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Not Paris: My Connection to Aix-en-Provence

How is Paris?!”

“I hope you have a great time in Paris!”

“Come visit me in London, it’s really easy to get there from Paris!”

“Can you see the Eiffel Tower from your apartment?!”

 The actual view from my apartment window

I am studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. This Provençal city is in fact 758 kilometers (471 miles) from the center of Paris so, no, I cannot see the Eiffel Tower from my apartment. I am closer to Barcelona, Spain or Zurich, Switzerland than I am to the capital of my temporary country of residence. The confusion from my friends and family is understandable, if not a little frustrating (how many times do I have to say it? Aix-en-Provence! Aix. A-i-x!). When Americans think about France, they often automatically think about Paris; the classic tourist sights, the Eiffel tower, the Champs Elysees, the Louvre. True, we don’t have any of that in Aix. But there is a very important and specific reason why I chose to study in Aix and not in the infamous city of lights.
 The daily farmer's market that I walk by on my way to class

  • The farther you get from Paris, the less English you hear. Aix sees its fair share of tourism and any of the cafés or shops on the Cours Mirabeau (the mini Champs Elysees of Aix) are staffed with people that are proficient in English. However, there are many places where you will be left completely to your own devices. It is a wonderful environment to learn the language. The people are friendly and patient (It’s the Parisians who are the typical snobs). In the smaller neighboring towns there is even more opportunity for French practice; as you get further from tourist spots, English becomes less necessary and the scenery becomes even more picturesque.
 Cassis, a beautiful town only a 30 minute bus ride from Aix

  • Aix is a 2 euro bus ride away from the city of Marseille. Marseille is the second largest city in France, but it has almost none of the prestige or fantasy that surrounds Paris in the eyes of foreign visitors. It has stigmas of being marred with immigrants and slums. There are also many purists who believe that the true culture of France can only be experienced in Paris. Marseille is a cultural hub just as legitimate as Paris, if not as expansive, infamous, or popular. Marseille is full of museums, theatres, markets, churches, beaches, and, most of all, people. It is in Marseille where one can see the after effects of French colonialism. 25% of the Marseillais population is Muslim and an overwhelming majority of those Muslims are from the formerly colonized North Africa. I have found so much value to being close to such diversity. There are market squares where so many different languages are being thrown around, I can forget which country I am actually in.
 One of my favorite statues in Marseille
 Marseille is now one of my favorite cities ever.

  • Aix is a student town. French students studying English will take the time to meet in a café, switching from French to English with every passing minute. Weekend nights are spent commiserating over the difficulty of French idioms with students from all over the world from Scotland, to India, to China. Aix is an international city with the feel of a quaint Provençal town.
 Speaking Franglais with a friend over une petite noisette.

  • The south of France is close to the north of Africa. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “good job, Bridget, you’ve mastered basic geography.” But to me this geographical fact is very important. One of the main reasons that I am learning French is so that I can one day learn the Moroccan dialect, a blend of Arabic and French that is famously difficult for Americans to master. A class trip through my university will be giving me my first taste of life in Northern Africa. I have been looking forward to my trip to Morocco ever since I signed up. To go to Morocco for such a short time so inexpensively is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

While it doesn’t have any of the iconic landmarks, and songs written about it are few and far between, I’d take studying in Aix over Paris any day.

Bridget Stemmler is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a sophomore at Northeastern University.

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