During my time in France, I had two week-long breaks, but I also had long weekends every weekend. The week-long breaks were good for spending extra time in one place (Paris) or for traveling a little further away (Italy and Greece). But even though I enjoyed the longer trips, I found that going away somewhere for the weekend is really fun. My three favorite short trips were: Montpellier and Marseille, Paris, and Arles and Avignon.

Though I spent less than 48 hours in Montpellier and Marseille, I feel like I got a lot of this trip. In Montpellier, my friends and I discovered that just because you look up directions online doesn’t mean they’ll make sense when you get there and that sometimes relying on the kindness of strangers is the best option. In Montpellier, I saw the Mediterranean for the first time. In Marseille, I only planned to be there for a day, so my friends and I wanted to make the most out of it. We’d heard of these things called calanques, so we thought we’d check those out rather than exploring the city. We went to the end of a bus line and were dropped off in a parking lot, and we just started wandering, and we found our way into a hiking trail. We thought for sure we’d gone the wrong way until we came up to a clearing, and we looked and saw the water and knew we were where we wanted to be.

Marseille
I went to Paris three times during my time in France: once for my birthday, once for the first week-long break, and once again to play tour guide for a friend. That third trip was by far my favorite. By that time, I thought I’d seen everything in Paris I could possibly want to see, but being there with someone who’d never seen any of it made all of it seem new to me. I found that it is still possible to rediscover something you love.

The Arles and Avignon trip was a trip for all the SU students, which was convenient because it meant I didn’t have to plan anything myself. We drove to Arles on Friday, stayed through Saturday, and then spent a few hours in Avignon on Sunday. In Arles, I got lost in a market, but I found some delicious-looking strawberries. We all went to La Camargue together and had a picnic on the beach, and I discovered that the strawberries tasted as good as they looked. In Avignon, I lost myself in history at the Palais des Papes and on the bridge made famous by the song “Sur le pont d’Avignon.” I learned that being lost can be a fun experience.

While studying abroad is helpful in the obvious way of helping earn a degree or helping improve language skills, being abroad is a learning experience on its own. Learning to travel and learning about myself have been invaluable experiences that I would have never had if I’d never studied abroad. I hope to remember what I’ve learned – both in the classroom as well as outside of it – to help me in my future.

Maura

Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954)

Before coming to France, I wondered if Paris is actually as incredible as Americans claim it is or if we’re just romanticizing it. Now, after spending a weekend and another week there, I understand the hype: Paris is absolutely beautiful, and there’s always something to do.

I’m a big list-maker, so I looked at these two trips as opportunities to check monuments off of “must-see” lists. Among the list items were typical tourist attractions (the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower at night, Versailles, Notre Dame) and slightly less well-known or less popular tourist attractions (the Catacombs, the towers of Notre Dame, Pont Neuf). I took a 9-hour tour of Versailles and the other two houses on its grounds, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, as well as the miniature village built for Marie Antoinette (the Queen’s Hamlet). I wandered around the inside of Notre Dame and went up in its towers, which is a great way to get gorgeous views of the city (and the Eiffel Tower). I went underground to see the stacks of bones that are the Catacombs. I watched a friend add a lock to Pont Neuf, AKA the bridge with the love locks.
Paris

In the process of checking these things off my list, though, I found that getting lost and discovering something new can be incredible. What I found while exploring – or while lost – included Point Zéro, Shakespeare and Company, and various food stands and cafés serving delicious food. Point Zéro is a spot outside of Notre Dame that is the official (though certainly not geographical) center of Paris. Legend says that if you step on it, you’re bound to return to Paris. (Naturally, I made sure to step on it.) At Shakespeare and Company, I was in book-lover paradise…until I remembered that airlines have weight limits and buying every book I wanted wasn’t a good plan. Additionally, I found souvenir shops and great little cafés that were surprisingly inexpensive.

I discovered that waiting in lines can be totally worth it and that cemeteries on sunny days are basically parks with weird statues.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my visits to Paris, I think the desire to be there might be out of my system for now. I’m ready to explore some new places and find out what other cities might always be good ideas.

Until next time,

Maura

Settling In & Château #1

Posted: January 15, 2015 by mschmitt130 in SU Sponsored: French-in France

What a busy week and a half it’s been! I’ve lost a suitcase, gotten a French cell phone, learned to navigate the tram system in a new city, found a few favorite cafés… All summed up, it might not sound like much, but to me, it feels as though I’ve been here for a month. I still can’t quite believe that I moved in with my host family just over a week ago. Then again, I didn’t quite believe I had arrived in France until I saw Maria at the bus station, so maybe I’m not the best judge of time.

This past week and a half really have been packed full of activities, though. We arrived on January 3, and the next day, we went up to the Bastille in the little red gondolas. They day after that, I got my cell phone, and our program director (not Maria from SU, but Marie from API) took us on a tour of Grenoble and pointed out lots of good places to eat – though I’m not convinced there are bad places to eat here – and we went home with our host families that night. Since then, we’ve had class every weekday, and most of us usually spend our lunch break downtown, shopping or going to cafés, and after our afternoon class, we tend to do the same. I’ve already been to the mall twice (they have an H&M), Monoprix multiple times (it’s like a French Target), and a few good cafés multiple times as well. I’m only just starting to limit my budget: this isn’t a vacation!

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One thing that does make it feel like a vacation is how absolutely beautiful it is here, both in Grenoble as well as in France in general. Last weekend, Maria took us to the Château Vizille, and it was breathtaking (though that tends to be my reaction to all châteaux). It was a beautiful day, and the light was gorgeous. We took a walk around the grounds, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures. We saw swans, heard ponies, and scouted out some spots for future picnics. We also went inside because the château houses the Musée de la Révolution Française, which had a lot of gorgeous art in it. It was incredible to be walking around in a building so full of history. I definitely think I’ll be returning there, because it’s so beautiful, and it’s also relatively close to Grenoble. (It was only about 30 minutes away by bus.)

À bientôt!

Maura

Bonjour! My name is Maura, and I am a junior majoring in French and Interdisciplinary Arts. I will be spending the next 5 months in Grenoble, France, and two weeks in Morocco as part of the French in France program, which is an SU-sponsored program for French majors/minors.
I’ve been studying French for as long as I can remember, so to be able to study it in France is a dream come true. Even so, I am super nervous about it. All of my classes will be in French, I’ll have to speak French with my host family…talk about immersion. It’s a little intimidating, but I know it will be worth it.
As I haven’t actually left yet, I can’t speak to what Grenoble is like or about traveling or anything, but I have a lot to say about the preparation process, especially in regards to packing.
Packing is incredibly stressful. I have to fit everything I need for six months into 2 suitcases (it’s possible to bring more, but it’s really expensive), a carry-on, and a personal item. To give some perspective on how hard that is for me: I filled the bed of a truck with everything I “needed” for fall quarter. Three months, one truck vs. six months, a few bags. Needless to say, it has been quite a challenge. I got a lot of advice about how much I should bring – “pack the bare minimum you think you can live with and cut it in half”, “pack light and buy stuff there”, etc. My problem with this advice is that if I think I packed the bare minimum, how am I supposed to cut that in half? And why would I buy stuff there when I already have it here? I probably still packed too much, but I did try to follow this advice, so I packed a lot less than I started with. Also, I packed a smaller suitcase inside of one of my checked bags, so I’ll have more space on the way home. We’ll see if that pays off.
Until next time, au revoir!

Maura

Easter in Antsirabe

Posted: April 25, 2014 by Kirsti in Non SU: SIT Madagascar

At home in the United States, Easter is one of my favorite holidays with my family; Holy Week and Easter for the Faaren/Ruud household is filled with beautiful worship services and music, traditions I look forward to every year, great food, friends, family, and a certain level of frivolity. This is the second year in a row being away from home during the time leading up to Easter, and one of the only times not being present for Easter Day festivities. Although I was sad to miss this occasion, I have come to know that the next best place in the world to be for Easter is Antsirabe.

For the last part of the study abroad program, all the students conduct independent study projects on a topic of our choosing, in a location of our choosing. I want to be academically challenged and study something related to my major, Political Science, but I’m also in Madagascar and want to have fun. Therefore, I decided to focus my project on the formation of national identity and sources of unity in a diverse country…through the lens of music and dance. I could have performed this particular study anywhere in the country, so I decided to come back to Antsirabe to spend more time in this beautiful place that is rich with family history. It was, after all, my Grandfather’s work with the radio station and music here that initially sparked my interest in my topic of study.

What I did not know until my arrival, however, is that if there was a perfect time and place to study the role of music and dance in Malagasy life, it would be Easter in Antsirabe. Two other students and I arrived the Friday before Palm Sunday, so we were able to watch  the city transform entirely over Holy Week. On Friday, we were three of the very few guests at our hotel and by Wednesday, every room was filled. Apparently, people come from all over the country, and all over the world, to celebrate Easter in Antsirabe for what is, essentially, a week-long music festival. There are performances all over the city by local artists and big name artists from around the country, and people are out in the streets all day and night. By Saturday, many streets were entirely blocked off for carnival rides, food vendors, and stages. The area in front of the train station was turned into an open-air discothèque, and music blasted from speakers from every street corner in the center of town all night long.

During this first week of the project, I was met with an overwhelming willingness to participate in my study by so many people. After just two days of starting the project, I was in contact with an internationally-known Malagasy musician, met several bands after live performances, conducted many interviews, including one with a man who was introduced to me as “the best person in all of Madagascar to talk to about music and dance,” joined a choir, took part in an intergenerational jam session with friends and family of a new friend where I too sang a solo with a jazz band and one of the other students revealed his secret talent for playing the djembe (who knew there were drum circles in Oshkosh, Wisconsin), met with a man who had worked with my grandparents and remembered by Dad as the little boy who collected stamps, and received so many invitations for musical events happening throughout the week that I had to turn some down. And that was just the first two days. It has been a whirlwind.

Easter weekend was a bit hectic with all the festivities in town, but I made sure to do some of the traditional Faaren/Ruud family Easter shenanigans–with a Malagasy twist. We had some other friends from the program come stay with us in Antsirabe for Easter weekend at an apartment we have now moved into at the old Norwegian Lutheran missionary children’s school. It is now owned by the Malagasy Lutheran church and is a “Cross-Cultural Center” aiming to bridge Malagasy and Norwegian cultures. I cooked a big Easter dinner for all of us and served the food on familiarly Norwegian-looking plates. It feels a bit like my Grandmother’s house. My friends humored me by playing some of my family’s traditional Easter games, and we even raised the level of frivolity a bit by wearing sparkly party hats. These hats and Mardi Gras-style masks were sold by every vendor in the street for the Easter celebration and children wore them all over town; some children even wore them to Easter Sunday church services.

We attended a worship service on Easter at the church some of our new friends work for as the pianists and organists. We had met several people from the congregation already either through our various study projects or at the jam session. It was nice to see familiar faces and have people to score us seats and hymnals. Normally on Easter, I struggle through the soprano part of the Hallelujah Chorus in my church choir, but this year, I got to listen to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus sung by an amazing boy’s choir; these little guys hit all the high notes effortlessly–it was beautiful.

I know that my Grandfather had composed several hymns and choral peices in Malagasy, so every time I am at a church services here, I scan the hymnal for his name but had never been successful. Because there were so many people, communion lasted about 45 minutes; in between singing songs, therefore, I had time to skim through the hymnal a bit. I was sitting next to one of my American friends and he asked what I was doing. I explained, and told him that I had pretty much given up at this point. He took the hymnal from me to perform his own search, flipped a couple pages and said, “Found it.” There it was. Hymn 374. “Hevero, ry Andevom-Pahotana.” G. Ruud. I come from a long line of criers (we prefer the term, “sensitive”), so I can blame genetics for the fact that I teared-up a bit sitting in that pew. The other students, however, were very supportive of this means of expressing emotions and even when we sang other hymns, my friend who found the hymn kept his thumb in the page so I wouldn’t lose it for the rest of the four hour-long service. When the service had finished, we showed the hymn to our pianist friends and although they were not familiar with the song, they were able to sight-read the notes and sing a bit of it for us. They said that the song is beautiful and that they would go home and learn it.

Being here has been one wonderful, surprising moment after another and I have been so warmly welcomed. Not only has this been great for my project and makes the study process very enjoyable, but I feel like I’m also connecting with my family story and making friends. I am so happy I am here.

And next Easter, Faaren/Ruud family, get ready: We’re wearing party hats.

Kirsti

Flash-black, on Monday we went to an orphanage and got to spend an hour and a half with some of the cutest girls in Tijuana. It was overwhelmed to think that the sweet and energetic girls we were playing with came from some of the most difficult backgrounds fathomable. It was nice for everyone to have a break and just have a chance to play.
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Meaghanpic1
Flash-back to yesterday. We went to I think my favorite visit of the trip, La Casa de la Immigrante. This is a place from men who have been deported or are about to cross the border to move to the US. It really impacted me how desperately these men wanted to be in the United States despite how depressive our immigration system is. They would do anything; even risk their lives. It shocked me that just because I was born in the United States, I automatically had a step up in life. It made me want to know and understand more about border and immigration issues.

The adorable photo bellow was taken after about 6 hours of work. The rebar we are standing on was the tedious preparation we did today in order to be able to pour a cement roof tomorrow. At the beginning of the week, the plan was that we would visit a Maquilla in the morning and most likely not have enough time to work at a site during the afternoon. As plans usually go in Mexico, this idea changed and it ironically became our longest day of work. We arrived in Valla Verde at around twelve thirty starving. We began work anxiously awaiting lunch. Paul told the women in the village that we could do quick sandwiches but they refused, saying this was not good enough. The wait was worth it when we saw the quesadillas, salad, beans, and fresh guacamole they had prepared for us. Another perfect example of the hospitality we have been shown each day here in TJ.
I am embarrassed to say that when Paul offered the idea of quitting early or finishing up the job, I wanted to quit. Thankfully, I was out numbered and we finished the whole roof. After we were done I know our hard work made the family’s dream of a home that much closer. As we drove away the family, along with many other community members, waved frantically and smiled as we drove away. The expressions on their faces made all those hours of work worth it.

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Meaghan

Blood, Sweat and Cement.

Posted: April 3, 2014 by sueducationabroad in U.S - Mexico Border: Contemporary Perspecti ves

Yesterday, we worked for seven hours pouring cement on a roof. It took fifty volunteers, eight children, and about six skilled carpenters. I lifted, I pushed, I pulled, and I marveled at our combined strength. When it was finished I looked around at the group leaders and all the volunteers around me, all weatherbeaten, all red, and all smiling in triumph.

Now that it’s all said and done I have fourteen cuts on my hands, and when I move to stretch I can feel my dry skin resist the movement. My back aches and my glutes are on fire, although I am secretly grateful for the burn, seeing as summer is coming up. But when I saw what we accomplished, what I accomplished, I smiled back at all the people around me. I feel inspired, I feel empowered, and mostly I feel awe struck.

I feel inspired by all the people around me; from the volunteers and staff who have dedicated their life and time to this work, to all the locals that I have encountered; who are stronger, kinder and better cooks than I ever could have imagined.
I feel empowered by the vision that drives this foundation. This organization is so multifaceted and I find myself amazed at its ability to extend itself into so many parts of the community. Lastly, I find myself in awe at the people that I have been surrounded by and the amount we’ve been able to accomplish. My time in Mexico has disproved all my previous notions about the culture, the issues and the people, and for that I am grateful.

Kyla