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8 Signs I Knew I Found a Second Home

I can still smell the flowers in the place de l'hôtel de ville on market day.  I can still taste the delicious, cheesy warmth of a slice of Pizza Capri. I can still hear the sound of my apartment door opening, echoing in my airy apartment, not far from the bustle of the Cours Mirabeau.  I returned from my semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, over nine months ago, but the memories of my second home are never far from my thoughts.

As a French major, I was required to spend at least a semester abroad.  After much deliberation, I decided that if I had to spend almost four months away from home, I would at least spend it somewhere (relatively) warm.  I chose Aix, located in the southeast region of France called Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.  I was promised three hundred days of sunshine a year, which, coming from the Midwest, sounded heavenly.  I packed my bags and said very emotional goodbyes to my family and friends before hopping on a plane.

When I arrived, I was overwhelmed.  Sure, I had four years of high school French and two and a half years of college French under my belt, but nothing really prepares you for the unique experience of being immersed in a new culture.  The first few weeks were a little rough, filled with miscommunications about receipts and stamps and getting lost more times than I can count.  But eventually, much to my surprise, I started calling my little apartment in Aix home.  How did I know?  There were many signs.

1. The baristas at my favorite café knew my name.

I would go to Aixcale (since it was right across the street from my school) pretty often for a café crème and an almond croissant.  We quickly got to know each other and they would start making my coffee the moment I walked in the door, greeting me with a cheerful “Salut Meghan!”

 My favorite Cappuccino and almond croissant.

2. I found the perfect spot to read, study, or talk with friends.

Once the weather warmed up a bit, I spent a lot of time sitting in Parc Jourdan, surrounded by sunbathers, children playing soccer, and teens sitting in circles, playing guitar.  It was the perfect place to people watch (a national French pastime) while still getting work done.

3. I gave directions without hesitation.

Even in the US, I’m awful with directions.  I forget street names and usually rely on my GPS or landmarks to find my way around.  I was waiting for a friend outside her apartment one day, when some French tourists came up to me and asked me (in French) where the nearest bookstore was.  Without even thinking, I told them to go up two streets, take a left, and it would be on their right, all in coherent French. I felt like a local! I knew exactly where it was.

4. I began to disdain tourists visiting the city.

The south of France is a popular tourist destination, which my study abroad advisor warned me about before I left.  Once warmer weather arrived, groups of tourists flocked in droves, crowding the Cours Mirabeau (the main street in town) with slow moving, picture taking groups.  Trying to walk from one place to another was a nightmare, but I realized that because I had grown so familiar with my route to and from school, the grocery store, and my apartment, I no longer stopped and stared at each building.  I moved through the city, quickly and efficiently, stopping only to say hi to a passing friend.

5. I became an avid farmer’s market attendee.

Back in the US, my town holds a farmer’s market once a week during the summer, but it’s nothing compared to the one in Aix.  The farmer’s market in Aix, held on Thursdays and Saturdays became part of my routine, as it is for the citizens of Aix. The atmosphere was more like a carnival than a market.  I would go whenever I could to buy fresh fruits and vegetables (my favorite purchase was an entire bag of apples for 80 cents!) and to buy herbes de Provence, a staple of Provençal cuisine.  The market had everything from food to clothing to housewares.

 The flower area of the market.

6. I didn’t realize when I was reading French.

One of my biggest aha moments happened when I was visiting the nearby city of Marseille. I was visiting Chateau d’If with a friend and we were looking at a timeline of the prison’s history.  I stood in front of the panel, reading silently to myself, when I realized that I was reading it in French, not the English translation next to it.  French had become so commonplace, that it was no longer my second language, but one I could naturally speak and read.

7. When things got rough, I wished I was in my apartment.

I spent my spring break traveling in Italy with some of my friends. Ten days and five cities later, we were all exhausted, soaking wet, miserable, and dreaming of our homes.  Not our homes in the US, but our homes in Aix.  It was both the best and the worst trip of our lives, filled with deluges of rain, gross hostels, trouble with transportation (I don’t think I will ever get over the traumatic experience of being stuck in an airport of a non-English speaking country for 12+ hours), and hypothermia, but these moments made me appreciate Aix even more.

 In front of my apartment building in Aix

8. I made a family of friends from all over the world.

I was studying abroad so that I could improve my French.  I wasn’t planning on making so many lifelong friends.  Our experiences, the good and the bad, united us, and we became closer than I could have ever imagined.  If we hadn’t all chosen to study in Aix, we never would have met, and my life would be the poorer for it.

 My incredible CEA friends and I in front of Aix's Rotonde fountain

The three and a half months I spent in Aix were the best months of my life.  I wouldn't give up my adventures and memories for the world.


Meghan Yusk is a CEA alumna (Aix-en-Provence Spring '14). She is an Alumni Ambassador and senior at Carthage College.

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