Happy One-Month, Dear France

So, you know how I said in my very first post that I was looking forward to my second month in France when I’ve settled into a more predictable routine? As of yesterday, it’s officially been a month since I arrived in Bordeaux, and I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as a study abroad routine.

To be sure, I finally have a finalized class schedule after two and a half weeks of battling the bureaucracy, sleeping through 8 a.m. classes I wanted to take, and trying to accrue enough credits. However, the university system here always has a curveball to throw with frequent last-minute changes and unexplained course cancellations. So far, I’ve shown up to a lecture only to find out it was cancelled, had two classes relocated to different rooms at the last minute and another randomly rescheduled for earlier in the day. Consistency, evidently, is not key in France.

Following the advice of every study abroad student before me, I did find two cafés where I routinely do my work. However, even with something as sacred as a French food establishment, I’ve run into unexpected difficulties. For example, one café—a self-professed study spot for college students—uniquely serves brunch (no, you can’t just have a coffee, Madame) on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and does not allow computers to be used, yes, even if you order brunch. In fact, the concept of studying on the weekends is largely nonexistent here. Perhaps because it truly is necessary to take the day to recover from all the bars you visited the night before. Some cafés are also closed on Mondays (why? who knows!), which is the only day of the week where I don’t have classes and I am not recovering from a party. So, I pretty much live at the university (8 a.m.-7 p.m.) Tuesday through Thursday, then proceed to go out on Thursday because it is the single most popular party day here and struggle in my Friday 8 a.m., spend the weekend afternoons unsuccessfully trying to get work done in my bed, and finally give up and sleep through Monday.

In short, I love it here and I will be very offended in September when I am forced to attend classes between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. instead of receiving a two-hour lunch break, as is the natural order of the universe here. I honestly cannot believe that a month has already passed since I broke the lock on my bathroom door, and I like to think that I’ve since learned enough French to successfully extricate myself from a similar situation should it recur.

To celebrate this small anniversary (and to make up for all the posts I didn’t write last week because the Apple store took a week to fix my broken laptop), I want to share some highlights of my time here so far, in no particular order.

  • Last weekend, we visited the lovely port town of La Rochelle on the western coast of France. I actually published a mini guide on my Instagram, which you can find here, but I can’t miss an opportunity to share some more cool photos that didn’t make the Insta cut.


  • Another incredible trip was our visit to Toulouse, Albi, and Cordes-sur-Ciel. You can find my gushing account in my earlier post, if you hadn’t had a chance to read it already, and in a travel article appropriately titled “An Ode to France” that I wrote for The Caravel. Needless to say, it’s absolutely worth it to visit the lesser known regions of France instead of sticking to the conventional Paris-Lyon-Nice route.

  • On February 1, we attended a theater performance titled Pavillion Noir that examined the world of cyberpiracy and offered a potent critique of the way governments increasingly police the cyberspace. The two-and-a-half-hour performance presented the viewers with the all too familiar cyber scenarios: from a character seeking to escape extradition to the U.S. for leaking materials from a closed scientific database by fleeing to Russia (Edward Snowden, anyone?) to young activists being subjected to forcible house arrests following a terrorist attack on Paris (AKA the aftermath of the 2015 Bataclan attacks). The underlying question of the whole performance is, of course, should we allow our governments to control our online activities and to use our digital footprint against us in the name of national security? Always a law-abiding citizen, I didn’t take any sneaky photos of the play (following a lengthy opening skit on the importance of not taking photos). But I can tell you that it was a cool, visually striking experience, complete with post-performance drinks and a photo opp ;). And I actually understood 85% of what the actors were saying!

    Check out Middlebury’s post-play shenanigans at the photo booth. 
  • Spending approximately $60 over the course of two nights on drinks. In evaluating my budgeting decisions, I am now trying to determine whether eating is in fact more important than drinking. Sorry, mom.

  • Wine tasting at a château in St. Émilion. I mean, free wine, what more can I say? Although thanks to my digestive system’s newfound inability to process acidic foods, I’ve been laying off the wines (and crying every time I’m offered a glass). All that has accomplished is forcing me to shell out even more $$$ for drinks. My wallet is truly missing the good old-fashioned American pregame complete with water bottles containing questionable liquids.

    Vineyards as far as the eye can see.
    The villages of St. Émilion.

  • Having one of my professors invited over for dinner by my host family AKA his old friends. Drinking in front of, and for all intents and purposes with, your professor is one of the more enlightening experiences one could go have in college. (And by drinking, I mean taking a literal shot of Polish vodka your host mother digs up in her son’s room because, again, I can’t really drink wine without doubling over from heartburn these days.)

Through it all, I think my French is getting better. At the very least, I already had one anxiety dream where a French professor gave me a talking to in French. You know what they say: once you start dreaming in the language, you’re well on your way to becoming fluent.



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