I have yet to encounter a dish that I have not enjoyed during my stay in France. As cliché as this may sound… I have to say that my favorite dish is ratatouille. My host mother makes it quite frequently and it is my favorite because of the taste and because of its versatility. One can use it as a sauce for pasta or as a side for the plate.
It is really easy to prepare and I have made sure to learn it so I can bring it back home with me. All you need is equal parts diced: eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, tomato, then an onion or two, some garlic and spices: basil, parsley salt and pepper. Then add water to just cover the vegetables and you simmer until all the vegetable are tender.
Well, if I am being frankly honest with myself, the thing which I have accomplished which makes me proud is I have managed to overcome my fear of girls. It is not a fear really but rather an apprehension of going on dates and nervousness when it comes to anything romantic. I am proud to say that I have summoned up the courage to ask a few girls out for drinks and seeing as it was rather enjoyable I have decided that I had been most foolish to not start sooner!
Now, not every date was for romantic intentions, often it was just to get to know another person better. I have really enjoyed the afternoons I have spent with the French students at the local university. They were all really friendly and great people to talk to. They offer insights into the culture and new perspectives on how to view the world.
That really is one of the things I am most happy about, that I had the courage to ask these girls for some of their time and they said yes.
I in fact have not changed how I spend my free time. First of all I define free time as the time when I am not engaged in academic pursuits or spending time with friends in a social setting. Free time for me is when I am entirely at my own disposal. Therefore in that regards little has changed in the manner I pass the time.
I have picked up writing though. Before I left Mr. Burns gave me a journal as a Christmas present ads since then I have filled it with thoughts, experiences, wishful thinking, and escape plans. I grew so loquacious that I have since started a new one and I think I will keep on journaling. It focuses the day and it is nice to put down concretely that stuff that just kind of floats around in my head.
Another of my favorite pursuits is to just sit in a café with a coffee or beer and spend the time reading. It is something that I really cannot do in the United States and I relish the opportunity to sit out in the sun and just be in the world, but perfectly at my ease. There is hustle and bustle all around me on the Cours Mirabeau, but I am at my leisure with my book.
I am making progress with the language. It is for that reason that I am most irritated at having to leave soon. I have finally reached a point where I am comfortable enough in Aix and in my language abilities to be able to participate in the city more. So the trouble is, now I that I have reached that point… I go. Oh well, C’est la vie!
My school is an American school… and my host mother is English… so I have had to really push myself to get away from English speakers. To that end I sing in the choir at church, go out with French girls, joined the bridge group and a youth group. I have surrounded myself with activities that involve no English and force me to speak only French.
Such antics and activities have not come without their slip-ups and gaffs. I think the most embarrassing which did not get pointed out to me until much later was the misuse of the verb jouir. The verb jouir means to ejaculate, and I had thought it meant to enjoy. So there I was… with a bunch of church choir members and I was trying to explain how much I enjoyed singing with them the last couple weeks.
Well once I learned the meaning of this word. The sentence ran along these lines: “I have ejaculated these past weeks while we have sung together. Pretty ridiculous, however I do think it is a good verb to know.
While studying in Aix, I am taking five classes. So within the classroom I am learning about International Relations, The European Union, Wine, French Grammar and Culture. The latter two are taught in French.
I enjoy immensely all of my classes. My professors are engaging and because I am on another continent it is interesting to hear a European’s view on foreign relations and how one has democratic participation in supranational organizations.
I have learned about the different characteristics of wine varietals. So what grapes give what flavors and how the soil composition of the vineyards affects the flavors of the grapes. I think that as a gentleman a proper cultivation of a knowledge pertaining to wine and spirits is necessary, so to that end I have been pursuing my education in the bars and cafés of Aix-en-Provence.
This is the education that one cannot receive in a classroom. The lesson in drinking culture and the flavors of different cocktails and drinks has to be experienced first-hand. Naturally, social skills and cultural exchanges occur at these places of revelry and fun. It is my personal opinion that I have made the most growth in this arena: the area of social interaction and confidence in meeting new people and getting along with them.
I go out in the evening. That has to be the biggest difference between my studying in Aix and at Hampden-Sydney. Part of it is that I have much fewer responsibilities over here. Back home I have several jobs, I am a resident advisor, and the course load is much more rigorous and time consuming, (and also there is nowhere to go out to in Farmville). Here is Aix there are several night clubs, lots of bars and cafes, less schoolwork and no work, therefore I can afford to go out and stay up a bit late each night. Over here I average going out twice a week, back at home it would be there rare event if I went out twice a week.
I need to mention that my mindset has changed too. I no longer think it is a bad thing to stay out late. It is no longer a bad thing to cut loose and dance a little every once in a while. Everybody thinks that the French are uptight, but it was the French who helped me realize that I was the uptight one, and it was time for me to change.
I will be coming back home with a new appreciation of what I have at school and with my adoptive family on campus, but also a little bit changed. I was one of the worst skeptics of the life changing experience that studying abroad purportedly caused. And now I think I have to be one of the largest proponents. I have not fundamentally changed I think, but important life values and views have shifted, and broadened to be more encompassing and welcoming. I do not know, it is still too early, I need to write back after a year or two to be able to tell for sure.
We use two buildings. The first is the main hall and it is a converted chapel. It was a penitent chapel and it was the place that prisoners and political mal-doers were taken to confess their sins, pray and reflect after being tortured at the Hotel de Ville around the corner. It is entirely stone and, (all of old Aix is stone) and I have the opinion that one can still smell the incense used for all of those centuries. I think that the stone must have soaked in the smell and now it quietly seeps out to lend an air of tranquility and somberness to the place. I do not care for the building as a place of instruction because I think the feel of the building stifles class participation and talking because the building still holds a sort of reverence.
The other building is called Manning hall and it is a converted personal residence. Sometimes, if I am not paying particular attention to the lecture, I like to imagine what the different rooms once were. Manning Hall has a grand front door and a big spiral staircase that goes up three floors and the building is tiles in these hexagonal tiles which are very popular in southern France for paving floors. I love the building because there is a secret staircase which goes up the back and I like using it and getting around that way. It brings a smile to my face every time I use it. The whole building is a puzzle because some of the rooms are only accessible through others. It is great fun to have class in this building.