Home For The Holidays

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Well, I am finally just a little bit homesick.

I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long, but since I’ve gotten to Paris, I’ve been extremely content with the myriad of options of things to do here, my friends that I’ve made, and my classes. I really haven’t had much time or reason to miss home. At the beginning of the semester, the director of the program, Brent, warned everyone that they would most likely start to miss home at some point. I kept on waiting for it to happen, and watched as other students talked sadly about how much they missed their parents or peanut butter or trees and open spaces. It didn’t shock me too much because I’ve always been very independent and pretty adaptable to new environments. I’ve also lived in two cities before Paris, so it wasn’t a huge transition into an urban environment as it was for other students.

Still, I was expecting at least one meltdown in the middle of Skyping with my boyfriend or a frantic text to my mom telling her to send me candy corn or my favorite shampoo (neither of which can be found in France). Nothing happened until Thanksgiving, when I finally felt an emptiness in my stomach that had nothing to do with the lack of Thanksgiving dinner that I was to have that night.

In the U.S., Thanksgiving morning always starts with waking up late with my brother sister and wandering downstairs to watch the parade. We then drive north to Landsdale, about 40 minutes away from Philly, to my cousin’s house. Hor’dourves start immediately and we’re all full before dinner but still manage to eat third helpings of everything. The night usually ends up with unified karaoke or a wild dance party in the basement. My entire extended family is extremely close and I don’t get to see them too often, so holidays are very important for me.

This year in Paris, my Thanksgiving morning was spent teary-eyed and in my room watching Christmas movies on Netflix and waiting for America to wake up so I could call my family. I still had classes, and CIEE doesn’t incorporate a break into their program. Needless to say, I was relatively miserable. The good part was that we had a Thanksgiving dinner with our program that night at the center, so that’s what I looked forward to as I sat in class dreaming of the seven different desserts I’d be having if I was back in Pennsylvania.

The rest of the day was actually really nice; I got to talk to my family in the afternoon and spend the evening with all my wonderful friends that I have in Paris.

That being said, Paris isn’t just Eiffel Towers and croissants. There are some downsides to studying abroad in a foreign country. An important lesson to learn, though, is to allow yourself to be sad if you feel sad. Brent also told us in the beginning of the semester that it’s fine to be homesick; the problems start when you begin to feel guilty for being homesick because you should be eternally happy that you’re lucky enough to be studying abroad. Yes, I still feel eternally lucky that I have such an incredible opportunity, but I’m also allowing myself to miss my family and not feel guilty about it. I’m looking forward to going home for the holidays, but I still have three weeks left in this incredible city, and I plan to take full advantage of them!

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CIEE Parisian Thanksgiving! (source: CIEE Instagram)

 

Adaptation and Assimilation

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As I am progressing through the last quarter of my semester in Madrid, I have started reflecting on the past three months and it’s just an amazing feeling. After officially knowing the city well enough to navigate it myself without a map and getting over the constant fear of breaking a social norm, I have let loose and started living like a Spaniard rather than a tourist. I’m going to share some of the biggest differences in my environment including people, food, norms, college life, etc.

I'm pretty sure I am at the end of that graph now!

I’m pretty sure I am at the end of that graph now!

1. Hospitality. I’ll just start by saying I feel completely blessed to have met some of the people I’ve met here. Although a lot of my friends are study abroad students like myself, I have had multiple encounters with local residents, especially in different departments at school, who are kind and want to help. Spaniards are very hospitable and are genuinely interested in getting to know you. My friend Sara’s host mom decided to make us dinner one night so we could practice our Spanish. She made us paella and we had a nice long night getting to know her and practicing our Spanish! Which bring me to my next point, eating habits!

Paella in the making!

Paella in the making!

Me and Sara's host mom (sweetest lady ever!)

Me and Sara’s host mom (sweetest lady ever!)

2. Eating. Not only did I have to adjust to the time difference when I first got here, but also the “normal” hours of meals. Spaniards eat lunch and dinner an hour or two later than when we usually do (i.e. 9:30 pm is normal dinner time). Their portions are also a lot smaller than the mega-sized everything you would get in the US. However, I usually cook so the main thing I have noticed is, it is very easy to be healthy here. Around every corner, you’ll find a “frutas y verduras” (fruits and vegetables) store and they have a wide variety to choose from. I happen to LOVE fruits so I’ve been in a fruit coma for 3 months now!

My fav "frutas y verduras"

“frutas y verduras”

3. College life. College life here has also been very different for me. It’s a combination of being in a completely different country plus going from a really huge school like Temple to a school with only about 1300 students. I have enjoyed both these changes a lot although I’ve had days when I didn’t want to run into literally everyone I know! Smaller school also means smaller classrooms, which is really nice. I am very close with most of my professors and classes are also a little less formal. Lectures are more like discussion, which is possible because of the class sizes. I can surely say school feels more like a family here, and it will be very difficult when I leave.

4. Language.  The sentence structures in Spanish are a bit different than they are in English. For example, in English you would say “a big house” but in Spanish you would say “una casa grande” (a house big). This makes direct translation very difficult! All I do on the metro is listen to people’s conversations and pick up ways to structure my sentences without sounding like a foreigner!

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5. Numbers. The first time I saw this in my textbook, I was genuinely confused. So yes, the commas and decimals are switched here! But apparently, the US and UK are the ones who use it the way we do and other countries just have different syntaxes. This one I have to admit I still have not gotten used to!

These are the little things that make up my environment and add a little fun to my days!

Lessons You Learn When You Miss Your Flight

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As life goes, things don’t always work out as planned. Sometimes, things go really, really wrong, especially when embarking on a journey when you’re young. I had a bit of one of those experiences when I travelled to the U.K. with my friend Lexi last weekend.

Initially, we had planned to go to Galway, Ireland to visit one of Lexi’s friends who is studying abroad there. We then decided to split up the weekend and stop in London first, where another friend of Lexi’s, Ben, offered to let us stay with him. This required lots of meticulous and stressful planning. We would take an overnight bus to London (which goes under the English Channel), take a plane to Shannon Airport in Ireland, a bus to Galway, then a cab back to the airport, plane back to London, and another bus back to Paris….  Something was bound to go wrong with such a hectic itinerary. And it did.

Thursday Night: About an hour of sleep was had on the bus ride overnight to London. Lexi and I are always finding something to laugh about, so we talked and giggled most of the night instead of trying to snooze.

Friday: We arrived in London at 5:00 am, where we were dumped somewhat unceremoniously onto the rainy street. Nothing was open at all, and with no means of transportation (since the tube was closed), we wandered the streets until we saw a cab and flagged him down frantically.

“Is there anything at all open?” I asked the driver tentatively as we climbed into the car.

Apparently, McDonalds is the only thing that is open at 5:00 am in London. Never again will I be so excited to see the golden M in my life.

After waiting in McDonalds until a decent enough time to show up at Ben’s doorstep, we found the tube and then Ben’s apartment building (after a couple of faulty tries). We dragged our stuff into his room, hit the floor to sleep for about an hour, then headed off into the city. We got to see lots of really cool monuments, such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. We even got tickets for the London Eye and got an aerial view of the city! That night, we went to the Cheshire Cheese, an authentic English pub where people such as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens were known to be regulars in their time. After dinner, we went out to experience London’s exciting nightlife and returned home 3:30am.

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View from the London Eye

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View of the London Eye

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View of us on the London Eye

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Big Ben and London Eye in the background

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Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

 

Saturday: Despite lack of sleep, we woke up at 6:00 am as planned and headed to the tube to catch our flight to Shannon. Unfortunately, the tube is much slower than the Paris metro, and we missed our train to get the the airport on time by about 30 seconds. We took the next train to get to the airport and got there 15 minutes before takeoff… We had missed our flight! Three hours of travel time wasn’t enough to get us on the plane. After evaluating our options, we decided that the cheapest option was to stay in London even though our plane tickets and overnight reservations would go to waste. The rest of the day was spent scrambling to get what was, I’m sure, the last hostel open that night, waiting for trains, and going to the wrong hostel and having to backtrack across town. The night started looking up when we found a really good Indian place for dinner and a perfect authentic English pub where all of the locals go. We ended up having a really good conversation with two American guys that we found there!

Sunday: We left two hours in advance to get to our bus stop about six stops away (something that takes about seven minutes in Paris) and just barely made it onto the bus on time due to closed tube stops. We slept most of the ride home. I don’t think either of us was happier to get on the bed-smelling-yet-fast-as-lightning Paris metro on our return home.

So, lesson learned. When in a country where you’re not familiar with the transportation systems, leave more than enough time to get to where you’re going. Despite all of the catastrophes that happened on the trip, I’ll still look back fondly on it as an adventure. For one, English people are extremely kind and helpful. There were numerous times when we looked lost and people came up to us to ask us if we needed help. A man even offered to carry my suitcase up the tube steps for me! You don’t find much of that in Paris; the people here are much more reserved and not generally known for their friendliness.

One of the best things that came out of this, though, was that we learned to stay positive in the face of defeat. There were so many things that went wrong, but not once did we snap at each other or break down into tears. In situations like these, the best thing to do is just to accept that there’s not much you can do but remain calm and figure out what the next step is. Luckily, I was travelling with a fantastic person who doesn’t get angry very easily! Travelling is one of the best things in the world, but it can be very stressful when things aren’t going as planned. When things go wrong, tell yourself, “C’est la vie!” and stay in London an extra night.

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Talking the Talk

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On the day I left for France, I made myself a promise; “You must fully immerse yourself in the language!” One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Paris was because I wanted to learn a new language. I knew that, in order to learn French quicker, I would need to study more than just in the classroom. I planned on speaking to my friends in French, only watching French movies, and trying to read only books in French. I wanted to surround myself as much as possible with the language in order to maximize my fluency.

It has been expectedly more difficult than I first imagined. Predictably, I rarely have a full French conversation with my friends from the program. Instead, we speak “Franglish:” mostly English sentences with French words thrown in here and there for the sake of hilarity or emphasis. My daily interactions with everyone else, however, are always completely in French. I am now one hundred percent confident with asking for directions and ordering at a restaurant without fear of not being able to understand the response. With my host mom, who knows very little English, I speak French, and she helps and corrects me if need be.

Then, there is NETFLIX. When I first tried to sign into my account after I got to France, this is what I saw:

However, about a week after arrival, a friend noticed in an advertisement that Netflix would be arriving in France on September 12. Needless to say, we were all thrilled. I had been watching French films on Netflix before my trip. There are plenty of French movies on Netflix, and I watch them when I clean my room or when I’m in for the night. I’ve found that I have gained a better comprehension of proper pronunciation and colloquial French because I have chosen to watch films such as Elles and Renoir instead of New Girl. I have a couple of favorites which can be found on Netflix, all of which are worth watching even if you’re not a French speaker:

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Intouchables- this is an INCREDIBLE film about a disabled man who befriends a man from the slums (it was especially touching for me because one of my best friends is a wheelchair user).

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Un Heureux Événement- This film is about a couple who decides to have a baby, but then realizes that raising a child is much more difficult than they had initially planned.

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Populaire- This movie is set in the late 50’s and is about a typist who becomes a celebrity through winning typing competitions.

In the midst of everything else I’m doing here in Paris, there are some other ways I’m managing to fit in extra French lessons:

French Radio: This is a French radio app that you can download on your smartphone that allows you to listen to virtually any French radio station. My choice: France Info.

Duolingo: This is also an app that teaches you French through grammar, conversation, and spelling games.

French Newspapers: There are numerous newspapers that can be found in metro stations, such as Direct Matin. I sometimes grab one on my way to class and attempt to read it on the train.

Overall, I am very proud of the effort that I’ve put forth to further myself towards fluency. I feel as if I’ve improved my reading and comprehension immensely, not just through my classes but also through my independent efforts.

Wanderlust in Andalucia

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The past two weeks have been as eventful as it could get here for me. Between my third (yes, third!) round of midterms, visiting landmarks of Madrid and my trip to the Andalucía cities, I’ve been on a stricter schedule than when I’m on finals but it worked out perfectly. Today, I’ll be writing about my trip to the Andalusia cities – Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada – I consider this trip to be the most important because these cities contribute largely to the history and culture of Spain.

On Friday morning, I headed to Cordoba and spent the day there. Cordoba is a the smallest city of the three; it was once a part of the Roman Empire and conquered by Moors as most Southern Spanish cities. Unfortunately, we walked around about 45 minutes before it started pouring rain so we went to the Mosque – Cathedral of Cordoba, got an audio tour and spent most of our day there. Although some alterations have been made to the Mosque over the years after it was changed to a Cathedral , it predominantly looks like a Mosque.

The Mihrab at Mosque - Cathedral of Cordoba

The Mihrab at Mosque – Cathedral of Cordoba

Ceiling of the Mihrab

Ceiling of the Mihrab

Roman Bridge of Cordoba

Roman Bridge of Cordoba

That night, we went to Sevilla and spent the night there so we had a full day in the city the next day. Saturday morning, we went to the city and rented bikes so we can move around the city quicker. Our first destination was Plaza de España, then Torre Del Oro. Then began our long search for “Las Setas De La Encarnacion,” one of the largest wooden structures in the world (P.S. navigating yourself on a bike with a GPS on very narrow streets is a task of its own!)

Plaza de España

Plaza de España

Plaza de España

Plaza de España

View of the Cathedral from the top of Torre Del Oro

View of the Cathedral from the top of Torre Del Oro

Las Setas!

Las Setas!

We went to the top of Las Setas and had the best possible view of Sevilla. Although you can tell how packed the city is by the narrow streets, seeing it from up there was just incredible.

View from the top of Las Setas

View from the top of Las Setas

My last stop before wrapping up my weekend was Granada on a bright Sunday. We did a walking tour the evening we arrived and went to a flamenco show.

La Alhambra at night!

La Alhambra at night!

The next day, we went to La Alhambra. We walked through the Generalife (the gardens) and the Alcazaba (the main palace). It just felt like we were in La La Land for a couple hours. I don’t think I have enough words to describe how spectacular that place is so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Alhambra

La Alhambra

I hope you can see where my speechlessness is coming from! To add on to the beautiful places I visited, I got to speak a lot more Spanish than I do on a regular weekend because most of the people on this trip went to other universities in Madrid and spoke perfect Spanish. There were also many Tapas bars in Granada since Tapas originated  there but, just like everywhere else in Spain, most of their tapas include pork. However, I got to enjoy their authentic sea food tapas! This trip was a huge leap into understanding the history of Spain because the Andalucia cities are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Spain after the big cities, mainly because of their different conquests and evolving culture. Just by walking through the different cities, you will still see the influence each era has had on their architecture and the people themselves.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

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Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot,

I know of no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Why should you remember the fifth of November? It was Guy Fawkes Night here in England this past week and it has been full of fireworks, bonfires, and celebrations. What is being celebrated is quite interesting indeed. This holiday dates to way back in the history of Great Britain…all the way back to 1605. The king at the time was King James I of England, who happened to be a Protestant. Religious tension drove a small group of Catholics to devise a plan to assassinate the king and replace him with a more Catholic-friendly leader. Becoming known as the Gunpowder Plot, this group took explosives underneath the House of Lords; however, their plot was foiled. Fawkes was appointed to guard the explosives, and when the authorities were tipped off of the plan he was the first to be discovered. Months later he and the other traitors were executed and quartered. Quite disturbingly, this means they were divided into four segments and each segment was sent to a different corner of the kingdom.

Townsfolk were elated that night when the plot had been thwarted and asked the authorities if they could hold bonfires to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ capture. Permission was granted and ever since then the fifth of November has been filled with bonfires and variations of celebrations.

The 2014 celebrations in Norwich lasted all throughout the week. I think I have heard fireworks every single night since last Sunday! I attended a bonfire night and it had a great little fall festival feeling to it. It was held at a soccer field and had the key attractions of fireworks and the bonfire, but there were also stands for selling sweets, ice cream, hot food, and playing carnival games.

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The bonfire was huge! You can see in the background some people standing for a size comparison. The fire was much taller than anyone there!

The bonfire was huge! You can see in the background some people standing for a size comparison. The fire was much taller than anyone there!

Keeping with a similar theme of previous blog posts… I have some (hopefully new) vocabulary for all of you! It is always a great feeling coming across these oddities in speech difference.

Bishy barnabee: the old, regional word for ladybird, or what is known in the US as a ladybug.

jumper: the equivalent to sweater.

maths: simply the word math but it is said with an ‘s’ on the end. It sounds so wrong to hear the phrase “Oh, I’m just going to work on my maths homework.”

jacket potato: a baked potato. I was under the impression for a few weeks that this term was ‘jacketed potato’…oops.

boot: the trunk of your car. “You can just throw your bag into the boot.”

coriander: the herb cilantro. With discussion of this, the pronunciation of the word herbs is also brought up. The British pronounce the ‘h’ and are very keen to let me know this when I pronounce it ‘errbs’.

plaster: a Band-Aid or bandage.

fringe: the hair cut shorter at the front or around sides of your face, known in the US as bangs.

Thanks for reading and I hope I enlightened you a little to my current world of studying abroad in Norwich, England.

Making It My Own

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These past few weeks have been the busiest since I’ve gotten to Paris! It was a huge mix of midterms, my 22nd birthday, my mom coming to visit, and registration for (MY LAST SEMESTER EVER OF) classes. Every morning I’ve been hitting the ground running trying to keep up with class work while still spending time with my mom and doing everything else that needs to be done. I suppose that fall will always be a busy time, even when I’m in a foreign country.

Paris has some kind of cold humming to it in Autumn. Not that it’s been super chilly here, but there’s definitely something different about the city when the leaves start to change. I think it’s a mix of the summer heat that’s waning more each day, the deep wooden scent of the air, and the charm that is always here that bewitches Paris in the fall.

It’s been that kind of feel that has accompanied me on my recent excursions to the Sacre Coeur (at night!), Monet’s Gardens, the Louvre, and Versailles. Versaille was actually the first trip that I took, which happened to be on my birthday. I had learned a little about Versailles in my Paris Collage class before going. It was originally a hunting lodge for Louis XIII in 1624 and was later expanded upon to become a royal palace. Despite the cold and rainy weather, it was truly a magnificent building to see. Because of my aforementioned class, I was able to recognize certain parts of the exterior such as the Corinthian orders and the dormer windows that were specific to the French Classical time period. Malheureusement, the rain kept me and Lexi from an extensive tour of the gardens, which we saw for only a brief period of time.

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In front of Versailles!

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Versailles, back view

My next trip was to the Sacre Coeur, this time at night with my mom. There are some things in Paris that are better at night, and Sacre Coeur is, in my opinion, definitely a place to visit after the sun goes down. It usually means less tourists and a different way of looking at the building and its surroundings. Both the Basilica and the view of Paris were absolutely breath-taking to see at night.

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Sacre-Coeur Basilica

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View of the city from Montmartre at night

Next stop, Giverny! My mom really wanted to see Monet’s Gardens, so I took Tuesday off and we headed north-west for a day trip. Giverny is famous for being the place where Monet lived and painted for most of his life. He created a magnificent garden in the land around the house he lived in and painted many of his most famous works there, including Water Lilies and In The Garden.  Even though it was late October, the flowers in his garden were still lively and vibrant. It was fascinating to be in the very place where the famous painter had lived and worked.

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The pond that was a part of Monet’s gardens

My final stop for the week was the Louvre, again with my mom. I’m embarrassed to say that last Friday was my first time actually inside the museum. I actually don’t regret not going sooner, only because I’ve so much enjoyed discovering my own Paris instead of following the “must-do’s” of the city right away. Nonetheless, it was due time that I actually went in to visit the second most visited museum in the world (the first is the Vatican in Rome). First stop was the Mona Lisa, which was both necessary and surreal. I couldn’t fully comprehend that I was looking at the most famous painting in history! There were a lot of other people surrounding it, so we didn’t stay for long. Instead, we traveled to a room with an open ceiling that had white marble Greek statues in it. We ended up lingering there for a while; I loved the natural light and brightness that all of the white provided.

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My mom and me, having fun at the Louvre

These adventures have taught me that I can make my French experience my own, even when attending the most tourist-y locations. Everyone’s experience is unique, and I’ve found that, so far, it’s the little things in between the big stuff that has been the most important part of my study abroad semester.

Poppies, Seals, and Grades: Autumn is Here!

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The transition to autumn has been slow to start, but this past week it has gotten much darker, rainy and chilly. With this transition, some new things have begun to appear… poppies, seals, and grades!

Remembrance Day, which is coming up on November 11th, is the Commonwealth’s memorial day for those who gave their lives in the armed forces. It is a common practice to wear a special remembrance poppy in the UK in the weeks leading up to this holiday. I have been beginning to see these everywhere! Professors, passersby, newscasters and British celebrities alike sport these pins during this time of year.

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poppies with harry potter cast

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The origin stems from the famous poem, “In Flanders Field”: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow. Between the crosses, row on row…” This poem describes the flowers which were the first sign of life after death. Poppies grew on the graves of soldiers buried in France and Belgium during and after World War I.

While the poppies begin to appear, a certain type of wild life is also beginning to appear. Along the coast of Eastern England, certain beaches (from November to March) become home to grey seals. I had no idea that seals were members of the English wildlife! The particular beach to which I traveled was called Horsey, which was about forty-five minutes away from the university. Secluded with no real town or houses nearby, Horsey makes a quiet and safe haven for the seals to reside until the warmer weather. At first, I was thrilled with just seeing the little seal heads bobbing off of the beach, but as I walked down the shore I realized that there were tons of gray blobs flopping around on the sand! About twenty seals were on the shore in a group, with tens of others swimming in the vicinity. The seals were so relaxed despite the people gathering around and snapping pictures…some of the seals even appeared to be asleep. It was absolutely magical to see these gentle giants up close and personal.

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A few days ago, I was up close and personal with my first official grade for my coursework here at UEA. The assignment was an essay, worth seventy-five percent of the final grade for that module. My prior knowledge of the English universities’ grading scale was simply that it is difficult to receive a mark of 80 or higher. Before I even had the opportunity to see my grade, I had to wait nearly three weeks. In this time the essay was not only reviewed by my professor, but also by another scorer who was unknown to me. This seemed to be a fairly intense process. Receiving my grade was shocking and confusing at first. I spotted the mark of “66” upon return, and I felt my face become warm. I immediately felt disappointed in myself and thought: “This was a grade out of 100, right?” The grading sheet is marked that I did “good” in all of the areas graded…Where did those other 34 points go?

As soon as I got the opportunity to, I looked up the grading scale of universities in England. Whew! I was certainly relieved because of what I found. A “66” truly is not a bad score at all! It falls under the category 2.1 or also known as “second class honours.”

uk grading scale

More relief was also came to me once I spoke with some of the British students. Reassurance and personal stories of grades made me realize that this was nothing to be upset about, and was actually an accomplishment to be proud of. It is extremely rare, not just difficult, to get above an 80. A mark in the 90’s is essentially unheard of!

Many novel encounters have happened this past week and all have either taught me or enriched my understanding of English culture. Thanks for reading!

What Meets The Eye….

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In any metropolitan area, there is always a lot of diversity to be found. That is one of the many reasons why I love Temple so much and also cities in general. Paris is no exception. While walking the streets or in the metro, I hear not only French but also Arabic, German, and Spanish. There are new faces that I see everywhere, everyday. Diversity comes in many different shapes and sizes: different languages, religions, ethnicities, and cultures are all part of living in an urban environment. Something that has been unexpectedly present in my Parisian life has been the Islamic religion.

I am taking a “Muslim Presence in Europe” class. It has been on of my favorite classes thus far. One of the most prevalent topics of discussion in the class has to do with France’s ban on visible symbols of religion in public schools, otherwise known as laïcité. Essentially, this law was put in place mainly to prevent girls from wearing hijabs, or headscarves, to school. I had heard about this controversy before I came to France, and had what I thought was a very firm and well thought out stance on the subject: the hijab=oppression of women, so therefore, the ban of the hijab=liberation of women. The controversy, however, is far from simple. Without going into very complex details, I have learned about Muslim immigration, Islamic culture, and how the hijab is in fact a part of many Muslim women’s personal identity, and not a form of oppression. The class has allowed me to look not only at the hijab controversy, but also Islam as a whole, from a completely fresh point of view, which has in turn allowed me to form new opinions and stances on a religion that I knew very little about prior to coming to Paris.

Another way that Islam has been present in my life touches a bit closer to home, quite literally. On my very first day in Paris when first met my host mom, Ghanima, in my new home, one of the first things I noticed was an Arabic calendar on her wall. I pointed at it and told her that I thought Arabic was a beautiful language, then asked her if she spoke it. She smiled a bit and told me that she was Muslim and grew up in Algeria. She then said that she was nervous about telling me that she was Muslim before I arrived because she didn’t know what kind of preconceived notions I might have had. Of course, I was completely fine with it. In fact, what I believe now and what I didn’t know then was that I received the best host family out of all my friends. Not that theirs aren’t great, but Ghanima is especially warm and loving towards me. She makes me really wonderful food every single night that I am home and helps me with my spoken French. This past Tuesday night was particularly memorable. I had made cookies the weekend prior. I had given her some, and she had said that she loved them and then asked me how to make them. That night, I showed her how. While we baked, I asked her to turn on her Bollywood music that she sometimes played while she was cooking, and which I loved. Instead, she pulled out her computer and some old DVDs of her belly dancing! She was actually really good. Belly dancing isn’t tied to Islam, but it’s considered a performance art that is very popular in Middle Eastern countries. It is a night that I know I will look back on when I think about my French experience because we had such a wonderful time together.

By taking a class on Islam and also having a Muslim host mom, my eyes have been opened to the religion and its context in France. Before my trip, it was the last thing I thought of when I imagined Paris. Now that I’m here, though, I recognize Islamic as well as other religion’s significance here in Europe. Being here has showed me that I can’t always lean on the American media’s portrayal of what might be happening in different parts of the world. In a larger context, learning about religion through a different point of view is essentially the reason why I wanted to study abroad in the first place. It is teaching me to be more critical of what meets the eye. Through learning about Muslims and their religion here in Paris, I’m learning to dig deeper in more ways than one.

Me with my wonderful host family! From left to right: Ghanima, Me, and her son Elias. Not pictured: my host sister, Ludmilla.

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The cookies we made. I feel very special because Ghanima told me that this is the first time she has ever asked for a recipe from a host student :)!

Understanding America from the Outside

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Being removed from American soil, where I have lived the majority of my life, has given me a new understanding of my label of “American.” In the academic setting, my American Foreign Policy module has forced me to think of the United States in a whole new context. One of the first questions posed to the class was: Is or was the United States an empire? When I hear the word empire, I think about the British during the 17th century, certainly not my home country which started out as part of that British Empire. The class’s discussion leaned more towards the notion that the United States was an empire, even today! The short colonization of the Philippines and Cuba are discussed; however, the main point of discussion was that the United States is a militaristic empire today. In 150 countries the U.S. has active duty military troops. For the argument of an American empire, this fact shows that there is an official American presence almost everywhere.

My absolute favorite way of learning about my country through my time here has to be talking to my new friends and classmates. I have learned the over arching thoughts about my country just from these interactions alone. During the conversations I have found: 1. Guns or Obama will, at some point, be topics of conversation. 2. We are seen as incredibly friendly (sometimes exceedingly so). 3. The U.S. prices of clothes, food, and any other goods are considered dirt cheap.

In the process of writing this blog post on about being an American in England, I am beginning to remind myself of little things I miss from the good ole U S of A. In the shops and stores here, no one comes up to you and asks if you are need any help, nor does the cashier ask if you found everything okay, nor do they say “have a good day!” or make chit-chat.  It is surprising how much I miss the little, super-friendly interactions each day with strangers.  Another small cultural tidbit I miss is the dollar bill, oddly enough! Here the smallest denomination of paper currency is a £5 note! I need to get used to the £1 and £2 coins, because that’s a lot of money (especially for a college student)! I simply cannot write off the coins as petty change as I would back home.

The British coins come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, and £2, and the smaller valued ones hold a special secret that I only recently discovered! When all are placed in a certain arrangement they complete the image of the Coat of Arms in the United Kingdom.

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As I’ve written before I feel like I am learning new words each and every single day. Here’s yet another list of vocabulary from across the pond:

Quid: a term than can be used interchangeably with the unit of currency ‘pound’. For example, if an item is marked £20.00 can say that it costs twenty quid.

Tea: this means what you think it means, but in addition to being a hot beverage it is your dinner. Example: What are you having for tea? Oh just fixing myself some vegetables and potatoes.

Eggy bread: French toast!

“x”or “xx”: Usually found at the end of a text message or Facebook message; meant to mean a kiss, but it is not necessarily romantic. This mark can just be friendly.

Courgette: Zucchini

Aubergine: Eggplant

Squash: a very popular, usually fruity liquid that is added to water.

The adventure went to the seaside this past week! Specifically, I traveled to the seaside towns of Sheringham and Hemsby. Both towns were beautiful, but held an eerie presence. They are very unusual compared to the beaches of New Jersey. The first two pictures are of Hemsby and the third and fourth are of Sheringham.

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Can you see the wind turbines out at sea? They really contributed to the eerie, but serene feeling at these British seaside towns.

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Thank you for reading!