The Guide to Study Abroad at l’Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie Monday, May 1 2017 

Preface: Please note that although this blog has (hopefully) been extremely helpful to many students by this point, I did study in France in 2010. Therefore, please take what is written below with a grain of salt, understanding that some of this information may be out of date. Do your homework, and do your best: the rest will just fall into place.



Bonjour tout le monde! This is a guide, written, prepared and edited by University of North Dakota student and post study abroader Kelli Bren. It has special emphasis for UND students interested in attending the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie’s Immersion Program, also known as the CEFE. This guidebook gives a step-by-step process for a successful first taste of studying in Caen. We’ll talk about everything from not panicing mid-advisement appointment to how to successfully deal with culture shock (and that doesn’t mean eating as much chocolate as your tummy can handle!) to where to get the best baguettes when you make it to France. It’ll give you the insider’s tips on getting tram passes, pinching pennies and securing that ever-important cell phone issue. Ready? Allons-y!


Chapter I

Where in the world do I start?

So you’ve decided to study abroad! Congratulations! Studying abroad will change the way you look at people, cultures, languages and culture shock. You’ll realize that the world is only as big as you make it. You’ll make life-long friends, eat fantastic food, see priceless landmarks and jaw-dropping sunsets. You’ll be stressed out, blissful and blitzed, and it’s all part of the great experience.

If you think you’re ready for a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience, then the first step is to talk to your French professor and academic advisor(s). If you’ve never taken a language course, talk to your academic advisor and see if he or she can help you get in contact with a languages professor who has knowledge of the UCBN (Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie) program. You don’t need to speak French to participate in the UCBN CEFE (Exchange) program! If you have taken French classes, it’s still very important to talk to your professor to see if study abroad is right for you. Ask them if you’d be a good candidate for study abroad and your academic career goals and dreams accommodate time abroad. If there was any time to ask questions about the UCBN program, this is it. Ask away! Your advisor and/or professor is there to answer any concerns or questions you have regarding your education.

The next step is to make an appointment with a study abroad advisor. You can find out who your study abroad advisor is through the Office of International Programs or your language professor. The Office of International Programs is there, just like your professor and advisor, to answer any and all questions you may have about studying abroad. It’s their job to make you feel at-ease about going overseas! Be ready to talk to them about your study abroad process by thinking of questions before your appointment and writing your questions down.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information presented to you at the initial appointment with the OIP. There are many proverbial hoops to jump through to study abroad and it is the OIP’s responsibility to tell you all the ins and outs of your program. But don’t panic! You’ll see it’s not impossible to do everything on time! This guide will help you, and remember, your advisor, professor and the OIP are there for you too!

The first thing to do in your extensive paper-trail is to apply to study abroad at UND. The paperwork for this step is very minimal and very easy to complete. The OIP will give you a checklist of all you need to do with the beginning paperwork. Follow the checklist and even more importantly, start early. The sooner you complete the checklist, the more at-ease you’ll feel with the process. Procrastination will only lead to frustration! Among the paperwork needed for acceptance by the university, you’ll need to pre-register to study at the University de Caen Basse-Normandie. Pre-registering is very simple, although you may find that the English translation lacking.

The next step is to apply to Campus France. Campus France is an enigma in the fact that you cannot very easily contact the organization and they do not very quickly return emails (if they return them at all!). Campus France’s website is rather confusing. Follow the directions given to you by the OIP on how to navigate Campus France and their website. There is a lot of information that Campus France will ask you to fill in on the website regarding your education and specific courses you have taken in the past (high school and college). Don’t feel obligated to be completely thorough (i.e. listing every course you took in high school) with your educational background. Also be prepared for a shaky English translation from the French version of Campus France. Write down any passwords and usernames you use for Campus France, because you will need your username and password for logging in sometime in the near future.

(Note: Because you’ll be working with a great many websites that ask for usernames and passwords, it’s a really good idea to write down every single password and username for each domain in a SECURE LOCATION. Don’t use Post-its or a scrap of paper or a gum wrapper! Start organized and stay sane!)

Now you will wait for the acceptance letter from your university. It ought to be rather rapid in its arrival, but if it’s not, don’t hesitate to ask someone about it. As soon as you get your acceptance letter from the university (which may be electronic), send a copy of your acceptance letter and a MONEY ORDER of $60 to Campus France. Do it RIGHT AWAY. The sooner your letter gets shipped off the better! Campus France does not accept checks, credit cards or cash. They only accept money orders! You can get a money order from your grocery store’s customer service counter or at the bank. It costs about a dollar to make a money order.

Campus France is based out of Washington DC’s French Embassy. After two weeks, if you do not hear from Campus France after all of your information has been submitted and your payment has been sent, CONTACT CAMPUS FRANCE via the French Embassy in Washington, DC. If your application is wrong in some way, they won’t process your application and decline to tell you. (Isn’t that nice of them?) However, if your application IS accepted, you’ll get a notification on your CAMPUS FRANCE EMAIL. Remember those usernames and passwords you’ve started to write down? Find your Campus France username and password, and find your acceptance letter in your e-mail on the website. They WILL NOT send you a paper copy of acceptance or send an email elsewhere. It will be in your Campus France email or not at all!!!

Campus France will give you a lot of information both after you’ve submitted your application and after they accept you. Write down everything that Campus France gives you number-wise. That way, if anything out of the ordinary happens and you need a number regarding your application, you’ll have it. In the meantime, while you wait for that acceptance email, let’s see what’s next.

By this time in the application game, you ought to have a healthy stack of papers, codes, appointment times, email addresses and many other pieces of paper you’ve had to accumulate for your various applications. At this time, it is a good idea to make several photo copies of each important document (Immunization record(s), birth certificate(s), Passport, proof of insurance, Study Abroad Acceptance Letter(s) from both UCBN and your university and so on). Photo copy absolutely anything you think may be important to a foreign government, even if you think it’s ridiculous. You never know when you might need an extra copy of your birth certificate!


Chapter II

“Are We There Yet?”

Getting your Visa and Going to Chicago (or your nearest French Consulate)

While you wait for your Campus France acceptance letter, go to the French Consulate website and apply to visit the consulate to get your visa. The consulate workers will be ready for you when you arrive, so just like visiting the dentist, you must make an appointment! Look ahead at least 2 weeks but no more than 1 month from when you applied to Campus France and make your appointment to get your visa in Chicago (or nearest consulate).

Like Campus France, when you make your appointment to visit the consulte, the website for the consulate will give you important numbers, codes and information. Be sure to save ALL of it in your secure document or folder in case you need the information in the future. It is obligatory that you go to Chicago (or nearest consulate), so factor the cost of this trip into your final expenses for studying abroad!

Here is a quick look at what kind of costs you might encounter as you plan your trip to the consulate.

Cost of getting to Chicago (or nearest Consulate)

Cost of hotel

Cost of food

Cost of taxi/metro system

Cost of sightseeing or any entertainment you’d like to take in while you’re in the city

In addition to the costs to GET to the consulate, be sure to factor in the cost to ship your visa BACK to you. The consulate requires a self-addressed first class priority shipping envelope to ship your passport and visa back to you. First class priority mail at USPS costs about $20.00. Get this envelope as soon as you can, and BRING IT WITH YOU TO CHICAGO along with all the right documentation! To make sure you have everything that the consulate requires, check, double-check and TRIPLE check the requirements listed on the website. If you show up at your appointment without the right documents, they’ll tell you to come again when you have the right papers! The consulate’s website regarding what paperwork to bring is conclusive, well-written and easy to understand. However, if you have any questions, you can contact the French Consulate directly or the OIP.

The French Consulate is very easy to find and the people are very accommodating. It’s located at in downtown Chicago. Take a taxi, the metro system, the bus or walk to the Consulate building, which is found one of many office suites in Michigan Plaza. Upon arrival, you must check in at the large front desk. Have your picture ID ready as they require an ID for your ticket for the elevators. Use your ticket to unlock the turn stall and look at your ticket pass for the floor number of the Consulate. Your parents are welcome to come with you as long as they have picture ID too. You can even show up early for your appointment! If you get confused, just ask one of the many guards stationed at Michigan Plaza. It’s a very official building with many embassies and offices, so there is a lot of security!

You’ll have to take a picture at the Consulate, have your fingerprints taken, give them all the documents listed on the website and pay about $70.00 for your visa. The appointment in its entirety takes about 10 or 15 minutes. The website says that it may take up to 21 days to get your visa back, but visas being back after only 8 days have been reported. Regardless, assume that yours will take 21 days to be shipped back to you.

(Note: Remember to save absolutely everything in paper form that comes with your visa from the Consulate! Bring it with you overseas because you’ll need it for later on in the visa process!)

When you get to France, you must validate your visa. It costs 55 € to validate your visa, and if you plan on leaving the European Union and returning to France, your visa must be validated or you will not be able to re-enter France. A letter will be sent to you at your French address stating the time and place of your appointment. You’ll find the office of visa validation, OFII, in downtown Caen, near the port. The 55 € is in stamp-form, the kind of stamp you would use for a very expensive letter, and you can buy it at a bank which is also downtown Caen. OFII, on the day of your appointment, will take your stamp, glue it to the back of papers that come back with your initial visa from Chicago, stamp it and declare you “valid.” The reason that you must buy the stamp is for taxation reasons.


Chapter III

Hoppin’ on a Jet Plane!

Getting to France

Wow! Good work! You’re almost ready to depart! Now it’s time to book your flight to France.

You may find that travling with someone is safer, more relaxing and comforting. Many people like to travel with someone they know because of the emotional security that a friend lends. They can help you with giant bags, emotional break-downs, maps, finances and anything else you may have troubles with (including language!)

Look for really good deals on flights and don’t assume that the prices you see one day are going to be the same the next. Good websites to visit are and Usually the prices you see on websites like Expedia and Hotwire are ironically not as well-priced as the student minded StudentUniverse.

(Note: If you choose, you may have to prove your student status. Just follow the directions they will send you in your preferred email to prove your student status. It’s very easy and the price difference is worth the extra work!)

Check the dates on the information sheets that the University de Caen Basse-Normandie will have by this time sent you. Don’t arrive too early and definitely don’t arrive too late. If you need help deciphering your information packets, go to your professor. It’s very important to arrive on the right day or you might not have a place to sleep that night! If you’re staying with a family, ask them when they’d like for you to arrive if you haven’t discussed it yet.


Ready, get set, and book your flight!!!!!!!


Chapter IV




Now that you know when you’re leaving the country, you can tend to a few more little details regarding your education. Call Financial Aid. Make sure that everything is in order as far as your finances. There is nothing worse than surprises regarding money when it comes to bills! Sometimes organizations in the university system don’t charge you until the very last minute. Look out for mischarges, overcharges and multiple charges. Financial aid is not perfect, and as hard as they try, neither are other university offices.


Keep a running total of any charges you’ve accumulated throughout the study abroad process for your own records. A spreadsheet is a good idea. You’ll know exactly how much everything has cost you thus far.


Order Euros from your home bank and work up a budget for while you’re overseas.


Make an appointment to see your physician, your dentist, your optometrist and any other important medical professionals in your life. Let them know where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing so they can serve you better. You may need to get permission from professionals concerning any prescription medication you take on a daily basis. Talk to your physician about this as soon as you can so they can make the necessary arrangements for you.


Give your employer your two weeks’ notice and talk to them, if you choose, about your return and securing your job for when you arrive home.


Start a packing list. It’s a good idea to go through your day and write down the little things that you may need or want. You can always throw them out of your suitcase later if you decide against bringing them with you or leave them in France for the next wave of students!


Put together a list of information for your family or trusted friend. Even if you’re an adult and you think you’re completely independent, it’s important that someone knows where you are and how to contact you if you need help. It’s up to you how much information you’d like to share, but DO remember to give copies of your passport and visa to your family or trusted friend!


Arrange for a ride to the airport on the day of your departure to France.


Attend study abroad meetings and take notes! It’s really important to go to all the meetings that the OIP requires you attend and your professor/advisor may arrange. The information you’ll garner from past study abroad students and study abroad ambassadors is priceless. They’ll let you in on all the little secrets you’ll find precious when you get overseas. Bring a big notebook and TAKE NOTES! You won’t regret it!


Chapter V


Over-packing, Under-packing and Non-packing Issues


Go to weather websites and almanac websites for weather trends in the area of the country you’ll be spending the most time. Does it rain? Bring an umbrella. Is the country known for arctic blasts of air? It’s probably a good idea to bring a few scarves and mittens as well as a winter coat. Arriving in summer but leaving in winter? Plan for a change of seasons! Ask the students who arrived from your destination last semester or year what the locals wear. You can always purchase clothing overseas of course, but if you’re on a budget and money is a little tight, you may not want to drop your life savings on a new wardrobe. Black is always a good wardrobe staple along with simple scarves. Layers are a good idea because you can always remove them as you warm up and add them as you find yourself getting too cool.


You’re going to be living in Europe, so plan on walking everywhere! Chances are the tram won’t stop at your front door, so you’ll be walking in the sunshine/rain/hail/fog/snow to get to where you need to go. Look for comfortable, durable shoes that can handle a lot of abuse and yet are versatile. If you’re not used to walking a lot or doing physical activity, think about hitting the gym diligently before departure so that the physical exertion doesn’t stop you from seeing everything you want to experience!


Remember that laundry facilities will either be hard to come by or non-existent in your living quarters, so plan on either doing your laundry in the sink or utilizing the university laundry facilities often. Bringing laundry detergent, a rope-clothesline and clothespins are handy when you need to hang up those dripping (but CLEAN!) socks! You don’t have to bring your own laundry detergent, but you can. Some parts of the university with laundry facilities will sell you a wash, dry and detergent for about 4 €. If you prefer to wash out socks, underwear, etc. on your own, it’s a good idea to have your own cache of soap.


Don’t pack the kind of clothing that needs an iron (as you may or may not have one!), the thickest warmest sweater you own (too bulky!) or the most giant pair of combat boots you can find. If you’re shopping for a study abroad wardrobe, the mantra to repeat is “washable, line-dryable and durable.”


Next we’ll talk about…


“The Things to Bring They Never Tell You About!” (The secret is out!)


  1. A First-Aid Kit. Pretend you’re going camping. Band-aids, an ace bandage, thermometer, ibuprofen, gauze, scissors and tape are good starters for a first-aid kit. You can find a lot of products similar to ones you’ll have at home overseas, but if you’re the kind of person who wants their own brand of, say, band-aids, go nuts. You can never have enough band-aids.


  1. A voltage converter and plug adapter. European and Asian appliances use a different plug than North American appliances. So, if you want to use your shaver, your laptop, a blow-dryer or straightener, you’ll need a voltage converter and a plug adapter. Voltage converters change our wattage in the United States (which is 110 volts) to European or Asian wattage (which is 220 volts). If you don’t use a voltage converter, you can fry technology faster than you can say “watts!” and replacing that sort of stuff can get pricy really fast! Laptops need about 90 volts of power for conversion purposes. Consult a technology specialist to see if your computer needs a voltage converter or just a plug adapter.


  1. Notebooks and writing utensils. You can bring these along and use the space that they took up in your suitcase to bring things home or you can purchase them overseas. Like many things, notebooks and pens/pencils are not exactly difficult to find but nice to have on hand if you don’t make it to Carrefour (Wal-Mart) right away.


  1. Bedding. Interrogate past study abroad-ers and UCBN veterans to see if the university gives you bedding or you must bring your own. It may happen that the bedding provided is outside your comfort zone or you simply cannot compromise bringing your pet pillow. You can also buy your bedding overseas. A pillow at Carrefour is about 5 € and a cheap comforter is about 10 €.


  1. Your American cell phone. If you want to call people when you return after your amazing Study Abroad experience and tell them you’ve arrived state-side without incident, it’s probably a good idea to bring your cell phone. Just remember the charger cord! Before you leave, investigate if your cell phone company can give you a plan for overseas communication. If so, this might be more economical than what the next section discusses!


  1. If you’re a “germaphobe,” you’ll have to adapt to the idea of soap and water not being available everywhere you go like in the United States. Stay healthy and bring hand sanitizer and/or soap. Hand sanitizer in France is about three times as expensive as the United States, so you may find it more economical to bring your Purell from home!


Chapter VI

“Hey, speaking of cell phones…”

Finding and buying a French cell phone

It’s a really, really, really, REALLY good idea to get a cell phone. For those of us in a day-in-age where we rely so heavily on the ability to communicate, being in a foreign country with no form of communication with your peers can feel debilitating. If you are planning on buying a telephone in France, be prepared to drop about 50 € initially and then about 30 € per month for service.

French cell phones are not like American cell phones because you do not buy a plan but instead a “pay as you go” card (like a TracPhone). If you’re looking for a way to pinch pennies, go for the cheapest phone you can find (somewhere between 30 € and 40 €) or find someone who came back from Europe who no longer wants or needs their cell phone. When you get to the store, indicate that you want to buy a cell phone to the store worker. They will be able to help you pick the right phone, the right plan and activate your phone. Most telephones come with a 4 € credit, but after that 4 € is gone, you must purchase a card that gives your phone more communication “juice.” You can ask the worker to set the phone up in English.

If you sign on with the Bouygues Telecom company (Pronounced “Boy-guh”), your friends and family can call your cell phone free of charge to you (much like the old “Land-Line” idea). Just make sure they’re using an international phone card to call you! Texts with Bouygues are free on Wednesday and after 5 PM. French cell phone numbers are 10 digits long and are usually preceded by a + sign. (Example: +06 77 84 00 27)

When you nearly run out of credit on your cell phone, you will receive a text, free of charge, to your cell phone, informing you that the phone will no longer be able to make calls or texts after a certain date. You can still receive texts and calls on your cell phone when you have no credit, however. To recharge your cell phone, you can either bring it back to the Bouygues store and purchase credit or buy what looks like a phone card from the Tobac (a drugstore) or supermarket. The phones are relatively easy to recharge and last anywhere from 3 months to 1 week depending on the amount of credit you purchase.


Chapter VII

Bienvenue a UCBN!

Specific Information on Getting to the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie.

Preface: It is absolutely imperative to read signs. Have your dictionary handy if you’re a little shaky on airport terminology in French and get ready to navigate!!

Bienvenue a France! After you land, you must go through customs. Follow the signs that say Customs or Entry. When you get to customs, there will be several kiosks for different kinds of passports and people. You must go to the right kiosk for your passport. For example: if you are not a French citizen, do not go to the French Citizen kiosk! Be ready for rapid-fire French! Listen closely, and if the security agents ask you a question you do not understand, indicate so. They are there to help you and you need not be afraid of asking any questions either in French or in English.

Collect your luggage. You can find the baggage claims by following the signs marked as “Les bagages” and finding the correct carousel by looking for computer screens with specific flight numbers near the baggage claim area.

Your next destination is Gare Saint-Lazare, a train from which will take you directly to Caen! After you have your bags, either move toward where taxis are waiting or opt for the subway system. If you are traveling with a friend, the cost for a taxi is about 25 € and the ease is splendid. You will arrive at the right train station in about 35 minutes by taxi, assuming traffic is not terrible.

The RER and metro combined costs less than 10 €, but many times it’s crowded and if you’re not familiar with the metro, it can be scary to navigate with big bags. However, if you choose to take the subway system, it’s NOT IMPOSSIBLE!! Consult a map and find Gare Saint-Lazare before your departure into MetroLand and be prepared to guard your belongings closely. The metro and RER systems are extensive, well-timed and the maps are easy to read, but pickpockets run rampant and you will have a lot of things to watch! Be careful!

When you get to Gare Saint-Lazare, purchase your “billet” (ticket) to travel to Caen at the “guiche”(ticket counter). Indicate that you want a one-way ticket unless you plan on returning to Paris very soon (i.e. the next couple days). Some workers at the guiche speak English, so if your brain won’t operate in French yet, it’s OK. A ticket to Caen costs about 32 €, and the train takes about 2 hours to get to Caen. If you are less than 25 years old, indicate so to the worker and get a discount!

(Note: There are two cities in France, Caen and Cannes, that to the English-speaker look like they’d be identical pronunciations. However, if you ask for a ticket to Cannes, you won’t get to Caen! Caen is pronounced [ka], the “a” being something like the “aw” in “awesome,” but farther back in your throat and slightly nasalized. The ‘n’ in the word is completely silent to the English ear. Cannes is pronounced [kan], like the English “can” but with a very soft ‘n’ sound.)

Punch the ticket at the small machines near the trains in the yellow ticket composters. You absolutely must punch your ticket prior to boarding the train. If you’re confused, just watch people around you. They will inevitably be using the same machines. If you have a hard time finding your train, just ask one of the very helpful workers mingling around the station. They will be happy to show you where to go.

When you get on the train, if there are no slips attached to the seat numbers overhead on the train seats, they are free-game. You may sit anywhere there is no reservation slip attached to the seat number (unless it is otherwise indicated on your ticket).

Hang on to your ticket and KEEP ALERT!!! By this point, you will be VERY tired and want to sleep. Try your hardest to keep awake because missing your stop would cause a big mess. Be prepared for an official to walk through the train and ask for proof of your ticket. At the correct stop (Caen), exit the train quickly and leave the train station.

For timetables regarding when trains leave from Saint-Lazare, go to


Chapter VIII

Home sweet home!

Getting Around Caen, France for the First Time


CONGRATULATIONS! You made it to the beautiful, historic city of Caen, France!

After your long flight, you might be hungry or thirsty. In the train station there is a wonderful little cafe and albeit a little spendy, the sandwiches and pastries are very good. If you prefer to get right to your destination, exit the train station, and just in front of the train station you’ll find several taxis waiting for customers. Give the address to the driver, or tell him where you’d like to go. It costs about 10 € to take a taxi from the Gare de Caen (Caen train station) to the University.


You may also take a tram to the University. The trams are very easy to understand and usually very punctual. To purchase a ticket for the tram, walk up to the tram platform where people may be waiting for the next tram and look for the vending machine that declares in big letters, “TICKETS Bus et Tram.” To operate the machine, push the one and only button located on the machine and turn the dial to select whatever pass you’d like to purchase by pushing the center button again. It costs 1.20 € to buy a one-way tram pass called “Voyage Unite.” Feed the machine money, and it will spit out a pass (and whatever change you may have) near your knees, just like a candy machine. When you board the tram, put your pass in the small yellow boxes (a bit like the ones you saw at the train station). The yellow box will eat your ticket and then spit it back at you. Keep your ticket in case the controllers (the Tram Gestapo!) board and ask for it.

To Campus 1 and University residences “Tilleuls” and “Peupliers,” take Line A (direction Campus 2) OR Line B (direction Herouville St Clair) and get off at CROUS-SUAPS.

To the residence “Lebisey,” take Line B (direction Herouville St. Clair) and get off at CITE U LEBISEY.

You can find the direction and tram line indicated at the front of the tram. There are maps of the tram system posted inside the shelters on the tram platforms.


Chapter IX


Whew! You made it! Now to find your room…

If you’re assigned to Peupliers or Tilleuls, take the tram to the stop CROUS-SUAPS, go through the heart of campus to a teal green and white building with a revolving door and the word “Accueil” above the door. Introduce yourself to the worker at the front desk. From now on, nobody speaks English!!! Paperwork will need to be done, and if you listen closely, you will understand what you must do. The desk worker will give you the keys to your building, and from now on until classes begin, you are free to do as you wish. Happy unpacking!

If you’re hungry, there is a great restaurant on campus called “Resto U” as well as many wonderful kebab places near campus. If you wander around, you’ll find a plethora of boulangeries and patisseries full of nice things to eat! The easiest place to eat on campus is a sandwich and pizza place right next to the Accueil (where you got your keys!). It opens at 6 PM for supper and they serve many savory things. You can get supper there for a mere 2.90 €. Bon Appetit!

After you get over your jet lag and catch some zzz’s in your new house, go on an adventure! Figure out the tram system. It’s not too difficult if you study the map posted on the tram station walls. Purchase a tram ticket by going to the machine located in the waiting area of each tram stop. Push the center button and turn the dial to pick what kind of pass you’d like to purchase. A 24-hour ticket costs 3.55 € and you can use it as many times during that 24 hours as you’d like.

Go to Carrefour. Carrefour is the French version of Wal-Mart. You can purchase anything you’ll ever need while in France at Carrefour. There a Carrefour in Cote de Nacre and one at Herrouville St. Clair. They are in the malls at the end of either tram line (A will bring you to Cote de Nacre, B will bring you to Heroville Saint-Clair).

Find a map at the Accuil and wander downtown through and past the castle. There are a lot of fun stores downtown, beautiful churches, lovers on the lawns, chocolate shops, patisseries and boulangeries. Anything you need can be found downtown! Cinema, Monoprix (French “Target,” one baby-step up from Carrefour in price and quality), the Twisto Office and the Bouygues Telecom store. Just a few suggestions while you explore downtown…

Monoprix (you can get everything from shoes to ice cream here)

Pull and Bear, a really cool Abercrombie-like store

FNAC, the French version of Best Buy

Twisto Office, where you can buy a tram pass (to be discussed later)

Bouygues Telecom Services

SNCF Office, where you can get train tickets

“Pean,” a delicious patisserie whose awning is lime green, has the best French Macaroons on the planet and really delightfully nice workers

Abbaye Aux Hommes, the famous church that was the model for La Notre Dame de Paris is downtown and worth a free Sunday tour! William the Conqueror is buried in the Cathedral.

“Danielle’s Pasta Box,” a fantastic nameless place that gives you pasta in a box with really wonderful pesto sauce. It’s on Rue Saint Pierre, by Sephora. The awning is black and red, and there is space to eat inside. When you show them your Student ID, you’ll get a discount!

Zara, a cramped little shoe store with rockin’ cool fashion for your feet

Abbaye Aux Dames, the counterpart to Abbaye Aux Hommes sits downtown by the port and worth a look. Both Abbeys are rich with history and stunning architecture. William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda, is buried in the Cathedral in the Abbaye.

The Chateau Ducal, William the Conqueror’s Castle. Hard to miss, this amazing structure was the favorite spot of the famous Frenchman from 1066. You can climb the castle walls via the ancient steps and enjoy views of the city from the ramparts.

Musee de Beaux Arts, situated right inside the Chateau Ducal. It’s free to see the permanent exhibit!

Musee de Normandie, also inside the castle walls, tells many stories of the beautiful land on which you walk.

Eglise St. Pierre, the prominent church in the middle of Centre Ville is a stunning and open to enjoy to the public. Enjoy the classically gothic architecture and come back on Sunday for regular services at 11 AM! The pipe organ music is stunning and not something to miss.  

Port de Plaisance, the manmade port that runs along centre ville is relaxing. Bring a picnic or a book and enjoy the afternoon in the sunshine!

River Orne, the beautiful river that meanders through near downtown Caen also winds along the hippodrome a little walk away from downtown. The countryside is very quiet and relaxing. Bring a picnique and spend an afternoon in the sunshine, or pack your tennis shoes and go for a run around the hippodrome with many other Cannaise people!

O’Donnells Irish Pub next to the Port is a hopping Irish Pub where they serve great B-52’s and a regional cider beer called Apple Frost. It REALLY hops on Thursday nights when the Erasmus Students come out of the woodwork to party!

“Preston and Kelli’s Cookie Place” is another nameless stand where you’ll find the best chocolate chip cookies (and a taste of America!) this side of the Atlantic. It’s right next to Bouygues. It’s got yellow and red awning and is hard to miss (for more than one reason!).

Markets! Caen is home to a market every day of the week, although the markets closest to campus happen on Friday and Sunday. Friday market is near Abbaye Aux Hommes and has extensive merchandise for sale including the world’s best crunchy and floury baguettes and Bip Bip La Frite’s extraordinary steamy, crispy fries with sauces. Sunday’s market boasts the best galette you’ll ever sink your teeth into. Mmm!

Near Campus, but in the opposite direction of Centre Ville, are two wonderful boulangerie/patisseries. They are located at the Calvaire Saint-Pierre tram stop (the first one away from CROUS-SUAPS. If you walk a little farther up the street from the boulangeries and around a corner past some communal living spaces, you’ll find a little supermarket called Marche Plus, a tobac and a post office!


Chapter IX

“What About Money?”

Talking about Saving, Spending and a Few Extra Expenses That Are a Bit of a Surprise

If you are like most university students, you have limited funds. If you want to make your Euro stretch as much as it can, rest assured that there are ways to make that happen!

Instead of buying individual Twisto Passes (tram passes), walk or ride the bikes situated around downtown. Not only is it good exercise, but it’s free to walk and the first hour of riding a bike is free! When you really want the right to ride the tram, however, go downtown to the Twisto Office and buy a “Twisto Pass.” It costs 30 € for a month’s worth of travel. You can use your Twisto Pass for busses and trams and as many times as you want. Your Twisto pass does not, however, work with the company “Bus Vert.” If you know you will be commuting from a distance every day to classes or desire the mobility that the tram gives, a Twisto Pass is for you! If you enjoy walking the streets of Caen and getting exercise instead of taking the tram, buy individual passes. Discover what is best for your living and mobility situation while in Caen!

(Note: To make a month’s Twisto Pass worth your monetary while, you must use it at least 25 times.
30 € (approximate cost of a month’s pass) / 1.20 € (one way voyage) = 25 one-way voyages )

Show everyone your student ID or if you’re under 25 years old, advertise it! Students and young people get really good deals at many places including SNCF, the rail system. SNCF has a wonderful program for students and young people. Through SNCF, you can purchase a “Carte 12-25,” a voucher that will cause you to get wicked good deals on all rail tickets (up to 50% off regular fare!). Carte 12-25 costs 50 €, but it pays for itself by the 2nd trip you take. The same applies for Bus Vert. Advertise your age and get a good deal on your bus fare!

(Note: to get a Twisto Pass and a 12-25 card, you need your passport, ID Pictures–the little ones you might get for a passport–and your address while living in France!)

If you’re looking for good deals on clothes, shoes and almost everything in between, the soldes are for you! The soldes are the famous French sales that happen twice a year: once in January and once in June. Everything in the stores is marked down to crazy low prices for a whole month to clear out merchandise from last season.

It seems like everyone, from the Twisto office to the University, wants an ID photo of you! Don’t spend a fortune going to Kinkos or the Post office for dozens of ID photos. Wait until you get to France and find a picture booth where you can get about 6 photos for 5 €. It’s simple and much more economical. There are also websites where you can upload a picture of yourself and print it off for relatively no cost.

In your orientation process there is a bit of a nasty financial surprise. You will have to buy European health insurance for approximately 200 €. It’s obligatory, but if you have any questions about why, you can ask the people working with you that day. They are very helpful, and although they won’t get you out of the obligation of shelling over 200 €, they will listen if you care to protest!

(Note: To be accepted by the health insurance company, it is obligatory to go through a medical exam and pulmonary radiograph. The exam is relatively simple and non-extensive, but some students in the past have complained of slight discomfort at not knowing their French physician well and awkwardness due to language barriers. You may ask your physician to speak in English if you choose.)

Every month, as an exchange or direct-enroll student, you are entitled to a “bourse,” a stipend of 245 € to help with your food expenses. Not everyone eats 245 € worth of food in a month, so many people put the extra they have left from that month’s stipend toward the expense of traveling in and around Europe or other fun things in Caen (concerts, parties, fine dinners, boatloads of French Macaroons, etc). You can get your stipend with your Student ID Card (and not without it!) at the Presidence near the Sciences buildings. The office is on the 2eme Etage, and the hours of the office are a little inhospitable. Make sure you get your stipend within the first 6 days of the month or you’ll forfeit it!


Chapter X

“There’s no place like home!”

What to Do When Culture Shock Strikes

Culture shock is the anxiety that accompanies transplanting yourself to a new culture. Everyone experiences culture shock to a certain degree, and it’s nothing that should cause shame. Being in a new culture is exciting, but there are drawbacks to being far away from your home turf.

There are distinct, clinically-recognized stages of culture shock.

Stage 1: The feeling of excitement and eagerness. This stage occurs before leaving to go to the new culture.

Stage 2: The feeling that everything in the new culture is great. This stage occurs upon arrival to the new culture.

Stage 3: The feeling of everything in the new culture is terrible.

Stage 4: The feeling of adjustment. The stage where the visitor begins to feel comfortable and takes steps to become more familiar with the culture.

Stage 5: The feeling that everything is fine. The stage where the visitor has adapted to the culture and in some ways is embracing it as their own.

There are many symptoms of culture shock, but here just a few:

excessive concern over cleanliness and health, feelings of helplessness and withdrawal, irritability, desire for home and old friends, homesickness, boredom, withdrawal, excessive sleep, compulsive eating/drinking/weight gain, stereotyping host nationals, hostility towards host nationals

There are many “best cures” for culture shock, but eating yourself into a chocolate coma is not one of them. Seek out others and learn about their cultures. It’s possible that others are homesick too, and talking about their country can open doors of friendship. Go out, explore, make friends and be adventurous. Realize, above all, that the culture you are living in is not your own. It is foreign to you because you are the foreigner. To the people who live in France, however, it is normal and you are the one who is different! Difference is good because you can learn something about someone else! As Clifton Fadiman said, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”


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!!!



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!

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