I’m not nearly as consistent as I’d like to be when it comes to writing blog posts. I guess that’s something I have to work on, huh?
So here’s the update: I returned from Ecuador, I spent about a month in the US, and now I’ve firmly established myself in the south of France. It all happened quickly and chaotically, but I’m in the groove of things now. I’ll try to keep this brief because I can’t cover all of what’s happened since I’ve arrived, so here goes!
Getting to France was exciting. I wasn’t alone on the plane ride– I immediately met a student from my university who was in the same program. We stuck together, facing turbulence and a man spilling soda on our legs, until we made it to Montpellier. At the hotel, we met the other 30-odd students who’ll be staying in France this semester. We were oriented by staff, we explored, and we drank (welcome to France!). We also learned that our French was not as phenomenal as we had thought.
Setting up my courses came next. A few are mandatory, like grammar and writing, and others were made for foreign students, meaning I picked them because they’d improve my French and (probably) be a bit easier. I now have an internship that will start in October as well as five classes*. The good thing is that four of them take place with the other international students, meaning they’re meant for those who are not necessarily masters at French. On the other hand, my one integrated class, which is a “normal” class taught at the university, is probably awesome– but I just can’t understand what the professor is saying!
When I’m not in class or ignoring my homework, I’m walking around the city. I can always find something interesting going on. Boutiques, cafés, and other small shops are everywhere while musicians or other kinds of street performers are around every corner. My favorite performance involves a man who plays a “Hang,” which is probably the most interesting instrument I’ve seen yet, but I also like the guy who covers himself in what looks like copper paint and sits absolutely still for hours on end.
Although it’s incredibly easy to get lost when weaving in and out of side streets, I’m starting to find my way around. Well, it helps that I’m not afraid to stick my nose in one of those obnoxiously big tourist maps*! The people are also super friendly here, so whenever I get lost, I mentally prepare myself and ask for directions in French. No biggie.
The center of the city is really fun to explore. There’s a Lush (I can finally walk to one!), there are plenty of book stores, and you know I’ve already found a vegan bakery. It’s generally super sunny and warm, although we have had a few cloudy days. Overall, the weather is gorgeous, and it’s no wonder I’m constantly tempted by the outdoors. Plus, once in a while, I come across a vineyard.
This one is close to my house, which is a few tram stops away from the center of the city. My host mom says that no one will notice if I take a bunch of grapes and bring it home, so… you all know what I’m doing on my next walk.
And speaking of my host mom, can I mention she’s an angel? Seriously. Straight from the sky. She’s incredibly kind, easy to get along with, and has made me feel completely at home in her color-coordinated, Ikea-inspired apartment. I also now have a 3-year old brother who is prone to slight mood swings and a wonderfully good-natured cat (Bébé Chat, as she’s affectionally called) that I am not allergic to. You can’t imagine how grateful I am for that!
Now, because of the way this study abroad program is set up, the students can decide to take a few extra excursions that allow us to explore more of Europe. The next one will be to Barcelona in about a week! We’ve already gone on a group trip to a place called Aigues-Mortes, which translates roughly to “Dead Water.” It’s a city not too far from Montpellier that has an interesting history– it served as a prison for a while!– but now, it’s a quaint little place, surrounded by water, that specializes in selling salt. In fact, some of the water surrounding Aigues-Mortes is perpetually red from the salt content. The salt attracts a type of algae, which attracts tiny organisms, which attracts flamingos… it’s a cool process.
While here, we walked around a medieval wall that surrounds the city and learned about its history. Towards the end of the tour, I bought a 9,50 Euro container of salt*. I soon realized I could have bought the exact same thing for 1,50 Euro cheaper outside of the wall… Live and learn, right?
We took a 20-minute bus ride after touring the city so we could hop on a boat and sail around the coast. It was beautiful, but so windy and sunny that it was hard for me to function. That didn’t stop the other passengers from having a fun time… at one point, there was a singing competition between the study-abroad students and a young French soccer team. (I think the soccer team won… those girls had lungs!)
Once the ferry docked and the weather calmed down, we took another long walk while admiring all the coast had to offer. Namely, the Simpsons.
There was also supposed to be a bull run around the time that we arrived, but I didn’t see any stampeding animals. That was a relief– wiith my luck, I might have been hit!
Overall, I can’t express how happy I am to be here. The south of France is more beautiful than I could have imagined. And although I might have spent quite a few years romanticizing the city before coming I’m not exaggerating its charm!
It’s wonderful. From the narrow but lively side streets to the wide-open courtyards, Montpellier is a gem, and I couldn’t be happier that I chose this place for my year of studying abroad.
Make sure to tune in at some point in the near future (fingers crossed!) to hear more about my adventures in Montpellier.
*Fun facts about Montpelier:
- Classes usually happen only once a week, compared to three or four times a week in the US. They’re also about three hours long to make up for the difference. Can you imagine being lectured in an amphitheater with poor audio for three hours? I can. I really, really can.
- Street signs aren’t on poles here. They’re on the actual buildings that line the streets!
- Commas and decimals are switched (like in many other countries). So prices wouldn’t be written as $9.50 but as 9,50€.
- Public transportation here is bomb-diggity. It’s incredibly easy to get around, and I was really surprised at how eagerly and readily people are willing to offer seats to the elderly or to pregnant women/young mothers.