Anne's Adventure

Tales from my Semester in Paris

Reflections on my experience so far

In this blog post, I would like to illustrate how my life in Paris differs from my life in Ithaca.

Food

The dining hall near my dorm in Paris has decent, but sometimes bland food. The meal includes a protein (like chicken or fish), a vegetable, and a grain. I miss Cornell’s dining halls, as they serve a much greater variety of food, and the food itself is of higher quality. The milk at Cornell is also wonderful, and I have yet to see milk at a dining hall here. However, the cafeteria meals here are cheaper than at Cornell, as they are only 3.25 euros.

Outside of student food though, I have enjoyed meals a lot. A little more than a week ago, I attended a cooking workshop run by EDUCO. I am not talented at cooking, but our instructor told us very clearly how to make the food. For the entrée (which is the French word for appetizer), we put figs and blue cheese on bread and then cooked it so that the blue cheese melted. For the plat (or main dish), we made chicken that contained Comte cheese and was surrounded by bacon. We also cooked zucchini. For the dessert, we made a plum tart. The meal was delicious, and while we were eating, my fellow students and I engaged in fascinating conversations with our instructor. French meals are longer than American meals, as French people tend to take more time to talk and enjoy themselves at lunch or dinner.

Nature

In Ithaca, nature was a critical part of my daily life as a student. In my freshman year, I walked by a waterfall everyday on my way to class. I also participated in a Cornell Outdoor Education PE class that allowed me to backpack in the Finger Lakes region. The summer after my sophomore year, I swam by the waterfalls in two state parks, which was amazing. The nature in Ithaca is a calming force when a tide of academic stress hits you at Cornell.

A tree in the forest of the Jardin des Plantes.

In Paris, I cannot swim at state parks or walk by immense waterfalls. I do sometimes miss being surrounded by nature. However, I have found a good alternative: parks. One of my favorite parks is the Jardin des Plantes. The first time I visited the jardin, I entered the area of the park that contains a forest, and subsequently got lost. I wandered around the trails and eventually decided to walk on a circular path that led to a gazebo. The path was very secluded, and sure enough, I ran into a couple kissing. I kept on walking, and found that the gazebo was not accessible to the public. It seemed that the gazebo only served an aesthetic purpose, but I would have liked to sit inside it. Nevertheless, I eventually exited the forest, and visited the central area of the park, which contained a beautiful array of flowering plants.

The central area of the Jardin des Plantes.

Art

Central American art at the Louvre.

In Ithaca, I have not taken enough advantage of the art in the area. This is partially because I have a very rigorous course load, but also because I don’t make engaging in art a priority. I have visited the Johnson Art Museum, but only briefly. I also attended a very engaging play at the Kitchen Theatre Company that was a prequel to Peter Pan. I would like to do similar activities in the future.

In Paris though, I have seen art more regularly, as I have visited a good number of art museums. Awhile ago, I went to the Louvre to see its exhibit on art of Asia, Africa and the Americas. I gazed at art made by the Aztecs and other Pre-Columbian American civilizations that I was learning about in my history class. Paris has allowed me to see real-life examples of what I’m learning about in class.

 

The Paris Student Life

The French academic system is completely different from the American system. The facilities are not as luxurious and there is less academic guidance than in American universities. However, the system does have its perks and it has made become more independent.

French campuses

My second week in Paris, I went on a tour of three different universities in the city. One is called University of Paris 1. The campus is a tall concrete building that was built in the 1980’s. It is not aesthetically pleasing. The building’s entrance is also surrounded by a large horde of French students smoking.

University of Paris Diderot’s campus

Even though I did not fall in love with that campus, I quite like the university that I decided to take classes at, University of Paris 7 (Diderot). There is a park at the entrance of the main campus, and the two central buildings have interesting architecture because they used to be flour-making factories. Some of Paris 7’s buildings are a few blocks away from the central campus, so you have to walk by restaurants and other businesses on your way to these buildings. This makes me feel like my life as a student is intertwined with my life as an urban resident.

Transportation

This past school year, my journey to class consisted of hiking up the Slope and then taking a short walk to buildings on central campus. This took 10 minutes or less.

In Paris, I take the tram or the metro to get to class. The voyage takes 25 to 30 minutes. Even though it is time consuming, I have gotten to used to it. The tram I use plays a different tune at each stop it makes, which becomes quite endearing overtime. For example, when the automated speaker says we are at the “Porte d’Ivry,” a recording of a piano riff is played. This has been a good experience for me because I grew up always using cars to get around, and having a good handle of public transportation will come in handy in the future if I live in a city.

Class Enrollment

Students do not enroll in classes four months ahead of time in France like they do in the US. They enroll when the classes start. Students also have to go a secretary’s office to sign up for the courses. Even though this process is not as convenient as enrolling online, I think it was beneficial for me because it made me practice my French with the department secretaries.

I was enrolled in a biology class for one week. I went to two lectures and understood the material decently well. But then I went to the first Travaux Dirigé (which is essentially a discussion section), and I had no idea what was going on. I had a lot of trouble understanding molecular biology in French. I then talked to my academic advisor in EDUCO and learned that I can drop classes in the university. So I immediately went to the biology secretary, Pierre, and dropped the class.

I’m now enrolled in a fascinating history class instead, so it worked out in the end. The process was stressful, but my advice to prospective study abroad students would be to find classes you enjoy and learn how to work the system.

Voyage to Normandy

Two weeks ago, I voyaged to Normandie with my exchange program, EDUCO. I loved the trip and got to learn new facts about Normandy’s history, art and beverage production that might come in handy in a trivia competition one day.

Me surrounded by Monet’s flowers.

We started the trip early on a Saturday morning by riding on a comfortable charter bus to Giverny. This town is home to Claude’s Monet house and garden. I learned some fascinating things about Monet’s life, like how he woke up every morning at 5 am and then took a cold bath.

We visited the two components of Monet’s garden: one is a beautiful collection of flowering plants and the other contains a forest and a pond. Monet recreated this pond in his Water Lily paintings, which I had witnessed a week before in a museum in Paris. One of the best parts about living in Paris is that I can visit the places that shaped famous artists and writers work.

The port at Honfleur.

We visited Honfleur in the afternoon, which is a charming port town near the Atlantic ocean. We went inside a handsome wooden church in the town called St. Catherine’s, and even got to see part of a wedding ceremony. My friend and I loved the bride’s dress.

Our next stop on the road was a cider works. We learned about the process of how cider and calvados are made. Cider is fermented, but calvados requires distillation. I took organic chemistry last year, and even though it was painful at times, it allowed me to understand the process of alcohol distillation fairly well. I tried the cider, and it was quite good.

We spent the night in a Benedictine convent in Bayeux. The sisters were very welcoming and they made a yummy dinner for us. My friends and I shared a bedroom that was simple but comfortable. I’m going to consider staying in a convent again in future European trips.

A farm in Normandy where we ate lunch.

The next morning, we saw the Bayeux tapestry, which is AMAZING. It’s a very long tapestry that tells the story of the Norman invasion of England. It is more than 1000 years old, so I was surprised that it was still in good shape. I then went to mass in Bayeux cathedral, a grand Gothic church where the Bayeux tapestry used to be put on display once a year on July 14th. This was before the French revolution though, so the date coincidentally happened to be the same as Bastille Day.

We ate lunch that Sunday at a farm with a castle on its property. The farm was peacefully pristine. The meal was the best I have had in France. It was a traditional French meal with duck and beans. This was followed by a cheese course, which was followed by a dessert course featuring chocolate fondant. The food here has been surreal.

Our last stop was the American cemetery in Normandy, which is the resting place of many American troops who died in the Normandy invasion of World War II. It was important to visit this place as an American.

Getting Acclimated

This past week I have been adapting to various cultural practices in France. I learned about one such practice at a grocery store called Carrefour. My friend and I choose some items for our dorm rooms, and then went to check out. I heard the store employee ask me if I had a bag for our groceries, and I said no. I bought everything and then looked at the end of the check out area for grocery bags. Nothing was there. Not one bag, either paper or plastic, was visible. Knowing that carrying Bonne Maman jam, plates, silverware and an assortment of other items unbagged on public transportation was not an option, I looked back at the Carrefour employee. She glared at me and said that she had asked me if I needed a bag. It turns out I had misunderstood her! She looked as if I had caused her a great inconvenience.

I went back into the store and found out that the bags were located at the entrance to the check out counter, which is exactly the opposite of where they are located in the US. I weaved my way through a line of French people at the check out, and then purchased the bags.  This was very embarrassing for my friend and I, because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. In retrospect though, I’m happy I experienced this because it taught me a thing or two about grocery shopping in France.

I experienced another cultural difference on the metro. My friend and I were sitting calmly on the metro one evening, when I heard loud noises coming from outside the train. Suddenly, dozens of students ran onto the train, shouting and singing at a volume that made it impossible to ignore. These were French high school students, and they were chanting a celebratory song. Some of them carried beer. They filled the metro car so that us mature passengers felt boxed in. At first I was afraid, but then I realized that they were just kids. A friendly french gentleman sitting across from me said that he was using headphones to try to ignore the noise. The students eventually left the train at the same stop we used.

This was an incredibly surprising experience for me because I had never witnessed such a spectacle on public transportation before. My friend told me she thought the students were celebrating winning a sports game. I had recently learned in my exchange program that politeness is crucial in France, and yet the students’ rowdiness seemed to be the antithesis of politeness. I guess everyone lets it loose sometimes though. This event reminded me of students in the US tailgating before football games. The cultural differences fascinate me, but so do the cultural similarities.

Here are some photos of my time here so far.

First Day in Paris

Today my mom and I arrived in Paris in a large Airbus plane operated by Air France. My mom slept soundly on the overnight flight, while I slept for maybe 15 minutes. I usually do not sleep well the night before important events in my life.  I now run the risk of falling asleep while working on this blog entry, but I will continue writing anyway.

After leaving the airport, my mom and I rode a taxi to our hotel. The taxi driver turned on a radio station playing jazz music, and I gazed at my surroundings. I saw various French cars (of brands like Renault and Citroën), road rage among French drivers, and children playing on a small amusement ride, all while listening to Louis Armstrong, La La Land and other artists. The dwellings changed from brick, nondescript houses to gorgeous stone buildings. The jazz made the moment romantic, and I am glad my phone was still on airplane mode and thus did not distract me from my environment.

Me with Notre-Dame in the background.

In the late afternoon, my mom and I visited Notre-Dame. The cathedral has multiple chapels that line the side of the building, and these chapels contain gorgeous paintings and stained glass windows. At one point, my mom and I sat down in an area of the cathedral designated as “prayer only.” We are Catholic, so we wanted our visit to Notre-Dame to not only be historical, but spiritual. However, a few guests walked into the “prayer only” area and started taking selfies. I did not mind this too much, but it shows that cathedrals can be caught in between being places of worship and tourist destinations, and this combination is not always fully harmonious.

We ate dinner at a restaurant called Bistro des Augustins this evening. I ordered a potatoes au gratin dish with ham, eggs and herbs au provence. The dish was delicious but very hot, so I burned my throat in the process. It was worth it though.

À bientôt,

Anne

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