Joyeux Noel!

Authored by:
Suzanna S.

Has it really been three months? It feels like less because the time has flew, but it feels like more because of all the memories I’ve made.

Nancy, France, the larger city near my town where my school is located, has begun it’s Noel preparations. Every street is hung with sparkling lights, the frigid air filled with the warm scent of fresh pastries and roasted chestnuts. An enormous tree is in Place Stanislas, the beautiful square in the center of town. As a joke, the town encircled the statue in the middle of the square in a fake snow globe. There are all these adorable little movable houses set up all over the city selling hot wine, pretzels, beignets, chocolate… just about every delicious or christmas-y thing one can imagine.

I recently went to Strausborg, in Alsace, with the program. I got to see all of my lovely friends that I met at orientation, and made a few new ones too! The preparations there were similar to in my town, except the pine tree that they had topped the surrounding buildings in height. The lights were spectacular, strung from every possible place and twinkling in the fast - growing dusk. 

I learned from a really cool guy in an antiques shop in this very town that what constitutes a church to be a Notre Dame is when the Virgin Mary holding her baby is centered over the front door. 

Here’s a little snippet that I wrote on the train to Strausborg:

The train rides backwards, makes me feel as if I’m shooting back through time. In a sense, I almost am; meeting with people from the beginning of this journey, three months ago. The city disappears into a wintry mist and the worries of school, grades, responsibility, even of saying the wrong words fade as the grey buildings do. The concrete canal for the train gradually gives way to rolling countryside. Everything is lightly coated in a powdered-sugar dusting of snow, masking the little green that was left. Skeletal trees reach their arms to the sky in between barren fields that will hold no more harvest until the springtime. Entwined in this seemingly somber scene of frigid, backwards - running winter, there is an element of beauty. This beauty is breathtaking in a way that nothing else can be; everything sleeps beneath the blanket of cold, the trees and the plants and the earth all keeping their warmth internal. I see the dark outline of a crow pecking it’s beak into the frozen ground flash by. Though it would seem with the stark white sprinkling of snow and grey of the trees, it would feel monochromatic but really, the landscape is bursting with color. Late flowers bloom orange and grass still grows underneath, the sky peeps through the clouds in a shock of bright blue.

The French countryside is always this beautiful, just in different ways depending on the season. The cows and horses still graze in the pastures, eating frozen grass. Every morning on the bus, I pass by a paddock of spotted cows munching on frosty blades and I snug my scarf closer to me for the thought of eating straight frozen peas or something. The weather here is immensely cold, and that’s coming from someone who has lived in Maine her whole life. I wear two shirts and a sweater under my coat every day. For Christmas, all I want is warm socks. That, and fish and chips which I miss incredibly. I miss so many American foods, like pizza by the slice and my favorite brand of chips, ginger ale and salad that doesn’t have any meat and/or consists of more than just lettuce. Really, I can’t complain about the amazing food here, but there are a few things that I dearly miss.

For prospective exchange students; it’s okay to be homesick. You can miss your family and your old life, but you must embrace your new life in order to move on. Trying to live in your home country through your phone won’t work, it’ll only render your exchange experience useless. Be sad for a while if you need to be, but don’t forget to be present and accept the new culture, school and family. It’s easier than it sounds, I promise.

Life is good. I’m a third of the way through my exchange, I think that the hard part, the assimilation, is over. I look forward to the next six months, and I plan to make the very most of them that I can.

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