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!]

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.

Kamakazi Culture Shock Thursday, May 6 2010 

I have an apology to make to my faithful followers: I have given you a warped sense of living in France. You may have thought that living in France has been nothing but sunshine and flowers, pain au chocolat and fantastic churches. I have been careful to conceal all meltdowns I have experienced and have realized that by doing so have given you a warped sense of the emotional rollercoaster ride that is studying abroad. However, the truth has been hidden long enough and therefore, I give you the post where I admit to going a bit grey over French and Culture Shock.

If Culture Shock had a human form, it’d be a ninja. Stealthy, plotting, sneaky–it attacks when you least expect it. It comes out of thin air and kamakazi attacks you from behind without giving you time to arm yourself with the weapons needed for hand-to-hand Culture Shock Combat. The Culture Shock Ninja doesn’t leave very many survivors, either. Victims can be identified by the blank, mindless stare most commonly found among beginning French students mid-worksheet at about 4 PM on any given day of the week. Sometimes victims burst into random tirades in English or fervent “Franglais” protesting whatever injustice they feel has been dealt them and in extreme cases, the victim may burst into tears and threaten (if only to herself!) to leave the classroom.

The Culture Shock Ninja is very cunning, too. He doesn’t only use the culture in question as a means for emotional, physical or psychological distress. He uses every single instance around you to slowly grate away at your nerves until–all at once–you flip out! “WHY IS THERE NO HEAT IN MY ROOM?!”  she may or may not yell to nobody. “DON’T THEY KNOW IT’S COLD IN THIS BUILDING?! ARE THEY INSANE?! I’M GOING TO FREEZE TO DEATH IN FRANCE!!!!!!!!!!!!” Also very common is the distinct lack of chocolate resources when the Culture Shock Ninja strikes. It is widely suggested throughout the Culture Shock World that the Culture Shock Ninja waits until chocolate resources are at their most minimal and then makes its attack. The victim, upon realizing she has no chocolate resources and may suffer frostbite at the hands of the person who turned off her heat may be observed to yell, “WHY DO I HAVE NO CHOCOLATE???! THIS IS MADNESS! I AM GOING TO MARCHE PLUS THIS INSTANT FOR AT LEAST 10 EUROS WORTH OF FATTENING SUBSTANCES!!!!!!!!!” and then stalks off in a full-on chocolate hunt.

Another weapon that the Culture Shock Ninja uses is environmental annoyances. For example, the victim, while sitting in a classroom of depressing bareness can become so worked-up over the slamming of  the doors, scraping of chairs from upstairs, clicking pens, snapping joints, incessantly sniffing noses, tippy desks and scratching chalk that she may or may not have just enough self control not to 1) lock the doors by whatever means necessary, 2) tip over every chair in the building in angst, 3) snatch pens away from classmates, 4) hand out tissues and insist that they “blow” and 5) break every piece of chalk that the teacher has in her possession into the tiniest shards possible.

So what, you may be asking, is the remedy for such awful symptoms of the Culture Shock Ninja? There are weapons to combat the Culture Shock Ninja if you feel its presence or its impending attack. Go for a walk to Marche Plus to buy boatloads of nice things to eat (i.e. substances with a lot of endorphines also known as Dark French Chocolate (DFC)). Go for a walk to the castle while listening to show tunes, singing along to them on your iPod while skipping. Make some tea and write a blog post about your grey hair. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you only have a few days left in the country. Seek out the wonderful hugs you know your friends are ready to give. Boo-hoo on their shoulders, taking care to soak them throughly (it’s okay to cry). Realize that you really do love France, you wouldn’t change the experience for the world, and everything will be better in the morning.