À Table!

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:

  1. The comfort of a home-cooked meal after a long day à la fac (slang for “at university”)
  2. Hours of banter with my host family in French… and the occasional miming (due to language barrier!)
  3. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A reflection on the grocery store

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!

https://wanderingthroughwilderness.wordpress.com/posts/

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Sailing By: Semester at Sea

Tarah Fisher is a Third Year Psychology major, currently at Semester at Sea.

I distinctly remember a Monday night during my first semester at UVA. I was anxiously waiting to tryout for the University Salsa Club’s showcase. Like any other nervous first year would do, I chatted up the friendliest looking person in sight and asked what dorm she lived in. She had just returned from a semester abroad, at sea specifically, and quickly I learned not to assume that everyone was also a first year. She took classes on a ship, traveled across many oceans, and made incredible friendships with her classmates and professors. I told her that I would never be able to live on a ship for that long.

My name is Tarah Fisher, and in two days I will embark on the MV World Odyssey for a Semester at Sea.

I am not entirely sure how I convinced my parents to let me travel around the world on a ship instead of the typical study abroad in Europe, and I do not foresee the awe wearing off anytime soon. Like many students who are lucky enough to study abroad, I have a deep desire to travel. I seek novelty experiences as they broaden my horizons, challenge my perceptions, and force me to grow in ways that sitting in comfort would not.

I am thrilled to be traveling to countries like Ghana, India, and Viet Nam where I will be thrown into cultures, languages, and environments drastically different than my own. I will learn what its like to be a traveler in a country where one can not understand why the bus driver is yelling at you because you do not speak the language, or how your waitress has a huge grin because you unknowingly left an abnormally large tip. For many, this sounds like a nightmare. But challenging experiences like these are extremely important; they remind us that we are human, and we must embrace the layers of differences instead of allowing them to divide us.

Although travel is one of the most influential opportunities a person can be given, I recognize the privilege that comes with study abroad. I am extremely grateful for the support I have received, yet I am nervous that I will not seize every moment of the privilege I have been gifted.

So, I write this to remind myself that the once-in-a-lifetime voyage begins now. Soon, the sounds of the ocean will become the soundtrack of my life. Time will sail by. Don’t blink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Introductions to Florence

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!

First Impressions of Hong Kong

A mountain backdrop from a hike on Lantau Island

A mountain backdrop from a hike on Lantau Island

 

The stairs up to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island

The stairs up to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island

The scenery from a hiking trail on Lantau Island (Wisdom Path)

The scenery from a hiking trail on Lantau Island (Wisdom Path)

The entrance to Chi Lin Nunnery

The entrance to Chi Lin Nunnery

The Big Buddha!

The Big Buddha!

The beautiful campus of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

The beautiful campus of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Part of the Po Lin Monastery

Part of the Po Lin Monastery

Gardens of the Chi Lin Nunnery

Gardens of the Chi Lin Nunnery

Garden architecture at the Chi Lin Nunnery

Garden architecture at the Chi Lin Nunnery

Flags at the Big Buddha

Flags at the Big Buddha

Flags at the Big Buddha and an inscribed arch

Flags at the Big Buddha and an inscribed arch

Chi Lin Nunnery is nestled among impressive skyscrapers

Chi Lin Nunnery is nestled among impressive skyscrapers

At Tian Tan Giant Buddha

At Tian Tan Giant Buddha

Architecture at the Po Lin Monastery

Architecture at the Po Lin Monastery

Architecture at Po Lin Monastery

Architecture at Po Lin Monastery

A very large statue at Lantau Island

A very large statue at Lantau Island

A small alley, part of Chi Lin Nunnery

A small alley, part of Chi Lin Nunnery

A religious text inscribed on a log (Lantau Island)

A religious text inscribed on a log (Lantau Island)

Jennifer is a 3rd year studying Commerce.  See through her eyes as she explores the wonders of Hong Kong.