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.

Classes in France Friday, Mar 26 2010 

I have recently received quite a few inquiries about what classes are like at the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie. Because today’s lessons involved Prince Charming and dressing up, I thought that today would be the perfect opportunity to tell you what it’s like to spend 5 hours a day in constant French language immersion.

At the end of my school days, I am about as industrious as swamp slime. I sit, my brain completely fried, in a vegetative state, and although significantly less green than swamp slime, I am about as unmoving. The reason behind my complete lack of cerebral action is caused by the long lectures and hoops we have to jump through during classes conducted completely in a language I swear some days I do not understand at all. But today was different…

Today, when I walked into class after a measly 5 hours of sleep, my professor started a lecture on adjectives again. Oh no, not another diet incentive! But alors! we talked about people other than our classmates!! After covering every personal attribute I thought existed in French, we got to write about our personal Prince or Princess Charming.

I mentioned a few weeks ago a certain person who has made my academic career a bit of a struggle. In the states, we call such people “creepers” because they tend to spring up where you least expect or want them to be. Here, we call them Petit Pigeons (little pigeons) because of the extraordinary annoying qualities that both parties share. I have a petit pigeon in my class, and you can guess how he described his Princess Charming. If you need help, I can send you a picture of myself. So, in retaliation, I wrote the complete opposite of what my petit pigeon looks like.

I went to my Oral Language class later that day and Madame lugged a giant plastic bag with tons of clothing into our classroom. Wigs, belts, hats, dresses, scarves and capes were present and we were instructed to put on whatever clothing we desired and get ready for a fashion show. I put on the most fantastic skirt with ruffles on every surface and a corset that zipped up the side (and horror of horrors, I thought it might not zip). Then, with much pomp and circumstance, we marched down the homemade catwalk (in reality, the building hallway!), strutting our stuff and talking in French about our friends’ awesomely atrocious outfits. We raved and cheered and clapped and oohed and aahed. The spectacle was straight from Fashion Week in Paris.

One guy put on parachute pants with vertical stripes, a Chinese silk shirt, a red cape and a giant black curly wig with feathers shoved into it. He was fabulous. Another American (because it would be the Americans who have crazy fashion sense) put on a polka dotted kimono, a huge ruffled pink skirt with metallic embellishing and over all and a wicked cool pair of MUSICAL SUSPENDERS to top it off. How completely original! Haute couture at its finest!

A real-life model, Olga (with Preston) knew how to talk to the camera even in a crazy hat.

L->R; Seong Yeul, Preston, Christina "Keetina", Danielle, Petra, Me, Laura, Yi, Farshad, Olga

HAHAHAHAHA Farshad struts down the catwalk... HAHAHAHAHA

Petra is so pretty!

Preston rocking the curly wig with feathers... and the cape... and the catwalk.

We twirled, smiled and showed off our vetements (clothing) while the photographer snapped away… because here in France, we know fashion and education and we do it simultaneously. And that, folks, is how classes in France are going.

Whispers Thursday, Mar 11 2010 

The last week has been relatively uneventful after the quasi-disastrous trip to Omaha Beach. There have been no wrong-direction trains or mis-read maps or carsickness. There has, however, been a lot of plain old sickness.

It would seem that France has not escaped the illness that seems to be striking everyone world-wide. At first, I thought I was getting everyone sick, but it would seem that even my germs are not that potent. Everyone is sick with something ranging from a head-pounding cough to congested sinuses. We have gotten very proficient in explaining our maladies in French.

I’ve been sick for about a month now but only really really really really sick for 2 weeks. I’m on the mend but I seem to have misplaced my vocal cords. I speak in squeaks and whispers (to the frustration of my professors and the amusement of my classmates). I am not very ill, just very ill sounding.

In other news, Monday was International Women’s Day. My friend (and personal French bodyguard) Eddie gave me a rose and the world’s best steaming mug of the thickest, darkest chocolate, topped off with caramel. It was incroyable.

Rose from Eddie

The other incroyable thing I tasted today was a reward for myself after attending classes today. It’s one thing to ask for something in a patisserie and get what you want. It’s quite another thing to ask for something in a whisper and get that same thing. I am very proud of my linguistic skills and congratulate the woman working for her patience.

Tarte aux Fraises (Strawberry Tart)

This weekend I’ll be taking a train (in the right direction this time!) to Liseux, France to view a beautiful cathedral. Stick around for stories and pictures. There are sure to be many, although hopefully none about getting lost!

Please pray for me, my classmates, and the rest of the campus as we are all getting ill, trying to recover, balance classes and tackle other challenges. Also pray for several Americans who are going out of the country this weekend that they would be safe.

Thank you!

Games Thursday, Mar 4 2010 

When you are living in a culture that is not your own, you adopt little coping mechanisms to ward off culture shock and make seemingly dreadful activities enjoyable. Here are a few normally mundane activities recreated to make little adventures.

I can’t speak French very well. I am a beginner, so when I speak, the look on peoples’ faces is a combined mixture of shock, amazement, complete confusion, bemusement and several indecipherable expressions I have yet to label. But because I am a beginner, an American, a woman and have little to no scruples when it comes to language, I take the language barriers in stride and make a game of how many words I have to use to get my point across. The other fun game I have created is “How Long Does It Take a French Person to Launch Into English” in order to expedite my current issue. The average hovers somewhere around 3 sentences back and forth, but I’m hopeful for skewing that average in my favor by the end of my stay here.

Riding the tram has been a sacrifice. When I am home, I rely heavily on my own vehicle to get me from Point A to Point B, and when I don’t have said convenience, I have real control issues. Planning my evening over when a tram will be at a certain place drives me NUTS. So therefore, when I have to ride the tram, I make a game out of the people who also ride the tram. I watch them out of the corner of my eye and take notes about how they’re dressed, who they’re talking to and what their general life attitude seems to be. I wind up romanticizing the tram riders. The man with the very chiseled chin, the scruffy cheeks and the long eyelashes who looks very pensive and sad has had a long day. He’s got a million things running through his head, a troubled girlfriend and errands to run before he thinks about the travails of tomorrow. He does, however, look unwittingly handsome sitting there with his furrowed brow. I have to fight the urge to stare. The girl who is sitting in the seat near him has her iPod plugged into her ears and her toe is tapping. She’s young, beautiful and sweetly dressed. She looks like she stepped out of a postcard from Paris. She’s got big plans for the future. The stories go on and on, and that’s how I spend my tram rides while I listen to my own iPod and lug my shopping bags from Carrefour.

There is a wonderful place in France called Carrefour where they sell all sorts of  familiar products to a displaced American with picky life staples. For example, I absolutely cannot sleep on the pillow that was provided for me by the university. It looked like a giant, lumpy misshapen bratwurst. I decided to make a trip to CarrefourLand and buy myself a fluffy new pillow. These kinds of trips happen frequently, and when I go to Carrefour, I enjoy watching the people talk to the man weighing fish and the woman pricing fruit. I try to distract myself from the giant, heavy basket of food for the week with the adorable children whose language skills, at 2 or 3 years old, vastly outrank mine.

There are runners outside my window who I take great delight in distracting from their running by waving at them. There are American Football players who snap on the football field lights at about 7 PM and proceed to stretch, drill and do hilarious exercise in order to be the best European American Football Players the University of Caen has ever had. I take great delight in watching them play leap frog, suited up with helmets and shoulder pads: full-grown men grunting and counting in French jumping over each others’ backs flooded in the artificial lights of a soccer field.

I like buying beautiful fruit at market, running it under ice-cold water and then photographing it in the sunlight. I love the way it sparkles.

I am amused every single day with organized activity, but sometimes it takes the little things to make you really smile and enjoy life. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.

Quick Personal Update Wednesday, Feb 17 2010 

Because I have recently received a lot of questions regarding my state of living, my personal well-being and my health, I have decided to give the general public a quick personal update on how life is progressing in the beautiful region of Basse-Normandie.

I am living in a wonderful little dorm where I have a room all to myself. It’s a corner room which means it’s very quiet. I look over a “football field” which is actually the equivalent of a swamp when it rains and a gravel pit when it’s dry. Nevertheless, the grass outside is green and the sunsets outside my window are only rivaled by the Midwest Sunsets I love so much.

Sunset Outside My Window

My classes are progressing nicely, and with the tiny exception of minor panic attacks over interpersonal issues (not with my professors), I have enjoyed classes immensely. I am not lost or confused or angry with myself over my supposed lack of language skill. It never ceases to amaze me how much you can understand in a classroom where your teacher speaks nothing but the language you DO NOT KNOW. I am so good at this game of beginning French that today I asked for more homework (!!!!!!).

I am currently battling a viral bug that is hanging on for dear life. I don’t understand why it enjoys subsiding in my lungs and sinuses, but for whatever reason, the virus loves me and is lingering. I will survive.

I have learned to adore the following things: crunchy, beautiful, crispy baguettes from the Boulangerie or Patisserie, losing weight due to no salt and walking everywhere, my Own Giant Englishman, my Own Giant Frenchmen, fresh fruits and vegetables at market, mass on Sunday in a church where you can see your breath, living on campus, sunsets through my window, laughing myself sick over bad French articulated in class, French macaroons, Sauce Blanche, NOT tromping through snowdrifts the size of small states, NOT buying gasoline and NOT starting my car in temperatures that cause molecules stop moving.

I currently miss the following things more than I can properly articulate: my washing machine, my refrigerator, the rest of my closet, NON skinny jeans, my own cell phone that has a QWERTY keyboard, reliable internet, my grandparents and my car. In the way of food, the only two things I really desperately want right now is an artery-clogging burger and milk.

I haven’t traveled much, but I have only been here 2 1/2 weeks, so bear with me. There will be many a traveling story. On the agenda as of now (and it will change, I can assure you) is: Rouen, Lisieux, Cannes (for the Film Festival!), Toulouse, Seville and Prague.

I am happy, fairly healthy, not culture shocked to the point of fetal-position-chocolate-scarfing, enjoying the now beautiful weather and making stacks of friends. I am doing my best to communicate in a language I deeply love (and actually sometimes succeeding)!!

Personal best to date: my Oral Communications professor complimented me on my pronunciation and usage of French. Many self-pats-on-the-back were conducted.

That’s all for now, folks! Stay tuned for more wonderful, faux-pas filled adventures, excitement and dates with Dead Historical Figures.

What the Weather Finally Decided To Do Thursday, Feb 11 2010 

This is what the University looked like at about 5 PM yesterday amid the aforementioned tornadoes, earthquakes, UFOs and the like:

5 PM

And here is what I woke up to:

Good Morning!

And this is what the millions of steps on campus looked like this morning:

Ice Picks, Anyone?

Thanks to all you faithful viewers, the blog has received over 1,000 hits!!! Thank you!!!

Also, stay tuned this weekend for some crazy happenings in and around campus. You won’t believe what’s going on Sunday morning!

Weather Whiplash Wednesday, Feb 10 2010 

I would like to preface this post with a plea to all your North Dakotans/Minnesotans who are braving wind chills and plugging in your vehicles–please do not disown me concerning the following whine-session.

If Midwesterners think they’re the only ones in the world who wake up to find the sky gloomy, the wind frosty and the ice on their car impenetrable and yet by the end of the day be digging through summer clothes buried in moth balls and sipping lemonade on the veranda… then let me tell you about the weather patterns here.

I swear this is how today went. No lies. Ready?

1. I woke up to find the sky, as usual, grey and cloudy. As I sat down to check my email…

2. It started to sleet little chunks of snow/sleet/rain/something resembling tiny packing peanuts.

3. Entranced, I watched for a few moments and suddenly, within 5 minutes of beginning, the packing peanuts stopped falling from the sky and…

4. The sun came out, highlighting the beautiful wall of navy blue clouds to the north.

5. I put on my robe and grabbed my shampoo and peeked outside again. The sun was most certainly gone and…

6. We now had gusts of wind that was making the clouds skirt across the sky and the blue wall of clouds creep closer and closer until…


8. By this time, I was more transfixed with what might come out of the sky next than concerned about my getting-ready routine. I was convinced that there might be the début of a hurricane, a tornado, a UFO…

9. By the time I finished getting ready for the day (25 minutes or so), the sun was back out, the ground was now sloppy wet and…. the wind was roaring. So much for doing my hair.

10. Sat in class for 2 hours. This may or may not have been when the hurricane happened.

11. Go outside, brave the roaring wind again (ha, you UNDers think your wind is so awful!).

12. While I ate lunch, and approximately 10 minutes later, we had in succession:

13. Rain

14. Sleet

15. Snow

16. and Sun.

17. By the time my next class finished, the wind had picked up once again, it had snowed and the sun had shone and back and forth 3 times at least.

It’s only 5 PM here, but I am guessing that the tornado is still on schedule for tonight as well as the UFOs and earthquakes. We shall see.

So. What’s the weather like where YOU are?

Chandeleur Etcetera Wednesday, Feb 3 2010 

Bonne Chandeleur (a little late)! Yesterday was traditional Crepe Day.The dictionary told me that La Chandeleur is celebrated in church but it is not a public holiday. It’s a wonderful experience!

It’s a cloudy, windy, rainy day at the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie. People are bundled up in scarves, gloves and wool coats and are hurrying across the large football field in my “front yard” with their faces tucked into their chests. For you Midwesterners, it feels like mid-March here.

Monday we went to Carrefour again (French Wal-Mart) and bought the most obtusely ENORMOUS jar of Nutella I’ve ever seen and a beautiful crusty baguette. Cedric and Sebastian Reese, my little French friends back in the USA, said to eat a lot of good baguettes. I feel very obligated to be obedient in their charge.

Yeah, that's the stuff.

In the way of school, I am still going through the week-long orientation process. I liken it to a giant soduku puzzle, the kind that you get in the New York Times Sunday Edition that is the next thing to rocket science. Although there aren’t any French people in my classes, I have met a lot of other Americans, Ghanans , Chinese and Japanese students. It’s going to be really fun to get into a classroom with the same people to learn their names, hear their stories and decyper their equally accented French (in comparison with mine).

Tonight we go to bed early. We had such a great night at O’Donnells Irish Pub, but today after classes we are going to be whipped. I have learned so much in my classes already, and we are only on Day 3 of Orientation Week!!!

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