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Allons-y: A To-Do List for Study Abroad in France

It's hard to believe I've been living in Aix-en-Provence, France, for just over five weeks. Some days I still forget that I'm not back in Pittsburgh, and it takes a moment to remember where I am. But reality usually surfaces quickly because every morning, while fumbling for the light switch, I whack my head on my room's low attic ceilings.
But this morning was different. For the first time in five weeks, I swung my head to the left and steered clear of the rafters. I can't explain it, but perhaps it's finally sunk in that I'm studying abroad. Who knows? If I can keep this up, I'll be able to wear my language lab headphones like a normal human being by the end of the week.

On a similar note, now that things have FINALLY begun to sink in, I've made a list of some realizations I've made while here (most of which being a little more subtle). So here goes!
1. Wander, get lost, and find your way back. Sometimes this is the best way to get to know a city and discover its secrets. And it’s a great way to get used to living life without Google Maps.

2. Accept that you are going to gain at least ten pounds in croissants, pistachio macaroons, fromage du chèvre, and Speculoos. Equally embrace the fact that, at some point, you will consume an entire family-sized jar of Nutella [shout out: makin' you proud Meghlin!]. And the warm baguette sticking out of your purse never lasts the walk home untouched. Don’t try and fight it.

  3. Be prepared for the American stereotypes. Your host family may be surprised to see that you don’t weigh 400 lbs. or eat McDonald's for every meal. Expect occasional assumptions that you know nothing about European politics and culture, and are un peu stupide because you are American.

4. ...but occasionally take a step in the wrong direction and reinforce those stereotypes. Because you may experience a 10-minute stare-down with the mystery that is the Nespresso machine before your host sister finally shows you that it wasn’t turned on. (On a similar note, I may never be able to work the sink in the first-floor bathroom.)

5. Learn to be comfortable toute seule. Take this opportunity to learn things about yourself that you never knew before. Break from the group from time to time and explore a new route. You may begin to enjoy your own company.

6. Feel the French language begin to take over. If your experience is anything like mine, your English will deteriorate and occasional words will escape you, replaced by the French translation. Feel the strange sensation when your thought process shifts between French and English, colliding in a bizarre Franglish mess. Realize that your dreams have slipped into French.

7. Perfect your pronunciation. Get used to the fact that your host family will never let you live down your consistently terrible pronunciation ronronner, the French verb meaning to purr. No matter how much you practice, your host brother will almost always fall off his chair in hysterics. Fight this by challenging his pronunciation of “YOLO”.

8. Talk to people. Although the French tend to be more reserved than Americans (and will definitely be taken aback if you stop them on the street), they are wonderfully conversational. So take every opportunity practice your French! Accept a ride home from another American who’s lived in Aix for years, and tag along when she needs to run errands in Varvaugnes. When you join a cooking class, stay an extra two hours laughing with the other women at the hilarity that is Francois Holland. 

9. Climb, hike, bike, or run to the top tallest mountain you can find. If you’re in Aix-en-Provence, catch the 15 minute bus to St. Victoire and climb to the top. Tuck away your camera and sink into the silence of the rocky cliffs above the clouds. Realize that you’ve never felt so small. (Bonus: work off all those baguettes!)

10. Be mistaken as French by the natives. And realize that this may just be the greatest complement you have ever received.

Maybe all of these things have to happen before you can realize that you're in living and studying in Aix-en-Provence. And, with the exception of the familiar bump on my head, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Lindsay Bayne is the Spring 2014 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. 

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