Salut tout le monde!
Another week of beautiful weather has passed and I still can’t believe that the weather stays like this for so long. As a practically-lifelong Midwesterner, the concept of sunny 80° F weather for weeks at a time is extremely confusing and even annoying. I keep waiting to break out my fall clothing, but so far, the opportunity has not presented itself…
Everything goes well here, I’m settling into a consistent routine and I feel comfortable with my host family and Marseille at this point. However, I also continue to realize the (often subtle) differences in daily life here that have an enormous impact on me. I always knew that I wanted to study abroad in a French speaking country, but in my earliest plans, I was nervous to choose France, because I didn’t want an off-campus study experience that would be very similar to the United States. My desire to master the language quickly won out and I am obviously very happy with my decision, but I’ve also realized that it’s the smallest variations between France and the US are the ones that can make a big difference. When I am at home or in Grinnell, I am an adult who can control what I do and where I go very easily. I know how to walk or drive everywhere I need to go, what is considered appropriate, and what I prefer to do. Here, I am much more dependent on others.
For example, I am living in a lovely home, but it’s not my house, so if I want something to drink, if I want to print something, or to do my laundry, I have to ask. If I want to study with my friends, I have to take the metro to the public library or make sure it’s okay with my host family if friends come over. At frisbee practice yesterday, I wanted to mention to a rookie the importance of hard clears out of the force side lane, but the explanation and translation took about 10 minutes to clarify and I’m still not sure if I made my point accurately or politely. I obviously understand concepts like how to buy a train ticket or how to be polite at the dinner table, but in my second language, these simple actions become much more difficult. I’m lucky, because my host family is so kind and helpful whenever I need absolutely anything, but it can be frustrating when I have to worry about eating too large of a portion at dinner or I don’t even know how to explain something I noticed during the day. For me, it feels so strange to have normal, complex thoughts and ideas, but not be able to articulate them to their fullest extent to the people around me. I’m not used to being so helpless in everyday situations.
Something that I’ve found particularly surprising has been the architectural and historical contrast that surrounds me daily. As with most of the world that is not the United States, France has such a rich history that manifests itself physically in modern day society. Everywhere you go, ancient buildings neighbor neon signs, chain restaurants/stores, and modern ads. For me, it’s astonishing that the French don’t really care about these insanely beautiful buildings, statues, or fountains. I asked my host mom about it and she said that Europeans are so used to the sights around them that they don’t really think of them as special and take them for granted. Meanwhile, I can’t help but stare in awe or take pictures when I pass places like a public park or a bank only to see lovely, historical buildings. In my urbanism class, we are studying the history of Marseille and the city itself. This week, we went to the city’s historical museum, which was arranged chronologically, starting from 600 BCE when Marseille was founded by the Phocians and ending in present day. We covered over 2600 years of history in one building and the year that Wisconsin became a state, 1848, would have fallen in one of the final exhibits of the museum. Thinking about the US in historical comparison really puts the mentality of American “global dominance” and “superiority” in context for me.
We’ve continued to explore Marseille and its surrounding areas. Some of my favorite sites including randomly finding la Place Etrangin-Pastré during a search for a metro station, touring the le Panier with our class, and le Palais du Pharo, an ancient palace on top of a hill near the Vieux Port with a crazy view of Fort St. Jean and the rest of the city. However, one of the most amazing things I’ve done since arriving was hiking in the Calanques this weekend. Marseille is surrounded by mountains and the Mediterranean sea, with calanques (inlets or coves within the cliffs) everywhere. We took a public bus to the trailhead and hiked down towards the sea for less than an hour each way to arrive at the Calanque de Sugiton. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, with perfect teal water surrounded by cliffs and a small beach.
We swam (I had forgotten how salty the Mediterranean would be), jumped off some of the smaller cliffs, and laid in the sun. Afterward, some of us hiked a bit farther to see an amazing view of the coastline from a higher point. It felt so wonderful to be outside and in nature and it was perfect that public transport could take us right to the edge of the national park. The calanque was perfect in the morning, although it got much more crowded in the afternoon, so I think our next goal is to explore less popular locations and see even more of the Parc National soon (:
That’s about all for major highlights, I’m looking forward to a frisbee hat tournament this weekend and some short trips over the next several weeks! Much love to everyone, à bientôt!