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.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tout c'est parfait

I spent the first night in the apartment last night.  It was wonderful.

I'm sure that you are all dying for pictures so here is a link to my photoalbum with them. All you have to do is copy and paste the link and it should allow you to see the 22 pictures I took of my new amazing apartment.  


Today was a day that I could just lay low.  I got up pretty late, around 12:30.  I was up late last night working on this project with my insane tyrant for a partner.  I understand why he was so anxious to get this done, but honestly in the words of my brother, he just needed to take a knee, drink some water, and calm the f*** down.  I know that SciencesPo is the best Political Science school in Europe, and that 61% of all Prime Ministers of France came from this school, but really?  I am an exchange student struggling to understand this new country and he gets on my case about not having done my stuff four days before the project is due?  

Anyway, after my shower, Aliya and I walked around and tried to get some lunch.  We ended up eating at this perfectly stereotypical french bar/restaurant.  It was old and quaint and they made the best fried chicken I have ever tasted.  And I couldn't even finish the mashed potatoes.  I guess I've become accustomed to French portions.  

After that, we headed over to Monoprix, a major grocery store chain, where we got all of the foods that we were going to share.  You know, we got the essentials like the 1 kilo jar of Nutella, eggs, pain au chocolat.  The basics.

Then we kind of just headed back to the apartment.  I was able to fully unpack everything and really get moved in.  I set up my desk so I feel like I have a little office.  It is probably the greatest feeling ever.  I finally have my OWN space.  I am not a guest in anyone's house, I don't have to worry about bothering my host family.  I am in my own place.  And the way it is set up, Aliya's room is at the far end of the apartment so she isn't bothered by my music and vice-versa.  

For dinner tonight, we were  going to go over to Picard, a store that sells only frozen food, and get some stuff to cook here.  But we stumbled across a bakery who was selling a sandwich, a drink and a dessert for 5 euros.  And OH MY GOD.  The sandwhich, just plain ham and cheese with butter was amazing.  This country doesn't really like adding butter, so it was great tasting it.  And then the dessert...  I got a strawberry tart with whipped cream.  It was the best thing I've tasted since being in this country.  It was JUST like strawberry shortcake.  

But by far the best part of dinner was where we ate it.  We ate on our terrace.  The land lords left a table with two chairs out there so we could use it whenever we wanted too.  We ate, watching the people walk five stories below while the sun was setting.  It was a scene right out of a movie.  

I think I'm in love... 

Friday, October 8, 2010


So i moved into the apartment today.  I knew that it was going to be a long day, but I didn't quite know how long...

We (Aliya and I) were supposed to meet César, the real-estate agent at 10:30AM to go over the inventory and to sign some more papers.  Perfect!  Except for the fact that last night I was supposed to have finished my part of this presentation and sent it to my partner. Little did I know my partner was a grinding tool.  He messages me today saying that if he didn't get my part of the presentation by midnight then he would go tell the prof that he was doing the presentation by himself.  Now, in fairness he has done a fair bit more than I have.  But in my defense, 1. I barely speak French 2. I was moving apartments and 3. the presentation isn't due until Monday.

Anyway, so I had that to stress about.  I was up pretty late doing some reading for that presentation.  So naturally, sleepy A.J. this morning hit snooze until 9:45.  I was out the door by 10:07, but since my second host family was on the exact opposite side of paris from where I was moving, it was going to take me longer to get here than I had.  Thankfully, Aliya was there and met the real estate agent.

And oh my god.  What an apartment.  Like really, I can't describe it.  I am going to try do to do a virtual tour of it.  But the area is amazing, a five minute walk from the metro, two minutes from three grocery stores, not to mention an amazing tapas restaurant thats super cheap.  Tomorrow, since I have decided to not do any school work, I am going out exploring!  And then it's off to a friend's birthday party.  But just being here, in my own space has made this country that much more amazing.

I think the weather helped too.  For the last three days it has felt like those perfect summer days when the nights were as warm as the days.  I hope this keeps up a little while longer.  I love the sun and didn't realize how much I missed it!

Although sweater weather does look pretty good on me!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ma coupe

Ok, so I normally get a hair cut once a month.  Once every five weeks max.  Except here.  The last time I got a haircut was the beginning of August.  I am a balding gentleman (yes, I know, a huge shock there) so I take a lot of pride in what little hair I have left.  But I feel like I should show you what I looked like.

Yeah, that look on my face pretty much describes it.  This is the look of a crazed, stressed kid who left the United States about five weeks ago.

But today, all that changed.  I got a hair cut.  And with this hair cut, comes a new me.  I am moving into my apartment on Friday, I have given two presentations in French and I only have three more to go.  I have plans for something incredible about every two weeks until I leave for Christmas break.  I am eating a fresh baguette from a real french Bakery.  My 8AM class tomorrow is canceled.  Life, dare I say it, is pretty good!

Monday, October 4, 2010

J'ai réussi

So I think I have reached the point in my school work where I can't write this blog every day.  I have to say though, I am really proud that I have been as diligent as I have.  I know that future A.J. is going to be happy about that.  But let me catch up on what's been happening.

So I am at my new homestay.  As I said, it feels a lot more like a boarding house than a homestay.  I can't complain though, mainly because I'm only here for a week.  I have to say, I still don't understand how I got so lucky to stay with Michele.  Her homestay was amazing, her location was great and there was always something to do in her area.  I have yet to go exploring here, but the area seems pretty dead.  There isn't very much activity, except for the church bells that ring and can definitely wake me up (the house is located about thirty feet from this church).

There are four other students here.  Three are from the University of Washington and one is from Russia.  All are girls.  They all seem very nice.  Andrea, the most outgoing of the UW girls is the one I have gotten to know the best.  I'm not sure why, but I've run into a lot of people associated with Seattle.  Trish, Michele's old friend who visited her, lives there.  Aliya, my future roommate is from Vancouver, super close to Seattle.  And now these girls.  It is really weird.  Not in a bad way though.

I had my presentation this morning.  That seems like ages ago.  Normally on Mondays I can take a nap.  But since I have another presentation Wednesday and then again on Monday, I didn't get a chance to nap.  I spent this afternoon in the library (I also may or may not have gone for the wifi...).  But thinking back to this morning, it does seem like an eternity ago.  My mexican food lunch with Kellyn (a UCSB girl doing UC Paris, who also has the voice of an angel - she sang in VoMo) seems like forever ago too.

I was talking to my dad today, and I told him that I feel like I've lived a whole life in my time in Paris.  Even now, if I were to return to the US, I would be a better, stronger person.  I also feel that France likes to play mind games with me.  For a few days, it will be incredibly nice to me.  I'll have those days where I am care free and can wander around the city, maybe take a nap in a park, maybe go see the Mona Lisa just because I can.  Then there are those days where all I want to do is have someone take all of this from me.

But this last Saturday night was one of the nights that reminded me why Paris is such an incredible city.  It was called La Nuit Blanche, and basically was a HUGE performance art show throughout the center of the city.  Exhibitions included a guy reading the dictionary, a 1940's themed life size diorama  where, depending on a coin flip anyone could enter and flirt with the characters (heads meant you had to flirt with men, tails was women, and no, your sex didn't matter).  By far the best one though was the free pastries on Ile Saint Louis.  It was the best bread I have ever tasted in my life.

And the best part about it is that I was out with my friends.  I was with some people from my orientation group, plus people they knew.  Allison, an Australian girl from my orientation group invited along two of her friends who lived outside of Versailles.  It was really fun talking in French to them.  I have gotten to the point where I can have full conversations in French with normal people and not feel lost.  If we are talking about something particular, like in a class I still have a lot of trouble though.

And that brings be back to my presentation.  In order to stop myself from freaking out, I went about trying to find a French tutor.  I basically wanted someone who could tell me if what I wrote made sense, if someone who was French would say that.  So for this presentation, I wrote it all up and e-mailed it to her.  The next morning, I got her corrections.  And to my surprise she didn't really change all that much.  So in class, I basically read what she and I had worked on.  My professor seemed to be okay with what I had said.  But what I was really worried about was the questions the students were going to ask me.

I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to understand them, and even if I did, I wasn't sure if I could answer their questions.  Luckily I was presenting on the legal procedure in the Common Law system.  Since that is what we use in the US, and having listened to my dad describe (sometimes asked for, other times not so much) the legal procedures, I had a decent idea of what things like "discovery" and "precedents" were.  So, again, to my astonishment, I was able to answer their questions somewhat satisfactorily.

I don't really care what grade I get on that presentation.  It was the only first french presentation I will ever give here, so just having it done is a huge check on my list.  Now I need to get through these next two and then I'll be sitting pretty.  I have a paper due on October 28 and another presentation on the 14th,  but those are in English.  Turns out this country isn't as unconquerable as I thought.

Oh, and I can now officially watch a new movie in French and understand it, sans subtitles.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

La semaine prochaine

I apologize for not writing yesterday.  It was a big day.  I moved to my new host family.  I woke up around 9:45, showered and packed up the very last bits of stuff in my room at Michele's house.  I was ready to go around 10:15, so she called me a taxi.  After about a fifteen minute taxi ride, I was at my new host family's house.

In Paris, it is very rare to find a house.  In the actual city center, there are pretty much only apartment buildings.  From what I can tell it is due to the insane property prices in Paris.  But my host family's place is an actual house.  I arrived there around 10:45 yesterday morning.  I sent them an e-mail thursday night saying that I would be arriving, and they replied saying they were happy to have me and that I could move in around 5PM.  Great... What was I going to do with all of my bags for the nine hours between when I leave Michele's house and am allowed to move into my new place.  I e-mailed them back asking if I could just drop off my bags and then go leave for the day.  They said that was fine.

When I showed up at the house, a very nice gentleman opened up the gate and helped me get my bags into the house.  I thought he was my host father, but turns out he is his brother.  My host family is spending the weekend in the countryside so they had him come and make sure the new students arriving yesterday were met by someone.

He showed me into my room, which is on the first floor.  It is the first door on the right when you enter the house.  It overlooks the small outer courtyard and the street.  The room itself isn't anything special, a twin bed, a desk and a shelving unit.  But the cool thing about it is that I get my own bathroom.  The bathroom is about the same size as the room.  It is complete with a closet, shower, sink and toilet.

Overall the place is quite nice.  It is four stories, one is the basement.  There are four other bedrooms for students plus the host's room (I assume), which is on the top story and has a loft.  I haven't met any of the other students because I headed out to the library yesterday before they got there.  I heard some this morning but I had just woken up.

It doesn't feel like a homestay though.  It feels like a boarding house.  I have to say if this was the first place I went to, I think my homesickness would have kicked in a lot earlier.  Michele was amazing.  That was a genuinely homestay with a Parisian family.  I met her members of her family, her friends and she seemed to take a genuine interest in me and my time with her.

Also, she had wireless.  This place does, but my...I guess you could call him my host uncle... didn't know how to do it so I was internet less while at their house.  I went to the library yesterday but I left around three after I finished my homework.  I had to work on my presentation for my class tomorrow morning.  I had to get it done so I could send it off to my tutor so she could correct my grammar for me.

I don't know how this week is going to go.  I still am homesick, I usually can only eat about one and a half meals a day, and I feel so guilty that right now I just want to come back home.  At the library yesterday, I was talking to a good friend who I really respect a lot.  She just spent the last year in Thailand teaching English and she had spent a quarter(?) in Paris her Junior year at UCSB.  She told me she knew exactly how I felt.  I also told her that I was really looking forward to coming home at Christmas and I only had seventy-something days left here before I could be safe at home.

She told me something very interesting.  She said that countdowns don't help.  At first I didn't believe her, but then she explained.  She said that the best way to combat homesickness isn't to try to get rid of it, but to not think about it.  And countdowns do the exact opposite.  They bring it to the forefront of your mind.  She also told me that no matter what, time doesn't move any faster than one second at after the next.

I think this post is long enough, so I am going to go for now.

P.S. I just had to share this really quick.  I was on FB chat and I was talking to my friend Amara on facebook chat.  I told her I didn't have internet but this was the exact sentence I said "My homestay doesn't have wireless, so I'm at McDonalds."  I probably should have told her that McDonalds does.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mon dernier nuit

I am writing this after having packed up my room here at my first home stay.  I am going to me second home stay family tomorrow.  I had dinner with Georgiana tonight.  I was feeling really down, and wasn't planning on having dinner because my stomach wasn't up for it, but after I lied and said I was going out, she insisted we eat together.  I couldn't have been happier to be eating with someone else here.

It was a really simple dinner.  She made couscous for me (she and Lucas shared mashed potatoes) and we split some hotdogs.  It was really nice, but as usual the conversation made it even better.  We talked about how we felt being foreigners in France.  We talked about missing our families and what we do to get over it.  I absolutely love Michele, my host mother, but she is just that.  A mother.  Georgina is a lot closer to my age and is in much more similar circumstances.

After dinner, I thanked her profusely, did the dishes and headed into my room.  I am leaving tomorrow morning around 10AM, so I wanted to pack up before.  I'm not sure how, like literally it defies the laws of physics, but the same amount of clothing I brought with me here fits into only two of my three suitcases.  Throughout packing, I have been listening to songs on my computer mainly iTunes but every once in a while I've been listening to youtube.

I've found that there is a vicious cycle in my musical tastes.  I have a playlist of songs that fit my mood completely, but they perpetuate that mood. So it is hard to stop feeling homesick when listening to these songs, yet there are no other songs that would please my ears.  For me, music is where I can escape.  I have an addictive personality.  If I like a food, I can eat it every day for days on end (just ask my mom how many jamon and cheese sandwiches she made me when I was young).  Same goes for a song.  If it something I like, I need to listen to it as many times as possible.

After dinner tonight was the first time in a week I could listen to something other than the songs I have all week.  I feel better now than I have in a long time.  I think talking with Georgiana made me realize what I had to look forward to.  On October 14, I am flying to Scotland with a good friend from UCSB to visit another good friend who was on exchange there last year.  On October 27, Anni is coming to Paris from England to see Michael Bublé in concert.  On November 24, Nick is coming to Paris and we are going to go somewhere awesome.  And on December 18, I fly back to the US.

I really don't have that much to worry about.  Everything works out in the end.  And everything happens.  Some argue for a reason.  All I know is everything happens.  If there is a reason for it, it is always and only visible in hind-sight.

For now, I am feeling optimistic and am looking forward to what is going to happen in these next few weeks.