La cuisine francaise

To neglect to write about such a delicate and compulsory part of French culture would be most terrible. Thus, i have decided to add at least one blog post (hopefully more than one) about french cuisine, for many reasons: first, it seemed fitting considering my internship in gastronomy, and secondly, because french food is so integral to the way french people live, work, and think. Most may think i exaggerate, but in fact, cuisine is an art in France. Most people who live in my neighborhood (I live near Parc Citroen in the 15th) go to the grocery store every day to buy fresh produce because they don’t believe in using old things (as in, a day old). Moreover, my host mother stops at the boulangerie/patisserie every morning to buy bread and often pastries as well (a traditional custom in France). This example is something very rudimentary in France; it is almost if people do not think twice about it. It becomes a question of quality for the French.

That being said, the woman with whom i do my internship worships food on an entirely different level. She lives in the Bastille area of Paris and has a local poissonierie, fromagerie, charcuterie, on whom she depends for her daily and weekly needs. It is true that in school, we learn these words and the textbooks make one think all french people do this; in reality, with the invention of Carrefour, Monoprix, and Franprix in Paris, most Parisians no longer take the time to shop for meat, cheese, and fish separately from their other grocery items.

Nonetheless, it is a common site to see French people take time to look at each piece of produce they purchase, even down to the last strawberry. They pay attention to detail and make sure what they’re purchasing is of the best possible quality.

This article is not meant to delve into the world of french gastronomy; i simply wrote this small introduction as means to illustrate one thing: the French take their food pretty seriously. I could sit and write article after article concerning this world that is often so foreign to Americans (the 3 hour dinners, tasting 20 types of olive oil and pairing them with dishes, tasting only a small portion of the over 200 types of chesse in France, etc.) I think it is evident that i have fallen in love with this part of French culture. I think even growing up in a household which cooked a lot and enjoyed food, i was incredibly surprised at the passion French people have for their food. It makes me think Americans should some day adopt such a fantastic passion; it is certainly inspiring on many levels.


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Second Semester has arrived!

How time flies when you live in a foreign country! It seems like just yesterday that i arrived in Paris, and already, i am in my second and final academic term in this beautiful place.

This post will be brief, i just wanted to take the time to perhaps make some reflections and update the general public on my schedule here second term, not to mention the idea of doing an internship here during the spring semester.

My second semester schedule consisted of me switching from Paris III to Paris IV, in that this semester i would like to delve more into history instead of french literature. I like them both equally; however, i must always be conscious of my academic requirements at the college. I will be continuing with Atelier d’Ecriture, which is a class focusing on french grammar and language; there is a special section for the annual students focusing more on advanced french grammar and tenses, such as the passé simple. I will also be taking a course entitled Histoire de Paris a travers ses monuments. It gives me of a chance to visit different historical monuments in Paris with my professor and my class, which i feel is very enriching indeed. 

Apart from my academic work, i have decided to do an internship this semester in Paris. I should like to take a little bit of time to explain this process for those of you who may not be aware of it. The internship program through Sweet Briar is only offered during the spring semester, and includes many different domains in which you can choose to work in, such as public relations, government, education, art, etc. The internship lasts 2 months (12 hour per week) and a final paper is required at the end of the term in French or English and is to be graded by a faculty member at Hood or at Sweet Briar. Of course, Madame Hervier helps you with the entire process and even searches for possible options of internships available. I have chosen gastronomy (which, according to Sweet Briar, is the first time a student has ever chosen this domain). Effectively, i was embarking on a journey never before conquered; it made me a little excited and anxious at first, i must admit. Before you finalize your internship, you must find someone at Hood or at Sweet to grade your final paper, as i mentioned. Luckily, Dr. Course agreed to grade the paper, so i was all set.

In any case, i will be assisting in a cooking school called Esprit Cuisine with a lovely woman by the name of Madame Nathaly Nicholas-Ianniello. At present, i have been doing the internship for about 3 weeks now and i am absolutely loving it. It is so enriching since i am incredibly interested by cuisine and  gastronomy. I will definitely keep you posted with how it all develops!

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Une Journée à Reims

As i had previously mentioned, despite popular opinion, life does exist outside of Paris. Inversely, i feel the more one sees of France, the more one becomes absolutely obsessed with seeing the varied diversity of this beautiful country. With cup of coffee in hand, i boarded our bus at Place de la Nation for Reims. The bus ride was suprisingly short, i must admit; perhaps it was simply a product of my morning fatigue, who knows.

In any case, the countryside is always so stunning to see, especially in the fall. The leaves, in shades of orange and red, gave such touches of elegance to the picturesque view. We arrived promptly, and my friends and i decided to have some hot coco in a cafe, just across from the Cathedral. Afterward, we assembled in front of the famous Cathedral for a tour with the local historian of Reims, a lovely older woman who was of such jovial temperament, despite the windy day.

We discussed the architecture and the history of the great church, and then entered, where one could not possibly describe the powerful emotional energy that radiated from the building. It is simply impossible to describe or put into words and even if i tried, i don’t believe i would do it justice. Even Madame Grée, the director of our program,  mentioned how emotional the Cathedral is because of how much history lies within this one building; all of the Kings of France passed through the Cathedral to be baptized and christened as rulers of a nation.

After our visit, we had lunch at charming restaurant. I had a lovely salad of smoked salmon, greens, tomatoes, and a vinaigrette. Then we were off to visit the Pommery Estate (a world famous producer of Champagne). We took a guided tour of the cave, complete with modern art installations. Afterward, we had a small champagne tasting, which finished off a lovely day.

On our return home, i got to thinking about how much effort and precision Sweet Briar has put into their program and moreover, how fortunate i was and am to be apart of this program, which has been around for 70 or 80 years. To imagine how many American Students have come before me and studied French in this very program is quite fantastic.

Sadly, i do not have any personal pictures from the excursion; however, i will include a few pictures of things related to this particular outing.

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Normandie, un voyage inoubliable

Admittedly, waking up at 7:30am was not something i was accustomed to, as of late. Post high school, waking up that early to catch a train in Paris seemed outrageous. Nonetheless, due to circumstance, i peeled myself from my bed, had a cup of coffee, and made my way to Gare Saint-Lazare. For the first time since my arrival in Paris, i was leaving briefly for my first trip organized by Sweet Briar.

On a side note, these excursions are all free and are included in the program. When i say free, i mean practically free. Your meals are provided for you as well as the cost of the train (they pre-order the tickets for you and plan all of the events once you’re physically there)  In effect, all you really have to do is show up and soak up all of the cultural bits of beauty that they expose you to.

The train ride from Paris to Normandy was short, in fact; only taking 2 hours to get to Bayeux, my friend and i played cards while the others slept. We first stopped, as mentioned, at Bayeux to see the famous tapestry that hangs there; it recounts the events of William the Conqueror in 1066. A marvel in of itself, it is definitely something to see due to its significance in both the development of the English and French Language. After a lunch of Omelette Normande and Crepes, we viewed the Cathedral at Bayeux and made our way further east to Omaha Beach: the site of the WWII American cemetery. After walking along the beach and strolling through the cemetery, we made our way to a charming Normand Town. By then, the sun had begun to set. We entered our charming hotel, dropped our suitcases in our rooms, and made our way to the formal dinner room to have dinner that night. The three course meal was quite exquisite and afterward, the group decided to go explore and have a drink at one of the local pubs.

The second day of our weekend consisted of going to Mont-Saint Michel in the morning; no words can possibly describe the beauty of such a historic monument of France albeit the journey up the countless number of stairs to the top of the Abby. After having a coffee, we boarded the bus yet again to make our way to the final destination of the weekend: Saint-Malo. This town in Bretagne, most notable for being the birthplace of Chateaubriand, among other things, was incredibly charming and in my opinion, the quintessence of Bretagne in France. We were free to have lunch in the town (a group of students and myself chose a charming restaurant specializing in seafood; when in Rome, as i always say). After lunch and a bit of exploring, we boarded the train back to Paris.

The trip was a manifestation of the idea that France is indeed such a vast and diverse country; things do, in fact, exist outside of Paris. The organization of the trip was superb and i had a lovely time, truly i did. You will find several photos of me at Omaha Beach and the WWII American cemetery in this post; enjoy!

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Enfin, Paris!

After my two week adventure in Tours, i boarded the bus for Paris. Again, fast-forwarding three hours, Paris and i finally came together again. The city, being your home, almost becomes  your friend. It requires thought, attention, and above all, love for it’s simple, yet elegantly charming nature. When you arrive from Tours, you are dropped off at the L’Alliance Francaise in the 6th arrondissement of Paris on the Boulevard Raspail, which is a site to see in of itself. When you step off of the bus, finally, you are surrounded by classic Hausmann architecture from the late 19th century and a very dreamed about city.

I shall refrain from waxing poetic here, suffice it to say it is a magical moment for anyone from any country. You retrieve your luggage, and are led into an auditorium where you meet your host families who you will be staying with in Paris. Indeed, one should make a good effort to make a brilliant first impression; these families and yourself must co-habitate for many months and thus, it is important to build a strong, healthy connection with them. Personally, i live in the 15th arrondissement near the Seine; it is about a 15 minute walk to La Tour Eiffel and another 20 minute walk to Les Invalides.

The weekend after you arrive is mainly to “repose”, as the french like to say. The following week, you are required to take numerous classes at the Sweet Briar Headquarters concerning the french academic method of writing papers, etc. These classes are very useful and you are required to attend AT LEAST one of them. This time during your stay is also used to discuss your coursework for the term, including the classes you will be taking at your chosen Parisian university (either Paris III, IV, VII or Institut Catholique) as well as the supplemental courses at Sweet Briar. Madame Gree will certainly assist you in making the decisions and aids you in any questions you may have.

I, currently, take 2 courses at Paris III (both in the field of literature) as well as 2 courses at Sweet Briar (one concerning phonetics in the french language and the other concerning translation and grammar). So far, i have found the courses very helpful and very interesting. The courses at Paris III are challenging due to the fluent level of french, but with time and patience, you begin to comprehend more and more. In addition, you have consultations at Sweet Briar to help you with your courses at your chosen Parisian university that are required throughout the semester.

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My stay in Tours (The preface to my adventures in Paris)

As i walked through Charles de Gaulle Airport and realized i was finally here, one could only take a moment to appreciate the beauty of this country. It is beyond feeling; beyond words or verbal explanation.  I arrived in Paris with wondrous eyes, full of life given the tiresome 7 hour plane ride from Dulles International Airport. Unfortunately, for Fall Semester students, this pleasure of Paris is only short-lived, for you must a board a bus for Tours very soon after your arrival. Although disappointed, i must confess, i was sure on that day that any part of France held enormous beauty and i was ready to explore the possibilities. Afterall, i was here to explore the real France.

Fast-forward three hours, and voila, i was in Tours, France. Tours is a city of about 200,000 people in the center of France and is beyond charming. Tours, as of recent, has gained a reputation in France as a “little Paris” because of the moderately high cost of living and the quality of life there. In fact, i must admit that the cost of living in Tours was very similar to Paris, so there is some truth in that assertion. Nonetheless, two beautiful weeks were spent with Mme and Monsieur Beauvoit at their home just next the center of the city (a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride to the Hotel de Ville). In Tours, as it applies to Sweet Briar, you were served both breakfast and dinner (demi-pension) but were required to purchase your own lunch. This does not pose a problem because in Tours, the program keep you extremely occupied and thus, a small lunch suffices. Numerous excursions are planned for the two weeks you are there, including visits to many famous Chateaux de la Loire as well as cooking classes and other fun activities. Your stay in Tours is not all vacation and pleasure, however. It is, in addition, a crash course in learning to live among french people and learning to adapt to daily french life, including improving your language skills. This process is aided by the fact that you take courses every morning at the Institut de Touraine in the center of Tours; these courses are designed for foreign students who are learning french. The courses are approximately 3 hours long each morning (excluding weekends) and are based on your level of french (you are required to take a placement test before arriving in France).

Personally, i found the courses very helpful and the professors extremely willing to aid you in answering any questions  you have about french or just generally what life is like in Tours. In addition, i found the excursions very pleasant to go on and i learned a lot about the history of the region and of France in general. My stay in Tours was necessary, i believe, for most people are not accustomed to speaking french on a fluent level and thus find Tours a place to really begin to transition into a french mind-set, if you will. I think Sweet Briar does a good job in helping you adapt well and is very helpful in answering any questions you may have. At the near end of your stay, you will have a meeting with Mme Parnet (the housing director of the program); you will discuss your preferences for lodging in Paris and then will receive your housing assignment a few days before you departure for Paris. Although you may have come to love the tiny city, after two weeks, you must inevitably board the bus, tell your host families au revoir, and prepare yourself for the City of Lights.

Attached you will find an image of Francesca Roth and I at the Chateau d’Amboise. It is a very well-known chateau in France and was particularly beautiful. On this same excursion, we visited Leonardo de Vinci’s home and gardens, which was also breathtaking. Enjoy!

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Introduction/The Application Process

Claude Gagnière once famously said:

Through learning language, we learn about culture.
Through learning about culture, we learn respect for others.
Through learning respect for others, we can hope for peace.

Croissants, The Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides…just a few of the many stereotypes associated with Paris. When i decided to study abroad, these things of course crossed my mind but exploring the real Paris had been the real motivation when i began filling out my application for Sweet Briar’s Junior Year in France program one day in early April. I wanted to grapple with real french society and learn what it really meant to be french. I wanted to understand the lifestyle and the culture with my own two eyes. I emphasize this concept in purity and without batting an eyelid because if one is a student of any foreign language, it is impossible to understand the culture and the complexities of the society unless you, yourself, interact with the aforementioned society. It is true…we are taught through books and lectures about the countries we devote a great part of our 4 years in undergraduate studying; however, i feel that these studies cannot come into fruition unless the person physically puts these concepts and ideas to work in life. To not only learn about the beauty of Le Louvre, but to stand in front of him and gaze upon the pure magnificence of such an architectural marvel.

Let me cease to wax poetic and fill you in on the formalities of the process. I should propose a caveat, for i am limits by the complexities of my own experience as well as the general nature of the program that i am currently involved with. That being said, we have the fortune to have an amazing foreign language department at Hood College and i am sure that the professors of such a distinguished department would have no problem in aiding you with any questions or concerns you may have specific to your language and/or program.

My academic adviser in the french department, Dr. Didier Course, encouraged such an experience; however, it should also be noted that an interest obviously needs to stem from your own perspective in tandem. Moreover, your language abilities need to be proficient enough to be able to handle the rigor of the study abroad program. Fluency is not necessary; however, a strong grasp of the language and culture is certainly helpful and encouraged. An application for the particular program must be filled out and typically, one to two recommendations from your professors are also needed for admission to the program, but this of course varies depending on the program. You will also need an approval from the dean and a personal interview to convey your sincere interest in leaving the college for your chosen destination. If any financial aid needs to be arranged for your studies, you must also meet with Mrs. Susan Erb to finalize any plans for that particular facet of the experience as well as with the Registrar to inform the department that you will, in fact, be leaving or the semester or year to go to your chosen location. I must admit that these steps need to be made with haste, but concurrently with care and attention to fine detail. The administration certainly does their best to help you, but this is your experience and thus, it will be up to you to meet the deadlines of the application, etc.

Personally, the Sweet Briar program only accepts students who have a very firm grasp of the french language as well as it’s culture. From my own personal experience, the application process went extremely smooth and i had no difficulties in getting the paperwork completed and meeting the deadlines. The Sweet Briar program is extremely organized and it does it’s best in answering any questions you may have.

I suppose this is all for the application process portion of the blog. I hope this information has been helpful and i will do my best in attempting to post as frequently as possible; also, i shall try to document my own experiences and convey as much information as possible about the entire beginning process of the experience.

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