Family in France

Indeed it has been quite some time since I’ve last posted. There’s been a lot going on over the past month and a half or so and at times its been chaotic, however its been nothing but good things all around. And it’s already February – time is flying way too fast for my comfort, but the extra day with the leap year this year will be quite welcome.

One of the bigger things that has happened over the past month and a half was my family coming to visit me in France. Since I had not gone home over our Christmas break a number of them (my grandmother, great uncle, mom, sister, and sisters new FIANCÉ (we’ll get there)) decided to pack their bags for a little getaway. Undoubtedly I would say it was exactly what we needed to get through the next 100 days or so – and its ridiculous how the unofficial countdown has already started. It’ll be nice to be home and in a familiar once more however it will be devastatingly difficult to leave this place I now call home and more familiar than I would have ever thought.

In any case, my family and I first spent a number of days in Paris. Most of them have never been in France before (except my great uncle, who as a priest taught and gave mass across France and even came to Dijon once in the 1950’s) so it was neat to explore. Unfortunately French public transport was still very much on strike, rendering very few lines of the metro working. This pushed us to do most things on foot which actually worked out quite well, allowing us to really explore the city.

From the Italian quarter we went to Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle (the latter I had never seen before and was quite stunning). We proceeded to walk along the Seine to the Louvre, easily proceeding next door la Place de la Concorde after our beauteous stroll through le Jardin des Touileries. All this time my family was in awe, for one of the first things many of the Holy Cross students including myself noticed upon our arrival was how rich the architecture was – certainly nothing one could find in the US. We proceeded to l’Arc de Triomph, giving us a brilliant view of the entirety of Paris; in addition, at the very top was the place at which my sister’s then-boyfriend proposed to her! (She never cries but the tears definitely came down). As I’m writing this they are currently wedding-dress shopping, so hopefully that goes well. Anyway, after descending as an engaged couple in addition to my mom and myself, we walked across a number of streets and bridges to see the Eiffel Tower at night which shone brilliantly for us.

Translating was definitely a little interesting – while it is always fun, it becomes a little more difficult when you have to translate for four or five people. Usually we had the great privilege of most Parisiens and Dijonnais people knowing English however that was not always the case. I could really write for hours about this little vacation with my family however, as usual, I think it’s best to let the pictures do the talking (I am no English major, after all).


Saint Chapelle Exterior
We went around 10AM so this sun will still rising, giving us absolutely stunning colors coming through the stained-glass windows
This was probably my favorite part of the Saint Chapelle – the teal / mint color was simply stunning and no picture can take that in. Naturally the place was packed by I HIGHLY recommend getting tickets online beforehand so you can skip the line.
Johnny (left), myself, my grandmother Mary-Ann , my great-uncle Gerard, and my sister Nicole
Nicole REALLY loves the authentic French crêpes
Really mom, really?
Post-proposal photos on the top of l’Arc de Triomph
Nicole and Johnny on the train telling my brother they’re engaged!!!
La chouette de Dijon (did you see the ring? Yeah it’s kind of tough to see I agree)
Dinner at one of the best restaurarants in Dijon – Le Pré aux Clercs right on la Place de la Libération
This was probably the best part of the entire trip. We had dinner at my house, Jocelyne and Martin (my host family) preparing an authentic Burgundy meal of beef burgundy with potatoes, as the meal, du jambon persillé, a full cheese platter and plenty, plenty of wine. We were twelve at the table and spent the entire evening talking amongst ourselves, learning about each other and what life in France consists of. There were plenty of laughs and this was easily the highlight of the visit for me – the best of both worlds ! (family back home and family here in France).
Saying goodbye to the filles (Meghan and Emma) after getting on the train. (But now they’re all back in the States and have already gotten lunch together so it’s fine).

A little home away from home…

While the other HC students are going home for the holidays, I felt early on that it would be best for me to stay in France in order to maximize my time here. Even better, I will having a number of family members visiting me just after the new year so I’m not entirely missing out (my mom, my grandmother, my great uncle, my sister, and my sister’s boyfriend) ! Nonetheless, with others going home for the holidays it makes me think about home and really makes home “home.”

For me, if there is one thing that can bring me back to my life in the States it would be my mom’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (many close friends can confirm this). Tragically I was fully prepared to spend the entire year abroad without them, however fortunately after some trial and error we found a way to make it work. As a surprise, my mom actually send me the majority of the ingredients to make them here in France, and after some time I began to find what was needed in the stores here in Dijon when certain things needed to be replaced. Thus this little tradition was born: every so often Emma, Meghan, Yuli, Caroline and I will get together to bake cookies.

Shopping for ingredients and such has definitely heightened my vocabulary in these areas, so I thought I would share my favorite words that I often use when baking. In regards to purchasing food, it seems to me that in terms of pricing it is the contrary to how it works in the US. For example, healthier foods tend to be more expensive in the States while junk food is fairly cheap. On the other hand, French healthy food is rather inexpensive whereas junk food is significantly more expensive (above all chocolate chips – it kills me).

une fournée : a batch
des pépites de chocolat : chocolate chips
le cassonade : brown sugarla farine (fluide) : flour (for baking)
La cannelle: cinammon
l’extrait de vanille : vanilla extract
le bicarbonate de soudre : baking soda
les flocons d’avoine : oatmeal flakes



Me about to freak out seeing Emma about to eat the batter

Making a mess


En Italie…

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. 

Pretty houses in Burano
les filllllllllllles
Venice at night
TOPSHOT – A general view shows people walking across the flooded St. Mark’s Square, by St. Mark’s Basilica on November 15, 2019 in Venice, two days after the city suffered its highest tide in 50 years. – Flood-hit Venice was bracing for another exceptional high tide on November 15, as Italy declared a state of emergency for the UNESCO city where perilous deluges have caused millions of euros worth of damage. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)

The square in front of St. Mark’s Basilica
VENICE, ITALY – NOVEMBER 15: A flooded St. Mark’s square (Piazza San Marco) during a new exceptional high tide on November 15, 2019 in Venice, Italy. A new exceptional high tide of 160 cm was registered today at 11.20 am. Venice saw its second ever highest tide on the night of November 12th, two people were killed and mayor Luigi Brugnaro declared a state of emergency. (Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)

Adjusting in a foreign country: #1 tip

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!

First break from France…

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.





Dijon squad grabbing lunch before heading to our hostel
Drindl & lederhosen shopping
The entrance !!!!
Yeah there’s a few people inside this tent…
One of our HC tables
One of the aforementioned beer team members
Going on the Ferris wheel is an absolute MUST if you’re ever here – there are few views like it
France Abroad Squad being the best like always
Dijon squad in our natural habitat

Holy Cross Everywhere? Indeed

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)


Time in Tours

Time in Tours

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.

Le Mont St. Michel (Normandie – a must-see)

Le Château de Chenenceau
“2254 injured people were healed here during the First World War”
Les Vitraux (stained-glass windows)
Louis XIV
Incredible architecture on the side of l’Arc de Triomph
The entrance to le Musée d’Orsay
Monet’s “Blue Water Lilies”
Van Gogh

Having lunch in front of the Eiffel Tour after a long morning of walking

The front of le Louvre
Arguably the most breath-taking view so far: climbing to the top of l’Arc de Triomph. You can see all of Paris, and I would do it again in a heart-beat

Prologue: Preparation For The Year Ahead

Hello readers of the blog!

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”
-Dan Avidan

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!

Passport and boarding ticket — ready
Charles de Gaulle Airport
The Luxembourg Gardens
Notre Dame
Près du Louvre
Une tartine buerrée & un croissant for breakfast