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

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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!]

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!]

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.

Culinary Creativity in Caen Saturday, May 15 2010 

I love to cook. I’m typically quite handy when it comes to baking, cooking and most anything in between. However, most chefs would be horrified at what I have been working with as far as kitchen facilities for the past 4 months. This post will shine light on a previously unexposed area of life at the Université de Caen Basse-Normandie and the source of very minor cultural annoyance I’ve had to learn to work around.

When Molly and I first set foot in Bâtiment B (Building B), we were overwhelmed with joy because we had beds. If anything else was wrong with the building on that fateful, exhausting day of travel, jet lag and culture shock, we didn’t bother looking for it because we were so thrilled to have a bed. But as time wore on and we explored the building, our friends’ accommodations and houses, we found ours to be severely austere, especially with the lack of a cuisine (kitchen). Okay, okay, having no kitchen is a bit of a lie because we do have a room that’s officially labeled “cuisine,” but what’s inside is a double-burner induction stove and a sink. The end. There is no garbage can, no soap, no utensils and no towels.

Orange Shrimp, Rice and Garlic-y green beans for the 2-Burner Stove WIN!

Try to contain your excitement over my stove. It boils water in less than a minute.

Before I start to sound too whiny over my “kitchen”, let me tell you that there are a lot of things you can do with a two-burner induction stove and a sink, and the novelty of a stove that boils water in less than a minute is pretty awesome. After all, my mother has made incredible meals while camping with a kerosene stove. Surely, I thought, I can manage to make food for 4 months on an induction stove!

So Molly and I started in on the pasta saga. I have, since that first meal of pasta on January 30th, eaten enough pasta to make anyone hate Italy for the rest of their lives. If I ever have another noodle it will be too soon. Without a proper refrigerator for most of our time in France, we were limited not only in our culinary abilities but our sanitation regulations. If your Camembert cheese is green and fuzzy, it’s not OK to pair with wine. If your milk has an IQ of over 15, it’s NOT okay to drink. If your “refrigerator” is illuminated by sunlight and is over 65 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s not a fridge–it’s a balcony where you can grow flowers and get a tan.

The First Pasta Experience of very many pasta experiences we'd encounter in the next 4 months.

Nonetheless, over 4 months of experimentation and Carrefour shopping trips, we have become experts in how to cook with 1 very dull 3″ paring knife, 1 cutting board, 1 strainer, 1 whip, 1 rubber scraper, 1 spatula and 1 can opener. Among our repertoire of favored meals is cheap packaged soup with lots of chunky potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic, tuna pasta, a squishy baguette and pate and egg sandwiches with chived-whipped cheese spread. We’ve found that it’s not the end of the world to use your dish towel more than thirty times in a row or dry your dishes on the same towel you’ve used all month.

What IS concerning is what will happen when I get my hands on a real kitchen again!

Are you ready for this, Chef Laura?!

What my desk looks like on any given night we have soup for supper.

The Funny Things We Say Monday, May 3 2010 

The Quote Book of this oddessy has grown! When you factor in jet lag, culture shock, late nights, early mornings, French men, hunger and lack thereof, you will find that we said some pretty funny things. Enjoy!

At the Minneapolis Airport, predeparture: “So you don’t have any livestock? Small farm animals? Nothing like that? No? Good. You look like a Chicken Smuggler. That’s why I asked.”–TSA agent to Kelli

Upon arriving in France, at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris: “We’re going to have to ask you to remain in your seats as we switch ports. It looks as though we’re parked in the wrong spot.”–Our pilot

“Don’t your intestines have enough length to, like, wrap around the earth, like, four times?”–Kelsey Baumann

“My left boob was just compromised by a deaf Frenchman!!!”–You know who you are

Upon being critical of the French cultural kisses: “Lingering bises tend to be sort of like Magellan circumnavigating the globe.”–Thomas Carlson

On finding shoes that will fit big feet in a country where big feet don’t appear to exist: “GERMANS. Now THOSE are some big women!”–Kelsey Baumann

On warding off bride gifts from other foreigners: “At least you haven’t gotten a goat yet.”–Danielle Beyer, to Kelli

On the topic of the goodness of Kebab meat: “It’s meat with garlic shoved in it. How could that NOT be good?”–Kelli Bren

On the potency of a certain kind of beer named Elephant: “Elephants. They’ll get ya every time.”–Kelsey Baumann

Upon realizing she’d begun a collection of pet-named creepers: “Now I gotta watch out for KFC AND Goats?!”–Kelli

When we realized we were getting sick of eating the same thing over and over: “EAT THE ______ RAVIOLI!!!”–You know who you are

On the taste of French milk: “Whoo, boy! This milk…. man! It’s like sucking on a cow’s nipple!”–Kelsey Baumann

In reference to the pet name we coined for pining French men: “Shoot that chien!”–Kelli

In honor of Thomas’ Magellan quote and after a series of cultural kisses: “You just got Magellan’d!”–Molly DesRoches to Kelli

While walking into the Trouville casino: “I feel like I’m walking into hell…”–Kelli

Franglais (French-English) fun with Desperate, pining French men: “Roti that Pigeon!” and “Pose that Lapin!” (Literally translated, “Rotisserie-bake the pigeon, “Stand him up!”)

In Lisieux at the childhood home of Saint Therese: “C’est le cheveux de St. Therese! C’est le vrai cheveux de St. Therese!”–Wrinkly Little Nun

On being ill: “My throat feels like I swallowed a cat.”–Danielle Beyer

On our dress-up day in Oral Communication Class: “Well! This will be the second time I’ve cross-dressed…”–Preston Leslie

While at the D-Day Beaches: “Okay, so what were the 4 countries that helped liberate France in World War II? USA, Great Britain, Canada and…?”–Danielle Beyer
“The Germans? No, wait, that’s not right.”–Laura Fugelburg

“I’m so hungry I could eat my own hand… but I don’t know where it’s been.”–Danielle Beyer

On an inappropriately short skirt on a woman in a bookstore: “And we’re back! On a ladder! Man, that’s so awkward. Do people not look in the mirror? They’re called full-length mirrors. Use them.”–Kelli

“There is a giant head statue in Paris. So clearly, I had to pick its nose.”–Danielle Beyer

In Salzburg, Austria, on board our tour bus: “You look like a grown up Gretel [from The Sound of Music]!”–Peter, our tour guide to Kelli

On the French strikes that cause so many problems with travel: “SNCF, wrecking lives one train ride at a time.”–Molly DesRoches

“Let me reflechier on that for a second.”–Molly DesRoches, Franglais Fluent

“I oublied that.”–Molly DesRoches

“My milkshake bringeth more menfolk to the yard. Verily, ’tis better than thine.”–Molly DesRoches

“That makes my heart happy!”–Kelli

“I don’t need sweets because I’m with you!”–You know who you are

On calling home at Easter, my cousin’s big news: “Grandma told me I’d make a good stripper.”

“Everything on you sparkles!”–Thomas Carlson

On not understanding anything in class: “Comprende.”–Anne

“I just got kamakazi kissed!! The nerve!”–Kelli

[rancorous laughter] “It’s my personal joke: You said ‘Merci Beau Cul’ when you meant merci beaucoup.”–Nordahl’s Father to Kelli at Chateau des Ravalet (Depending on how you pronounce “beaucoup,” it could sound like you’re saying “Thanks, nice tush!”)

(Resolution of) Headaches (Part III) Thursday, Jan 7 2010 

…including Taxis, Subways and Waitresses

When I got off the plane last night, we had taxied after landing for 25 minutes. I wandered O’Hare for about a minute and a half until I asked for directions to the Blue Line also known to non-Chicagoians as a subway. I had never taken a subway by myself let alone bought tickets for one.

When the ticket machines say they don’t give change, don’t give them a bigger amount of money than they require for a ticket. I am still kicking myself.

So I took the El for 45 minutes, avoiding eye-contact and sneaking glances at the city as it streaked by. Exiting, I followed my nose out of the station, away from jazz musicians the size of sixth graders and to the street where my next challenge was to hail a taxi.

When you’re from Grand Forks, North Dakota, hailing a taxi doesn’t happen. Ever. If you need a taxi, you call for one a day or two ahead and they come pick you up from your house. To go to the airport. And it costs, like, your life savings. In Chicago, if you raise your arm in a stretch, you have four taxis pull over instantaneously. It was amazing! I stood there, looking awkward as all get-out with my pink Columbia jacket, giant Eddie Bauer backpack and suede purse and… to top this beautiful ensemble off, my leather choppers. Finally, because I was desperate and very cold, I raised my hand like I had seen in the movies and presto—Taxi. The act was so extremely gratifying that I felt like a rockstar for absolutely no apparent reason.

To make a long story short, I made it to my cousin Karin’s boyfriend’s place (on Michigan Avenue and SO pretty),and my best friend and her boyfriend picked me up and we went touring the city at night. It was BEAUTIFUL! What a great way to end a stressful day. We spent four glorious hours together and got dinner at a place where the waitress was as tipsy as most of the patrons combined (but managed to get our orders perfect AND flirt with me… uhh(?!)). They dropped me off, and I slept great on Picho’s couch while the trains rumbled by ouside the giant windows and down 21 floors.

This morning, I caught ANOTHER taxi (I am pretty good at this business now) and made it to the French Embassy where they took all my papers, did a bona fide mug shot and took my fingerprints. Wait a second, was I getting booked or applying for a visa?! The whole process took 10 minutes.

Yes. Ten. Minutes. I have been stressed out of my freaking skull for a ten minute appointment (which, consequently, was over double the time that it took my classmate Laura to get her visa).

Now, I inhale a gigantic bagel, sip my ginger orange spice tea and read a magazine I got at the embassy. Chilling. Out.

In about 20 minutes, I’ll catch another cab to the bautiful Chicago Museum of Art and spend about 4 hours there.

Au Revoir, Chicago!

Conclusion

As it turned out, the Associated Press released the information regarding why the airport was shut down. Turns out that some nitwit took the oldest suitcase they had, filled it with old 20oz pop bottles and put HONEY in the pop bottles and then CHECKED THE BAG. Why the dogs got HONEY mixed up with BOMBS, I shall never know. All I can say is that my appointment is done and the dogs can sniff all the stupid honey they want now. I do not care. :)

Headaches (Part II) Thursday, Jan 7 2010 

…Wherein I actually GET to Chicago.

The icing on the cake happened today after a 5 hour cartrip to Minneapolis to catch my flight to Chicago. My trip, all in all, went well after a wonderfully caffinated latte from (gasp, I know) Bisonland with Thomas. Roads were perfect and the weather was sublime. Parking and navigation went as smoothly as I could ever hope and I called all the necessary individuals to let them know I got to Minneapolis OK and without delay.

HOWEVER, everything fell apart when I stepped into the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. No, no, the CIA under the guise of Campus France did NOT tackle me like a football running back, but a bomb-sniffing dog went bizerk over a bag. Someone’s bag got noticed by TSA and their nosy (ha, pun intended) dogs and the whole airport got shut down, FOX News was called, the President was informed and the whole world collapsed for about 2 hours. Okay, okay, the last two are a bit of an exaggeration, but the airport WAS shut down and my feet DO hurt from standing in one place for such a long time.

In the meantime, I was one of THOSE people and pushed my little self to the front of the line (thank goodness I was there early!) and intended to hand-to-hand-combat-style-pwn anyone who decided that they were more important than my trip to the French Embassy.

So two hours, two friendships and a really growly tummy later, the TSA agents took down the yellow police “DO NOT CROSS” tape and the people (who, in my estimation, behaved very civilized in spite of inconvenience) burst forth with the desperation that only comes from people who are “almost-missing-my-flight-don’t-get-in-my-way.”

But now, with all that behind me, the sun is setting and creating a beautiful panorama of sherbet-colors. The flight attendants are practicing their evolved sense of balance while handing out drinks. No babies cry, no pilots panic and no insanty is here. It’s like a oaisis of normal in this whole chaotic 48 hours. How utterly beautiful.

Tonight I navigate “The El” in Chicago, get off on the right stop, hail a taxi for the first time in my existance and make it, somehow, to meet my best friend, her boyfriend and my cousin (who got a flight to Chicago and is hopefully much better). Tomorrow, I put my best foot forward and pray that the Embassy loves me, my passport, my bank statements, my high school diploma and every other piece of paper I own that has my name on it.

Until then, I’ll just enjoy the sunset outside my window.

TO BE CONTINUED…