June 2, 2015
My 2 days of hell of traveling and waiting in the airport have begun. I honestly cannot believe that my first study abroad experience is coming to an end and that I have to return home. So I left Pau Wednesday morning (June 24). I spent the about 2 days packing and unpacking my stuff (since I overpacked) until I finally got everything into my backpack and 2 suitcases. My host mom and I had to carry them down from the fourth floor of her apartment (since it has no elevator) and I had the unfortunate position of walking backwards down the stairs, praying that I wouldn’t tomber to my death. But fortunately I did not fall to my death but I am already missing France. I think that I may have taken advantage of the city I studied in. I did not realize I would miss the Boulevard of Pyrenees or going for runs in the park of the Château de Pau. I never watched TV with my host family because I had the impression that TV was their personal time. The first time I asked my host dad if I could watch TV with him, he said the show was too complicated for me then proceeded to sit me down in front of another TV upstairs, playing some Italian movie dubbed over in French that was “simple enough” for me to comprehend. Well of course it wasn’t and I ended up spending an hour in my room feeling that I would never understand French.
Despite this, I miss my host family and I miss living in a huge old apartment where I could see the Pyrénées mountains every morning. I miss the baguettes for breakfast and the long dinners with cheese and fruit for dessert. And I feel like as soon as I started to get used to living with them, I had to leave. My host mom and I finally bounded over Stromae and by talking about differences between French and English. On the other hand, my host dad grew a little impatient with me and constantly finished my sentences and always spoke to me extremely slow, explaining very simple French words even when I said I understood. He even did that terrible thing when he yelled a French word slowly at me one time at the dinner table when I did not respond to his question because I did not hear it. But I completely understand where they were coming from. It exhausting talking to someone who doesn’t understand the language yet and having to explain things multiple times. But either way, I still learned a lot from them and now I have connections back to Pau.
It is amazing how much I have changed since I first arrived in France. Culture shock made me go from being unable to function to having a better understanding of French culture. And when I say that culture shock makes a person lose the ability to function, I literally mean that. There was one morning where I literally stood in front of the cupboard for about 5 minutes trying to figure out how in the world could I fit two jars of jam into the cupboard. It was impossible, I was certain there was no room for them when my host dad just comes up and stacks the two jars on top of them. My mind was blown, stacking the jars never even crossed my mind for a second. And the best part is when you eventually reach this wonderful point where your French skills are starting to improve, but for some reason your English skills has significantly declined. You lose all ability to communicate in either language and you are pretty sure that you are no longer a person.
The excursions with the program were incredible. I still cannot believe that the places we went to were real. Our first excursion was to the Pays-Basque. We went to Bayonne, which is this really cool city close to Spain, that is a mix of French and Spanish culture. Then we went to Biarritz, which has the most beautiful beaches that I have ever seen. The next excursion was in the Pyrenees. We went to the zoo, which was in the mountains and then to a city called Gavarnie to hike. Unfortunately we had to turn back early because the there was a thunderstorm and it is extremely dangerous to hike in one. But hiking in the mountains was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had. The mountains were so beautiful but unfortunately the pictures I took will never do it justice. Lastly, I went with 2 friends to Bordeaux for a day. The city is much bigger than Pau and the architecture of the buildings is similar to Paris. Bordeaux is known for its wine so of course we went wine tasting and walked around the city all day.
I feel like I could go on forever about Pau. The city was a little too small for me and my class was a bit frustrating because there was such a wide range of levels within our class, but I am glad I stuck with it and I feel like I still learned a lot. Also, the Paris tour was totally worth it. We got metro tickets, a museum pass, 4 nights in a nice hotel with breakfast, and dinner at a really nice restaurant. The thing that I did not like about Paris was that it was so incredibly touristy in certain areas. For example, when we went to the Palace of Versailles, people were basically walking single file through the Palace. It was hard to really get a good look at the rooms or let alone imagine what it might have been like to live there back in the day. Also, going with a large group was not fun at all. It was difficult to keep everyone together and to get about 20 students on the metro in less than a minute. But I still enjoyed being able to hang out with some of my friends and explore Paris. I could go on about my trip forever but I decided a short description of things I have done is better:
-Day 1- We took a 5 hour train ride to get to Paris. After we arrived at the hotel, we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was beyond incredible.
-Day 2- We went to the Arc de Triomphe which is this huge building that you can go up over to see a view of Paris. Personally, I thought that the view from the arc was better than the view from the Eiffel tower. We also went to this church which had the most beautiful stained glass that I have ever seen in my life. We wandered through the opera house as well.
-Day 3- Eiffel tower, the Louvre and dinner, plus boat ride in the evening on the river. The Eiffel tower was pretty good but it would have been much better without the pickpocketers following you around and constantly asking if you speak English. The Louvre was absolutely incredible but the building is a labyrinth. My friends and I got so lost in the museum since we had no clue that the Egyptian art would be as big as it was. After the Louvre, we went to this other museum of the French sculptor Rodin.
-Day 4- Palace de Versailles, which I already discussed, and then packing for London.
My London trip has finally come to an end, which I am quit happy about since these past 4 days have been exhausting. My friend and I left for London at 7 in the morning on Sunday. We got a shuttle from our hotel the airport with left at 5 am, and so we were up at 4 am. Also, that night I went to bed at 3 am so I was running on an hour of sleep. When we arrived in London, it was a huge culture shock. We went to a café for breakfast and we honestly had no clue how to order or how to eat. Were we allowed to sit there for a few hours after we ate and just hang out? Do we tip the server? Is it rude if we don’t eat everything on our plate? We ended up eating an obnoxious amount of food before realizing that the restaurant was similar to those in the U.S. Later that night, we got all the touristy sightseeing stuff out of the way like the Tower of London, Big Ben, and the London Eye. It took us forever to figure out the metro, since it is so much bigger than the one in Paris, and we had to buy a card for transportation. The next few days we saw Buckingham Palace, found Abbey Road, took a nap in a park, and wandered around Baker Street. My friend and I realized the hard way that London is ridiculously expensive, so we have been living off of bananas and peanut butter sandwiches since Sunday. But now all we have to do is wait. I am currently writing this from the airport in London. Our flight to Paris does not take off for another 2 hours and we will be spending the night in the airport in order to wait for our flight back to the U.S. on Friday. So these next 36 hours will be hell, but I know it is totally worth it. I absolutely loved seeing London and comparing it to Paris. I love traveling and this journey has made learn to appreciate things more through all the ups and downs that being in a foreign country brings. I know I am incredibly lucky to be able to return to France to study for the academic year.