Archive for August, 2013

A Much Needed Update

Friday, August 30th, 2013

As my Grandma so aptly put it, I am no longer in Asia and this url is incorrect and needs to be updated. I’ve been out of Asia for almost a month now. After a hideous lead-up to a not-so-bad flight (problems with weather, problems with check-in, problems with immigration, delayed flight, missing my connection, taking a new flight — not so bad food, movies, lovely service, no one in my row) I made it to America at 2 in the morning on Wednesday, August 7th.

The days leading up to my flight were a veritable maelstrom of activity. I packed, I cried, I packed, I cried, I hauled my stuff across the country, I taught at a camp, and then two days of nothing. I hung out in Seoul, watched movies, got my hair cut, closed my phone account, then went to the airport.

Now I’m back and it’s strange. I went from the rigidity of a high school schedule, to the intense rigidity of camp, to this. I feel… like I’ve lost my purpose. I have no job, I have no apartment, and many of my friends are still in Korea or are scattered across the globe. Instead of having a year-long contract, I have… nothing. I could get a job and quit in three weeks, or I could get a job and keep it forever. I could live in Virginia forever, if I wanted to. I could move across the country. I could go back to Korea. There are so many possibilities, I feel choked by it all. In coming back to America, I feel like I’ve taken a few steps backwards, though I know that this is a necessary stage in my life. Who would’ve thought I would have stayed in Korea for so long – certainly I didn’t at the start of this all! Who knows what direction my life will take this year.

Though I’ve enjoyed keeping this blog, there’s no place for it anymore. This blog recounted my adventures in Korea, but more importantly my time at school and my time with my students. I don’t plan on deleting it, but I won’t write in it anymore. If you want to keep up with my adventures, you can follow me at http://emafterasia.tumblr.com/. Also, I’ll at UMW on Thursday, September 5th participating in the Life After Study Abroad Seminar hosted by the Center for International Education. It’ll be from 6 to 7 pm in Lee Hall.

Thank you for reading.

 

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“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Thoughts and Thanks

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Before graduating high school, I went on several college tours with my parents. I visited UMW once in winter and once in spring because I knew it was where I wanted to be. While I was there, I visited the study abroad office and flipped through catalogs. It was still a far-off dream then, but nothing had ever felt so right.

I chose to study abroad during my sophomore year on a whim. Most people go when they’re either juniors or seniors, but I didn’t see any reason to wait. I began the process second semester of my freshman year, but it didn’t really sink in until I got my ticket to London. 

I have never been more terrified. I was leaving my crutch of friends and family to visit a country I have never been to, on my own, where I knew nobody. Its a scary feeling to be completely and entirely alone with no one who knows who you are. It really makes you realize how small you are. Yet it made me grateful that I’m  the kind of traveler who has somebody to come home to. 

I was homesick for a long time, for sure, but I stuck it out. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and had an unforgettably awesome time along the way. 

Before going to France, I didn’t think I could do anything on my own. Now I’ve navigated six different countries a map and some hope. I’m a pretty dang good travel planner too. I knew where I wanted to go and I knew all I had to do was figure out how to get there. I found hostels, apartments, airports, train stations; I booked travel plans and figured out things I wanted to do in these cities without the help of someone older or more experienced. I’ve discovered that if you really wanna go somewhere, all you need is a passport and a plan. 

  I’ve also realized through traveling that while I love living in the United States and I’m fortunate to have been born here, there’s more than just America out there. I feel that, as Americans, we tend to be be absorbed in our own lives. We don’t see the point of searching elsewhere or even learning about what’s outside. Now that I’ve left my comfort zone, I almost pity people who don’t want to know more than what they’ve always known.

I’m just as guilty as anyone of not exposing myself to the world. Growing up, I never read the news because, first of all, a lot of it is depressing, but I also didn’t see the purpose. Stepping outside of America, I suddenly never felt more ignorant in my entire life. You would be shocked if you knew how many people know the history, current events, and politics of our country as well as several others in addition to their own. I knew next to nothing about the places I visited. I never wanted to live up to the stereotype of the uneducated American, but that’s what I sadly felt I was doing. And there’s no excuse for it. You can blame it on the education, the government, your parents, whatever. But at the end of the day, you live in a free country and you have access to information, especially in an increasingly globalized world. All you have to do is read.

Just as I know I lack some education, I surprisingly found out that the stuff I thought I didn’t know perfectly was actually there when I needed it. I wasn’t sure how well I would do in France. I didn’t want to say anything in French for fear it wouldn’t come out right or I wouldn’t have the ability to say what I needed to. I think it was mostly a confidence thing because it turns out that it was all in the back of my head. Of course I made dozens of mistakes, and I’m no where near fluent, but I’m a lot farther than I used to because I found the courage to use what I’ve learned. 

I’ve also uncovered the most important lesson I’ve ever been taught. When you have an amazing opportunity, especially one that comes with such anonymity as mine does, enjoy it. I made the huge mistake of bringing up past issues that nobody needed to know about during the first part of my trip. I had a chance to move on, but I kinda blew it during the first one or two months. Luckily, I realized what I was doing earlier on to fix it, but my visit could’ve been so much easier if I hadn’t done it do begin with.

Finally, I don’t want this to resemble the appreciation section of a novel or something, but I really am thankful for the people who helped me to do this, and I want to express that. The UMW Study Abroad office did an excellent job of helping me plan my trip. From my first French teacher to my last French professor, they all gave me the instruction I needed and helped me to realize that my biggest love is French. Last but not least, my Uncle Bubba and Aunt Fanny, my grandparents Anthony, Roberta, Judy and Leonard, and Jill, Dave, my mom, Michelle, and my dad, Richard, gave me an incredibly enormous amount of support and help to get me to where I am now. I won’t ever forget that. Thanks guys! 

And that concludes this journey :D

Grenoble

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

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I’ve wanted to dedicate a post to discussing what it’s like living in Grenoble for a while now because it really was my home for almost five months. I could not have picked a better place to study abroad in France. Grenoble is a beautiful place and it has a wonderful combination of things to do outside, museums to visit, and nightlife.

When we first rode into Grenoble from the airport in Lyon, my first though was “What did I get myself into?” There was a lot of construction going on and graffiti everywhere. However, as I soon learned, that didn’t diminish the beauty of the city. Besides, it really wasn’t as bad as I had thought.

I lived with Marie and Mathilde away from the heart of the city and a 45 minute tram ride from the school, one of the longest trips from  Stendhal, the university I attended. The tram is fantastic though. If we had one of these things in my town in Virginia, I’d flip. It runs through the entire city and there are four lines: ligne A,B,C, and D.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzPeLN7KIPM (Sorry about the re-re tramway thing. I didn’t make this video)

Isn’t it cool?? The first clip was the one I always passed on my way from home and where I changed lines to get to school Every weekday, I would walk about two minutes to the stop closest to me, called Fontainades-Le Vog  and scan my little tram pass. The trams run every 2 to 5 minutes, but you could always see people running to catch it. I’m guilty. Those are precious moments, people! Everything is closed on Sunday, everywhere in France, so the trams were a lot farther apart. Don’t even try to catch a tram on Sunday. Guilty of that too.

Strikes were also typical. Even if the strike wasn’t transportation-related, the trams would only run for a couple hours so that the strikers wouldn’t be hit while walking through the street. Once on a school day, I had to get to class in 30 minutes but there was a strike going on. Luckily I saw the last tram  clear down at the next stop, so I booked it down the street like a lunatic. What I sacrifice for my education.

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There are forever interesting people on the tram and at the stops. Some would swing from the bars inside, like they were in the Olympics, and a lot would bring their dogs on board. My favorite was the Radio Man. I was sitting at one of the stops around 11:00 pm when I heard someone singing on the other side of the track. He was completely belting it too, no reservations for this guy. I looked up and there was this old haggard man holding one of those old-fashioned state-of-the-art radios in his hand. He was singing along to the song that was playing. If we could all burst into song like him, what a world it would be…

The school was pretty cool too. The campus was surrounded entirely by mountains. The students there usually only pay $100 to $1000 a semester so the university itself is not as glamorous as the ones in the states. Not a bad deal if you ask me. We were all required to take a language course every day for our language level, and the rest were our decision. I took History of France, Art History, Translation, and French Politics. No classes for me on Friday though. Woot! The classes were very lecture-based. All we had to do was sit and listen for two hours. The great thing about France is that all students get a two hour lunch break.

When classes were over, my adorable language teacher, Madame Avenier,invited us over for an aperitif, appetizers and drinks before dinner. She’s in the middle in the striped shirt:

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Just goin to school and checking out some mountains. No big deal:

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Hangin out on campus after class:

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Picnicking for lunch in the middle of the Alps:

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Almost every Thursday (and any other day possible) we would visit Miranda in her office, about 15 minutes from the school, and talk to her about our week, get the weekly newsletter, eat cookies, and grab a cup of tea. It was our little group gathering every week. Miranda was an absolutely wonderful study abroad director. She talked to us when we needed to talk to someone about homesickness or the likes, she made sure we knew deadlines and things, and not to mention she took us on awesome trips around France. 

Walking to Miranda’s office:

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If I had free time (quite often), sometimes I would shop for groceries at Monoprix (kinda like Target) , hang out in the French Coffee Shop (said in a French accent and better than Starbucks), or go back to the house and hang out. Marie and Mathilde were a joy to be around. They’re such a sweet family and the relationship between them is amazing. Marie adores her daughter and she’s such a good mom. Mathilde is an imaginative little girl. She was always singing or talking to herself or humming, and she loves theater and dance. She watched the Notre Dame de Paris the theater version at least 5 times while I was there. Marie is very musical too, and she went to a choir class every Tuesday.

Straight cheesin with my host family. I was kinda sunburned…

They were always welcoming and nice to me, but I really didn’t get as close to them as I would’ve liked. It was hard for me to think of what to talk about with them in English, let alone in French. I didn’t know how to get comfortable in the house either. It had nothing to do with them. I think it just takes me a while to get used to people. If I wasn’t doing my homework, I would watch a movie with them or sit down and read Harry Potter. It was a really relaxing atmosphere. Marie always had music playing or incense burning.

The house was very artistic too. I don’t really know how to describe it. It was just colorful and well…artsy. Every morning for breakfast, I would usually have baguette toast and jam. There was a bakery right down the street, so it was always fresh and amazing. Sometimes I would have cereal. Milk in France is so weird. It doesn’t even need to be refrigerated, and it tastes kinda icky. Luckily, my host family put their milk in the fridge and the cereal covered up the ickiness. 

Laundry was always an interesting experience. I had to walk down these god-awful terrifying steps to the basement whilst clinging to the tiny side rail. Washers are a lot smaller in Europe than in America, so you really can’t wait like 3 weeks to do your laundry. They didn’t have a dryer at my house either. I would take my wet clothes to my room and pull out this metal clothes hanger thing and hang them in the hallway. This thingy!

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I definitely missed warm, soft clothing after several months of this.

Taking a shower was even more fun than doing the laundry. They had a telephone-shower head that you had to held in one hand while standing in the shower. Marie must’ve known whenever I took a shower because there was water sprayed all over the place: the floor, the walls, the mirror across the room…Despite it flaws though, I loved living there and I wouldn’t have wanted to stay anywhere else.

Home!

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Walking to the tram stop:

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I could sometimes see the moon between that pinkish house and right above the mountain. It was incredible. I took a picture of it with my iPod so the quality is terrible, but you can sorta see how cool it was:

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Still walkin:

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If you look father down you can see a tram leaving. Under that awning to the right is where I would wait for the tram:

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On Mondays, Caroline and I volunteered at American Corner, an organization aimed at fostering relationships between the States and France. They would hold events every month that we and the other volunteers attended. The organization had just opened so there wasn’t much to do, but Dominique, the president, was absolutely wonderful to work with. She was the sweetest lady ever. 

The park on the way to American Corner:

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During the weekends, if people wanted to hang out, we would meet up at the tram stop Victor Hugo and find something fun to do. For some reason, the streets were always busy on a Thursday night. Sometimes we would hang out with the French students we had met through Miranda. It’s a lot harder to become friends with French people than I had thought.

I was obsessed with the Vieux Manoir, a dance club across the river. Everything about it was awesome: the music, the atmosphere, the people. No one else in the group loved it there as much as me and they all thought I was crazy. Didn’t stop me from going though. I had some great times there, and I kinda miss it. 

A popular activity in Grenoble is hiking the Bastille, ruins of a fortress that was built years ago. The Bastille as well as the bridge to le Vieux Manoir. Those tiny bubble things to the left and up take people to the fortress if they don’t wanna hike:

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One Saturday, me, Meagan, and Megan went up together. I think hiking it is much more rewarding. I mean, just look at these pictures:image

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I technically lived in Fontaine, not Grenoble, seen in this picture:

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Just a few nights before we left, a couple of us took the balls up to the Bastille. I didn’t realize how terrifying it would be. The balls are see through and they go right over the water. The wind shakes them a little bit too. I was freaking the hell out. Fortunately, I survived to see Grenoble all lit up:

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During my very last days as a Grenobloise, I took as many pictures as I could. This is the bridge to my house:

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It was always fun to walk across because it goes over the highway and le Drac river. Sometimes if I were going across at night, I would stop and wait for an eighteen wheeler to go under. Try it some time. The other side:

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"Our true nationality? Humanity." Wise graffiti on the bridge:

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Place Victor Hugo, our meeting place and where the rich of Grenoble lived:

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Quik! the McDonald’s of France, only better:

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L’Isere river:

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Place Grenette, near Victor Hugo and full of restaurants and shopping:

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Place Verdun. Megan and I were reading here in the grass:

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Place Saint Andre:

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Sainte Claires:

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Jardin de Ville:

Pain et Cie, the first and best restaurant Miranda took us to:

Pedestrian shopping streets:

Marketplace:

Maison du Tourisme, the tourist information center of Grenoble:

Tram stop Hubert Dubedout-Maison du Tourisme. It was always exciting to hear the recorded voice on the tram pronounce it:

Betweetn Place Grenette and Victor Hugo. This place was packed with shoppers on Saturday:

Grenoble is my favorite city on the entire planet, and my second home. The people I met there and the memories I have from Grenoble are the ones I will without a doubt keep forever. 

Being an ABC in China

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
Now that this summer program has come to an end I can recount most of my experiences during my time in Shanghai and what a perfect time to discuss the long overdue topic about being an American-Born-Chinese in China. Before coming to China I knew I was going to be treated differently but I didn’t know how.  As written in my most recent post I had the opportunity to speak with native Shanghai locals and asked them about their perception about ABCs, but the real reason for this post was due to a conversation I had on the metro.
While on the metro my friend and I were talking about our experiences in China. The man next to us was probably listening to our conversation for 10 minutes before he asked us where we were from (turns out he spoke English very well). When I replied America he jokingly said, “Oh, we don’t like you”.  Although he said that in good humor I could not help but think that he was right.
I have always heard about the shock of being an American-Born-Chinese in China but I never thought I would actually experience it.  Before I came to China I watched a documentary on the experiences of Chinese Americans in China. I recently re-watched it and I can finally understand their experiences.

I first experience being an ABC while I was on the plane from Germany to Shanghai. The shock of having almost every person around you look like you but speaking a different language pretty much set me up for the next 10 weeks of my life. Flight attendants would come to me and speak Chinese and when I tried to use whatever broken Chinese I knew I would be a source of entertainment for about a minute. At first I did not think too hard about it but it would reoccur so often right when I left the plane. 
The worst place is in the metro. Being on the metro is a time where you can just sit and stare out into space…until a foreigners comes on, then they’re the center of attention.  When my friend and I travel on the metro most people would stare, whether it would be out of harmless curiosity or less flattering reasons.  They rarely paid attention to me until I spoke.  When they realize that they do not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, they momentarily revert their attention to me.  I would mostly get looks of curiosity as well.
Speaking English is one thing, but NOT speaking Chinese is completely different.  Although it does not happen too often, I have had some instances where I would feel the peoples’ judgment.  Some people laugh, some scoff, and most like to comment that I look like a “real Chinese person”.  Those do reactions don’t bother me too much but it can get annoying. 
A fun tidbit that I did not know: It seems that Chinese locals know the phrase “ABC” and sometimes use it when referring to Chinese Americans. 
Despite the frustration of not fitting in, being Asian has a lot of perks.  The best being that you are less likely to get scammed.  A particular scam that my friends always get approached for is the “Tea Scam”.  This is a scam in which people approach you because they supposedly want to practice their English.  They will take you to a tea house then excuse themselves to use the restroom in which they won’t return, sticking you with the bill.  Whenever my friends go to People’s Square they always seem to come back with a story of their experiences with the Tea scam.  I have also been there many times but thankfully I have avoided being approached. 
Being Asian also definitely helps when you are bargaining. You are automatically given a better price compared to an obvious foreigner.  You still have a higher price than the worth but still.  When comparing prices with my friends at the same store, I was given at most 30 kuai cheaper.  Thankfully they do not discover I am a foreigner until after they give me the price. 
For me the best part about being an ABC is that I really do get the best of both worlds.  I can to be treated like a local Chinese person or, if I just open my mouth, I can see how it feels to be a foreigner.  This is a really unique position that I have only recently come to appreciate.

Spring Break: Venice

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

I left Florence earlier than the other girls because my ticket was different, so I would be getting into Venice alone. Megan stayed in Florence for an extra couple days, so it would be just the five of us plus Cleome eventually.

Coming into a new city alone was a little intimidating. Plus I was supposed to meet the owner of the apartment we rented at a certain time. Venice has a zero-car policy; there are actually water buses and water taxis. It took me a bit to navigate the bus system, but once I got it, riding it was pretty cool. I took some pictures from the window:

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Venice is a very old city, and when you’re in in it, it almost feels like you went back in time. It’s such a unique, beautiful place to be.

I met the apartment owner on one of the many bridges in Venice. We had been communicating in French because her English isn’t very good and I don’t know any Italian. She asked me where I was from, and when I told her I was visiting from the States, she was shocked. She actually thought I was French. That made my day.

The apartment itself was adorable and it wasn’t too far from San Marco. I was so happy that I had figured out how to get around in Venice on my own, that I was actually IN Venice and that the apartment turned out so well. I was on a Venice high for a long time.

I didn’t have to meet the girls for a while, so I did some exploring. The square outside the apartment:

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Venice “streets”:

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Another square:

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There are a bunch of cool shops along the walkways selling crystal, a Venetian specialty, and lots of masks. Venice is home to one of the world’s famous film festivals. I was looking at one of these shops when I turned a corner and saw what I later found out to be San Marco square, one of the most well-known places of the city. There were a ton of people there waving flags around and chanting:

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At first I thought it was a protest of some kind, but they sounded happy and were jumping up and down so I think it was an Italian festival of something. Wish I knew the language.

More of San Marco:

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I was so excited that I had found this place on my own….but when I tried to get back to the place where I would meet the girls, I ended up in San Marco more times than I wanted to be. I used the map to try to get around, which was my first mistake. Venice has no city plan whatsoever, and there’s no such thing as a main street or clear street markers. There are thousands of bridges, it felt like. I eventually found a grocery store and figured I might as well buy some, but then I had to walk around with them for at least two hours while I tried to find my way. Finally, I got back to the bridge where I met the girls. I have never been so happy to see them.

I showed them how to get to the apartment and then we went out to eat and got enormous salads. You can only take so much Italian food until you start feeling your arteries being clogged.

We did some walking that night and found out that Venice is a really  quiet city when the sun goes down. There aren’t a lot of young people living there or even visiting. So, we went back to the apartment and watched a movie.

The day after, we met with Cleome and showed her the apartment. The six of visited some of Venice’s most famous sites. The Bridge of Sighs:

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It was named that because the bridge used to leads from interrogation rooms to the prison. From the bridge, prisoners would see their last view of the outside world and would sigh at the fact.

Rialto Bridge:

Across the bridge are hundreds of cute shops that we spent some time browsing…getting separated at least three times and lost a couple more, but that’s how you find things you would’ve otherwise overlooked, right?

That night, we were gonna ride a gondola, but they’re pretty expensive and they’re honestly kinda cheesy. There are tons of them around the city and they constantly try to get you to ride one. That was one of the things I really wanted to do while in Venice, but they weren’t that appealing to me when I saw them. The rowers don’t even sing to you!

Instead, we went out to find some Venetian nightlife, but the city was still dead, even on a Friday night. We ended up asking these Italian guys at a bar where we could go, but we stayed there talking to them. We learned a lot of Italian words from them (most of them we can’t stay) and actually had a pretty good time. 

The next day, we said goodbye to Cleome and boarded the train to Grenoble. Overall, spring break was a little less enjoyable than the winter break trip, just because we had so many more people, but I really did fall in love with Italy. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people, and I definitely intend to come back some day. 

Spring Break: Florence

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

When we got into Florence, we walked to our hostel from our train station and got to see the streets of the city. Florence is beautiful. It was less easy to see the first day cuz the weather was icky, but when the sun come out I fell in love with it. 

Not so much with the hostel. It was a little sketchy to be honest. We had to be out of there by 9am and couldn’t get in again until 5pm for “cleaning”. We first got to Florence within this window, so we had to drop off our bags and check in later. The place wasn’t even that big, and it definitely wasn’t clean when we got back. We were convinced they were selling something suspicious while everyone was gone.

The location of it made up for it though. It was within a five minute walk from Basilica Di Santa Maria Del Fiore:

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Pretty dang cool. 

We were starving so we went out to find us some good Italian food. We found a cute little shop selling cannolis and the old man working there was adorable. He couldn’t speak a word of English but he kept talking and gesturing to us anyway:

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After we bought our incredible Sicilian cannolis, we asked him if he would take a picture of us. He kinda misinterpreted it and waved his buddy over. Then he jumped in the middle of us and the buddy took a picture of the five of us and our newfound friend:

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FYI, older Italians don’t know how to use iPhones. Regardless, it’s the thought that counts. Italians are the friendliest people I have ever met.

We walked around some more with our desserts and found a couple must-see places of Florence.

Piazza della Signoria, which is home to some of the city’s museums and several of it’s famous statues:

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 Ponte Vecchio:

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In the little house-like room are shops selling really cool jewelry and silver and such.

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Meagan, Leah, Caroline, me and Jordan on the bridge

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The view!

We got some groceries to make dinner at the hostel that night. We were absolutely exhausted, so we went back to the room and napped for a bit.

We started talking to a girl, Cleome, that was staying in our room as well. She was really sweet, and we found out she was taking a gap year between high school and college. She’d been everywhere. She’d just finished volunteering in Costa Rica and was now traveling around Europe. And she was only 18. Ridiculous. She mentioned that she was going to Venice next but didn’t have a place to stay yet. We told her she was more than welcome to share our apartment there because we had an extra bed, and she took us up on it. It’s funny how many fascinating, genuinely nice people you met when you’re traveling.

We just hung out in the hostel that night and played cards. We got up early the next morning (there was only one bathroom and we had to use it by nine) and got ready for some more walking. 

It was a gorgeous day so we went back to the Piazza we’d found yesterday:

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The beautiful river:

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This guy was haulin it:

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We sat by the river because it was so ridiculously pretty and figured out what we wanted to do that day. Florence is one of those cities where you just walk around and hang out.  We tried to get into Uffizi but there was an enormous line of people. It would’ve taken us two hours to get in and ten Euros to see everything. We did a lot of shopping, exploring, and eating of course. I actually really enjoyed it. Florence is gorgeous and relaxing, and I think it was my favorite Italian city out of the four I’ve been to.

A cool church we found:

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Oh yeah. A couple teenage boys stopped us under the walkway up there and asked us if they could take a picture with us. Leah didn’t miss a beat. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and told them we were late for something and had to go. One important thing I’ve learned while traveling is how to get out of weird situations…

I met up with Megan that night. She had been couchsurfing with an older family with a farm in Tuscany and had just gotten into Florence. Did I mention she traveled everywhere by bus? Yeah, for about twenty euros she got to every city. Granted, the bus trips were at least 15 hours long…she’s the most money-efficent (aka, cheapest) person I know. She had a sick time hiking in the hills of Tuscany though. 

Later on, me and Caroline when out to one of the weirdest clubs we’ve ever been to. It was kinda fun though. We pretended we were French and were on vacation in Italy. I love the anonymity traveling brings with it. 

Our last day in Florence, the six of us went to stand in line to see Michelangelo’s David. I’ve never been into statues very much, preferring paintings, but David is definitely an exception. It’s so detailed and lifelike, we spent a good hour looking at it.

After, we went to a gelato shop that one of the guys in the group had recommended. He’d spent a summer studying abroad in Florence and knew all about it. The place was a little hole in the wall and the man who owned it made homemade gelato every day. That is where I found my beloved hazelnut gelato. Too bad it melts or else I would’ve brought tubs of it home with me, it was that good.

Then we shopped for souvenirs for back home (something all of us had been slacking on…). This is one of the shops we went into:

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Pretty authentic stuff.

We browsed along the river, which is full of cute stores. When it got late, we headed up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a huge hill we could watch the sunset from:

Needless to say, we ended the trip right. The pictures don’t even do it justice. I’ll never forget that night, or my awesome trip to Florence.

Spring Break: Rome

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Me and five other girls, Meagan, Leah, Caroline, Jordan, and Megan, were all determined to get to Italy for our week-long break. It took us a while to figure out travel plans and where to stay and such, but we made it work. 

Thurdsay afternoon, we left from Grenoble to Milan by train and then we took a cab to the airport to get to Rome. It’s true. Italians are insane drivers. I almost died within the first hour I was in Italy.

When we flew into Rome that night, we walked to the apartment I’d found on the same site where I found the one for Marseille. It wasn’t too shabby. It was about a twenty minute walk to get to St. Peter’s Square. 

Friday morning, we tried to get to the Square by bus. After half an hour, an older Italian couple told us that the public transportation workers were on strike. This is a really common thing in Europe, don’t ask me why. We walked over and met Megan there after fighting a TON of people. The line to Saint Peter’s Basilica was enormous. We were gonna wait to get in, but we found out that they won’t let you in unless your shoulders and knees are covered. Just a tip for people traveling to Rome in warm weather.

The square:

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Megan chose to go it alone on this trip and couchsurf instead. Couchsurfing is you sleep on someone’s couch for free. I thought it was kinda dangerous at first, but Megan told us that she met an adorable Italian girl who wanted to learn English and also show us around the city. As long as you’re smart about it, couch-surfing doesn’t seem like a bad idea for people who want to get around Europe cheaply.

Since we couldn’t get into the church, we just walked around for a while. Rome is a lot greener than I expected it to be. It also feels more romantic than Paris does and the people are extremely friendly. 

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We found this huge building by accident. We didn’t know and still don’t know what it is, but it was interesting nevertheless:

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We crossed the bridge in the picture, and let me tell you, there were a lot of tourist traps selling trinkets on it. Actually, there are a bunch of them everywhere. They’ll  seriously track you down if you show any interest, too.

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Before we got to Italy, we made a pact that we would eat gelato every single day. We hunted around for our gelato fix of the day, and it turned out to be an excellent idea. Gelato is wonderful, especially hazelnut. I recommend a daily dosage when in Italy. Or any other country that sells it.

Next we visited Piazza Novana, a market square full of artists selling their work:

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There are also ruins scattered around Rome everywhere. It feels like you’re in movie all the time:

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The Roman Forum:

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See how green it is?

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Meagan, me, Megan, and Leah :D

Next we went to Piazza Venezia where the Nation Monument to Victor Emmanuel II is found. He was the first king to rule a unified Italy. image

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It’d been a long day so we got some dinner and went back to the apartment. Food is a beautiful thing in Italy.

Saturday morning, we paid for a tour that we let us skip the line into Saint Peter’s Basilica and we would get to see the enormous Vatican Museum as well as the Sistine Chapel:

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The Basilica:

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After the tour, Martina, the Italian girl, took us to see the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and the Panthenonimage

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The Roman Forum and the National Monument later that day:

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On Sunday, the girls went to visit the zoo while I got on a train to visit my Italian family in Ceccano about an hour outside of Rome. I had been there when I was about seven, but I didn’t remember anything. When I got off the train, Gianni, one of my cousins, picked me up and we went to his house. I was welcomed like a hero. In Italy, you’ll always be welcomed, especially if you’re family. Gianni speaks some English, but most of the other people I met didn’t. I don’t speak any Italian whatsoever. Regardless, they continuously talked to me, trying to get me to understand. It was actually really really nice. You can surprisingly say a lot  with body language and facial expressions. 

Gianni drove me around Ceccano and then he took me to his brother’s house, Manuele I think it’s spelled. The two had come to visit us a long long time ago so I faintly remembered him. His girlfriend was extremely sweet (she speaks English too and even a little French). We all had dinner together back at Gianni’s house. I have never eaten more in my entire life. This was the menu: slices of Italian bread with Italian specialties on top, like Caprese, lasagna, salad, chicken and potatoes, strawberries with cream on top, and cake. It was ridiculous. Gianni’s dad was sitting next to me and he kept saying, “Mangi, mangi!” Eat, eat!

Gianni, my cousin, and I:

The whole family:

When dinner was over, Gianni, Manuele, his girlfriend, and Gianni’s aunt took me to Terracina, a beautiful beach town in Italy.

Gianni’s aunt, who I hadn’t spoken a word to since she can’t speak English, insisted me on buying something before I left. She was so sweet. Really, they all were. My visit with them was wonderful but way too short. Hopefully I can visit again sometime soon. My trip to Italy definitely started off great. 

Provence Group Trip

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

In April, Miranda set up another trip, this one to the region of Provence. Yeah, Provence is a region. That was news to me. I thought it was just a really really big city with a bunch of lavender fields.

Anyway, we left Grenoble on a rainy Friday by bus. It was one of those buses that you get really excited about when you go on school field trips cuz the seats are comfy and there are tvs. Miranda even had her own little microphone to tell us about what were seeing. Her plan went kinda awry though because we were excited and talking and weren’t any paying attention whatsoever…Just goes to show that no matter what age you are, you will always be excited for a field trip. She was a bit mad at us so the morning was rocky, but then we stopped at Chateauneuf-du-Pape for wine tasting at 10:30 in the morning. That made everyone feel better, as you can imagine.

Did  you know there’s a spit bucket for people who don’t wanna finish the wine that’s in their glass? No joke. Our guide kept using it so she wouldn’t have to drink a ton of wine during the course of the day, but I abstained. I felt that would be a waste of good French culture ;) Chateauneuf-du-Pape is also a museum of how wine in the Provence region is made. It’s pretty complicated. Sadly, there’s no smashing grapes with your feet involved. 

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Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The sun finally came out and we got to the see a bunch of vineyards on our way to the Pont du Gard, the giant aqueduct that was built during the Roman period.

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Sun, sun, sun :) 

Miranda planned a picnic on the rocks right under the bridge. There was a sense of euphoria while we ate; the weather was incredible, we were sitting under an ancient, historical part of France, and we had time to just sit there and take it in. Afterwards, a couple of us ventured down the rocks to check out the river. Not even 10 minutes later, and Katie, the adventurer of the group, jumped in the freezing cold water. A few more followed her in after gathering up the courage. I thought they were insane…and soon I did the same. What the heck? When you have the chance to do something unforgettable, do it! I wasn’t kidding though. The water was FREEZING. It took my breath away. Looking back though, I would’ve regretted it the rest of my life if I hadn’t done it. It was the coolest experience ever. Now I can look at postcards of the bridge and say HEY I SWAM UNDER THAT! And that makes it more than worth it. image

View from the bridge:

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The river we swam in! :

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The whole bridge:

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We shuffled back onto the bus in our now-wet clothes for the ride to Avignon, a city of Provence. The streets of the town are adorable and quaint, as was our hotel. The courtyard outside the hotel:

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We got settled in, changed, then went out and visited the Palais des Papes:

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And then the Pont St. Benezet where we sang this little gem:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8eLsHDaBY8

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The bridge only reaches halfway across the river because part of it was destroyed a long time ago.

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Happy, happy day

We checked out of the hotel Sunday morning to go over to Chateau de Tarascon, which was apparently once home to this guy:

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Oh, the French…

The castle itself is really cool. And when I say castle, I mean really real castle. It’s legit. image

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The view from aaaaaall the way up top:

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Me and Leah!

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We left the castle to visit Arles, a town famous for Van Gogh and Roman architecture. They remodeled the cafe that Van Gogh used to hang out in:

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Miranda also showed us the arena of Arles:

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There was a field trip going on in the middle of the arena and they were doing a gladiator demonstration thing. All of a sudden, we saw a blur run into the arena and then a huge thud as someone  yelled French, “He’s dead, he’s dead!” We thought it was a show for the kids on the field trip, but it turns out it was a dog that had escaped from its owner and was now running around the arena. The guy was freaking out. The dog, however, was having the time of his life (He was totally fine, by the way).

After a quick sunscreen stop (ginger problems) we walked around Arles for a bit and then visited the huge market that goes on every Saturday:

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I was too busy stuffing my face to take pictures, but the market is HUGE. It stretches down the entire street. Miranda told us donkey sausage is an Arles specialty, so of course I had to try it. It’s…not my favorite. It’s a lot softer than the sausage we’re used to, so it’s a little bizarre. 

Next we went to les Baux de Provence, and Miranda had a surprise for us. We went into this giant empty room with concrete walls without any idea what to expect. And then…this:image

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The Carriere de Lumieres projects giant moving pictures of famous paintings onto the walls of the room set to music. It was the most unique experience I have ever had, and I loved it. They have a bunch of different shows, and my favorite was the one that projected a dream sequence of what it would be like in someone’s head while they’re sleeping. This is one of the projections I stopped staring at long enough to take a picture of: 

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It’s a city!!

The room without the fancy projections:

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Insane transformation. I was awestruck.

After that, we climbed up the giant hill of les Baux de Provence and stopped for a somewhat random sword-fighting demonstration:image

There were a bunch of ruins of a castle we could climb around on and this is what we could see from the top:image

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Can I move now please?

A picture of the ruins, as provided by Google:

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More ruins:

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My life…I’m the luckiest person ever.

 

When we finished gallivanting on the castle, Miranda took us to Saintes Maries de la Mer, a little beach town. image

We ate at a somewhat fancier restaurant overlooking the water at a  reaaaaally long table. 14 of us plus the bus driver. Me, Meagan (different from Megan), and Leah started talking and that led to us making jokes about something that had happened that day. I honestly forgot what the food tasted like because we were giggling the entire night. Now, French people are very quiet when they eat. Like maybe a little murmuring here or there, sometimes you’ll hear silverware clanking together, but it’s nothing like the spectacles we Americans are in restaurants. So the three of us were in a middle of a dead silent restaurant giggling uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. Maybe it was the wonderfulness of the entire day, maybe it was the wine, I don’t know what. But it was a great night. Despite the stares…

Our last day in Provence, Miranda gave us the option to ride horses along the beach. Horses along the beach. I was shocked that Miranda had never had an entire group choose to ride them because, really, who would pass that up? I wish I could’ve brought a camera on the horse because we were right next to the water and the sun was at the very top of the sky. It was amazing. The guides asked us if we wanted to gallop because we had just been trotting. She said experienced riders only. I had taken horseback riding lessons when I was younger, so I figured why not? And theeeen I lost control of my horse. Being yelled at by an angry French woman is absolutely terrifying, as I now know. 

We got off the horses after two hours and got us some ice cream, concluding our magnificent Provence trip. I definitely liked this one more than the Paris trip because there was more time to take a breather and enjoy it. Plus it was nice to be in a more rural area, and the sunshine didn’t hurt either. Provence was also a better representation of France, I feel. It was a good trip, full of even better memories.

Stepping Stones

Sunday, August 18th, 2013
This week I was given the opportunity to teach English to children.  The program we worked with was Stepping Stones, which is an organization that helps provide English classes to migrant children.  This was such an amazing opportunity, far beyond anything I thought it would be like.  In the beginning of the process I expected it to just be the standard lecturing and coloring, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was much more than that.  We got to use our creativity to create fun lesson plans.  The student volunteers were given free-reigns to teach their kids however they liked.  But what made this opportunity the most special is the children.  Not only were they all very smart and well-behaved but they also each had their own unique personality.  Of all the ten weeks I have been in Shanghai this week has been the best, it could actually be one of the best weeks of my life.
Monday: The week began with us being assigned to a certain grade level of students.  My partners and I got grade 3.  We then got to meet our students, they were such a cute bunch of kids! Some made an immediate impression on me while others not so much.  The first order of business was to give English names to the children.  It was exciting to think that these kids may continue to use these names after the program ends. After meeting the kids we had to go through training and orientation, and create lesson plans.  The afternoon we returned to the apartment I think we spent at least 5 hours trying to test ideas on what would keep the kids entertained for the 4 hours.
Tuesday: The first day of classes we were very eager to see the kids and start our lessons.  When we walked into the classroom the students were sitting at the tables ready to learn.  The first day was the toughest for the kids and us.  This was our first time teaching English and the kids have not gotten accustomed to us yet.  But after the first two hours we were all a little more comfortable.  The hardest part was keeping the kids interested in the lesson, which we quickly fixed by creating activities.
The program also added an extra opportunity for the volunteers to speak with some locals.  We were separated into little groups of 4 volunteers and 3 locals.  The locals seemed very interested in us and America.  So the majority of the conversation was started by the locals.  Since this was a great opportunity to get the insight of the locals we asked a lot of questions concerning their perception of Americans.  We were pretty sure they held their tongues for some stuff that might sound unflattering to us.  But they did manage to say that they perceived Americans to be friendly, curious, rich, and open-minded.  Another thing that we asked, since another Chinese-American and I were curious, was about their opinions on Chinese Born Americans.  More on this in another post.
My favorite time during the day was break time.  During this time all the children either ran around, talked, played games, or just sat at their seat quietly.  Another interesting thing that I saw was children cleaning during the break.  Some kids actually took out mops and brooms and started cleaning the classroom, without any direction from the teachers. 
Wednesday: A more relaxed day. The string of games we had lined up for the children were a hit and it looked like they really had fun.  Their personalities started to show too!  After class we went to the Shanghai Auto Museum with the kids.  In my opinion, the museum was not very interesting other than the few unique automobiles here and there.  In addition to the tours, we had a scavenger hunt in the museum.  Each volunteer was in charge of a group of kids.  At the end of the hunt I was very tired but the kids had so much fun. It was nice to see all the kids run around, even the shy ones' looked like they enjoyed it.
Thursday:  Our last full day of class, so we just played a lot of review games and rehearsed for our performance on Friday.  For our performance we decided to do the "hokey pokey" and sing a song that we thought up.
Friday:  Day of our performance!  I think the kids did well, they remembered their lines and they were nearly perfect in their little dance.  All the other children's' performances were great too! It's amazing how well they did with such little time to practice.  After the performances the children were given diplomas and little gifts. Then we had an hour to say our goodbyes to the kids. Despite only knowing them for a week those kids really did grow on us. They were all polite, respectful, charming, and cute kids.  I will admit, during the first day of class I had my favorites but as I got to know them they all became my favorites, I know it sounds corny but it's true.

Being able to work with Stepping Stones was such a great way to end this summer program!
Here is the Stepping Stones website for more info: http://steppingstoneschina.net/

The kids had fun making paper hats, even though they already knew how to make them.
My partner, Taylor, and I with our kids, but one is missing. I have to give a lot of credit to Taylor, she was a really great teacher and the kids loved her.  We were already comfortable with each other so it made teaching much easier.
The group with their prizes after the scavenger hunt. My group came in 3rd but every child got a prize anyways. :)
The kids with their diplomas! (with a little description below)

Tom: the troublemaker of the group. he got into fights with the girls everyday but he was such fun.
I actually don't know her name...because she did not want an English name. She was the shiest of the group but she looked like she had the most fun out of all the kids at the car museum. As the week progressed she became more playful.
Kitty: Teehee, I liked to tease her the most.  During breaks we would play a hand clapping game that she taught me then we would play some form of tag.  She was loads of fun!
Sam: A first I thought he would be difficult but realized he was just the opposite.  He talked in class but once you told him to stop he was all ears.  He was such a smart kid too!
Jenna: Hmm...she was definitely the sassiest of all the kids and one of the cutest. One thing I will always remember about her was "pre-picture warmup". Whenever she saw a camera on her she would do a weird movement with her body then proceed to put one hand on her hip and the other to make a peace sign.  Oh yes, during the last day she gave Taylor and I each a single rose, then, in chinese, she told us to feed it water. Adorable!
Matthew: Aww, Matthew was so cute and VERY smart. Although it didn't interact much with the other kids. He was one of our most polite students.

Jasmine: The teacher's pet of the bunch. She help us so much, whether it was helping us prepare materials for the lessons or translating the activities into chinese. She made life easier for the kids and us.
Jessica: She is so energetic and enthusiastic. Whenever we had an activity she always perked up. But sometime she would get too excited and tease other kids about their work.
Lily (left) and Jenny (right): These two are sister., but we did not know until the last day. Although they were in the same class they rarely spoke with each other other than during group work.  Both were incredibly smart but Lily was a little more outspoken than Jenny.
I will really miss all these kids.  Waking up at 6 in the morning and taking an hour bus ride was worth it because we got to see them.  They were so enthusiastic that I would completely forget that I was tired.  I am so grateful to have been able to spend a week with Stepping Stones. The Stepping Stones program taught me so much.  They educated me on less developed areas of Shanghai, gave me an opportunity to meet and teach wonderful kids, and they taught me to have more appreciation for my teachers and what they do.  Thank you teachers!


Marseille

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

About a month before the Paris trip, a few of us in the group wanted to take a weekend trip together. Like I said, we all got along really well and we were surprisingly close. After some planning, we decided to take a train to Marseille, a port town in the south of France. A couple weeks beforehand, the Marseille group grew to 8 or 9 people and we needed somewhere to stay. So, I did some digging and found a sick, cheap apartment on this site: http://www.homelidays.com/. The site is pretty fantastic if you do it a few weeks in advance and if you have people to split the housing cost with you. 

I was really, really nervous because when I’ve planned something, I want to work well. I even wrote down instructions from the train station to the apartment. Sadly, the streets in Marseille are more confusing than anticipated. I spent half an hour walking the group up and down the street trying to find the place, when I gave up and asked help from one of the guys (he’d gotten into Marseille earlier than the rest of  us). Kinda made me mad because I’m really independent and stubborn and in all honesty a bit of a control freak, but at least it was sunny out. 

We finally got to the apartment where we met the owner. This was what it looked like:

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I was incredibly relieved that it turned out even better than I had hoped for. Our view was amazing too:

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After meeting with the owner and getting the key, we went out to get some groceries to avoid eating out. We had a little family dinner that night and just hung out and played cards. It was great to have a relaxing trip. There really isn’t much to do in Marseille, and it’s a pretty dirty city, although the views are awesome. I’m so glad we got the apartment, and we chose to enjoy it together. 

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The next day, I got up and went to take pictures and go find Notre Dame de la Garde, the church on top of the hill. 

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Fish market!

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I didn’t know where I was going but since the church was on a hill, I just went…up. An hour of walking later, and I finally found it. It was nice to know that I could find my way around alone. It was also a relief to be by myself and think for a while. It gave me a chance to stare at this view for as long as I wanted:

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The church:

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It was a good day for me. I descended the hill then walked around and checked out all the stores for a while. If you know French, then you know the people of Marseille have a bizarre accent, so I was pretty entertained just listening to them. 

That night we made dinner and hung out for a bit. Then me and Leah went out to dance and had some pretty interesting experiences. For example, there was a very, very drunk man talking to us right before we were getting ready to leave. When we walked toward the door, he grabbed me in a bear hug from behind and said in broken English “Come back, come back! I sorry, I French kiss!” Not very appealing. 

Sunday morning, we went back to the Grenoble. Marseille was really relaxing and it was awesome to be able to hang out with the group that’d I’d become so close to.