled with laughter and smiles. And from this lesson, I’ve gained the most wonderful souvenirs of the people who have been here in Aix with me. I’ll even go so far as to say this: I don’t HATE christmas and I have emotions. God that was difficult. But I now find myself in the same place as when I got here: eyes teary, next to my desk, sweatpants on, bags half-packed, squinting at a screen writing this entry bc (after 4 months of trying) I still have no internet in my little bedroom corner of Provence. Save for this time, I’m crying for a different reason, my desk has had many nights of studying upon it, and my eyes have seen the most amazing 4 months that I never even imagined.

So I may be leaving…but only for a short while! And with this weather, maybe not at all. If European blizzards have nothing to say about it, I’m off to Paris tomorrow, Switzerland til Friday and then Aix on Monday! And while it’ll be weird to not call Audrey or Laura or Jamie or anyone else to boire une verre on the Cours with me, I’ll have my family here and I guess some French kid to keep me company 🙂

“Prenez un peu de distance…”

And it’s when you look at things from far away that it’s easier to appreciate them. For me, it’s taken being far away from Tulane to realize just how many great things there are about it: the city in general, but more importantly the people that make it the wonderful, living, breathing thing I’m so in love with. Now, this is not a bearing on France – this place is wonderful and has done well by me – but I’m coming to see that there’s just something about a Tulane Student state of mind that is just impossible to recreate anywhere else and in any other group of people. And it’s for that that, while it’s going to be a tearful good-bye to Aix and the people who have lived it with me, I couldn’t be more excited to go back to a place where – no matter how tired you are – Thursday means F&Ms, Friday means Happy Hour, Saturday means any and all of the above and Sundays bring a day of PJs coffee, Favori’s, home work and the return to being a real human being for the next 4(ish) days (no matter what).

How to: Have a great day (without even really trying)

I feel the need to start with these next 5 words that will make you smile, because they were an integral ingredient to my current – dare I say – happy mood. “I really like being with you.” It’s simple, it’s not over done, it’s not even overly clingy! They’re just five words that, let’s face it, we all love to be surprised with. Whether it be from a boyfriend/girlfriend, a friend, a new acquaintance, it’s nice to know that we’ve done our job of being fun and likable without even realizing it, or without even particularly trying.

These five words topped off what could be one of the more fulfilling days I’ve had in Aix thus far – being that I felt successful having just finished a full semester of classes, all in French! Felicitations AUCPers! I then wound my way to Crêpes-A-GoGo (milles mercis à Florian) where Christy, Jamie and I celebrated the real beginning of the real end of our time here in Aix. What better way than with crêpes? I then found myself at Belle Epoque for 2 hours as I had my last farewell martini(s) with Prater who leaves France on Sunday for the good ol’ US of A. (See you at Mardi Gras, kid!) And as I sat there in BE, topping off two martini blancs with a café (espresso), I realized that it’s a million little things, little smiles, little phrases, little successes that create those days that seem, just, well, great. And for me, today was – inadvertently – just that.

On to finals! Womp womp. That was a downer.

One day more?

So not that this realllly fits, but I only have “one day more” of classes. And that makes me think of this. *sigh* Oh mental affiliations…enjoy!

Now to come back to our sheep (yes, that’s a phrase here)

Now, where did we leave off with these “Rules of the Game”? Ah yes…

…#9: Always compliment a boy on his velo. If you want to make French friends, apparently this is what you’ve got to do! During an ever so unnecessary group meeting on Monday night, we were told a story of a girl who met a boy while she was buying a baguette (so French) and who walked outside, made eye contact and said “Hey, nice bike.” He, of course, reciprocated and they came to talk. She then asked him, after 30-45seconds of social graces, if he wanted to have lunch with her. He did. So he bought his baguette (he’s French) and off they went. The next time, he brought his friend Boris. It was there that Boris met Kelly, and eventually, they got married. Moral of the story: compliment someone’s bike if they’re outside your local patisserie. Authors note: I just learned that Kelly and Boris have divorced. With this new knowledge in mind, make your choice of whether or not to speak to the boy on the bike. His best friend could be a heart breaker.

Rule #10: Be an ice queen. Apparently, French guys like this. For the two boys in our program, they must also play the role of Ice Queen. The validity of this rule is still being tested…

(Are you getting the idea that our director just wants us all to find husbands here?)

Rule #11: Abroad is abroad. We’re here to explore, not study. This mentality so eloquently put by the one and only Christina Houser has dominated my actions thus far in France. But after receiving a rather abrupt letter from the Abroad Office about my grades transferring – something I choose to forget quite often – I guess I need to come back to my moutons and lance into my studies. But not before partaking in Rule 12…

Rule #12: It’s always acceptable to get drunk off champagne with your host family, even if it’s after wine class on a Wednesday, and especially if it’s your host brother’s birthday. And so was my night last night. After having been certified in the degustation of wine – certificate and all! – I came home to find apertifs and a bottle of champagne waiting for me. Merci, David!  It’s always a little awkward being drunk in the presence of a freshley 45 year old “brother” and his 60+ year old mother, but things definitely got interesting when I smiled a little too big when David, describing Amsterdam, said: “il y a des coffee shops partout.” I laughed (nervously), he laughed (knowingly) – but c’mon, everyone knows why college students go to Amsterdam. I downed the rest of my champagne and he promptly refilled me. And so it went for the rest of the bottle.

Rule #13: No feet on the seat! Another encounter with the French but this time I was lucky enough to be a bystander while my friend Jamie got verbally smacked for having her shoes on the seat on a public bus on our way back from Prague. The couple in front of her, having only just sat down, turned around and expressed their inner rage at her infuriating actions! “Do you do that at your house?” She took her feet down. I’m not even surprised anymore – or I shouldn’t be – this kind of thing seems to happen pretty souvent.

Rule #14: Balls exist. At least, this weekend they do. I’ll let you know how this goes…Marie Claire’s last student passed out in our bathroom (naked!). I hope to fare better than her. The way I see it, if I can make it through Mardi Gras clothed, I can do this. And yes, parents, I make it through Mardi Gras clothed – albeit, in neon.

“Is this gonna last forever?”

So I’m realizing as I continue further into my abroad experience that we are now beginning the beginning of the end. Wow, that’s redundant but nonetheless true. As we were enjoying our new purchase of Belgian chocolates in the Brussels airport on our way over to Prague (where I currently sit in Suzy’s living room writing this entry as she naps off last night’s escapades), we realized that our lives really are unreal. I, of course, related them immediately to David After Dentist. If you have no idea what I’m talking about and have just crawled out from under your rock to read this blog, create a new tab, go to YouTube and type in David After Dentist. Watch it and then continue. Did it? Good. The Remix is worthwhile, too, so now you have something to preoccupy your time after you finish reading this too. Thank me later.

Anyway, right now I find myself in between when the drugged out little child asks “is this real life?” and “is this going to last forever?” And the evil father figure filming answers, “no, bud.” And it’s true. These past four months are something I thought about ever since my older cousin, Gina, went to London for her abroad experience. What would it be like? Who would I meet? Where would I go? So many questions that always seemed to have answers so far in the future it seemed I’d never find them. And now I’m here. I’ve answered Where and Who and What – and am still answering them. But someone so eloquently reminded me that “Ali, you leave in a month and a half.” He then added that we had to take advantage of the time left – and it’s true. Now is the time to profitez-bien from the time I have left, in Aix, in France and in Europe as a whole. In the words of one of our French friends: “t’as raison faut profiter.”

But it’s strange to start looking back. I’m ready to be back in New Orleans, but I know that I’m going to miss this new lifestyle that I’ve become so accustomed to. And I wonder if I’ll experience that same culture shock I felt in those first few weeks in France. It always takes leaving somewhere to realize why you chose to be there in the first place. It happened first when I left NY for NOLA and now NOLA for France. Most of you who’ve talked to me, or maybe it’s only been Foster who’s gotten the most of this, have known that I’ve been very back and forth on France. But as I sat in the cab on the way to Suzy’s yesterday night, I bbm’ed Jamie something very Lilli-esque: L’air me semble vide sans français. I even shocked myself. But it was in that moment that I realized how changed this experience has made me. And while it’s not going to last forever, it’s going to continue for right now. Off to continue profiting in Prague…à bientôt, readers!

Rules of The Game, Part I

I figured I’d codify (wow, Student Conduct Board Member much?) the “rules” that I’ve learned since in France. I’m sure that this segment of the Semester Ablog Blog will be repeated a few more times this semester as I’m finding there are quite a lot of new social rules here in France.

Rule #1: Do not feed the animals. This requires some clarification: by “animals” I mean specifically French females. This has to be a rule because walk down any street in France and you’ll feel the urge to buy every female age 15-35 either a huge cone of ice cream, a pie of (Boot) pizza or a very large sandwich. Look into any cafe at any time of day and you’ll see crowds of females but no plates in front of them – maybe a cafe or a drink of some sort, definitely cigarette in hand but where is your food, women of France?!

Rule #2: French music doesn’t really exist. Again, clarification: everywhere I go, I hear American music. In fact, the first song I heard when I arrived into Paris was “Come Together” by the Beatles followed by something by Katy Perry. I wondered, for a moment, if I had landed in France or in Heaven. (Turned out to be France.) Even my host mother’s ring tone is a Beatles’ song! My sole source of musical immersion is with the show N’Oubliez Pas Les Paroles. Otherwise, it’s pretty hard to find French beatz. Even the night clubs and bars play everything from John Mellencamp to Akon – I think I even heard some Weezy the other night…

Rule #2.5: My personal rule for Pop Music, if I haven’t heard it out of an F&M’s/Boot speaker – it doesn’t exist. Thus for those of you still in the states, educate me musically.

Rule #3: There’s no such thing as too many bisous. This rule applies mainly to French men. In my texting experience – albeit limited, thus far – every single text ends in “kisses” or “big kisses.” Really, men of France? I have never felt more College Frat Boy in my life than when I first reacted to this French habit of texting affection. All I wanted to do was put down the phone and run for les collines. Too many virtu-kisses!!

I’m sure I’ll learn more rules (after breaking them, I’m sure) when I’m in Munich this weekend. For the French this little 3 week period of partying is called La Fete de la Biere. For us, more commonly known as OKTOBERFEST!!!!! I’m planning on surviving. If you don’t hear from me by Tuesday, start checking the beer gardens. Now, in typical French-fashion: Gros-bisous tout le monde!

Pain, Fromage, Vin.

Bread, Cheese, Wine. The new, French equivalent of GTL. I don’t hate it…But when I’m not PFV-ing, I’m usually here:

That’s my room – Anna and Beary front and center on the bed.

Every night I close my shutters and leave my windows open to the sounds of les motos and the breeze through the trees. Upon waking, the shutters are opened and in rush the rays. It’s definitely a great way to wake up in the morning, albeit it’s getting colder by the day!

My typical day continues here:

Le Centre Americain – home of American University Center Provence. This gorgeous house is my new campus. That is, if you consider a garden, 5 classroom house and a pond-complete with fish-a campus.

After classes – which don’t exist for me on Tuesdays as I am continuing my unofficial, but very well-liked, Tulane tradition of easy Tuesday/Thursdays – it’s probable that I’m on the Cours Mirabeau. This gorgeous stretch of cafes and shops is the center area of Aix. “All roads descend to the Cours Mirabeau,” was one of the first directional tips that my host-mother, Marie-Claire, gave to me and it’s rang true ever since. Longchamps, Les Deux Garcons (a favorite hangout for the famed painter Paul Cezanne) and my new second home, Monoprix, are just some of the things that can be found on the stretch!

Maybe not the best shot, but the street culminates in a huge fountain (typical Europe) and roundabout with lots of crazy French drivers and lots of scurrying pedestrians. The mossy mass in the middle is, yet again, a fountain. Quelle surprise!

And after that, I take a bus home and usually settle down for some homework and, more typically, my favorite French show: N’Oubliez Pas Les Paroles – the French edition of “Don’t Forget the Words.” It’s been a great way to learn some French songs – Michel Delpeche, anyone? – and I love when Marie-Claire sings along, which is 9/10 times. Needless to say, I’m loving my time here. Even the most average of days brings a new adventure and a new experience. I think that’s it on playing catch-up. Perfect timing too because I can hear that I’m missing some embarassed contestants who forgot the words. Yup – now Marie-Claire’s singing. A bientot!

Of course, can’t forget les bon-bons! My friend Christy and I made sure to make a pit stop in this heavenly place for a free taste of a strawberry cookie and a purchase of des calissones – a type of cookie that, as far as I know, is famous in Aix. Bon appetit? Don’t mind if I do!