Saturday, December 11, 2010

Le méteo et le metro

I was talking to my mom today and I realized that I hadn't blogged in so long that I actually forgot what I blogged about.  She told me I was talking about the snow.  And I have to say, watching the huge flakes fall from the sky so silently was pretty neat.  I used to complain that every time I went to a cold place that all I got was the cold, not the snow.  But not so here.  I got the SNOW!

But snow comes at a price.  A very high price.  On Wednesday we got probably six hours of snow fall.  From all of the Parisians I've talked to that was the most they had seen in snow in over a decade.  The snow was sticking and people were having snowball fights.  We must have gotten three or four inches of snow.  But the real difficulty came the following day.

Every day since Wednesday was just a little bit warmer.  And what happens to snow when the weather warms up a little? Yup, it starts to melt.  But because it was literally a difference of one or two degrees, the snow couldn't melt completely.  Instead it just turned into a disgusting mixture of city and ice.  The four inches of snow became about two inches of ice and an inch of water.  The cuffs of your pants stood no chance.  It's a good thing I had semi water resistant shoes.  Now if only that had any traction.... I almost slipped on that deadly deadly mixture of gross about four times.

The last of the snow finally melted off yesterday.  Now the weather is actually warm (relatively speaking).  Instead of being below freezing we got up to the high thirties today!  It makes me so sad that the high thirties are warm to me...  I need to get back to CA and back to my 72˚ weather all year round... But the one good thing about Paris is that the metro is completely underground and therefore covered from the elements.

That brings me to another thing I wanted to write.  I've been thinking about this for a long time and I've come to the conclusion that riding the Parisian metro at rush hour is a a pretty good metaphor for my study abroad.

First of all, you need to figure out what the hell you are doing.  When I got off the plane I had no idea what I was in for.  That part of the metro journey is going from street level down into the depths that is the Paris metro system.

Ok, so now you have some sort of direction.  Now you just need to get some guidance.  I guess that came in the orientation program for me.  I met some of my closest friends (including my roommate) through that program.  I guess that would be liking going to the guichet and getting your Navigo card (the regular transit card).  Now you can get into the metro when ever you want for the month.  You have gained access, the first major step to creating your life in Paris.

Now that you know how to get into the metro, you have to figure out how to go places.  You get your map and start figuring out the connections.  Does it make sense to take line 14 to line 10 to get from Montmarte to the Latin Quarter or should I take the 14 to the 1 and walk from Concorde and stop at the Louvre before going?  See, its those kind of decisions you are now capable of making.  Now that you have a group of friends, you can start getting your life figured out.  For me that was getting the apartment, and trying to tackle the insane hell hole that is the French bureaucracy.  Getting the Carte de Séjour and trying to open the bank account.

But of course, remember that it is rush hour.  Even though you know where you need to go and even how you are going to get there, it doesn't mean the journey is going to be easy.  There will be trains that are already so full of people you can't get on.  That may be, just as a hypothetical, like a bank saying that they refuse to open your account even though you have brought them proof of residency twice.  Of course that is just a hypothetical.

When you make it onto the train, you are stuck amongst the hundred plus people, most of whom are sweating because of the close proximity to you, and in true french fashion seemed to have forgotten their deodorant.  But with every stop, more people get off the train and your journey becomes easier and easier.  Maybe you completed your exposés, or you went on some trips, or you just spoke in French to people with out them responding to you in English.

Despite the metro car now being relatively empty, it wouldn't be French if something unexpected didn't happen.  You could experience the homeless man throwing a turkey drumstick bone that nearly misses your head and instead lands just opposite from your seat.  That could be, again hypothetically, a letter from the bank that you tried to close your account at congratulating you for finally opening your account and that you were eligible for a prize even though you went into the branch, signed a letter saying you wanted to close your account, then had someone call your cell phone two weeks after you did that asking if you still had your account open, to which you replied no.  Again, strictly hypothetically.

But finally, when you get comfortable in the metro car, not surrounded by people, you've made all your connections, then you reach your destination and its time to go.  I feel like that is how this semester went.  I just got here, but I will be back in the good ole US of A in one week from today.  But I have realized this:

What ever doesn't kill you just makes you more French.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mes Cours

So I got every course I wanted to.  As of today, I only have courses on Thursday and Friday.  I have five day weekends every weekend.  It is going to be awesome.  Although I have to say I am a little worried that I won't know what to do with my time.  I don't think that that many people have whole days off so traveling with others is pretty much out of the question.  But it does mean that I can really enjoy and relax and have fun in Paris.  Which is exactly what I wanted to do.  Next semester is going to allow me to have the time to go places and be there for extended periods of time.

I think the tone in my blog has gotten significantly more upbeat since I finished most of my assignments.  Right now the only thing that rests between be and going back to the US is my fifteen to twenty page memoire I have to write.  It is on the US and the English supreme court.  I'm not terribly worried about it because it is for the course I am taking pass/no pass.

So after I get my work done on this paper, I should have about three days in Paris with nothing to do (school wise).  That leaves me in Paris in the winter with time.  And boy, is there stuff to do here!  They have set up probably six or seven Christmas markets around the city.  I've already been to one and I know exactly what I am getting people back home for Christmas.  And that was just from the small on at St Germain de Près.  The one on the Champs Elysée has a Ferris Wheel.

Today it snowed for about three hours.  These huge wet flakes fell from the sky.  The coolest part was that there was enough that it actually stuck to the ground.  Paris was covered in probably an inch of fluffy white snow.  For someone from Souther California, seeing snow fall is really cool.  What made it even better is the fact that I don't have to leave my apartment today.  I have no classes on Tuesdays, and I don't have any errands to run today.  So I can sit in my room watching the snow fall, reading my law books, sipping hot chocolate.

I wonder, though, if I am liking Paris more because I know that I have less than two weeks before I am back in the United States or if it is because I actually like it here now.  I guess we'll find out when next semester starts.  Although between now and next semester I am going to be going to Munich, Vienna, Salzberg, Budapest and maybe a week in the Canary Islands.  So I am going to start next semester with a bang!

But above all, I'll be home for Christmas!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

J'aime Chanter

So I didn't blog about it because I wasn't sure if it was going to happen, but yesterday I sang at le jour de dedicace at SciencesPo.  Don't ask me what it was, because honestly I couldn't tell you.  All I know is that they asked me to sing a song and sing two other songs with two girls.  I obviously wasn't going to say no.

So we sand yesterday at the cocktail reception after the day was over. The authors who were at the event during the day signing their books were invited up stairs for french hors d'oeuvres and cocktails while they had some musical talent.  Turns out I and two other singers as well as two piano players were that talent.  Now I don't want to make it sound like we were featured, because we REALLY were not.

The event started at 6:00PM and we got there about fifteen minutes early.  We sang through the two songs the three of us were going to sing together.  One of them, Les feuilles mortes was a song I hadn't heard before.  But that didn't stop us from singing it... After listening to it about three times it was showtime.  The other song, Hymne a l'amour by Edith Piaf was a classic so I had heard that one before.  The song I sang solo is called Le Complimente de la Butte was featured in the movie Moulin Rouge.  I had heard it before and really liked it.

But at the actual reception, it was kind of pointless for us to be there.  There were probably a hundred and fifty people plus in the room all talking.  The piano was only so loud, and we had no microphone.  So no one really heard us sing.  It was still fun though.  I got to go to a real french cocktail party!  Unfortunately for us, the hors d'oeuvres were gone by the time we finished singing, but they had some champagne for my friends (and coke for me).

All in all it was a good experience.  I'm looking forward to our choir concert this Friday too!

Le Semestre Prochaine

I think I could potentially have the best schedule ever next semester.  If all goes according to plan (but let's be real, this is France so the odds of that happening are incredibly slim...) I would only have classes Thursdays and Fridays.

Here is a list of courses that I am going to try to get on Thursday: Transnational criminal law: money laundering, corruption and international embargoes and sanctions' regimes - 8:00AM to 10:00AM; Musique et Politiques - 10:15AM to 12:15AM; Les Grands Enjeux de la Défense 5PM to 7PM.  Here are the proposed courses for Friday: Online Social Networs - 12:30PM to 2:30PM; US Constitutional Rights: variation in Breadth and Scope of Application among the States - 2:45PM to 4:45; French Geopolitics - 7:15PM - 9:15PM.

I have some back up classes incase those ones don't work out.  On Thursdays I could take Borders in Europe - 7:15PM to 9:15PM (except that is when the choir reversals are...).  Wednesdays, I could take European Law on Foreigners from 2:45PM to 4:45PM.  On Fridays there is a course called International Intellectual Property Law: a Globalized field between Cooperation and Conflict from 10:15AM - 12:15AM.

So assuming I can get those, and that my French course fits into them then I am sitting pretty.  That means five day weekends every week.  Think about the traveling I could do.  I could go to Spain, see my friends in Barcelona, Madrid and Grenada.  My spring break would be two weeks almost.  Oh, and I forgot to mention the best part.  None of those classes have a final exam.  I could go out exploring the French countryside.  I could fly off and see Russia if I wanted to!  I really hope that I get those classes...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pour quoi je ne deteste pas SciencesPo

Ok, so here is the blog post my family is going to love the most.  Mainly because it means that they get to tell me "I told you so" but also because I hope it will ease any worries they have had about me since being here.

I don't actually hate this school as much as I thought.  I have two full weeks of class left and I am finding out my grades.  In my Professions Politiques class I did surprisingly well.  I got a 14, 15 and at minimum a 16 on my three pieces of work that I get graded on.  I have to say I am surpsied not only because I did well but because this stuff was all in French.  I am fairly certain that my professor took pity on me because I am not a native French speaker, but what ever, I'll take what ever break I can get.

In my Law class, so far I have received a 13 and a 17 on the two items I've turned in on time.  I am still waiting on the two things that I screwed up the dates on.  I am a little worried because I e-mailed my professor the work on Sunday night and she hasn't e-mailed me back.  I sent her an e-mail just making sure she did get it.

In my French Defense Policy class, I haven't gotten any grades back, but my final paper for that course is due tomorrow.  After I turn that in, I will have finished all of my work for that class. That means for both my French Defense Policy and my Professions Politiques course I have nothing left to do except for just show up.

In my Social History of the US course, we have two things we are graded on.  We have our midterm and our final exam.  I wasn't in class last week because Nick and I were on our way to Amsterdam, but I e-mailed my professor and he told me that I got a 15/20.  Oh, I should mention that every one of the grades that I have gotten have been out of twenty.

The French grading system is so stupid, but I think I have kind of gotten the hang of it.  If you get a 15 or higher, you are sitting pretty.  A 15 is a solid A.  I think a 13 or higher is some kind of A.  An 11 or 12 would be like a B and a 10 is a C.  Anything lower than a C is a no pass, so I guess they don't really do the whole D thing in this country.

Good news is I haven't gotten below a 13 on anything!  So that's why I don't hate SciencesPo as much as I thought I did.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Les Kebabs

I don't understand why Kebab stands are not everywhere in America.  They are amazing.  Don't get me wrong, I love the crepe stands here, but holy god are kebabs good.  And as luck would have it there is a kebab café (although that makes it sounds grander than it actually is) right next to the Laundromat where I dry my clothes.

Tonight I felt it was time to wash my sheets, so I stuck them in our washer.  While our washer is both a washer and a dryer, as a dryer it really sucks.  So instead of waiting about an hour and a half to get semi damp sheets out of it, I decided to take it to that laundromat and dry it for one euro.  That one euro gets you nine minutes of dry time, but those dryers are nuclear powered so it works really well.  (No they actually aren't nuclear powered...)

So anyway, I decided to get some dinner while I was waiting for my sheets to dry.  I walked over to Kebab Sali and talked to the guy.  He was huddled up in the back of the restaurant (again I am making it sound much grander than it is) with a portable radiator right next to his legs.  I had met him a few times and we kind of talked a little bit.

The first time I went there was a few weeks ago, when a different man was working behind the counter.  The guy that served me my food tonight was there, but I think he was just hanging out.  Anyway, the main guy (I think he is the owner?) asked me where I was from and I told him America.  He went off on how great America was and the differences between the people in Europe and Americans.  He told me he used to live in Montreal and that he much prefers the people there to the people here.  I was just thinking "Wow! I can understand what he is saying to me even though he is speaking French!"

I've been back a few times since, everytime always talking with the guys behind the counter.  When the main guy works he just goes "Salut American!  Ça va?!"  And the best part about it is that they hook me up with some extra fries.  And usually some more of the kebab meat (which is the best meat I've had in France).

Tonight the guy and I were talking as usual.  I found out that he is Algerian and that he has never had alcohol.  He also said he doesn't eat pork, so I am fairly confident he is muslim.  But he also told me that he has never had a girlfriend since being in France.  If I understood him right, he said that he wants me to bring a friend over to introduce him to so he can marry an American.  I told him maybe...

Needless to say I am going to go back to that kebab place quite often.


Amsterdam was awesome.  It was not like any city I had ever been to.  I honestly had no idea what to expect when getting there.

Nick got to my house on Thursday morning around 8:30AM.  Our train ticket wasn't until 12:30PM so he decided just to sleep off some of his jet lag.  I was supposed to go to class, but I didn't... Oh well.  I've learned that while yes, it is very important to go to class here, it does me no good to feel super stressed out about it.  So I stayed home so I could meet Nick when he got here.  I also hadn't packed yet so I took some time while Nick was asleep to get my suitcase/backpack all in order.  Then we were off to Gare de Nord for out high speed train to Amsterdam.

We took a Thalys (it is the company that operates one of the high speed trains in Europe) and got into Amsterdam about three and a half hours later.  From Amsterdam Central Station, we took a tram to our hotel.  I was in charge of getting the tickets to get to Amsterdam and Nick was in charge of getting the hotel.   In true Nick fashion, he waited until Monday to get it, but I can't complain because it was an awesome hotel.  It was a best western, but it was located right next to Vondelpark close to both the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum.  It was just beyond the outer most concentric canal of Amsterdam.

One of the first things we did was buy a DK tourist guide to Amsterdam.  It had Amsterdam's top ten things to do, so we read through it and kind of planned out our days there.  We had virtually three and a half days there, because our train didn't leave until late Sunday night.  We were able to do eight of the top ten.  We went to the Rijksmusuem and the Van Gogh museum, the Histroich Museum, the Anne Frank Huis, walked around the red light district (I saw my first prostitute!), as well as some cool old churches.

I have to say, I'm really glad I got to cross Amsterdam off of my list and I had a great time, but I don't think I'm going to go back anytime soon.  It was a great trip, and I'm really glad that I got to hang out with my brother.  The fact that Paige and Bailey (two friends from Y&G) came to visit on Saturday was incredible too.

I should note that there didn't seem to be any major Dutch cuisine.  I had some waffles (with cherry pie filling and whip cream) which were INCREDIBLE, but I felt like that was a Belgian thing, not a Dutch thing.

All in all though, I would recommend Amsterdam for people who want to relax.  It isn't a very fast past town.  There was a lot of stuff to do, but most of that involved smoking pot... Nick compared it to Vegas, and I think he made a good point.  The most fun part about Vegas is gambling.  That doesn't mean you can't have fun in Vegas without gambling, but its why most of the people go there.  Just replace gambling with pot smoking and you have Amsterdam.  Since neither Nick nor I wanted to do that, we still had a good time, but our options of things to do was a bit more limited.

It did make me look forward to my trips next semester though!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


That could possibly be my favorite place I've been to in France so far.  When I was in high school and I studied abroad I was in the South.  Living in Nice, I got to go to Cannes, Antibes, Eze, Monaco, and a bunch of smaller cities.  I know I love the Riviera and the ocean, but there was something amazing about getting out of Paris and going north.

The day started bright and early for me.  I was supposed to me my friend Cam (he's australian) at the train station to catch the train to Caen which left Gare St. Lazare at 9:10AM.  We had plans to meet at 8:40AM just to me on the safe side.  Something that is awesome about France is they have this train pass type thing for people that are between twelve and twenty five years old.  That pass allows you to get a reduciton on your tickets anywhere within France.  For us, round trip to Caen it was thirty two euro.  So we were stoked.  You just had to make sure you had that on you when you show your ticket to the guy on the train. And guess who forgot his...

So at 8:50AM I realized this.  I had my backpack (full of my cameras, extra sweaters, a scarf, you know, the really important things...) and my big heavy winter parka on, running from the metro stop back to my apartment.  I tried calling my roommate to see if she could meet me downstairs but she didn't pick up her phone.  So I was freaking out, panicking that I was going to miss this train.  I made it to the train station with my card with literally one minute to spare.

Cam and I get our spots on board.  I could breathe.  I take off my parka and my sweater and breathe.  My face is as rosy as a tomato and I am sweating.  Keep in mind it is in the thirties outside.  Then we hear an announcement in French over the loud speakers. "Ladies and Gentleman, in order to secure the train, we will be delayed for twenty minutes."


But what ever.  We got to Caen and all was well.  Except for we didn't really know how we were going to get to the beaches from there.  Caen is about eighty kilometers from the beaches so we were kind of just stuck.  Then Hans comes up to us.  Hans is this eighty something german man saying he was a tour guide and had been for thirty-five years.  In the peak season his tours were seventy-five euros per person, but he could give it to us for sixty.  Cam and I say we need a few minutes to talk.  There was no way we were going to do that for sixty euro.  But we go up to him a few minutes later and said we couldn't.  Then he says we can take it for fifty.  So we do.

It actually worked out really well.  He wasn't the most knowledgeable guide, but he did take us to the main spots.  We saw the four cannons that took down a British destroyer, we saw some of the landing beaches, and we were able to get out and walk around at Omaha beach.  Omaha beach is one of the prettiest places I've seen in France.

We had amazing good luck because the sun was out the entire day.  In Normandy in the winter, that is incredibly rare.  But there we were, driving around with the sun shinning on our faces.  At Omaha, Cam decided he wanted to get into the water.  So he did just that.  The water must have been no warmer than fifty degrees.  But he went in in his skivvies.  I stood there and watched.  I was freezing in my t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweater and parka.  And he was running into the ocean with a bathing suit that was just a little more than a speedo... But hey, to each his own...

After Omaha Hans took us to the American Cemetery.  A word about Hans though.  I have no idea if this is true or not, but he was telling us a little bit about his life.  When he was sixteen and a half (in 1944) he decided instead of being drafted into the Nazi Army he would volunteer to go to officer school.  So he did just that.  He enlisted and was a part of the Luftwafa in Northern Denmark. The coolest part of the story was that a few months before the Nazis finally lost, he deserted and went to Austria to meet the woman he was in love with.  I know, kind of just the perfect Hollywood drama, but it was what he told us his life was like!

Anyway, back to the American Cemetery.  It was amazing.  I probably took as many pictures in that one hour we spent there than I did in the three hours seeing everything else.  Rows upon rows of crosses denoting soldiers that had died.  The most moving one I saw was on that said something along the lines of "here lies a soldier known but to god" with a single yellow rose sitting at the bottom of it.

All in all, I know I need to get back to Normandy.  It was a beautiful place and I know I haven't seen nearly enough.

Tu me manque

Sorry I haven't been writing for a while.  I think it has been over a week since my last post.  Luckily that is a good thing.  I used to write on here to de-stress, to get out every thing that I am feeling and think through my decision to stay in this country for a year.  So by not writing it means that I am not as stressed, I don't need to complain as much.

But the purpose of this blog is also to update future AJ and my family on what has been happening here.  And there have been some important points I feel like I should mention.  The first one has to do with my bank.  I know I've complained about BNP Parisbas before.  Basically in France you have to prove that you have a house before you can fully open up your account.  Michele (my first host mother) wouldn't get me the paperwork when I was there (which is totally fair considering I was there for about a month) so I was excited to move into my apartment where I could prove that I lived here.  I took in my contract to show them that I lived here.  They said that didn't work. Ok... that is annoying, but I guess I will have to wait for my gas bill.

After the first month, Aliya and I still hadn't received anything from the gas company saying we owed them money or that we even had a contract.  I was getting kind of anxious to open up my account so I could get a good cell phone and the carte ImagineR (cheaper metro pass than what I have).  So finally about two weeks ago, the attestation from the gas company arrived.  So I took it in to BNP really excited to finally be able to open up my account!

I walk in and show them the document.  I figured it should be really simple.  I mean it has my name on the contract and my address, as well as contact info for someone at the gas company that could verify that it was a legit document.  So I go and talk to the receptionist at the bank.  "Hi, I'm here to open my account I started to open two months ago.  Here is my attestation."

Her response.... "Ok, I have to check to see if this will work..."  She catches a banker and all I hear is him say "Non, ça ne marche pas..." "Nope, that won't work." ARE YOU KIDDING?!  I HAD WAITED FOR TWO MONTHS FOR THEM TO TELL ME THAT I STILL COULDN'T OPEN MY ACOUNT??!!?!

I think the first thing I said (in english, becuase before I was speaking french to the lady) was "OH MY GOD."  Then I told her that I just wanted to close my account.  She said that if I had a gas bill or electric bill it could work, but at that point I was blinded by rage and all I could say is "Je veux fermer mon compte" - I want to close my account.  I have to say its probably a good thing that French is not my first language because considering the level of frustration had I known how to swear in French I probably would have...

So I am without a French bank account.  Next week I am going to a different bank and try to open up an account.  I have heard that Socité Géneral is a lot easier to use.  I am going to go with them.  Let's hope that I can actually open it up.

That was last week.  And really that was the only major thing that happened to me last week.  Nicki and Maddy left, and Aliya's family friend Winnie was staying with us.  Winnie was really cool.  She pretty much just spent her days walking around Paris on her own because Aliya was in class/ not feeling well/ doing homework.  But now she has left too.  It is weird having our living room back.  I forgot how much space our apartment actually has.

Yesterday though, I had a little panic attack.  Remember that Law class that I hate?  So we have to do a Revue D'Actualité and an Étude de Jurisprudence (a press review of some legal decision in the news, and an essay on some kind of legal decision) which are due week nine and week ten.  I was all set to turn in my Revue this monday.  I actually had finished it Sunday afternoon, so I was feeling good about myself.  Then I get to class...

Turns out I got my dates mixed up.  Week nine was last week and this week was week ten.  My stomach dropped and that all so familiar feeling of wanting to vomit came back.  Boy, how I missed it...

I was freaking out for two hours, before I could tell my professor what happened and why I had messed up.  I e-mailed her at the beginning of class as well.  I waited after class to talk to her, but I had to go to my other course that started fifteen minutes after.  So I got up to her and waited.  I was first in line.  That doesn't mean much to the French.  I ended up waiting about twenty minutes to talk to her.  When I did, she seemed a little nice, but it was definitely one of those things where if I kept trying to explain she would have just gotten annoyed with me.

But she did respond to my e-mail.  I told her that I was really sorry and I got confused and that life in France was super stressful for me.  She literally said not to worry, breathe deeply and just try to "finish the semester beautifully."  I feel like I need to buy her a present or something.  It was the best thing she possibly could have said to me.  So luckily I get to turn in the Étude de Jurisprudence on Monday.

So those are everything exciting that happened to me between now and the last blog post.  That and my Normandy trip, but I'm going to write a specific blog post just on Normandy.  Hopefully I'll do that later today.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Je deteste les dimanches

Sundays in Paris are really boring.  Especially in the winter.  I don't quite know exactly why, but the French have some sort of moral opposition to doing anything on Sundays.  Now I'm all for relaxing and taking it easy on the weekend, but when their week day starts somewhere between 9:00AM and 10:00AM and they take two hours off for lunch and still close by 5:00PM I take umbrage at the fact that NOTHING is open on Sundays.

If the weather was nice I don't think I would mind as much.  But lately the weather has been cold and rainy.  If it was just cold I could deal.  I've come to a new realization that I absolutely hate the rain.  It just makes everything so annoying.  You are never comfortable walking around in it.  Plus with everyone and their mother carrying umbrellas around there is no space to walk on the sidewalks.

Tonight is Nicki and Maddy's last night in Paris.  I have had so much fun with them, I'm really sad to see them go.  I feel like I haven't gotten to do that much with them though.  The one thing they have been doing is cooking though.  They said they really wanted to cook, so in the last week, they made this really good Egyptian pasta lentil dish and some of the best French Onion soup I have ever tasted.  Tonight they are making some Thai food.  If it's anything like what they cooked for me before, then I am super excited.

After dinner tonight, we are going to go see Boyce Avenue in concert.  They are a group that does mainly acoustic guitar/piano covers of pop songs.  My friend Jessica showed me this group my freshman year of college and I've been hooked since.  I'm really excited to go to this concert.

But it is still a Sunday.  And it may just be that I have my law class Monday mornings at 8:00AM, but I really don't like Sundays.  I always end up feeling that weird empty unaccomplished feeling right in the middle of my chest.  It always goes away on Monday, but it always comes on Sunday.  I think I'm going to do my best to get my courses next week not to be on Mondays.  Or at least not until Monday afternoons.

Until then I guess I just have to figure out how to get through this!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Disneyland Paris

Yesterday Maddy, Nicki and I went to Disneyland.  It was like stepping into a weird twilight zone-esque version of Anaheim.  We took the RER train there, which drops you off right across from their version of Downtown Disney, what they call Disney Village.  It even has some of the same stores.  There was a rainforest café and a Planet Hollywood.

We didn't buy our tickets ahead of time so we had to go and get some.  We were just going to do the one park one day ticket (there are actually two parks at Disneyland Paris, regular Disneyland and then Walt Disney Studios park).  Literally as we were walking up to the counter to buy our ticket, a young man, probably no more than twenty-one asked us if we wanted to buy his tickets.  He was selling three park hopper passes for fifty Euros each.  Basically it would allow us to go in between both parks, when ever we wanted, and it was eighteen euros cheaper than what the park was selling.  We were a little skeptical, but we bought them anyway.   They were amazing.

Because we got those tickets, we were able to go through all of both parks, or at least the parts we wanted to see.  We started in Disneyland, going clockwise.  Our first ride was the Haunted Mansion.  We then got fast passes for Big Thunder Mountain and ate.  After we got done with lunch, it was time for our fast passes.  Except the weather sucked.  Because it was raining, they shut down BTM for a while.  They said we could come back later though and our fast passes would still be good.  So we went on to Indiana Jones et le Temple de Peril.  It isn't at all like the Indiana Jones back in D-land CA.  This one is a proper roller coaster.  And it goes upside down.  The loop in this ride came out of no where.  They semi hid the track so you had no idea that it was coming up.

After we finished on that side of the park, we skipped through Fantasyland (we knew we were going to come back that night) and headed over to Tomorrowland (which the French call Discoveryland... lame right?).  We waited about forty minutes in the downpour to go onto Space Mountain.  It was worth it.  Space Mountain is by far the best ride in Disneyland.  It has one of those launch starts and goes upside down three times.

After Space Mountain, we headed over to Walt Disney Studios.  It was raining pretty hard and all of our feet were wet.  None of us had rain boots, or really rain appropriate shoes of any kind.  So we were kind of miserable.  Our outerwear was starting to leak through too.  We almost decided that after going on Tower of Terror that we would just go.

So we headed over to the Tower and saw the line.  It was fifty minutes long, so we headed over to Rockin Roller Coaster to get a fast pass and then got in line at the Tower of Terror.  To get our minds off the weather/our squishy feet Nicki, Maddy and I played stupid word games that were a lot of fun.  We also just talked and caught up even more.  That is exactly why I like Disneyland.  And three or four people is the perfect number to go with.  Everyone gets to do a little bit of what they want, no one is being left out.  It just works out well.

The line wasn't that bad and we made it on.  Then headed over for our Fast passes at Rockin Roller Coaster.  Despite it breaking down literally right before we got launched into the ride, we were having a fun time.  We eventually got on and had a blast.  What's better is that by the time we got out of that ride, the rain had stopped.  It was about seven so the park was closing.  We had to go back to Disneyland anyway.  We still hadn't gone on BTM or done Fantasyland.

So we did just that.  We went on BTM (sooooo awesome) and then to Fantasyland.  The rain kicked up a little tiny bit, so we got dinner at a Pinocchio themed restaurant.  I forgot to say that the park was already dressed up for Christmas, so it was really festive.  We got to listen to Christmas carols while eating.  Also, something else that was awesome... the food prices weren't super ridiculously high.  It was only ten euros for a burger, fries, drink and a dessert.  That would have been double at D-land, CA.

After we knocked out Fantasyland, we headed back over to Space Mountain.  Since the parade was going on, we literally walked onto it.  We rode it twice.  I love that ride...

However, all of that did make me realize how much I miss my warm CA and the Disneyland I grew up knowing.  I am really looking forward to getting back to SB and road tripping down to Anaheim with my friends.  I've already talked to one and she is 100% in.

But it is true, Disneyland (no matter what country it's in) is the Happiest Place on Earth.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mes amis vont venir!

This has been the season of friends visiting.  First was Anni, then Nick and Carolyn, and now Nicki and Maddy.  I couldn't be happier to see people from home here in Paris.  It makes it a lot easier and reminds me of what an amazing life I have to go back to!

Although I have been having more fun here.  Yesterday my roommate made a faux thanksgiving dinner.  We're too poor to afford Turkey, so she got a chicken.  It may have been a mind trick, but when all cooked, it definitely tasted like turkey.  And it was a legitimate faux Thanksgiving.  We had stuffing (she actually cooked it in the body cavity), cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cooked veggies.  True to form though, the appetizers and desserts were a bit more french.  They don't believe in shortening in this country so I couldn't make a pie.  And we had some friends bring cheese and crackers for appitezers.  That was on top of the coconut/garlic/lemon shrimp Aliya cooked.

It was a great night.  We had about ten people over to share in the festivities.  Aliya had about four people she had met and subsequently introduced me to, and the other five were from our orientation group or friends of theirs they introduced us too.  I have a good solid group of people here in France.  I am incredibly thankful for that.

It is going to be really weird next semester when half of them go back home.  I've spent so much time getting to know them, doing things with them, and they are going to up and leave.  Seriously? How is that fair.  But what should I expect.... It is france.

Speak of, semi-good news!  We got confirmation from the gas company that we have an account with them.  I think that means that I can finally open up my bank account.  If that happens that means I can get a metro card and a black berry!  To have internet on my phone again!  (Wow... I just realized how that sounded...) But if that happens, I might finally be able to call France home.  I'll have a European bank card, a cell phone and a transit pass.  Only two and a half months later...

C'est la vie!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ma vie

So I've been in France for over two months now.  As I predicted, my frequency for posting on here has dropped off.  I am going to try to not let that happen.  It's going to be kind of hard though, because I have a lot of people visiting me.  Anni came, and then it was Nick and Carolyn.  They got here Friday night and left this morning really early.

I had a lot of fun seeing them.  Friday we didn't do much.  I had to go tutor my students, so while I was there, they went over to the Louvre.  Most of the museums in Paris have this deal where if you show then your visa, you can get into the museum for free.  So they were able to go into the Louvre without paying a dime.  I've actually been three times because of that.  After I met them, we headed up to my house and went to a really good French restaurant.  I decided that I am going to take any and everyone who comes to visit me to that restaurant.  It is really traditionally French, and their food is out of this world.

On Saturday, the weather was really crappy.  But, we met up with a lot of my SciencesPo friends and went to the catacombs.  The catacombs are really weird/creepy/awesome.  Literally walls of bones stacked about five feet high and in some spots they are three or four feet thick.  Someone told me there were over six million bodies down there.  I would believe that.  The bodies dated from the late 1700's to the early 1800's. The meticulous care that went into organizing the catacombs was eerily beautiful.  Skulls in the bone walls were put in formations, sometimes crosses, others just designs.

The catacombs kind of made me a little reflexive.  I know I said before how I want to make a lasting impression the earth.  I wonder if any of the nameless people down there thought the same.  It was bizarre seeing skulls of actual humans that history had long forgotten.  People used to live within those skulls.  And now they are nothing but decorations in a tourist attraction.  It made me start thinking about what I really want to do with my life.  Yeah, I know cliché.  But then again we all know how much I'm a fan of cliché.

After the catacombs, Nick and Carolyn went to the Eiffel Tower.  I headed out to get lunch with some of my friends and then up to my house.  I stopped at Picard to get some frozen food for the faux thanksgiving dinner my roommate is cooking today.  I really like Picard.

Last night, we went out to go see the Moulin Rouge and Sacré Cœur.  It was still raining so we were only out long enough to see the sights and get a crepe.  God bless crepes.  That is going to be a big part of what I'll miss about this country.  That and the ability to speak French to the people on the street.

I've been having trouble sleeping lately.  I have had to take some advil PM so I can fall asleep before 2:00AM.  And since taking those, I've been dreaming a lot.  I have had a few dreams in French, or at least partially in French.  I've also had some dreams about Santa Barbara.  I had one last night.  Every time I have a dream about Santa Barbara, I have that incomplete feeling when I wake up.  It isn't quite homesick, but it definitely feels like something is missing.  Hopefully once  I shower and get going here I'll remember what I have going for me here and it will go away.

I'm going to my first class in over a week tomorrow morning at 8:00AM.  I don't want to go.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Le Salon du Chocolat

On Anni's last day here in Paris, we got tickets to go to le Salon du Chocolat.

This is the world's largest chocolate expo.  We left the apartment at ten and go to Porte Versailles (not to be confused with the Chateau) where the expo was being held.  It was basically a huge convention center that they filled with venders.  The first thing we did was get in line for some hot chocolate.  I have been craving real good hot chocolate since I got here.  The french drink coffee, so they don't have any hot chocolate anywhere.

After I got my fix, we started on the vendors.  There were too many to count.  They represented different types of chocolates, different regions, and all with different products.  There were people with chocolate straight from the Amazon.  There were vendors selling chocolate beauty products.  One of those vendors actually washed my hand with this pumas stone.  My hand smelled like marshmallows for the rest of the day.  It was delicious.

And what's more is every one of these vendors gave our samples.  I had more chocolate in those two hours we spent at the expo than I had in the last year.  I still don't think I could eat any.  Luckily my roommate bought some, so I can ask her if I ever get the urge.  I don't think I will any time soon though.

I'll be putting up pictures from the expo asap, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Parc Asterix

What is more fun than going to an amusement park with your friends?  My favorite memories at Disneyland are with friends, same with 6 Flags and Knotts Berry Farm.  So I thought it would be a good idea to go to a french theme park for Halloween.  I mean, they Parisians don't really do that much on Halloween anyway, so I figured it would be a fun way to spend it.

But then again, I should have remembered this is France.  And nothing in this country is ever as simple as it seems.

We started our journey off at 2:30 on Sunday.  We all met up at the trainstation.  We needed to take the RER line, which is the line that takes you out into the suburbs.  From there we would have to take a bus from Charles de Gualle airport over to the park.  Simple right?

Nope.  Getting to Charles de Gualle wasn't hard.  We made it in the twenty five minutes the website said it would take to get there.  But once there, life descended into chaos.  From what I can tell, the French aren't really good about queing.  My friends and I were standing in the line to get the bus ticket, and every time a new train arrived, a bunch of teenage french kids would just run up to the front.  We were all kind of getting annoyed, but what ever, we got our ticekts.

Then we had to go stand outside and wait for the bus.  For what ever reason, the Parc Asterix people thought that one bus every thirty minutes would be enough to transport the masses of people from the airport to the park.  They were wrong.  We waited in that line for an hour and we still weren't going to get on a bus.  What was worse is that every time a new bus would arrive, masses of people would rush to it and start banging on the windows.  My friend commented it that it was reminiscent of the last bus' leaving New Orleans before Katrina.  And reallly... she wasn't that far off.  It was ridiculous.  And we were only going to a theme park!

So we just decided to screw it and we got a cab.  We sold our bus tickets to people in line and we headed off to terminal three to find a cab.  Since there were so many of us, we had to split into two.  Five in one, and five in the other.  But it was worth it.  About ten euros later, we were at the park.  We even worked out with one of the cab drivers that he would come back and take us to Charles de Gualle that night so we didn't have to freak about getting back to Paris.

The time at the park was a lot of fun.  There was probably a billion people there.  It was great people watching though.  And some of the people in our group I hadn't met before so it was nice getting to know them.  We only got on about three or four rides in our five hours at the park, but it was still really fun.  I was just glad we went on the roller-coaster.  And of course, we had to end the night with a haunted maze.  I was legitimately spooked.

And then came time to go home.  Like I said, we had worked it out with the cab driver to come pick us up.  Unfortunately we had to wait around for his friend to come to pick up the other half of the group.  And the meter was running.  Needless to say, we were not too happy.  And to make matters worse, two girls in our group just ditched us and decided to take the bus, leaving fewer people to pay for the cab.  I was livid.  But it all ended up working out.  And we may have told them we didn't get back into the town causing them to worry.... I know... it was mean, but it was just a little halloween fun (right?).

All I know  is that I want to go back to the park when 1. it isn't 40 degrees and 2. there will be fewer people there.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Le weekend dernier

So as I figured, I wasn't able to get on and blog about what I was up to with Anni.  For those of you who don't know who Anni is, I worked with her at the VC last summer.  She also lived on the floor below me my freshman year in Santa Cruz (although I didn't meet her until last summer).

Wednesday night I met her at the metro closest to my house, then we went straight to the Michael Bublé concert.  And my god... what a concert.  We got there about fifteen minutes into the opening act, who were brilliant.  It was the same group that opened for him when I saw him my senior year of high school, but they had gotten a LOT better.  It was a group of seven guys who were doing all acapella stuff.   After they finished, there was a twenty minute break and then Michael came out.  Our seats were fantastic.  We paid for the cheapest seats (fifty-one euros), but they were directly in front of the stage, probably a hundred and fifty yards away.  I'll be posting my pictures/videos as soon as I can.

That concert was exactly what I wanted/needed.  It was one of those refreshing my soul is complete moments.  I've had a few of them since being here.

Anyway, on Thursday I had to go do my normal stuff.  I had class in the morning, came back, left for my afternoon class and then came back.  I had choir that night, so I wasn't sure what she was going to do.  But turns out she is awesome.  She was completely fine just hanging out in the apartment until I got back.  Actually, we had gone to the store earlier so when I texted her saying I was leaving rehearsal she started cooking fajitas!  I had mexican food here in France.  You have no idea how much I miss it.

On Friday we started our touristy stuff.  We did the Louvre, went over to the Eiffel tower and walked around the city.  I took her to show her SciencesPo too.  That night was my friends' Brendan and Atika's joint birthday party.  We sat upstairs having some drinks (I got my diet pepsi... don't worry), and ended the night down on the dance floor.

Saturday we went to the Musée Rodin.  I feel like saying it was gorgeous is both repetitive and not fully accurate.  The gardens in the museum were full of trees changing colors.  It was raining early that morning, so the air had that nice crisp feeling to it.  It wasn't too cold either.  After the museum we went to the 5th for food.  Then we walked to Notre Dame.  In the cathedral we heard a choir singing traditional Gregorian church music.  Another one of those soul recharging moments.  After the church, we tried to get to the catacombs.  They literally closed one minute before we got there...  That night we walked up halfway to the Eiffel tower.  I hadn't taken the stairs up before.  For someone who is afraid of heights it was a bit freaky... but I'm really glad we made it.  We got there just after the sun had set, so the sky was full of oranges and reds and blues.  After that, we took a cruise on the Seine.  Now that I wrote all that down, it would have been the most romantic date ever... haha too bad there are some obstacles preventing that.

After our long day of sight-seeing, we were starving.  Anni really wanted to go to a traditional french restaurant, but I didn't really know of any.  And then it hit me.  I did!  There is a bistro up close to my apartment that Aliya and I went into the first day we moved in.  I had the best chicken ever then so I figured that we would try that place.  So glad we did.  It is the most perfect stereotypical french place.  The prices are super reasonable and the food is out of this world.  They are french portions, but you do not leave there hungry.

Sunday morning we were going to try to go back to the catacombs.  It was halloween after all...  Turns out a lot of other people had that same idea.  We didn't want to wait in a three hour line to get into them, so instead we headed off to the Champs Elysée.  We did some window shopping and ended up going to Laudrée, a really famous bakery.  They make the best macaroons in the world.  Or so I've been told.  Anni's friend who had been to Paris before asked if she could pick her up some.  So we did.  Then we had to go back to the apartment, drop the stuff off and get ready for our night going to Parc Asterix!

Parc Asterix... oh my.  That's going to have to be a post in it of itself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On a cassé

This morning I had to go meet my partner for my debate tomorrow.  She is probably the exact opposite of my first partner.  She is really laid back.  I had to ask her when she wanted to meet.  She was even fifteen minutes late this morning.  (It's ok, I actually was pretty happy she was late.  It meant she was a normal human being instead of some crazy SciencesPo Zombie).

Anyway, I got to the main hall today at 11AM.  It was thirty-nine degrees outside.  I don't do thirty-nine degrees.  The coldest I can ever remember it getting in SB is forty.  It is going to be a long and hard winter... But there is good news.  My roommate and I decided that in order to save money we were going to try to wait until November to turn on the radiators...  We broke down.  We turned them on tonight.

I've never had a radiator before.  It is kind of a cool thing!  The water gets heated and then sent through pipes into each individual room.  In the room you can say how much heat you want by either opening or closing the knob that allows the hot water to flow through.

The one downside is the price.  We have no idea how much electricity and gas cost in this country.  My biggest fear is going to be some outrageous 500 Euro gas/electricity bill at the end of the month.  So we are only leaving the radiators on for an hour at a time.  We pretty much go until we can't feel our outermost extremities and then we turn on the heat.  So far it seems to be working okay.

It probably would have helped though if I hadn't gone to the dry cleaners and given them all of my cashmere and my big heavy black jacket.  I will be without those until Friday...  God, I'm looking forward to Friday.  Nothing like freshly clean SUPER warm and even softer sweaters.  I think with those sweaters and my scarves I should be fine.  Oh, and I am really excited because a good friend told me that she would hand knit me a long scarf.  How cool is that?!

On another note, my friend Anni, who is studying in Brighton, UK is coming to visit me tomorrow.  We are going to see Michael Bublé in concert!  We don't really have many other plans, but we might go to an amusement park this weekend for halloween.  It just depends on when she is leaving.  That being said, I might not have a lot of time to write on here while she is here.  I'll catch up when I have time next week!

Let's just hope I don't freeze until Friday.

Monday, October 25, 2010

La Vie Quotidienne

Everyone says to me when I talk about being homesick "live in the moment."  What does that mean?  Currently I am sitting at my desk in my apartment, freezing becuase it is forty-six degrees outside and we haven't turned our heat on yet.  I have a presentation on Wednesday and a paper due Thursday.  The moment isn't that great.

I always imagined that studying abroad would be the greatest time of my life.  When I was back in SB, there were nights when all I wanted to do was be in Paris.  I couldn't imagine anything other than living in the city of lights.  And now, all I can think about is being back in SB.  And I hate myself for that.  I wish I could live in the moment.  I wish that there was a reason for me to.  I wish that I had something or someone who would really make me want to be here.  But I have yet to find that.

And I hear stories about my friends hanging out, about them meeting new people, about awesome things happening on campus that I don't get to go to.  And I am here.  Alone.  In France.  I think what is worse is how much feeling like this perpetuates a cycle of self disappointment.  I hate the fact that I can't see what is around me and appreciate it at its full value.  How many hundreds of millions of people will never get the opportunity I have right now?  And I can't appreciate it?  Who do I think I am?  Why do I get to not appreciate it?

Still, those questions don't fix what is going on.  I really don't like SciencesPo.  And considering how much of my life here revolves around that institution, it is really frustrating that I can't get away from it.  I was reading today that if you were given a choice between buying material a material good or the option to have an experience, you should always choose the experience.  We normalize material things.  No matter how great an object may be, we will eventually take it for granted.  I love this apartment, I love this city, but it is being normalized.  I can't stay in awe of all of this for a year.  It would be too exhausting.

I am not unhappy here.  Not by a long shot.  I am just tired of it.  I am in week seven of school at SciencesPo.  I've already done so much, but there is still six more weeks left in the semester, not to mention finals (which they STILL have not announced).  The one thing that gets me through the days where I feel like just throwing in the towel is the fact that no matter what, time goes on.  If I don't do my work, it doesn't matter.  Time doesn't stop for me.  I know that between now and the deadlines for my projects, I will get the work done.  It may mean some sleepless nights, but it will be done.  So I can look forward to not having to do the work.

But my every day life here has normalized.  I have a routine.  Nothing changes.  I am really excited for my friends coming to visit though.  And I am seeing Michael Bublé in concert on Wednesday night.  Life here is just so different.  I have to work so hard to do the most basic every day things.  I dropped off my dry cleaning today and I couldn't really understand the lady behind the counter.  I want to blame the loud noises in the pressing shop, but I just didn't know the words she was saying.  And I am tired of feeling like that.

Yup, its that time folks.  I am a big fan of cliché if you haven't already gotten that from all of my other blog posts.  And I know the best one for the situation I am in is this, "the hardest things are the most rewarding."  I just don't do well with delayed gratification.  Blame me, blame my generation, blame the instant society I come from, what ever.  It is just really hard to remember why I am here, especially when I know how different my life would be if I had chosen not to.

This is the first time in my life where I knew what I was giving up and still gave it up.  If I was back in the States, after this quarter I would be about three classes short of graduation.  I would be an intern with Y&G.  I would be a career peer advisor.  I would be going home for Thanksgiving in a month.  I would be living in Isla Vista with Axel and my roommates from last year.  I would get to see the people from the VC I worked with.  And I willingly chose to give all of that up for the life I have here.

I'm sure when I re-read all of these posts after I get done with this year, I will read this one and say that I am being over dramatic and that I should look at what I got to do.  After all, in two months I've already been to three European countries.  I have made friends from all over the world.  I have lived with a French host family.  I successfully found an apartment.  I've done a lot.

I just need to remember what I am working for.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Je n'aime pas l'école

SciencesPo is a great school.  I don't mean that from the standpoint of a student actually going to it, but from what they tell me.  They keep saying how it is the best political sciences school in Europe.  They tell us how 60% of all French Prime ministers and almost all of French presidents have gone to SciencesPo.

I would just like to publicly state that I have never been to a school that is more unhelpful, disorganized and  just all around inconvenient.   There doesn't seem to be any administration that I know of.  I have no idea where the main offices are located.  I don't know who to contact if I have a problem.  There is no centralized office building.  No, in fact, I'm going to expand that.  There is not only no centralized office building but there is no centralized campus.  The buildings SciencesPo uses are blocks away from each other.  The fifteen minutes they give you between classes can sometimes no be enough time.

Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Paris.  I think I'm starting to really see why I felt so homesick.  It was the utter and complete lack of any semblance of competency and ownership on behalf of SciencesPo.  I have not had anyone ask me how I was doing in the courses.  The center for North America has not had a meeting (which they said they would host by late September).  And despite how much I appreciate what the UC people in Paris have done (re housing, insurance) they have done a really crappy job letting us know who the other UC students we're here with are.

This all has led me to this conclusion.  If you are going to SciencesPo either 1. be EXTREMELY proactive; 2. have a friend going with you (its better to be freaking out with someone); 3. don't go.  Again, I don't want anyone to think that I am regretting my decision to come to Paris.  I really am not.  I have met some of the most amazing people here.

I completely lucked out with my host family.  I had them over for dinner tonight.  It was a lot of fun.  I made them burgers which they ate.  They said they liked it, so I believed them.  Gerogiana and Jerome actually had seconds.  Then for dessert I made Strawberry Shortcake.  Oh, and they loved the idea of putting Guacamole on the burger.  They hadn't ever tried that before!  As they were walking out, I gave them a pint of Ben&Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream.  Georgiana said they had never tried it, and lord knows I didn't need another pint of it.  So I gave it to them.

I have made some pretty amazing friends.  My orientation group is filled with kids from literally all over the worlds, from both hemispheres and four continents.  My roommate is this crazy, awesome, hilarious canadian.

So I guess in that respect SciencesPo is decent.  It has given me the chance to make these friends and stay with that host family.  But seriously... if I didn't get Michele Bonhomme and if I wasn't in that orientation group, I'm pretty sure I would have worked out how to get home for Winter and Spring quarter this year.

And it is such a shame.  I absolutely love Paris.  This city is so different from anywhere else I have ever been.  Every metro stop is different than the one before it.  Every line takes you to another world.  For example, if I get off one metro stop early on the 12, I am in Africa.  When I did that the other day, I got off the metro and I was literally the only white person  I could see.  It was really cool knowing that these little areas exist.

The weekends are fantastic here.  I can go out and explore and walk down streets that were ruled by kings and invaded by Nazis and built and rebuilt for centuries.  That is not like anything in the United States.  But then the realization that I have to go to SciencesPo and face that law class.  I am so tired of not knowing what the F*&% I am supposed to do.  I'm tired of feeling like the kid in the class who showed up for his final without studying.  I am tired of looking at the clock and thinking, "man, I wish I could stop time just to prevent me from going to school."  It sucks that I hate this school that much.  I wanted to enjoy school, to be able to tell my friends how awesome SciencesPo is.  But in all honesty I can't.

Luckily I am done with classes tomorrow at 12:15PM and don't start class again until Wednesday morning.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Les Devoirs

I have officially finished my exposé and my oral presentation of my fiche de lecture in my law class. I also have finished my synthèse in my Professions Politques class.  I have an exposé left in that on one Wednesday.  In my French Defense Policy, I have finished both my press review and my exposé.  I've done a lot of work so far.  And yet it doesn't really feel like it.

Something that is very peculiar about SciencesPo and their methodology is that everything is graded based on presentations.  I have to turn in very little written work.  The only exception is my Social History of the US class, which is based on my midterm and my final.  I have a final essay in my French Defense Policy course, but that will be the only piece of work I turn in for a grade.  I have three written assignments in my law class and none in my Professions Politiques course.  There are no tests, no midterms, no quizzes.

I have two finals, one for my law class (which is just an oral defense of a paper I have to write) and an essay for Social History of the US.  But other than that, there doesn't seem to be that much work.  But the work that they do give us is time consuming and intense.  Like I said when I first got here, the SciencesPo methodology is very different than anything we have in the states.

Right now, I am sitting in the library trying to get started on my midterm paper for Social History.  I have to write it on Prohibition.  Literally the only instrucitons my professor gave the class was to "write a sensible paper commenting on the documents, and demonstrating your knowledge of American history."  I have no idea what that even means.  There is no prompt, no further explanation.  I don't know if I can use the same style I would back at UCSB or if I have to figure out how to incorporate it into the SciencesPo method.

Don't get me wrong, I really like this course.  It is the only course I'm in where I feel comfortable and have not once ever dreaded going.  But it is just a little unnerving not knowing what I have to do...  We all know how well I do with uncertainty (just look how I handled not having a place to live...).

Well, I should go work on this paper.  I need to get a lot of work done today because I am having my host family over for dinner tomorrow and I don't want to have to be stressing to finish my hw.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mes Étudiants

For the last couple of times tutoring Leo and Julie, the two kids I tutor, I left there feeling like I didn't really do anything.  English is an incredibly complex languages with few uniform rules (at least few that I can find).  I always kept saying to myself, "okay, next week I am going to bring some grammar exercises and they will work on them."  And every week, I let the stress of school paralyze me from getting that done.

Not this week!  I woke up today around 11:45, showered and sat down at my computer.  I created a Halloween themed lesson.  It was really simple, but basically I had a word bank of Halloween words.  Then below, I had blanks next to definitions.  They had to fill the word in next to the correct definition.  The next part was a story I wrote.  It was another fill in the blank exercise.  They did surprisingly well on it!

I had them, last week, watch an episode my new favorite show, Psych.  It takes place in Santa Barbara so it was pretty fun showing them where I go to school (yeah, I know Psych is filmed in Vancouver, but the arial shots between scenes are actually of SB).  So after they watched the episode, their homework was to write down a summary of what they saw.  They handed them to me today, so I could grade them.

I have a newfound respect for all language teachers.  It is so interesting to me that these kids don't understand English.  I know that is an incredibly selfish statement, but English is just.... well English.  It makes sense to me.  I know who to speak it.  I know how to use it.  And there may be times when I don't know how to spell... like most of the time... but it's just easy.

Tutoring these kids has been the best thing for my world view.  These kids speak perfect french, far better than I ever will, but their english is about as elementary as a five or six year old.  They don't know where to place adjectives, how to spell common words, or even really how to speak in the past tense.  Yet, they are learning.

I've come to this conclusion.  I wish I knew what I know now about people learning english as a second language when I was much younger.  I can appreciate far more now what immigrants to the United States have to go through when they are forced to learn our language.  And they are REALLY forced too.  People here speak a lot more English than Americans do any other language.  I think that all elementary school students should spend a month or two in another country, where they barely speak the language.  That will definitely make Americans a lot more aware of what is going on around them.

Not to completely change the subject, but remeber how I said I couldn't wait until the day that I didn't look forward to checking the X off on my calendar?  We'll I forgot to do it for the last two days.  I'm shocked that changing GSDE (my law class) to Pass/No Pass had SUCH a dramatic impact on my personal well being.

It was definitely the best decision I've made in a long long time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quelques Nouveles

I feel like I haven't written on here in a long time.  I guess the last time I talked about la vie quotidian it was before Scotland.

I knew that I would feel like this now though.  I have successfully completed six presentations in the six weeks I have been here in classes.  And by successfully I don't mean I did well (I actually haven't gotten grades on any of them).  I simply mean that I did them.  And that in it of itself is a success...

And after deciding to change the course that nearly gave me an ulcer to Pass/No Pass, I am really starting to see life beyond SciencesPo.  I am in love with my apartment, I couldn't have a better roommate (well maybe except Axel), I am starting my week of concerts (Michael Bublé next Wednesday, this crazy Sweedish chick I haven't heard of on the second, and Justin Nozuka with my frined Julie on Nov. 4).  I only have two more presentations to do, only one of which requires me to speak.  I have my carte de séjour.  I still don't quite have my bank account fully functional, nor a good cell phone, but those will soon come.

This weekend I will be spending in the library (at least Saturday) working on my midterm paper for my Social History of the US course.  I really like that class.  Although my professor asks random questions that I feel like I should know beucase I'm American.  It's kind of embarrassing how little contemporary history I know.  If you ask me about how our government functions, I can go on and on, but if you asked me about major social movements and their ideologies.... not so much.  I guess that's a good thing that I'm taking this class.

On Sunday, I will be cooking dinner for my first host family.  Michele, Georgiana, Jerome and maybe Lucas will be coming over here.  As of now, the menu is going to be be burgers and fries (I found hamburger buns and cheddar cheese!) and a dessert of strawberry shortcake.  If I can't find whipped cream for the short cake, I'm gonna just rely on good ole Ben&Jerry's cookie dough.  They told me they had never tried it so I think it is as good a time as any!

I've also discovered something interesting about this city.  Since I live so far from the city center, I've realized that I've kind of been creating the soundtrack to my life here.  I have a few playlists on my iPod, and depending on what my mood is, I choose one to listen too.  Already, some of the songs are inextricably linked to emotions and memories here.  And the French do look at you strange if you mouth the words on the metro.  I've decided to keep doing it to see if I can get them to break that stoic look that every Parisian seems to have mastered.  It's like they are looking at you, but right through you.  It's kind of freaky.

But I'm starting to warm up to this city.  Which is a bit ironic considering the temperature outside.  But all in all, now that I've taken the stress of the grades away I can see why people would be jealous of me living here.  And now I can start to see exactly what I've been missing out all this time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Edimburgh! (Ecosse Partie 2)

We woke up pretty late, having stayed up until between 3:30AM and 4:00AM on Friday.  By the time we were up and ready to leave Calum's house, it was noon.  Now I was a little worried, because we were headed to Edinburgh, where I really wanted to see my friend Michele, who I worked with this last summer at the FVC.  The only problem was, my phone wouldn't connect the call.  I asked my friend Amara, also from the VC, who is teaching in Spain, if she had Michele's number.  Luckily she did.  I tried that one.  Still didn't work.  So before we left, I asked Calum if I could go on facebook and look it up.  For what ever  reason after I found her number on facebook again, it connected!

I got a hold of Michele, letter her know about what our plans were. She said that she would be happy to meet us when we got there.  So after finally making contact, Emily and I headed out.  We got breakfast at the same restaurant (this time I skipped the black pudding...) and we headed to Queen Street Station to take the train to Edinburgh.  We bought our tickets and were on the 2PM train.

The train ride was only about forty minutes, but it took you through the scottish countryside.  Man, Scotland is gorgeous!  So much green!!!  And sheep.  Every field we passed was littered with them.  They almost looked like mushrooms.  The rolling hillsides and the dark grey clouds looked gorgeous.  I hadn't seen green hills like that since, well since visiting the Amish country when I visited my step sister my sophomore year of high school.

We arrived at Edinburgh.  My god... I didn't know a city could look like that.  It had the feel of a mediaeval fortress (because it was one).  It looked like it was just stacked on top of itself.  When we were walking about, we would be on a road, then there would be a gap where no building was and we would realize that we were on a bridge.  It was bizarre.

The first thing we did there was hop on a double decker tour bus.  We took it all over the city.  It took us to the Castle, along the Royal Mile, the Holyrood Castle, the Scottish Parliament and to the Our Dynamic Earth museum.  Then it dropped us back off at the train-station, where we hopped on.  I gave Michele a call, telling her that Emily and I were going to walk up to the Royal Mile and do some shopping.  She said that she would meet us up there.

The royal mile is really neat.  I can't exactly remember why it is called the Royal Mile, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that at the top of it is the Castle and the length of it.  When we were up there, I knew I wanted to get a genuine Scotish Cashmere sweater.  And boy... was I in luck!  I ended up with two sweaters (a black zip-up hoodie and a navy cardigan) and one scarf (tan and cream tartan print).  

After I was decked out in my new Scottish garb, Emily and I headed over to the Elephant Café.  This is a really important café.  It is the location where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book.  Michelle met us there, and we had tea (I had a hot chocolate.  I don't understand tea... it tastes like slightly flavored hot water...).  After tea, Michele took us down to Arthur's Seat.

Arthur's Seat (named after King Arthur) is a rock formation they say looks like a seated lion (the lion was the symbol of Arthur).  It is a really cool hiking trail, and apparently at the top of it you have an amazing view of Edinburgh.  We didn't have enough time to go up to the top, but we walked down to the base, where there is a charming little lake.  There were swans and ducks swimming in it.  The sky was turning a dark grey, but the sun was going down.  The golden color pitched against the ominous clouds created my favorite sensation in nature, one that I don't have the skills to properly describe in words.

Around 5:45PM, the three of us decided to head back to the Royal Mile.  Emily and I were going to go on a special tour and we needed to be there at 6:45PM, but we had to eat first.  On the way up, we decided to stop in at a fish and chip shop, what the Scottish call a chippy.  I had a baked steak pie and chips.  It was SOOOOO good.  Anyway, we said farewell to Michele at the shop and we ate.  It was really great seeing her.

The restaurant was small, and didn't have any tables so we had to eat on the go.  That was fine because we were going to go on a Haunted Edinburgh tour.  We needed to get there there fifteen minutes before it started so we just ate up near the meeting point.

That tour was probably the coolest thing I have done since being here.  The guide was this twenty-something blonde woman who had a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor.  She was a great guide.  We did a lot of walking around in the old parts of town.  She told us a lot about what life was like for the poor down in Edinburgh in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  On this tour, I learned that the phrase "dead ringer" and "saved by the bell" come from the fact that in order to verify the corpse was actually dead, the grave diggers would run a string from a bell at the tombstone and tie it to the corpse's finger.  If you suddenly woke up from your coma and were in a box, you would just pull on the string and hopefully someone would hear you and dig you up.  Kinda gruesome.

But the coolest/freakiest part was when we went down to the vaults.  The vaults were built originally as storerooms for the merchants of Edinbugh.  After they realized that volcanic rock was porous and the store rooms would flood if it rained, the merchants said they were useless.  That coupled with the fact that in 17th century Edinburgh if you were caught sleeping on the street three times you would be executed, the poorest of the poor started moving into them.

A lot of the vaults have now been converted into night clubs and bars and restaurants.  But not the ones that we went to.  Too many weird things happened in those ones...  We were told stories about how during the great fire of 1824, seventy-eight people sought refuge in one of the rooms.  Since volcanic rock conducts heat, the room turned into an oven.  All of the people in that room were baked alive.  Our guide had a lot of stories like that.  But the only time I got actually freaked out was when I heard footsteps in the hall.  And there wasn't anyone in the hall.  That did make my heart beat a little faster.

The tour ended at a bar where they served Scottish Whisky and gave us shortbread cookies.  It was a good thing too, because some of the people were pretty freaked.  Oh, I forgot to mention, Emily and I made friends with Sonja, a really nice French/German woman from Madagascar.  She invited us to go with her to a jazz club later that night, but we needed to get onto the train to go back to Calum's.

All in all, Edinburgh was a fantastic city!  Probably my favorite in the UK (although I've only been to three).

Monday, October 18, 2010

L'Ecosse (partie 1)

Scotland was awesome.

So I went with my friend Emily, who I worked with last year.  We were going to visit our friend Calum, a scottish exchange student we met at Toastmasters last year.  He goes to the University of Glasgow, so a about two months ago, Emily asked me if I wanted to go visit him.  I said why not, and we booked our flight!

We took off from Paris-Beauvais (an airport about an hour by bus out side of the city) and landed at Glasgow-Prestwick (very important that you remember it was Prestwick) at 11:40PM on Thursday night.  From Prestwick, we took a bus to the city center.  It dropped us off at Buchannan Street Station and from there we cabbed it to Calum's flat.  We ended up going to bed around 2AM.  When we got there, Calum was standing out front in his UCSB sweats there to greet us.  We talked for a little, then crashed becuase Emily and I were exhauseted.

The next morning, Calum had to go to class and do some work at the library so it was Emily on our own, exploring Glasgow.  We ended up getting out the door around 10:30AM.  We walked over just up the street and had breakfast at this cool little café.  I had the traditional breakfast, which consisted of bacon (more like canadian bacon), a fried egg, a sausage, a patato scote and a slice of black pudding.  Black pudding is disgusting, just fyi.  But I did try it.

After our breakfast we walked around.  The waiter told us about an art museum in Kelvingrove park, the huge park on the West End of Glasgow, where Calum lives.  We walked around the park for probably thirty or forty minutes before finding the museum.  The park was gorgeous though.  After being in the concrete jungle of Paris, it was nice seeing wide open green spaces.

We got to the art museum and it turned out to be more of a natural history museum.  It had a lot of stuff on the scottish history, plus some paintings and exhibits for kids.  I really enjoyed it!

From there, we hopped onto one of the double decker tour buses that are designed for foreigners.  It took us all around the city.  We went from the West End to the city centre, to the River Clyde down to the Glasgow Green.  When we got to the Green, we hopped off and went into the People's Palace.  It had even more Scottish history, mainly talking about the rise of Glasgow as a major city in Scotland.

After that, Emily and I took the bus back to the city center.  It was about 5PM by then, so we walked around and got some food down there.  We didn't want to bother Calum, to let him have as much time as he needed to get his studying done, but around 6, we called him asking him what he was up to.  We headed back to his place around then.

Once we got back to his place, we sat around and talked, met his roommates and then some of his friends.  They all were incredibly nice.  Really good guys.  They sat around for a few hours, knocked back some beers and then we all headed out to the student union.  Now, when I say student union, I don't mean something like the UCen.  It was a legitimate union.  The bottom floor was a huge dance floor and the second floor was a karaoke bar.  It was exactly what I expected college to be like.  I guess it is just easier to do that when the drinking age is 18 instead of 21.  We ended up going back to Calum's house (after getting some fries, of course) around 3AM.

Then we were off to Edinburgh the next day...

Le meilleur decision de ma vie

I have offically decided to take my law class as pass/no pass.  Everyone says not to do that (and by everyone I mean the UCEAP Advisors/my department advisors back at UCSB) but frankly, I would rather have to take an extra class back at UCSB than stress as much about this course as I have.  I actually don't know why I didn't think about doing this before.

Instead of having to work myself up into a frenzy about the quality of my work, I can actually enjoy this city.  I don't have to freak myself out about not doing it perfectly, or even very well.  I just have to pass.  And it is going to allow me to actually focus on my other courses, courses that I enjoy and that I have a shot at doing well in.

I just needed to write this and actually let the world know that I officially don't care about my law class.  I am still going to the courses, I am still attending the lectures and I am still going to do the work.  But I will not allow it to make me sick to my stomach anymore.  I am going to enjoy my time abroad.  I am going to LIKE France, if it is the last thing I do, damn it!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Je ne veux pas sentir comme ça

Every day since Sunday, I have woken up feeling homesick.  It is the oddest thing.  When I go to bed, I generally don't feel homesick, but I think I am still having dreams.  These dreams bring me back to the places I know.  They allow me to talk to people I am used to.  They are good dreams.

So when I wake up, I am... I guess it is kind of surprised, to find out that I am still in France, thousands of miles away from anyone I know.  And I hear from my friends at UC Paris, or friends studying abroad at UC center in a foreign country.  They are surrounded with their friends, they get to go off traveling all these awesome places.  They are taking classes only in English.  Their school isn't that much different from their home UC.  UGH

I know it doesn't do me any good to think about that.  Yeah, I know SciencesPo is a great school.  Yeah, I know I am going to come back a stronger person.  Yeah, I know when I get back to the states I know that NOTHING can stop me from doing what I want to do in life.  But all that right now doesn't really mean much.  I find the desire to leave my apartment nonexistent.  It may be because I feel so safe here, and thanks to the internet, I feel like at my desk I can actually be back in the States.

And it makes me feel so guilty.  I wish I wanted to go out and explore, go out and see the sights, go out and travel.  But honestly, the idea of watching TV on my computer and staying in my bed all day sounds better than any of that.  Hopefully my trip to Scotland this weekend will snap me out of this funk.

But this weekend is going to be hard for me.  It is the weekend of the Youth and Government Intern Retreat.  It may sound stupid that I would rather be there than in Scotland, but the Interns are some of the best people I have ever met.  I have laughed and had more good times with them than virtually any other group.  They make me feel important, respected, smart.  They build up my self-confidence more than I ever thought possible, because they just accept me for me.  Not that people don't, but they just go out of their way to prove it.

And this would be my third and final year in the Intern Program.  After three years of Y&G as a delegate, my senior year of which I was delegate of the year for the state wide program, interning was the perfect way to stay involved.  And now I am not.  I am not helping out the organization that, more than any other thing in my life, has shaped me into who I am today.  And my best friends are now the leaders of the intern program.  I couldn't be prouder of them, but I wish I could be there with them.  Instead I look around, and see all that I have yet to do and it just feels like a weight is crushing me.

Two of my intern friends, in-particular are making it really hard not to be there with them.  At our first retreat, three years ago, we all bonded.  We hadn't met each other before then, but we couldn't be separated after.  Not seeing them, when I know if I had stayed in the States I would have is really hard for me to deal with.

I guess I'll just have to convince them to come over and visit me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Les États-Unis

I feel like writing, but I don't really know what to write about.  I think this blogpost is going to make the least amount of sense (not that the other ones really had any particular rhyme or reason to them).

I think that I'm going to talk about America.  I know, I know, I do that a lot.  But I can't help but compare everything that is new and strange to me hear to what I know and is familiar back home.  For example, getting a bank account.  Back in the states, you just have to sign some forms.  Here, I had to bring in my proof of schooling, my passport, and a document saying I lived in France.  Since I didn't have all three, my French bank account is STILL not fully operational.

Being in this country really has reaffirmed my love of the American government system.  Everyone complains about how politics in the US is such dirty business and that politicians there are nasty people.  But I disagree.  Our government, our federalist system was built from scratch and remains unique.  What is most impressive is the fact that for over two hundred years, we have had a functioning government (yeah, the civil war kind of messed up stuff, but the Union never stopped functioning).  The French are on their fifth republic.

But what I love most about being here is talking about the United States.  In that terrifying law class, we were talking about the US Supreme court and federalism.  It was sooooo strange that the french kids had no idea how our government was really set up.  I know that is an incredible arrogant statement to make, because I had very little knowledge of their system before getting here, but still.  It was awesome describing the importance of Obama's decisions for justice's on the Supreme Court.  It was great letting the class know that the states and federal government have different laws.

I know it is weird, but my favorite class this semester is my Social History of the United States in the Twentieth Century.  My professor is French, but he is an expert on Chicago.  I've never been to that city, but it seems cool.  The only bummer, is he uses it for virtually every example.  I wish he would talk abotu DC or LA or some city I know about... But at least he is talking about the US. What makes that class even better is the fact that there are only a few Americans.  I think we counted five total.  So it is great, because just by chance of birth, I have an automatic leg up in that subject.  I guess it is kind of like the antidote to my Monday mornings.

I've also come to realize that I am going to enter into the public service.  I'm not sure how, or when, or if I am going to do something first, but becoming a politician I really see in my future.  Which brings me to my next point.  I have had an embarrassingly lack of exposure to the news since I've been here.  But that all changed yesterday when I realized I could download the video podcast for NBC Nightly News.  All it means is that every morning, the previous night's news is automatically downloaded onto my Computer for me to watch when I have twenty free minutes.  So I have watched the news for the last two days.

All in all though, this American pride thing I have going on is making me feel really guilty.  I know that I am clinging to my culture as a safety blanket.  I am not immersing myself completely into the French culture.  I have the option of watching the news in French or in English and I choose English.  I could either read Le Monde or the LA Times.  I choose the LA Times because it is easier.  I could travel around the country on the weekends if I wanted to.  But I choose to stay in Paris because it is a place I am familiar with.

I don't want to leave Paris in May saying "man I wish I spent more time getting to know the country and not focusing so much on America" , but at the same time, America is the land that my family is in, the coutnry where I was born, and the only country I have ever really known. I know how the government works, on both a state and Federal level.  I could tell you how the court system is organized.  And most of this stuff is not stuff I've studied, but stuff I've picked up in my twenty years there.

It probably just takes some getting used to, but I'll choose our Capitol Building to l'Assemblée Nationale any day.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I still can't get over how incredible this apartment is.  I know I posted the link to my photo album on facebook, but it doesn't really do it justice.  Last night we had a few of our friends over for dinner.  I cooked in our kitchen.  It was a really simple dinner, with homemade bruschetta and then some gnocchi and pesto.  No one seemed to get food poisoning so all was good.  It was really nice being able to have people over.

Today I had my exposé.  I honestly have absolutely no idea how it went.  Victor, my partner, did most of the research so he did most of the explaining.  I spoke for maybe two minutes, while he spoke for about fifteen to twenty.  It may have been the fact that I didn't really understand most of what he said, but I couldn't really help when we were answering questions either.  But the important thing is it is done!  Almost...  We were presenting at the very end of class, so we didn't have time for the questions.  The students are supposed to ask us more questions next week.

And just like that, thanks to this stupid course, my sense of finally feeling at home in this concrete jungle vanished.  I know, I know, it is only one course and it is literally two hours of my week.  But honestly, for those who haven't done what I am doing it is really hard to imagine exactly what it feels like.  Even before I got to this country, I couldn't imagine that I would feel the way I am.  My moods have yet to stablize fully.

Moving into the apartment definitely helped.  The fact that Aliya is here is awesome.  She and I get along great.  She is really easy going and laid back, which goes quite well with... well, me.  Now here is something that will shock my family... I have learned to enjoy cleaning.  It may be an outlet for my need to be in control of something, but organizing, doing the dishes, washing my clothes, making my bed, all of these things help me cope with this country.  Last night, when my partner was stressing me out about the project (until midnight, literally) I had to go take a break and do all the dishes.  And this was after I cooked.  But I WANTED to do them.  I think it also has something to do with the fact that no one is forcing/requiring/even really asking me to do them.

But right now, I felt like writing this blog because for the first time since being in the apartment, I'm homesick.  This is a huge step forward, because that means I haven't been homesick since Friday.  So that means Saturday and Sunday I was good.  Which was true.  But this course... And what is even worse, is that I went to my professor for help last thursday.  I didn't really know what the assignments she wanted us to do were, so I just asked what they were.  She was really nice and met with me thirty minutes before a class she was teaching.

In our little meeting, she told me about the revue d'acutalité which is basically taking a major legal decision and analysing it in a comparative framework, the étude de jurisprudence which is a five or six page paper analyzing an historic case or legal institution, and the memoire which is our final.  The memoire is a fifteen to twenty page paper on any subject we choose.  Basically we have to demonstrate the fact that we can effectively compare legal systems between different families of law, or different institutions within the same family.

All of this has to be finished before I leave for break.  So between now and December 17, all of this needs to be done.  That is on top of the Press Review and Final paper I have to do for my French Defense Policy, the group project and debate I have to do in my Professions Politiques course, and the midterm and final paper in my Social History of the United States course.

The good news is that I have a lot to look forward to, outside of school.  I know I've written it before, but I need to remind myself that am going to Scotland on Thursday, my friend Anni is coming to Paris to see Michael Bublé in concert and spend a long weekend, and my brother is coming for Thanksgiving.  From then it's only two weeks until I can go home.

That all being said, I no longer look forward to corssing off the days on my calendar like I did before.