Upon Arrival (Again), this time in Angers
How many countries, how many footsteps, how many Euros (don’t think about it), how many people, how many sights seen, and now finally, ANGERS!
Angers: (On-Jay) or (Ehn gehay) or maybe (Ahnj-hae) I give up, listen to it on Google Translate.
Like a lot of the past month, on the last morning in Paris getting up to head to Angers, I didn’t really have much time for thinking or feeling. I had breakfast in the train station and found my platform. After a moment for thankyous and goodbyes, I had to walk quickly away without turning around to wave as I walked into what will someday be a milestone and what had always been just a dream and a plan and now was reality. Reality. Reality? Reality. This is the longest I time I’ve been so far from home. Trusting the reputation of study abroad programs, I lifted my chin, then lifted my suitcase and sat on the train to Angers. Angers. (Pardon the repetition while I try to convince myself that this is real life….REAL life).
Once situated, I pulled out the information for arrival printed from AHA. I suddenly felt really unprepared. It had been so long since orientation and even longer since I’d read preparation materials online. I was under the impression that everyone else would be much more informed upon arrival. As if cramming for a test I studied the cultural and historical information I had access to and did actually learn a good few tidbits. Judging by how thankful I was for that new information, I regretted even more not doing better research.
The other entertainment on the train was a fascinating French quartet; three women and one man. They all seemed to be about the same age and I could not figure out their relationships with one another. At one point, two women moved leaving one alone with her laptop. The man got out a fancy camera and videoed some very interesting shots of her working as I was dying of curiosity and wishing I’d brushed up on my French before arriving. Little did I know just how much I’d wish that, later!
The train ride went pretty quickly and I was getting off before I knew it. My only goal; to find the AHA sign! I think I will remember the following moment for the rest of my life. I can’t claim to have been jet lagged but I was in some sort of fog. Two friendly women greeted me and spoke French and “kissed” my cheeks and I was rather confused and speechless. I had gotten into a routine and didn’t have a lot of emotional transition time. Almost the way I’d imagine a doll house person feels when a giant 7 year old transports them to an unfamiliar place and then wanders off to tend to their stuffed kitten. Introductions were done and I said “A demain” to Sue Crust, the site director, and followed my new host mom to where my host dad awaited with the car.
I felt awkward the whole ride. I had no idea where we were going and I could hardly communicate. I sat quietly and nervously knowing the answers to many questions were coming soon. My host parents tried to point things out to me and I tried desperately to understand and remember while secretly feeling really stupid.
It was warm the day of my arrival, really warm actually. I was sort of surprised. Another surprise, was that on the drive home, we pulled over, my new host mom hopped out, ran into a “boulangerie” and returned with a baguette. SERIOUSLY?! Awesome. Real life, Emily, this is real life! Not a scene from a movie….
Arrival at the house I recognized from Google maps brought a mini wave of apprehension but I was mostly comforted by its home-y-ness! It is adorable and I loved it!
The house! See the three windows above the Garage? That’s my room!
Brittany, I hope you don’t mind being in the picture…
I got a tour and a review of the household terms in French.
The hall at the top of the stairs. Right – Le salle de bain (bathroom), next right – ma chambre (my bedroom). Left – Brittany’s room and my host parent’s room.
Top of the stairs where the previous picture was taken from.
First observation: no pets. Bummer that there was no kitty to welcome me, but a relief there wasn’t a yappy little dog to chew on the shoes we’re not supposed to wear on the staircase. I was shown the kitchen and bathrooms and told where to put things and find things and at the end, I was given the choice between two bed rooms. I preferred the downstairs bedroom in terms of decoration, storage space and access to the patio, but I decided on the upstairs room next to the bathroom and another student’s bedroom. So this was it. My tour was over, my spot was chosen, and I had about 3 hours before we returned to the train station to pick up my Oregonian roommate! Still sort of numb, I didn’t unpack. In each place we’d stayed while traveling I was eager to unzip my suitcase and settle in, but here, it felt weird to take things out and put them in a wardrobe where they’d stay for the next 4 months. Not to mention the pressure of deciding where to store what. That’s a lot of pressure, you know.
The view of those 3 windows from the inside!
The view out those three windows. (This is for you mom)
My host dad interrupted me, busily doing nothing, to offer “wee-fee”. What the heck? Wee-fee?! I had no idea what I was agreeing to. “Ok, thanks!” (The only two words I could remember in French at that moment). He shuffled away and I got up to follow, we walked into the room with a computer….OH! Wifi!!! Hooray! I had a private, silent celebration. And promptly figured out how to log in from my laptop. Success and a great signal! Life couldn’t possibly be too bad, even without a cat.
Now is a good time to bring up day one discomforts. Day one discomforts (DODs) are horrible. Truly awful! So, I’ll do my best to explain; basically an indistinguishable swarm of emotions (that only subside do to the distraction of a French meal). It’s the feeling of being in a new place, all alone, with hundreds of questions, feeling lonely, worried, tired, overwhelmed and so many other things all at once. Your sense of time is slightly off and you are aware that you are ridiculously emotional and that it will pass, but you can’t help but be homesick and wonder what you’ve gotten into. For those first few hours, I knew I was experiencing just DODs because I recognized the feeling from my first night at SIBA – and look how that turned out! But I still couldn’t convince myself and I moped and missed people until it was time for lunch.
Lunch: Prepare yourselves. Food is about to become much more of a theme in these blogs than it already is. This was my first meal in Angers and first home cooked food in a long time (besides in Switzerland). My host mom spoiled me with beats, potatoes, something else, and chocolate for dessert. The whole time I was eating, I was feeling shy and uncomfortable, partially because I was unfamiliar with the way meals worked and also because I couldn’t communicate! It’s so hard. My host parents speak zero.zero English, which, I guess, is a good thing!
In the car on the way back to the train station, I was grilled. Question 1: Political and religious views. (Needed to make sure I was going to vote for the right person and figure out if I’d be going to church with them) Question 2: Do you have a boy friend at home? Priorities.
We picked up Brittany, and briefly met our third roommate that would be moving in the next day. I liked them both and knew we’d get along. Poor Brittany probably just wanted to sleep and instead it was my turn to do the grilling and asked all the normal questions on the car ride home.
Dinner: Meals are incredible. Seriously, even better than lunch! I had told my host mom I don’t like tomatoes and since it was tomato quiche for the main course, she prepared scrambled eggs with herbs for me! Besides the food, it was a better meal because Brittany was there (after I awkwardly woke her up) and we could help each other talk and understand.
Here is a brief summary of an example of a typical French meal:
1) Fruit or vegetable dish
2) Main course and side dish
3) Cheese, bread and red wine course
They take their time, enjoy their food and wine, and don’t leave out the cheese! I’m sure, if you follow my blog of my time in Angers, or come to my apartment for dinner in January, you will learn more than you wanted to about how a meal works in France.
For now, my final upon arrival notes include:
-Communicating is hard. Thank goodness for patience pants, mini dictionaries and universal sign language.
-So excited for orientation during the first full day. I’m ready to be informed!
-I went from a clear shower door in Austria to no shower door in France. I’m not kidding. It’s just the bathtub (which is elevated) and no curtain or anything. Look:
Can you tell? You can’t see how the tub is elevated in this picture.
-More thoughts on my specific DODs:
I had gotten used to being able to speak English all over these Western European countries and with other international students. I hadn’t tried speaking French much and hadn’t realized how rusty I’d gotten, so that added to the emotion – in the form of frustration. It’s especially hard when the people you are trying to talk to, are actually French and don’t have American accents with their French. I am also worried about doing little things that are not too offensive but that do violate cultural norms in public and annoy people/make me stand out as a foreigner.
Anyway, as you all know, I like to talk, so it’s hard when I can’t. I hope my French improves fast!