Bonjour mes ami(e)s!
I feel like I’ve settled into a routine here and I’m starting to understand the city/how to live in it! For example, my friend Chloe and I have become experts at the metro. We know the two lines and what time we need to leave our station, Ste. Marguerite Dromel, to get to Castellane, where the AUCP is located, so that we’re not late for class. We know how to avoid the construction on the Rue de Rome and we try not to talk too loudly in public spaces. I’ve learned the French words for fork, knife, and plate, so I can conduct myself at meals, and several key swearwords, that I’ve started to use when I misthrow at frisbee practice. My everyday vocabulary is still lacking substantially, but I don’t feel quite as nervous talking to my host family, waiters, or salespeople.
We started classes this past week and I have five courses, with six different professors. Most of the profs are French, but they are extremely patient with our American questions and confusion. I really enjoyed my Political Science class, which focuses on NGOs and development in France. The professor is extremely knowledgeable, as he is the former head of his own health-related NGO, and I think that all of us are really looking forward to profiting from his vast experience. Arabic has also been an adventure! Surprisingly, the difficulty hasn’t come from learning a third language (or fourth for some!) in our second (or third) language, but rather from starting completely over in a new language more generally. I think that learning Arabic would be equally as challenging in English, because connecting a completely new alphabet with sounds and meanings requires enormous mental gymnastics.
As before, we’ve continued to talk a lot about intercultural differences between the US and France, but also between cultures in general. I really like asking about and discussing these concepts with my host family. Sometimes I tell them a concept or generalization that we’ve learned about French society and they laugh, because it isn’t at all applicable to their lives. The Ochins are a lot like my family at home, they aren’t very formal about daily life in the house and don’t mind if I go about my days/weekends freely. However, certain cultural variations that we study are definitely applicable in real life! For example, the idea that the French love to discuss and debate holds true. At dinner, we’ve discussed topics including François Hollande, Obama, Scott Walker, the American Electoral College, the French health care system, public transportation, political parties, and immigration. Sometimes they lose me in the details, but I’ve tried to explain American politics and current events as best I can. French conversations also tend to be more spirited and less amicable or agreeable than American ones, so tone and content can come off as intimidating if you don’t realize that’s just how people talk. I’ve also tried a couple of French dishes! We had a salad with fried goat cheese and toast the other day, many different meals featuring zucchini (my host family thought that particular English word was so silly!), half-cream milk, and chouquettes, a pastry that you fill yourself with whatever you want (whipped cream, jelly, etc.) I’ve been very content with French food so far (they eat a lot of pasta, which is obviously great), but I do miss American foods, including easy to find vegetarian options, bagels, hashbrowns, and cheese curds in particular ((:
This week, we’ve been trying to explore the city of Marseille on our own! We visited the giant, modern public library (Mom, you would have loved it!), the Palais Longchamp, and took a ferry across the port to see another neighborhood, including a beautiful view of the entire coast. On Saturday, we took an excursion to Aix-en-Provence with AUCP, to learn about the historical significance and heritage of the town. At first glance, Aix is extremely beautiful. It’s a city of about 150,000 filled with lovely architecture, religious and political history, and clean streets lined with trees.
I really enjoyed walking around during the day, learning about the different eras of construction within the older districts, but I realized that I’m glad I’m living in Marseille. Someone described Marseille to me as a city of the people, which seems to be very accurate. It’s easy to find cheap food options there, the streets are bustling with diverse residents and visitors, and when I speak French, people almost always respond in French (unless I look absolutely lost). While it was very fun to be a tourist in Aix, it gives off a very different atmosphere and that vibe coupled with some nightlife misadventures throughout the evening made us AUCP Marseille students realized we definitely identify more with our city of residence (: Despite some troubles, I enjoyed getting out of Marseille for the day and I’m really looking forward to exploring the rest of the Provence region soon!
À la prochaine fois et bises à tous!