28 February 2010

Master of Procrastination

Yep, that's me. But it's not always a bad thing, procrastination. After all, it's bringing my news and sharing it with all of you. So, let's make a deal - I'll tell you my stories if you promise not to tell that I should be doing something else instead of pouring out my past few weeks onto a horrid blog. Sounds good? Deal.

First note: the bus system still blows. Don't ask me how, but apparently I'm not forward enough in hailing down a bus. Get this - shivering at Michelet with Amy, patiently waiting the next bus home in the arctic winds constantly blowing. A big breath of relief as it turns the corner and barrels toward us. Eagerly, we take a large step forward, ready to board - and the bus passes. Driver looks at us with a regard that I can only place as amusement mixed with self-satisfaction.


What? Really? How rude. I guess it's not like it's their JOB to pick up PASSENGERS at BUS STOPS or anything. Ugh. I'm warming up to my bike though, mentally preparing myself for the long rides that are due to start very soon.

After a rough week of constant classes, I was looking forward to the weekend. Keep in mind kids, this is a while back. We're talking Valentine's day weekend. Saturday night rolls around, I'm looking forward to a celebration of a disgusting tradition who's only interest is to boost the flower, chocolate and plush industries. I guess I've just never been a huge fan of the 14th. Nevertheless, K'lypso was hosting a party and I was ready.

Pregame at Anna's with Jayne, Tyler, Spencer, others. One bottle of whiskey and some red wine later [not to mention cookies and chips], we were dancing out the doorway and heading to rue Bressigny. Upon entering, we were presented with a choice of three colors for bracelets; yellow = "why not," blue = "don't touch," green = "single." I figured I'd start with a green because no one cared about colors anyway. I see some friends seated at a table - Lauren and Kai from my Langue class. I somehow manage to meander over to the table and have a seat, only to be called over to the bar again. It's a little fuzzy from here on out, but I got some free drinks, candy necklaces and ended the night with all three colors of bracelets on my wrist, stumbling to my friend's apartment for a night of sleep well earned.

The following Monday, striding into my language class, tensions between me and some other students had been broken. Much more at ease, I sat through one of my two favorite classes this semester. See, The best part about my language class [besides the people, of course] is my teacher. Oh goodness, she is sassy! I adore her, however, and she has begun using simple pet names for me, including Bichette and Belle. Sassy, funny and completely up-to-date with the tricks of the trade, Florence knows exactly what to expect. Sure, it makes my job harder - but I do love a challenge.

Next professor worth mentioning is my Literature one. She is literally a high school teacher. Small, mousey, my friends and I have decided that if we yelled at her, she would run into a corner.

::short interjection::

That isn't to say I don't like the class - but concentration proves difficult when giggles arise every time she flinches at a word, or blinks nervously at our silence. I also want to take this time to mention another great professor - my History of France one. He makes it interesting because he's so wonderfully enthusiastic and passionate about the subject.

In other news, the seven hour time difference is becoming more of a pain. Adapting to a new culture requires my social attention as well as my scholarly. That being said, attempting to find a time to Skype another friend that is in school back home is nearly impossible. It's no less than depressing to realize one day that you rarely talk to or see the people you've come to love, your second family. It's strange to be forced to come to terms with the fact that you're fading from your old world, being ripped from everything.

And I promise, I'm not Emo. [that's my little sister...just kidding]

Weather sucks. Rainy, cold, windy. There were actually twenty-three deaths because of the wind last night. That either means that Frenchmen are weaklings, or it's like Kansas all over again. Either way, I'm not very motivated to ride my bike for half an hour tomorrow morning if it means I'll make no progress.

Host family and Hitomi are great, but Hitomi left on Saturday. Apparently she started crying after I left with Selika, another Japanese student that lives close to us. I miss her though, miss the company and the reassurance of another foreigner in the household.

Speaking of Saturday, my past two have been filled with excursions to St. Malo, Mont St. Michel, and three Chateaux from the Loire Valley region. It was wonderful, but if you really want to know about it, look at my pictures.

Classes are great.

I miss AIESEC.

I miss my friends. [especially Merry, even though he's closer than the rest, Lo, Steve, Ashleigh, Ryan, Amber, Nick, Savs, Devin, Safiye, Sarah, Chloe, etc. Loves.]

I miss my family. [Oy, Momy, Christine, Caity, Mimi.]

Valentine's day cards from besties and mothers rock.

Formal French sucks. Is knowing familiar French and slang really an advantage? I keep getting told that it is, but the longer I'm forced to use formal French with teachers and adults, the more I feel like the other students have no idea what they're talking about.

Oh and I got a job. Get ready to take on Corrie, McCollum. I'm going to be a freggin' cool RA. Hopefully, ha ha. It'll be fun to see how things pan out in the future.

On that note, I'm getting back to work, procrastination achieved. Ta ta kids.

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."
-George Washington

22 February 2010

A Breath of Fresh Air

6 a.m.

Reluctant to crawl out of my warm bed, I remind myself why I'm getting up so early - restarting a tradition of many years past. Throwing the covers off and dressing was easier at the first image, the first memory of what I had come to love, of what had once been a necessity for me to even consider getting out of bed before eight - a morning run.

Not sure if the weather is living up to its expectations, I throw on tights, spandex, shorts. Performance shirt, white tee, socks and my beloved sneakers. I glance toward the clock for a mere reference point, walk out the door, and lock it behind me.

6:15 a.m.

First dilemma was where to run, but the first brisk breeze was far too sweet to resist, so I set off, caring little about a destination, my body aching only to rush with the wind.

Hard asphalt at my feet, beating in rhythm with my chest, breathing slow and even. Cars passing, neighbors leaving. A slight drizzle begins, splashing cool water on my face and mixing with the sweat forming at my temples.

At the round-about now, I turn to the left, toward the bus stop I've grown so familiar with. Looking upward, I glimpse the words "je t'aime Naomie," re-blackened with ink, etched across LAVOIR. Smiling at the simple pleasures, I run on.

Five blocks later, to the right, for the sake of balance. More traffic now, rain still a light mist, now a mélange with the beads of perspiration running down my face.

Fresh air, running through my lungs. I am awake. I feel more alive than ever.

6:50 a.m.

Dawn begins peaking up over the ridge, lighting the town before it. Raindrops quicken, soften, cease. Cars buzz by, matching the hum of my feet, chest, breath. I turn back toward my house, ready for the new day.

7:20 a.m.

Back inside, the world still asleep. Already satisfied with Monday's beginning, I take one last breath and am ready to take on the day.

[p.s. more to come about real things, but this needed out now.]

"You're alive. Do something. The directive in life, the moral imperative was so uncomplicated. It could be expressed in single words, not complete sentences. It sounded like this: Look. Listen. Choose. Act."
Barbara Hall

10 February 2010

Adapting to Angers

WOW. Where to start?

I suppose I could talk about the rest of the week, the stress I encountered and the chaos that ensued. But I won't. Instead I'll begin with my first productive day at school.

The following Monday, we all received our results from the placement test, and were instructed to get our level and go to the room listed for it. I start looking through the lists, seeing numbers ranging from 100 - 400 and I finally find my name. Instead of a number, however, I see a big "SUP" written. First thoughts? "Oh great, I'm stupid. What does this mean. I'm confused. Do I need to take supplementary courses because I'm so Godawful in French that I completely failed the test?" Thank goodness that I had two friends placed in the same niveau as me - all confused, we consulted others and sorted that mess out.

Turns out, SUP stands for supérieur. BOOYAH, kids. Just kidding - in all honesty, I felt awkward stating my achieved level, and thought back to simpler times where people were divided into color groups, or numbered off 1-10. Even so, I was relieved and excited upon hearing this news, until we were all told to file into the Auditorium; yet another test. It wasn't as bad as I had anticipated, consisting only of a small amount of reading comprehension and an essay of no more than 200 [or was it 300..?] words. While I was proud of my placement, I felt behind the curve because while all others were getting adjusted and going to class, none of us knew what exactly we were getting ourselves into.

That day, all students in the superior level attended the same classes and got a general idea of courses that would be offered to us. I was still slightly brain dead after my fantastic weekend in Paris, but was anxious to start being a student in France, so I paid attention.

Which reminds me: weekend. Paris. Me. Aubrey. Merry. Guillaume. Negocia. BOMB. I could save you from the story, but it's all too marvelous to leave out. So think of this as a flashback from the flashback above.

Thursday rolls around, all of us CIDEF students are bored, tired and ready for our first weekend in Angers. I felt a little bit out of the loop because all I wanted to do was go back and see my friends in Paris and Asnières. I hadn't been ready to leave in the beginning, so one week apart was pulling on my heart-strings like I used to do to Stretch Armstrong when I was younger. I even missed Eno, Merry's obnoxious dog that was almost as spastic as he is.

I heard Aubrey and Amy talking about their weekend plans, and nothing caught my attention until there was mention of Paris. "We don't have any other three day weekends until Spring Break, so I feel like we should go to Paris, since we'll have the rest of the semester to explore Angers..." BOOM. Attention snagged, I whipped around and expressed my enormous interest in her idea.

Thursday night served as my first night out in Angers, as I accompanied other CIDEFians to the bars in Centre Ville. We had a few drinks and made ourselves at ease in a town we would call home for the months to follow. As it started to rain, Amy and I took on the daunting task of riding our bikes home. She turned off toward her house, and I got turned around. The night, black and pouring rain, mixed with my slight inebriation was no less than frustrating, as I struggled for ten minutes before finally finding my way home. Crawling into my warm bed, my growing anticipation for the weekend made it hard to fall asleep, but I finally accomplished the task, my busy brain finally at peace.

And so the tickets were bought [after the 12 25 pass, of course], arrangements were made, and we were on our way to Paris, the next morning. Our first train was easy enough to find, and a hassle to board. As it was to arrive in Le Mans, where we would switch trains, no one had assigned seats and chaos ensued. First, there was a rush to board bikes on their proper shelves, then one woman's disregard for anyone else. She stood in the middle of a very narrow isle, creating a two-way traffic jam - all for a piece of paper in her enormous piece of luggage. People merely stared as she shuffled through clothes, food and various other items, until one man kindly proposed she move and let everyone else through. She was, naturally, rude to him, but after receiving many death stares from the audience around her, she grunted, swearing, and gave a little room so we could make our way into the next car of the train.

We made our train connection after encountering a mass of people, all a blur, moving robotically toward the sortie signs. It was extremely more comfortable, having specific seats. I dozed off, calmed by the consistent thrumming of the train on its tracks and counted the minutes until our arrival at the station in Montparnasse, where Merry was waiting for us.

On the platform at last, my phone vibrates with a message reading "where art thou?" Silly boy, that Little Ree-ble. We were surprised with an extra guest, come to welcome us to Paris - Guillaume was there as well. Introductions were given, awkward silences followed, and we made our way to the metro to accompany the boys to work. After an interesting "let's get to know Corrie's friends in the metro" session along with massive amounts of sassing and boude-ing, Aubrey and I bid goodbye to the boys and headed back to the metro, on our way to Asnières.

Let's set a few things straight. I know the rules of the metro; after spending a summer in Paris, there's no way I could ignore them. That being said, I was sure to avoid eye-contact, I didn't smile at strangers, and I attempted to get Aubrey to sit by me so I could explain a few things. Because of the bustle to get on the train, however, I couldn't get through to her that she should not sit by herself, across from me. Luckily, everything went smoothly for the first few stops, until a strangely creepy man boarded. I saw his eyes go to her, a smiling girl, seemingly alone and pretty obviously foreign. Her pale, freckled skin and brightly colored duffel bag stuck out like a sore thumb, and he spotted it, and immediately leapt for the chance to make some ground work. At first it was just small talk, talking about weather, etc. Then it progressed to where she was from, what she was studying, more personal information. Finally, he asked her out for a drink. She politely declined, making eyes at me, searching and pleading for help. I made up an excuse, we declined again, and continued to have a conversation with our facial expressions. I was fairly sarcastic about it, as I'd been through the same thing multiple times and had gotten used to the awkwardness of such a situation. Seeing someone else go through it was, I have to admit, slightly amusing, and I basked in my little guilty pleasure.

Finally, after one line change, we were at the train station in St. Lazare, headed toward Bécon les Bruyères, the stop closest to Merry's house.

::short interjection::

I think I forgot to tell you - Merry's parents still rock. They joked about how I was already coming back after a week, but were wonderful and accepted Aubrey and I into their homes once more.

We made our way through the streets I had grown to love, and through the blue gate I adored. We arranged our affairs, got settled in, and set off to Chez l'Arab, a little grocery store nearby, to buy necessities for the night. After being confronted with a small selection of wonderful snacks and tempting wines, we returned to the house, ready to "faire la fête," as they say; two bottles of wine, cookies, chips, bread and cheese, we decided to get started while we patiently waited for our return. We bonded over a bottle of wine and a photo shoot, and were surprised at a polite little knock on the door. Giggling, we once again welcomed Guillaume, Merry, and this time Florian as well, into our little house in the garden. Their first reaction? Giggles. I guess it was easy to tell we were feeling good - purple lips and teeth, squinty eyes, and an empty wine bottle accompanied by our use of French. [that last clue is a dead give-away for me, and anyone who knows me is fully aware of it.]

The five of us headed out to a party thrown by Negocia, a business school in Paris. After twenty minutes of wandering around aimlessly, we found the place, boarded the boat, and danced, danced, danced. We got free drinks and our bodies moved to the terrible American music that Aubrey and I were so accustomed to, amused by all of the French around us who swayed, entranced by the lyrics that their lips mouthed [sort of] and their brains didn't understand. [I don't say that in a bad way at all and I mean no offense by it - I merely recognize the fact that I have French friends, and the majority of them do not understand a single word of what they are repeating, nor do they know what the actual lyrics actually are.]

Four hours and two taxis later, Aubrey and I snuggled into the same bed and went to sleep. The next night wasn't as eventful, but enjoyable nonetheless, and suddenly our weekend in Paris came to an end. Sunday afternoon, we were back in Angers, ready to tackle school on Monday. Which brings us back to my first week of school.

Tuesday, class. Nothing worth mentioning until the afternoon - quite possibly a memory that will be one of my favorites for years to come. I get home around 14h30, and am instantly bored out of my mind. After two days off, my French dad Philippe was in the same boat. He sat on his computer, playing Solitaire over and over, getting more frustrated as he continued to lose. I showed him a few tricks, and he had a brilliant idea; go-carting. At first, I had NO IDEA what he was talking about, but then he explained it, and we were on our way. It was snowing, a refreshing sight after gray skies and nothing but rain and arctic winds rushing past, but we continued anyway. At the racetrack, I was shocked to find the experience completely different from the ones I've had in America. We got into gear - jumpsuits, gloves, a little hairnet and helmet, and strapped ourselves into the little car, its motor humming with anticipation that matched my own. Needless to say, Philippe smoked me. Lapped me twice, and we laughed the entire way back.

En rentrant, a hot cup of coffee to defrost my hands and organs, and mental preparation for the night to follow; a soccer game, Angers vs. Metz [I'm just writing what my ticket says. I have no idea who the other team was, but they were wearing pastel pink uniforms, so it's almost better this way]. Even though we lost the game and all [me, Philippe and his 14 year old son, Luis] returned, runny noses and frozen limbs, it was such an amazing day, and I now realize how lucky I got with the family I'm in right now.

Wednesday, more class. This week is about experiencing and experimenting, finding out the courses that suit my needs and attend to my needs [I know that sounds slightly creepy, give me a break it's been a long day]. I'm currently giving myself a speech, readying myself for the long day ahead of me tomorrow - 9h00 until 19h00. I doubt there is any need to tell anyone how much I'm dreading such a tiresome day in school, so I'll leave you with the details, and spare you the whine. After all, I've had enough of that so far anyway. I mean, I am in France. [whine...wine...you get it.]

Until next time.

-Ann Radcliffe

03 February 2010

Le Premier Jour

I was going to wait until the first day of classes to post another entry, but as today marked the beginning of my real exploration of the town of Angers, I almost feel obligated to share it with someone.

First off, I'm still not a fan of the bus system. It's useful, I'll admit, and a lot better than walking an hour to school, but I would much rather take the metro, where I know the stops and everything is clearly marked. Can you guess where I'm going with this yet?

This morning I wake up, get ready for my first every experience at my university [also called the Catho], and leave with the other exchange student lodging at my place of residence.

::not so short interjection::
First things first, my family is wonderful. They're kind, welcoming, funny and tell me I basically rock at French, which is comforting. The mother [Valérie] is quite the chatter, and the father [Philippe] is hilarious. They also have a daughter that stays on occasion [Clémence] and she's really cool. The house is clean, they have a cat [some weird name I don't know how to spell], there's always food available, the parents are laid back and not as strict as the horror stories prepared me for, and they accommodate ["no problem," said the mother] for my being a vegetarian. My host mom told me to come and go as I pleased, eat what I wanted, and make myself at home.


There is also another student, Hitome [or something decently similar, it's Japanese, give me a break] staying here. She's nice enough, but fails at communication. Granted, it isn't all her fault - it's not like you HAVE to speak French or English to travel. But it sure as hell would help with asking if she wanted something to drink, or finding her after school to lead her back home. That being said...

Back to the story. Hitome and I leave the house around 8h50 in order to catch the 9h00 bus. We get there, and wait. And wait. The bus finally arrives, 15 minutes late and I'm instantly relieved to catch a break. Breakfast was hectic enough, trying to gesticulate my way through eating and drinking and plans for after the day and our return home. Hitome and I take seats on the bus and ride the 15 minutes it takes to get to the University stop. One problem. We get there, I've forgotten my bus schedule/plan, so I'm not 100 percent certain I'm at the right stop. By not 100, however, I was pretty damn close. It wasn't like I had seen a friend from KU that was doing the same exchange as me get of there or anything [that was sarcastic, if you didn't get it, you are NOT welcome] [that was also sarcastic]. Anywho, I motion for Hitome to follow me to the door and get a series of wild gestures in return to what I could only assume meant "no, not here." As she'd been to the University before, I decided to trust her. Ask me why, I'll sock you [virtually, of course].

Twenty minutes later, we're running a bit late [introduction was at 9h30, it was then 9h24] and we reach the end of the bus route. Thoughts running through my head at this point: "I hate Japanese people. Why doesn't she speak French. Or English. Why did I listen to a foreign kid? Dammit. We're going to be late. Cool." So I go up to the bus driver and take advantage of the fact that I speak French. I walked up and he immediately smiles and helps us get to the right stop.

En arrivant, finally. Trying to keep myself calm, I breathe slowly and pretend like everything is fine. I walk quickly through the University doors and go to the auditorium, Hitome wandering slowly behind me. Can you really blame me for going quickly though? After all, we were thirty minutes late for our placement exam. I was horrified that I'd be kicked out of the program.

::short interjection::
I should probably warn you know, I'm a huge pessimist. There. You have been officially warned.

Walk into the auditorium, and we've only missed the boring introduction that everyone dreads. I was thankful for that, but still in a hurry to get a seat, as they were handing out the tests. In my clusterfuck of a brain, I forgot to remember that my shoes have no traction, so OPP. Papers fly, and I'm flat on my bum in front of hundreds of people. Oh hey, everyone. I'm Corrie.

The test was easy enough, nothing I didn't expect. I was lucky though, that I had stayed up until 2h25 "studying" for my test. In all reality, I was just talking with French friends on MSN, but hey, whatever works, right? [right]

After the test, my fellow KU students found me, and we all went to the University Restaurant, about a ten minute walk from campus. On our way back, we got lost [naturally] and after about 30 minutes of being tourists [getting lost, taking out maps, getting more lost, taking pictures, buying stuff] we found our way to somewhere we actually wanted to be, and started being productive. I opened a bank account, bought more postcards, and helped some friends do the same.

With already a mess of a day under my belt, Aubrey [another KU student that was with me the whole time - the others sort of dwindled away, hopefully to somewhere they meant to be] and I made a date for tomorrow [finish up the banking, get a bike, get a bus pass] and we parted ways.

It was then I was left alone to search for Hitome. Grrrreaaat [and not like Frosted Flakes]. So, looking in a huge school for a random Asian girl who doesn't speak either of the languages I do. Naturally, I called my host mother, to see if she had talked to Hitome. As if it would have made a difference. Valérie told me not to fret, and to go ahead and come home. So that's what I did.

Voila, my first real day in Angers. I admit it was stressful, and Angers kicked my butt today, but I'm ready to take it on again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next five months. At least it will be easier to meet people now, since most people will remember my wonderful entrance into the auditorium.

BUH bye for the day.

I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.
-Martha Washington