Let’s try again…

Hi friends,

Yesterday I received some feedback on my last post; most of the readers didn’t think I am the one who wrote it. No, I am not offended because I can understand why; it was very informative and wasn’t even relatable or sarcastic in any way. In my defense, though, I am so overwhelmed by so much information and I really want to tell everything to you all without writing a boring 900-word essay. Because I know when I get back, you will ask me how my experience was and I will say it was really great and that will be end of the conversation. But, anyway, let’s try again…

I often find myself taking online quizzes; what food matches your personality, what state do you actually belong in, which “Girls” character are you etc. It’s not because I am dying to know what my soulmate food is, it is mostly because I am trying to get to know myself and let me tell you, it is so hard. Same goes for the process of getting to know a city; I don’t know how many books I have read on Amsterdam, how many maps I looked at, yet, I also lost the count of how many times I was amazed or surprised or got lost trying to find this one “plein”. After all, no book tells you that you have to check in and check out everytime you get on the tram, no guide makes it clear that open air market in Waterlooplein that looks very cheap is actually expensive… Not to mention that you have to pay everytime you use a public bathroom (including McDonald’s) or for the water you order at a restaurant. Many tourists also don’t even realize the fact that bikes in Amsterdam are not popular for environmental reasons but they are the common way of transportation because the streets are so narrow that it is incredibly hard to move around in the city with a four wheel vehicle. Beside the interesting facts, there are times you make a fool out of yourself while experimenting, or even being yourself… Like that time our Dutch language prof said “reizend” (means traveling in Dutch) and I chuckled saying “Raisin… I’m raisining… Ehehe” repeatedly… He looked at me like he was wasn’t sure if I was a 5 year old trapped in a 20 year old’s body or just an idiot. Well, sometimes you have to learn it the hard way.

Of course there are undeniable, very obvious facts that you know the first time you see the city; just like how much you will enjoy that 45 minute walk to school while passing by beautiful parks, 400 year old buildings and chapels. Then, there is “your” cafe that you stop by to grab your “Dutch usual” every morning; the gooses that get in your way everyday which once was annoying to you but now you look forward to feed them right before class; that canal view you see every afternoon when the bridge is all lit up and you just stand there for exactly 30 seconds while “In My Arms” by Jon Foreman is playing on your iPhone.

My "30 second break" on the bridge
My “30 second break” on the bridge

The small things that you make memories of, the details which make that place your nest; that’s what it takes to actually get to know a city and fall in love with it. Maybe there are going to be rough times that you two won’t get along so well; like how my first night here I cried my eyes out because I was afraid of going out with friends thinking that if I leave the house, I won’t be able to find my way back (ended up with finding it like I lived there for years), or how my friend’s bike fell into a canal, or how the cat peed on my coat on a Monday morning, or that time I forgot to check out from the tram and my 5 euros was instantly gone… Sometimes the city will treat you like you don’t mean a thing, you’re just another person walking around it. But then you will take a breath and go to De Laatste Kruimel with your friends or while walking back home a Dutch person will smile at you for no reason or maybe your favorite song will come up on this Dutch radio station while you are walking home or maybe nothing will happen and you will sit on a bank in Park Frankendael to daydream… But to have all of these wonderful experiences, you have to understand that comfort zone is one sweet enemy that will hold you back. Like Bradbury says in Fahrenheit 451:

“See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask for no guarantees, ask for no security.”

Don’t be afraid, after all, adventure may hurt but monotony will kill you.

Nevertheless, if you make an effort to get to know a city; I am sure it will treat you accordingly and maybe if you are lucky enough, will help you to get to know to yourself. Well, I got lucky, hope you do too.

Have a wonderful day,

An Open Letter to My Host Family

Dear host family (or famille d’accueil as the French say),

Can you believe it has almost been a month since I started living with you?! It seems like just yesterday IES sent me the email I had be not-so-patiently waiting for, telling me that you would be my host family. From that email, I knew the coming months were going be a good time; mostly from your quircky family photo, but also because of the many similarities my family has in common with you. For example, there are five kids in my family and five kids in yours. More specifically, the first three kids are boys and the last two are girls. Everyone in my family is really awesome and everyone in your (our?) family is really awesome. This was definitely the work of magic, fate, GOD.

There are some obvious difference too, like the fact that you are a modern-day replica of the Von Trapps and my family can’t sing a Christmas carol in the same key. But really, the amount of musical talent contained in all of you is astounding. All of you play instruments! You sing hymns in three-part harmonies! Do I need to continue? I think not.

On top of that, all of you are so incredibly caring and welcoming. You loved me before you knew me and share your thoughts, daily dramas, and everything else me. You are also very French; a good thing, of course! You eat three-course meals every night (shout out to ma mère d’accueil, un vrai cordon bleu). What is more amazing is that you have chosen to do this for nine others before me. The 10 of of us are very, very lucky ladies.

The upside of our time together? It’s only February! The downside? It’s already February. Though we have three more months together, I can feel the time slipping from my fingers like a dropped ticket on the tram. I don’t want to think of the day when I will no longer paint the fingernails of les filles, avoid questions about boys from les garcons, and have deep conversations about religion and politics with mes parents. When I leave, there will no doubt be a crepe-shaped hole in my heart that only you can fill.

So let’s make the most of the time we have left together. I have no doubt that it will only be the best of times.

With lots and lots of love,

Rachael

A Weekend in Paris

I went to Paris last weekend, and it was kind of awesome.

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All my life I’ve heard that Paris a majestic, beautiful paradise, and I can now confirm this to be true. The “City of Lights” really is all its hyped up to be, and more. Unfortunately, I only went for the weekend and was unable to explore all it has to offer.

I was struck by how nonchalant all the Parisians seemed to be. I understand that it’s their normal, but seeing the Eiffel Tower in one direction and the Arc de Triomphe in another was breath-taking every single time.

Friday night, I hopped on a bus with Caroline, Ann, Emily, and Emily’s friend Jill, to walk around downtown Paris. Downside: We stayed in a hostel that was a bit of out of the way, so the bus ride took a while. Upside: We got a bus tour of Paris. We got off the bus at the end of the Champs-Elysées and that’s when it hit me. I was standing in the middle of Paris living every French major’s dream. And of course, my dream. I will never forget that feeling. We wandered for a bit before making our way to the main attraction.

Le Tour Eiffel
Le Tour Eiffel

We spent Saturday doing and see as much as we possibly could, which unfortunately was not very much. We took pictures at Sacré-Cœur, climbed to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe, and ate macarons at the world-renowned Ladurée on the Champs-Elysées.

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Louis Francois Bertin
Louis Francois Bertin by Ingres

Two of the biggest highlights for me were the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. I went to the Louvre on Saturday and absolutely loved it. I saw some old Egyptian artifacts and several statues before making my way to the paintings. I recognized several pieces of art, like the painting to the left by Jean Ingres, because I had studied them in my art history class just days before. #OnlyinFrance

The Musée D’Orsay was just as incredible. There really are no words to describe seeing famous, beautiful, mesmerizing paintings in real life. If you’re ever in Paris, it is definitely a must see.

I realize that this post is pretty short, but there is not much I can say in words to describe how utterly amazing Paris is. It really was my dream to go there for most of my life and did not fail to live up to my expectations. Now, I want to go everywhere in France! I think it is safe to say that I have officially caught the travel bug.

-Rachael

France vs. America

Despite the fact that I have been in Nantes for only a few weeks, I have already noticed lots of differences between the French and American cultures! Here are some of ones that interest me the most:

French people finish their food

I’m not sure exactly why Americans don’t do this, but it is a habit that I have noticed in my host family. Every piece of food on a plate get eaten. No exceptions. I didn’t know this when I first arrived and ended up being really full on the first night!

French people don’t talk to each other

This is very typically of the Loire Valley region. If you don’t know someone, you don’t talk to them. No friendly “hello!” on the subway, no making conversation in a store; nothing. It was a bit strange to go from the “Hope hello” culture to the culture in Nantes, but I’m getting used to it. How people meet new people is still somewhat of a mystery to me.

French people don’t have endless closets

French people don’t have 20 different shirts, jeans in every color, and a jacket to match every outfit. They tend to have a few neutral colored clothing that can be paired in many different combinations. What they do have is lots of fashion savvy, which leads me to my next point…

French people always look their best

Everyone, especially the women, is well-dressed and looks like they just stepped off the runway. I have not seen a single person wearing sweatpants. Black, the chicest color, is very prevalent, along with riding boots and scarves. As a fashionista, this is a dream come true for me.

French people don’t snack

There are only three meals in the day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Midnight snacks, or even snacking between meals, doesn’t happen. The petit dejeuner, or breakfast, is in fact very petit (example – a slice of bread), while the diner is the biggest meal of the day.

France definitely has a very distinct culture. I’m trying to adapt but still feel a bit like a tourist. I can’t wait for the day when I feel like a vraie francaise!

-Rachael

My first full week in France!

Hi everyone!

Sorry I haven’t written since my arrival! I have been so busy getting used to my new daily life and schedule. Last weekend, only a day after my arrival in France, I went to Tours for an orientation weekend.

I spent Friday night exploring the downtown area with some friends. We went on a ferris wheel and I was able to see the entire city in lights!

Exploring a chateau
Exploring the Chateau de Blois

Saturday and Sunday were spent exploring four famous Chateaux in the Loire Valley: Amboise, Chenonceau, Chambourd, and Blois. On some of them, we had guided visits, which was helpful for learning more about their history. Walking around the gardens and interior of buildings older than the United States was one of the coolest experiences of my life. My favorite chateau by far was the Chateau de Chenonceau, which  inspired Walt Disney!

Monday to Friday of the following week was spent getting more acclimated to Nantes and IES through various orientation sessions. We learned about safety, health, transportation, classes, and just about anything else you can think of. We spent some time getting a tour of the area and various places we might need, like the post office and grocery store. We took a test on Monday to be placed into our French language class at IES and spent Wednesday through Friday having grammar review classes. It wasn’t my favorite part of orientation but it was definitely helpful. Friday was spent choosing the classes to take at the IES center and at the University of Nantes. Classes begin on Monday and I can’t wait!

A bientot!

Rachael

Just Arrived in France!!

Hi everyone!! This is my first of many blog posts from Nantes, France this semester! The last two days have been INSANE! I’m so happy to finally be here!

If you follow my Twitter account, then on Tuesday you saw the drama that was my flight schedule. Early that day, my first flight from Des Moines to Chicago was canceled due to the cold weather. The airline wanted to put me on their next available flight to Chicago, which was on Thursday. At that point, I was faced with the decision to arrive late to my program and miss part of my off-site orientation, or drive to Chicago. My parents decided to drive me to Chicago and I notified the airline. However, later that day, the airline decided to book me on a flight on another flight for Wednesday. I spent Monday night trying to figure out if I was actually going to Nantes the next day or not! Eventually, I got my original itinerary back, minus the flight from Des Moines to Chicago.

On Tuesday, my parents and I braved the cold as we drove me 6 hours to Chicago. Ten minutes into the flight, the captain came on the loud speaker and asked if there was a voluntary doctor on board. Uh oh. Everyone started to panic a little bit because of course, that’s never a good sign! About an hour after that request, the pilot came on the loud speaker again; this time to announce that we would be making an emergency stop at the JFK airport in New York because a passenger on board was very sick. He assured us that after the medical personnel came on board to get the passenger it wouldn’t be long before we left. The stop ended up taking 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours. I notified my parents, who freaked out because they thought they would not be hearing from me until I got to France! Because of the delay, I arrived 3 hours late to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I quickly got through customs and practically ran to the train station in the airport where I had to take a train from Paris to Nantes. Almost immediately, I met some other students on my program. It was such a relief to be with other Americans!

After the 3-hour train ride, I went to the program center with the several other students who were on my train. I made some friends and was then taken by my host mother to my home for the semester, where I am right now!

This weekend, I will be doing an off-site orientation in Tours! I will update again after that! So much is happening so soon! It’s a crazy, beautiful trip already 🙂

A bientot!

Rachael

I’m Going to France!!!

Hi everyone!

Sorry I have been MIA the last couple of weeks. My life has been crazy with classes, extracurriculars, and getting ready to go abroad.

That’s right! Next semester I will be in Nantes, France!!!

Nantes
Nantes

Nantes is about two and a half hours away from Paris by train, and is the 6th largest city in France with almost 900,000 residents. As much as I would have loved to go to Paris, I chose to go to Nantes because the population of native English speakers is very small. This means that I will be forced to use French all of the time; if not in the city, then at home with my host family!

While there, I will be taking classes (en français, bien sur!) at the IES program center in the middle of the city. I applied for an internship to teach English au lycee to high school-aged students, so I might be doing that as well!

The main reason I am going abroad is because it is required for my studies. As a French education major, it is important that I have a solid background in French and authentic experiences to bring into my future classroom. Luckily, Hope and my program IES have been wonderful in helping me prepare for my trip. I went to a study abroad orientation with the 100 other students from Hope who will be abroad next semester, and have been in constant communication with my IES program representative for the past several months. The process has been long and somewhat stressful but well worth it. My forms are in, and I have my visa and plane ticket!

I will leave for France on January 7 and will return on May 11. During that time, I will be blogging and tweeting about my adventures, so check back for updates often! I can’t wait to fill you in on what I will be doing!

A bientot!

Rachael

Thinking of Studying Abroad?

Transitioning from last week’s short week due to Fall Break to a full week again is proving to be a lot more difficult than imagined. With the mindset of being stress-free no longer applicable, the second round of tests are approaching. Even on top of that, people wanting to study abroad next year or this summer have applications due within the next month. I am one of those people. A study abroad fair took place in Maas two weeks ago where all of the summer programs and other opportunities were displayed. Some of my friends in the past have gone on the Vienna Summer May Term and absolutely loved it! For me, it would be the perfect excursion because it is only a month long, I wouldn’t be missing any school for it plus I would get an awesome experience that I otherwise would never be able to have. Like I said, the applications are due soon (November 25 for Vienna), which just adds another stressor to your life. Being able to balance homework and intramurals along with trying to get the application finished and in early is no easy feat. It’s easy to just put off since it isn’t due quite yet, but getting ahead on it is really beneficial.

For individuals who are unaware of this program, it takes place in either May or June (or both) depending on which one you sign up for. Some of the courses that you can take include German, Modern Austrian History, Austrian Art/Architecture, Theology and Ethics, Empires of the World and Vienna Music Traditions. Many of them would fulfill Art, IDS and History credits, which is really nice. In addition, you would be staying with a host family and get the opportunity to really live in another culture and out of your comfort zone. Even beyond that, this program allows for traveling to other areas such as Prague, Salzburg and Morbisch (for the May session).

Even if this program does not appeal to you, there are plenty more offered through various study abroad programs. Many of them do not require you to speak the language, which opens even more opportunities to travel places you thought you were restricted from because of a language barrier. Basically, this is the prime time to study abroad and if you don’t take advantage of it now, when will you have the time to later on?

If you are interested in this Vienna program, this is the link to the Hope site for further information: http://www.hope.edu/beyondhope/offcamp/vienna/

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @hopeleslie15.