Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A whirlwind of travels

Since I had last written, so much has happened: I finished my stay in Montpellier, I traveled to a few different countries, and I finally moved into Geneva. Whew! I have barely had a moment to breathe! But let me start from the beginning.

My entire stay in Montpellier was a good learning experience. I unfortunately was still having a lot of trouble adjusting to life in a country other than Ghana, but nevertheless, I truly enjoyed the challenge of my class, living with a host family, and adjusting to a new culture. My time in Montpellier came to an end on February 5, and (as per usual), I had to hurriedly finish packing. Even though I was pressed for time, I ran to a boulangerie/patisserie to buy my last meal (pizza avec chevre, fruit tart, and of course, pain au chocolate) and then rushed off to the train station. I made it. :)

I got off the train at Geneva to be greeted in one of the loveliest possible ways: to the smiling face of my dearest Emma Little! We had a fantastic dinner of cheese fondu at Emmy’s host mom’s house (YUM) along with a great conversation in French, but the best part of my night was catching up with Emmy while exploring the outskirts of Geneva where Em lives. After sleeping for an hour, we barely woke up in time for my ridiculously early train back to Geneva so I could venture off to Rome.

I arrived in Rome Saturday afternoon, checked into my hostel, and set right off to explore Rome. The next three days were filled with the Vatican City, gelato, pizza, spaghetti, ruins, the urge to speak French and sunshine.

On Tuesday, I made my way over to Florence. I kept dozing in an out on the train ride during which I woke up to see fog and snow outside my window. I thought I must have been dreaming, but alas, I left the short-sleeve weather in Rome for a real winter in Florence (at least it’s not Colgate…). Luckily, my heart was instantly warmed when I saw my beautiful Lily Sehn! We were able to spend a lovely, albeit short, time together. I was super lucky in that there was a chocolate festival going on in Florence at the time of my stay. Mhmmm. :)

Wednesday night, I took the night train (couchettes are… weird) to Paris. I wish I understood Italian because at one point during this ride, the police boarded and began interrogating with one of the men in a neighboring room; I think they argued about his visa and him possibly being in Europe illegally… I was really scared for the man being interrogated.

I got into Paris Thursday morning. I went to see the Eiffel Tower at night: gorgeous. The walk was great too, but a combination of factors (meaning the fact that Paris is actually super confusing and well, we all know about my directional skills) got me SUPER lost. The next day, I went to the Louvre in the morning: this is one place I actually did not mind getting lost in (because needless to say, that was easily accomplished)! I then hopped on over to the Notre Dame and amidst the crowd of people relaxing, I found myself a Claire Healy. :) We spent time by the Seine, at Père Lachaisse (including Chopin’s grave and a lot of relatively new WWII memorials – France has only recently begun recognizing its real role in WWII), and at the Catacombs (which houses bunny’s namesake, Robespierre; however, the bones are not even remotely labeled… I must admit, this was quite… frightening…)!

Unfortunately, I only had a short few days in Paris. I took a train to Lourdes, which was a fascinating and beautiful place to be. The people were so wonderful and genuine and nice here. For example, when I got off the train, a fellow traveler made sure I got to my hostel before heading off to hers even though it was almost midnight. And the owner of the hostel was fantastic! As I was waiting for my train, I was doing some work. All of a sudden, the owner comes over with a fruit tart and tea for me! I was so pleasantly surprised. I just love genuinely kind people like that.

That night, I took an overnight train back to Geneva and got in Monday morning. I shoved my belongings in my room (rather, the few belongings I had), went straight to class, and then hopped on the train over to my Emmy again to pick up the other half of my stuff and, of course, see my Emmy. It is always so great seeing her, but time simply flies whenever we are together and before I knew it, over an hour had gone by and I unfortunately needed to head back to prepare for the week’s classes.

Classes are fantastic. They are so interesting! I am taking classes on nationalism, (European) security, and international institutions. I also had the fortune of visiting the UN offices, which were spectacular!

Without getting a moment to breathe, I had decided to go to Budapest for the weekend with a couple of friends, leaving on Thursday and returning Sunday. Everything about this trip was breathtaking: the train ride, the city itself, the hostel, everything. One major perk: Budapest was cheap. Especially in comparison to Geneva…

I barely got settled back into life in Geneva, with a visit to WHO and PATH in between classes, and now I am about to head off to another great adventure to visit some familiar faces! :)

I am so lucky.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bonjour Europe!

I found myself once again frantically (no surprise there) packing on the 6th of January for my flight that evening. I could not believe that my three weeks in the United States flew by so quickly! I had just barely had enough time to readjust to life back in the U.S. and I already had to ship off again to a new culture. But alas, here I find myself in Europe. So far, the culture shock has been particularly difficult to deal with here in Europe because I have been surrounded by so much privilege and wealth but so little appreciation.

Anyway, we all arrived in Geneva, Switzerland on the morning of the 7th of January. I was shocked by how warm it was! It is such a beautiful city, filled with beautiful buildings and surrounded by majestic mountains. After applying for our residence cards, we spent the entire day exploring this wonderful, albeit very expensive, city.

On Sunday, we packed up and headed on to Montpellier, France. Here, I am living with a host family while simultaneously taking intensive French classes at ILP.

My host family is comprised of a mother and a 17 year old brother, and I live with one other Colgate girl. My family is so nice and welcoming; however, they did not speak any English. I believe they know a fair amount, but, because I was placed here by ILP, I am almost positive that the program forbids them from speaking to us in any language save French. Long story short, it’s intimidating. Slowly but surely, with emphasis on the slowly, I am beginning to loosen up and speak more French. I am just going to have to force myself past my fear of making a fool of myself and simply speak as much French as I can. It’s the only way I will truly learn to speak French better, which is essentially my ultimate goal. Anyway, the apartment is so cute. (Random side note, I love European toilets! They are genius! A little flush for pee and a big flush for, well, you know, haha.) Breakfasts and dinners are provided by the family. The French unfortunately eat small breakfasts, basically just bread and coffee. Dinners are always superb, though they are served kinda late into the night, but are so worth the wait. Being vegetarian is not normal for French and seeing as both my roommate and I are vegetarian, we are a bit difficult. Luckily, our host mom loves vegetables, so we are too, too much trouble on that front. I actually love dinners. Our host mom is fantastic, very energetic, and talkative. She keeps the conversation lively, and I actually understand most of what she says, that is except when she talks super fast. I vow to start speak more during dinner starting today, or perhaps tomorrow… But let me tell you, French cheese, now that is the best part of my meal. Heck! It’s the best part of my day! Sorry Ghana, but one point for Europe! :P

During the day, I have French classes at the ILP. Monday through Friday, I have class from 9 to 12 in the morning with Isabelle. We focus on improving grammar and we work on speaking as well. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I also have an afternoon class from 13:30 until 16 with Frank. During this class, we practice speaking a lot and do some grammar too. After this much French in day, it’s quite difficult not to think in French. I am even accidentally subconsciously trying to write this in French, I actually have to fight the urge to do so. I hope that’s a good sign… But Morgan Caninno, you will know what I mean when I say that it feels so good to be using my brain again so much!

A super exciting thing happened today. I was wearing one of my dresses from Ghana and a girl from the Netherlands in my afternoon class turns to me and asks if I got it in Africa. I said, “Yeah, in Ghana, how did you know?” Turns out, she spent six months in Tamale working at a clinic in 2008. Frank, our teacher, over hears our conversation and turns out he actually lived in Accra for three years! His wife was teaching at a French school there for that time. Before they returned to France, they also adopted a Ghanaian girl. This was so thrilling for me, I could barely contain my excitement. All I wanted to do was talk about Ghana and reminisce about the things I miss, like kenkey and FanIce and Waakye and pidgin and, well, this list could go on a long time.

I still get big pangs of missing Ghana. Huge pangs. As anyone who has been to Ghana can probably relate to this sentiment, I miss Ghana so much. But I have been keeping myself really busy, which has been good for me, albeit exhausting.

That's all for now! A tout a l'heure!