****Sorry for how long this is!!! I don't blame you if you give up halfway through only to come back to it another time. I will keep it more up-to-date from this Sunday, February 8, when I will move in with my host family and *hopefully* have a stable wifi connection. Anyway, here is my experience in France from February 1st to 5th!****
I have had yet to really start my blog, but I am itching to update everyone as to what's been happening in Paris so far! I am currently staying at the FIAP Jean Monnet, a hostel-type dorm, until this coming Sunday, February 8; I will then move in with a family. I found out who that family is today, but I'll tell about that later!
So – I am living in PARIS! Sometimes it's really hard to believe, even as I walk around its streets. This week has been extremely hectic what with the adjusting, meeting new friends and roommates (I have three wonderful roommates; Jen, Claudia, and Kristen), finding our way around Paris, attending class longer than we're used to (spoiled Americans, perhaps?), and the time change. But it has been really wonderful so far. I had my first crepe with nutella today, and I have never tasted something so wonderful in my life! And luckily, the crepe vendors are absolutely everywhere in Paris, so I can have them whenever I want. The one I bought today was 2.30 euro, and they are usually in the 2-3.50 euro range. Not bad for how filling and AMAZINGLY delicious they are.
I can't believe I have not even been here for a week – it feels like at least two have passed! On our very first night in Paris, most of our group visited the Eiffel Tower. Let me say, I did not expect it to be so big. I don't know why, but it was much mightier and taller than I had expected. And so majestic! It is covered in lights, and at nighttime, it looks as if it's made of gold. On the hour every hour (at least at night), it begins to flash tiny purple/blue lights which make it sparkle beautifully. It was a wonderful night!
Getting around on the metro has been an interesting experience, and is getting easier by the day. When I first got to the Airport Charles de Gaulle, I felt like a lost puppy. Let me just say, thank GOODNESS I know French!!!!!!! I cannot imagine having been in that airport, having little idea of what to do or where to go, and on top of that being unable to communicate with almost anyone! It would not have been nearly as successful. I heard surprisingly little English in the airport and on the metro. However, as I have sometimes learned is best, if you are American, sometimes it's better to keep quiet! Perhaps many people were already aware of this.
I bought something called a carte NaviGo (previously called a Carte Orange) that allows me unlimited use of the Metro, in zones 1-3 of Paris, for the month of February for 77.00 euro, which is about $100. It was a difficult purchase, but completely necessary and worth it (and also required of me by my program…). It is so much fun that now instead of fumbling with a ticket and trying to put it in the machine, having it come out the other end, and trying to get out of the doors before they close and smush me, I can just swipe my NaviGo (which contains a microchip) and glide effortlessly through the doors! It makes me feel more like a local.
Let me give you an idea of my daily schedule, at least for the week of orientation (which is Feb 1-8). So, we (the 18 people in my program) go to breakfast at the FIAP, where we are currently living, at around 8:15-8:30, and breakfast ends at 8:45 so no later than that! We leave at around 9:30 for the metro, and take two different lines to end up at Luxembourg where we attend classes at the Foyer International des Etudiantes (or FIE). We have class from 10-12, and then lunch, and back to class 1:30-3. At 3, which we are becoming accustomed to calling "quinze heures" or "15:00", we usually go on a walking tour of an area of Paris. Monday, we went to Marais, one of the oldest areas of Paris. We saw the Cathédrale Notre Dame, which is absolutely breathtaking; we visited one of the oldest houses in all of Paris in which monks had lived, statues of Louis XIII and XIV, des jardins, and many other beautiful places. It is amazing to live around so much history, I love it. We usually arrive "home" from class anywhere from six to 7:00, just in time for dinner, homework, internet/emails/blogs/
Let me tell you a little more about breakfast. All I have to say is, I love croissants! We have one every morning, along with perhaps some cereal and either coffee or hot chocolate and some OJ. I think I have eaten more carbohydrates in the past week than I had in the past month at home. Bread comes with absolutely everything, usually at no extra charge. Mmmmm it's wonderful. I have also been eating a lot of cheese, for which my digestive system is not thanking me. Dinner at the FIAP is more run-of-the-mill, with salad bar, rice, green beans, some meat choices, pizza, frites (fries), various delicious desserts and of course, a side of pain (bread). It's still good though, and very welcome at the end of a long day (which is very soon, as I'm writing this at 7:45 on Thursday!)
There is so much to write about, I don't think I can cover it all! I told you about the trip to Marais, and yesterday we took a trip to the Louvre. We did not see much, just the most famous works in the museum plus a few others. I saw Venus of Milo and the Mona Lisa, of which I of course took pictures like such a tourist! The Louvre is beautiful and so enormous, I feel like I could go every day for a month and still not see everything I want to. That is probably true for everybody, though.
I really just love living here; I love the independence, the hustle and bustle, the grandeur, the presence of so much history and beauty – it is already much easier and more comfortable than when I first arrived. Ah, when I first arrived. That was interesting…
Okay, let me just tell you, I did follow the directions which I was given carefully and correctly! Unfortunately, the directions were not changed from fall to spring semester, and we were supposed to be living at a different location from those students who studied abroad in the fall. UNCW failed to change the directions to the FIAP and instead gave us those to the FIE (where we attend class daily). Sooooo, I got off at the Luxembourg stop and thought the FIAP was "just to the left" of the metro stop. FALSE. It was a 2-mile walk with two huge, heavy, pink rolling suitcases, a hiking-style backpack, and a purse full of everything I could possibly need plus my laptop along the narrow and at times cobblestone streets of Paris. However, before the walk while I was standing around at the Luxembourg stop beginning to realize that I was not where I was supposed to be, I saw another girl with several huge suitcases. We looked at each other and I said, "Hi…where are you going?" to which she replied, "the FIAP?" as if asking me if I too was headed there. I said, "ME TOO!!!!" and was instantly more relieved. The walk was not fun. It was cold, and we were lost. Again thankful I knew French, we asked for directions form a man at a hotel reception desk, a man who worked at a small café, and a lady we passed on the street. Actually, the woman offered (in English) to help us when she saw us desperately searching our maps, which were blowing upside-down in the wind (movie style, haha) and our hair and faces looking like we just ran a marathon. The long, very tiring trip would have been far less successful had I gone alone, so thank goodness Jen and I found each other! We are now roommates with two other girls, and we get along great.
Staying at the FIAP is good. We received meal tickets for 7 breakfasts and 7 dinners (lunch is up to us, as we are in Luxembourg at class) so that's very helpful! There are four of us in the room, and it's a very good size, not too crowded. We have two showers, two sinks, and a toilet (although the showers do not have shower curtains, so you have to reserve the bathroom for a while if you want to shower!) I am mostly glad that we're staying here for the first week so all in the UNC program have the chance to get to know one another and become friends before we are separated to go live with our host families. I am going to miss living with my roommates, but it will be nice to have a room of my own, and a shower with a curtain: P.
I have noticed some truth to the statement that "The French are rude and do not like Americans". At first, I was naïve and thought that since I knew French, they would be kinder towards me. Not necessarily true! I have gotten some of the dirtiest looks from people for no (apparent) reason when I am heard speaking English. My first time on the Metro with all of my luggage, I had one suitcase on the seat across from me and one on the seat next to me (like I might do on the Metro North going to Poughkeepsie). As I have now learned, that is not acceptable. The metros are often standing room only, and seeing two seats taken up by huge pink suitcases really enrages some people! One woman asked, "est-ce que tu peux le mettre par terre ?" translated as, "can you put that on the ground?". I smiled and pulled it away, and she returned the most disapproving look one could possibly muster, as if to say, "don't be too proud of yourself, it shouldn't have been there in the first place". I later learned (from my orientation packets, professors, and everyone in general) that the French do not smile at strangers, or often at all, and neither should I. That makes me a little sad, since I love to smile! Not to mention, I have been working in mostly customer-service positions since I was 16 and smiling at strangers is one of my specialties. I guess I am going to have to change that.
My group of American friends generally gets stares and dirty looks from les français on le metro when we laugh, talk, or otherwise identify ourselves as American, though I'm pretty sure they can tell where we're from just by looking at us. I can usually tell when I see an American because she is wearing UGG boots or sweatpants, or both! I'm glad I didn't bring mine! I do need to buy new boots here, though – WATERPROOF ones!!!! It rains a lot here, of course. Bringing an umbrella was a good call.
I got assigned to my host family today! I forgot my info sheet upstairs, but here's what I remember:
They have 6 kids (eek) all over the age of 18 (double eek). Four boys and 2 girls, and a LAB! Yayy I've always wanted a dog. They live outside of Paris, as most of the families do. I don't remember much else, and am tired of typing! Haha.
Okay, I think I am going to call it quits for now, my brain is about to explode! I'm sure yours is too if you actually read all of this. I will try and update more often so reading my blog will not be nearly this painful next time (as I am not going to try and cram an entire week into one post). If you are reading this, I probably miss you! I can't wait to download Skype and try to talk to everybody, and upload my pictures so you can see what I am seeing. A bientôt!