Today was exhausting. Don't ask me what I'm doing blogging about it instead of sleeping; I wouldn't have a good answer. It's a relief to write in English again - we signed the Language Pledge today, so no more cheating by speaking English with my host mother, but communication with friends and family is sort of exempt, so I'm filing blogging in that category. As the day wore on, my French got worse, not better - when I'm tired, I lose all grasp of syntax, grammar, vocabulary (I forgot the word for "dog" this afternoon), pretty much everything you need to communicate effectively. Oh well.

This morning we met with Viviana and M. Paoli for introductions, lectures about French university life, classes, professors, all the logistics. We had lunch at a RestoU, but I haven't really been hungry since I got here (between the walking, the worrying, and the lack of appetite, I'm going to lose weight instead of gain it), so I can't really report on the quality of the food. The afternoon was more lectures and then, for three of us, meetings with professors in the math and science departments. It seems that math professors are the same everywhere - quiet, awkward, hard to engage in conversation - and I felt that he underestimated Lauren's and my level of proficiency. We're both taking Combinatoire (combinatorics) this semester, which is a third-semester course, and for next semester I had to talk him out of wanting me to take courses I've already covered. As it is he barely agreed to let me into a fourth-semester course in Euclidian/Hermitian spaces that I think I'm quite well-prepared to take. Oh well. Lauren and I present ourselves at the Université at 8h30 tomorrow morning to register for our math class, and the class itself starts at 10h30 and goes till 12h30. We'll grab something to eat and take the bus to centre ville to meet M. Fabrice Vigier, a history professor, who's taking our group on a walking tour of Poitiers. Then I'm going to take the bus home and go to sleep.

Speaking of buses, so far I haven't gotten too lost. I almost took the wrong bus this morning, but la conductrice fortunately asked me where I was going (I guess I do look like a foreigner) so it all ended up all right. Living in Mignaloux (a suburb of Poitiers) puts me closer to the campus that most people, but it's a bit of a hassle with the bus system. The routes end early in the evening (we ate dinner in centre ville tonight, so my host mother kindly came and picked me up from the closest bus stop to Mignaloux that I could get to) and you have to call ahead of time to get a bus on Saturday. They don't appear to exist on Sunday at all. I'm thinking of buying a bike, as it's not too far to the Parcobus Champlain stop (though a bit far for walking) where buses run much later and more frequently. We'll see.

I'm pretty nervous about my first class tomorrow, but at least Lauren and I will be together. I'm looking forward to settling into a schedule, at least; hopefully one that permits more sleep than I'm currently getting. I still need to buy a cell phone. I feel slightly naked without one, but they're so expensive here! If you use the pay-as-you-go variety, it's about €40 for the phone, and then €30 for two hours of call time (which comes out to about $0.75 a minute). I'm trying to decide if a one-year plan is worth it. Hopefully I'll have some time to figure that out on Saturday. And now I'm going to bed.


Je suis arrivée

I arrived in Paris yesterday morning after a surprisingly hassle-free flying experience - Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth were both practically empty, no lines in security, no delays, pleasant seat-mates. I found Lauren in the airport with no trouble, and our train was on time (unlike all the trains going to Lille-France, wherever that is). I had a brief moment of panic when I got off the train in Poitiers and didn't know where to go exactly, not being used to train stations, but I mustered up my rusty French to talk to someone official-looking who pointed me in the right direction, where I found my host mother. 

I basically broke the language pledge from minute one, as she started speaking English to me and I was too tired to want to argue, though everybody else at home speaks French - at dinner last night I understood maybe one word in five, and not usually strung together, so I just enjoyed the food and looked politely confused. French classes at Midd have given me the mistaken impression that I understand spoken French to a high degree - actually, our professors just talk slowly and clearly, and I can't follow a real conversation with people all talking at the same time and at normal speeds. However, everyone was very friendly and slowed things down when they asked me questions.

My host parents are Brenda and Bruno, the former a divorcée and the latter a widow, so they have quite a few children between them. Brenda's son is going to college in the U.S. and her daughter, Christelle, who is my age, will be living at home and going to the university here (she's away for the week, so I haven't met her yet). Bruno's youngest son, Tom, who's 14 and just started high school, lives at home; his two unspecified older children have apartments. The son of a friend of Brenda's is also living here: Nico, who's 15 and speaks French, English and Chinese fluently. It's a bit intimidating. In addition, a couple who are friends of theirs (both teachers, I think) have been staying here for the past week, so dinner last night was quite boisterous. I haven't quite mastered the cheek-kissing thing yet.

My room is nice and quite bright and cheerful, which is good since I didn't bring much stuff of my own. My favorite part is definitely the heavy wooden shutters that open outside the window; they're the sort you can throw open dramatically in the morning, take a deep breath, and quite possibly break into song. The neighborhood seemed pretty when we drove through it yesterday, but it's raining today (and most of this week, if the forecast is to be believed) so I haven't gone out exploring yet. There's a little staircase that opens to the outside and leads right up to the hall with my room on it, so I don't have to go traipsing all through the house if I develop a habit of coming home late (ha, ha). And I have internet (obviously), which is excellent. My phone didn't work as promised when I got over here (Verizon, you lie), and I was feeling horribly cut off. I don't know how people traveled like this before the advent of wireless communication. The internet feels like a big safety net, letting me keep track of/in touch with people. Don't get me wrong, I love letters (and had one waiting for me when I got here!), but I don't want to wait a week to hear from someone out of necessity.

In about 10 minutes Brenda is taking me to the bank to cash my traveler's checks and to wherever one gets a bus pass to do that. Then I will start religiously memorizing bus routes. Orientation starts tomorrow with general meetings and such. Lauren and I have a meeting all to ourselves with someone in the math department. I'm thinking of taking the same class she wants to do (something along the lines of probability), since I've never done something like that, I don't really need the credit, and I'd feel more secure in a class with somebody I already know. That's probably cheating, but not really caring...

A few pictures of my room are on my Flickr page, and more interesting things will come soon, weather and/or fatigue permitting. I don't feel awful, I just have no sense of what time of day it is. It's weird and disorienting, so I hope it passes quickly. And now I'm off for some errands. À bientôt!


Bon Voyage

Tonight is my last night in my own room for the next nine months. It's amazingly messy; I'm almost completely packed, and there is still a large amount of stuff strewn about. My suitcases (two, weighing up to 50 pounds each - efficient packing should be a competitive sport) are mostly full of clothing and medications; my carry-on bag contains my laptop, a folder full of important papers (if anyone wanted to steal my identity, it's all right there, conveniently packaged), and sundry travel paraphernalia (e.g. iPod, gummy snacks). The Euros/travelers checks/passport/train ticket are all traveling on my body. And that's pretty much all I'm taking. One of my beds is still covered in clothes (the "no" pile and remnants of the "maybe;" the "yes" pile went into my suitcase); my desk is still full of stationery; my bookshelf is untouched; my dresser displays all but my favorite jewelry. It doesn't really look like I'm leaving. If you ignore the large suitcases on my floor, that is.

After all the preparations for traveling abroad I've been making for the past months, it will be a relief to finally get there, although I'm by no means finished with paperwork. The French are entirely too fond of it. Although I have my long-stay visa, I'll need to apply for a residency permit once I get there, which requires a medical exam and a €55 stamp (which I'm quite curious about). According to the Poitiers transportation website, I need an identity photo in order to get a bus pass for the academic year. I'll need to obtain a French cell phone as soon as possible (in the meantime, I'll be incurring international roaming charges of $1.49 a minute - very short conversations), though I haven't decided between a year-long contract and the pay-as-you-go plans. The normal logistics of college life all seem much more intimidating when conducted in a foreign language.

However, I'm looking forward to meeting my host family and beginning orientation. From the research I've done on Poitiers, it seems like it will be a nice city to live in. The next 18 hours or so, and the leave-taking they entail, seem like the most frightening part of the whole experience. Hopefully that's a good sign, and when next you hear from me, I will be well on the way to immersing myself in la vie poitevine