Life in Grenoble

Life in Grenoble

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's the point...

...of studying abroad? It may seem like a question with obvious answers, but what really is the point of studying, and even living, abroad ? Wouldn't it be easier to make a quick tour around a few countries, and retreat back to the comfort of your home after a week or two? More often than not, living abroad entails a moderate amount of discomfort and homesickness, so there must be significant reasons why students continue to put themselves through these ordeals. After my time spent in France, these are the answers I've come up with:

How I looked in front of anything Hungarian.
You gain a new appreciation for home. I once read that the best part of traveling is the moment when you set foot back in your home territory, because you rediscover the comfort of the known. Sure, every student looks forward to the moment when they step off the plane into America and they can buy a giant mocha-java-latte-ya ya—let's just say Starbucks coffee—and can greet their fellow countrymen left and right. But the beautiful part of studying abroad is that you experience this in foreign cities, when coming back to your home base after travels abroad. I recently was in Budapest, Hungary, with fellow Ohioan Zoe, and after five days spent attempting to decipher the enigma that is the Hungarian language, we were ecstatic to return to France where we could actually understand what kind of sandwich we were buying before choosing it. Sure, France isn't our real homebut we feel a sense of belonging.

At least they're honest about not working.

You learn that your way of doing things is not the only, or the best way. Now I know that us Americans love to express our pride in everything from sea to shining sea, but oftentimes that's because we haven't experienced life beyond our own waters. These don't have to be earth-shattering discoveries ; for example many Americans grumble about the French closing shops and restaurants on Sundays, since in our American universe everything is available, all the time. Come to France, and if it's after noon on a Sunday you make do with what you have in the fridge, since shops are already closed and the workers are home with their families. Sure, there are pros and cons to both lifestyles, but that doesn't mean one is better than the other. They're just différent.

Maybe that special dish is easier to reproduce than you thought..
You become independent. Well partly at least, since most students are only able to go abroad thanks to the bounty of their parents (thanks again Mom and Dad!). When students face the reality of living on a different continent than their parents, it can be a discomforting thought. What happens if you get lost or sick, or are desperately craving Mom's famous meatloaf? You survive, and gain a new appreciation of your mom's culinary skills. Whatever the situation, you learn that you are capable of facing it on your own, and you'll learn to embrace the autonomy of adulthood. After living abroad, being independent in your own country will be a piece of cake.


Natalie meets Brittany, France

It is hard to believe that the halfway mark of the semester has come and passed so quickly. Although last time I talked about the first half of our “winter vacation,” I’d really like to discuss the time spent in the Brittany region of France during the second half of the week. Although I love being in Grenoble, it was a great experience to travel from the southeast corner all the way up to the northwest and see more of France.

On the train ride from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel, there were definitely some areas that reminded me a bit of Ohio! Bretagne is known for its galettes, or its special savory crêpes made with buckwheat flour. We also discovered the “kouing-amann,” a flaky Breton “cake”. We’ll just say that the amount of butter in the latter is equal to the amount of happiness I derived from eating it. Needless to say, we definitely took advantage of the food.

Up-close and personal with a kouing-amann

Although it took a lot of effort on the planning end of things, making it to le Mont Saint-Michel was by far the highlight of vacation for me. The beautiful island monastery offers a history dating as far as Roman times, and we were able to visit it on multiple occasions. The weather, despite the Breton stereotype of nothing but rain, was beautiful and mostly sunny, although the first day it hailed, rained, produced huge gusts of winds, and then was sunny as though nothing had happened in a matter of less than an hour.
Mont Saint-Michel at sunrise

This vacation was full of relaxation after working diligently for two months, and was just what I needed to help push through to the end of the semester. Overall, I’d put a check in the “success” column for this one.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Travels and Adventures with Alessa

The thing about being in Europe is that many amazing vacation destinations are just a hop and a skip away, so traveling is a must. Since I've been here I've been to Paris, Geneva, Venice and Barcelona. And I still have many trips ahead of me planned (so exciting). But anyways, for my spring break, I decided to go to Barcelona with two friends and my sister, who flew in from the states. 

Let me tell you a bit about Barcelona, it's amazing! We stayed for six days at the best hostel (Sant Jordi Alberg) that was located right in town. The people that ran the hostel were so helpful and friendly and the price was a steal! Being in a hostel while you travel in Europe is really interesting because you meet people from all corners of the world. And sure, getting a good night's sleep is impossible but that's okay since most people on spring break aren't there for the sleep (you can do that at home). 

The city itself is extremely beautiful and full of history, but we did not have the easiest time navigating and nothing we planned for the day, sightseeing-wise, ever worked out. But we found cool things nevertheless. Another hardship was juggling all the languages since the week prior we were in Italy, I often confused myself between Italian, Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. ¡Ay caramba!

My favorite part was the art, the people I met and spending quality time with my friends and sister. For my first time in Spain, I would definitely qualify it as a SUCCESS.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Zoe gets her hands dirty in the vineyards

Through API, we had a wonderful volunteer opportunity, which was called “tirer le bois”. We went to a vineyard in Savoie where we helped clear the vines from the past season. It was a relatively simple task, but there were rows among rows to work on! It was a lot of doing the same thing, but it was with other students studying here in Grenoble, some of whom I didn’t know yet, so it was a lot of fun getting to work together!

 It was a long day, we arrived around 9 am and didn’t leave until about 5 pm. However we had a wonderful picnic on the middle of the day, so it broke up the work. We had sandwiches and the people from the vineyard gave us different wines to taste! Considering we were in Savioe, they were all white wines and they were all so good. There was a really interesting wine that is frozen in the snow and then when it’s unfrozen it’s more concentrated and much sweeter than normal white wines. So it’s something that you would only drink on occasion and with dessert, but I am really glad that I got to try it. The vineyard we worked at said that they actually had a patent on it. They also had grape juice that was just as good as the wine. When we were working, the rows were so muddy, so we all left tired and caked in mud, but it was a wonderful experience! In the end we actually ended up raising over 1,000 Euros to help handicap children in a neighboring town.