31 August 2007

Today I learned something new:

  • France has 79% voter turnout at presidential elections. US: 49% tops.
  • France actually has more tourists visit the country that it has people in the country.
  • Oil consumption per capita per year in France: 4.25 tons. US: 8.35 tons (#1 worldwide).
  • Health care spending in France is about half that spent in the US ($2288 per capita vs. $4271)
  • Taxes are 45.3% of the GDP in France (29.6% in the US), but the wealthiest third contributes 67.9% of that, whereas in the US, the richest third is only contributing 6.3% of the figure.
  • AND DRUMROLL: Wine consumption per capita: US 7 liters, France 47 liters!

ps. I have yet to see a beret. Golf hats seem to be popular with old men, though.

Now this is a meal! Bienvenue au l'omelette provencale, des legumes crudites, et du vin blanc.

30 August 2007

Je suis ici!

I made it!
I'm so excited to be here in Strasbourg. I like it: the architecture, the layout of the city, the bridges and rivers and flowers, the food, the facilities, and the language. And NO ONE is going to tell me that this excitement will end, that things will settle down, that I'll miss home, or that the language and the people and especially the administration will wear me down. I'm sure I'll right that entry in a couple weeks, but for now, I just want to enjoy what I'm feeling and thinking and smelling and tasting and seeing.
A few things to notice about Strasbourg:
  • the architecture is, well, just like the pictures
  • there are still leaves on the ground from last fall
  • women DO shave their legs
  • contrary to professorial opinion, you CANNOT see the cathedral from everywhere in the city
  • there are wonderfully cute and cuddly gargoyles on the cathedral
  • watch out for the tram: it's very sleek and efficient and...quiet
  • some people have dogs, but I have not seen one poodle
  • this city of 500,000 feels a bit empty, because the 40,000 University students don't arrive for another few weeks
  • the stork is sort of the 'city bird'; I have yet to see one
We've done quite a bit of walking around the city, and my French has gotten me surprisingly far. I've been almost everywhere on the island which is the center of Strasbourg, as well as to the north, where the BCA office is located and where we're staying in the CIARUS, a very nice hostel. I can't even tell you how many times I've looked at the map, but that's alright. We've been around the University campus, which looks very different from Manchester, of course. There's no central green area, you can't see every building on campus from every other building, most of the buildings are concrete monstrosities currently under construction...and it just feels different. I begin the 'stage' language courses there next week, then classes two weeks later.

We're a large and gregarious group of 24 here at BCA Strasbourg this semester. Most students are from Pennsylvania, a sprinkling from Indiana, one from Virginia and one from California. They're all interesting folks, as far as I can tell, but I actually feel more comfortable on my own, because then I'm not in a conspicuous group of loud and gawking Americans. Not that they're all (or always) like that, not at all. I guess I just want to acclimate as soon as possible, to be able to call Strasbourg 'my city,' and to know my way around. I'm doing my best to look French: you know--scarf, dark-colored clothing, air of superiority. ;)

I can't wait to meet my host family Saturday (mom and 10-year-old daughter, plus cat). Then I'll be able to settle in. Now it feels a lot like being in a tour group, though we do have our evenings to ourselves, and I don't feel compelled to take-pictures-every-ten-seconds-because-I'm-never-going-to-see-this-place-ever-again.

So, the rest of this week brings: learning about the French university system, banking in France, biking around the city and over the border to Germany, moving into my homestay, buying a bus pass and figuring out the schedule, buying groceries, and living.

And it all feels...doable.

ps. You know you're on a different kind of school trip when wine is included with lunch and soda is extra.

28 August 2007

Extra! Extra!

This Colleen is following through on previous promises and is now establishing a blog.
Premises of the blog:
  • I make no promises; I offer only hopes.
  • I hope to write at least monthly, beginning with my year-long sojourn in France (start date: tomorrow).
  • I hope to include many many photos.
  • I hope to share insights and reflections, not to the exclusion of funny stories, announcements, and recipes.
  • I hope to continue having personal contact with many of you checking this blog--to not leave you to the unsatisfactory ambiguities of mass communication.
  • I hope to write sometimes in French.
  • I hope...[please fill in a hope you have for me in the coming year].
Thank you for coming.