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Gap Year Abroad

8 posts categorized "Helen Walter Cardinal"


La Campagne

Unless you go to a park, it is hard to find "nature" in Paris. Apartments have replaced trees, and sidewalks act as Paris' grass. Although the city is kept relatively clean, and although the man-made structures are beautiful, it is easy to find yourself longing for forests, hills, and countryside.

    Since we had no school Thursday and Friday due to All Saints' Day, my host family was generous enough to take me to their second home in the campagne (countryside). While I was headed there on the train, I was able to see stone, glass and metal become trees, grass and earth. 

       When I arrived at their country home, I soon fell in love with the forests, streams and grassy pathways that surrounded their home. The first morning I was there, we all (my host family and some of their extended family) went searching for champignons (mushrooms). At first I could not believe that my host family intended to cook and eat wild mushrooms, but I calmed down when I realized that my host parents were "experts" at picking mushrooms and that they had books telling them which mushrooms were edible and fresh.

Here is our basket full of mushrooms (this type of mushroom is called "pied mouton" or "sheep's foot'):


And here are my mud covered boots after sloshing through marshy forests: 


My whole four day weekend is a blur of relaxation, nature walks and eating my host family's delicious cooked mushrooms; except one event that really ;eft an impression.

On Saturday, I went with my host family to a town called Loches for its lively fresh food market. It was a very old town, with buildings remaining from the middle ages (everything is so old here!). I also learned that Joan of Arc passed through this town to meet the king after a great victory at Orleans.

Here is a plaque dedicated to her visit:


I am so enthralled by France's rich history! 

Anyway, after a calming four days in the countryside, I felt refreshed and happy to return to the city.




A Day in the Life...

This the view out of my bedroom window. I sometimes rely on its brightness to wake me up, especially if I have to wake up early to "teach" at the école maternelle (preschool) for my volunteer work. 

    On the average day, I am the first one awake. I creep downstairs so I don't wake anyone up. When I reach my destination, the kitchen, I will treat myself to a strong cup of coffee in what is essentially a cereal bowl with a handle. (The size of coffee cups decreases as the day progresses. At night, one usually takes but a tiny espresso.) Usually, when the espresso-maker is warming up, I cut off a piece of baguette and tear open the crust so that it is flat. After toasting it and covering it in butter and homemade coing jam (a fruit unknown to the US), it is ready to eat.

    I finish my breakfast and take a shower (with french shampoo!). I get dressed, brush my hair etc...and then it is time to leave for either the CIEE center or for the école maternelle. I walk for fifteen minutes to get to the metro (Paris' subway) and walk another fifteen minutes after I get off. (I have to walk a lot! Thank goodness for public transportation!)

    At the école maternelle, my friends and I teach for 3 twenty minute sessions. Considering the children's ages are from 3-6, it is a miracle if we are able to hold their attention for anything more than that. The kids are cute, but this work is difficult! 

Here is a picture that a 3 year old girl gave to me:


    After that, I go to classes--at first classes at the CIEE center, but now at the Sorbonne. It is easy to get discouraged when taking these classes--French teachers are much stricter---but I remind myself to keep my head up and do my best. After class ends, I either go home, or join the other "gappies" (Gap Year students) for an outing like those which I have posted about.  

    I'll get home anytime from noon to 7 and complete whatever homework I have. I feel comfortable here, but there are some major differences from my home in the US. For example, the toilet and sink are often in different rooms, and there is only one TV (I've already mentioned that you shouldn't take off your shoes when you are in the house).

    Then it is dinner time. My host mother is a fabulous cook, so I always look forward to having meals together. I try my best to have conversations in French, and often my host parents will compliment me when they see I have improved. Right after dinner(the French have late dinners), I will go to bed or Skype my parents. 

    Every day is a little different of course, but this is an outline of what I do on a daily basis. One of the most incredible things about living here is that history is still very much alive. I'm often able to connect places, politics, and customs to French  historical events. Sometimes I'm even reminded of my AP European History textbook--for instance, the time I saw a painting at the Musee d'Orsay which had been printed on one of the book's pages! It was mind-boggling to think that I was right next to a painting of such historical significance. 

    Tomorrow, I will get to see another little piece of history: a play, L'École des femmes by Molière---a French playwright comparable to Shakespeare.  

I'm so happy to be here. 



Today, the seven of us rode on scooters (trotinnettes) while taking a tour of Belleville --a section of Paris known for its diversity and its immigrant population. Although there were often exclusive sections for each cultural group (we saw a Jewish section, a North African section, a Chinese section), we learned that many of the apartment buildings were built with the intention of housing many different nationalities. Belleville had been an area that the government tried to make safer, friendlier, and more beautiful. For example, a large park in Belleville had once been a place to slaughter horses and hang criminals, but now it holds tall green hills, a waterfall, and a pond. 

Here is the waterfall:

As a final treat, our tour guide took us to see a street where "street art" is legal: 


Me in front of a grafitti studio:

And my friend Nadia in next to some decorated flower-pots:


It was very interesting to see so many different immigrant communities in Paris. However, since we are talking about differences in culture, I suppose I should tell you some differences between French and American culture. Up until now, I haven't taken the time to focus on this. So I wrote up some rules that are essential if you want to be mistaken for a Parisian:

Rule No. 1: Do not take off your shoes unless you are showering or sleeping.

Rule No. 2: Avoid smiling at strangers and make minimal eye contact. 

Rule No. 3: Talk quietly. Especially on the metro. 

Rule No. 4: Eat when sitting down only. No walking while eating. 

Rule No. 5: Do not assume you have "right of way" when crossing the road. Cars and motorcyles (especially motorcyles) can and will run you over. 

Those are the main behavoiral differences I have noticed so far. In my next post, I will explain the "typical" Parisian day in great detail.

à bientôt,




Frozen in Time

Yesterday, we (moi and the six other Gap Year students) went on a day trip to Provins, a city whose architecture has barely changed since Le Moyen Âge (the Middle Ages). Guided by Lucie Laureillard, our teacher/Gap Year coordinater, we learned that Provins had flourished in the 12th Century hosting Champagne Fairs which boosted the Medieval economy. Now it is famous for its roses, which are often incorporated into foods and drinks---even rose flavoured bon-bons (candy)! We were all a bit tired from the long train ride, but that did not stop us from taking a guided tour through the sometimes treacherous and always dark limestone underground galleries in which merchants had stored goods for trading (Unfortunately photography was not permitted). We also explored the well preserved Tour César  , built in the douzième siècle (12th century). The inside was tight and cramped and the passageways and staircases were absurdly narrow, even though the tower looked huge from the outside:

That's the Tour César.

The old houses were charming too, but they looked funny in contrast with the cars on the street; 


The trip was great (but tiring) and I believe it is a must-see for travelers in France---especially if you need some countryside and fresh air after staying in Paris!



It has almost been 2 weeks!

On vendredi (Friday), it will have been 2 weeks since I arrived in France. I adore ma famille d'accueil (my host family) and I have become great friends with the other gap-year students. Some of us even made a pact to speak French (for the most part) with each other so we can improve our language skills! Sometimes it is hard to resist the temptation to speak English, however, especially when I have something urgent to say. But I still try to speak as much French as I can---and it has paid off already! My teachers and host family have told me that I already speak with more confidence and better vocabulary. I'm even able to see my own improvement; since I am forced/encouraged to speak French and am surrounded by the language, I learn new words and phrases every day.

As you can probably tell, I am very enthusiastic about being here. Everything is new and exciting and it seems that I'm so busy (busy in a good way) that I don't have time for home-sickness. With our teacher/coordinater/tour guide, Lucie Laureillard, we have visited many famous monuments in Paris during our cultural excursions.  Notre Dame was by far the most beautiful in my eyes (pictures are in the slideshow I posted yesterday), Sacre Coeur had a magnificent view of Paris, and the Centre Pompidou had funky and interesting architecture. Today, we all went to the Panthéon (among other historical sites) and we were able to see the cercueils (coffins/tombs) of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau, and too many other influential people to list. 

Here is Voltaire's tomb:



Later on, we visted Mosqueé de Paris (The Mosque of Paris) --although we were not able to go inside because it was the time designated for prayer, we all had special Mint Tea (an African drink) and little pastries at a restuarant situated in the same site as the Mosque.  Here we are; we had just finished our thé (tea):

These last two weeks have been spectacular---I'm interested to see what the future will bring!


Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Centre Pompidou and other sights around Paris

Created with flickr slideshow.


France Finally

It's been three busy days since I arrived in Paris. My host family is "très sympa". The first day was easy because I spent the day at home. But my host family spoke English to me only the first day---now I am realizing how much more I need to learn before I can have a meaningful conversation. On the second day, I met with the CIEE group to buy phones, metro passes and exchange money. Afterwards, we took a boat ride on the Seine (But only after we took this picture in front of La Tour Eiffel!) Today is "dimanche" so I had no classes. At first I planned to go shopping with my friends, but we soon learned that in France many stores are closed on Sunday. I was able to find one supermarché---one that we spent about a half hour in only to buy a few things! 

Overall, I don't feel very homesick yet and I love it here---the food, the sights, the people---magnifique! I expect it to get much harder soon, however, because I have recieved a lot of help these past couple of days; soon I will have to conquer the language barrier by myself! 


PS. In the picture, I am second from the right.



This is my empty suitcase. It sits ominously in my room, reminding me how unprepared I feel and how long my must-get-these-things-done-before-September 20th-list is. It is officially a week until my departure from JFK and a week and one day until my arrival in Charles De Gaulle airport. My belongings to be packed are piled in a corner near my window, along with about a lifetime's worth of copies of my passport and other important documents. I've given up cramming my brain with last-minute French lessons in lieu of more important things like trying to get in contact with a French doctor to prescribe my ADHD medication, and buying contact solution. Everything feels so last minute, yet I find myself sleeping way more than necessary---probably to ward of the boredom that one experiences when all their friends have left them to attend college. For that reason, it is a blessing that I get to entertain myself by writing my first entry to my blog.

Since this is my first blog post, it is only fair I tell you what you can expect if you plan to follow my adventures in Paris.
1. Honesty
2. Frequent updates
3. Clean Language and themes

I want to help people know what to expect before they depart on a journey like mine---even though I have yet to find out myself.


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