Monday, May 30, 2011

Running in the Combs

You know when something becomes so natural and so much a part of your life, that you do not find it different or special anymore? For me, it's something that has become so routine that it's just part of life and not really something interesting to write about. For me, that was my daily Saturday morning running in the Combs of Fixin, with Leonie, Fred, Fred's husband, and a few of the other citizens of Fixin. It was always enjoyable and I loved that Saturday morning ritual almost as much as I enjoyed running on my own in the Combs. I just never really felt like I needed to write about it. It's like taking a shower, it comes as second nature and does not necessarily merit a blog post.

Of course, this past Saturday, I woke up bright and early with Leonie and together we headed up to Fred's house. Fred did not know I was coming to France, so when she saw me for the first time, she was so excited. Fred is Leonie's best friend in Fixin. All three of their children (Fred's three, and Leonie's three) have been about the same age, so they have taken part in many PTA {equivalent} meetings throughout the years. I am pretty sure Fred is the sole reason that L R is a runner, as a matter of fact. Of course, Leonie pulled her Achilles Tendon, and was out of commission from running. But unlike most people, this did not stop her from exercising all the same. She has taken up VTT (cross-country biking) in the meantime. But more on L R later.

The first thing Fred said to me after the obligatory Bissou was that she hoped my French was still in tact because she and I had a lot of discussing to do. Granted my speaking French is horrid, but I can understand French better than ever before. As we ran along the same trail we had run on 2 years ago, a stroll down memory lane came not from merely the path but also the great memories we spoke about. Fred is one of the most kind and optomistic French women I have ever met. She told me she was happy that my year was so wonderful, and that I had kept in touch so well with my French family (I think this was an indirect way of saying I was a good exchange student, but the other boy, Andrew did not keep in touch with his host family.) Of course, she admitted it was a shame that I did not get on well with the high school students, but all in all my host family, the traveling, and the love I developed for the country of France is far more important than that.

There were several things that Fred and I spoke about that really intrigued me. When she asked me how long it had been since I left France, I told her two years. She replied that it passed quickly, and really not much had happened in the mean time. I had to agree that things had not changed that much since the last time I was here. However, two years passing quickly? Hm. I thought about it, and came to the troubling realization that she was perfectly right. Two years since I had lived in France had passed in the blink of an eye. I can not believe that I am halfway through college already. I can not believe over 700 days have come and gone since the last time I was here. I have no regrets, and I feel I have truly lived up my college experience, but it slightly terrifies me when I consider time and my place within the constant swinging pendulum.

Running in the Combs is always a great relaxing thing for me. Even if L R and Fred managed to get on the subject of age, a topic I hate hearing about, more than I would have liked. One thing that made me angry was how Fred and L R kept talking about age holding them back from running and biking. Yet, even though I've run 3 half-marathons and 1 marathon, they continued to kick my butt running and biking. What might be a good excuse for me then? Ha.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Things I Learned in France

In retrospect, France may have truly been the best year of my life. At least in terms of how much I grew up. I used to talk about how I could never compare my years abroad in Japan and France, especially when people would ask which one I enjoyed more. And I still hold true to that even after all these years of 20/20 Hindsight. But the thing is Japan was a cakewalk compared to France. Surviving my year in France was hard. But I did it, and I truly believe I became an adult and a better person because of my year in France. I say this, of course, because my first night back in Burgundy, L R said, "You've become very European." Furthermore, hanging out with Chacha and her friends yesterday led me to believe that I truly have become more European. But there are several things that I learned in France that I only now realize I have learned.

1.] The only way out is through. My winter in France was somewhat dreadful. Of course, I say the same thing about my winter in Japan as well. I think I have Seasonal Affect problems, so I feel like any country with a gray cloud and a drop in temperature will make me somewhat miserable. But my French was so bad and I was not fitting in with the people in my school and class, and I spent many days waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel. It certainly did come along, and I feel like a stronger person because of that experience. In fact this year at Clemson, I had a very difficult and challenging year. In one semester, I alienated my sorority experience, lost my best friend and Freshman roommate, and had a major life crisis. I do not know if I could have gotten through the semester without my experience in France

2.] Who cares what other people think? Sure, I'm not entirely an expert on the subject. But France gave me the  opportunity to sort through people that I truly care about and respect their judgements, as well as people who do not deserve that respect. I spent a lot of time worrying about my French and others perceived me while in France, but it was because most of the time it was people I truly cared about. If I cared about what everyone though, the old Rotarians, the random stupid school kids, and so forth, than I would have hated my life beyond the ability to live it.

3.] Live a little bit. I wish I had learned this sooner. I am not entirely sure I learned this in France, but just afterwards when I used my experience to make college more fun. I wish I had drank more beer, smoked more cigarettes, and been more of a typical French teenager (well maybe not smoked.) Go with the flow, rather than try to fight it and miss out on what the common people do. I spent more time clinging to my roots, telling myself to drink less and do only what is 'right.' But sometimes what is 'right' is not always the most fun and even holds you back from missing the culture. I wish I had gone out with Cha Cha more and sat in the Brasseries with a beer or two, rather than sitting at home or avoiding going out with her all together. I realized this was my problem when I returned back to the United States, and I changed myself for the better.

4.] Eat. It is one of those stereotypes about France that is completely and hundred percent accurate. The French adore eating, but at a different level than Americans. We eat quickly and just for nourishment. Sometimes I think Americans eat because it is a painful experience that people are embarrassed of and that's why we do it and not think much of it. I know for certain that this is my reasoning. Coming to France, I will not admit to you that I had an eating disorder, but I will admit that I had some serious misinterpretations of eating. I avoided it, until L R put down her foot and forced me to act French and enjoy the food. Somewhere along the way I relearned how to eat. I have gained quite a few pounds since  my first day in France that first time, but I now have an appreciation and an appetite for food.

5.] There is no such thing as normal. I had convinced myself that I was completely unconventional and that I was no where near the definition of normality. But now I am not so sure. I think everyone thinks they are special in some sort of way, and everyone is special in some way shape or form. Mind you special might not always have a good connotation. I think being normal is a bad thing on some level, because it means your identity is just like everyone else's. The more I wrote on this blog how unconventional my life is, the more I began to realize that it's not unconventional at all. It's just a little different than the kids who stayed in High School and matriculated straight to college.

6.] The more things change, the more they stay the same. Okay, so I did not exactly learn this on the year of my exchange. This is more of a right here right now realization. but it is true. Things have changed very little since the last time I was here.  I have a lot to say on the subject, but I think I will just leave it at this for now.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Still Trying To Figure Out What To Do

Being back on the road traveling around the world again and I have begun to realize something a little bit troubling about myself. The fact of the matter is that I have a tendency to completely change my life for something what I deem very important in my life.

What I mean is that two days before I left France for the first time, I cried a little and told L R that all I wanted to be was normal. I wanted to be like her daughter Cha Cha, a fun-loving, smoking, drinking, average kid that thought more of having fun and less about what is going on in the world around her. I wanted to wear nice clothes and have lots of friends and drink alcohol and go to parties and not worry about what is going on Sudan, Japan, and politics in Europe.

My return to the United States brought me to Clemson University, where I immediately joined a sorority, made lots of friends, began drinking, and become normalized for lack of a better term. I changed my major from International Trade to Secondary Education. I figured since I as never going to leave the country, so why bother being in that kind of major. And something that used to terrify me... the idea of living in a white-picket fenced house with three kids and a golden retriever, become more realistic. I started dating boys that wanted that kind of thing, and never really imagined what it would be like to study abroad. I had so much fun Freshman year that I cancelled my plans to study abroad Sophomore year. All my money went into my sorority, buying adorable clothes, eating out, alcohol, and other fun things that made me what I considered a normal kid. I guess subconsciously I knew what I was doing. I was becoming an all-American girl. Normal. Which is what I truly wanted. Or at least it's what I thought I wanted.

Sophomore year changed all that. I moved on to my sorority hall, which I enjoyed, but I realized that it was not for me. I could not be a sorority girl 24/7. I could not lose my identity to sport letters at every occasion. Now, don't get me wrong. I do love my sorority and I would never change the great times I have had as a Theta, but it's not really who I am. When I moved off the hall, I, unfortunately, alienated several of my friends. I had to start over, which although this crushed me, ended up being the best thing for me. I refound myself in that previous semester. I become the same confused kid who's wings won;t allow her to stay on the ground for very long. I figured out that I was still me, the same girl that is still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life while chasing Samurai and wearing French barets.

I am not entirely sure what the future holds for me. But I can not stay in South Carolina for the rest of my life. I realize now that I am too liberal, too curious, too unwilling to accept a marriage proposal or a job offer that I am not entirely sure will be right for me. I look in the mirror and realize the most important thing is to be happy, and not worry about what is expected or what is "normal." I'm currently on a great trip in Europe, and already planning another trip as soon as possible. I'm thinking Africa for Christmas.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Back in Burgundy Part 2

I finally did manage to get on that bus. Of course, I had to argue with the bus driver over whether or not I was going to pay for an additional bus fare for my bag that was immensely huge. I won, shockingly and only paid for one fare. Maybe I am becoming French.

The bus ride out to the Cote d'Or was surreal. Although on one level I felt like I had never left. Sure, I was a little older and maybe a little wiser, but time had almost seemed to stop in Burgundy. I am not sure how to explain other than the fact that the same little quirks that were there two years ago, still remained. Of course, a part of me thinks a lot of this stuff will never change. At least the important stuff.

The bus route was a little different than usual, but as we approached Marsannay-La-Cote, I began to bubble over in excitement. Couchey looked as if time had stopped. And through the vineyards we went on Fixin.

At Fixin Noisot, the bus screeched to a halt. I thanked the drover, and he mumbled something under his breath about my enormous suitcase. As I waited for the bus to pull away, I looked around at the Fixin just outside the R's door. I felt overwhelmed as I trekked to the door, and though I knew no one would be home for another hour, it still felt like I was just coming home after an afternoon down town in Dijon.  I dropped off my suitcase in the courtyard and then went for a little tour of Fixin. When I returned I sat in the back yard and waited for someone to come home.

At long last, I heard the sound of L R and her loud cheery 'Cou Cou' enter the court yard. I jumped up so quickly, that  got temporarily dizzy. "Leonie?" I said. "Ahh Julie!" she said.

It truly was if I had never left. We did the damn bissou kiss, which I surprisingly did not mind at all, and then she gave me a big hug. I was really overjoyed, but I kept stumbling in French. It was a shame because I soke a lot of French with Christine and I had hoped that I would be able to just magnificently return to my French language skills. But that was not the case.

Of course I could go on and on about the immediate things we did: shopping for pet food, seeing JF for the first time in a while, and hearing about Ant's new girlfriend, but I think the best part of the day was seeing Coco. Coco is 8 years younger than me, but while I was here, she was pretty much my closest friend. I learned the most French from her and she never failed to make me laugh. L R had the great idea to try and surprise Coco, but Coco saw my enormous bag and knew instantly that I was in Fixin. When she came into the kitchen and I ran at her, I briefly saw that she had a grown almost a foot since the last time I saw her, and she was sporting make-up. She was not the little kid I remembered but as soon as she said, "Julie!" I knew that things were good, and she had not changed too too much.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back in Burgundy

I have always loved Burgundy, France. It is hard not to love a place that smells of pure life, is beyond picturesque, and produces some of the world's best wines. But to me Burgund means even more. I spent an entire year of my life here, and while it may not have been cupcakes and rainbows, it was a wonderful year. That being said, as my train from Montbeliard to Dijon slowly came to a halt in the station, I was overjoyed.

That morning Miles and I had taken the same train from Strasbourg to Montbeliard and finally to Dijon. Miles had just finished a semester abroad in Russia, where he met some students that live in Dijon. He was on his way to meet them, which was perfect because I really hate traveling on the French trains by myself. Miles and I spent several hours alternating between stories of France and Japan and stories of Russia. The normally long train ride passed quickly and I really had to give him credit for listening to me go on and on about how excited I was to see the R's.

But as that train slowed down on approach to Burgundy, I started tearing up a little bit. I think everyone can understand what it feels like to head back home. Whether it be after a long semester at college or a weekend trip down the coast. Although I never really felt like France and I were two peas in a pod, and that my lifestyle tended to clash with the lifestyle of France, I now realize that I have overcome that. I left a little piece of my heart behind in France, and being back in Burgundy helped me to find it again.

Of course that is not to say that life in France is any easier. I learned within 2 minutes of arrival in Burgundy. I got out of the train and headed to the old bus stop where I would take the same bus line back to Burgundy. When I noticed that Dijon was under massive construction, due in part to a new tram being built, I became nervous that the bus lines had perhaps changed. I walked up to the nearest French women with my bus schedule in hand and asked her in my very best French if the bus still stopped at this station. She told me probably not and then said that if I was planning on making th ebus, I would have to sprint to the next stop about a kilometer down the road. So that's what I did.

Long story short, I missed to bus to Fixin. It turned out to be one of those surreal moments everyone dreads, when your sprinting lightening speed down the street wheeling along a bag with a dead weight of a Sumo wrestler screaming in Franglish, "Attendez-vous! Je besoin ce bus!" The bus pulls away when you are finally at the bus stop. As I waited an additional hour for the next bus, I started a conversation with a women next to me, who informed me that the bus did in fact leave from the previous station that I had waited at. Instead of feeling like France was out to get me, like I did in the old days, I just stared out and smiled.

I was home and nothing had changed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sense of Humor

I like to think I am a funny person. Whether I am or not is the real question, however. I have my on days and off days, and I think this is universal for everyone. What is not universal for everyone is humor. I used to believe that one could ta the word conversational to a language ability if one could joke in that paricular language. For example, living in Japan for one year and I was able to do a fabulous impression of Shinzo Abe, the Japanese president of the time, and knew each an every one of the funny national joke. I am now starting to think that this is less about conversationality in a language and mor about deep immersion in a culture.

In a recent study on humor around the world, it was found that Americans and Canadians, research shows that they had a preference for jokes involving a superior intellectual mocking an ignorant individual. I just want to say that I am a proud recepient of the Clemson Dixon Global Policy Scholars program, surrounded by Clemson's brightest students. It is unspoken but true: everyone loves jokes about dumb people. The UK, Australia, and New Zealand liked jokes involving word plays, usually using mischevious sexual connotations. If Monty Python does not completely sum up the Brits in a nutshell, than I have no idea what really does. European countries such as Belgium and Denmark enjoyed jokes with phantasmagoric qualities. Another strong trend in Europe are jokes about death and serious subjects associated with stress. Germany stands out uniquely as the only country that didn't show a specific preference for a certain type of joke, enjoying various jokes from different styles.

I say all this because humor has gotten me through all of my various travels. I have that wonderful ability to make a complete asshole of myself, and then turn around and crack up. Laughing at yourself is one of the best qualities to have. Especially when you live abroad as a stranger in a strange land. But I also have a tendency, as anyone of my friends and family can attest to, to poke fun at everything. I'm pretty open-minded but I absolutely love to joke around and make fun of people, which is sometimes an unfortunate quality. But sometimes it bonds people together. The fact of the matter is that when you don't now a person well, and you jokingly make fun of something about them, say for example their nationality, I think it shows that you are interested enough to know about their culture. Example time: Christine David, our awesome German guide on the excursion was subjected to a ton of my East German jokes as well as just plain German jokes in general. And you know what? She is my new best friend. I am going to visit her in Berlin next year for certain. Of all the exchange students my family has hosted throughout the years, humor has been a great tool. The Argentinians, German, French, Japanese, and Brazilians may not have come to the house with the ability to take a joke, but they certainly left with it.

Of course not all humor is a good thing. I happen to be one of the most sarcastic people, never missing an opportunity to belittle something. I have a strange sense of humor sometimes, but sarcasm tends to make me laugh the funniest. Sarcasm is very American I am told, and it not existant is most other languages. I went without sarcasm for a whole year in Japan, and although I was pretty sarcastic in France, I think a lot of it came across to people as asinine.

Having a sense of Humor while abroad is a very important thing, but I think it is also important to remember that what and how you joke about something is a completely different trans-cultural thing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Unfathomable

I have been fortunate enough to see Normandy and the D-Day memorials of eastern France. Yet sometimes I think the most important European conflict to consider and understand in that time may truly be World War I. After all, World War I essentially prolonged a stale mate before World War II, and made tensions grow to the oint of becoming evil. That being said, Verdun is one of the most haunted place that I've ever been to. Even on a warm, beautiful summer day like we had on Saturday, I felt a chill walking through the abandoned villages, old forts, memorials and cemeteries that we visited. Although lush green grass grew over the ruins of the fortresses, and daisies and purple wildflowers carpeted the ground, the eerie reality of Verdun is that beneath the surface there are thousands of old bullet casings, bombs that never exploded, and the bodies of soldiers buried in the soil. 


When learning about WWI, I hear so many figures that are so shockingly huge that I can't fathom the immensity of their impact. How could 600,000 soldiers have died in one battle? What does it really mean that France lost millions, an entire generation, in the war? How could a town completely disappear? All of its buildings and inhabitants were utterly destroyed. While I feel that it is impossible to know the devastation and hell that was WWI, I know that I have a much better understanding of the weight behind each statistic.


I think that war statistics can often come across as very cold, almost to the point of being meaningless. When rattling off death tolls and battle dates, our guide excitedly declared 130,000 Frenchmen died for France in the battle of Verdun. What bothers me is that each and every man had a name and family and place in this world. There are so many bodies that are identified and it's hard to grasp the impersonalization a number does when truly considering statistics. Because how then can you preserve the truth that each soldier comprising that huge death toll was a person just like you? 



Monday, May 23, 2011

To Lighten The Mood of Verdun

I could probably write blog post after blog post about our brief excursion to Verdun, because it was sch a moving experience. Unfortunately, most of our group was affected not by the sheer horror of Verdun but by the tour guide we had. David, A brit expatriate in Luxembourg, seems like a knowledgeable and decent tour guide from the very beginning. On his first talk he was frank about what he had thus learned. He told us the truth about the EU in Strasbourg, which I appreciated because the people in Strasbourg never said anything like that. But as time went on, he began to deepen his obnoxiousness, and by the time the rest of the group, professors included, were fed up with him, I had joined the group against him. I could not tell you everything that he did to offend my fellow DGPSers and myself, but I thought a brief description as in order.  

To begin, he never gave the group any overview of the two-day tour, the battlefield of Verdun, or WWI. This to me was the worst problem, because even though I know World War I very well, I wanted to know what it was we would actually be seeing in regards to the war. This did not bother me too much because the rest of the group did not seem to have a problem with his lack of explanation. However, the problem came when I would ask him a question, and he would insult my intelligence because I did phrased the question the wrong way. On one occasion, as we were touring a field with huge craters from mining trench warfare, I asked if anything else happened here besides the mining incident. He looked at me and said, "What a stupid question! Come back to me when you have knowledge."
 Another time, Jenny asked the guide while walking from a WWII memorial site if both WWI and WWII were fought at the site of this memorial, and he literally scoffed at  me.  Scoffed. 


The fact of the matter is that David showed no real interest in being with the group or giving a tour.  The man acted throughout the entire two days as if we, the paying consumers of his services, were a colossal nuisance to him, and he made several snide remarks about how difficult we were to put up with.  While thee are many examples I can give you of this happening, I think the funniest is when he literally abandoned our group on a battlefield forest. Mind you, this comes just after he told us that there was serious live artillery in the forest and that people die each year walking on mines and collecting live ammunition. He then just left us there to find a way out on our own. 

Interestingly enough, he lost what little respect he had left from the group when he fabricated several important pieces of information on the tour. He has issues with just randomly pulling numbers out of his head to assign to casualties, but he also had a problem with making up a complete lie in the face of not knowing an answer. God forbid. 



And how could I forget the evening in Verdun? When we were touring the tiny city, he overheard Miles and Cameron say they wanted some good Italian food at this cute little Italian restaurant we had passed. He went on a rampage about uncultured we Americans were and that you don't come to France to eat Italian, especially at this place in Verdun because it was known for it's disgusting food and outrageous prices. To top this whole thing off, after we could not find a different restaurant to eat in, guess what the guide tried to get us to eat? At that little Italian restaurant. This was the final straw for our professors, who absolutely refused to eat at a place the guide just said was awful.


Being that he was British, he never missed an opportunity to poke fun at the French. I love a good French joke, don't get me wrong. But I think he crossed the line several times as well. He also said a few nasty things about Germans to Christine, and I thought that was unjustified as well. I didn't care when he blatantly called us uncultured and stupid Americans, but he needed to be a little less hypocritical.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The LONGEST Day



Today started off as usual, but the day turned out to be one of the most interesting days I have lived in my life so far.

Ok, let me start at the beginning. We had a slightly later start today – 9am, instead of 8:30. Unfortunately, I woke up at 7 and could not really sleep in. But I decided to not let the morning go to waste and instead for a nice long run in the forest behind the chateau. Running along the former Maginot Line is quite a moving experience when you understand the history of the region.

Our only scheduled activity today was to visit the Alsatian Chamber of Commerce. I really dreaded this because finance and business bore me. The lecturer had a great PowerPoint, but his command of the English language was lacking in some instances. It is so weird that he knew many complicated words, but still had trouble with the simplest words – such as wet. He meant waterproof. I went to him after the lecture and complimented him on his English. I wish I could speak German half as well as he spoke English.


It is interesting how much the Alsatian economy mirrors that of Clemson, SC. The two economies are heavily focused on textile, automotives, and medicine. Many foreign companies invest in Strasbourg, and over 50% of the population is employed by these foreign companies.

After the meeting, we wandered through the streets and stumbled upon this neat craft shop. I got tsome patches for my crazy patchwork back pack, and some anchor earrings for my obnoxious preppiness back at Clemson.

After lunch, Dorothy finally got to buy one of those giant upside town muffin bakery treats, and we walked back to Strasbourg. Also, outside of the bakery, there was a woman asking for money, so we gave her some. I have not seen many beggars here, but there was another one in Heidelberg yesterday. There is a noticeable difference between the American ones and ones here – the ones here are slightly cleaner. Interesting.


The walk back was lovely and enjoyable. We saw the Arte center (a television channel developed to help reunite France and Germany) Also, on the way back, we saw a few banners outside of an institute protesting various issues such as anti-terrorism measures (so they were anti anti-terrorism). There was also a banner promoting Christianity. This was very interesting, since people are generally not religious around here. The banner said that court of human rights will not be here forever and this life will not be forever, so we should look to God.

Once we got to the chateau, Dorothy, Sally , John, Allen, and I rented bikes and headed to Kehl. We also took some lovely pictures with the chateau as background. Oh yeahhhh, Christmas card pictures! The ride to Kehl was…it is hard to describe it…intense and exhilarating? There is a regular, safe route, but we got semi-lost following the Google Map directions. Sally and all of her lovliness flagged down this passing biker and asked her for help. Thank goodness she spoke English! (Although I think I'm highly conversational in France, Sally loves to chat with people. She epitomizes all the friendliness that America has to offer.) The biker was also on the way to Kehl, so we just followed her. She was a Parsian opera soloist who is interning in Strasbourg and is going back in a month to audition for an opera company!

Whew, the path we took was so intense that it deserves its own paragraph. The route took us through highways and bumpy rocky areas that had no bike lanes (most roads in Europe has two bike lanes). Attempting to crossing the streets and having big trucks pass alongside you were the worst. But, we made it! We stopped on the friendship bridge connecting France and Germany. The bridge in Greenville, SC is actually based off of this bridge. It was really beautiful but I especially enjoy the story of the bridge, which I think I mentioned in an earlier post about Germany and France. Yet again, France took clear advantage of Germany.

Fate would have it that we end up right in front of a H&M store. With almost no money, shopping is atorture for me! Aterwards, we rode to the Supermarket. I just want to point that I have not mentioned eating at all today. This is because I tried to save money and only had a Diet Coke and some bread for breakfast. Needless to say I was completely delusional in the supermarket and could hardly choose what to eat let alone sit down and actually eat it. I was not alone in my delusional state, however. At the supermarket, Sally went crazy buying more crackers and chocolate as well as a bottle of great Bourgogne Wine, which I helped her pick out.


As we were all delirious from the physical excretion and lack of food, we were a spectacle in the store. Here, they have cigarette dispensers. We did not know what it was/how it worked, so I just pressed random buttons. Boxes came out and I pushed it back under the flap in hopes that no one would notice. I just could not stop laughing, as Sally acted like a Bull in a China closet bumping into random people and objects. We were a complete shit show for lack of a nicer way to put these things.

John and Allen rode back early to be back in time for Allen’s 9:15 train ride. Slightly sad that he had to leave, but his parents are meeting him in Prague tomorrow. Very nice. We followed en suite just after a little nourishment at the Supermarket. We were less insane afterward at the very least.

The ride back was not as bad as the ride to Kehl. However, we were racing to beat the storm at one point – scary dark clouds looming over us. It was rather exhilarating. I sort of wanted it to storm. I think that riding through a storm would be intensely awesome.

this is where the day gets kind of interesting. When we got back to the chateau, it was already 8:30, so we rushed to get ready, since we were supposed to meet some French teenagers at the Gallia tram station at 9pm. Unfortunately, we started out super late, and it got even later. Dorothy, Julie, and I got lost in some random suburbs. Caitlin and Kate were supposed to meet us at the Square, but hopefully, they did not wait for us so long. I felt so horrible we kept the foreign students waiting. We finally arrived at a Mexican restaurant in the middle of nowhere and asked someone. Once again, thank goodness for kind people. The lady directed us to the tram station.

When we finally made it down town, several interesting things happened. First, and to the grave dismay of Sally, a Middle Eastern-looking man at a random restaurant said, “ hi three prostitutes, how much for the night?” – in French, of course as we were passing by to walk to the tram station. Sally was fuming like I had never seen before after Dorothy and I translated.) First of all, I wore this nice black dress with a white cardigan over it, Dorothy wore a tube top with black pants and a cardigan, and I wore white pants and a shirt over a tank top. We were definitely not showing enough skin to earn the great honor of being called a prostitute. Second of all, even if we were dressed promiscuously, one has a right to dress as he or she wishes without being called a whore and made an offer. It did not bother me because it's just how they are sometimes in France, but the great bother came from Sally. I felt bad for her because I could not get across to her to just let it ride and not worry too much about it.

After all these long trials and challenges, we finally got to the Gallia tram station at 10:20pm. Understandably, the French kids we were supposed to meet were not there. The only thing we could do was get gelato. Which would make a funny story the next moorning when telling the fellow DGPSers, "We went all the way to Strasbourg, got called whores, got hopelessly lost...all for Gelato!"

We walked to the Square afterwards to make sure that the others were not waiting for us there. On the way, this another French man said, "two French girls and one Chinese girl. Three prostitutes. How much for the night?” I thought it was a little funny and I could not help but laugh. But Sally pestered me to translate, and thank god I waited for a few minutes to tell her what he said. I suspect if I had told her what he said right on spot, she would have Chuck Norris Roundhouse kick to his crotch area.

At this point, after two freaking sex offers and with my feet in immense pain, I asked Julie to say the French words for three and prosititue. Unfortunately for the French, Sally was completely fed up with the country and culture at this point. I felt sad about this because evn though I love to make fun of the French, I also think it's a wondeful culture. ally forced me to translate every little thing we heard on the street, and she continually gave the Death Glare to everyone of the male species. It was funny to watch, but as I was to learn her attitude was to come in handy. France was about to remind me of just that.

The walk back to the chateau from the tram station was lovely in the scenery, but uber painful. Dorothy and I took care of Sally, who was angry at the world and in pan because of her ridiculous heels. It helped a little, but there were still small rocks and pieces of glass we had to watch out for. Once, I accidentally tripped over a piece of concrete. Painful, but the two girls really helped me along. When we were almost back to the chateau, we had another disgusting event happen.

As we rounded around a alley corner with a house, Sally saw this dark shadow of a man. I was walking pretty close to it, so she grabbed my wrist and pulled me to her. I turned and saw the man smiling creepily at us. This repulsive man had his penis out and was masturbating. Sally told me later that she had seen him skulking around behind us for a while but thought he was just on his way home. I felt so sick to my stomach that I started to cry. Dorothy was quick to get me to calm down though. She reminded me that giving a reaction was exactly what that pervert wanted from us. We hurriedly walked back to the chateau, I teared up the whole way while Sally looked ready to fight someone. Dorothy did a great job calming the pair of down, however, and we focused solely on getting back inside.

Today was definitely the most interesting day we have had so far. Although it was a free day (minus the Chamber of Commerce visit), we were all constantly on the go. I feel like we all want to enjoy the area as much as we can.

While lost, we definitely encountered some wonderful people from around the area, but there were also negative incidents such as the two men with prostitution offers and that super repulsive man. The best that can said about today is that is strengthened the bond I have will my fellow DGPSers, but it also rocked my whole perception of France. I defended France to Sally when she angrily called it's people a bunch of rude perverts. But I then seemed subjected to exactly her argument. It's hard for me to grapple with right now.

Gettin' Kicked Around

Germany is a beautiful country. I don't really know anyway else to put it. The people have a wonderful sense of humor, a booming economy, and a work ethic that is almost unbeatable. I know a lot of Germans and am fortunate enough to say I have been all over western Germany, even living in Bielefeld for a few weeks in 2008. I have to admit I really can say nothing but nice things about the Germans.

One thing I do have to point out is that I do not for the life of me understand some of the things Germany tolerates and puts up, with regards to France and the European Union. I get that their membership in the initial EEC was important, and that their massive powerful population ad economy drives the European Union. But I do not understand how and why they continue to tolerate being bossed around by the European Union on other levels. For example, they joined the monetary union and complied with the adoption of the Euro, even though it really hurt to get rid of the Deutsch Mark economically speaking.

Interestingly, a few things should be noted. When Germany joined the EU (or the EEC as it was known at the time) newspaper editors and TV commentators hardly ever talked about the costs and benefits of Germany's EU membership. German people were not asked whether they wanted to give up their currency or admit former communist countries into the EU. It was assumed that what was good for Europe was good for Germany. Secondly, the history of Germany seems to linger above the heads of all Germans. It seems as though this guilt leads them to feel that they ought to do what Europe wants, rather than what they want themselves.

Why aren't Germans heartily tired of being the EU’s paymaster when almost 5 million people are out of work? Well, that may not be completely true. After all, Chancellor Angela Merkel was firm when she declared that Greece ought to be punished and not bailed out of bankruptcy. But frankly, this was the first time a German leader seemed to speak up and disagree with a European policy. There are a few explanations for why Merkel spoke up. First, Germany is now run by a group of leaders with no living memory of the horrors of the second world war. For the generation of Kohl, Europe was a matter of war and peace; for Merkel and most of her contemporaries, it is a question of costs and benefits. Second, Germany used to be a frontline state in the cold war. Membership in the EU and NATO was a matter of survival. Now it is not exactly the case. I guess this new change will be played out in the coming years with Germany and the EU.

On a smaller scheme, we learned the story of the Friendship Bridge between Kehl, Germany and Strasbourg, France. The project was agreed upon, and then scrapped by a French mayor who did not like the design. He instead called for a new design, and hand selected a Parisian architect to create the bridge. The point of the story is that the Germans ended up having to pay an additional 5x the amount of the original bridge. Did they complain? Maybe a little. Did they comply? Of course they did.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Melting the Heart of the non-Frenchie

Since arriving back in the Motherland, I have been a little cold-hearted with regards to the food of La Belle France. The fact of the matter is that the last time I was able to come to France, I gained 15 kG, which is over 22 pounds. Call me crazy, but that's a horrifying number that I do not wish to deal with when I return aux Etats-Unis. Hence the reason I have been frightened to divulge back into the joie de vivre of French food and alcohol. I realize this has slightly taken way from the experience. In fact, to date, I have missed out on a Turkish Kebab, 2 Crepes, 3 Ice Creams, and several types of delicious chocolate and caramel. (The more I read this, the more I want to pat myself on the back for my self-control... pretty impressive.)

Yesterday afternoon while on free-time  on Strasbourg, I walked around with Emily and Kato and we basically just enjoyed the great weather and frenchitude of Strasbourg. The larger contingency of our group went and ate Indian food, which I found appalling. But c'est la vie.

Restraining myself from enjoying the delicious Galette and Crepes that Emily and Kato decided to eat, I headed over to the local sketchy Eastern European supermarket, to find myself a delicious Diet Coke. Shocked that I only had to pay 50 cents in Euros for a 2 Liter gigundo Coca_Cola Light, it was only then that I read the ingredients. They were written in some sort of Slavic language, as we laughed imaging my Coke was a Communist. Oh nerds...

The problem is that while I drank away at my Communist Cola, Emily and Kato sat across me deliciously savoring the French's finest food. I could not even halt the growling of my stomach and the temptation to nab a bite of the Nutella Crepe. But I had one of those surreal moments when just when I began to reach over and grab a forkful of ooey gooey chocolate, this obese tourist couple waddled by, panting like Dogs. I took it as a sign.

After lunch, on our way back to the Cathedral for the tour of the Crypts, Kato stopped and asked if could get one of those weird little cookie and creme type things she had seen in the windows of all the dessert shops. I was not sure I understood what she was talking about until we were in the classical bakery in France, pourng over the glass case of Macarons. All will power was lost right then an there.

The three of us returned to the rest of the group in front of the great Cathedral. Emily, Kato, and I totted our fabulous Macaroons as we came upon the group. "Julie your eating!" exclaimed Sally. Oh yes- I was eating food from the land of the best food in the world. My heart was melting a little with each and every delicious bite. Oh yes- I was home in France.

When in France, Do As The French

Our tour guide leader on this trip is a wonderful 24 year-old East Berliner with a knack for languages. What I like most about Christine is that her English is clearly stronger than her French, and my English is clearly stronger than my French, but she insists we speak French. And I am happy to oblige. After all, the French have long dreamed of French being the linga franca of people of the world. I feel that it is my part to at least give the French some small satisfaction. Small.

Christine is quite awesome. A part of me things she deeply respects the French, while another part of me thinks she may actually be a little bit racist. She is German, and clearly a hard worker. She never misses he opportunity to poke fun at the French laziness. The strikes. he belief that everything is better in France. And apparently the fact that France can pout and whine and get anything they want regarding the European Union. The point is that she is hilarious and never ceases to make me laugh.

One of the things one of my classmates asked her is how to identify a non-European in the crowd. For example, walking down the streets of old Strasbourg, how is it possible that she can spot an American a million miles a way. She looked at me, grinned, then pointed to my bright pink Vineyard Vines skirt and said, "Bright colors. Americans wear colors. Europeans wear things just in case someone drops dead and they have to go to a funeral."

The problem is that no matte rhow cultured I am, or even claim to be for the purpose of the editorial, I can not escape the fact that I am American. My wardrobe consists of absolutely nothing black or gray. I am a happy-go-lucky person, and the colors I wear are my way of showing it.

I am not European. I am not French. Christine does not care. She is, after all, a tour guide that always totes around group of gaggling American tourists laughing at the top of their lungs and looking like they just stepped out of a paint can. And as I walked around La Petite France in the warm weather, surrounded by folks in Black clearly identifying me as a typical idiotic American tourist, I realized something. I am doing as the french do in France. Not giving a shit.

The French may walk around as if they have the high fashion, the good life, and a mouth that has no muscles in order to give it a hint of a smile. The fact is you still step in the same dog poop left behind by a lazy Frenchmen that doesn't curb the dog as someone who is wearing the latest high leather boots as someone who wears run down disgusting old Converse shoes. And first and foremost, even before the tres chic atmosphere, comes the French attitude of not giving a shit about anything.

I may dress like an American. I may look like an American. But when it comes down to waling the streets of France, I am 100% French. I don't give two shots about what people are thinking of me as I carry on in my neon shirt, Canvas sailor bag, and brights red cardigan. In a different way, I am doing as the French in france.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So About the Power...

It's been two years since I have been in la Belle France. And not two days into it, I have realized one very crucial fact. La Belle France never changes. I should have seen this coming. After all, the signs were all there. The buildings from the 17th century, the education system from the 19th century, among other things. But onething is for sure, France is France and it is all that it can be.

Another thing that never changes? Me. I may have been playing sidelines in the great game of traveling for a little while, but that does not change the fact that I am still a total klutz. I have more more mishaps and create more mayhem than most normal American 20 year-olds. Then again, I'm not exactly a normal 20 year-old. But the point is that I arrived not 48 hours in this splendidly beautiful country and have already attacked and annhilated the power of an 18th Century chatau, pissed off enough French people to have a reputation, and found other ways to remain true to the old traveler bug spirit.

Yesterday morning when we arrived in this lovely country, and pulled into the chatau we would be staying out, my first thought besides where I would find a bed to sleep in, was where would I find a shower to freshen up in. I hate the way planes and traveling could turn a completely clean and rational person into a psychotic insomniac that reeks of bad plane food and compressed airplane cabin. The shower was as epic as I figured it would be. Even more so, because this castle even had American-style water pressure. (on a side note: I'm not one of those typical arrogant American folks that complains when there is no ice in the coke, no heat in a wine cave, or no good water-pressure. But I am one of those people that loves having a good shower when the smell of airplane is thoroughly attachedto one's skin.)

After the showerand a quick stroll around the park with Dorothy, I realized it was time to strighten my hair. This is where it gets bad. I understand these electrical voltage issues. I realize that you can notjust shove a plug in the wall when the sockets don't line up. I further realize that Adapters are beautiful things. I did not realize that adaptors only work when the right vltage thing is linked up to them in correspondence to the adaptation in the electronic and wall socket. I only began to relaize this when I shoved my plug/adapter in the wall, heard a loud pop, and watched my straightener explode and the lights in the room go off. Uh oh.

Well you've done it Julie. Congratulations.

It was all made into a better scene when suddenly 10 minutes after it happened, a frantic knock came to the door. The person who knocked peered into the door and began speaking in German.

"Francais?" I asked.

Nothing.

Than suddenly in English, "So you can't use shower. Zis is becuz we lose power in castle."

Not sure how losing power would correspond to losing shower privilieges, I asked, "Um, excuse me, but why? It's not a big deal, because I already took a shower, but still, why?"

She looked at me for a moment and said, "Some idiot blew up the power. Shower not work for power thing."

I pretended to look shocked and horrified, "When will it be back?"

"Not long. Happens very often with Americans."

So now I figured out not only why the rest of the world hates us, but also got to experience another fine classical JujuB mishap.

Monday, May 16, 2011

First Day Back in the Motherland

After what feels like an endless day, I can officially say we have made it to Straßburg!
This morning, while my fellow DGPS students boarded a plane from Charlotte, I boarded a Lufthansa Jumbo Jet in New York JFK. After a long flight, where I sat around watching movies in French (to practice my language skills for the next week,) we finally arrived! After waiting a few hours for the rest of the Charlotte to arrive in Frankfurt, everyone was united and ready to make the long trek from Frankfurt to Straßburg.
We were greeted by Christine, our tour leader, and a colorful German bus driver that had an English vocabulary consisting of "Hello" and "big." On the bus, we made our way to Straßburg, stopping only to take a 30 minute break for the bus driver.

I could tell that my experience was going to be slightly different than my classmates on this trip. Having lived in France as a gap year between High School and College, I have a decent background in the French language. Still, the nice part of traveling is that there are always surprises waiting for you. I found it odd while crossing into France because hardly a sign noted the change of countries. Understandably the European Union has changed relations between France and Germany, but I did not realize that they had become so meshed that the borders are not very well marked.

Our new home for the week was, of course, a fairy tale. The 18th century chateau with a Rapunzel-like turret, surrounded by a spacious green forested area was something out of a Disney Princess movie! After a nice afternoon of free time, we were able to explore the grounds before our walking tour of the park. We had a wonderful guide, who explained the mysterious of several contemporary art pieces in the garden. We also viewed a piece of the Maginot Line, and learned about it's history as a failure.

After an inside Powerpoint lesson on the Maginot Line, we broke off into dinner time. We received our first glass of champagne (well.. not really. Champagne is only allowed to be called Champagne if it comes from Champagne. Or else it's called Cremant) as a welcome to the mighty castle and to Europe. It was followed a delicious French meal at a local cafe.

All I can think about now is that I have not slept for the better part of 36 hours and I am dead tired!

Spare Some Change?

Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change.

I'm 20 years old and the past 5 years of my life have been on the turbulent side. I've lived in Japan for one year, France for one year, New Jersey for one year, and Clemson, and South Carolina for two years. That's not to mention the fact that I have been to over 15 countries in the mean time and all over Japan and France (to the point that I know these individual countries better than my own country.) Unconventional life for an unconventional kid.

One of the things I've noticed about everyone I've encountered is how one changes, or doesn't change for that matter. Verona, New Jersey, for instance, my home town, has not changed one ounce. The people are still slightly obnoxious, close-knit, very involved with themselves and the town happenings, and slightly hypocritical. I say this in the nicest way possible. Since, after all, it's a great town to grow up in. Everyone knows your name and business, which is good for me since I'm generally a well-respected kid. Not that anyone seems to understand why I would want to leave the almighty Verona High school to go away to some bizarre East Asian earthquake-prone country, or even go to college in a faraway place where you can't come home every weekend for  home-cooked meal and Mommy's love. (I realize this sounds super sarcastic, in the traditional JujuB sense... but I'm being completely serious.)

My question is: Is it better to be malleable and change and 'do as the Romans' or stay true to one's roots and never change?

I've changed so much in the past 5 years that I sometimes don't even know who I am. The Queen of the Couch and the potato chip wrapped in Bacon is now a Vegetarian Granola marathon runner. I went from Deadhead to Parrothead to Goth to punk to Roll out of Bed fashion to Sorority prepster, and now I'm back on the market for not having a clue. Conservative to Liberal to Libertarian. Liberal arts shoe-in to big football public university CLEMSON! The list goes on and on and it will continue to go on and on. I'm malleable and adaptable, and I change all the time. Sure, I still have some pretty deep beliefs that never will change, but I'm a big fan of doing in Fixin what the French do, in Kochi what the Japanese do, in Bielefeld what the Germans do, in Armidale what the Australians do, in Clemson what the Southerners do. And so on.

But that's just me. And I don't think it's wrong to have set beliefs that don't change. Sometimes I wish I was a little more solid and less malleable. Maybe I wouldn't be so confused all the time. Maybe I would be able to make up my mind once in a while rather than let others do it for me. I don't consider myself apathetic, just more or less willing to roll with the tide.

The reason I've been thinking about this so much is that I'm finally going back to France, and finally going to see the R's. I'm not entirely sure the whole plan yet, but I'm hoping on staying with them for a few days in Fixin. I've kept in pretty decent contact with them, so I've been able to infer that things haven't changed all that much since I've left. But I'm anxious to see what  has changed. Subtle differences sometimes have the most impact. Of course, it it's anything like Verona, than Fixin and the R's have changed about as much as an inch a year. The change that correlates to the newest PTA president.

So back to the initial question: Is it better to be malleable and change and 'do as the Romans' or stay true to one's roots and never change?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leaving On a Jet Plane

There are a million reasons why I am insanely excited to head back to Europe. The most obvious would be to go back to where I left a little piece of myself... on the small vineyard town of Fixin in Burgundy, France. But it's also about new adventure as well. I have not really outlined the details of my trip, so I think I will do my best to do that now.

As I mentioned before, I am a Dixon Global Policy Scholar, which is a program through the Clemson Calhoun Honors College. For more information on DGPS, click here. Basically a summary of the program is a a tracked course to help the students prepare for applying for some of the big scholarships, such as Fulbright, Rhodes, and Marshall. I was selected as one of twelve students to travel to Strasbourg to study "France and Germany at the heart of Europe."

Some of the highlights of the trip are visits to the European Parliament, trekking through the battlefield of Verdun, Hiedelberg, Stuttgart, and many more. Of course, I am most excited about the learning opportunity, and well, the food. I really miss European food. I did gain the better part of 15 lbs. in Europe that last time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Graduation Goggles

Everywhere I go I leave a piece of myself behind. I'm not sure why or even how I go about doing this sometimes.  I just know that months after I have left a place, a part of my yearns beyond belief to go back. Kochi. Fixin. Townsville. Bielefeld. Verona. Clemson. Nagoya. Bormes-les-Mimosa.

They say hindsight is 20/20 and I never really knew what that meant until I took a step back and realized what I was doing. I had an amazing year in France, but it was very difficult and there was no doubt about that. Yet as I sit around eagerly packing a bag, I seem to only think of the good things that happend while I was in France. My amazing host family, the R's. The 15 pounds I gained in delicious chocolate, fabulous desserts, endless bread and nutella.... the list goes on and on. It is only when I skim through this blog that I remember the bouts of cold weather, the endless gray days, and constant feeling that the country of France hated me and wanted me to suffer.

This whole thing got me thinking about conventions and stuff we do here in the United States of America. It made me realize that Hindsight 20/20 is a good thing to have. Probably one of the only things that gets us through. Another way to put Hindsight 20/20 is called, "Graduation Goggles." It's that feeling of meaningful yearning after the fact of everything being said and done. When your standing on the edge of graduation from High School, you look back and remember the wonderful memories: befriending the older kids, who seemed so determined to go out of their way to help you get through and navigate High School; the playful teasing you received from the 'popular' kids that made you into a stronger person; the delightful school lunches made from Frannie the kind old school lunch lady; kickball tournaments in Gym Class that seemed epic and exciting; Prom (enough said...); the first day of classes Freshman year when you had that slightly queasy rumbling in your stomach as you began your next great journey. This is what you see when you peer back through graduation goggles, rather than what really happened: the older kids going out of their way to ruin your life and direct you to the cafeteria when you really just want to go to the auditorium, the terrible horrifying teasing from the 'popular' kids that led to you faking sick far more than you were actually sick, Frannie the old lunch lady that used to scream at you for being fat every time you bought more than two cookies, kickball tournaments that ended with the school psychologists coming to talk kids out of suicide threats,  Prom (enough said...) and the first day of classes Freshman year when you were so nervous you hyperventilated and didn't even make it to third period.

I'm doing my best to pull off the Graduation Googles as I embark on a journey back to France. The fact is, France is too unpredictable not to be cautious. With my luck, I'll end up stuck in a Paris train station all night because I was too busy pretending France was the world's most exciting country. Oh yeah- I've done that before.


I'm Back

Oh... Hey Blog!

SO I never did get that new blog I claimed I would. But I did keep my old blog. I knew with my insatiable wanderlust, I would need it again for some great excursion that would need to be thoroughly documented. After a cleaning, I figure it's time to bring Franpan back to life.

It's been about 2 years since I wrote on this blog and change had occured. Nothing momentous of course. I just got married and had a baby. Just kidding. That's a pretty horrifying thought. I still can hardly take care of myself let alone a boyfriend, let alone a husband, let alone a baby. You see? Nothing has changed that much.

I still go to Clemson University, best school in the nation. Don't even bother trying to argue this one. I'll just pull out the stubborn French "i'm right and your wrong" card. I no longer study Language and International Trade. I'm going to be a teacher instead. History. High School. Though I'm not entirely sure what the future holds at this point. As long as I continue to wake up in the morning, go for a run, bake cookies, and bring home A's and B's I'm a happy person.

I'm a proud sister of Kappa Alpha Theta, so briefly I gave up my weirdo travel-bug granola-esque drop out of life to become a nomad in order to become a  sorority girl. That was fun, but it wasn't me. Luckily, I have found a pretty good middle ground. That's another story all together.

I still run. Running is such a big part of me, that I'm beginning to forget the person I was before the running started. While this hasn't changed, my mileage certainly has. I'm a marathon runner now. 26.2 miles. 3 half-marathons down as well.

So why else would I come on here? Okay, sure I've been reminiscing a bit and reading about my mishaps in France and Japan. But in reality, there is only reason I would come on here and begin writing again.

I'm going abroad. Again.

Through the Clemson Calhoun Honors College, I was accepted as a Dixon Global Policy Scholar. That is a Maymester if France and Germany, followed by several classes on public policy and intellectual ideas. I am extremely excited about the opportunity. 10 days is Strasbourg, France with 12 of the coolest, smartest, and most interesting people. I'm excited.