The last post: A month in America

omeone: “Well, Carlin, did you have a good time in France?”

Me: “Yes sir/ma’am; I loved it! I…”

Someone: “Well, good. Glad to hear it. Bye!”

Have you ever had that feeling in which someone punches you in the stomach, you lose your breath, and you feel like you’ll feel like that forever? And then eventually you regain the ability to breathe, but that pain in your gut still remains ever constant? That’s how it feels to miss France.

My coping process basically entails listening to Mumford & Sons on repeat and knowing there existed at least one fictional character with whom I share the same sentiments: Jay Gatsby. His unattainable love for Daisy and his search to repeat the past is ever more heartbreaking when you can relate to it. My only desire over the past month has been to repeat my entire experience in France. I feel as if only Jay Gatsby and I cling to the hope that one can accomplish such a task. Are there things that I would change if I could have a do-over? Sure. But do I have any true regrets? Non, je ne regrette rien.

The first few days back in the ol’ USA were extremely tough – and it wasn’t just because of the jetlag. Everything had changed but yet sort of remained the same. I came back to family and friends who were excited to see me… and some who wouldn’t even look at me. My brain was and still is extremely confused. I think half in English and half in French, and my thoughts are continually alternating between phrases like “I can’t believe my time in France is over,” “I can’t believe I’m in America right now,” and “I can’t believe I just did that.”

So now, one month since I got on the American Airlines flight from Paris to Chicago, my experiences and memories still plague me nearly every second of the day. Sometimes, I can close my eyes and see my host parents waving to me from the train platform as we left. I can taste the freshness of a street corner baguette – which no American attempt will ever come close to (sorry, it’s true). I can feel the warmth of the fire in the den that was created on a chilly day and the overwhelming sense of calm brought by a mug of hot tea. I can hear my host family singing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” in their thick French accents, and I can also smell the spinach tart with salmon and goat cheese cooking in the oven. I can taste the wines that we shared over dinner, and I’ll never forget the night that I danced with nearly every member of my host family and some French teenagers I had never met before.

That night at the dance was one of my favorite nights in France. However, the hardest night for me in France was the night that France declared war with Mali. No one knew – sauf Kameron – that I was so scared that I just locked myself in my room and cried, praying that nothing bad would happen and the months would pass quickly without problems. I had an overwhelming desire to pack up and go home right then. After all, America has been in a long haul with the same type of extremists for many, many years, and it was very scary to be in a host country who declares war with a terrorist group a week after our arrival.

But after our first vacation, America started taking the blows and I felt safer in France than I did in America. I remember very clearly each time my host mom said “Did you hear what happened in America today?” and my heart sank with each newscast. While helplessly watching the news from across the Atlantic, we saw the images of the Boston marathon, the explosion in Texas, and the threat from North Korea, all while wondering about the future of the great United States.

And now, the reverse has occurred. The great Cathedral in Nantes was vandalized this past weekend and all I can do is read helplessly the articles on what happened. I remember very clearly when some people in Orangeburg went around doing dumb stuff like smudging poop on church doors and how uncomfortable that made me feel. But these people have broken statues, painted Nazi symbols and the number 666 on statues and the new alter, and have destroyed parts of the choir loft. It’s unreal. No matter where you are and what you’ve done, some things will never be understood.

So, back in America, my favorite question that I get asked now is “how was Paris?” Well, Paris was great for the few days I was there, but I actually stayed in a city called Nantes. And Nantes is pronounced like “Naunt.” It is not Non-tez or Nan-teez or even Naunts. It is 2.5 hours west of Paris by train, and I happen to like it there. Yes, I LIKE – scratch that – LOVE FRANCE.

I walked into a restaurant the other day with my dad and this guy goes, “Wes! There are only 3 people who I know who like France and your daughter is one of them. I just don’t understand it!” Well, I like it for a number of reasons, but please continue, good sir, to explain why you don’t like it. Then he announces, “THEY NEVER WORK!” It was all I could do to keep from blowing up. Are you joking with me right now? This is your reason for not liking France? I mean, I’m not denying your statement by any means (shoutout to my homies in the bank who happened to take a random Thursday afternoon vacation when my card was eaten by the machine), BUT this happens to be a reason I like it! (Plus, have you looked at America’s unemployment lately??) Value is placed on other things besides working 12 hour shifts and your occupation doesn’t define you. And moreover, fine sir, you cannot categorize an entire country into one people. Just like I imagine you do not like to be classified as the same as the other 349,999,999 people who just happen to live in the same country as you. Thanks.

So, I just want to say to all you adventure-seekers, hopeless wanderers, and dreamers, if you have a desire to go abroad, do it. If you’re 12, 20, 45, or 78, if you have a place that you want to travel, do it. Don’t worry about the finances or where you’ll go and how you’ll get there. All that stuff generally works itself out. But never, ever let yourself live with the regret of never traveling. I promise that you will not regret going abroad and traveling, you will only regret not doing it. For me, it was a chance to see another style of life, which I admire tremendously, a chance to see that there actually is a world of opportunity out there, and a chance to learn about who I am and where I came from. I had the opportunity to strengthen my faith in new ways like going to Catholic Mass, traveling to Rome, and talking things out. I also learned a great deal about confidence and courage and taking risks (Merci, Elisabeth). After all, what’s life without a little risk? You’ll never know unless you take some.

Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.


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Dix jours

It’s May 1st. May 1st.

Where has the time gone? And why has it gone by so quickly? I remember the first night I was in my host family’s house, and I was putting my clothes in their proper places. My host mom came to my door and asked me if I liked to eat eggs because she was cooking galettes. I said yes and smiled nervously as I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. New country, new family, new life, and my countdown to return to the United States was nearly 3 months and 20 days.

Now, there are only 10 days left. Is this is joke? C’est une blague! How can I possibly ready myself for reverse culture shock while studying for seven exams and preparing to say good-bye to my host family? It’s like I just got here, like the adventure has just begun. There’s no way it can just come to a close…

I consider myself very lucky to have been given this opportunity to live in another culture, with another family for four months. And as I look around my host family’s house, I realize that they have really made this my home during my time here. We’ve shared meals, jokes, sickness, memories, movies, culture, and language, and the hardest part is knowing that after these 10 days, I have no idea when I will be able to see them again. Sorry if this sounds really sad and dramatic, but I’m actually not sorry because it’s true.

I only hope that when I get back to the United States, I will be able to retain not only the language that I learned, but also the memories that I created with everyone throughout the semester. It’s sure to be one that I will never forget.

So, finalement, in 10 days, I will physically return to my home country, but a piece of my heart will always remain in Nantes, France.


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La famille

The first definition of family in the Merriam-Webster dictionary app is this: a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head; household.

However, I believe that family extends beyond just living together. And here are several reasons why:


  1. There has to be humor. I’m sorry (that I’m not sorry), but if there is no humor in the family, you might as well not call yourselves a family. On Saturday, my host dad (FINALLY) bought a new microwave, and though it’s very complicated to work, my host mom and the kids are now super content. However, before we ventured to the movies that afternoon, my aforementioned host dad forgot to take the trash to the dump so that we could ride comfortably in the I-rented-this-from-the-boy-scouts-and-it-smells-like-it-too van. So, after we returned from seeing Le Monde Fantastique d’Oz, he had to take the trash off. Right before he left, my host mom said, “Please please pleeease don’t bring anything back from the trash place this time!” Then she explained to me that my host dad has a hard time going to the trash place and not bringing back stuff that he finds. (Case in point: he found a broken umbrella in a trash can on our bike ride home the other night and insisted on bringing it home, which he did, as he rode like Mary Poppins down the street). Well, low and behold, about an hour later, he returns and exclaims, “I found a fantastic table at the dump!” So my host mom looks at me and says, “let’s go check out the quote ‘fantastic table’…” However, not only did he bring back a table (which is now in the backyard with a gallon of wood polish on top of it), but he also found some little wicker chairs. My host mom said, “WHAT are we going to do with this ‘fantastic’ table?! We have no room for that!” And she just looked at me and shook her head, like she knew this would happen all along. The question still remains unanswered.
  2. Cross-cultural families are the best. Wanna know why? Because when your real parents come to visit and they meet your host parents, there are bound to be… moments you’ll always remember. For example, I hope I never forget that my host dad accidently told my parents to bring their swimming pool (instead of their bathing suit) to France because it rains a lot. I’ll never forget the night we were all in the Irish pub and my name was called 943 times to translate something. I know I won’t forget how impressed my dad seemed to be with all things French, and namely the chateau in Nantes. And I’ll never forget how much love I felt when my host mom explained in English to my parents how lucky they were to have me here.
  3. Families are our comfort zones, but they also take us out of our comfort zones. Am I right, Mom and Dad? Did you ever think you would go to the Dominican Republic or France without me?? You’re welcome! Hahaha – je blague (I’m joking).
  4. Love. One of the most impressing moments for me was watching Kameron’s host parents dance together at this soirée for their daughter and one of my host sisters. It is incredible the kind of love the French have for each other. Literally, one minute, they’ll be yelling like it’s World War III because someone lost a paperclip, and the next, they’ll be looking into each other’s eyes like they’re falling in love all over again. I think the word we’re looking for here is passionate. I’ve heard often that the Nantais are very picky when it comes to their friends, but once they let you in, you’re friends for life. I hope that that is very true because I really love my host family, and I will always consider them a part of my real family.
  5. Belonging. You can’t be a part of a family if you feel like you don’t belong. Obviously each person has their own differences, but love and belonging is what pulls you together. Honestly, I took me a while to get used to living here with a new family, but one day, I felt an overwhelming since of belonging because we shared the humor, the culture, the love, and even the comfort zones that I mentioned earlier. And now, with just over a month before I have to return to the United States, I can’t help but feel a little sad each day knowing that I will have to leave my French family behind. It’s true that I belong to my family in South Carolina, but a piece of my heart will always belong to my host family in France. Je t’aime. 
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Voyages en Italie

You see that wall? You see just a wall. But each brick that makes up that wall is different. And I can see that. – An Irish Proverb


So, it’s not really an Irish proverb, but in Italy last week, Kameron became friends on a city bus in Florence with an Irish woman who was traveling by herself. She was probably in her late 50s-ish. We got to talking, and I basically romanticized everything she said because as Kameron put it, it was like we found our own leprechaun to follow around. The above phrase is a romanticized paraphrase of a petite conversation we had with her. 🙂

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To begin our first vacances, Kameron, Emily, and I decided to do a tour of Italy. We would spend roughly 3 days in Rome, 3 days in Florence, and 1.5 days in Venice. (Looking back, I wish I had scheduled more time in Venice, but hindsight’s 20-20). We got to Rome about 4 in the afternoon, but we had to wait for a really long time to take a super long bus ride (aka 30 minutes) to the actually city of Rome. We were dropped off at the train station, and I bought a map to get us to the hotel. Then, when we were just about to our destination, what do we find but a nice little taped-off crime scene. Welcome to Rome! At that moment, I wanted to turn around and catch the next mode of transportation back to France. But instead, we had to take a seemingly sketchy alley around the building to get where we needed to go.

That night, I ate some corkscrew pasta, which was really good, but I have to be honest in saying that France blows Italy out of the water when it comes to bread. The bread is nothing short of pretty awful, actually. Olive Garden does a much better job with their breadsticks. 🙂

The next day happened to mark the first Saturday without the Pope and the day we decided to visit what seemed like 4682 monuments. But it was only like 5. The Sistine Chapel was of course incredible, but St. Peter’s Basilica was my favorite part of Vatican City. After that, we tried to find the Trevi Fountain and ended up finding the Spanish Steps instead. And we eventually wound up at the Pantheon, where we found gelato, gladiators, and rock and roll music. Go figure.

On Sunday, the only thing we had left to see was the Coliseum, and I was so disappointed in the tourist trap that it has become. A glass-walled bookshop inside the Coliseum? Really?

So on Monday, I was very happy to move on to Florence. Florence has an awesome market with all sorts of leather goods and knick-knacks – and you can negotiate! That was probably my favorite part besides the Piazza de Michelangelo. That’s where we got the full panoramic view of the city and saw a red Ferrari. That’s also where we learned lots of life lessons from our Irish friend. She gave us career advice to really do what we love, and I really enjoyed hanging out with her. The second day, it started to rain and that’s how it was for the rest of the week, so we found ourselves in a lot of museums. (Another point for France: they give student discounts like everywhere, aka we got in the Musée d’Orsay fuh free). The pieces of art that intrigued me most were The Birth of Venus and Spring. Next to The Birth of Venus, there was a 3-D cast mold so that people who are blind could feel how it looked. I thought that was a really cool idea, but I’m pretty sure that was the only one. The titles of the other works of art were sometimes pretty laughable, too, which made the trip a little less monotonous. For example, there was a painting of a young man with a medal called “Young Man with a Medal.” Genius.

So, after we wore out our welcome in Florence (where the food got better), we boarded a train for Venice. Best city ever. The public bus is a BOAT. There are no cars on the streets so that was super nice for sleeping at night, and we found gelato for a euro. On Friday, we took the public bus boat to St. Mark’s Basilica, which was undoubtedly gorgeous. (Minus the construction going on on the outside of the building, but we’ll let that slide).  Life in Venice felt much more relaxed and much less tense, especially compared to Rome. It actually felt like a vacation by that point. No itinerary, just exploration. But I have never seen so many carnival masks and glass objects in my life. I loved it.

The bus-boat station


To summarize, this is what I learned from Italy:

  1. French bread is way better.
  2. French food is so much healthier.
  3. Olive Garden does a great job with their Italian food.
  4. France needs to be cleaner. Italy has way less “gifts” on the sidewalks.
  5. Italy needs to calm down with the service charges. I don’t want to pay to sit down.
  6. Italians are very friendly and willing to help.
  7. Italian sounds like Spanish.
  8. There is a difference in the beauty of Italy and that of France.
  9. Italy is better for tourism, especially when buying souvenirs.
  10. I love France. J’aime vraiment la France.
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Il a été un mois

It’s been a month since:

I flew to Europe for la première fois.

I moved to a nouvelle ville.

I met my famille d’accueil.

I last saw les Etats-Unis.

J’ai mangé Chick-fil-A.

I saw my family face à face.

J’ai pris a normal shower.


And during this month:

I’ve visited Tours, four chateaux, Mont St. Michel, and St. Malo.

I’ve celebrated the 21st anniversaire de mon meuilleure amie.

France declared une guerre with Mali.

I’ve tasted a lot of fromage and new vins.

I saw a real manifestation in real life.

J’ai trouvé Waldo, who is apparently called Charlie in France…

I’ve seen le soleil less than 10 times.

I saw the grave of Leonard de Vinci.

I’ve seen Castle and The Simpsons en français.


I’ve learned essentially that whenever people tell you that you go through a roller coaster of emotions while abroad, it’s totally true. Sometimes it’s not even week-by-week or day-by-day but hour by hour. It’s hard to balance living with a family while still doing college-level work. It’s different having to report to someone where you’re going every time you leave the house. It’s weird not always having your friends within 300 feet of you at all times, like at Wofford. But, throughout this month, I have seen some amazing architectural works, learned a lot about the real world, talked more about politics than I have ever before, and made friends from across the United States. It’s very true that there are people here that I just can’t get along with, but I would not trade this adventure just because of that.

I think the hardest thing, well, one of the hardest things, for me was realizing how much French I actually did not know before coming here. So, for several weeks, I felt like I was actually getting worse with my language skills. It’s very hard for me to tell if I’ve actually gotten any better. But my host mom (mère d’accueil) says that she noticed that I’m getting better, so hopefully it’s true! I think, for some odd reason, this weekend solidified my relationship with my host family. Something about bonding over late-night pizza and having the kids ask me to eat cake with them at snack time really makes me feel like a part of the family. ☺ (Which kinda makes me miss mine!)

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Les oiseaux

Today while waiting for the bus, I heard a Frenchman playing an accordion across the street. Then, a French lady sat by me and began to feed the birds some of the bread from her sandwich. Soon, a whole flock of birds surrounded our feet, and it was just parfait. All I could think was “This is so French, and I love it.” It reminded me of the scene in Mary Poppins when she sings “Tuppence a Bag.”

“Feed the birds,” that’s what she cries,

While overhead, her birds fill the skies.

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles

Look down as she sells her wares.

Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling

Each time someone shows that he cares.

The Nantais have just been so kind and receptive. When I order something and pronounce it wrong, someone (yes, strangers!) always helps. My host mom offered to make me tea randomly the other afternoon just because it was a little colder outside. And, when it snowed last week, she even walked Kameron and me to the tram so we wouldn’t get lost… again.

And while I’m on the subject of my host family, they are amazing cooks. I love the food here and that we sit around the table each night and talk about whatever. I’ve eaten three king cakes since I’ve been here (not solo – haha), and I think the four main food groups are: 1. Bread (le pain) 2. Chocolate (le chocolat) 3. Cheese (le fromage) 4. Yogurt (yaourt). And the kids like to put their chocolate in their bread. They literally take a roll or piece of baguette and shove a Hershey’s bar in the center. It’s fantastic. Everyone should try it.

Classes haven’t been extremely fun or really terrible either, but I did not enjoy the class I tried out at the local university (PAS DU TOUT), so I’m just going to stick with IES courses. At the university, I was in a smaller sociology class instead of a giant lecture course, but the professor spoke very quickly about 100 different subtopics, and I just couldn’t follow. I’ll have a definite schedule next week – and no class until 6:30 pm on Thursdays!

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Je deviens française.

Happy one-week-being-in-France anniversary to me!

Just after two nights with our host families, the entire IES crew ventured to Tours for a weekend of bonding and visiting chateaus. My favorite was Chambourd, which is the biggest. Amboise is the one where Leonardo da Vinci is buried, and I had no idea he was buried in France! I think my favorite part, though, besides taking awesome pictures of the chateaus, was just going and chilling in the historic district at this pub. I finally just got to sit down and enjoy learning about the other students in the program without the stress of schedules and rushing from place to place. And, I also had my first nutella crepe, which was amazing.

So, after an amazingly fun and exhausting weekend in Tours, we started the real orientation. And, with real orientation, that means a schedule, and throughout this week, I’ve learned a lot about the culture.

One: public transportation is a way of life. I take the bus to the IES center everyday, and it’s about a 20-30 minute commute each morning. We also have the option of the tram, but I don’t exactly know where it is located near our house. Kameron and I took the tram home the other night (because the regular bus schedule stops at 8pm), but we accidently took the long way home. And by that I mean we got a little lost, but we found our way quickly – no worries.

Two: Never, ever ask for leftovers at restaurants. Apparently, people just don’t do it. I don’t know why this is so, but the waiter was a little confused the other day when some people wanted to take home some leftover pizza. And later they were told it’s just a no-no.

Three: The bread always goes on the table, usually to the left of the plate. Not on the plate. Ever. Unless there is a special bread plate in restaurants. Even when you just have bread to eat, like toast in the morning, no plate.

Four: Arms go above the table. Apparently, it’s sketchy to keep them under the table. It’s weird because it’s the opposite in America. I also have started to eat with my fork in my left hand and a knife in my right. The utensils are rarely put down. And the French, well at least my family and some others I have heard of, eat SO fast!

Five: No one walks around barefoot in the house. Is that just a South Carolina thing?? Everyone always wears shoes/slippers/socks. But I don’t think they do it consciously.

Also, one thing I really, really miss right now is the salad dressing at home. The salad dressing here is pretty standard: the most bitter vinaigrette I have ever tasted. It’s definitely an acquired taste. I can eat it now, but I was shocked the first day I tried it! SO unexpected!

And lastly, evidently I am the only American here who has a southern accent, and therefore I am constantly (light-heartedly) made fun of by the other American students who think that it is “très mignon.” I was told that twice today. So, you can imagine how that’s been going for the past week. And I don’t think I have THAT strong of an accent. Just everyone else besides Wofford students is from the north/west like Pennsylvania or Alaska. So, they don’t pick at each other because it sounds familiar. But they sound strange to me! Either way, I’m the oddball. Thanks, other Wofford kids, for not having a southern accent comme moi.

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Bienvenue, et l’anglais est non plus

It must be so exciting, to be out in the world, to be free! My heart should be wildly rejoicing… oh, what’s the matter with me? I’ve always longed for adventure to do the things I never did! Now, here I’m facing adventure, and why am I so scared?? … I have confidence – they’ll put me to the test! But I’ll make them see I have confidence in me!  – Julie Andrews, Sound of Music “I Have Confidence”


Being in France is strange. It’s a new adventure, a new atmosphere, people who speak très rapidement en français, a new room, new rules, new people, but at the same time it seems oddly familiar. I am very excited to start this adventure, but I had a lot of time to doubt this journey on the longest plane ride of my life. That’s when it started getting real, and now it’s really real… which is actually pretty scary!

We were welcomed at the train station by two IES reps and BOOM – no more English. It was kind of a wake-up call like that gust of cold French wind I kept feeling while waiting on the train to arrive. It’s definitely sink or swim, and I’m doggie-paddling!

So, my first French meal was this sort of egg, cheese, and ham crepe and we had a king cake (with NUTELLA) for dessert. I would have eaten more than I did, but all that traveling and swaying and nerve roller coasters made me feel kinda bleh by the time supper was prepared. Nonetheless, we had a good conversation over dinner, the parts I understood of course. If I don’t understand sometimes I just nod and laugh when they laugh. Other times, if they ask me a question and I don’t know what they mean, I’ll act like I’m thinking about it really hard before they ask it in a different way to help out. 🙂

So, tomorrow, we get to sleep in a little before heading back to the IES center. Looks like the Wofford crew has a definite presence here! And, I’m beginning to think it was no coincidence that Kameron’s host mom and my host mom are sisters – it’s like these people have known us for years!


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