Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yuletide Cheer

Some of you may be wondering what I want for Christmas. Well, I can tell you, it isn't World Peace, though that would be nice, and it isn't a new car, either, though a Prius would also be great. Nah, my Christmas wish is a lot easier than all that. A lot closer to home, too.

I wish, that just once, just for one Christmas, my little brother would get it through his thick skull that I have nothing against him and do, in fact, think he is a great kid. Let's go through the list:

Adrian is very, very handsome. I don't say this because he's my brother and people say we look alike, oh, no. I say this because he really and truly is.

Adrian is an incredible singer and actor. Something happened while he was over in Japan last year, and he came back singing like Presley. Or Paul McCartney. Or really any amazing famous singer that there is out there. He also went to State Drama, which is more than I ever did, considering that the year I did Drama, I was also in Community Theatre and the play opened the same week as the regional drama competition.

Adrian is also really funny, and extremely loyal. He's a great friend and a great classmate and tries really hard to be a good person. He's also done so well at school this year, it's amazing.

Somehow, he doesn't believe that I actually believe all these things about him. I am not afraid to say it, even online, where everything is public- to my school, to my friends, to his friends, to random strangers, and maybe even to him.

Yeah. What I want for Christmas is for Adrian and I to get along. It's silly almost and maybe stupid to write on this blog, but it's true.

I also just wanted to shout out to Vanessa over there in the GEO at Hampshire College. She's leaving Hampshire, and her last day is coming up. I won't be there to say good bye, but I made her a card which I really, really hope gets there before she leaves, but if it doesn't:

Vanessa- You are one of the most awesome people at Hampshire. I'm really going to miss having you around when I get back... It will not be the same without you. Bonne chance a toi et a ta famille!

Happy Holidays everybody, and let's hope 2009 is better than the last 8 years have been...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ghosts with Jam

Ghosts are funny things. Sometimes a ghost is an ever-lingering presence, never loud, never entirely visible, simply there. Sometimes you might think a ghost has finally left you alone when suddenly, in a dream or in a song, they slam into you, causing your head to reel and your feet to fall out from under you. Most ghosts fall somewhere in between: the ghost that only lifts its head when “Bad News” by Rilo Kiley plays but every time the song plays or the ghost that causes a slow-aching pain over the course of the week, in rain, snow, wind, or under the sun.

This morning, two ghosts haunted me. Over a scone with apricot jam and a café au lait, I couldn’t help but remember and wonder and sigh. One of my ghosts was a familiar dull pain in my stomach. He’s one that causes me to doubt myself, to go over all of my moves in my mind, trying to see what I did wrong. He likes to pop up whenever anyone says “love” or “briser” or “alone”. My other ghost is usually much easier to handle. He reminds me of flowers and being young and excited about the future. This morning, with the pink Paris light pouring through the window, he just made me think of miles and miles of ocean, uninterrupted blue stretching to the horizon.

People in Paris ask me if I’m homesick for the United States. They act so surprised when I say no, as though living abroad for a year and missing the States are tantamount to each other. If I think about it, there are small things I miss, the sun setting over the golden hills of the Palouse, for example, or the size of the sky in the West. I miss the music at Hampshire College, the way that something completely unexpected will happen in front of your dorm or on your porch in Enfield. And I miss certain people. I miss my family- my nonna, dad, mom, and little brothers. I miss Ariel and a tight circle of people at Hampshire. However, being in the States or not doesn’t really change whether I’ll miss these things or not. In Massachusetts, there is no equivalent to the Palouse. In Moscow, Idaho, there is no Eric to call at three in the morning when I’ve done something stupid or Ivàn to laugh with at parties.

The older I get (and don’t laugh, I know 20 isn’t supposed to be old, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflection this year) the more nostalgic I get for certain places and times in my life. My walls are covered with postcards from my high school graduations, pictures of Tomatlàn and Kadăn, and copies of paintings by Klimt. I have a photo to commemorate a Friday the 13th trip to Colfax, some Div III invitations, a copy of a painting from Nonna, and a watercolor from Papi in Rouen. My room is full of things I’ve seen, places I’ve been, and people I love(d). How can I be homesick in such a place? No, I’m not homesick in Paris; I just wish I could bring some of you here with me…

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dreaming in Glaswegian

This weekend, I was strolling down my street, past my favourite appartment building (which I will take a picture of) and thought of an amazing post. Unfortunately, I did not write it down. I am currently in the process of remembering it. Which may never happen but I will try.

Last week, we had our reading break. I went to Scotland for five days with my friend, Michelle, a Hungarian-American with indentity issues like me sort of, to visit Navit, a friend of mine from Hampshire, and see Glasgow and Edinburgh. I seem to be having trouble transitioning from vacation to Sciences Po. During vacation, I justified eating out by saying, "They don't have tea and scones in Paris," or "Indian food is much better in Scotland," so I didn't cook for myself at all. During vacation, I just went to museums and hung out with Michelle, strolling amongst Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glaswegian buildings and along the Royal Mile, passing tourist shops playing bagpipe music and signs for ghost tours at night. During vacation, I read only Agatha Christie and tourist information in English. Life was simple, fun, and easy to understand.

But those are the little things. Really, the hardest thing for me has been to convince myself that people in Paris really are nice, or that humans in general have the possibility to be good. It's harder to believe here that it was in Scotland. This comes from two things, principly. The first is that in Scotland, I was talking to two great friends of mine about whatever topic came to mind, in a language in which I can generally express myself easily. In Paris, I tend to be in classes with a majority of French students who are (obviously) fluent in the language used in the classroom and who are, in all seriousness, very intelligent. We also tend to cover subjects that are less entertaining and more worrisome. These subjects range from the Palestinian conflict to Hugo's Les Miserables to torture and why humans can torture other human beings. In other words, the subjects upon which I dwell tend to be less than sunny.

The second thing stems from the attitude of others around me. In Scotland, Michelle and I were generally well-treated by everyone around us. The police in the airport joked with those around them, a drunk man in the line for taxis laughed when we couldn't understand his accent and told us about his family in the States, people smiled at us in the streets, and the man at our hostel on the last night woke up at 4am to call us a taxi, start the coffee machine, and give us breakfast (even though breakfast was only from 7-9am usually). In France, many of us exchange students will talk to someone during or after class, only to find that outside of class that person will not even return our greeting. Parisiens, and the northern French in general, tend to think that people that smile at them in the streets must be crazy. The general demeanor of people outside, in restaurants, or at school ranges from a little less than friendly to intimidating.

I combat my negative thoughts about the French and Paris in the following way: I try to find one thing a day that makes me think that people are good, friendly, or helpful in Paris. Last week, a girl ran to catch the RER and barely made it in time. Her bag got stuck in the door, which usually isn't too much of a problem as the door will open again at the next stop. Only on this train the door opened on the other side for the next few stops. Those around her laughed and smiled, and everyone tried to help her get her bag unstuck from the door. I missed class one Friday, and a student, V. wrote me an email asking how I was and saying he hoped I was okay. I've never had a student anywhere, in any country, at anytime write me when I missed class to make sure I was okay.

These things are what make the hard times pass. These small moments make all the rest of it worthwhile. Because by spring, I'm hoping I won't need the little things because I'll be used to the culture, people, and school life in Paris.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Exposé

The exposé is my least favourite thing about Sciences Po. It is an extreme mixture between the French, Cartesian methodology and Sciences Po’s own private way of doing things. Basically, the concept is simple: talk, in front of the class, for 10-15 minutes about a topic that is assigned to you. The reality is much more complex.

To start with, the exposé is worth about a third of your grade. The other third is usually a fiche technique, fiche de lecture, or presentation du texte, all things I will probably write about at a later date. The last third is class participation. At this point, Hampshire students are thinking, ‘Wait a minute, what is she complaining about? I had to write 50 pages in total for my last class. This French stuff sounds easy.’ These Hampshire students are largely misinterpreting the fine points of the exposé.

The exposé is divided into two parts. To understand the difference between Sciences Po and Cartesian methodology, make every time I say two into three. These two parts are divided into two sub-parts. There also happens to be an introduction and a conclusion. Depending on the severity of your professor, the 10-15 minute exposé could be a 25 minute experience, such as in my ‘Questions of Ethics? Questions of Literature’ course, which is excellent by the way. So far, so good, right? But then comes the hard part. Every exposé has a subject, assigned by the professor. It is your duty to take apart the subject, play with the wording, and understand the main themes enough to create a question, or problématique, from the subject. When I was in my welcome program methodology course, we did a lot of just trying to find the proper problématique. An example was the subject: The Polish plumber and the Indian engineer. To be able to find the question from this subject, you have to understand that the “Polish plumber” was a stereotype used several years ago when the EU was expanding to include Eastern Europe. People in Western Europe were genuinely worried that the Eastern Europeans would make a mass exodus to Western Europe where they would take all the working class jobs because they would work for less. You also have to understand that the “Indian engineer” is another stereotype used to describe the idea of ‘guest workers,’ especially in Germany, who are white collar workers that are welcomed in Western Europe because of a lack of engineers, doctors, and so on who are well qualified. They tend to come to Europe, work for less than 10 years, working for less than the white collar workers in Western Europe, and then move back home, mostly. You also have to take into account that the class we were pretending to be in was “l’Espace Mondial.” So our problématique had something to do with migratory fluxes and the benefits of opening borders to certain migrants, or something.

One also has to take into account when doing an exposé, that 10 minutes is not a long time. The introduction and conclusion should take 2-3 minutes combined, which leaves approximately 4 minutes per part, 2 minutes per sub-part. The professor will stop you if you go over time. And he or she will wait before speaking, staring at you, if you stop under time. This is all in French. One could take English classes at Sciences Po, and I take two of them, but why go to Paris to study in English, right? The French students’ exposés that I’ve heard have been unintelligible for me, personally, and for some other foreign students because they talk really fast. Somehow, they are able to cram the entire history of the Middle East (for example) into 10 minutes. What?! Don’t ask me how it’s possible because I have no idea.

After your fun 10 minute presentation, you get to be criticized (or complimented) by the class and the professor for another 15 or so minutes. It’s great fun.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, my dear readers, it’s because I just did my first exposé in French in my class on the Modern Arab World on Tuesday. This was the subject: Islamisme et Nationalisme- le cas Palestinien. You may have noticed some trigger words in this subject- Islamism, Nationalism, and Palestinian, to start with. These are already very delicate subjects when split up, but all together they are really difficult to talk about, in 10 minutes, in French, in front of the whole class, when I’m not an expert on Palestine. So I kept putting it off, saying, “Oh that’s scary; I’ll tackle it tomorrow.” This is not a tactic I recommend. Then it was Monday. I got my books out of the library (someday, I may write about the fun, little, underground book trains at the library here…) and headed home to work. My problématique became: How did the process of Islamism affect Arab nationalism especially in the nation of Palestine? Not too intellectual sounding, I know, but it’s in French, so cut me a little slack. I wrote out my entire presentation, word by word, because I was terrified of messing up, and drank 5 cups of espresso. I made a PowerPoint presentation, which was fun because I got to use a quote from Ernest Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism (which is a GREAT book that everyone who’s interested in the themes should read.) And, at 9am, I headed to class.

Apparently, according to Michelle, my Hungarian-American friend who also takes French with me here, my presentation was actually pretty good. But, you know, she’s a friend and a foreigner, too, so she’s going to be easy on me. I got really annoyed with myself because immediately after the presentation part, the professor asked me to expand upon the tensions between Hamas and Fatah after the Oslo accords, and I totally choked and said I didn’t know because I had concentrated more on the general history of the Middle East. My response was ridiculous because as soon as she got up to start teaching class and mentioned the Oslo accords, a complete, coherent, and detailed answer to her question formed in my mind, but then again, I was nervous, had stayed up all night, and had 5 espressos in my system.

The hardest thing about the exposé, for me, is the idea that it’s worth a third of my grade. It’s 10 minutes, and if you choke, that’s the end. It’s scary, especially the first one. Luckily, the rest of the exposés I have to do are in groups until the fifth of January when I have to talk for 25 minutes about a text that questions the ethics of terrorism. And now, I know that waiting to start working the day before is completely counter-productive. I envision great things for my exposés to come. And if any of you ever have to write one, feel free to write to me for help.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Language, Accents, and Culture

This is this issue of the Climax's "Postcard from Abroad," Eric asked me to write it, so I did:

Language and culture are so intertwined that oftentimes we have trouble distinguishing if culture begets language or vice versa. One classic example is of the French habit of posing questions in the negative: instead of asking, “Do you want this sandwich?” a Frenchman, or woman, will say, “You don’t want this sandwich?” This, in the French culture, allows one to say, “No,” without being rude. Another example in the French language is the use of the neutral pronoun “on” or “one.” This neutral pronoun allows one to displace blame, “I’m sorry that you had to wait in line so long, but one has to carefully go over all the paperwork,” not “I” not “we” or “he” or “she” but “one.” While I could explore the historical and societal reasons for the need to be able to say, “No,” without being rude or to displace blame in France, I will save it for another essay. Instead, I want to write about the impact that language has on an individual’s personal cultural identity. In this case because this is a “postcard from abroad,” I’m going to write about how my language affects my personal cultural identity during my experiences on Hampshire’s direct exchange with Sciences Po in Paris, France.

For the majority of people, their country of origin is reflected by their mother tongue. An individual from Hungary will most likely use Hungarian as their principle language. A few exceptions to this rule are people descended from immigrants and people who grow up in certain regions of certain countries (an example would be a friend of mine from Alto Adige, a German-speaking part of Italy). I was born in the United States, but the first language I learned was Italian. This does not mean that I am more comfortable in Italian than I am in English as I did the majority of my schooling in the States, and my dad only speaks English. I am, however, an Italian citizen as well as an American citizen and have actually only ever voted in Italian elections. Most of the time, I can pass under the radar as an Italian-American, so it rarely becomes a public issue. Lately, my ability to pass under the radar unchallenged has begun to change.

It started with an innocent question on the first day of Sciences Po’s Welcome Program for foreigners: “Where are you from?” I had to make a quick decision, so I said, “I’m Italian and American.” I was the only one in the class to say something less cut and dry than China or Germany. As the Welcome Program progressed, and as my classmates and I became better friends, things only got more complicated. In the States, I rarely have a problem with English, but when I live abroad for extended periods of time, my Northwestern American accent becomes a hybrid of whatever accents are around me, and my vocabulary begins to disappear. The same happens with my Italian. In the amazing international setting of Sciences Po (where 44% of students this year are international), the language part of my brain becomes completely fried. One night, I met an Italian who was speaking Spanish to some people from Mexico. That night, I was switching between Spanish, Italian, English, French, and the miniscule amount of German I know. I began speaking Italian to the Hungarians, French to the Germans, Spanish to the Italians, and any other combination of languages and nationalities imaginable.

When I get confused with my languages and accents, most people just gently correct me, tease me, and then tell me that it’s understandable. My class from the Welcome Program has really gelled into a cohesive group. We’re friends now, not just classmates. So they have no qualms about calling me on my language faults, in any language. The latest occurrence was at our last reunion dinner. When I get tired, my accent in English really falls apart, and I haven’t been in the States since June. We have an Irishman in our class, and the majority of people in the class speak English with a British accent. This combination of factors resulted in me speaking British/Canadian/American/Irish English. Someone looked at me and asked, “Where are you from?” I could only respond that I didn’t know. I self-identify as Italian and American, and when people are really interested, I go into an explanation of why and how I actually feel more European and American than anything else, but that doesn’t mean that people perceive me as Italian and American, or solely one or the other.

Language swiftly becomes a definition of who someone is. An accent can tell society about which country or part of the country you come from, which social class you belong to or educational background you have, or what other languages you speak, among other things. Our world today, however, is changing faster than our accents. The perceptions people have based on how or which languages one speaks are becoming more and more skewed. Unfortunately, though these perceptions may be wrong, they still have a huge impact on how one is viewed in a group or in society, how one is expected to act, and indeed, who people believe one is.

Paris is an island in France made of a myriad of different cultures and nationalities. These people often live side by side; a street can separate a “bad” neighborhood from a “good” one. In such a cosmopolitan environment, people cannot help but recognize difference, whether it is represented by an accent, a style of dress, or the color of someone’s skin. What is important in such a place is how people react to differences. Reactions have caused the banlieue riots, the banning of headscarves in the public sphere, and Science Po’s addition of a special, separate entrance exam based on the zip code of applicants. Reactions have sparked debates on the universalism of humanity versus the individual and group concepts of culture, on who is French and who is foreign. There is no way to see the future of Paris, France, or the world, but people are beginning to look around themselves and change how they react, and that is the first step to creating any sense of a global community.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Le Marais and Paris by Velib

I know it's been awhile since I've updated y'all, but life is full of things to be doing, etc. I just wanted to put in a little description of why I love Paris:

The other day I was feeling a bit sad. I had no one to talk to coming out of class, so I was just standing outside the library, smoking a cigarrette and thinking that someone might just approach me out of the blue, and oh, wouldn't that be so cool? This did not happen, however I was soon on my way home, walking the full, sunny streets. I heard Italian, French, German, some Scandinavian language, and an African one. I saw singles, couples, families, workers, students, tourists, every type of person imaginable, and all in the space of a few minutes. I took a deep breath and told myself that I have time. I have time to chat and learn and soon enough, I'll be walking out of Sciences Po's big, impressive building on the Rue Saint Guillaume speaking in French to my classmates.

Later that week, I ran into a friend of mine from the Welcome Program. I was talking to him about how the lack of a real campus atmosphere is strange for me because I'm used to being able to open my door and have all of Hampshire College at my fingertips. As I spoke to him, I began to realize how silly it was, really, to feel rushed to meet people. Already that week, I had a fiche technique due, coffee with a friend from Mexico, a party/reunion dinner for my Welcome Program class, a movie with some more friends from Mexico, and all sorts of things to do and discover in Paris. Really what I have is a lack of patience to let friendships grow and let time take it's course.

Friday, I went to my friend Tamas' house for our class' reunion. Tamas is a beautiful boy from Hungary. He's very sharply dressed, speaks impectible English and French, dances Salsa, and has an amazing sense of humor. He's also a very good host. The group of 15 or so of us, from almost every corner of the world spent hours together, talking, laughing, and dancing. It was great craic, as an Irish friend of mine would say. When we all finally left, it was late, and the metro was closed. Theresa (from Germany), Luis (from Brasil), Nigel (from Ireland), and I decided to get some Velibs (the public bike system in Paris) and bike home. Which, after some initial setbacks (yes, I somehow caused an entire Velib station to shut down), we did. We got lost on the way to the Seine, but finally got there, passing by the Place de la Bastille. Crossing the Seine, we were on a roll. There were so few cars and people, that it almost felt as though the entire city were ours. The image of Notre Dame at five am will be forever ingrained in my head. The building rose up, dark against the backdrop of a light-polluted, orange-grey sky. It was sinister and breath-takingly beautiful all at once. The cool morning air rushing through my hair made me giddy. Paris by bicycle at 5am has become the best thing I've done, yet, followed by seeing the Eiffel Tour light up at night with Lucrezia and some friends from Mexico, and hearing street musicians play on a sunny afternoon on the steps of Montmartre. And hearing the Benedictine nuns of Sacre Coeur singing Vespers.

Lucrezia and I saw the new Woody Allen flick on Saturday night with Dulce and Niana. On Sunday, after contemplating a trip to Sacre Coeur to hear Vespers again, Theresa texted me to know if I wanted to explore the Marais with her. I jumped at the chance to see a neighborhood I haven't really spent a lot of time in. The Marais is the Jewish/Gay quarter of Paris and happened to be filled with people selling things for Sukkot. It has become my new favorite place in Paris because everything is open on Sunday. And they sell Challah. Delicious, amazing Challah. mmm... I'm so excited that I still have some left at home right now. Theresa and I also spent hours together chatting about our families, lives, and the relationship status of our classmates. I love that she is always smiling or laughing. Well, not always, but very frequently.

Today, I had lunch with my friend Justin from the Netherlands. Tamas (another one, this one we call- Tamas avec des lunettes- Tamas with glasses) and Theresa ran into us, and we had a very pleasant afternoon in the sun. I love that the cold hasn't quite begun as of yet...

Well, I think that about sums up my life for now...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pointers and Things to Do

Some pointers for surviving the first few weeks of the intense bureaucracy of France and Sciences Po:

1) The first thing that you should do when you get to Sciences Po is to matriculate by completing the inscription at the Acceuil Administratif. They adhere to an alphabetical calendar with last names starting with A-B being able to matriculate on Monday mornings, B-C on Monday afternoons, and so on. In order to do this you will need the form that you can get online, an identity photo of yourself, 195 euros to pay for student social security in France (more on that later), and a copy of your passport.

2) The inscription pédagogique happens during the first week of the Welcome Program at Sciences Po. Hampshire students complain a lot about the Hub and signing up for classes/not getting into the class they wanted. The Hub’s problems are nothing compared to Sciences Po’s. First of all, class times and dates aren’t listed anywhere except for on the website when you click in a very specific place and are only available just before the inscription. This means you can’t really plan your schedule until just before you sign up for classes. Also, all international undergraduates sign up at the same time. Imagine every single Div I and half of the Div IIs signing up at the same time. I was in front of my computer, on the website at 10 to 10. Inscription began at 10. By the time I clicked on the last class I wanted, it was already full. And so was pretty much everything. By 10:20, the only classes that weren’t completely full were those who had no course description.

3) You will need a bank account in Paris. For a number of different reasons, you will seriously need one. Also- who wants to sleep with thousands of dollars or euros hidden under their bed? I recommend the BNP bank that has special deals for students. You will need proof of matriculation in a French school (hence completing the inscription before getting a bank account). You will also need proof of your address in Paris. Most banks will let you give them a temporary address, but you will need a letter from the person/place you are staying confirming that you are actually there. Almost everything in French banks is needed in writing. Make sure to schedule an appointment with the bank to set up an account.

4) You will need to insure your apartment when you find it. Apartment insurance is obligatory by law in France. The national student union in France recommended Matmut to me for apartment insurance because of their student rates. I haven’t actually done this yet. Also- Always sign a contract when renting an apartment or room in Paris. This can allow you to get help from the French state (even if you’re an international student) to pay for your apartment- visit the CAF website. Signing a contract also keeps you safe from getting kicked out of your apartment. French law stipulates that landlords and other people that rent rooms or apartments must give tenants three months warning before forcing them out of their apartment before the end of the contract. Contracts in France are usually for one year, but as a student, you can rent for only nine months if you choose.

5) Get a Carte ImaginR. This is a card for students that allows you to pay either monthly or yearly for public transportation in the Ile-de-France. It is much, much cheaper than buying metro or bus tickets all year. Transportation costs have been rising in Paris, so this is actually pretty necessary. You can get the dossier for the Carte ImaginR from any metro station window. Send it in with the payment and an identity photo. You will probably have to wait three weeks for the card to arrive in the mail, but if you save the metro tickets you use from the time you sent in your dossier, you can get reimbursed.

6) Get the Découverte 12-25 card. This is a card that can get you up to 50% off on all train travel in France including the Eurostar, and some trains to places like Amsterdam. I really hope that you want to see more than only (I know, you’re thinking “only?! It’s Paris!”) Paris and the surrounding areas so get the card and travel around some.

Time for my super interesting anecdote: France requires that all students belong to the French social security system. The only exception to this rule in if you happen to be an EU citizen with the European Health Card. It doesn’t matter how much you are covered by your American (or other international insurance), you will still have to pay 195 euros. I thought, though, that because I am both covered by my American insurance while I’m in France and also an Italian citizen (i.e. an EU citizen) that I could somehow convince Sciences Po that I didn’t have to pay 195 euros. Funny thing though: Italy only gives the European Health Card (or Tassera Sanitaria) to residents of Italy. I reside in the States. So here I am, covered by the States, Italy, and thus the EU, but still required to pay a huge amount of money for more insurance. At least now I can get super sick, right? Anyway, I personally think that Hampshire should pay this fee- maybe not for me, but definitely for future exchange students.

I don’t know how helpful this is, or how interesting, but I thought I’d give it a try. Feel free to comment/question.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Apartments, Apartments

How not to end up out on the curb in Paris:
1) Wake up really, really early on Thursday morning and buy the PAP, a magazine with listings for apartments of all sizes and prices. This entails you calling the people who want to rent their apartments before 8:30 am. Why? Because you must devote the entire day to seeing apartments before someone else gets there. By 8:30 pm, all of the apartments listed will be gone. I promise.
2) Use all manner of websites, like, to find an apartment or colocation. This is a good option, but you will most likely have to be in Paris to actually get something. Remember that when you go see apartments, you will need to have the full amount of first month's rent and the security deposit- either in check form or in cash, because otherwise someone else will have the full amount and they will get the apartment. Colocations are really cool because you get to live with awesome people and pay less for a bigger space (like a bedroom for you and a kitchen and bathroom for the apartment, instead of just have two burners in a room the way you would in a studio).
3) Use an agency. Never give the agency any money before you sign your lease. A lot of agencies are set up in Paris as a ploy to take your money and not give you what you want. I recommend Paris Academic Rentals, an agency that Sarah Lawrence, Columbia University, and Trinity College have contracted to help their students find housing. They charge a month's rent, but all of the places they have are clean, safe, and comfortable. If you want more info, just shoot me an email.
4) Go to Sciences Po's main hall (13, rue Saint Guillaume) and check the bulletin board for people looking for someone to fill their colocation. You could also leave your contact information on the board and hope someone contacts you.
5) Do all of the above in some order that makes sense to you. I ended up using the agency and found it lovely and very helpful. They also take really good care of everything and speak English which is useful if you don't.
Coming soon... The next step- insurance, dossiers, and cheap transportation.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Week One

I am in Paris. In Paris. I ride the métro everyday, watching Africans, Asians, French people, and tourists from all over the world getting on and off, some going about their everyday rituals and some experiencing the City of Lights for the very first time. Two days ago, I went apartment hunting on the Rue Cardinal Lemoine and walked from there to Paris IV, passed l'Institut du Monde Arabe, crossed the river Seine, and headed to the Bastille. I am learning these streets, these stations, these neighborhoods and arrondissements. I can't help but think of L'Auberge Espagnol- the scene where the main character arrives in Barcelona for the first time and speaks about how the streets he sees, with their strange names, are completely foreign, but that in less than a year's time, they will become his streets and his dives. I hope that in less than a year's time, I will know St. Germain des Pres forward and backward. I hope that I can start leaving my metro map at home.

Orientation starts tomorrow. I'm excited and nervous, not sure what to even expect. I have to hand in my registration forms, open a new bank account, sign my rent contract, move into my apartment, and sign up for classes. In French. Which typically is not a huge problem for me, to be honest, but after spending over two months in Italy, I definitely have a huge mess in my brain. Sometimes, I don't even know what I'm speaking. I surprise myself: Italian exclamations coming out of my mouth in the middle of lunch with my French host family (like today) or Spanish infiltrating my conversations with my mom on the telephone. Am I crazy that I want to add German and Arabic to the mix?


Do I care? Definitely not.

The time I spent in Italy, though it was hard, physically and mentally (sorry, I'm not quite ready to delve into all that), taught me some things about myself. For one, I love me. It's taken me too long to learn it, but I have some talents. I'm spontaneous, a hard-worker, open, and inviting. I have the capabilities to find my own job, apartment, and make friends from all over the world. I'm just stubborn enough to succeed. (Testona, a co-worker of mine called me. I answered, "Si, but also adorable.") I can even sing. So, am I scared to start this crazy, new experience of mine? Oh, yeah. But I know that I can do it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A meme from Marina di Campo

So as a welcome to the blogging world, I decided to write a meme. By the way, work is going well. I have little free time and have lost my tan, but I like what I'm doing for the most part and get paid tomorrow.

1. My uncle once: sold Jim Beam. And then Jack Daniels. And now Absolute Vodka...

2. Never in my life: will I ever force myself to settle in a place where I don't feel at home.

3. When I was five: I spoke fluent Italian.

4. High school was: Strange. And I can't remember a lot of it. Except for the year abroad in France things.

5. I will never forget: the way my mom used to look when she would get ready to go out with my dad. They don't really go out any more and my mom looks more her age every day.

6. Once I met: Muhammed Ali. But I was a baby and don't remember it. My mom still has his autograph though.

7. There’s this boy I know: He can make the best cosmopolitans in the world and free styles with glasses and bottles. He's "dangerous" but I like him anyway and he knows it.

8. Once, at a bar: I met two couples from Coeur d'Alene on the Isle of Elba. The next day, I met a woman who had gone to WSU. It's a small world after all.

9. By noon, I’m usually: washing dishes and getting ready for the lunch time wave at the Garden Beach, my lovely place of work. Also very hungry.

10. Last night: I stayed out too late with a boy from Milano.

11. If only I had: more time to learn languages and travel around without needing to work or study.

12. Next time I go to church: I will light a candle for my nonna and the rest of my family.

13. What worries me most: is that I might never find what I really want. A good job I like, a place that feels like home, and my own family.

14. When I turn my head left I see: book and cards and drinks for sale.

15. When I turn my head right I see: another computer and an open window.

16. You know I’m lying when: when I seem really bothered, turn red, and try to leave as soon as possible. Or when I laugh, and then tell you thay I'm lying.

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: that I didn't get to be a teenager during them. No leggings, no awesome music, and no big hair.

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: A cross between Hamlet and Desdemona. Both doomed, but for different reasons and in different ways.

19. By this time next year: I will be getting ready to go back to the States after a year away. Christ.

20. A better name for me would be: somethings all americans can pronounce. Like Sara.

21. I have a hard time understanding: people who are dishonest with me.

22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: try to actually graduate.

23. You know I like you if: I try to be around you all the time. I will also bite my lip at you and smile whilst raising my eyes toward you shyly.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: Eric. Actually my parents.

25. Take my advice, never: fall in love with someone who isn't worth it.

26. My ideal breakfast is: Either a perfect cappucino with creamy foam and a raspberry tart or my dad's waffles drenched in maple syrup.

27. A song I love but do not have is: What's Going On? by 4 non blondes

28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: eat at Mickey's Gyros, have coffee at One World, hang at the Coop and John's Alley, and watch the sun come up at the water tower.

29. Why won’t people: let me be who I am and stop making fun of my accent in Italian?

30. If you spend a night at my house: I will take very good care of you. I love guests.

31. I’d stop my wedding for: a change of heart.

32. The world could do without: Nationalism.

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: be polite to a cruel person.

34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: Marilyn Monroe (fake blonde though she was) and the Germans that come to the bar.

35. Paper clips are more useful than: Staples. They come off more easily and you can reuse them.

36. If I do anything well it’s: being a good friend. And talking too much.

37. I can’t help but: think about culture constantly. Seriously, all the time. Ask Eric, he knows.

38. I usually cry: when I'm really angry or when I'm really lonely. Traveling around by yourself is really amazing and makes you independant and stronge, but sometimes all you really want is someone to make you a cup of tea and hug you.

39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: Learn early on in life who is worth trusting and caring about and who will just try to push you down. Also- speak up when you're uncomfortable, don't understand, or just want to say something.

40. And by the way: I'm really bad about keeping up blogs when I'm busy and don't have my own computer with me. Sorry.... :P

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Napoleon's Prison

Today has been full of surprises. I finally found a job here on the Isle of Elba. My job in Parma was lost with the loss of my ex-boss-to-be's money, so I decided to join my cousins in the place where Napoleon was exiled for months. It turns out that Elba is not so bad a place to be exiled. Not only was Napoleon treated like a king, but he also ended up in one of the few places I have been that I can fully declare a paradise. I fell in love with the sea, the sand, the fish, and yes, the people.

The place where I work is a lounge bar where I can hardly afford a cocktail. It overlooks the port and is full of young people. I live in a small apartment with 5 other people, sharing a room with a beautiful girl named Gloria. I love it, even though my feet throb, and it's only my first day. Not so cool thing: the band that plays there at night... Sucks. The musicians are good, don't get me wrong, but the music they play is, let's just say, it's not my cup of coffee.

Awesome thing: today, I tried Basil ice cream. I'm not even kidding. It was weird as heck, but surprisingly good. Not something I would ever get on my own again, but when your co-worker offers you home-made ice cream, do you turn them down?

I was feeling a little blue this evening because the gorgeous man/boy that I've been spending lots of time with is in Pisa for his final exams. I was also alone again, for the first time in months. The last of my cousins left this afternoon on the ship back to mainland Italy. Everyone in in Parma, including my mother and my awesome little brother. I also decided that the music outside my window (see Sucks, above) was going to cause me to commit the grave fault of booing the band, which would, most likely, result in me being fired. I needed to get out of there, and fast. Plan number one: Pizza. It never fails, here in Italy to lighten my mood. I love Italian pizza more than just about any other food.

I strolled down the street, watching blond Germans and brunette Italians shop for souvenirs. I went to the pizza place where I had last been with the entire Gelli-Bianchi clan, La Rustica. Sitting outside, I had a cigarette while contemplating the menu. Considering my budget, I chose a Margherita pizza accompanied by water. The waiters conviced me to have a coffee afterwards, and I asked for the check. Michele (pronouced Mick-é-lé), the same waiter who had served us before, refused to let me pay. With a wink, he whisked the check away and told me to go get a free limoncino from the bar.

I have never been offered a free meal like that from someone who expects nothing. I've only ever been on one real dinner date, and it was obvious then that the boy who took me out thought he was getting some afterwards. Also, it was his daddy's money (the guy was 28, I mean, come on...). The fact that this waiter was cute helped the matter decidedly. I walked, no, skipped down the street with the biggest smile on my face, and thought that I needed to write this day down.

I have a job with the coolest people, in the coolest bar, tried basil ice cream, and was offered dinner by a cute Napolitano waiter. Who knows how to wink. Sometimes, life is wonderful.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some Background

I was born in the Palouse. In Pullman, Washington to be exact. Since December 6th, 1987, I have lived mostly in Moscow, Idaho, but also in San Sebastian/Donostia, Spain; Bilbao, Spain; Rouen, France; and Amherst, Massachusetts. Most of my summers were spent in my mother's hometown of Parma, Italy, a place that gave birth to prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I speak English, French, Italian, and Spanish, and would like to learn German, Arabic, and Basque. Every place I have been has left its mark on me; every language I've heard has managed to leave a trace in my mind.

It's a strange bundle of places... The Palouse, Euskal Herria, Normandy, and the Pioneer Valley. A concoction that is unique to my experience, though I often wish it were otherwise. This year, I stumbled upon "Third Culture Kids," youth and adults who spent large parts of their childhoods abroad due to their parents careers. I finally had a label to attach to myself, a definition that transcended the usual labels of nationality or ethnicity. However, I soon came to realize that TCKs live extraordinarily diverse lives, and my experience of public schools in small town America and Western Europe was not easily replicated.

This year, I will be returning to Parma, this time to work in a local pizzeria and live with my Italian cousins. I will also head to Paris, for an academic year at Sciences Po, the Institute of Political Science. It is my hope that I will come to terms with who I am and that I will find an area of study that will lead to a future career. This blog was created for travel financial aid from my college and the Global Education Office there, but I hope to use it as an aid in my self-explorations and meanderings.

Feel free to leave comments, questions, and whatever else. I'll most likely respond to anything posted since online procrastination is my favorite kind.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Begining

This is Hampshire College's Mount Norwottuck. It marks the start of my trip, driving from Amherst, Massachusetts to Clarion, PA, then to Chicago, IL, then to Rochester, MN, and then Billings, MT, before finally getting to the place I call "home" (for now anyway): Moscow, Idaho. There will be more on all of this trek, as well as more on the beautiful Palouse to come...