So it’s been just about
3 weeks (since I was lazy and forgot to post this, it’s really been about 7 weeks) since I landed in Brussels on December 28th, 2011, and since then I have settled into my cozy little dorm shared by myself and the other exchange student from ASU, Leah.
I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon of writing things down in a blog, considering all the other exchange students are starting to as well. It is a “bonne idée,” I totally agree, if not just to share my experience but also have something to look back on in a few years.
The whirlwind of settling is almost over. I’m not completely at home here just yet, but I’m starting to get there. I feel like I’ve been here for months with the amount of things that have been going on constantly, but it’s definitely in a good way.
Getting to France was a little bit of a struggle. After realizing that my visa was incorrectly dated for 2013, my heart sank. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t get in to Brussels because I had no idea what Belgium would be like, given that it was my first time going. An 8 hour plane ride later, my sister and I were going through customs with our travel backpacks, and were stamped without a question asked. Relieved, we struggled with all of my luggage to find our hotel. My mom is so amazing. She helped me out with travelling to France from Belgium and got my sister and I a hotel right in the city center, about a block away from all the action. New Years was hilarious and a story of it’s own - maybe I’ll share it later.
New Year’s Day was kind of symbolic for me because it was the start of the New Year, and also the day I came to Lille. Lille is situated in the very North of France in Nord-de-pas-de-Calais and is about 30 minutes TGV train ride from Brussels. Of course, my sister and I missed our train by about 1 minute and we ended up in Lille at dusk, dragging around my 6 months worth of luggage and trying to find our hotel. That night we thought Lille was a dead city. Not realizing that pretty much all of France shuts down on Sundays, we walked around the city with absolutely no one around and hoped it wouldn’t be the same the next day. On January 2nd, we got the keys to my dorm room which at first seemed very strange but has since grown on me. My room is 3 floors up a pink staircase, the lights (which are timed) flicker on when you press a button in the hallways. My dorm room is the smallest on the floor with two beds, two dressers, two desks, a refrigerator and a sink. The room is renovated with a large window that opens up to the view of another university behind the building. In the basement of the dorm, there is an internet room with ethernet plugs (there is no official WiFi for the building), a large kitchen, several eating spaces, and a breakfast room (toast and coffee provided in the mornings). Most of the others in the dorm have a shower in their room, but since we don’t we walk down the hall to the pink painted co-ed shower rooms. The toilet paper is also pink which was hilarious to me at first. Leah and I share the room together which I’m actually very happy about. I didn’t think after my freshman year that I would ever share a room with someone who was not my boyfriend or husband, but it’s really worked out for the best and makes living here so much more fun.
On January 4th, a day after my roommate moved in, we had orientation at the Catho (the nickname for my university - Université Catholique de Lille). During the ice-breaker, I learned that the new international students consisted of mostly North Americans - Canadians and Americans with a few Mexicans, some Spaniards, Slovakians, Chinese, and Koreans. It was definitely nothing like orientation at ASU where everything is very organized and well thought-through. That’s something that I’ve really had to get used to here. In North America whether or not we realize it, we are so incredibly efficient with everything. At ASU alone, you can do pretty much anything you need to as a student within a few days, you just go online and get it done. Here in France, everything is done on paper. At the Catho, there is no online… anything. The process of Student IDs, registration, etc. is all on paper. Registering for classes consists of running around a room with the entire course schedule and picking things out. Then you go through the catalogue to find out how many credits they’re worth - if it’s there. Student ID’s, we were told, would take about 2 weeks to be ready. Not to mention in classes, there are no syllabi - if you miss the first day you better ask what the booklist was because it’s not posted anywhere. If your class is cancelled or if the room is changed, you can go to a bulletin board on the third floor to find out what happened. There is no Blackboard or online counterpart to the course. If you don’t go to class or have a friend, you never know what’s going on. This is something that I never realized I was taking for granted at ASU. It’s been a struggle to get used to that aspect of living in France.
I’m also so incredibly worried about getting credit when I return to the States. It’s such a difficult and complicated process and there is no guaranteed ways to go about it. In France, they only (for the most part) have class once a week and they just take way more classes. So I’m taking about 10 classes right now, which is actually not considered that much. All but one are in French, and the other is in English and really just for fun - British Pop Culture. There’s no limit at the Catho to how many can be in a class so the first week we could drop and add as we pleased which was really nice for a change. The classes in French vary in difficulty because they’re all subjects from political science to communications to history. Some of the professors talk incredibly fast and use words I’m not familiar with which is such a struggle - whereas others speak very slowly. Before coming to France everyone told me that it’s not necessary to go to class, etc etc. But since I go to a private school the sentiments that I’ve gotten are that it’s pretty damn necessary.
When class starts, the professor shuts the door which locks it. If anyone is late, they have to knock on the door and explain themselves, embarrassed. Leah and I were late to a class and were so nervous about the explanation (especially in French) that we left! One of my teachers threw a pen at this French boy who fell asleep, and then asked for his pen back which was quite comical and definitely verrryyyy different from what I’m used to. The nerve-wracking and at the same time relieving thing about classes is that there is no homework: everything is based on 2 exams and a paper for the most part. Since there’s so few grades, you are entitled to at least one re-take. So therefore our schedules are incredibly different than that of ASU’s because they account for the re-take period.
Academic technicalities aside, Lille has been amazing. Before I started looking for study abroad programs in France I didn’t know a thing about this city. Like Boston, it’s a student city with many universities near the city center and several in the suburbs. The Catho is situated about a 10 minute walk from the old city which is home to cobblestone streets, franco-flemish architecture, cafés, and incredible shopping opportunities. A block away from the Catho lies Solferino, a street full of bars and nightclubs that are packed with students and young people at night. Here, the bars are open until 3am and the clubs are open until 6:30am. So everyone goes to bars and then moves on to one of the many clubs in the areas. You can drink on the street for the most part, especially since the cops don’t hang around Lille formal so much, so a lot of people pre-game outside the bars.
People in Lille are so incredibly nice. According to French people, this is pretty unique to this region. When you’re walking on the street it’s not unusual to say hi to people walking by and in the dorms every time you see someone you greet them. In fact I was stopped by an elderly woman who told me that she remembers the American soldiers throwing candy and chocolates from the trains, which was very endearing to hear.
It’s really hard to look at your experience in a new place from a macro perspective; I’m trying as much as I can but I almost feel like I won’t really know everything about this place until I experience the counter-cultureshock going back home.
Seriously an interesting city. My sister and I arrived on Thursday after an overnighter to Brussels airport. Quick train ride to Brussels central train station an we found our hotel close by. Unfortunately as it was 9am our room wasnt ready and we found a money museum ……. (most boring museum ever) and passed out in the movie room watching a looping video on price stability. Finally at 2 pm we checked into the hotel and explored the city. You can walk the city center easily in a day and see everything. About a block away is the famous Delirium bar which brags a ton of local Belgian beers made in monasteries. Had a few beers there including a delicious cherry flavored beer that was like soda infused with alcohol. Later we met a Belgian and an Australian outside they were studying filmmaking in Denmark, pretty hilarious guys. Most awkward moment of my life later this guy insisted I meet his French friend who has seen me on the way to the bathroom . My sister convinced me to go and find that he’s sitting in a group of 10 friends in a huge booth and they all started moving out so I could sit next to him which I didnt. I pretty much lied said I didn’t speak French and left . Awkkkkwwaaaarrrrdddddd!!!!!…. Yesterday my sister and I went to see mannequin pis a statue of a young boy peeing that the locals dress up . The statue is said to represent a bit who saved Brussels by peeing on a fuse. We ate mussels and French fries (which originated from Belgium ) and chocolate. Last night we accidentally went to an old people club that was pretty hilarious. We’ll see what NYE is like, happy new years everyone !
Soooo….. this is my first non picture/video/reblog blog post.
It’s pretty common for those studying abroad to blog about it, so I guess I will too!
I just got my acceptance letter from Université Catholique de Lille on Tuesday and things have really started to hit me!! I’ve begun my visa application (which is some process, let me tell you)…. I have to go to LA to get it!!! wah.
So this is the beginning…