Wrapping it all up (…for now!)

Salut mes amis!

Firstly, I wanted to apologize for the tardiness of this final post! The end of my trip was a whirlwind, which then promptly transitioned into another whirlwind of traveling home, the holidays, catching up with family and friends, and preparing for my final semester at school. But I finally have a chance to breathe, and I thought it was high time I finish up my blog.

After spending almost 7 months in France I got to know it’s personality very well. I gave a lot of thought to how the French and American cultures differ, what I like more about French culture, and what about French culture I am not so fond of. As my final post I thought it would be fitting to talk about exactly that. So, without further ado, here are my top 3 least favorite and most favorite things about France!

My Least Favorite Things About France:

1) Tardiness, especially of administration. French and American schools operate in two very different ways, and when I arrived in France it was really hard for me to get used to the way French schools work. One of the largest differences is that many things in France are decided at the very last minute, and to me (and my American logic) don’t always seem to make sense. For example, I knew the general outline of my program when I left the US, but the details were often not decided until a few days/the day before I was supposed to arrive at a new school or internship. As someone who likes to prepare well in advance I really had to learn to go with the flow and not worry when things weren’t completely planned out.

2) Smoking. Smoking cigarettes in Europe is fairly common, especially for young people. I definitely did not enjoy that aspect of social situations. On Bastille Day (July 14, France’s independence day) I went with a friend to see the celebration in downtown Toulouse, which culminated in a fireworks show. There was an enormous crowd of people and no matter where we turned we could not find a place to stand that was not near a smoker. The fireworks were great, but the smokers were definitely not appreciated by us.

3) Dog poops on the sidewalk. I don’t know why, but in France it seems to be acceptable to allow your dog to poop in the sidewalk and then not pick it up. Fortunately I avoided stepping on these lovely gifts for the most part, with the exception of one slip up. One day in November my favorite boulangerie was closed at lunch time (another typically French thing that isn’t my favorite – businesses being closed during normal business hours for no apparent reason), and as a gaped at the closed bakery in misery I stepped right into a doggie doo. Not my finest moment.

My Favorite Things About France:

1) Food and the culture that surrounds it. Of course, my number one favorite thing about France is the mind-blowing food. Not only is the food in the more expensive price-range amazing, but even a sandwich on the street from a vendor will be the most delicious sandwich you have ever eaten. Everywhere you go you are bound to find good food. But, even beyond just taste, French people are more concerned with the quality of the ingredients they use and the impacts of their food choices on the environment. They understand that local/organic food is more expensive, but they are willing to pay more for the added quality and social change. Essentially, they are much better at putting their money where their mouth is as far as food and ingredients are concerned.

2) Kissing on the cheek. This is a French custom that makes some foreigners uncomfortable, but I actually really liked it. It’s wasn’t that I actually enjoyed getting up close and personal with strangers, though. What I liked was that when you met a group of people you were personally introduced to everyone in the group. Sometimes in the US if you meet a big group of people some of them might ignore you, simply because it is not considered rude in social situations to ignore people if the group is large. I think by kissing people you meet on the check you can more quickly get passed the discomfort of not knowing the person and move toward being friends more quickly.

3) Slower pace of life. It’s definitely true that Europeans, the French included, take their time, especially at meal time. A 2 hour break for lunch in the middle of the day is not unheard of. I really liked the focus on quality of life rather than the “work work work” mentality many Americans are stuck in. As one of my fellow vineyard workers in France told me, “I want to work to live, not live to work.”

So there you have it! Overall being in France was not an easy experience for me. I had to learn the language essentially from scratch, move around a lot, and become comfortable living in a new culture. Even though I faced many challenges, I really do think my trip was worth it. I learned so much and have really become much more easy-going because of the experiences I had while I was abroad. I learned to not sweat the little stuff and instead just enjoy all of the wonderful things I have to be thankful for. I wonder how long it would have taken me to learn those things if I hadn’t taken the risk and studied abroad! I’m certainly glad I did take the risk.

À la prochaine, mes amis!

Internship, take 3! Art, wine, and vines.

Salut mes amis!

As of tonight I have just one work day left at my internship. One more day left in my study abroad program, and then it ends… its absolutely crazy. During my time in France it seemed like I would be here forever, and now I’m leaving the country in just 10 days.  Where did the time go??

For the past week and a half I’ve been back at my internship at Domaine de Borie Vieille. The work I’ve done this time around has been split between two activities, the first being work in the vineyards to prepare for next year. After the harvest is finished and work in the cellar winds down the vineyard workers head outside to trim the vines and prepare them for the following growing season. To give you an idea of how much work that involves, Domaine de Borie Vieille has two workers to prune 26 hectares, or about 64 acres, of vines from mid-November to April… its a ton of work. It might actually be a little too much for two people, so they are currently searching for a third. After spending just five days pruning the vineyards I have an incredible amount of respect for the people who do this work every year. Looking out into a sea of gnarly vines and thinking that you have to cut every single one is incredibly overwhelming. Further, the man I was working with has been doing this every year for over 20 years. Talk about determination.

At Domaine de Borie Vieille they prune their vines “guyot simple,” or simple guyot. You start with a vine that looks like this:

And cut off everything except one cane with 6-8 buds and one spur with 2 buds (if possible) to make it look like this:

The cane will later be laid down on the bottom wire, and next years vegetation will grow upwards. Vines have the tendency to grow upwards (like all plants…) so its important to make sure you trim the vine down so the growth is coming from as low a position as possible. This way your vines will stay the same height from year to year.

On my days in the vines I’ve been starting work at 9am, but even at that time its still pretty chilly in the vineyards…

… but it really warms up in the afternoons. In fact, yesterday afternoon I worked in just a t-shirt! Overall the weather has been fantastic, which I’m really thankful for. Nothing worse than working in a vineyard when its raining, and I’ve never even tried working in the snow!

The second big activity was the “Portes Ouvertes,” or open door event, we had at the winery last weekend. Every year a local artist comes to Domaine de Borie Vieille and sets up a “gallery” in the winery with their art. Many producers of local products, like apple juice, pâté, or fritons de canards, also participate and have their products on display. On Saturday and Sunday the winery was open from 10AM to 7PM, and people could come to enjoy the art, taste our wine, and taste other local products. And, of course, they could buy some too. I really liked the work of the artist who came this year, and I had a great time transforming the winery into a gallery. Its really a fun idea to form a collaboration between many different markets for an event like that. And, we had a great turn-out!

The winery before our preparations…
… and after!

Aside from the work aspects of my internship I want to make sure I also take a moment to mention how utterly fantastic my host family here has been. They are so kind and made me feel right at home, like I’ve lived here my whole life. They included me in all their family activities and really did much more for me than they had to. They even gave me two books about Gaillacois wine to remember my time here by!

Of course just being in France is incredible, but your experiences aren’t just about where you are, but also who you’re with. I think the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made will stick out most in my mind when I look back on this trip in the years to come. So, to my host family, merci encore 🙂

So, that’s about it for now! I will work tomorrow, and early Friday morning I am heading to none other than Paris! I didn’t think it seemed right to live in France for almost 7 months and not see Paris, so I’m taking my last week in France to relax and explore the city. I am lucky enough that both my mom and a friend from home will be meeting me there, and we’ll take on the city together! Such a dream come true. I will be writing more about it soon!

Until next time… à bientôt, mes amis!

Can’t Whine About the Wine! Study Trip to Alsace

Salut mes amis!

In my last post I promised I would explain my study trip in Alsace soon… so, here it is!

Last week I went on a study trip to Alsace with about 30 other students from ESA Angers. Alsace is about a 10-hour bus trip from Angers, so Monday and Friday were purely dedicated to driving to and from the region… which was not my favorite. BUT, once we got there it was well worth it.

Alsace is a wine region in the north east of France on the border of Germany and is best known for growing cold-climate white grape varieties and producing aromatic white wines. The 7 typical grapes grown in Alsace are Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sylvaner, and Muscat. As the region is very close to Germany it has a lot of German influences in language, food and culture.

On Tuesday morning we had an introductory presentation about Alsace and it’s wines at the Comité Interprofessionel des Vins d’Alsace and a short tour of the Biopole IFV/INRA research center. After our lunch we had about an hour free before our next visit at a wine co-op, so we arrived at the co-op early and walked around the small village it was located in, called Eguisheim. That walk was definitely one of the highlights of the trip – the village was so gorgeous, it felt like we were in a movie!

The architecture was absolutely gorgeous!
In the center of the village!

We also took the opportunity to try something I had never seen before, vin chaud, or hot wine. At first I didn’t think this sounded very appetizing… why would anyone want to drink wine hot? But then I learned the wine has spices and fruit added to it, like cinnamon and oranges. I gave it a shot, and I ended up really liking it! It can be made from both white and red wine, but I think I preferred the white.

After our walk we had a tour of Wolfberger co-op, which was really impressive. Their store was enormous!

So. Much. Wine.

That evening we all went out to the local Marché de Noel, or Christmas market, to look around and get something to eat. This was the second highlight of the trip for me – it was absolutely gorgeous there! We walked around the market to see all the different vendors, had some more vin chaud, and I got to try another specialty of the area – bretzles, which are basically large, incredibly delicious pretzles. I had mine with cheese and onion on it – yum!

Marché de Noel!

On Wednesday we had visits at Domaine de Léon Boesch (a biodynamic vineyard), another visit at the Comité Interprofessionel des Vins d’Alsace to see a presentation about sulfur use in winemaking, a visit to the Laboratoire Immelé, which manufactors winemaking supplies and does chemical testing for wineries, and a visit at Domaine Zusslin Valentin.

That night we ate at a local restaurant that served typical food of the area. I had a chicken pot pie-like dish with a salad – it was delicious! (Can you see a trend with the food here? Its always delicious!!!)

On our last day of visits we went to Cave de Turckheim, a very large wine cooperative, and Domaine Engel, whose owner is actually a graduate of ESA Angers. My third highlight of the visit was the tasting at this winery. Wine in France can be as inexpensive as a few euros or as expensive as a few hundred euros per bottle, but in general you can find good wines for around 5-8 euros. The wines at Domaine Engel were in the range of 10-20 euros, so they were slightly nicer than your average bottle. Because the owner is an ESA alum, and because he is a super nice and generous guy, he had us taste 13 of his wines! It was really incredible, and such an amazing experience to sit down and take our time tasting so many different great wines from the region. I really loved a lot of the wines we tasted, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to get to see the area and the wines it has to offer personally.

Some of you might remember that this is actually my second study trip during my time abroad – the first was in July in Italy, Hungary, and Switzerland. Spending several days in a row going to visits and doing tastings again reminded me of all of the things that can make tastings great, and also some things that make  them not so great. After four total weeks of visits and tastings I feel like a seasoned pro, and I thought this would be a pretty good place to share some of my tasting pet peeves. Of course, any winemaker willing to allow students (or anyone, really) to taste and learn about their wine is incredibly generous, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. But there are definitely some aspects that make tastings, especially several weeks of tastings in a row, much more enjoyable!

1. There should really be a spittoon. Fun fact, the name for a spittoon in French is a crachoir, which sounds much nicer to me… although the verb cracher does means to spit. Anyways, there should really be a spittoon out in order to really taste well, and I mean in a sensory analysis type of way. In an ideal situation there should be at least one spittoon for every four people. I’ve been to several tastings where no spittoon is provided, so there’s not only no place to spit but there’s also no place to dump your extra wine before the next one is served. So what do you do? Drink it all. And I promise, the tasting is not nearly as technical after 4 or so glasses of wine.

2. Don’t serve more than 5 wines during one tasting. This goes doubly for red wines. As I mentioned earlier, it’s incredibly generous for winemakers to share their products for free, and even more so the more wines they want to share. And, I always want to try as many wines as I can! But from a tasting perspective it becomes really difficult to make a good analysis after too many wines. Especially with reds – the tannins can definitely get to be too much. As an example, here are the notes from the last tasting we did Thursday for the first, tenth, and thirteenth wines.

1. Cremant d’Alsace 2011 Chardonnay, 9 €/bottle. 1st impression, nose – grassy, grape, citrus (lemon), slightly mineral. 1st impression, mouth – fantastically    balanced, not too much effervescence, nice acid, citrus fruit, very fresh, mineral. 2nd impression, nose – sweet but reserved, like honey.

10. 2012 Gewürztraminer, La Cuvée St. Michel, Kugelberg Rorschwihr, 10            €/bottle. 1st impression, nose – gewürztraminer. 1st impression, mouth –           gewürztraminer.

13. 2005 Pinot gris, Selection Grains Nobles, 20 €/bottle. Yummy, I like it!

Not a joke, that’s actually what I wrote. No one’s palate can handle seriously tasting 13 wines!

3. Don’t taste when you’re hungry. I know from personal experience tasting 8 wines at 3pm before having lunch makes for a very unpleasant experience, and a very unhappy Stacey. No one can taste properly if they’re starving!

4. Taste sitting down at a table with your own space. There are most definitely times to just enjoy yourself and talk with people when you taste wines, so this rule really only goes for serious tastings, or if you really want to record all of the information and all of your reactions. But if that is your goal, it’s really nice to have a place to sit and a surface to write on in order to do that.

5. There should really be some water available. Gotta rinse that palate!

Voila, my 5 steps for a pleasant and effective tasting experience.

Parlez-vous Français?

Salut mes amis!

So, here’s an update on what I’ve been up to: For the past three weeks I have been studying at ESA Angers for the last course I will take in France. This included a week and a half of lectures and a one-week study tour in Alsace. This school experience has been pretty different from my other experiences in French schools for one major reason – it was all in French. For those of you who don’t know, I have never taken a French language course and have learned what I know through self-study, conversation, and a lot of trial-and-error. I have a schedule for my semester abroad that usually lists the language of each course, but there was no language listed for ESA. So, when I arrived in Angers one of my first questions was whether the course would be taught in French or English. In the beginning I was told it would be partly in French and partly in English. This turned out to be very, very false. Maybe they told me that to make me feel less scared, but the course was 100% in French. At first this made me very, very uncomfortable, and I was really nervous. How could I possibly take a class about winemaking in French when I’ve never even taken a class about the language?? I felt really unprepared, like I was walking into a university calculus class never having learned addition and subtraction. But I figured I would jump in feet-first and just do the best I could with it, because that’s all I could do. Being nervous about it wasn’t going to help me. So, I thought, here goes nothing!

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t think I’ve learned very much academically during my time abroad. That’s not to say I’ve learned nothing, but being at each school for only a few weeks makes it pretty hard to get settled and really dive into a subject. But what has lacked in academia was well made-up for in life experience. I have learned a ton about different types of people, about street smarts, about language, about going with the flow, and much more. My time in Angers is a perfect example of a situation where I had to just go with the flow.

While planning my departure for Angers I asked the French administrators who are responsible for my program several times where I would be living, so that I could find out exactly when I was expected to arrive and could buy my train ticket. Just like plane tickets, train tickets get more expensive closer to the travel date, so it’s best to buy in advance. After sending three emails I still didn’t have an answer, and it got to the point where I had to buy my ticket without knowing where I would be living, or even if I would have a place to stay the first few nights. Normally this would make me really, really stressed out. But I just kept telling myself, do the best you can and it will all work out. There was no point in getting upset, because I had absolutely no control over the situation! All I could do was buy my ticket and hope for the best. Two days before my arrival I finally heard news that I had a place to stay. Step 1, getting there – completed.

Then there was, of course, the actual class. Taking a course completely taught in French was a huge challenge for me. I have learned a ton about the language during my time here and have become pretty comfortable with everyday conversation, but I am by no means fluent. Before coming to France I never realized how draining it could be to converse in a foreign language. All day in class I was concentrating really hard to make sure I understand what was said, and then if I needed to respond I had to think of a reply in my head, and then actually say it. Those things might sound easy, but in a foreign language they’re really not. Every day I would go home from class completely exhausted. And, my understanding of the material (and, more specifically, my comprehension of French) depended on many factors – how much sleep I had gotten the night before, how quickly or clearly the professors were speaking, the subject matter, and so on. Sometimes I understood almost everything that was said with ease. Other days I just had “off” days, and would understand next to nothing. On the days I couldn’t understand it was a real exercise in self-control to not let my frustration get blown out of proportion. Especially coming from an environment like Cornell, to sit in class and not understand the majority of what was said was truly infuriating. Sometimes I would get really upset with myself for not understanding. But when that happened I just had to take a step back and look at the big picture. The world wasn’t ending, I wasn’t dying, and nothing horrible had happened. If I couldn’t understand what that professor was saying it really didn’t matter in the long-term. I think this is a really useful skill for life – to let things you can’t control roll off your back and just move on. My time abroad has most definitely helped me learn to do that.

However, despite all of the challenges I faced in Angers, I have really enjoyed my time here. It’s always really tough in the beginning to validate each new part of my trip. When I arrive all I know is that I’m in another new city where I don’t know anyone, and I’m nervous and uncomfortable. But by the end after I’ve gotten comfortable I (almost) always think the anxiety of stepping outside my comfort zone was worth the places I got to see, the people I got to meet, and the experiences I had. Big risk can be lead to big reward.

A photo of the Château d’Angers. I spent a day there on my own and had a great time!
Gypsy, my host family’s cat, loves to hang out on my bed in awkward positions.
A photo from a walk in the Parc de l’Arboretum.
Dinner out with my host family… my first Japanese meal!

I have a lot to say about the trip to Alsace, so I am going to write about that in a separate post. The trip ended today and I just arrived back in Angers. Monday I will travel back to my internship in Gaillac, and just 11 days after that my program officially ends. I really, really can’t believe it’s almost over.

So, that’s all for now… à toute, mes amis!

The Solo Traveller

Last Spring when I was deliberating study abroad I imagined going to school in France would be a lot like going to Cornell. I definitely had my doubts about living 6 hours away from my family, and on move-in day I was absolutely terrified. I quickly learned that I had nothing to be worried about, though – within days I had met lots of new people, and there was so much going on during freshman orientation that I didn’t have time to miss my family and friends from home. That isn’t to say there weren’t some tough times, but the transition was almost seamless. In my mind I envisioned the transition from Cornell study to study abroad would be similar.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that there are a few stark differences between US university study and study abroad, particularly within this specific program, that make those two situations very, very different.

1. Studying at one school vs. studying at three schools. I have studied at Cornell for three full years. I have had the same friends, lived on the same campus, and even had some of the same professors, for three full years. Of course every semester is different, and I am still meeting new people and discovering new places at Cornell (from France!). But I have had ample time to make friends and develop relationships, explore and learn the campus, and understand my role there and the opportunities that are available to me. I know Ithaca well, I know the available methods of transportation, I know where the grocery stores are, I know where the best restaurants are, I know where the best hiking spots are. Fundamentally, I am very comfortable there.

ESA in Angers is the third school I have attended this semester. That means three new campuses, three new sets of classmates, three new cities to learn, three nauseating first days of school (if you don’t count the study tour over the summer, which came with it’s own firsts). In total I will have attended  two weeks of class in Toulouse, six weeks in Lyon, and three weeks in Angers. The upside is that I have met a ton of new people, and explored many places. The downside is that I only have a few weeks to make friends and get comfortable before I move on, and start with yet another clean slate. Every new school seems like a lottery – will I like the professors? Will I like the students? Will the students like me? I’m not trying to say it’s not worthwhile to travel and meet new people, I’m just saying it hasn’t been easy to be displaced so frequently.

2. Spending time alone. As I explained above, my life at Cornell is very established. As a consequence, I find myself with very little free time there. There is always more studying to be done, and if I’m not studying there’s always a meeting to go to, a team practice to attend, a friend to see, and so on. Due to the nature of this program I have found myself with quite a bit of spare time – much more than I am used to having. To most Cornell students more free time probably sounds like a huge perk, and there is definitely something to be said for taking life at a slower pace. But having free time within the context of this program is different than having free time at Cornell. On Cornell’s campus you could go hang out with friends, take the extra time to explore campus, hike in the gorgeous gorges, and so on. There are people you know, places you’re familiar with, to pass your time with. You’d be in a familiar, comfortable environment.

In France I have frequently found myself with free time in a brand new place where I don’t know anyone. Again, just like my last point – I’m not trying to say this isn’t worthwhile, I’m just saying it’s not easy. At first I had a really hard time with the concept of going out into an unfamiliar city where I don’t (comfortably/fluently) speak the language and hanging out on my own. It’s totally outside of my comfort zone. Coming from a life as busy as those at Cornell, and coming from an age where modern technology and social media allow everyone to stay connected to each other 24/7, at first I felt really, really lonely. It took a lot of courage, and self-encouragement, to get me to step out of the door and make my own fun and my own memories. And, it didn’t happen all at once. Even now I still struggle with the concept of going out to sightsee in a new city alone, and I have to give myself a mini pep talk before I leave.

That being said, I think it’s a very important life skill to be able to spend time alone. Constantly needing to be around other people or connected to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or what have you is like having digital shackles attached to your ankles. Sometimes it’s nice to be free to wander, read, explore, or whatever without worrying about what conversation, email, text, or Facebook posts you’re missing out on. I’d be willing to guess people didn’t struggle with alone time as much before the age of social media. As I practice more and more I’ve found that going out into the city to do something alone is only scary before I leave. Once I’m out, I usually have a good time. I can go where I want, see what I want, do what I want, at whatever pace that I want, and not have to worry about getting in the way of what someone else wants.

Example 1: Over the summer I spent many weekends on my own in Toulouse. One lazy Sunday I decided to check out the Jardin des Plantes, just to have something to do. Of course I was reluctant to go out on my own, but if I stayed inside one more day filling my time purely with Netflix and knitting I was pretty sure I’d go insane. So, out I went. Before coming to France I had never lived in a city, and I wasn’t super familiar with city parks. That morning I took the tram, then the metro, and then I walked a few blocks of the city to get to the park. In the middle of all of the pavement, traffic, and buildings I suddenly found myself in front of a gorgeous green landscape. At first I thought to myself, Oh my god, this is beautiful! What is it?? It took me a few seconds to realize it was Jardin des Plantes. I had pictured some grass, a few trees, and a few benches in the middle of the city, not large enough to block all of the traffic and such around it. What I found was an enormous landscape full of gardens with blooming flowers, rivers with small bridges, paths through the trees, and carnival-like games. Once I was inside it was like being in a completely different world. I still felt a little weird to be alone, but I had a great time that day exploring the park, reading on the grass, and just enjoying the views. A solo day well spent.

Example 2: Last Thursday I somehow found myself with no classes on a school day. Seeing as everyone else was at work or school, I decided to take the opportunity to visit the Château d’Angers. As I was headed out the door I told the son of my host family, who was home for a quick lunch before heading back to class, that I was going to see the Château. To that he responded, “But isn’t it sad for you to go alone?” “It’s okay,” I replied, “it will be fine.” I left the apartment thinking about how many times I have had to go out on my own over the past 5 and a half months because I had no one to hang out with, and threw myself a small mental pity party. I didn’t feel bad for myself for very long, though. I had a fantastic time exploring, reading in one of the gardens, eating a delicious meal in the Château’s restaurant, and exploring a bit of the city just outside the castle. In fact, I was glad I was alone. The experience was really special to me – like a bonding experience with myself.

3. Time alone = time to think. Another consequence of the nature of my program, and of spending time alone, is that I have had a LOT of time to think. Do I like my life? Do I like myself? What am I going to do after a graduate? What is my passion? What does life mean? Why has society created a meaningless mold and structure which every person must fit into, or risk being called crazy? I’m not even joking. I’ve had some super existential thoughts during my extended alone time abroad. It’s great to have time to reflect on what really matters in the world, and what I want in life. But it has almost become an obsession for me to think about how I am going to make my life meaningful after I graduate. I have spent so many hours deliberating graduate school, the field of science, the field of wine, and other completely unrelated fields. I have imagined myself in so many different careers, on so many different paths, trying to decide what would fit me best, what would make me the happiest. And… I still don’t know the answer. I’m in the midst of a quarter-life crisis! I definitely didn’t have this much time to think about life when I was at Cornell.

So, what does all of this mean? The point I am trying to make is twofold. First, this program is really different from most other study abroad programs and has presented me with a lot of challenges which I think have helped me grow as a person. Second, it has been really, REALLY hard. I’ve felt lonely, frustrated, angry, sad, and out-of-place on many occasions. I certainly haven’t felt that way the whole time, though. I have also felt happy, inspired, proud, satisfied, and a lot of other things too. A lot of what is said about study abroad is true – it’s the time of your life, you’ll always remember it, you’ll wish you could go back after you leave. I think this is all true, and I think study abroad has been a really important part of my college education. But study abroad isn’t always fun, and this particular program presents some serious personal challenges. I want to be honest for the sake of anyone in the future contemplating study abroad, or this program in particular.

In other news, I just started my classes in Angers… and they’re in French. Another new challenge. I’m still trying to get a handle on what’s going on, but I hope to write about my experiences within the next few weeks. So, thats all for now… à bientôt, mes amis!

Internship… take 2!

Salut mes amis!

As many of you know, my last internship didn’t end up turning out quite the way I had hoped for. At the end of the summer I left with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be returning, and I had already requested a new placement for October. After 6 fantastic weeks of classes at ISARA Lyon, it was time for me to return to the life of an intern for just 2 short weeks. My new placement is in Gaillac, about 40 minutes north east of Toulouse, at a winery called Domaine de Borie Vieille.

The vineyards at Domaine de Borie Vieille! (photo taken from http://www.borievieille-gaillac.com/index.php)

Before the sun had risen on Monday the 28th of October I was awake, packed, and headed toward Gare Part Dieu, the train station in Lyon. I enjoyed my time in Lyon immensely – it was the first place I really felt settled and at home – but it was time for a new adventure. After about 8 hours of travel, and almost missing the bus, I finally arrived in Lisle sur Tarn, where my internship manager, Pascale, came to pick me up. We immediately got along very well – she is really kind made me feel very welcome. She speaks to me mostly in French, but can speak a bit of English if I can’t understand. It’s a great opportunity for me to improve my French!

Pascale brought me to her lovely home, where we dropped off my things and had some lunch with her mother-in-law (fun fact, the term for mother-in-law in French is “belle-mère”, which directly translates to beautiful mother!). After a wonderful meal Pascale and I headed over to the winery, where I jumped right into the work. They were beginning to press the last of their macerating red wines, and I helped them transfer the must to the press, pump the juice to a tank, and clean the equipment. Unfortunately I didn’t get to take any pictures, but it looked like this…

Me in Napa Valley climbing into a tank to shovel out macerating must so it could be pressed!

…only more French 😉 For the rest of the week I worked on pressing the last of the reds, cleaning the winery after the press was finished, and preparing orders of wine to be shipped. During the week Pascale’s œnologue, or enologist, stopped by and I had the opportunity to taste all of the wines with them. I’m very impressed by the wines made at Domaine de Borie Vieille. They make a dry Chardonnay, a dry Muscadelle, a sweet Mauzac, a sparkling Mauzac brut, one rosé made from Braucol, Duras, and Syrah, and two reds, the Victorine, made from Braucol, Cabernet, and Syrah, and the Tradition, made with Braucol, Duras, and Syrah. They have all of their bases covered – red, dry white, sweet white, sparkling white, rosé, and red – and they are all extremely well-made. I was very impressed by the quality, as well as the size, of their repertoire.

The first Friday at this internship happened to be a day off for Toutsaint. Toutsaint is the day of “All Saints,” and is celebrated November 2nd. On this day many families visit the graves of loved ones to commemorate their lives, remember them, and to leave flowers. I spent both Friday and Saturday with my host family visiting grave sites to pay respects.

On Sunday my host family took me to a small nearby town called Puycelsi, which is in the “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” association, or the association of the most beautiful villages in France. Because it was a Sunday, and because the weather is beginning to get cold, there weren’t many other people there. We spent the afternoon exploring the streets of the town and reading about it’s history.

A view of one of the small chapels in the town
A small bookshop, “The Time to Read”
The town’s boulangerie
A small map of the town

The next week of work was spent similar to my first, mostly on cleaning and packaging wine. On Thursday, the day before I left, I spent the day in the vineyard pulling down wires to prepare for winter pruning. The other worker, Christophe, and I experienced all sorts of weather that day – rain, cold, warm, sunshine, rain, rain, rain… mostly rain. Christophe speaks English quite well and we had some nice conversations about reading, family, and the history of the region. I went back to the house that night feeling exhausted, but accomplished.

Early that Friday morning I departed for my final class in Angers. I have now been here for 5 days, and my course starts tomorrow. But more about that later!

À bientôt, mes amis!

I’m Bringing Amish Back… Yeah!

Can you even imagine if that was what the song really said? Oh boy… Actually, the Amish would probably not appreciate JT using so much modern technology, even to promote their ideals… but that’s a different story for another day. 😉

So, after that random introduction, let me preface the story I am about to tell with another equally random fact: I have never been a person that enjoys honey. I didn’t grow up eating it, and didn’t have any interest in trying it again once I started cooking for myself. Also, if you keep reading, I promise this will all make sense.

Now for the story: Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with some of my classmates to Bourdeaux (not Bordeaux!), where the family of one of our friends has a home in the forest.

Our utopia for the weekend!

We all had a literature review and oral presentation to prepare for the following week, and decided working together out in the country would be much more relaxing and productive than trying to work in the city alone. We arrived midday on Saturday, and spend the rest of the day typing away on our laptops. Upon waking up Sunday morning, I meandered out to the dining room to find fresh-baked bread, homemade jam, and local honey on the table for breakfast (a very typically French breakfast!). I had seen some of my friends eating toast with butter and honey on it, and decided maybe it was time I gave honey another chance. I sliced some bread, spread a little butter on it, and put just a small spoonful of honey on one end. I bit into it… and it was absolutely delicious! The butter and honey worked so well together… leave it to the French to discover that phenomenal duo.

As I sat in this lovely home in the woods, munching on my toast, I found myself thinking, I wonder how difficult it would be to keep bees… I had only discovered the deliciousness of honey on toast two minutes previously, and I already wanted to know how I could make some for myself! In fact, in my head I was working out exactly how I would someday find local grains to make bread, gather fruit to make homemade jam, and keep bees to gather my own honey so I could DIY this entire delicious breakfast spread on my own. And, as an environmentalist, I was considering all of my options so as to accomplish this with as many local ingredients and as little energy consumption as possible.

Anyone who knows me well will attest to the fact that this type of thought is not out of the ordinary for me. I am constantly wondering how I can cook/knit/create everything I use in my life on a daily basis. I like knowing where the things I eat or use come from, and what materials and energy went into their creation. Being in France has contributed to this further, especially when it comes to food. The French are very into “owning” their food by knowing where it comes from and buying local whenever possible. They support artisinal businesses that allow the stories of a person and place to accompany the food they buy. My viewpoint of agriculture and food in France may be slightly skewed, considering the fact that I have been studying agroecology with a bunch of tree-hugging, organic-loving hipsters (whom I love to death, I might add!), but it seems to be a general trend, even outside the agroecology realm.

As I sat at the dining room table considering my general obsession with creating everything I use myself with as little energy consumption as possible, my mind jumped, strangely, to the ideals of the Amish. They are notorious for their rejection of modern technology, among other practices. Some might see them as extremists, but I would be willing to venture that their carbon footprints are pretty low… maybe we should be giving their “extreme” ideals more credit. I never thought about environmentalism that way, but wouldn’t it be the ultimate display of love for our planet to reject electricity, cars, and all other modern conveniences that have allowed humanity to degrade the earth and it’s resources? Is it possible the Amish are the ultimate environmentalists?!?

Okay, so maybe I’m getting a bit carried away… but I think if we could all take a page out of the Amish book, and try to depend a bit less on the conveniences of modern technology that have led us to be so dependent on non-renewable resources, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. In a way, I think that’s why my mind is always working to come up with a way for me to DIY the things I use. I know it’s unsustainable for me to be relying on large companies to make something I could easily make for myself, with local materials, and with low energy consumption. And, just like curiosity killed the cat, I think convenience may soon kill the human… race. But maybe, as just one person trying to lessen my dependence, I can make a difference. I’ll never know unless I try!

À bientôt, mes amis 🙂

Home Away From Home

Salut, mes amis!

View of Lyon!

About three weeks ago I said “au revior” to my internship days (for now) and “bonjour” to the second city of France, Lyon, where I would soon be starting classes. Upon my arrival I was very excited to switch gears and get back to school, meet some new people, and explore a new city. As soon as I walked out of the train station I could immediately tell that Lyon is pretty different from Toulouse. For one thing, it’s most definitely bigger and more urban. For another, it seems to have a much larger and more accepted “international” culture. On my walk to my new apartment I even saw a bagel place! It’s nice to see appreciation of French culture alongside inclusion of other cultures, all within one city. As an international visitor it definitely made me feel more at home.

Bagel place!

A student from ISARA, the school I am studying in, kindly came to pick me up from the train station and help me find my way in the city. We soon met up with the woman from whom I would be renting my room for 6 weeks, who brought me to her apartment. It is situated just below Croix Rousse, very close to the center of the city. Lyon has a long history of silk weaving, and the apartment I live in used to house large silk looms. Because of this it has high ceilings and gorgeous, large windows. Its absolutely beautiful, with a great view of the city. I feel very lucky to be staying here!

The view from my bedroom window!

Exploring Lyon has been a blast. There is so much to see, so many places to eat, and there are always cool events going on. The city center has most of the larger, more widely known shops as well as a lot of restaurants, cafés, and bookstores. It’s also very close to both of the two rivers in Lyon, so it’s very easy to get to the water and walk along the banks.

Along the bank of the Saône River

Vieux Lyon is the old part of the city near the Saint Jean church. Along the cobblestone street you can find lots of small restaurants, many of which are “buchons” that serve traditional Lyonnaise food. There are also many small shops that sell books, candles, jewelry, and lots of other neat artistic stuff. Its a really fun place to explore and definitely has the old European feel to it.

Inside one of the shops in Vieux Lyon

Croix Rousse is another really fun part of town. Every day of the week except Mondays there is an enormous farmer’s market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, eggs, and pretty much any other food item you would ever need. The selection is enormous, and the prices are very reasonable. There is also a really nice overlook into the city there. A great place to spend a Sunday morning!

While in Lyon I have also had the chance to do a little traveling outside of Lyon. For instance, last weekend another Cornell student and I took a day trip to Geneva, Switzerland. It was absolutely perfect weather for the trip and we had a great time walking around and seeing the sites of the city. Because Switzerland’s economy is doing really well compared to the rest of the world, everything there is very expensive. Despite this, we couldn’t spend a day in Geneva without trying some Swiss chocolate… and it was definitely worth the price! Heavenly.

The Jet D’eau of Geneve!

Besides exploring the city, a good portion of my time has been spent in classes at ISARA Lyon. So far many of my courses have been more geared toward viticulture, and also toward people who do not have any background in the subject. Because my interests lie more in enology, and I have a lot of background in the subject, sometimes the lectures aren’t very interesting for me. But I still enjoy them a lot, because they have allowed me the chance to meet a lot of really great people. These courses are actually for a Master’s program, so all of my classmates are older than I am. They all are very well-travelled and have a lot of interesting stories and life experience, so it has been a pleasure to get to know them. We recently all participated in a week-long excursion to the Luberon region, where we were doing fieldwork and working on group projects. The trip was a really great way to break the ice and get to know everyone on a more personal level. The weather was like summer, which made the trip even better!

I have enjoyed a lot of my experiences abroad thus far, but I think living in Lyon has been my favorite. In other places I felt like a visitor, but in Lyon I feel welcome and at home. Part of that feeling is likely because I am much more adjusted to being abroad than I have been on arrival to other cities. Another part is probably that I have met a lot of really kind, welcoming people here. And the awesome culture of Lyon also definitely contributes. In just three short weeks I will have to leave, and it is going to be very hard. Lyon has stolen a part of my heart.

Some of the Roman Ruins of Lyon

I can’t wait to see what other adventures await me in Lyon and beyond… à tout, mes amis!

So much to see, so little time!

Salut mes amis!

One of the things I love about France is the individual personality of each place I visit. Every city, town, and village has something they are well-known for producing, some event they host every year, some artist who lived there… there is always something unique to see! People in France are also very into knowing where their products come from – food, art, household items… which I love. There is a real sense of personal connection that arises when you buy your produce directly from farmers, when an artist presents their work to you, and so on. A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to spend a weekend with my internship manager’s mother, who helped me discover a few new towns in Southwestern France and the unique attractions they have to offer!

On Saturday we first visited the town of Albi. Albi is famous for two things – the Basilique Saint Cecile, and the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. After a fabulous meal (which is, of course, the most important part of the day in France!) we headed over to see the church. It was stunning, with lots of intricate stonework that must have taken centuries to complete. Even though I am not an art buff, nor am I religious, I always love to see the architecture of old European churches. How these people could have created such large, intricate buildings with the technology of the time still boggles my mind.

Stonework inside the Basilique Saint Cecile

After exploring the inside of the church for a bit, we headed over to the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec to check out some of the art. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi and spent his childhood there. His parents were first cousins, and as a result Henri suffered from a genetic disorder and was physically crippled. Because he could not participate in many activities that kids his age were doing, he immersed himself in art. Upon discovering his talent, his parents asked a family friend to give Henri informal lessons in drawing and painting. He went on to study art under many mentors and spent the rest of his life drawing and painting. It was really interesting to see works from throughout his whole life in the museum, and to see how his artistic talent improved over time with practice. Henri’s most famous pieces of art were posters he created depicting the nightclub Moulin Rouge in Paris.

Next we went to Cordes, a very small fortified town to the northwest of Albi. I absolutely adore “practical” art, like pottery, jewelry, clothing, accessories, household items – pretty much anything created by hand that can be used on a daily basis. Cordes had dozens of shops full of practical art, with the artists sitting right there ready to answer any of your questions. Needless to say, I had a fantastic time exploring and appreciating the art for the afternoon.

Some artwork in a small shop in Cordes – I love the style!

On Sunday we made our way out into the Pyrenees to see the Fête des Fleurs in Luchon. Even though most businesses are closed in Europe on Sundays, many local shops were open and welcoming customers for the festival. We had a great time walking around and exploring the shops, enjoying the scenery of the mountains, and had some delicious sandwiches for lunch (even the street-food is incredible here!). After several hours of waiting impatiently, I was relieved when the festival finally began at 2pm. Many towns from around the area create a float completely out of wire and flowers, and during the festival the floats are arranged into a giant parade, complete with music and people from each town in costume! It was so amazing to see the floats each town had created, all of the beautiful costumes, and listen to the music from live bands. What an incredible experience!

One costume from the festival!
A float about winemaking, complete with a wine glass, a grape cluster, and a basket press!

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to travel and see these places. It was my favorite weekend during my internship, I absolutely loved it!

About a week ago I moved to Lyon to start classes… and I have to say, Lyon is so great I don’t ever want to leave! I will post again about my experiences here so far very soon.

That’s all for now… à bientôt, mes amis!

My Internship Experience

Salut, mes amis!

I know I haven’t written in quite some time now… and for that, I apologize! It has been a hectic 4 weeks for me, but I have learned a lot and I am excited to share my experiences with you.

So, it turns out study abroad isn’t always perfect. Who’d have thunk it? Luckily, sometimes you can still learn new things even if your French life isn’t consisting solely of berets and baguettes like you thought it would.

For the past 4 weeks I have been interning on a small family winery in Gascony. When I arrived I was so excited to meet my host family and start working! I had outlined in my study abroad application that I really wanted to spend a lot of time connecting on a personal level with my host family – I wanted to learn to cook French food, I wanted to explore the area with my host family, and most of all I just wanted wanted to learn about French culture from people who would know it best. I had expected that my host family would want the same, and would want to spend time introducing French culture to me. As it turns out, my host family consists of a young man (who speaks English) and his father (who does not). During the week they live in a beautiful home next to the winery. However, the winery is in a very rural area, and both the son and his father grew up in Toulouse (a nearby city) and are very used to city life. So, both of them travel every weekend to Toulouse, a 2 hour drive, and live in separate flats. Upon my arrival I was informed I could either stay at the winery on weekends or I could travel with my internship manager’s father to Toulouse to stay with him.

At first I was a little surprised – this was not the typical French family I was expecting to live with. I was with only men, living mostly separate lives, only under the same roof on work days. But how could I knock it when I hadn’t tried it yet? So I decided I would welcome this new experience with open arms and just see what happened.

However, as time went on I quickly began to realize that my dream of an interactive, educational host family experience was not going to play out the way I thought it would. Both my internship manager and his father are very kind people and have provided me with the essentials. However, both men are incredibly busy and do not have much free time to spend with me outside of work. This essentially leaves me to my own devices on nights and weekends. Additionally, all of the administrative work for their business is conducted in the house we live in. It turns out living and working in the same place with the same people can be very, very stressful. Conversations about problems within the business tend to come up at improper times, such as at the dinner table. It’s hard to relax at home when people are constantly calling the house to talk about work, people are always showing up at the house to talk about work, and the two co-managers are always there and have to respond, no matter what time it is, no matter what they were doing before. Its hard to even have a conversation in this type of environment, let alone spend quality time exploring a French lifestyle. Not a pleasant home life for anyone.

Additionally, French men are known for having a bit of a… temper. Unfortunately, in my case I have found this to be true. Even though my internship manager and his father are both very kind people their workdays and conversations with each other tend to include a lot of yelling. I have also been present during a few angry outbursts. Let’s just say when you are alone with your internship manager and a palate of wine falls over, and your internship manager proceeds to scream and kick boxes of broken glass, it’s hard to know what the most appropriate response from the intern is.

All of my bad feelings about my experience at this internship culminated in one unfortunate weekend when both my internship manager and his father left to see friends and could not bring me along. I spent 3 days alone at the winery with no one but their dog, Hello (Lolo for short), to keep me company. This was by no means the end of the world, but at the same time it was not the reason why I had come to France. Being by myself in France wasn’t teaching me anything new (or so I thought at the time). I was very disappointed that I was seemingly wasting my time at what should have been a very enjoyable internship. I was all alone, in a foreign country, in the middle of nowhere, feeling like no one in the world cared that I was in this unfortunate situation. (This is super dramatic, I know… but it gets better, I promise!)

The first important lesson from this experience came when I finally decided to contact someone from CALS Abroad and tell them what was going on and how I was feeling. My contact responded almost immediately and agreed with me – this internship experience was not fulfilling what we had both hoped for in the host family department. She immediately took steps to contact administrators at the French host school to see if I could have my internship changed. So, important study abroad lesson number 1: make sure you keep your school informed, especially if something is wrong! They want you to have a positive experience, and they are the people (administratively speaking) who can change things to make that happen for you.

As soon as my internship manager came back from his weekend away he could tell that something was wrong. He immediately sat me down and asked me what was going on. Important life lesson number 1: I had to tell him exactly why I didn’t like living with him and his father. I had to be honest and confront the issue. It’s so common for people to avoid talking about these types of problems because it’s uncomfortable or awkward. But I had to be a self-advocate – I only have so much time in France, and it’s important that I have the best experience possible. And guess how my internship manager responded? He said he completely understood, and that the most important thing was that I was happy during my time in France. He said he could see why I would be disappointed living with him and his dad if I had been expecting a very interactive host family relationship. He also said if he had known he was expected to be a “cultural exchange” host and not just an employer he would have never have agreed to host me, because he knows he is too busy.

After confronting the issue with my internship manager we talked for a while about ways that I could get more of an interactive host family experience, especially on the weekends. He called his mother, who invited me to go to the beach with her one weekend. Then his mother called his cousin, who invited me to go explore Toulouse with her another weekend. By telling my internship manager what was wrong he could adapt his actions to help me have the experiences I had been hoping for.

Important life AND study abroad lesson number 2: you are in charge of your experiences, and you can’t always expect others to plan fun things for you. I had expected my host family to plan activities with me on the weekends so that I could learn about France and our area while spending time with them. As it turns out, I needed to be more proactive about planning my weekends since my host family can’t be there for me in this way. But that’s okay! Just because it wasn’t the way I expected it to be, doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy my experiences during my internship.

So as it turns out I have decided to stay at my internship until I move to Lyon in September as planned. Even though I am staying, I am still very glad all this happened – now everyone is on the same page and this way I can have a more successful experience.

So, that’s all the news I have for now! I basically wrote a novel, though… probably by the time everyone finishes reading it I’ll already be back in the States! But I want to be honest for the sake of any potential study abroad students reading this – studying abroad can’t always be perfect.

À tout, mes amis!