January 9, 2011
Hey guys! I couldn’t write for a few days because you have to eat a certain number of baguettes before the French will allow you to use their internet. Just kidding, I’m lazy and there’s no WIFI in my dorm. Anyway, despite furtive glances of disapproval at the L.L. Bean backpack, which was blatantly defying the “all carry-ons must fit under the seats” rule, I successfully landed in Pau and was whisked away by the program managers to our dorms. Or rather, they tried to give us a tour of the area surrounding our dorms while I lagged further and further behind, a la Randy in A Christmas Story. I was so burdened by the full weight of my possessions I couldn’t put my arms down either.
However, the musty odor I encountered upon entering my hallway instantly soothed my strained nerves. It’s a comfort to know that, wherever I am in the world, college dorms will always smell bad. My room itself is pretty sweet, almost an entire wall of windows, a kitchen nook, and curtains straight out of a shady 1980’s motel.
I feel like I need to interject the fact that I am sitting at my kitchen table eating Nutella out of the jar with a knife right now, so nobody thinks I went to France and got posh right off the bat. Give it a week at least.
The downtown here is fascinating, two old cathedrals, two chateaus, and a beautiful view of the mountains along the Boulevard des Pyrenees. Running through the downtown to get to the Boulevard is also quite an experience. The expressions of which I caught glimpses as I barreled past ranged from shock and suspicion to an acceptance of my blatant American-ness. I think that the only way I could make myself more conspicuously foreign would be to drape myself in an American flag and sprint down the main street bellowing the Star-Spangled Banner.
This morning I dragged myself out of bed and went to the Anglican church about 15 minutes away in the downtown direction. It’s the only English-speaking church in this entire region, housed in a tiny stone church with vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained glass. The service was almost identical to the Episcopalian Eucharist in the States, although the chaplain here bears a striking resemblance to Captain Kirk of Star Trek. The similarity grew uncanny when he ended the service with “Live long and prosper.” Kidding.
We met an American woman who just finished grad school and married a local, they were both quite friendly and she also takes classes at our university. We exchanged phone numbers and emails, so hopefully we see them again. Originally, the plan after church was to wander around downtown today and take pictures, but a steady drizzle derailed this idea. It’s okay, I comforted myself with a .85 euro baguette still warm from the oven, half of which I’ve already eaten.
Cooking here has so far been both rewarding and a constant source of stress. I’m accustomed to being punctually fed three meals a day by the Sadler Center workers at W&M, so the idea of grocery shopping and preparing my own food is a bit overwhelming. Honestly I find it annoying, every three hours my stomach reminds me of its existence, and I’m like, Really? Again?? I just fed you! Luckily, the raw ingredients here are delicious, even the cheap food is flavorful, so it’s pretty hard to mess up.
My French classes start tomorrow. I’m a little nervous about them, due to my grave and inherent lack of grammar skills. Wish me luck!
Aleca was born in Florida and has spent her life traveling, trailing in the wake of her father’s military career and experiencing the many and varied cultures of the U.S., from the slow pace of life in rural Tennessee to the mad dash of Washington D.C. She spent spring semester 2011 studying with the University Studies Abroad Consortium in Pau, France, which recently held a stop for the Tour de France. She is a junior and an English major. She thinks that everyone should study abroad. Read more of Aleca’s study abroad blog at aliinfrance.