Salut tout le monde!
I can’t believe I’ve already been in Marseille for just over a week, it seems like I’ve been living here for so much longer. It’s been an extremely busy week not only because we’ve had hours of orientation every day, but because being here and speaking French all the time is very exhausting!
Although I’ve had a lot going on, everything has been going well here! I really like my host family, which I think has helped me settle in smoothly. I live with the Ochin family, Jean-Pierre, Jenny, and their son Sam, who’s 17. Jenny manages the administration and finances for a preschool and also watches two babies a couple times a week, so there’s two six month olds around the house sometimes. Jean-Pierre is retired and Sam is just about to start college. He’s studying commerce in Marseille and living at home, which is pretty common for French students to do in order to save money. They’re all extremely nice and I’m the 7th American student to live with them, so they’re very relaxed and understanding about my vocabulary/grammar struggles. I speak to them only in French and Jean-Pierre doesn’t speak any English, so there’s a lot of fumbling and trying to explain the context of a word. They live in a residential area a bit farther away from the center of town (where most of the other students live). The distance worth it though, because their house is very beautiful, with a pool and a lovely backyard filled with palm trees and flowers. My friend and I have been taking the metro every day to school but luckily, it’s pretty fast and very easy to use.
Thus so far, I absolutely love the city itself! Marseille has a reputation of being dangerous, but I haven’t felt scared when I’m walking around. Like any city, there are bad areas, but day to day life is not risky, contrary to certain stereotypes. Marseille is actually one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and I still can’t believe I get to live here! It’s situated between the Mediterranean and the mountains, making it a spectacularly beautiful change from the Midwest. For me, every sight of the mountains or the water is breathtaking. The historic downtown neighborhoods are filled with ancient buildings, tiny curving roads, and insane views of the water. Marseille is the oldest city in France and because it was named Europe’s cultural capital last year, there has been a large increase in tourism. As a result, many new buildings and attractions have recently been integrated into the downtown. Highlights so far include the Vieux Port (the Old Port) and the Notre Dame de la Garde, a church that is believed to protect the city from harm (especially at sea). Yesterday, we went on a trip to visit Luberon, a region with many small villages north of the city. These villages were situated in the mountains, so they were wonderful combinations of incredible views of the surrounding countryside and tiny adorable city centers.
We’ve talked a lot this week about cultural differences and how to live in a foreign culture. Because the focus of this program is multiculturalism in France, I think the professors and administration really want us to understand that we are not tourists and going to be inhabiting this country with its own specific practices and traditions. France is not radically different than the United States in comparison to other places, but there are definitely certain variations that I wouldn’t have predicted. For example, the fact that I’m vegetarian is very strange to my host family. Vegetarianism exists here, but it’s a lot less common, so they didn’t really know what I eat besides salad or anything about tofu/other meat substitutes. Thankfully, Sam is pretty picky too, so Jenny and Jean-Pierre are used to a difficult eater. Meals are also much rigidly organized, in the sense that people don’t really snack outside of the specific meal time. My host family eats dinner around 9:00 to 10:00 pm every night, so that has taken some adjustment! Another major cultural difference is the way you conduct yourself in the streets. In any major city in the world, people need to be prudent, but in France, a smile or an acknowledgement of anyone walking by you is perceived as actual interest. So, if you smile at someone walking by you or someone who let you cross the street in front of them, they take that as an invitation to yell at you at the window of the car or try to talk to you as you pass by. Maintaining a neutral face is proving difficult for me, as someone who has grown up in the Midwest, where being friendly to strangers is assumed!
Our classes start tomorrow! I’m actually looking forward to it and am pretty excited about the material, but I’m kind of nervous as well. The French school system is much more strict and hierarchal than in the United States, so French students don’t eat or drink anything (even water) in class, don’t get up to go to the bathroom, and don’t really have discussion-based classes. Since our program is only American students, AUCP is less intense about these rules than a traditional French university, but we are still expected to be much more respectful and serious than we normally would, because our professors are French. Two of my classes are also in 3.5 hour afternoon blocks! This will be difficult for me, because I won’t be allowed to drink coffee or take bathroom breaks to stay awake as I normally do. Classes will also be interesting, as we only have 8 total students in our program. We went to Luberon with the AUCP-Aix en Provence students and there were about 25 of them! Not only will our classes be smaller, but the small number of people is going to make our semester much different than most study abroad programs overall.
I also found Marseille’s club frisbee team, les Marsiens (like Martians and also Marseille)! I went to my first practice on Thursday, at the beach near my house. They practice on a sand volleyball court, or at a nearby park if the wind from the ocean is too strong. Running and playing on the sand is harder than running on the grass! The team was very welcoming and I’ve learned that many of the terms are the same, including pull, huck, pick, break, and handler. I’m really happy to be playing and hopefully all of the wind will help me improve my throws! There’s also a tournament at the beginning of October that I think I’m going to play in, so even though I miss Grinnell women’s ultimate (all those pictures of Titis are killing me), I think I’ll survive (:
Well that’s about all for now, I miss everyone in the US immensely, sending love your way!