(The End… already?)

I feel a little guilty recently because I gave my friends a hard time at the end of last semester. They were broken up about leaving, and I honestly couldn’t have been more eager to get home. However, I’m now being repaid for my failure to empathize: if I could have anything in the world right now, it would be the ability to lead two lives at the same time: one in the States, and one in France. I’m really happy to be going home, I’m excited about this summer, I’m excited about next year; and yet…

But this is also a time of reflection, so let’s look back over the year and touch on the highlights.

First, there was Orientation, wayyyy back in September. I didn’t have my camera, though, so I don’t have pictures. BUT I do have a picture of the view out my window, which is really the first thing I saw here.

view from the window

one of the first things I saw in Nantes

Then there was the crew from the first semester:

beautifullll

hello most awkward positioning ever

We saw some castles:

hmm

I don't even remember the name

We messed with the machines…:

chomp

I moved the tail up and down

Sometimes the kids even got all dressed up:

bellissimo

IES' thanksgiving dinner

And we generally made mischief. Then all my friends went back to their own universities, and I came back to Nantes in January not really knowing who I’d hang out with or what I’d do. Luckily, God gave me some really excellent friendships, and I had just as amazing a time the second semester as the first. Although I didn’t spend as much time with other Americans –(except this girl right here

katie katie katie

none of your sass

and a couple other year-long students)–

most of us, anyway

crazy photo time

Katie and I visited Paris:

eiffel

eiffel tower from montmartre

And anyway, I spent more time with my French friends that I met at Agape and English Club. This is them in their natural state (i.e. being extremely goofy):

ay ay ay

getting into position for the group photo from French Night

We even went to the beach as a group once.

cuties, all

here we are

That’s the crew. I’ve been a lucky, lucky chica to have met all of them and to have been able to get to know and spend time with them. The friendships that I’ve made this year are certainly different than those I have back home or in Grinnell, but they’re certainly no less meaningful, deep, or (I hope) long-lasting.  It’s been a whirlwind of a year, folks.

So my stay in France has been more magnificent than I could’ve hoped for: I can tell that my French has improved; I’ve made friendships with some truly amazing people; I’ve become more independent; and I’ve even seen God work in some pretty marvelous ways despite how faithless I can be sometimes. I’ve been blessed and honored to have the opportunity to spend this year abroad, and no matter how happy I’ll be to be home (and no matter how cheesy and ridiculous it sounds), part of me will always be here in Nantes.

Sorry I forgot about this last week, and I’m not really updating now since it’s break & also very very late at night… I’ll have a real update for you next week! For now just imagine all the fun I’m having.

What a week! Yesterday was the first time this semester that I sat myself down and did some serious academic stuff. I wrote a dissertation on a book for one of my classes at the fac, and it turned out… so-so. The language and writing themselves weren’t bad, but the organization could definitely have been better! It is probably because I waited until the last minute to do it. Good job, Stephanie.

That being said, it was the paper I was worrying the most about. The rest of my assignments should be fairly easy in comparison, which is good because frankly I am getting kind of tired (not of school, just tired in general). I think I am ready to come home to the states and not worry about weird cultural things, not worry about how much I’m gonna miss people, not worry about that stuff.

I know I didn’t necessarily elaborate on the trip to Normandy, but it made me really proud to be American. Yes, we do dumb stuff sometimes, we are very commercial, and sometimes we are kind of strange, but no one is perfect, and I happen to find America an odd mix of charming and noble. So overall I am glad to have been born into the culture I was born into, even though I am also glad to have the chances I have had to experience other cultures.

As for what I’ve been up to, I went to Ikea for the first time last Friday! It was great; I love looking at furniture and stuff, and I seriously enjoyed it. I may be going back this Friday, just to make myself feel bad for not having an apartment to buy furniture for (or money to buy it with :P). I also saw a movie (a romantic comedy called “l’Arnacoeur,” about someone who breaks up couples for a living) with some friends; and on Saturday, the weather was surprisingly pleasant, so a friend and I picnicked on Ile de Versailles. It was extremely nice! I also was able to teach a lot of fun games to some of my friends (at English Club, we played mafia, assassin, some game about a hot air balloon, and some other stuff. It was really fun)!

This weekend is Easter (duh), and I might be able to do something with my host family for Easter Monday, which apparently is more of a thing in France than it is in the states. I am also hoping to be able to dye eggs somehow. Again, I miss the extravagance of American holidays. Make sure to celebrate extra-hard for me! I am counting on you.

This weekend, IES took the students (almost all of us) to see the beaches and memorials in Normandie. It was really moving, and I’m fairly convinced that I can’t do the experience justice in this post.

The night before, my friends & I had a St. Patrick’s Day party, and we made shepherd’s pie, which took about 3 hours longer than we expected because we only had two burners & 1 teeny-tiny oven. But in the end it was really good, amazing actually. I also had made rice krispie treats, and they were delicious. My friends were very pleased as well (I think), but in the end we didn’t even leave my friend’s apartment until 2:30AM or so, so when I had to get up at 6:45, it was not very pleasant. But then we took a bus, and as I really enjoy riding in buses, my mood was restored. We also took a weird and unexpected 45′ break. But then we were 45′ late, so in the end it turned to be even more stupid than I originally thought.

So we got to Caen and spent about 4 hours at the memorial, which was amazing. I watched a film on the Battle of Britain and left feeling like Britain was the best, most amazing country ever. Here is what the memorial looked like:

memorial de caen

Sorry the photo is kind of blurry. There are more pictures of this kind on facebook as well! I felt very moved and patriotic at the cemetery and the beaches. I don’t think I can adequately describe it, but it was very beautiful, and of course sad.

The next day, we went to the American cemetery and Omaha Beach. I didn’t take any pictures of the graves because I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was for that kind of thing. But here is what part of the cemetery looked like:

moving!

We got back to Nantes around 9PM on Sunday, and now I am very busily engaged in avoiding my work. I hope you are all doing well, too!!

Café gourmand is a serving of espresso, alongside one or more small desserts. Experience the magic of metaphor.

This past week has been really enjoyable, although it didn’t always seem like it would be. My host mother’s sister is staying with us for a while (since last Tuesday), and I had been kind of stressed because I don’t always know how to be nice and friendly in French, so I thought she might dislike me or find me cold/egotistical. But luckily I have found ways to ask her questions and things, and I am no longer worried that she doesn’t like me! Yay small victories.

Speaking of small victories, I got my first (ungraded) assignment back from my Romanticism professor, and I did really well on it! Well, at least, that is what I gleaned from his “appréciation” of the content of my paper; he said it was a detailed and very interesting analysis of a well-understood text. That made me really happy! I also did really well on my history mid-sem, and I am always glad when my professors think I am smart. I do have a mid-sem for Romanticism tomorrow, and I haven’t really studied, so I do hope that goes well.

While I’m talking about academics: I received the assignment for my literature course at the fac (university) today. It’s just a “reasonably long” paper about the book we’re reading, due in two weeks. The only problem is that I haven’t read the book yet because I am a horrible student. But the professor seems really nice and surprisingly given to arm-grabbing and what I will generously call “excessive leading” when taking students somewhere (and by that I mean that he said, “follow me to the teachers’ room so I can give you your topic,” and made to grab my arm before I hurriedly said, “yeah!” and started jogging up the stairs). It is kind of a French sensibility to touch people more–obviously it is also a personality thing– but I don’t know, personal bubble and all. It was not creepy or anything, don’t get me wrong. It was just a very clear illustration about French vs. American concepts of space at times.

I have been spending a lot more time with my friends recently, which I think is a really good thing. Last weekend some of us went to “Ensemble pour l’Europe,” a conference with about 25 Christian groups that had stands. We were going to stay for the students’ night, but things turned out to be pretty boring, so we went to my friend’s apartment and ordered pizza instead. Then we went to a different church for a special concert thing, which ended at around 10:30PM. Not wanting to go home yet, we went to our other friend’s apartment and just hung out and talked until about 2:15AM and everyone was tired. It was really fun, but I didn’t get home until about 2:30, so getting up for church the next day was kind of a battle.

But in the end it was good because Sunday afternoon, we went and saw “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which was very stirring! Very emotional and sad, I thought. But it was really enjoyable as well. We are currently trying to put together something for St. Patrick’s Day (but we’re celebrating Friday evening), and it’ll hopefully be fun. IES is taking the students to the beaches of Normandy this weekend, and I am pretty excited about that. I like bus rides, so it will be nice because it is quite a long ride.

So it has been an excellent week, and it is shaping up to remain that way. The only negative things going on right now is the fact that I haven’t been able to sleep really since Friday night (I go to bed early but can’t seem to fall asleep, and it is really annoying because I still have to get up pretty early), and the fact that I am having worse allergies right now than I have ever had before. So I am usually tired and sneezy, but other than that, things are pretty awesome. Yay!

would you look at that

It only took about two hours total! Plus I was watching Psych at the same time.

Okay so first off allow me to complain that 1. France has an insufficient number of craft stores, 2. those that do exist are difficult to navigate, and 3. there must be some sort of ancient French secret to getting through a visit to one of these stores without feeling compelled to just immediately dash out. They are not that bad, but well yes really they are pretty bad. At least for me. Obviously it is a cultural difference because in the States, you just go into a bewilderingly immense store, grab whatever you need from a hopefully organized arrangement, and check out. So easy! So impersonal! So joyfully independent.

Not so in these horrible bourgeois stores. No, no. Allow me to provide you with a gripping 2nd person narrative of an experience in one of these stores.

You glance once more at your watch, wondering how many questions one lady can possibly imagine about a skein of yarn and for that matter why you have to wait for someone to help you anyway. Once a worker is available, you try to explain in your situationally-inadequate French that you are looking for hemp cord. The girl stares at you blankly as you ask yourself why in the world you thought this was a good idea. Hemp? Ah, she’ll have to ask. Okay, no, they definitely don’t have hemp. What about linen? Okay, how much do you want? 1 meter? Oh, better make it 2? Do you even really understand what a meter is? Well at any rate you are getting two meters’ worth of linen cord. Anything else? Thank goodness the clasp thingies are on the table in front of you and not on the other side of the store like those beads you want. You just point wordlessly to the least ornate clasp. Years of studying have come down to this. How depressing. The woman nods and puts everything in a little plastic sack before heading further back in the small shop, beckoning you to follow. For some reason you feel vaguely uneasy.

You are led to a smaller desk topped with a small computer and what appears at first to be change but is in actuality a collection of mismatched buttons. Whatever. There are 4 or 5 women in front of you, so you space out for a bit reflecting on the whole experience and wishing it could have been as easy as you had imagined only 40 minutes ago. Finally you approach the register. Yes, that’s all. Less than 2 euros. Have a good day. Yes, you smile. You, too. Hastening to the door, you lament that you couldn’t muster the courage to ask for some beads. But then again you ask yourself if it would really be worth it.

No, it probably wouldn’t.

Okay so that might seem a bit stark, but the experience wasn’t all that bad. I mean, it was certainly different than anything I’d ever done before in that I typically try to avoid soliciting advice from people when I can do something on my own, but traditional French stores seem to kind of frown on that. There are even grocery stores like this in my neighborhood. I am glad I had the experience and plan to go back to buy more linen cord (and maybe even some beads, this time!), but while I was there I was pretty uncomfortable. Well, I guess that is part of cultural displacement. It is a good discomfort.

Last night my friends and I had a fondue party, which was really excellent, lots of fun. We sat and talked for quite a while after, and unfortunately my two friends & I ended up missing the tram by 3 minutes. I can’t remember if it was 10:15 or 11:15 (I think 11:15), but anyway, trams only run every half-hour at that point, so I ended up walking home. It was not really very far, and I kind of enjoy the walk, but it was really quite late, and I was pretty tired. But all in all, it was a remarkable evening, and I was really glad to have the opportunity to try fondue (yay) and spend some time with my friends.

And that’s pretty much all that’s interesting lately. Everything is going smoothly, classes are enjoyable, I did well on my history midterm, and I made a bracelet for my host-mom (she liked it! Or at least she pretended really convincingly). I looked at pictures of cats and have been drawing a little more. My host-mom’s sister is staying with us for a little while since her husband is in the hospital here and they live in Angers (not super far, but not super close either). That is a little awkward because I don’t know what questions to ask her and therefore appear not to care about her or something. I don’t want to seem rude, so I hope she just thinks I’m dumb or incompetent. I have resolved to try to be extra-polite. Anyway, those are the haps, my friends. What’s new with you?

I will explain the title later! I did not just smash the keyboard imitating a recognized (if scorned) fighting-game strategy (I guess this is going to be a pretty nerdy post huh).

As far as weeks go, this one when juxtaposed with the last looks almost as inactive and sleepy as the wood between the worlds (bonus points to everyone who understands the reference!). I rested and hung out with friends a little bit during the weekend and hit the ground running (well, jogging?) academically with a midsem in my history class yesterday. I thought it was shorter and easier than I expected, but the professor told us today that he had begun looking over some of the copies and was a bit worried, so I guess we shall see in the end!

My friend is having fajita night soon, and I am very excited! Dear southwest, I miss you and your delicious food terribly. Let’s be friends forever. But just to show you what my friends and I cooked on Friday night, here is a picture of a galette complète, king of French main dishes in my book (photo taken from tripadvisor.com’s page on breizh cafe in Paris):

egg, ham, and emmental!

french people will try to convince you that the translation is "buckwheat pancake." come on, french people.

Delicious. So actually that is pretty much all I’ve done of interest lately besides going to a reformed church instead of the baptist church because I was too tired and lazy on Sunday to motivate myself for the 45-minute journey to the periphery (so instead I just walked 3 minutes to the reformed church, which I really enjoyed! I like reminding myself that diverse worship experiences help me learn more about God). And while we are on a kind of spiritual note, I would like to say that I am greatly enjoying studying Mark at IES this semester. Moral: God is pretty cool even if sometimes I forget that.

Now, about the title: I actually chose that string of nonsense because it has been the defining factor of my week since I became aware of it on Monday morning. That ridiculous collection of letters is in fact a code from http://qwantz.com, Dinosaur Comics, wherein each number represents the number of occurrences of the immediately following letter (i.e. there are 12 t’s, 10 o’s, &c.). I worked on that code for maybe two hours Monday night, 4 hours spread over yesterday, and a good 5 more hours today, and I have made pretty much zero progress. Luckily I am enjoying the process, even if it makes my thoughts loopy for a while after working on the code. I do like word problems, though, and this one has a prize: two t-shirts and an almost criminally cute spherical t-rex pillow (never did I think that I would have the joy of composing a sentence using that phrase). So I will persevere! Besides, it gives me a really great procrastination tool.

taken from Dinosaur Comics' TopatoCo product page

this guy: worth more than 11 hours of work? YES I BELIEVE SO

What have you been up to this week?