Emma Hendrix is a 3rd year student majoring in Urban & Environmental Planning in the School of Architecture. She is spending the fall semester on UVA’s Architecture program in Venice, Italy.
Lillian Harris is a Third Year, majoring in Art History, who is attending the Fall 2017 UVA in Lyon program.
Since arriving in Lyon three weeks ago, I’ve come to associate this phrase – which means “dinner’s served” – with all things that are good:
- The comfort of a home-cooked meal after a long day à la fac (slang for “at university”)
- Hours of banter with my host family in French… and the occasional miming (due to language barrier!)
- And *most importantly* lots of cheese
I knew that food was important to the French. I read online that Lyon is considered the capital gastronomique de l’Europe. And my host family even mentioned in an email one time this summer that their meals usually last at least two hours. So I should have been prepared for this pomp and circumstance of the French dîner.
But I don’t think I realized all of this – the sanctity of mealtime, the relevance of the kitchen table, and the nuances of the French dining experience – until I got here and was christened on my first night at approximately 9pm with the resounding call of « à table ! »
That first meal was a blur of floofy soufflé and and lots of butter and some stinky cheese that I couldn’t catch the name of. I was nervous, having just met my host family, and wanted to make a good first impression; but I threw polite nibbles out the window and ate so much not only because it was 9pm (at home I usually eat around 6:30), but also because the food was good. Dinner lasted until I couldn’t keep my jetlagged eyes open any longer, and then I went to bed feeling stuffed and bien acceuillie (welcomed).
The transition from American everyday life to the French mode de vie has been interesting and tough and funny and overwhelming (more details later), but luckily I was able to cling to some common ground – a taste for la gastronomie – as soon as I got here. So I’m going to continue eating my freshly baked baguettes and pain au chocolat and any other bread/cheese/chocolate combinations I can find until I get the full lay of the land.
Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, attending UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh this semester.
Check out her blog, where this post can also be located!
Week one (plus a few days!) in my new city has finally come to a close. It was a blurry time-warp, populated by an enormous number of new faces (and accents), relentless Facebook-friending, and everyone’s favorite collection of small talk questions (that is: What’s your name? What year are you? Where are you from? What are you studying?). I’ve relived the first-year experience, attending Welcome Week events, waiting in line for a student ID, and struggling to decipher a new online interface for my student account (it’s beginning to seem to me that universities make these intentionally user-unfriendly, although I cannot for the life of me decide why).
It’s been quite a challenge for me to figure out what to write about now, after this first week abroad. I have, unsurprisingly, developed a laundry list of ideas, thoughts, and observations I’d like to share, ranging from the strangeness of my role as a third-year-first-year hybrid to the surprisingly visceral response I had to learning that Scots, apparently, don’t refrigerate their eggs (guys, I could write a whole blog on this). Of course, one’s first week in a new country usually entails an inundation of newness and, as a veteran overthinker, this makes picking one topic incredibly difficult.
So, where to begin?
I weighed my options, half-wrote and then abandoned a number of topics, and finally settled on the aspect of this experience that has, so far, presented the greatest form of culture shock I’ve experienced: grocery stores.
Many of us could probably agree that the U.K. and the states are not, in the simplest terms, that different; we speak the same language, we’re both shaped by primarily western cultural influences, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what seems to be a thriving coffee shop presence around Edinburgh (this gives me, perhaps, an alarming degree of comfort; nothing feels more like home than coffee).
But still—the differences here are slight, if you get beyond the obvious disparities, and it’s these differences that lead to feelings of displacement, that remind me I am elsewhere. I am not from here. I am not home.
Part of this, I suppose, is my being mentally prepared for the big differences. I knew tipping was not common practice, and that my accent would stick out more, and that the weather would be unpredictable and mostly cold. But I didn’t consider the minute differences, like the different clothes sizing system, or the extra charge for a plastic bag to carry your purchases at any given store. And the grocery store, I suppose, is where these minute differences come together in greater numbers, presenting themselves in a way I can’t ignore.
My favorite brands are absent. There’s no Chobani yogurt, or Jif peanut butter, and the Quaker oatmeal flavors are different. They sell milk in different sizes than we do. The nutrition labels don’t look the same. It’s fun, yes, to explore these new foods, to try something different, but this is also the place where I feel the least at home. The avocados are in the refrigerated section, and the fruit containers are different, too. Instead of plastic boxes, with those snap-shut tops, they’re covered with a plastic film. Even though it’s September, there’s no canned pumpkin anywhere.
The fact that these are the things that remind me over and over again that I’m a foreigner here speaks, perhaps, to how finely tuned my senses are to what feels like home. I can handle the weather just fine, or the currency shift, because I knew these were coming, and I’d considered them beforehand. But the absence of pre-minced garlic? That was jarring.
I could probably go on about how deeply food culture has an impact on national identity and how grocery stores themselves tend to be significant community establishments, but, to me, this experience has pointed toward a more personal realization. Home—for me, at least—is a far more detailed and specific concept than I’d thought. It has nuances, and parts of it seem incredibly shallow (the fraught search for baby carrots, for example, should not make me feel as out of place as it does). The micro aspects of daily life, I’ve realized, color my perceptions of place and belonging just as much as the macro ones.
The point of this whole drama, I suppose, is to say this: this place has a lot of resonances with what I’m used to at home. To say I feel like a fish totally out of water would be misleading—I’m getting along fairly comfortably, although I encounter new cultural gray areas each day, and it’s easy enough to conduct everyday life here relatively smoothly. But, because I’m in a place where my mind doesn’t have to be occupied by the big differences of lifestyle and culture, I’ve had more room to examine what—beyond the people—makes this place different, and unique, and unlike the country in which I grew up. I’ve started thinking about what makes home feel like home, and all the parameters of home we consider. There’s home as a sense of familiarity, or as a university, or as a structure. There are perceptions of home built solely on the foundation of friends and family, or there’s home as a nation, a state, or a town. We have homes that aren’t homes at all, that are places we rarely live—like, say, summer camp—to which we feel deep connections. Some homes bring out different parts of us and aid in our own self-discovery. Some homes, in both the very abstract and highly concrete uses of the term, challenge us more than others. There are countless ways to think of home, and there are countless ways we discover it wherever we are.
To me, it would seem grocery stores are a significant part of my perceptions of home. American accents signal home. Coffee, as I’ve said, feels like home.
So, in writing all this, I simply mean to be saying: this place will, as most places in which we invest ourselves do, become a sort of home. But what kind of home, I wonder, will it be, and what will make it different, and how will God use this home to help me grow in ways my other homes can’t? What parts of this city and this experience will become home, and what will stay foreign, or uncomfortable, or disconcerting? I, of course, can’t provide answers to any of these questions yet (although I certainly have hopes for what those answers might eventually be), but I’m glad I’m thinking about it now, before I’m pulled into the whirlwind of academics and weekend travel that I sense heading my way.
It is a gift to be here, in a new city and country, with new friends and new foods and new opportunities. It’s overwhelming at times, and exhausting, too, and questions of what I’m here to discover and who my friends will be often take away from the sense of peace I want so badly to have. But these are good questions, and productive questions, and Edinburgh, I suppose, is not such a bad place to be asking them.
Sarah Genovese is a Foreign Affairs major, who went to Florence, Italy in Spring 2017 during her third year.
I can’t believe what a whirr the first 11 days in Florence have been. It feels as though I have been here for 10 minutes, but also for 3 years. I am beginning to have a sense that I am in “my neighborhood” as I approach my apartment at the end of long walks. I am getting lost slightly less often, though I have never been particularly good at directions (and still get lost in my hometown). I have faced a few obstacles: the hot water in our apartment shut off one day; my debit card is scratched and a new one is (hopefully) on its way. “Our apartment.” I share an apartment with 8 girls: 4 from UVA and 4 from Penn State. Everyone is very nice and very compatible—it turns out that college age girls with an interest in travelling Europe for four months have a lot in common.
Our first weekend here was full of school orientations, and less formal means of orienting ourselves in Florence. My personal favorite part of the first few days was going to an aperitivo, a cheap “pre-dinner snack,” buffet-style and served with a drink. It was a cultural experience, very revealing of the slow-paced, food-oriented Italian lifestyle. It was also a lot of fun to do with my apartment-mates. It’s been a continuous, conscious effort to avoid the “study abroad bars” and “American diners” that study abroad students here tend to frequent, and make sure that I’m doing culturally engaging things with my study abroad friends.
This weekend, two of my apartment-mates went to Berlin, and three of us went to Siena. Siena was a beautiful town—we went to the Siena Duomo, a medieval art museum, and Il Campo, the city square. We had lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, L’Osteria on Via Rossi, and I had Siena’s traditional pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is a Siena staple as well. Engaging with Italy via food has definitely been one of my preferred modes.
Sunday of this weekend, I went to a church service at the nearest cathedral which, like all of the churches in Florence, is amazingly beautiful. I am a confirmed Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a while. The contrast between the strange language and the childhood memories gave me a mix of emotions that was hard to sort out, but which draws me to go again. However, my plans for many long weekend trips may disrupt this desire. Indeed, the hardest part of study abroad so far has been trying to establish a balance between all of the things I want to do in Florence and Italy, and the things I want to do in wider Europe. I look forward to figuring it out!
Alexis Ferebee attended the UVA in Lyon Program in Spring 2017 as a 3rd year majoring in Media Studies and Foreign Affairs.
At our universities in France, we get two different breaks, or “vacances.” The first one is a week long and happens in February, and the second is also a week and is in April. I just recently got back from my first vacation. A friend and I went to Barcelona, Valencia, and Lisbon. Spain is easily of my favorite countries that I have visited, I almost with I studied abroad there. Luckily, I speak some Spanish (due to the 3 semesters of it that I took at UVA) so communication was not too hard there, but Portugal was a whole other story. Before arriving there, I thought that I would watch some YouTube videos and learn at least the basics of the language before spending three whole days there.
After watching the same video 3 times, I was taught how to say: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I would like, you’re welcome, excuse me, I don’t speak Portuguese, do you speak English? etc. Over the course of those few days, I used a few of the words, but honestly I didn’t really need them. As can be expected in most larger European cities, most everybody spoke English very well. There were a few times when I had to either communicate in French or Spanish, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. The ideal way to travel around Europe is to know a few languages and just hope that the people you meet can speak at least one of them.
I am so lucky that in this experience I not only get to better my French skills, but my Spanish ones as well. I also get to explore other languages and at least learn their basics. Whether it is trying to order food in a terrible Portuguese accent, or miming what I am attempting to say, all that matters is that I tried!
Teresa Nowalk is a history major who attended the UVA in Italy: Siena Program in Spring 2017 during her second year.
Italy. I can’t stop saying it or thinking about it… Soon I will be in Italy to study for about five months, which will be the longest time I have ever been out of the country. Part of me is of course excited, and who wouldn’t? Gelato, pasta, pizza, mozzarella… But beyond the food, there is the history, art, and the culture. Those are the three things I want to focus on when I am not preoccupied with the dinner table and my stomach (not that I plan on going hungry in Italy). Since I am a history and (most likely) anthropology double major these next five months will be a really neat way to see my studies come alive. To me, Siena will be a recharge: a perfect halfway point for my studies as I conclude my second year.
Many of my thoughts go toward my homestay. I wrestled with whether to do one or not and am still not 100% certain about it. So we will see how my thoughts on the homestay will change later in the semester. But right now, my inner anthropologist is nervously excited to live in an Italian home. I love learning about how different countries eat dinner and what foods they eat in general so I am excited to branch out of the (American) Italian restaurants and their breadsticks. I also love learning about how other countries think about the US, so hopefully as my Italian goes from rusty to only somewhat rusty I will be able to understand why we are the ugly Americans (or not!)… But beyond this, I am looking forward to my sampling of Siena.
But most importantly, I have a few goals while abroad. Perhaps I am naïve and drank the study abroad kool-aid, but I hope to become more confident when I am abroad… And like everyone hopes to have better grip on the future, I hope to figure out what I want to do with two humanity degrees by the time I come back. More personally, I am determined to be more social and befriend as many people as possible. This is because, for me, as much as I want to have great stories when I come back, I also want to have others’ stories because an adventure should never be an individual experience. So to both my future self and to my readers: here’s to the stories and Italia.
Caroline Alberti spent her spring semester studying abroad in Toulouse, France, on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!