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!]

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!