Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Au Revoir, Dijon!

Pictures: Random pictures with friends

The Saturday before we left, Karen’s mother and aunt came to Dijon. When I flew back on Monday they were headed to Barcelona. They got in around 4pm and we took them to have tea/hot chocolate then out to eat at our favorite Italian place. The lasagna is phenomenal! I was so glad to go once more before I left. I’m still amazed I didn’t starve in France. All of you who know how I eat no doubt agree. How did I go without bagel bites and buffalo sauce for 3.5 months?? Surprisingly though, I didn’t expand my appetite that much. I found a way to eat pasta and chicken every night J. Sunday we took Karen’s family to Toison D’or, the mall. We had lunch in a Creperie and then met up with some friends for bowling.

Even though it was my last day, it still hadn’t hit me that I was leaving in the morning. I feel like I’ve been living in France forever, but now that it’s over it feels like it went so fast. How can it be both at the same time? It is such a bitter-sweet feeling, being happy to go home yet knowing I may never see the people I got so close to again.

Packing went pretty smoothly. I didn’t have to leave anything behind but didn’t have a scale to make sure the suitcases weren’t too heavy. Ben was an angel and got up at 5am Monday morning to help us bring our stuff to the train station. I was dreading the entire day because lugging two huge 50lbs suitcases, a backpack, computer case, and purse all around France is an absolute nightmare. I get an anxiety attack just thinking about it. Luckily, Karen was aiding me all the way to the airport so she could take a bag. OF COURSE the French were PROTESTING (honestly, get over it!!!) so the metros and RERs to the airport were all messed up. I started panicking about making my plane but we managed in the end. When I put my second suitcase on the scale to check the lady said I needed to take out about 1.5 kilos (like I knew that that meant), so I threw some clothes in my backpack and it worked.

I was already not excited about flying 11 hours to Houston, but to make matters worse as we were speeding up for take-off they slammed on the breaks! The pilot said we had to cancel take-off because a warning light came on and they had to check it out. I was glad they didn’t do what my mom does when a warning light comes on in the Cadillac – ignore it! I was sure we’d be there for hours but surprisingly they said it was no big deal and off we went!

Now as I fly over American soil, ridiculously antsy to be on the ground, I begin to reflect on my journey…

Last Two Weeks

Pictures: Last day of classes, bowling, Christmas party, Lights around Dijon

Once returning from our weekend in Lond… wait, Paris, I only had two weeks left in France! Talk about sneaking up on me! Unfortunately, we had a big school week ahead of us since we had four presentations to prepare for our “finals”. I keep forgetting this is called “Education Abroad” and not “Spend Daddy’s Money and Party Abroad”. Now for my finals breakdown: European Business Systems was on Monday and we presented the top three countries we would recommend American pharmaceutical companies for the establishment of an R&D center based on categorizing all EU countries. On Wednesday was European Laws, Institutions, and Policies where we gave a presentation as a lobbying firm fighting for the interests of a European chemical company against new proposed legislation. I was so happy to be finished with these two classes first because they are both taught by this French guy who is an absolute bore. I do give him credit for not teaching us in a biased fashion, however, because throughout the semester most of our assigned cases dealt with the many downfalls of France. On Thursday was our International Marketing presentation where Karen and I proposed to export the European bike-rental systems to American college campuses. Our last presentation was International Money and Finance where Evan and I presented the history, purpose, and organization of the European Investment Bank. Ironically enough, our teacher informed us AFTER our presentation that the EIB does not function the same way an American investment bank does. Poor Evan’s entire part was probably wrong. At least I stuck with the history! Our Finance professor is German and that day he called us “stupid Americans” (I think because we don’t have a central banking system) and he called a Slovenian girl a “commi”! You can’t really DO that! But no one cared because everyone really likes him. He’s way too smart to be teaching beginner finance though. None of us knew what he was talking about all semester. Oh well!

The last thing we had to do for school was to take an online final quiz for Business Ethics. Scotty had moved his flight up to leave on this day so Karen and I volunteered to take it for him. We went to school to take it because the internet there is more reliable. We started Scotty’s quiz first and were going way too slow (1 hour for 50 questions) because the questions made no sense in English and we couldn’t find the answers in the notes! We were saved when our Texan friend came in announcing he had to the super-smart Chinese guy’s answers. However, as soon as this happened, Karen’s plug fell out of the socket and, because of her faulty battery, her computer shut off! We were right in the middle of Scotty’s quiz and hadn’t submitted any answers! In a panic I suggested we go tell the teacher we had computer problems. I believe Karen’s words were, “Kali, what are we going to say?? We were taking SOMEONE ELSE’S quiz and the computer shut off???” HAHA Yea, good point. Luckily, once we logged back in, the quiz resumed and we were able to complete them all. When telling my parents this story later on they made an interesting point: We took someone else’s quiz, worked in a group, and used someone else’s answers all for a business ETHICS quiz. I suppose we may have missed the point.

I know my parents will be asking, “So what did you learn over there?” Where my instinctual response is consistently “nothing”, I can proudly say I know a great deal more about Europe than I ever did. For example, I now know what countries are in the EU, that the Danish “flexicurity” model rocks, that Luxembourg is loaded, that England so wants to be America, that Germany is stubborn but totally awesome, that France sucks at anything to do with politics and labor relations, that Ireland is a recent miracle and is on the LEFT side of England. And that’s just the stuff I learned in class!

The last two weekends consisted of basketball, ice-skating, bowling, shopping, and of course partying. The Irish boys bought a Christmas tree and one afternoon we went over and decorated it while listening to Christmas music. That was a great feeling and reminded me of my mom playing her old records and dancing around with Levi. On Friday the 12th, we had our final party to gather all of our friends together before everyone left. It was Christmas themed and we decided to introduce everyone to the American game of beer pong! The only problem was we couldn’t find ping-pong balls or big enough plastic cups in France (typical). However, it was Karen and I doing the searching and seeing as we are the queens of improvisation, we bought smaller cups and small white Christmas ornaments which worked well after cutting off the tops and taping over the holes. It turned out to be a big hit and all the Europeans were lining up to play. I bought reindeer antlers at the 2 euro store and wore green and red. The party was a blast, especially having all of us together. The only bad part was when leaving I decided to run down the narrow stairs in heels and completely wiped out! I woke up the next morning with bruises on my knee, hip, and elbow. I’m so special!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Us Against The World

Pictures: all from The Louvre (boy=Ben)

So on Thursday November 27th (the real Thanksgiving) my Irish friend, Ben, and I set off for London. I planned to meet my friend, Mark, there, a UK student studying in Lancaster. The only problem is we never made it. Once we were checking in a the Paris airport, Ben realized he forgot his passport back in Dijon. I didn’t go on ahead because I would have been alone in London at night not knowing where to go and it was too late for Ben to go back for it. So, unfortunately I spent my Thanksgiving night eating Pizza Hut in an airport and then wandering around Paris at night in the freezing cold rain trying to find a hotel for hours. Once we finally found a hotel we decided to stay two nights and make the best of the weekend.

We later discovered that Ben and I traveling together creates the absolute worst luck ever. It honestly felt like the world was playing a joke on us! We would get on a metro and all the other people would get off and get on the one across the platform. Assuming ours was broken we would do the same. Then all the people would return to the first train and it would immediately take off, leaving us completely baffled! We looked up a theatre on Google maps via satellite but when we got to the location there was absolute NOTHING there! Some locals told us there were no theatres even close! What a conspiracy! Even though it was a disaster we did get to go inside the Louvre since I’ve never been. It was pretty interesting. I appreciate art and all, but after the hundredth statue of naked guys and horses it all looks the same to me.

We did eventually find a movie theatre in English so we went and saw “The Changeling” with Angelina Jolie. It was really good, but quite depressing. At one point in the movie one of the characters cursed and then said “Pardon my French”. Ben and I burst out laughing at the irony of being surrounding by French people who were, no doubt, lost in translation. All in all, I chalk the weekend up as a financial failure, but the way I see it, I was bound to have at least one disaster trip in all of my ones abroad.

Monday, December 1, 2008

International Thanksgiving!

Pictures (in order from top to bottom):
1. Ice skating..well falling down
2. Gemma, Emma, and I at the Birthday dinner
3. The whole group outside the restaurant
4. Joey trying to throw me in a garbage can
5. Thanksgiving!
6. Emma, Karen, and I at Thanksgiving
7. Relaxing after the big meal
8. Me attacking Ben! America vs. Ireland!
9. With the Irish girls. Emily, Katie, and myself.

We got back from Barcelona on Monday November 24th. As soon as I got back I had to meet with groups for projects, study for a quiz, and do laundry because I was planning on going to London that Thursday. During all of this inconvenient school work, we managed to have some fun. The Irish found an ice skating rink nearby so a bunch of us went. It was so much fun, except for the skates being really painful. They played music that we liked and I actually did really well after I got the hang of it. I didn’t even fall once! Well, except when Ben attacked me and pulled me down with him, but that was his fault! We’ve already gone again and hopefully will go more before I leave. We also went out to eat for our English friend, Gemma’s birthday. There was about twenty of us in the restaurant and it was so great to have all of our friends together. Ironically none of us are French. I got lasagna and it was fabulous! On the walk home the big Irish guy, Joey, picked me up and attempted to throw me in this huge garbage can on the side of the road. It was so funny but I hung on so I didn’t go all the way in!

On Wednesday I got a package from Mom and I was SO excited! It had Larosa’s spaghetti sauce, Gold Star, macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate, marshmallows, ranch dressing, and candy! YAY for American food! Wednesday night was our big Thanksgiving meal. A lot of people were going to be out of town on Thursday so we made it a day early. The Irish boys hosted it at their place because it is the biggest and each person brought something. We had two huge turkeys, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, green beans, bread, wine, champagne, cranberry sauce, and pies. I was in charge of bringing the corn because it was the one thing I couldn’t really mess up!

It wasn’t as good as Mom’s cooking but it was SO good and SO filling! We all had such a great time just hanging out together! I was really grateful that everyone chipped in to make our holiday so great even though no one else celebrates Thanksgiving. After dinner we had a gift exchange that was hilarious. All the gifts were under 5 euros and therefore funny, cheap stuff. I ended up with a box of chocolates so that was fine with me! After the exchange we all went around and said what we were thankful for. I said, “Being over here in Europe for three months has made me SO thankful for... America!” All in all it was a great week that made me appreciate all our new friends here and made me realize I will miss them all very much.

Hola Barcelona!

Pictures (in order from top to bottom):
1. On the plane to Barcelona
2. Gaudi cathedral
3. Park at sunset
4. Beach
5. Me at the Mediterranean Sea
6. Our feet!
7. Views from the Castle
8. Catalan dance
9. Art Museum
10. There was ICE in my coke!!!!
11. Bus ride to airport
Last weekend Alex and I went to Barcelona! Traveling there was crazy because we took almost every possible method of transportation. It went something like this: 1.5 hour train to Paris, 1 hour bus to airport, 2 hour plane ride, 1 hour bus to city center, metro to hostel. It was a little tiring but once we arrived we took a long nap and then woke up ready to go! Our hostel was organized like little apartments. We had our own bedroom but shared bathroom, living room, and kitchen with two other people. One was an American guy from Arkansas and the other was a girl from Germany. It worked out well because instead of going out for all our meals we just bought food at the grocery and cooked everyday.

The first thing we did after our nap was go to the cathedral. It was actually different than the numerous churches we’ve seen across Europe. The architect, Gaudi, is extremely famous and the outside of the church is very interesting and unique. After the cathedral we began a ridiculous climb to this park that overlooked the city. Luckily they had installed some escalators on the 80 degree incline but we still had to climb quite a long way. I’m definitely out of shape. We got to the top just as the sun was setting and it was really beautiful.

I don’t know why Alex and I thought we could get along fine in Spain. She speaks English and some French and I speak strictly English. Neither of us knows a lick of Spanish and it was difficult to say the least. We went to a restaurant that was run by Chinese people so ordering was absolutely impossible. Alex asked for water saying, “water, l’eau, aqua, tap...” They understood none of it. I don’t even know what I ate. It was some type of cheeseburger with onions and potatoes with a weird cheese sauce on them. The language barrier was another reason why we decided to cook all our meals. They actually were really good and included BBQ chicken, pasta, corn, bread, and salad.

That night we went to a bar and club with people from our hostel. It was so much fun because the club played American hip-hop music! It was such a relief from the techno music we have been hearing all along. One point in the night we were all talking about how if you bang your bottle on top of someone else’s it makes it foam up. So I banged my bottle on Alex’s and it started spitting foam everywhere. To get me back Alex hit hers on top of mine but instead of just foaming the entire top of my bottle just broke off! It was so funny we were in tears laughing. Luckily the bartender gave me another one for free!

The next day we went to the beach. As soon as we got there we took of our shoes and put our feet in the Mediterranean Sea! It was still pretty cold outside but we figured it was a must. After the beach we walked in the city center down the main pedestrian strip looking at all the shops. The next day we went to the top of another mountain where there was a castle and the Olympic Park. After climbing, again, what seemed like forever we got to the castle. We had the most amazing views of the city and the sea! It really was worth the climb. The Olympic stadium was so SMALL! It was for the 1992 Olympics but it was still so much smaller than UK’s football stadium. After all of this we walked around some more and I bought some brown boots that I love! It was interesting to learn about the history of Barcelona. Apparently it’s the capital of Catalonian regions that historically fought for independence from Spain. They have their own language so all the signs in Barcelona are in Spanish and Catalan. You will see a picture of older people holding hands in a circle. They are doing a dance with intricate footwork that represents their culture. Unfortunately, the rest of Spain mocks this dance.

That night I was picking up my jeans from the floor of our room and put them on the bed. Then I looked over at them and saw the biggest cockroach I have ever seen in my life. Needless to say, I FLIPPED out. I jumped up and ran out of the room screaming like crazy for Alex. Thank God she is a nature girl and could handle the situation. Somehow she caught the little devil in a cup and dropped it off the balcony. Just thinking about it now gives me the chills. It was terrible, but honestly it was our fault because we had spilt M&Ms on the floor and didn’t pick them up.

Getting home from Barcelona was just as crazy as getting there. However, we apparently did not give ourselves enough time to make the train from Paris to Dijon and we missed it by about 20 minutes. Luckily, I got another ticket for only 3 euros and we made it back not too much later. Barcelona was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to and I was so glad I got to see palm trees and the ocean in November! Adios!