The Beginning… Again Friday, Jun 18 2010 

I know I said the last post was the last post… but I lied.

Here is the link to my new bloghome where I will be writing. I would be honored if you would come hang with me there on a new adventure!

If you are interested in studying abroad and would like a copy of the handbook I put together on HOW to study abroad at the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie, leave a comment and an email address, and I will get that out to you pronto. See you on the other side, and thanks again!!!

Kelli

Click!

His Glorious Undertaking

Merci Beaucoup Thursday, Jun 17 2010 

I have agonized over how to begin the end of this adventure. I have found that I have the same emotional ties over writing this blog in the same way as I would have with a book I don’t want to end. But like all good things, it must end, and as Fyodor Dostoevsky says in The Brothers Karamazov, “To a new life, new places, and no looking back!”

Thank you to GOD who was, is and continues to be faithful in spite of my faithlessness and loves you and I more than we can possibly conceive.

I owe thanks to so many wonderful readers, faithful in encouragement when I was down, sharing joy with me when I was ecstatic, praying for me when I was subject to fear.

Thank you to Molly DesRoches, who, in spite of my neurotic breakdowns, stuck with me through thick and thin and helped me to see the brighter side of things.

Thank you to my family who prayed, sent care packages, called and loved me from 6,000 miles away.

Thank you to my aunt and uncle who had chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk waiting for me when I landed in Minneapolis, not to mention a warm bed and boundless hospitality.

Thank you to the wonderful, amazing, intelligent, patient and kind teachers without whom I would never have the language skills I possess now.

Thank you to my classmates for making the world an exponentially smaller place.

Thank you to Laura Trude and Laura Vein (aka Laura the Chef) for coming to visit me overseas. It means so much to me to have such intelligent, beautiful women care enough to drop everything to visit.

Thank you to ALL the students at the Aumonerie, specifically Marthe, Francois, Thinh, Louis, Jean Christophe, Guillaume, Benedicte, Pierre and Jean Baptiste who made me always feel welcome and, with their love, helped me grow in my language as well as in my faith.

Thank you to Mary Elise Holmgren, without whom I’m sure I would never have had the social circle I now possess.

Thank you to the Arneberg-Larson grant for the generous scholarship which helped fund this adventure.

Thank you to my French advisor and instructor, Dr. Sarah Mosher and the Office of Study Abroad at the University of North Dakota.

Thank you to the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie for their help and accommodation.

And thank you, all of you, for making this the most enjoyable writing experiences of my career. The next adventure is just around the corner, and I am excited to share it with you. You can follow my writing at a new blog called “His Glorious Undertaking” and see where life leads me next.

“And now, unto Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless and with great joy– to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” Jude 1:24-25

Kelli Bren

Numbers Tuesday, Jun 15 2010 

While I sat in my bare little dorm room in Caen, I came to realize that almost my entire existence while overseas was dominated by numbers. Now that the experience is over, I thought I would share them with you so you can enjoy them too.

7,000- Number of grams of Nutella Hazelnut Spread purchased and consumed
5- Number of countries visited
240- Number of hours spent in a classroom
4- Number of times my financial skin was saved by a dispersion of money by the University
1- Number of scholarships received
18- Number of masses attended in Eglise St. Pierre
21- Number of days I thought I’d die of pneumonia
1- Number of beer types deemed remotely ingestible
5- Number of loads of laundry done over a span of 4 1/2 months
6,000- Number of  times I deeply desired a Swiffer
4- Number of care packages from Mom and Daddy
17- Number of cards from the USA
11- Number of awkward shirtless, gown-less chest x-rays taken (a group total)
10- Number of scarves added to wardrobe
2- Number of visible melt-downs in a classroom
100- Number of baguettes purchased
5- Number of blush-causing faux-pas
2- Number of visitors from the USA
4- Number of 8 € phone cards purchased to call home
16,000- Number of grams of pasta purchased from Carrefour
Infinity- When I’ll be hungry for pasta again
7- Number of minutes between trams
4- Number of teachers
1- Number of times caught pass-less on tram
2- Number of times the “stupid American” card was voluntarily put into play
70- Number of trips to a patisserie expressly for gluttonous purposes
55- Number of practice DELF tests
36- Number of seeds planted in hopes of flowers
0- Number of survivors
1- Number of WWII 550 KG bombs found on campus
40- Number of trains taken
5- Number of minutes it takes to get to class in a dead sprint
7- Number of pretend boyfriends accumulated
200- Number of tram rides
50- Number of times voltage converter was dropped and did not break
250- Number of handouts in class
1- Number of 50 € stamps purchased for taxation purposes
1,200- Number of pictures taken
40.5- Number of pairs of seins in Nice at the topless beaches
2- Number of trains taken in the wrong direction
22- Number of flavors of gelato tasted within a 24 hour window of opportunity
10- Number of times I was the recipient of random acts of a French stranger’s kindness
83- Number of blog posts
0- Number of regrets
Innumerable- Number of individual people to whom I owe thanks

[Please stick around for the finale post and link to my new blog coming very soon!]

Métropolitain Monday, Jun 14 2010 

There are few engineering feats I consider more impressive than the subway system in Paris. To people who have never taken a subway, it would seem like the epitome of scary: riding a very rapidly moving transport medium dozens of feet underground, pressing yourself uncomfortably close to complete strangers who do not share your language. But to those of us who have become veterans of the métro in Paris, it’s un morceau de gateau (piece of cake)… sort of.

The métro system opened in 1900, without ceremony. It has expanded to 16 lines today, carrying 4.5 million people each day and over 1.4 billion people annually.

The two Lauras and I left Paris on June 9th during rush hour in Paris. Our last stop before getting to Charles de Gaulle Airport was taking the RER, a more expensive commuter train that runs through and around Paris. Thousands of people take the RER every day. What these thousands of people do NOT do is carry every belonging on their person. They MAYBE carry a briefcase. I, however, was not holding a briefcase–I was holding 1) a giant rolly suitcase that was emblazoned (embarrassingly) with AMERICAN TOURISTER, 2) a royal blue backpacker’s bag that towered over my head by 10 inches and 3) an Eddie Bauer backpack that made me look like I was pregnant with quadruplets.

When we got to the RER station, the Lauras and I were at the cusp of success–the only thing left to do was board the train and get to Charles de Gaulle Airport. But when the train approached, O LA VACHE (holy cow!), every Parisian was ON the métro. I didn’t care. I was French enough to fight my way into the train and stand there, the width and bulk of at least 3 Parisians, praying that I wasn’t going to get trampled. The train screeched to a halt, the first batch of people swarmed off, bumping into each other and scattering like sheep. I plowed ahead, and that’s when I heard a howl from in back of me. Laura the Chef couldn’t get on the train. There simply wasn’t enough room for her! As the train started moving, I craned my neck to see her, and the doors started to close, menacingly.

“LAAAAURA!!!! TAKE THE NEXT TRAAAAAAAIN!!!!” I bellowed, throughly American in my volume and desperation, while I saw the mass of Laura the Chef get pushed to the wayside by people.

As Laura rapidly planned which train to take to Charles de Gaulle in absence of the one in which I was currently being smushed, she witnessed a woman trying desperately to squeeze herself into the tin of sardines that the métro had become by this point. The doors would not completely shut, however, so someone began to pull her out of the RER. But horrors! The doors began to close again and at the same time, the train began to move so that the woman was trapped between inside and outside the RER. At the last minute, she freed herself and pulled away from the train which, along with me and Laura T, sped away toward Charles de Gaulle Aéroport.

It couldn’t get worse, I told myself. What I didn’t realize was that when Parisians have to get somewhere, they don’t care if there are walls in their way. The walls had better move or they’ll get mowed over. The same thing goes with a woman laden with every personal belonging, clinging cat-like to a center pole in a moving subway, sweating profusely by this point. If the woman doesn’t move, she will get jostled and body-slammed until the wave of exiting people ends and the ENTERING begins. I have a tiny idea of what someone who is looking smack into a tsunami might feel: when you are facing a sea of Parisians on a rush-hour RER, nothing passes through your mind except, “ah non, here it comes!” and you brace yourself for impact.

To make a redundant story short, after two stops (which doesn’t sound like a long time but it truly is an eternity), most of Paris got OFF the RER, and I was left with the rest of the sweating people, lugging equally obnoxious baggage off to Charles de Gaulle and their flights. Looking back, it’s rather dream-like. I’m not sure how I got on the métro, off the métro or even had the ability not to get robbed. But somehow, not only did I manage to live through the RER experience, but I lived through the airport experience, the flight experience and the counter-culture shock experience when I got home.

When it comes down to it, the crazy Parisian métro is just one more little hurdle, and when I sat down at my aunt and uncle’s kitchen table with a giant plate of chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk, I forgot all about my trials and relished being home and being American.

[I have two more posts to share with you. Stick around for the goodbyes and thank yous!]

To learn more about the métro and it’s fascinating history (and to see a map!!) click here.

I Can Ride My Bike With No Handlebars Tuesday, Jun 8 2010 

Did you pack your Chucks along with your Gucci talons (high heels) from Monaco? Good deal! Because now, instead of promenading along the gilded streets of Monaco, we’re off to Dijon, where the famous mustard originates, the wine flows more freely than water and the tourists get sloshed every day (because they can!)

Countryside near Dijon, France and beautiful vineyards (or as Laura would say, "wine fields!")

Armed with a lot of water, and good shoes, the two Lauras and I took a train from Dijon (which seemed wrong, since we had just arrived in the city less than 24 hours earlier) to Beaune. Beaune is the capital of the Burgundy wine-producing region, and although nearby Dijon is much larger, Beaune is largely unspoiled by gawking tourists and remains blissfully picturesque. It boasts a “smashing Saturday market,” so after renting bicycles for the day, we wandered to the market, and “smashing” it certainly was!

Me and my bike!

We bought fabulous mustard seed-coated formage (cheese), a twisted baguette, sweet tomatoes and the rest of our yummy picnic lunch.  Packed with our pique-nique lunch, we embarked on a 24 kilometer trip to Puligny-Montrachet where some of the world’s foremost Chardonnay is produced. We explored on our bikes via rolling, sweeping hills and zipping down and around the old streets of picturesque villages and gazing at the zigzagged rows of vines on either side of the roads.

A column naming the vineyard's owner and city of origin

Vineyards.... and a horse and plow!

Baby grapes...

Everything was smooth riding (with the exception of some huffing and puffing up some hills) until the moment where Laura T thought it would be a good idea to tumble, headlong, off her bike and on to the pavement, effectively scraping herself in several places and scaring Laura the Chef and I silly. But what a trooper she was! After getting bandaged up (along with popping several painkillers), she hopped back on her bike and away we went.

My Lauras, just before Laura T had a close encounter with the pavement.

The fateful road... and a wicked rough hill to bike UP. (A moment of silence, please, for Laura Trude's skin.)

When we reached Puligny-Montrachet, we were tired. Some of us were sporting abrasions, others were sporting awesome sweat stains and others were regretting the giant 1.5 liter of Coke she had purchased earlier (It turns out that Coke is heavy not to mention NOT thirst-quenching!). But none of the above were going to stop us from tasting the world’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir!

Wine tasting (and spitting bucket in background). In case you didn't know already, you don't DRINK all the wine in a tasting. You unceremoniously spit it OUT, right in front of everyone. Counter-intuitive? Yes.

So we signed up to taste (NOT GULP!!!) wine while we lazily soaked in the atmosphere of the Burgundian countryside. That night, back in Beaune (and still sweaty and somewhat bedraggled by this point), we had a delicious meal of Boeuf Bourguignon, regional wine, cheese and exquisite dessert.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Pretty Laura the Chef at a great dinner in Beaune!

By the end of the day, when we removed our Chucks (not our Guccis!), we were exhausted: physically and emotionally. But I think it is safe to say that it was my all-time favorite day of this last fling in France.

Boeuf Boeurginon

To learn about Pugligny-Montrachet, click here… and then get a corkscrew and a wine glass! Chin! (Cheers!)

To see the surrounding area of Dijon and a map of the route we took biking, click here.

Remember to check out Laura the Chef’s blog! It boasts a great new post about our Ice Cream Overload in Nice from a few days ago!

[I have 24 hours left in the country and only a few more blog posts before I say farewell. Stay tuned for the final installments!]

“Deo Juvante” Monaco Sunday, Jun 6 2010 

I hope you packed your Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino and Marc Jacobs, because we’re off to Monaco, a tiny principality of France and the world’s second smallest country! Here, appearance is everything. The rich foreigners strut down the street and the Ferraris are more like red streaks dashing down winding roads, dodging gawking tourists. The high rise condos shoot into the crystal-clear sky and the water sparkles in the sunshine. Giant yachts glide, phantom-like, through the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The serene Mediterranean Sea, as seen from overlooking one of the old city walls, near the Museum of Ocean Sciences

Mmmm! Ferrari! Outrageously expensive, brand-new sports cars run around Monaco like Chevy 4x4s in North Dakota.

Monaco is less than a mile square although it hosts a population of 33,000. Monaco’s population is unique in the fact that its natives are of the minority. The majority is made up of French, followed by excessively wealthy foreigners who flee to Monaco to enjoy its lack of income tax. The government gets its due when it comes to real estate taxation and employer’s taxes. Almost half of the income from the people goes to the state, and the city reflects the income nicely. All buildings are perfectly kept. No graffiti is seen, no cigarette butts litter the ground, and everyone seems keenly aware of the beauty of their surroundings and strives to keep it beautiful.

Highrise Skyline of Monaco

The country has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297 when Francesco Grimaldi, disguised as a monk, captured Monaco and became its ruler. Monaco is currently ruled by sovereign Prince Albert II, Europe’s “Most Eligible Bachelor!” The castle, modest yet beautiful, is perched on a jutting-out of land, overlooking the beautiful Côte d’Azur.

The beautiful Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco

Prince Albert II’s mother was the famous American actress Grace Kelly who was tragically killed when her sports car careened off of one of Monaco’s cliffs. Princess Grace was married and buried at the same beautiful byzantine cathedral, right in the castle of Monaco’s walls.

We wandered around, aware of the lack of beggars and litter. It was other-worldly how clean, sparkly and expensive the country was. We got sleepier and sleepier in the sunshine that continued to warm our shoulders (and according to Miss Vein, “cook us”) as we walked up and down the terraced streets of Monte-Carlo (the city in the country of Monaco).

We wandered to the world-famous Monte-Carlo Casino, the place that gives Monaco its nickname “The European Las Vegas.” The interior and the exterior of the casino were as grand and obscenely rich as everyone who travels and lives in Monaco. Gilded, vaulted domes, floor to ceiling mirrors and plush, velvet curtains hung on every wall. I wondered if the Louvre had changed cities and planted itself in Monaco instead of in Paris.

Monte-Carlo Casino!

Laura the Chef, who had never gambled before, decided that she had 5 extra euros that needed to be spent and fed them to a slot machine. 25 minutes later, the three of us walked out of Monte-Carlo, Laura bearing the winnings of the day, a whole 5.60 euros. Sixty centimes (cents) wasn’t getting us any closer to a Ferrari or even some posh Gucci shoes, but at least our luck followed us to Monaco that day!

Me, overlooking the beautiful Côte d’Azur, Monaco.

That night, officially exhausted, we hopped back on a bus headed for Nice and our amazing hotel. We bid Monaco farewell, promising a speedy (and fashionable!) return, and were rocked two and fro, gently, as the bus wound along the twisty roads of the Côte d’Azur.

To learn more about the beautiful Principality of Monaco, click here, and click on the English option!

Look at Laura the Chef’s latest picture post about the nicest, sweetest things in France!

To see the extent of the Côte d’Azur region in France, click here.

Nice la Belle Wednesday, Jun 2 2010 

I’d like to have you come along on the last 9 day adventure that Laura Trude, Laura Vein and I have embarked upon! Grab your camera and your valise, and hop a TGV train from Paris to Nice, France!

Nice, France! (Laura Trude, left, Laura Vein, right)

We left Paris after spending two touristy days in the big city and headed south to where lavender grows in purple fields and the Mediterranean kisses the red earth. Nice, France is one of the oldest settlements in the world, dating back to prehistoric times. It is the capital of the French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur (Azure Coast). It is nestled right on the Mediterranean coast, and the water is aqua-blue. It rarely rains and the weather is so pleasant that you almost can’t fault the sunbathers sprawled topless all over the pebbly beaches.

The foamy, aqua-blue Mediterranean, rushing up on the pebble beach

2010 is the year that Nice celebrates its 150th anniversary of union with France. Before it was a French city, it was an Italian dominion. For that reason, there is an extremely strong Italian influence that runs through the city that boasts “home-made pasta!” and “Tiramisu!” English runs rampant in Nice, but the locals roam the streets too, parading around in quintessential French style on bicycles, armed with freshly cut flowers, high heels and fashionable eyewear. Add a scarf and a cigarette, and there couldn’t be anything more a la Francaise in a former Italian dominion.

Me, in the Mediterranean!

The culture is a very unique melage. There is a stark difference in the absence of beggars and homeless individuals in Nice versus Paris. The gypsies are gone, and no one asks if I speak English. The streets are much cleaner and the people are not as flippant. Men do not look oggle blonde women, much to my joy! In the tourist-riddled squares, full of hotels, cafes and little shops, there is a unique arrangement of local people, tourists and homeless. It is genuinely hard to distinguish an upscale street from one that is a little sketchy. All the buildings are painted different colors, and every set of windows has a wrought-iron balcony and shutters. People hang their washing out on clothes lines everywhere, which doesn’t take away from the beauty of the city but rather adds a whole other dimension to it.

Old Nice, glowing from all the lights

Tiny, winking Christmas lights swing in the soft ocean breeze from balcon a balcon (balcony to balcony) and from the awnings stretched taut over the outdoor cafes that seem to pour from every niche. Plats du jour (menu of the day) are displayed on chalkboards, written in curly writing (that every French person seems to know how to produce) and waiters lurk, ready to pounce and show you to a table. The fountains splash water, reflecting the sunlight by day and the lighting by night while wandering minstrels play romantic classical guitar on the streets.

When the aqua water comes crashing up on the shore, the pebbles tinkle musically, rattling against each other. The small lights from homes that rise above the Mediterranean twinkle on the hillsides. While you slowly lick the ice cream purchased at a boutique that boasts 96 flavors, it’s hard to think about anything except how utterly peaceful you are.

Peaceful beach

To read more about the extensive history of Nice, click here.

To read the awesome blog of Laura the Chef (who puts some her beautiful photography from the trip on her blog!), click here.

[I have exactly one week before I return home. Until that time, stick around while I describe what I see from trains, planes and automobiles on this fun last-fling in France!]

Character Sketches Friday, May 28 2010 

Because the internet in my room is so unbelievably schizophrenic in its comings and goings, I have been forced, more often than not, to perch my tush on a cold radiator in an echoing lobby of a building desperate for a wrecking ball. The radiator is cold because about a month ago, just before the spring cold-snap, the management turned off the entire building’s heat.

But before they turned off the building’s heat, it was almost pleasant to sit on a hot radiator and visit with the pleusiers personnes (many people) who came and went through the lobby on any given night. I got creepy looks from some people, got blasted by feigned disinterest by others, and watched others using the lobby as a catwalk all in one evening’s comings and goings. The individual people of my building are more entertaining than almost anything else I’ve found on campus.

Over the past 4 months (because today is exactly the 4th “monthaversary” abroad!), Molly and I have made up nicknames for the people we see every day in the halls, and it is my distinct pleasure to introduce you to each of them.

Really Attractive Guy gets first place because he is the source of riotous giggle sessions and blushing. Really Attractive Guy gets his nickname from the fact that he is, in fact, REALLY ATTRACTIVE. Really Attractive Guy wears a man scarf (a scarf that North American men typically look on as painfully “metro”) and trendy awesome glasses. He wears Star Wars tee shirts printed in Arabic. He has a crazy Norman accent that for the life of me I cannot understand. Most of our conversations go something like, “Salut, ce va?” and then he replies with a heart-melting smirk, “Oui, ce va, merci… [incomprehensible middle bits]… ce soir?” Which translated essentially means, “Hi, how’s it going?” and then he replies, “It’s going, thanks, [Norman accented mumbo jumbo]… tonight?” which I usually translate into him asking me what I’m doing on that particular evening. Most conversations leave me grasping for every language ability I own and listening closer than I ever have to anyone else.

Molly’s neighbors take 2nd place collectively. “Guy Who Showers With Girlfriend” lives on one side of her and “Irwin” lives on the other side. Irwin plays music by Nine Inch Nails and Def Leppard at all hours of the day, and he has shaving habits I believe include a Weed-Whacker. Guy Who Showers With Girlfriend explains itself and the only further explanation for him includes the distinctly obnoxious, whiny and amazingly wall-penetrating voice of Girlfriend.

Third Place belongs to Really Smily Polish Girl who sits on a red cushion instead of the radiator downstairs and has a smile that makes her whole face perk up into little smile lines. We exchange French: hers really good and mine scraping by with lots of pantomime and giggling.

Motorcycle Guy gets 4th place. He saunters through the lobby, holding his shiny helmet like a guy who has had too many dork jokes handed to him in middle school. I’m quite sure from his anti-eye contact aloofness that he has decided to turn over a new awesome leaf and ride a really rad motorcycle that “les filles will vraiment dig” (chicks will really like). The problem, of course, is actually talking to said chicks.

Messy People get 5th place and their own paragraph. They are a group of people who, after preparing something in the kitchen that smells painfully delicious, leave all their trash all over the kitchen and then the cleaning lady (because she has the power to do so) locks the kitchen with all the trash hanging outside the door in a bag, smelling nasty. Until the trash bag disappears (by magic or not), la cuisine remains annoyingly locked. Messy People leave their shampoo bottles in the shower too and the cleaning lady leaves angry notes on the showers threatening to lock the salle de douche (shower room) if Messy People don’t stop being messy.

6th place goes to perhaps my favorite person: Really Nice Guy. Really Nice Guy is a guy who, amazingly enough is really remarkably nice. He is the kind of guy who gets up from whatever he is doing at the moment and gives you a bisou. He offers to share his pizza with you. He is intently interested in what you’re doing, where you’re going and if you’re Molly, what your email address is. Really Nice Guy is so nice that he introduces you to his other fellow Algerians and creates a really nice awkward social interaction. It’s all really nice when you’re talking about Really Nice Guy.

But in spite of all of their misgivings, all these people in my building are fantastic. They’re hilarious! They’re awkward! They’re unforgettable! And along with the two giant suitcases I will be hauling out of my building Sunday, I will be carrying the memory of these people with me.

Saying Bonjour et Au Revoir Tuesday, May 25 2010 

This part of the trip is always about what little things need to be completed last-minute so that the experience of studying overseas finishes with such a smooth ride that you almost don’t recognize its finale. I seem to have accumulated an enormous list telling me what last-minute things I need to do before I leave Caen. Who do I need to visit? What words of encouragement do I need to speak? How in God’s green earth am I going to fit everything in my suitcase??!?

Within the last week, I have been saying goodbye to people here who I know I may not see for the rest of my life. It’s a difficult situation because I deeply love my friends in France and have been blessed excessively by their presence in my life these past 4 months.

When my friend Martha asked me to play violin last week at the Feast of the Pentecost Mass and consequently her confirmation service, I couldn’t think of another way to be a bigger blessing. I met Martha the very first Sunday in Caen at Eglise St. Pierre. Molly looked at me like I had lost the last remaining marble when I told her that I was going to thank the pretty violinist for playing in church. I had no idea what to say to Martha! I stumbled through bad French while she looked on at me, amused, and then asked in a perfect American accent, “Are you American?” My jaw must have hit the floor because she laughed and we instantly became friends. She introduced Molly and I to the “other girl from Minnesota,” Mary Elise Holmgren. Mary Elise, in turn, introduced us to many people from the Aumonerie, the Catholic student organization that has been the source for so many wonderful conversations and friendships.

My sister, Marthe, whose friendship has shrunk the world by a whole ocean.

"The other Minnesota girl," Mary Elise, who helped Molly and I make so many irreplaceable friends.

Friends at the Aumonerie house during a BBQ

Since that time, I have made friends with people from all over the world, on every continent and from every financial, educational and even emotional status! I have laughed with, cried with and been angry with people. With my friends, I have giggled until my stomach muscles begged for respite, been introspective and frightened out of my mind. During this journey, when all else failed, we held hands and prayed. It has not been an easy time, but one that with faith and friends is far from impossible. I grieve to say goodbye to my wonderful friends from my classes, but know that they’ll always be close to my heart.

Preston Leslie and me at a cello recital in Abbaye Aux Dames.

Mary Elise, Molly and the birthday boy, Louis Guillotte

Me, François Cogez and Molly in the garden at the Aumonerie house

Today, I welcome one of two Americans friends to France for the last 14 days of staying in this beautiful country, rich with culture and sights to see. Laura Vein [“Laura the Chef”] is currently making her way north to Caen to see me while I struggle through the last little hoops of my education at the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie. While I pass my exams, she’ll be soaking in the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Caen… and then, it’s off to more exciting adventures when Laura Trude arrives on Sunday. We will be traveling from Paris to Nice, Nice to Monaco, Monaco back to Nice, and then Nice to Dijon. From Dijon we return to Paris and catch our respective flights. There will be many pictures, stacks of stories and many adventures.

Stick around while we wrap up this journey as friends!

Dispelling the Myths: The “American” Study Abroad Experience Friday, May 21 2010 

I have spent the morning reading my University of North Dakota colleagues’ experiences overseas this past year, and I felt ashamed that the one thing I have not conveyed to the general population is what Study Abroad really is and is NOT about. I feel compelled, as in any post, to teach my readers something about the system of studying overseas, culture or how to overcome obstacles. Therefore, I give you: dispelling the myths of the “American” studying abroad experience.

I will be completely honest and say that when Study Abroad told me that the process of applying to another college, getting a visa, booking plane tickets, organizing classes, rearranging my courses at UND and bracing myself for culture shock would be EASY… I believed them. I know they meant well, but they lied to me. It’s not easy. It’s excruciatingly difficult. The difficulty of studying abroad is what gives the Study Abroad advisors their jobs. If it were so ridiculously simple, I could have done the paperwork myself! Just getting on the airplane pointed toward my destination felt like a HUGE accomplishment!

Traveling is exhausting!

And just in case you didn’t feel like you accomplished anything by getting on an airplane where the pilot speaks your native language, the next step is even more worthy of a victory dance. The culture shock of studying abroad is nothing to skim over. You’ll recall my entry about the Culture Shock Ninja and his sneaky ways! I do not jest. He is very sneaky.

Culture Shock Ninja Weapons: 1 Kg of Nutella and a Spoon!

Study Abroad is many things, but it is not a chance for a student to go overseas for the express purpose of getting themselves sloshed every night and to wake up with a splitting headache.

Study Abroad is not about going to every country except the one you came to acquaint yourself with. If you came to learn a language and meet the native speakers, why go globetrotting? See the sights! Enjoy the culture! Drink the wine! Speak with the native speakers (even though their Normandy accent is almost impossible to understand)!

Studying overseas is NOT cheap. It does NOT cost the same as your in-state tuition. The end.

Too bad that's a 1000 Czech crown note and not EUROS!

Trains Trains and more Trains! They aren't always reliable, especially in France and the national sport of "Striking!"

Americans have the same warped perceptions of how “small” Europe is in the same way the Europeans have a warped perception of how giant North America is. It takes a very long time to get from point A to B via train.

Study Abroad IS, however, an experience of a lifetime. When I tried to wiggle out of studying abroad, the realization that I would never get another experience like this one struck me, and I signed on (with much fear and trembling!) for the bumpy ride.

Study of a language abroad is invaluable to acquisition. It takes seeking out the people with whom you do not share a common language outside of French and talking with them, stumbling through bad grammar and phraseology in order to convey your thoughts.

It is a way to shrink the world. You will find that you’re only a plane ride away from your family and just down the hall from the girl from Italy who’ll be your friend for the rest of your life. You may even be in the same CITY as your culturally-adopted family!

University Family

My new Brothers and Sisters

It is a time for growth: physically, mentally, academically and spiritually.

Studying abroad is a time to be flexible in your sleep schedule, your class schedule and your every-day comforts. It’s a time to let go of things you thought you absolutely need to live and see how it is to live like a true adventurer!

Study abroad is a unique opportunity to make lifelong friends, cultural adjustment, sacrifices, splurges and life-changing decisions.

So! With the truth before you, what will you do with your life? Where are you going with your goals, and are your goals used to bring glory to yourself or others? Are you ready for adventure? Are you ready to grow emotionally, physically and spiritually?

Go ahead, jump. Do something great.

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