Word.

After our quick jaunt in Paris, my two charges and I returned to Tours for my director’s choral competition. One of his original compositions was entered into the Free Expression category of Tours’ annual Music festival, so we spent the rest of the weekend attending concerts all over town and visiting a few of Tours’ best sights.

While the Doctor and Marcus stayed in a hotel downtown, I went back whenever I could to spend time with my host family, but it was really difficult to balance running between the two groups all weekend. As a member of my French family, I’m hesitant to leave the home for long periods of time. I entered into a family relationship, not a lease, and I want to honor that contract by being present as much as possible. I don’t have much time left to be with them, and I don’t want to leave France feeling like I abused their hospitality. At the same time, I needed to host my colleagues and ensure that they had an enjoyable vacation in Tours.
Tough situation.

But, alas, I made it through the weekend on a few hours of sleep and a lot of espresso. On Sunday evening, the gentlemen left Tours for Spain and I returned home to spend one more night with my family before moving on myself.
That last night was wonderful-we all went over to our neighbors’ house and spent the evening drinking rum and having what I’m sure was the greatest ping-pong match France has ever seen. We discussed the language-learning process and how some things just don’t translate between languages-like curse words and idioms. Just as with Anglophones, different generations of French-speakers have different ideas of what is proper and what is vulgar language, and it was hilarious to hear Laurent and Mathieu battle it out over various slang words. Language is always evolving, and even ten years’ difference can be enough to completely reverse the connotations of some words. In modern English, some of the better known examples of this are the meaning of the word “gay” from “happy” to “homosexual”, or the word “cool” from “aloof” to “neat/good”. I can’t think of any specific reason why these definitions would change so drastically, but it’s been recorded in nearly every language, culture, and time period known to man.

Call me a nerd, but that’s cool.

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Tu Vas Me Détruire (my feet, that is).

At my home university back in The States, I’m a proud member of the music school’s premiere choral ensemble, which is directed by a man who flirts the line between artistic genius and going off the deep end most days. He’s fierce, intelligent, and a big ol’ character, and I was very excited to host him and a fellow music student in Paris this week! The good Doctor is internationally premiering a new piece, and it worked out that we were able to meet up and travel together a bit before I return to the US.

The three of us spent our first afternoon in Paris on Wednesday strolling down the Jardin des Tuileries and the Champs Elysées, where every young Parisian was out to profiter from the warm, sunny weather. We saw the view from l’Arc du Triomphe before turning back to go all the way to the Notre Dame cathedral and see a good portion of the evening mass. I’ve been to the church several times now, and it always seems to hold the same hushed, cloistered calmness within its walls, even though there may be hundreds of people wandering around it at any time. I love it.

We had a great dinner at a locals’ restaurant in the Quartier Latin (duck that fell off the bone with roasted potatoes and a chocolate torte), and then headed back to the hotel for a bottle of wine and chatting before crashing. The guys were still rather jet-lagged and I was just worn out, but we were only starting our grand weekend!

The next morning, we saw two of my favorite places in Paris: Sacre Coeur and the Musée d’Orsay. Even though it was hot and crowded, the cathedral at Montmartre’s peak still gave a beautiful view of the city below. It’s touristy, but I find Sacre Coeur’s openness and use of light to be an interesting foil to the occasional sense of claustrophobia one can get at the Gothic Notre Dame. The Musée d’Orsay is the same; it’s a little less famous than the Louvre, so there aren’t usually a ton of people there, but it holds its own in terms of the art collection and organization. It’s a great place to get an in-depth look at one large genre of art rather than a rushed sampler of things at a larger museum. Both places are not to be missed on a trip to Paris.

After our afternoon at the museum, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our big night out at the opera! We received free tickets to The Barber of Seville from our home university, and we were terribly excited to see such a renowned work at one of the world’s most famous opera houses. The set was fantastic; some of the music lacked originality but it was still well done and exciting to see! We had a great time, even though it all felt a little bit surreal that we were actually there. It was a whirlwind few days!

If you’re planning a short trip to Paris in the future, plan on being completely exhausted for all the running around you’ll have to do to see the bare minimum of sites. Sorry, that’s just how it is. Take the most comfortable shoes you own, and be prepared to spend a little more money than your normally would on food and unexpected purchases (like bandaids for your blisters and emergency metro tickets for when you simply can’t walk anymore!). However, remember that it’s all worth it in the end. Even though we were only there for two days and I was running around like a madwoman trying to show all of the city to my two guests, I was reminded of how magical one city can be. There’s something for everyone in Paris.

A Thousand Words

I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to catch up on sleep from the past few days in Paris. Please accept these photos as a little appetizer before the main course of the blog is posted tomorrow!

Approaching the Arc du Triomphe from the Champs Elysées.

One of the many vintage metro signs all over the city. Classic Paris.

Crossing the Seine to the Notre Dame.

Entering the Church of the Madeleine.

Sacre Coeur, one of my favorite places in Paris (when it’s not crowded and hot).

All gussied up for the opera! Photo taken by another attendee.

Comin’ Home

When I was sixteen years old, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in Switzerland with the family of one of my dad’s colleagues. I went to Swiss school, learned an eensy bit of German, and gained a whole new outlook on life courtesy of the very globally-minded people with whom I lived. I could go on for ages about my time there (ask any of my friends and family who’ve had to hear me discuss it forever), but suffice it to say that I consider that experience to be the defining point of my childhood and one of the reasons why I decided to go into International Studies.

Now, five years later, I’m back in Europe and able to return to Switzerland to see the family and friends who welcomed me into their lives for such a short but life changing period of time. I spent the past four days catching up with everyone and trying to soak up as much of Switzerland as I could. It wasn’t nearly long enough to do everything I wanted, but I tried my best.

The moment I arrived in town, it was like I had never left. The babies of my old host family (who were nine months and four years old when I left) are now growing like weeds, but nothing else has changed. As it turns out, sleepy little Swiss villages don’t change much over five years. Everything seemed just as I left it. Just like we did back in the day, the host family ate dinner together and discussed politics, education, my plans for the future, my host brother Leon’s plans for the future, everybody’s stinkin’ plans for the future, and played countless rounds of board games. It was a lovely reunion.

On Saturday, Leon and I went to Zurich for the afternoon. We rented a paddleboat and spent an hour floating on Lake Zurich, then wandered around the city visiting our favorite spots, like Charlemagne’s cathedral and a quiet lookout point from a park above the river. Unfortunately, I spent more time talking than taking pictures, but catching up with him was worth it.

The view from Lake Zurich-rolling hills, beautiful homes, and the Swiss flag flying in the breeze.

On Sunday afternoon, five of the girls from my high school class met me for a picnic in the same Stadtpark we used to eat at every week. I feasted on Mövenpick ice cream and and a bottle of Rivella, and felt like a true Swiss girl again. If you ever have the fortune to visit Switzerland, you simply must find yourself these three gastronomic delicacies: classic Swiss chocolate (which the world over recognizes as possibly the.best.thing.ever), caramel-flavored Mövenpick, and the original flavor of Rivella soda, which is somehow made from milk and is delicious even though it sounds like it could possibly be the most disgusting soft drink of all time.

In just four days, I felt right back at home. It sounds silly, but Switzerland changed my life, and I suppose it will be an important place to me for a very long time. It was incredibly hard to leave the family a second time, especially now that the little ones are now old enough to understand what “leaving” means, but I made a promise to myself that I’ll return-and this time in less than five years.

Sidenote: Tomorrow I’ll head to Paris to celebrate my 21st birthday with friends! Even though it’s not a big milestone here in Europe, my host family threw me a little fête tonight, complete with candles on a chocolate tarte and a very neat book about the Tours region. They’re too sweet! How lucky I am to have had two wonderful families welcome me into their lives.

At The End Of The Day

Didn’t you hate it back in high school when you started to become friends with someone right before summer break? That’s study abroad in a nutshell. The moment that you feel you’ve really become close to people, you have to leave.

I had a wonderful lunch with my Frenchie friend Mathilde at one of the coolest restaurants in town today, and I was painfully aware that it would possibly be our last meeting before my return to the States. As I ate my beyond-delicious galette, I kept wishing we could have become friends earlier. We’ve gotten really good at speaking half French/half English for hours on end without getting confused! I hate that I’ll be leaving just as I’m beginning to really connect with her and other Frenchies my age.

The same bittersweet thinking filled my evening as I played cards with Simon. That silly little boy has managed to beat me every darn time at cards; mainly because they’re all French games and he informs me of the rules as we go along…I think he’s changed more than a few to suit his own hand. But it’s still so much fun to play with him and watch him try to cheat. Later, the whole family went to Simon’s West Side Story performance, and I spent the whole time trying to stop laughing as Mathieu and Martine made fun of every poor little kid on that stage. You know you’re considered part of a family when they feel comfortable mocking ten-year-olds around you.

To be with my friends and family here brings so much joy, but I’m suddenly very aware that my days are numbered. I know this won’t be the last time I ever see them, but it’s still so disappointing to feel like I’ll be stopping this learning experience just as I was starting to really “get it”.

If I could do this whole thing all over again, I’d make only one change. I’d choose the year-long program.

Welcome To My Family

One of the best moments of having my parents come to Europe was getting to introduce them to my host family. We arrived in Tours with just enough time to drop their bags off at the hotel downtown and then head to the ‘burbs to meet the fam and enjoy an evening of French food and conversation. I was concerned about having to translate for the two groups all night, but everything went off without a hitch, largely due to the fact that my host family’s been majorly downplaying their English abilities. Surprise, surprise.

Anyway, I was tickled to get to show my parents what I’ve been up to for the past few months and give my host family a little insight into where I come from. I think they were a little shocked to see how much louder I got with my parents around! It’s so easy to become a “quiet” person when you don’t speak the language; you may have a story to tell, but because you can’t express it easily, you sometimes choose not to speak at all. Switching back to English made my muchness come back with a vengeance.
It was a great few days. There’s not a ton of touristy stuff to see within the city limits of Tours, but I took my parents to see one of France’s most famous châteaux, Chenonceau, and we had a great time walking the grounds. I’m always amazed when I realize that these beautiful places are a short train ride away from my home. Check out some of the pictures from our little daytrip!



After Chenonceau, it was time to put my parents on the train toward Paris and the USA. I miss them already, but I’ll be back in the States in less than a month and it will be a lovely reunion!