Monday, May 26, 2014

First week in Toulouse

After spending one week in France, I already have a plethora of experiences to reflect over.  Upon arriving in Toulouse I noticed several differences between American culture and French culture.  The first observation was the amount of graffiti or "street art" scattered about the city. The people here view it as a form of expression and it is tolerated if not mildly approved.  I can understand calling it street art when the design is will thought out and appealing.  However, the scribbles spray paint everywhere its difficult for me to consider art. The greetings also differed drastically from America.  Rather than a good ol fashioned handshake, almost everyone in France greet each other by kissing both cheeks! I heard this was common here, but I was nevertheless astounded by how often it occurred, even among the men.  The cuisine in Toulouse, France was another surprise, especially the price.  Since the cost of producing food here is significantly greater for most meat than in Texas, the price of meat is high.  However fruits and vegetables are much more abundant than any other of the food groups causing their prices to be low.  This is likely due to the massive amounts of farmland covering the countryside.

On my first morning in Toulouse I woke up before the sunrise and explored the town, giving me one of my favorite experiences of the trip thus far. From the farmer's market along the street with its fresh fruits and vegetables to the merchants outside the cathedral with their unique goods, Toulouse was full of life and history.  The most memorable part of the exploration was walking along what I call main street and watching the rising sun's rays shine through the the green tops of the perfectly aligned trees creating a glorious golden sheen.  To any future visitors I highly recommend waking up early and seeing the city as it begins its Saturdays.  After roaming around the city I stumbled on some locals who thought I was German.  Luckily, a couple if then spoke some broken English so communicating wasn't too difficult.  I hung out with them for about, learning valuable lessons on the Toulouse locals: nearly everyone likes to drink and smoke.  One other important culture tendency in France is most of the people do not speak English.  They may know a couple words or phrases, but overall it is relatively difficult to verbally communicate with the locals.  

Over the weekend, I ventured to Collioure with some fellow students to find a beautiful little tourist town with some delicious local beverages.  The city settled on the Mediterranean coast with the chateau at the center, and it was organized so invaders would have a difficult time attempting a siege.  The beaches were a little too rocky for my preferences, but the weather was phenomenal and the scenery brought everything together perfectly.  All in all, Collioure is worth visiting.  Plus the majority of its citizens spoke English.

The following day brought more adventure as we traveled to Luchon.  Located in a valley, Luchon was surrounded by mountains that were covered in mist and a perfect location for hiking.  After spending many hours adventuring around the mountainside, I relaxed at a fantastic little tea house in the center of town.  The tea was delicious!  At the end of the day we were all exhausted and ready to get back to Toulouse.

Through my field trips to Carcassonne, vineyards/winery, gardens, shall towns and other historical places, I have  ascertained a greater understanding of the French culture and people.  These experiences are building lifelong memories I will forever cherish.  I cannot wait to build more in the next few weeks

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fight'n Texas Aggie First Week in France

 What a crazy first week its been! The week started out with jet lag and rough introductions to some UGA students also visiting France. However, it has ended in celebrations and many new found friends. 
     Since I've gotten to France I've tried to immerse myself into the culture by learning the language and applying it in everyday situations. When shopping for groceries or purchasing train tickets it can be a bit frustrating but picking up on the easier phrases has helped greatly. Our French teacher Anne gave us a book of popular phrases that we use in class to learn basic communication. The students at the school we attend are very skilled in the English language, and they are always interested in things about America and Texas. 
     My favorite experience this week has been our visit to a winery and vineyard in Corde. The procedures that they use to produce the perfect grapes are so  fine tuned that no vineyard makes the same grape. The combination of soil content, water usage, and manual weed removal make the grapes different.
     Since I've been in France the food has exceptionally exceeded my expectations. Cheese, wine, duck, foix gras, and kebabs just to name a few is some of the local fair that we have had a chance to sample. I wish my family could be here to try all of this wonderful food with me but the pictures will have to keep them satisfied.
     I still can't believe it's only been a week, who knows what else is in store. Everyday we get to experience something new. The beautiful countryside is nothing like I've seen in Texas. This is possibly the best place I've ever been, besides Texas and Aggieland. Merci & Gig'em 

One under the belt

Our time in France thus far has been an absolute
blast, I’m not sure exactly where to start for this first blog entry so I’ll
start with exploring old towns and meeting local people in the evening. The
towns we have visited so far have been incredible, I have never been to Europe
before this trip and the amount of history that each of these towns have is
takes my breath away. Its incredible to stand in front of a 400 year old church
that has been cared for over the years. When we were in Carcassonne I couldn’t
help but think about what it must have been like to stand there when the church
was still new. I also have really enjoyed the architecture of the southern
France country side homes, I think my favorite part about them is the shutters
on all of the windows and the material the roofs are made out of. My favorite
day this week was when we went to visit the vineyard because we were able to
see how a very well known French product was produced and how detail oriented
the process has to be. The country side the winery in was very beautiful and
for the first time I felt like I was experiencing the true France. The local
people in the town were also very friendly and seemed excited to see us. The
wine and food was also delicious so that’s always a plus, I hope we can have
more days like this in the future where we get to learn about France outside of
the class room. Speaking of which, I really don’t like being at ENSAT, the
people are very nice and the students are awesome but I feel like I’m back in
high school and the atmosphere is very depressing. Meeting the local people has
also been a lot of fun, even though the language barrier can be frustrating at
times its still a very unique experience to attempt to communicate with people
that don’t know more than a few words of English. I look forward to what the
coming weeks hold and I cant wait to explore more cities and meet more people!

Blog Entry One

The first week of study abroad has come to an end. In the beginning it started off pretty tough. Translations were difficult, the city was easy to get lost in, few people knew English and the food was… Different. As the week went on though it became much easier. There is another group her from the University of Georgia. They have 11 students to our 6 and we stayed separated in our groups for much of the first half of the week. Now, many of us have integrated and are making new friends. Some for the trip but others for even when we go home. Being in a larger group defiantly makes things easier and now that we are able to get feedback from multiple professors we can more easily decide what to do during our free time. The food has gotten better now that we know somewhat what we are getting into although there are still little surprises here and there, which isn't such a bad thing. I would have to say that, with the exception of the cultural classes, school is kind of boring and pointless. Being a HORT major, much of the information I have already learned and even worse, the school food is terrible, depressing even. But I do have to say that putting up with class is worth the field trips we are able to attend. I feel I gain the most from visiting actual agricultural practices than anything I have learned in class, here or back at TAMU. Getting a first hand look at the operations puts class work into a whole other point of view. In the end I would have to say this study abroad will definitely be one of my top college experiences.


Howdy from Toulouse!

Our first week in Toulouse has officially come to a close! It has been a whirlwind of adventures, from jet lag to foie gras to the Mediterranean Sea. The week started off a little rough, I found it difficult to have my attention held inside a classroom on Monday when I felt like I should have been exploring my amazing and interesting new surroundings. As the week went on, things got increasingly more fun and effective in teaching me about the things I wanted to learn about France. The best day of the week must have been Thursday when we visited the vineyard and made a trip to Cordes. I got to meet a woman running a vineyard in the South of France, who is breaking the mold of gender stereotypes when it comes to farming and growing grapes in Europe. Cordes sur Ciel is a town that dates back to the 12th century, sitting on top of a hill. It is absolutely beautiful and provides the most stunning view of the French countryside. I absolutely adored it there. 
As for the food, it has been divine so far! We are starting to figure out what French food we have cravings for and which we can barely stand to tolerate. We ate cassoulet, which is a specialty here in Toulouse and it was DELICIOUS. It's the French version of a good, homestyle meal. I haven't been able to bring myself to try beef tartar yet, but I know I will before the end of the trip. We have also had the "French picnic" meal, which I absolutely loved. Maybe even more than the stereotypical American hotdogs and hamburgers! 
So, I know that in America we typically think of the French as smelly, stuck up snail eaters, but I have had the opportunity to meet some of the students at the school we are attending. I have to tell y'all, they are some of THE nicest kids I have ever met. I have learned so much about the French culture and student life from talking to them and it has been an experience unlike any other for me. They have taken their free time to show us around Toulouse and take us out to eat (to an amazing creperie, I might add). Of course, we have met some not-so-nice French people as well. My conclusion on this is that every country, not just France, has pessimistic citizens. They have not effected my judgement of all the lovely French people I have met in the past week. 
I couldn't be more excited for the adventures to come this week, including our four day weekend in Barcelona, Spain! I will continue to post once or twice a week for the rest of my trip! Missing everyone back home. 

Only week one, and I want to learn a new language.

May 25, 2014

We are all given a toolbox when we are born, and throughout our lifetimes, we fill it with different utensils to help us build our lives.  We gain a wrench here and a hammer there, never really knowing which tool we will gain from each experience but having the courage to survey our collection of tools and build with however meager or bountiful it may be. 
French is not in my toolbox.  Since the moment I stepped off of the plane,  “eye spy” has been my favorite game and biggest asset when hunting for familiar words to decipher signs and written notices, while I implicate another popular game “mad gab” when listening to spoken words.  To tie it all together, lets just say I have become an expert in the game of charades.  Life truly is just a big game. 
But I love it.  Not knowing the language has helped me realize just how important a language really is.  I mean, if we take a step back and think about the history of humanity, language is amongst the earliest developments.  Early civilization knew oral communication was a necessary tool to build their lives.  And the fact that we still have language is a testament to its importance. 
One instance this week that really sticks out in my mind as an example of the importance of language was an improvisation competition at ENSAT, the school we are attending in Toulouse.  I had really never seen anything like it, and it might be one of the most cultural experiences I have had since arriving.  Dallas, a girl from UGA whom is a part of the same program, and I walked into a lecture hall, each seat completed with a balled up sock and a square piece of cardboard with opposite colors on each side.  As we sat down, our attention was directed to what looked like an oval wrestling ring, designating the competition vicinity.  We were both already fascinated, and the acting hadn’t even begun.  Julien, one of the French students whom speaks English very well, came and explained to us that the cardboard square was for voting and the sock was for throwing at the referee. 
Now, we all know that throwing socks does not fulfill our innermost being, nor does it bring true joy.  In that room, though, sitting with eighty other twenty-year-old students whom all consider ourselves adults, throwing socks in unison at a man in a striped shirt standing in the center of a wrestling ring made for acting was pretty close.  It was just pure fun.  And what made it fun, was that after a few rounds of the ref giving a prompt, the actors from both teams duking it out with zealous improv spirit, us voting, and more sock throwing, we still knew no French.  However, we could laugh when we were supposed to and applaud when we were supposed to all based off of the human ability to speak emotion. 
We all speak the same emotions, but what differs in these emotions are the details. Sure, Dallas and I knew what was going on in most scenarios, but we did not know what was exactly being said that could have made the scene funnier or more serious.  That is why language is the bridge to detail, which makes it necessary to learn. My time in France so far has been short, but I already know I want to learn the language.  It will add another life tool to my toolbox, and it will bridge a gap, making one more effort to create genuine correspondence between foreign places.