La Maison de la Camapgne || The Country House

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

La Maison de la Campagne || The Country House

I had always imagined what it would be like to visit the French countryside... I pictured walking through lavender and sunflower fields with pure happiness and delight. When my host family asked me if I'd like to accompany them to their "country house," I had literally just arrived in France and was reluctant, but I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity. So, I got my perfect weekend in the French countryside and I'd love to share the blissful moments and memories with you...

The country house is situated in a town called Beaurepair. It's an hours drive from Grenoble. I tried conversing in French with my host parents, but passed the time mostly looking out my window in my own thoughts. As I sat in the back I watched the mountains disapear which got replaced by rows and rows of fields. 

When we arrived I was delighted by the quaint, charming, historic house. It is on a beautiful property and the air is so fresh in the country. The simple French lifestyle...

We unpacked the car and I was given a grand tour of the house. When you walked in there was the kitchen on the left, and after the entryway, a living room with the dining room to the left and a family room on the right. The furniture was elegant and old-fashioned, there were beautiful paintings on the wall, and I felt like I was in a mansion in an old movie. I couldn't get over how cool and ancient it all was. Upstairs were 4 bedrooms and a bathroom. The basement was fairly large and contains about 4 big rooms. They are currently working on these rooms. The attic upstairs was very old, dusty, and hardly used. There were some small beds, an old/almost broken canopy bed, and I spotted a very old typewriter desk that would probably be worth a fortune! 
This brandy/alcohol case looked like it came straight from the past. I was mezmerized by how cool some of the items in the house were like this one shown above,
My host dad told me all about the history of the house. The history of the house is why he bought it 5 years ago in the first place. He is the program director of a musuem in Grenoble and loves history. He has a published book to his name and loves to talk! Apparently, the house used to belong to a women who was one of the mistresses of a famous emperor. The coolest part of the house are these drawings scribbled on some parts of the wall. They are of the women who used to live there and of the famous emperor too (shown below). So cool!

My host mom bought some delicious, fresh rasberries. I think this photo is very delightful and pleasing.
On Saturday morning we went into the town of Beaurepaire and went to many different stores until noon. Since my host family is in the process of restoring the house, we did errands at home improvement stores and garden shops along with the boulangerie and grocery. 

And at noon as the French do, we lunch. My host mom prepared a delicious healthy meal: chicken, white rice, this delicious spinach mash, and bread. For dessert, yogurt! I can certainly get used to this...

 For the first part of the afternoon I explored the backyard. There's a gorgeous lookout, a side house containing a kitchen and sitting area for parties, and a garden full of pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. It was truly perfect and straight out of a movie!

 For the second part of the afternoon I helped my host dad do some 'excavating' as he would call it, in the backyard. It's his personal, archeological project of discovering hidden treasures. The family that used to live there threw out a lot of their belongings and trash in the backyard and he was fascinated by what he found. There were old glass wine bottles, medicine bottles, plates, teacups, children's toys, and more. Mostly there were in pieces, shattered from their original capacity, but he is determined to put them all back together. For awhile I helped dig out some treasures and was enjoying myself. But, I am very impatient and only could go on so long before realizing I could not accomplish the task in one sitting. I could never be an archeologist for this very reason!

We also picked prunes off a tree in the backyard. It's prune season here and they are delicious! I was completely captured in every moment that I picked the fruit from the tree and looked out at the gorgeous countryside view. I must certainly be dreaming...

For the second part of the afternoon we walked over to their neighbor's house where I met Michelle, a very fun French woman. She has one of those distinctive voices that I'll never forget. She has rows of apple and pear trees in her backyard along with many vegetables. We went over to her residence for the purpose of swimming in her pool and relaxing. There was a strange dome around the pool that was meant to protect the pool from debris an animals. Nothing I'd ever seen before!

After a very pleasant and blissful afternoon we prepared the dinner. My host mom always cooks, my host dad helps, and I set the table. Tonight my host mom cooked the meal she had made me my very first night in Grenoble. It's very delicious. The dish contains fresh tomatoes from the garden (extremely juicy), rice, corn, tuna (used to hate it but forced myself to try it and you really hardly taste it!), and mozzarella.

On Sunday, I took a jog around the front yard at 8am in the morning to break a sweat. Why the front yard? Well, my host parents told me it was unsafe to run around the countryside for 2 reasons: 1 being the issue of strangers and men, 2 being that it was gun season and people were out shooting animals. This could be dangerous. As I ran around, I could hear the gunshots from a distance! They were certainly telling the truth!

At 10:30 we went to church in the town. It was an old Catholic church and was very beautiful inside and out. I didn't understand most of the service but to my surprise they recited the 'Our Father' prayer and thanks to my Catholic High School French teacher, I knew the whole thing by heart. It was a really neat moment for me.

In the town of Beaurepaire.

After church my host family spoiled me by letting me pick out a whole box of French pastries. I couldn't have been happier!

I tried a piece of almost all of them but my favorite displayed here was the citron lemon tart!

On the way back to the house we stopped the car to look at some flowers my host mom liked. I'm always open to follow the motto of 'stop and smell the flowers.'

That afternoon we went swimming again and I also sat on the back porch and wrote. My host dad showed me a journal that all his host students had written in while they were at the country house. They have hosted many students so I saw a lot of entries. Most were written in French (some of the students apologizing or grammar and mistakes as they had admitted they were using a translator). Below I have shown what I wrote in it. My host dad said I could write in English now, but when I come back for my second visit I must write in French. Fair enough!

At about 8pm we left the country house to return back to Grenoble. My host mom was sad to leave, she loves the countryside much more than the busy, lively city of Grenoble. I on the other hand was excited and ready to return back to my host city. I love the fact that it is lively, fun, and busy all the time. I love the hustle and bustle, the commotion, and everything else about it. The countryside was the perfect getaway for the weekend: a time to relax and reflect, a time of learning and adjusting, and a dream come true that basically belongs in a movie. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to visit the country house and I hope to make it back one more time before the semester is up.

"May God bless our home and all who cross the threshold . Family, friends , welcome."

Grenoble My Heart

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Today marks my second weekend in France and I can definitely say that Grenoble has my heart! Grenoble is the perfect city for me! It has all I want and I already love living here. It's a completely different culture but I'm trying to stay open minded and patient.

Why I love Grenoble:
  •  It's a small town but has the perfect dynamic: It's lively, fun, and cosmopolitan but at the same time it's historical, has character, and charm. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life but at the same time I need a relaxing environment as well.

  • The town offers so much. I love how the town is always busy, people walking everywhere, so many stores, and a great energy and vibe. I could walk through it all day long! I can't wait until I'm even more acclimated with the city whereas I know my way around with ease.

  •  The tram system here is incredibly efficient and helpful. There's a stop conveniently right by my house and it takes me anywhere I need to go, like the Monoprix (like a Target), my school GEM, ect. I have an unlimited pass so I can ride from dawn until dusk if need be! There are multiple lines A, B, C, D, and E which at first seemed difficult but it's such an easy system to understand and use. I'm very grateful for this.
  • The mountains surrounding the city are absolutely stunning! Grenoble is in a valley so the mountains seem bigger than they really are but I love it. You literally can see a mountain on every street corner! I love mornings here because every day I get up and the first thing I do is open my windows. My room is pitch black dark but when I open my French wooden shutters and let in the light, I'm immediately happy and ready to start my day. The air is so fresh, the sun is bright, and the mountains are in full view!

  • There are so many outdoor activities to do! There's 2 rivers in Grenoble, the Drac and the Isere, which I run along in the morning. The mountains provide lots of hiking and in the winter I'm excited to go skiing! 

This is the day we hiked down the Bastille. It's a looking viewpoint up very high and you wouldn't believe how many stairs we had to go down. My legs weren't used to it so afterwards they were shaking!

More stairs to walk down but in a cave like structure.
  • Boulangeries are everwhere! Currently, I am slowly figuring out which ones I prefer by trying all I can. I want to have a place where I am a regular! French pastries are amazing and I plan on consuming all the croissants, pain au chocolats, tarts, macaroons, quiches, and other delicacies as much as time and Euros allows!
Like I'll take one of each please...

  • There's a way to get by cheaply if you know the right places to go. So far I've come across a Two Euro store which is the French equivalent of the Dollar Store in America. Also I've come across a discounted makeup store and another one that has markdowns on items from shampoo to clothing. 
  • I feel very safe in the town. There are many times I am alone whether on the tram, running, or walking back to my house and I feel secure. It's reassuring to feel a strong sense of safety in your living environment.
  • There are fresh farmers markets everyday! There are stands that are literally straight from the farm featuring local sellers and also more commercial stands. The produce is so fresh and real you can just taste the authenticity! I LOVE eating fruits here because they are so juicy, soft, and delicious.

I haven't been in France very long yet but I've already learned some good lessons and have started to understand more about French culture, traditions, and lifestyle. I will share what I have discovered thus far:
  1. Theft is very real in France (and I'm sure all over Europe as well), nothing at all like in America. In the U.S. I never worry about someone stealing from me, even in a big city. Unfortunately a couple days ago I became a victim of this! I was on the tram heading to a crepe making event with my exchange group CEA and as we were walking away I noticed my phone was missing. Immediately I knew it had been indeed stolen, just in a matter of seconds. I am always holding my phone but had put it in the side pocket of my backpack without thinking. I was amazed at how quickly something as devasting as that can occur. It was a big lesson for me in the department of stealing, pick pocketing and thieves. I am so much more aware and alert of what I carry on me now. I am taking better precautions to avoid another instance.
  2. Restaurant and store hours are very different here. On Sunday's hardly anything is open and during the week people take 1-2 hours for lunch break. (Lunch break is taken very seriously here. People will stop whatever they are doing, even if they are driving, to sit down and eat lunch). Restaurants close from 2-7 a lot of the times. There are fast food places that offer 'tacos' (that actually look like burritos) anytime but mostly the French stay on a very structured eating schedule.
  3. I love how there is no tax or tip in France! When you see a price for anything you know that's exactly what you'll pay at the cash register. It makes life very easy and simple.
  4. The French live off bread! Everyday I see people holding their baguettes in their arms to take home with them. In America bread is looked at as a carb but here it's more equivalent with a vegetable or something. The people here are very thin because of their balanced meal times, no preservatives, and eating well.
  5. Also kind of a random discovery is that people love orange juice here. At cafes I often see women drinking a glass of orange juice (jus de orange) and it always looks very delicious and fresh! I also regularly see people drinking cartons of orange juice on the streets. I am definitely a fan of this because I love having my orange juice every morning.
  6. Every store makes you pay for your bags. If you're buying one or two items that you can carry then you're good but unless you want to juggle all your groceries you'll have to pay a price for the bag. That is why for 1 Euro or so you can purchase reusable bags. The French are very stingy about this rule and it's implemented literally everywhere.
  7. There is no such thing as taking your leftover food 'to go.' The French take their time with meals and eat the entire plate. The portion sizes are actually normal here (and healthier) so it makes sense but unless you want to eat an entire pizza, then I have learned to think ahead of what I can actually consume.
  8. France is taking the necessary precuations about safety. I say this because I sometimes spot soldiers in full uniform armed with a gun walking around town in case of any circumstance. It's a little frightening to see these men but I just remind myself that they are there for everyone's safety.
  9. I read in a book about French culture (called Talk to the Snail by Stephan Clarke) that the French always believe they are right. I believe this is entirely true and there's nothing you can do about it. If you ever want to get your way you must stay calm, tell them they are right, accept their stubborness, and carry on this way. As long as it was them that was right, the French are incredibly kind and friendly people. *I have learned a lot from this book and reccommend it to anyone going to France!
  10. Strikes are the French people's favorite game. They are planned, national events that happen quite often and disrupt the daily lives of busy people. When there's a strike, for whatever reason, the trams shut down and you are forced to walk to your destination. I have already had to walk 30 minutes to school because of a strike. That day I witnessed a large parade through the streets with people protesting whatever the cause may have been. The people looked very passionate about the cause with large flags waiving through the air, loudspeakers, chanting, and music. It was a little nervracking but definitely harmless. Luckily, there's a convenient app you can download that lets you know the days and times of pre-scheduled strikes.
  11. I've learned to get by without a handy GPS system. In America I rely on my phone's GPS to get literally anywhere, but here in France I don't have that luxury. I don't want to pay for an expensive data plan and have gotten used to looking at actual, 'old-fashioned' maps. When I am going someplace new, I look at my map beforehand and write down the trams and street names that I take to get to my destination.
  12. The French smoke a ton. It's considered a cool thing to do and the fact it's a terrible habit must not have caught on yet. Smoke breaks are popular among students in my school but I will certainly not start smoking despite its cultural popularity.
Well, this has certainly gotten to be a lengthy post! As you can see I have already immersed myself a lot in the French culture and even though it's only been a week and a half here I can tell I'm going to have a very productive semester. I aim to use my time wisely so I can see, do, and learn as much as I possibly can! 
This is our city! (at the Bastille with friends Isabel and Heidi)

First Thoughts Abroad

Friday, September 16, 2016

Today marks a week and 2 days in France and I am finally posting my FIRST blog post! I wrote this the night I arrived and I'd like to share it with you all. I already have so many great experiences and photos to share so I hope to get out more posts quickly! Thanks for being patient and enjoy! :)

Nobody can quite prepare you for a homestay study abroad experience. I still can’t even wrap my head around all of the events of today. It’s been a whirlwind and hardly anything has even happened. On Tuesday the 6th I definitely felt ready to leave home. I was relaxed and excited for the journey, but was very unsure about the whole speaking French part and my homestay situation. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I still don’t know. Currently, it’s the night of the 7th and all I do know is that I’ve accepted a seat on a wild ride. Turns out I don’t know that much French. I took it for four years of high school and two additional classes in college, however, that doesn’t prepare you for the native speaking world and culture shock. I’m totally not confident in my language skills but my vocabulary is coming back. I have a lot of determination to conquer French. Basically, this is the most I’ve EVER felt outside my comfort zone and I basically got dropped into it today without any warning. Here’s essentially how it went:

As usual for the day I leave for someplace, it was overly stressful but everything worked out in the end. My mom and siblings all drove me to the O’Hare International Airport and I said my goodbyes. Since I’ve been to college before all the way out in CA it wasn’t too bad but I started to get teary eyed saying goodbye to my mom. Very bittersweet but I also knew that my journey of a lifetime was FINALLY here and I needed to fully grasp it and seize what was rightfully mine. I had been a help to my family all summer but now the rest of the year would be about me and my own growth. Still, I will miss my family and the familiarity and comfort of my hometown. 

Getting through the airport was quite simple and I got to my gate extremely quickly. I had to wait an hour and a half before boarding but at least I was on time. The eight hour flight wasn’t too bad. I had a window seat and sat next to this Greek man who barely knew English but he was sweet. We talked a little after he pointed at my screen where I was watching ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ and he said, “That’s where I’m from!” I was served a dinner meal which was totally mediocre and then tried to sleep the rest of the time. It was super uncomfortable and I hardly got actual sleep but it was something. The European morning was forced upon us by turning on the lights, opening the window shades, and being served breakfast while it was still about 4am Chicago time. It was weird but I knew I had to switch over to the correct time zone. So you just kind of roll with it. 

Upon landing I realized how beautiful Switzerland was. Such lush green land, cute patches of houses, and the majestic mountains. I had a two hour layover in Zurich where I mostly wandered about totally sleep deprived looking at Swiss chocolate and OPI nail polish displays. The 45 minute flight from Zurich to Lyon was so strange because I was so exhausted that it literally felt like 10-15 minutes. I drank some coffee and had their complimentary Swiss chocolate bar which gave me some needed energy and caffeine. 
Finally at the end of my airplane journey I met Patrick, my program director for CEA (my exchange program), and then I proceeded to meet Heidi who’s another CEA student from Colorado. We took about an hour bus ride from Lyon to Grenoble and it was quite miserable. I was so hot and exhausted. On the bright side I remember reading this one guy’s text over his shoulder and I knew exactly what he wrote out in French which made me proud. It was so weird being in a foreign land and I tried so hard to appreciate all I was seeing despite that my head kept falling back from exhaustion. 
At last, we were in the heart of Grenoble. First thoughts: the town has gorgeous mountains around it but isn’t as lush as Switzerland. There are lots of trees and nature but also it’s so much more commercial and has a certain grunge feel to it. I actually noticed a lot of graffiti and broken down looking areas. 
Patrick, Heidi, and I stood by the train stop and then Heidi’s apartment roommate came. Another girl from the train spoke English and carried a Vera Bradley bag. She was going to the university and was really nice so I hope to see her again. Another international student from Brazil approached us as well with some questions to ask Patrick who is the best guide to have around. That’s when I was suddenly introduced to my host mom Anne who only speaks French. She was very nice but meeting her made all my fears of the language barrier real. It didn’t feel real that I was essentially left with her to go fend for myself. It was totally nerve-racking. Patrick said not to be shy with speaking and to pull out my phrasebook. I'm so happy I brought one of those. We walked to her car and conversing was already extremely difficult. I couldn’t understand most of what she said and I was nervous and felt guilty that I was doing a homestay when I was such a beginner and so unprepared. It was awful. We drove through town a bit and she stopped at a book store before arriving at the house. When we got to the house she showed me around and kept speaking and I was just freaking out. Not many words were coming out of my mouth and once I was left alone with my suitcases upstairs in my new room, I pretty much just froze and went into panic. At this time I couldn’t appreciate how beautiful the house was or the perfect room with a gorgeous view I had always imagined. I was having an endless stream of doubts about doing homestay instead of independent apartment living or residence hall living with other English speaking International students. I frantically texted my worries to my mom and was so thankful she had gotten us free texting overseas for a month. I don’t think I could have made it without her this afternoon and all her reassuring and positive words and sentiments. I couldn’t unpack or really move at all I just stood in place and hurriedly tried to memorize a bunch of phrases so I could be worthy of this homestay experience. The only thing keeping me going was I knew the host dad spoke English and I was waiting for him to arrive back from his work. He is the reason I feel better even in this moment. He is kind, warm, and laughs too. He speaks English fairly well and we talked pretty much the rest of the night. I needed to speak English and it was the most comforting thing for me. I know I can’t rely on it the whole time if I want to learn French but I’m not sure what I would have done if he didn’t know English. They have hosted a countless number of students before and seem like a relaxed couple. They have a dog named Leon who is a small, white terrier. 

We had dinner together at 7pm and I already love the ease and tranquility of how the French do sit down meals. The table was set with bread and water on the table and there were three basic courses. The first was this dish made of fresh tomatoes, white rice, corn, tuna, and some sort of sauce. The next was just buttered pasta and then you squirted out red tomato sauce from a tube that looked like toothpaste. It was very weird and just tasted like tomato sauce from a can. It’s like the French version of American squirt-able fake cheese. Lastly was the dessert which I love since it was super healthy; A delicious fruit salad. I had heard the French have yogurt for dessert and sure enough my host mom brought some out. Yogurt in France is totally healthy without any sugar. I’ve been waiting to try this wholesome, fresh yogurt since it’s like one of my staple food groups. 
It’s pretty bad that I’m still awake seeming how tired I was at 4pm. But this day was just unlike any other. It was so weird and scary and I’m terrified for what I’ll be facing tomorrow but that’s okay. It hasn’t set in yet that I’m here and like I said earlier, I’m still wrapping my head around everything. I have never felt so out of place and it’s crazy being thrown into a new culture in this way. I figure its best I face the language barrier now then later since I do want to learn right away. It’s just going to be so difficult and I’ll have to take it all hour by hour and day by day. The fact that I have no idea what to expect from tomorrow is totally part of my adventurous spirit and now I need to go to bed and face it head on in the morning. Overall, I had a pleasant trip here and I made it here safely so I’m extremely blessed. New challenges will present themselves each day but here’s to my study abroad trip finally in action! I can’t wait for everything! Tomorrow I mostly can't wait to meet more students. Well, I'm officially abroad and definitely not in America anymore. This is all different and new. It’s crazy and I can’t believe I’m really doing it!