As many may have already heard, Venice, Italy is currently experiencing the worst flooding it has had in over 50 years. The damage and the footage of it is unreal; I believe the French news pin-pointed it to a peak of nearly 4 feet. For comparison, below you will find pictures (the last 6) I took Venice a few weeks before compared to some of the same locations affected (mine are the ones fortunately without water).
Venice is not particularly the biggest city of them all, but it is well known for a reason (or rather, many): the criss-crossing canals with boats of tourists gently paddling through, the narrow alleyways between buildings in which I could easily touch walls on either side at the same time, the buildings and architecture right on the water – the list goes on and on. But certainly the one thing the group looked forward to the most was the food. The French version of ice-cream (la glace) does not at all compare to the creamy, sugary ice-cream of the US, nor do either of those two compare to the thick gelato of Italy. I think gelato takes the crown – the thickness and richness of flavor makes even the smallest amounts a real treat. On les vacances de Toussaint (the school break around the time of Halloween), we treated ourselves to severe amounts of pizza (absolutely unreal – the sauce, cheese, peppers were godly), spaghetti, and just taking it all in.
Naturally there were many tourists, and I told the group that I would not like to imagine what Venice is like on a weekend. Even on a Wednesday evening there were people galore, taking pictures under the lights, poking in and out of street shops and restaurants, getting on and off boats, and enjoying their time with friends as we were. The first few photos are some of my favorites from Venice, views that were simply polarizing. With each trip, I am constantly reminded of how easy travel is in Europe; I think the flight from CDG in Paris to Milan was only one hour. At the same time, it reminds me once more of how large the US is. One of my goals being abroad was to experience different cultures and, more simply, different life than that in the States; fortunately in Europe, that can be easily attained for a new country is never more than a couple hours away.
After three months now in France, I could say I’ve certainly had my share of French life. Classes are in full swing, extracurriculars (well, volleyball) are going smoothly, and the French way of life has become rather normal. To that end, there are a couple thoughts I have had or realized over the course of my time abroad thus far that have greatly helped in terms of daily foreign language use and acclimation in such an environment.
I think having a host family is easily the best way for me to not only speak French daily, but to speak it a lot. From time at dinner to casual conversations watching TV, to complaining about the day’s work or course-loads, there is always plenty to talk about. And to that end, when there is a lot to talk about, there are certain ways to talk. And what I mean by that is that the manner in which the French speak is different than that in which Americans speak. Over the past couple of months, you start to realize that you hear certain words not only a lot, but every day. And being on the road to improving language fluency, it is precisely these little things that will develop the language.
And to this end, I have realized one trick, if you will, to fast-track a development in the language:
The way the French talk? Copy it.
And I mean it literally; these words and phrases you hear day after day after day… it means something, doesn’t it? It’s the way the French speak, and as a French major…is that not kind of the goal?
You hear a new word? Write it down. A new phrase? Write it down. A new expression? Write it down. And then use them as often as you possibly can until you don’t even realize that you’re saying them because it has become a part of your regular vocabulary. I am by no means there yet, but that is the goal – one that I hope to have by May.
With that said, here is a collection of a few words or expressions that I hear more or less daily and are fairly useful (moreover, ones that I have not learned in the classroom).
Du coup: so
Vachement: really (for emphasis) (or if you’re from Mass, you could see it as “wicked” like I did)
Pénible: tough, a nuisance
Véritablement: really (used for emphasis)
Bouquin / Bouquiner: A book / to read (have your head in a book)
Enfin bref: nevermind
Effectivement: Indeed, really (often used towards the beginning of a sentence)
J’ai la flemme: equivalent of “I don’t really want to” or “I don’t feel like it” (I use this one far too much)
C’est ouf: Verlan (french slang) of “C’est fou” meaning “That’s crazy”
Toucher sa bille en: To know a thing or two about
Un tas: a pile
Se lover: To curl up (i.e. to curl up on a couch or under a blanket)Un truc de malade: equivalent of “sick” as slang (i.e. oh c’est un truc de malade == oh that’s sick!
For our very first break away from French life and culture (which I will say was severely missed by the time the weekend was over), the France Study Abroad Squad decided to partake in Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. After weeks and months of planning and plenty of money already spent on lodging, we were ready to get going once the time came. The trip involved ludicrously early bus rides (or late ones – 3 a.m. is a bit ambiguous), and late nights, a kind of go! go! go! mentality, for there was always something to do or somewhere to be. With only a weekend in Munich, we had to make the most of it and sleep took a bit of a hit, but it this kind of experience was certainly worth it.
You may be able to easily see it in the photos, but in case not, Oktoberfest was wild. There were probably about 50,000 people there at least. Simply put,the environment was contagious and there was no one, not even I, escaping it. For example, a few of us woke up at unorthodox hours to get a good spot in line and a good table inside one of the main tents (where the fun really is). Once the gates were opened, thousands of people visible in the lines all around the entrance were full-out sprinting to the tents – essentially, it was either run or be run over. You can imagine which one we picked.
We entered one of the main tents and, by some divine miracle, nearly 30 Holy Cross students met up with each other within the first 10 minutes of entering. With two or three tables among ourselves it was safe to say that we stuck together. By no means was there a shortage of drindles or lederhosen (though you will see me sporting a pair of jeans) and the culture of the festival was incredible : the singing, stein-clinking, the tent going wild. There were even beer teams decked out in jerseys and joggers.
Naturally I asked myself during the bus rides at the previously mentioned unorthodox hours if this weekend would be worth it and if it was worth it, and once more I’ll say that the environment of the festival certainly made it so. I would call it a one-time event having seen it all and felt it all. My suggestion, if you can go – go once and you will see all you need to see. For now, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
After a long day of courses and speaking French all day, we (the active, energetic students from HC that we are) began speaking English on the tram coming back from the day at the University. Talking about this and that in our American accent remarkable by perhaps anyone on the tram, there was one (also American) woman on the tram sitting a mere one seat away who took notice.
“Are you guys international students or something?” she asks. We reply why yes indeed – we’re study abroad students. After asking from what school, things get interesting real fast:
“We go to a school called Holy Cross.”
“In Massachusetts?” she asks. *We all look at each other*
“Yeah – do you know it?”
“Yeah,” she says. “My brother and my sister went there!”
What are the chances that we meet someone in France, the same city, the same part of town, the same tram line, the same tram itself, the same time of day, all the way down to the seat, that has a remarkably close connection to Holy Cross? The chances must be ludicrously low – but I suppose that what they say is true : no matter where you go, Holy Cross is always a part of you (and apparently, no matter how far you go, it is not far enough to escape it. Even other continents). Like it or not, HC will follow you everywhere.
She took the following selfie to send to her siblings (huge flex) and I thought it best to blur her face (cause ya know, privacy or something)
As of a few days ago, I have moved into my host family’s home in Dijon, giving me time to really look back on my month in Tours and everything it had to offer.
L’institut de Touraine in Tours, France (where we had our preliminary language courses) was a fairly good time among all. Essentially, the courses are structured with an ongoing curriculum such that new students can arrive each week and join their assigned classes without disrupting any new material. Arguably my favorite subject throughout the whole month of courses was that of verlan (a slang used by the youngsters of France consisting of inverting the syllables of a word to form a new one) as well as des expressions idiomatiques (idiomatic expressions). Learning how the French actually speak and what they actually say becomes extremely helpful so that we are able to adopt it to our vocabulary which, due to the nature of things, consists mainly of rather formal and professional French.
The best part of l’Institut, however, was the people and friends we all made. I never would have guessed that I would make friends from England, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia, and elsewhere. Not only that, we became relatively close – we would all go out to lunch together at des Sandwicheries or sometimes something a little different like sitting outside at the always-present surplus of cafés, and then regroup at La Guinguette sur la Loire (a rather popular bar on the Loire river) to hang out in the evenings. You’ll find that when everyone comes from different places, we’re all looking to make friends – so it becomes easy! Everyone introduces everyone to everyone else, and groups become bigger and bigger. The ties I have made in a months’ time have already created tentative plans to visit friends in one or two of the aforementioned countries, so I’m grateful to l’Institut for that.
During our time in Tours we partook in a number of excursions sponsored by l’Institut : Le Mont St. Michel en Normandie, St. Malo en Bretagne, Loches, as well as le château de Chenenceau. All of these places were formidable with their architecture, the sights, and simply seeing these structures reminds you not only of how old France is, be also how young the United States are. In my eyes, the United States now feel like an infant compared to the adult-aged…well…rest of the world.
Here are some highlights of the châteaux, the places we visited, as well as yet another Paris weekend excursion. A fair warning – the pictures do not in any way/shape/form compare to the the views with your own eyes; they are infinitely better in person, so if you’re ever in the neighborhood…well, you know where to go.
First of all, thank you for following my year ahead on this sure-to-be crazy journey in France. My name is Jacob McDonald and am currently a junior (the time really does go by so fast) Computer Science & French double major. Back home in the states, many people know me for my love of volleyball (I was captain of my high school team and co-captain of the HC Club team) and my tranquil use of free time, whether it be hanging out with friends and family, reading, or (if I really have a good amount of free time) working on calligraphy projects – another hobby of mine. At Holy Cross you can find me most of the time in Kimball either working as a Captain or doing homework, for I love the Kimball atmosphere of general chatter — and the food of course.
Now onto the matters at hand: I have taken French courses for more or less 8 years and have loved them since the very beginning. I find myself very fortunate to have had teachers and professors that are not only very passionate about their professions but are also able to transcend that kind of love they have for the language and culture onto their students . I found myself in that kind of group. In regards to the French major, I never exactly found myself in the utmost desire to major in this field but rather it was more of the feeling of “well, I don’t see myself not taking French courses anytime soon so I might as well.” Leading up to departure I of course wondered how much French would hold up to the natives and French way of life and, as I am currently in France as of this blog’s writing, I have my answer (though it will not yet be revealed – stay tuned).
The process to study abroad at Holy Cross is fairly straightforward for the most part. Once the Office announces that it is accepting applicants for the program, it is necessary to choose the program and fill in all sorts of required general information (how long you’re staying, uploading copies of your transcripts, etc). If you have any questions the Office is very good about answering them whether by visiting them in person or through phone/email. I know for sure I had a good handful of questions that I would never have had answered without them. Once you are accepted there is the whole new-wave-of-excitement phase; what now? What should I research? Where should I visit while I’m abroad? What should I pack? Among all of these new exciting feelings, of course, it is necessary to stay on top of everything that is necessary: filling out paperwork and staying in contact with the Office, applying and getting your passport (DO IT EARLY), applying and getting your VISA (see below), actually thinking about packing, and much more. It’s an exciting time and it should stay that way…as long as you stay on top of everything.
With that being said, the Visa process was probably the most difficult part of the Study Abroad process for those with France as their destination. It has two massive requirements: registering with Campus France and Études en France, as well as the actual application for the Visa (which includes a required no-exception in-person visit at your local friendly neighborhood French Consulate. The Campus France / Études en France application takes 3 weeks if it is not expedited, however if you do expedite it I believe it is a few days to a week (but comes with a massive ~$300 fee). All of the online paperwork, uploading photos, insurance information, information about Holy Cross and your host institution, etc takes a good while to do. Thus, if I have any advice for anyone applying for a Visa, it is START AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE – you will not regret it.
Three weeks later, once you receive an email that your application has been processed and accepted by Campus France, you can apply for the Visa on the French government’s website (finally!). This also takes a fair while online but not as long as the Campus France application. The most important part of this is the in-person appointment at the French Consulate. There are maybe less than a dozen around the U.S. and I drove an hour or so to Boston for mine. During the summer they are very busy so it is crucial to book your appointment (which you do after the application online) as soon as humanly possible for you. There are MANY documents required for the appointment – birth certificate, university acceptance letters, an affidavit letter (Holy Cross gives this to you), bank statements proving sufficient funds, passport-sized photos, proof of acceptance to Campus France / Études en France, etc.. The point is, it is CRUCIAL to be organized about this process and it should not be underestimated. Furthermore, It should be noted (that many of us going to France were unaware of) that when you go to the Consulate for your appointment, they TAKE YOUR PASSPORT to be sent to DC for actual Visa processing and finalization. From the time of the appointment to the time I received my passport back, it took about a week and a half. So a little bit of math: 3 weeks for the Campus France application, at least one week booking in advance for the consulate appointment, plus a week and a half or so for the passport/visa to be shipped to your house comes out to give or take a MONTH AND A HALF of processing and application — if you start everything on time. The point is that the process takes time and if that time is not respected then there can be serious consequences, such as not arriving to France on time.
Assuming you have started everything on time – enjoy the time of pre-departure! Every time you see your friends and family, they will ask, “are you excited for ______???” and of course your answer is “absolutely!” During the summer you’ll be trying to be with friends and family as much as possible – as you should – but the question inevitably comes of PACKING; exciting with the right mindset. Having just done this over a week ago now, I have some advice. First, unless you are absolutely required to for whatever reason, ONLY BRING ONE SUITCASE. Two suitcases + one carry-on + one personal item = a nightmare and workout you will not want to have. It is entirely feasible to pack for a life abroad in one suitcase – it takes a matter of preparation and thought to see what you really need and really do not. It comes down to a matter of priorities, and remember – you can always get things after the plane lands. Additionally, space/vacuum bags are a life-saver. I fit much more in my suitcases than I could have previously although it is always important to watch out for the weight limit. You could get the airport and the person behind the check-in desk could spare you for being over a few pounds, but with anything more you could get smacked with a $15 per kilogram fee. You (or your parents, if they are so generous) will not be happy. So pack light – you’ll be able to survive on minimal clothes because they last a long time.
Saying goodbye to friends and family is always hard, but it will be necessary to do. There is, however, some light in this fact and I thought of this saying and will continue to do so during my time in France:
“Everything worth doing is scary at first”
That could not be more true.
Like I said, I am currently in France (Tours, to be exact, which will be the subject of my next entry). For now, enjoy some pictures of Paris from the day I landed!