New Arrivals from Tunisia

So yesterday we were told by our director that there would be fourteen new SIT students coming to Toulouse from Tunisia due to all of the violence and conflict going on in that part of the world. I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect, but today we got to meet them. They all seemed pretty upset that they may not be spending the semester in Tunisia but were also very excited for the opportunity to come to France. Many of them have never been here so to see the architecture, people, food, etc. was incredible for them.

I didn’t have classes this afternoon so I went to a kebab place for lunch with a few of them and explained the SIT Toulouse program. They had so many questions about what we were doing here and why we chose France. After lunch, I took them to the Capital and St. Sernin, a famous church here in Toulouse. I kept having these odd realizations about how funny it was to be showing Americans around a town that I have come to consider my own in the month that I have been here. It was a pretty cool comparison between the initial feelings I had about being in France and the relaxed attitude I have acquired. I am really glad I got to show them around because I don’t think I would be as aware of how quickly I have acclimated to being in France.

I am about to go play tennis with a friend from school so I have to go, but I wanted to put those thoughts in writing before I forget about them. I’ll take my camera to take a picture or two of the tennis courts we play on. More to come…

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September 8

Ugh this has been a tough Saturday. I went to a toga party last night with a few of the SIT Abroad students and did not get back home until the morning. That being said, I have been out of it all day, which has not been good for my auditory comprehension. Sorry it has taken me so long to post since my last one by the way. It is so easy to get sucked into life here and neglect to stay informed and up to date with life back home, and to also inform others of what I have been doing. I am trying to soak up as much culture as possible, but at the same time, I don’t want to be completely ignorant of what is going on with family, friends, and news in the states. Skyping with my parents today made me a bit homesick, but it was great to see them and hear about life in North Carolina.

So, what all have I been up to? Well this past week we began French classes, found out our community service project, and had a couple history lessons via tours of the town. The French classes are tough, but the skill levels within each class are fairly similar so its not intimidating and everyone is challenged. So far we have just been reviewing some verb tenses, vocabulary, and basic knowledge that we should all know at this point in our studies. We are also reading articles and learning how to pick apart the details to understand little jokes or undertones the author inserted. This has been pretty challenging so far because I am in the process of switching my thinking to French, where I think in French before I speak and while I read. It’s hard to explain, but rather than trying to translate everything into English, I am trying to simply understand the French for what it is. It’s such a cool feeling when you catch yourself understanding what people are saying without thinking about it in English. I have found that my auditory skills seem much better than my verbal or writing skills. For whatever reason, I am able to understand the language very well, but my speech and writing skills are still being worked on.

As I mentioned earlier, we were also assigned our community service projects this week. A lot of the sites are really cool and any of them would have been a great experience. My site is called La D.I.R.E. This non-profit organization helps individuals, living in the projects or slums, build gardens to cultivate produce or aesthetically pleasing plants. I am pretty pumped about the opportunity because I will be working with kids and some members of the immigrant population in Toulouse. I expect that volunteering with this group will be a great way to take my classroom knowledge and apply it directly to the real world in France. Others’ projects include tutoring students in various subjects after school, working on a farm, and cooking for the homeless. Like I said, any of them would be pretty sweet.

Yesterday after our last French class of the week ended at noon, a friend and I took the metro across town to a little boulangerie(bakery) that he found on his bike. Their sandwiches were the best around and its pretty certain I’ll be returning there often. We have been trying to go eat at different places everyday after classes because we want to get to know the town better and also because everyone in the dining hall at school speaks a good bit of English. We figure that our conversations may not be all that complex and intense, but at least we’re practicing the language outside the classroom. Upon returning to the school around 1:30PM, we had a tour given by one of the history professors at L’Institut Catholique. He knows something about everything and told us the history of Toulouse in a three hour walking session of the town. Similar to our first tour with him, we learned our way around the town as well, but this tour was mostly for site seeing and taking pictures. We visited the church where the Dominican order of Catholicism was founded, L’église jacobin. We also visited St.Sernin, which is apparently one of the most holy places to pilgrimage for European catholics. Both were absolutely gorgeous, massive, and awe-inspiring. The Jacobin church had a cloister as well that we took a tour of. The history of monks and nuns and their lives was fascinating. I have uploaded some pictures of the Jacobin church.

It is hard to believe that two weeks have already gone by because it seems like I was just arriving. My hope is that the entire semester does not go by that fast because it sure has been tough to keep up with all of the excitement. More to come. Go look at some of the photos!

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September 2

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Certainly everyone does the same thing on Sunday. This was my thought when I woke up this morning, but I couldn’t have been farther from right. My host family went to Mass at 11 this morning and I ventured out by myself to become acquainted with the neighborhood and route to school. It’s fairly easy to get to the school and it only takes about 15 minutes on foot. The bus ride back is about 5 minutes, which will be nice after a long day of classes etc… I think I’m coming down with a cold, which sucks because school starts tomorrow, but as the French like to say, “C’est la vie.” Upon returning from my test run to school, I read and got ready for tomorrow until it was time for lunch. We started lunch at 1PM and ended at 4PM. What a long time sit around while eating, drinking, and talking, but I absolutely loved it. The French have this way of appreciating every aspect of life, whether it’s conversing, dining, or drinking. They do every action with such awareness of the tastes and sounds and smells and feelings. I think it is things like this that some Americans can learn from. Too many meals are rushed and too little conversation is had often times in the United States. Sunday is a day for the family. Everyone gathers for drinks first, then appetizers, then a grand meal. During the entire process, conversation is had about anything and everything under the sun according to each member of the family. There is never a pause and it is safe to say that “awkward silences” do not exist in French culture. There is always something to be said about everything. I love how people do not beat around the bush when discussing things. They speak their minds and if you don’t like it, so be it. Also, no matter the age of the family member, each person has equal say about the topic of discussion. And everyone listens to what the other has to say.

Last night was very interesting as well. I saw first-hand the privacy that the French cherish so much when it comes to letting outsiders into the family. The family’s priest came to dinner because his birthday is today. Only one other guest came and I assume he is a long time friend of the family. I believe we sat down for drinks and appetizers at 6:30PM and did not get up from the table until 10:30PM. Just like lunch today though, you don’t really notice how much time passes because of the constant conversation and food. We must have talked about everything before the guests left. The priest was very funny because he smoked, drank, and cussed. He asked me about the severity of a few four-letter words in the English language and I informed him that I felt weird cussing with a “man of the church.” Apparently though, some of our most vulgar cuss words are everyday phrases here. What a crazy difference between the two languages!

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September 1

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This is the second day I have been living with my host family and I am getting along with them great! They have eight kids, of which four live here. Yesterday, as is normal, was a little odd at first, but we have quickly become familiar with each other. One of their daughters lives in town and joined us for dinner last night. She is a nurse who fills in for people who cannot work on certain days. At first, I was not looking forward to the meals because I thought that there would be non-stop questions which my French would not be able to answer, but as it turns out, my host family treats me like another member of the family and pays equal attention to each member. I like this because it is hard to express myself all the time and to accurately portray life in the United States to someone who may not have been there.

This morning I was lucky enough to accompany my host dad and his son to the store to pick up groceries and supplies to build a wall. I couldn’t believe it but the French have a store similar to Wal-Mart. This place had everything. My only thought the entire time we were there was, one could live in here forever. And, to top it off, the store was inside a mall-like building. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing.

When we got back I helped Luc, my host dad, put the wall supplies away while Catherine, my host mother, prepared lunch. I am absolutely certain that I am going to love the meals here. It is true what we Americans say about French food. It is mouth-watering and healthy as well. The French eat just as much as we do for meals, but they finish everything on their plates because they only help themselves to as much food as they can finish. There are also a lot of fruits and vegetables in their diet, which is, I am sure, why they aren’t obese and we are.

I think this afternoon that I will be shown the route to the university via walking and the bus. I am pretty nervous that I may be late for classes or something like that if the buses run late or if it begins to rain while I am walking to classes. Apparently the route, on foot, only takes twenty minutes, which is great, but I am sure there will be days when walking may not be an option. It’s a good thing that I will be walking a lot because it seems like it would be hard to do any running here. The streets are a death sentence for pedestrians due to the fact that they are so narrow and most of the drivers drive like their lives depend on how quickly they get places. I think some American drivers could take a lesson or two though on how to aggressively and successfully navigate a street in a car.

Tonight, I believe the priest from the church is coming to dinner because it is his birthday. It should be an interesting experience and I look forward to meeting him and learning more about the Catholic religion. Luc and Catherine went to Mass this morning, which seems so odd to me, but what do I know? I am only a Methodist and we are not known for being very religiously dedicated. I must go now because I don’t like sitting in my room on a computer, but more posts to come.

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Being from the South

Museum of an aristocrat's house

We began today with the usual breakfast at 8:30 and an SIT session at 9:30 until about 12:00PM, covering an article we read about being American and traveling abroad. I thought I wouldn’t understand everything that I needed to hear because all conversation is done in French, but to my excitement I understand more of the language on a daily basis. I am also beginning to think in French first and only in English when I talk among the other American students. My desire to become fluent is growing with each conversation and I am finding myself using more daring vocabulary and trying new phrases almost every time I talk to someone. I did not think the French would be so willing to help an “ignorant” American learn their language, but I have found that they really appreciate the fact that I begin any conversation in French before occasionally speaking English when I cannot express my thoughts in French.

We took a tour of Toulouse with a guide this afternoon that is actually one of our professors at the university. I am glad that we had an opportunity to meet him before classes begin. One of my biggest fears is that I will not be successful at first in the classroom because of my inability to understand everything that is said. I have to keep telling myself that I am not the first student to do this program and that the unexpected has most certainly already been experienced by someone previously. I have also noticed that my English is become a bit more complex as I write these posts because I take for granted the fact that I am fluent in at least on language. I am using different vocabulary than normal because it is comforting to know that I can form complex sentences and ideas in English. My goal is to be able to write something like this in French upon completing this program.

On another note, I need to get out more when I return to the states and spend time with students from other parts of the nation because only a few students in the SIT program are from the South. I have become aware of my constant use of “ya’ll” and other idioms only common below the Mason-Dixon line. It’s actually pretty funny because no one else here says ya’ll and the way things are done at Wofford seem foreign to the other students. There are six of us total and only two of us are from the South. The other Southern student is from Nashville so we are able to relate to each other regularly. The other four students are from Massachusetts, California, Missouri, and Delaware. I have nothing against Yankees and Mid-Westerners, but geez we do things differently in the South. When we first met one another and talked about our universities, I assumed that everyone had heard of Wofford College. Much to my surprise, not a single person has heard of it, much less Spartanburg, South Carolina. This baffled me at first but my perspective of the United States is constantly changing due to the new information I learn from the other students. Dinner is about 15 minutes away so I have to go now but I’ll post again soon. Bon soir et à bientôt.

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Bienvenue en France

Well I have finally made it to Toulouse, France! Talk about opening your eyes to the world. I haven’t done much traveling by myself, much less to another country with a few layovers thrown in there as well. After briefly visiting Dallas and London,for the first time at both locations, I have arrived at my ultimate destination. It’s funny looking back on the whole travel arrangements because I think I convinced myself that my luggage would not be in Toulouse when I got here. I just about hugged a total stranger standing next to me when I saw my “American”esque bag exit the baggage claim line. I’m glad I contained my elation otherwise I might have paid an extra visit to customs due to perceived insanity. During the entire trip here, I found myself asking the question, “Do people know I am an American?”My bag probably answered that question due to its giant size compared to the rest of the bags at baggage claim. It’s not like it really matters what total strangers in Dallas and London think of me, but after people watching, reading, and listening to music in airports on two different continents, I started wondering where everyone was from and where they were traveling. The only real evidence I had of anyone’s nationality was usually a snippet of a conversation heard in passing. Even then though, everyone started to sound like they were speaking in tongues I never knew existed. Consistency set in when I boarded the plane from London to Toulouse because suddenly all of the flight instructions were in French and the sporadic conversations among the passengers were all in a shared common language, that wasn’t English. It escalated even more when I got off the plane in France, because rather than hearing too many languages to comprehend, my ears were trying to clue into several French conversations going on around me until I exited the airport. Nervousness set in when I realized that I would not be walking to my hotel from the airport and that I would have to flag down a taxi and request my destination. Surprisingly enough, the cab driver must have understood me because after a few screeching turns that would have turned a sailor’s stomach upside down, I was walking into the hotel. First conversation in French=success. That did not last long though once I found myself talking to the guy at the front desk in the hotel. We traded a few comments in French and then he immediately switched to English. Second conversation in French=not so successful…I did not let it get to me though and continued to speak in French upon leaving for a McDonalds across the street. En route, I thought I had all the bases covered and would masterfully order a Big Mac and fries with little mistake. Third conversation in French=not so successful. Thanks to the customer behind me, the baffled cashier finally understood what I wanted to eat. Unfortunately, I don’t think the customer was being friendly though. Hunger can sometimes be a strong motive for doing things such as helping an American order his food at McDonalds. It’s funny how I am half way around the world and I had Mickey D’s for dinner. The only difference here though is that they don’t think its funny when you order “freedom fries.” I think I’ll call it a day with that and get some rest before I meet my group tomorrow back at the airport. More posts to come soon. À bientôt!

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