I Don’t Hate Paris As Much As I Thought I Did, So That’s Nice

After my study abroad experience two summers ago in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France, I wrote in my blog post about how I found Paris to be wholly underwhelming, most likely because it could never live up to how I envisioned it to be growing up. I had other gripes about it that I may not have listed, as well. I found everything there to be expensive, and I personally did not find anyone there to be particularly nice. The food, I felt, was not nearly as good as I expected it to be, and in fact I found it significantly worse than the cuisine we had in other countries or even in other cities in France. Hate is a strong word, but Paris at this point was definitely at the top of my list of most-disliked cities, even beating out Branson, Missouri, which is a feat in and of itself. Needless to say, when my best friend here at OU told me that she had won a film festival in Clermond-Ferrand and was going to be in Paris in mid-February and wanted me to meet her there, I wasn’t very ecstatic. I was absolutely elated to see her again, of course, but just being in Paris was going to bring the mood down, I was sure. But, I booked my train ticket anyways, and come mid-February I was on my way to Paris for a few days.

My first inkling that this might be a different kind of trip occurred before I even got there, as I was pleasantly surprised to find an AirBnb for $25/night with fantastic reviews. I was sure it was a con, so I had a backup just in case, but it turned out to be a really pleasant hostel with a really pleasant host and extremely pleasant people inside! My friend likes to play a game where we eat in whatever three directions we point in, so we ended up at what looked like a really high-end cafe and I immediately felt my wallet start to sweat, remember how expensive the lower-end cafes had cost. Somehow, dinner with wine only cost $14. In fact, the most expensive meal we had was in Tuileries, and that was only about $25, much cheaper than I remember my meals being in Paris over the summer. Also, my friend’s excitement for every little thing in Paris made me excited for everything as well. I had already been to the areas around the Musee D’Orsay and found them underwhelming, but now I noticed the small shops and the vibrant air surrounding the area. It was nice. We visited many of the same places that I visited during my first trip, and I constantly found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had the first time and, surprisingly, experiencing it a lot more than I had initially. While I can chalk it up to simply being around my friend, I think I also didn’t give myself the ability to do this the first time I went to Paris simply because I got disappointed at first glance and stopped looking so hard.

Culture Shock After the Study Abroad Experience

I used to believe that not everyone was susceptible to culture shock. This way of thinking was definitely solidified after my return from my month-long Engaging Europe experience, in which we went to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. I came back to Oklahoma missing the food and the decent public transportation, but there was no big “oh no” or “oh wow” moment that I was told would happen to me when I returned. At most, I gained an appreciation for the small things we have in the United States, like free public bathrooms and free water, while also appreciating the things America lacks that I saw in Europe, like decent public transportation. Overall, though, I thought myself immune to culture shock. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Nobody told me that culture shock can be bodily culture shock. As I found out the hard way, I am most definitely not immune to a bit of culture shock, as seen by the fact that I still won’t go back to Taco Bell, 6 months later, after I bit into a burrito and tasted that gross fake cheese. Fake cheese is strange. It tastes like plastic trying to imitate chese, and I hate it. But, for months in France I couldn’t wait to come home and eat a cheesy burrito from Taco Bell like I did all the time around this time last year. Also, the oil in everything here gave me severe headaches for a month. The pizza here is drenched in the stuff, and while I liked the taste of that fake cheese, the oil definitely gave me a headache that must have come from the pits of hell themselves. Also, Oklahoma water gave me diarrhea for about two weeks. I was told that might happen, but I’m still calling it a shock.

Once again, though, it was the small things that took me by surprise the most. Netflix suddenly not having a garbage selection of movies and shows, for example, floored me. I was so used to just going without them that I didn’t watch anything out of habit for another month or so. Not being able to walk everywhere was also a bit of a shock to me via my mom. We went to Penn Square mall and I suggested that we walk to Target, which was about 3 miles down the road, “to get something real quick.” She looked at me like I had grown a second head and then said, “and how would we do that? With what sidewalk? With what stamina?” I had become so used to literally everywhere being a pedestrian zone that not having one didn’t even register as a possibility for a second. It was a strange feeling.

Event – Ebola: A People’s Science

This year, I am part of an Honors Colloquium that was picked to be a Presidential Dream Course. This means that the instructor was given $20,000 to bring whomever they wanted to speak to their students and to the school in a public lecture in what they would consider the course of their dreams. The course that was picked this year was Dr. Prichard’s Africa and The Urge to Help course, which focuses on different humanitarian aid organizations and efforts throughout history who have gone to Africa in the name of “helping.” One of the topics that was discussed near the end of the course was the international aid response to the Ebola Crisis in Upper West Africa that affected mostly Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. This effort is widely considered to have begun disastrously, with misinformation (and the disease) being spread at a much more rapid pace after their entry. We read Dr. Paul Richards’s novel about this phenomenon and then were able to meet them in person as he and his wife and fellow researcher Esther Mokuwa came to our class. After this visit, Dr. Richards then gave a public lecture on the history of Sierra Leone leading up to this Ebola crisis before explaining how this history explains why things happened the way they happened.

He begins by explaining how Sierra Leone was founded. This West African nation was a response to British-born Africans wanting to make home in a warmer climate. The main settlement was named Freetown and considered a part of the British Commonwealth, claiming parts of the rural territory surrounding this capital port city and, consequently, absorbing the people living in this rural places as well. Richards argues that the conflicted relationship between Freetown, the town of colonists, and the rest of Sierra Leone outlines the responses and the difficulties encountered during the Ebola Crisis. This conflict was divided along the lines of crown colony and local African chieftains. The capital city was not self-sustaining, which led to these conflicts becoming all-out wars that eventually led to the absorption of most of current-day Sierra Leone. Ebola, which is usually confined to outbreaks in Central Africa, is thought to have potentially migrated northwest through a slave trade or slave raid that transported someone carrying the disease from the center to the west, as 30% of Sierra Leone’s rural population consisted of slaves in slave-raiding communities. These rural communities contracted Ebola first, but actually managed to diagnose and quarantine the disease. However, it inevitably spread to Freetown, where chaos ensued and the disease spread rapidly. The government decided to enact a military and international response to the disease in lieu of a local one, despite the fact that the disease had been handled efficiently in a local setting. This caused even more spreading, due to the fact that many medical responders were unequipped to handle Ebola and treatment centers were often located miles away from rural areas, meaning that people didn’t want to go get it diagnosed until the disease had gotten bad enough (and, more often enough, more contagious) to justify making the journey. Richards argues that this is a result of an old standoff where the government ignores local governance during their efforts. This system favors town over country in much the same way the humanitarian response favors town over country.

International Bazaar

As I do annually, I attended the International Advisory Committee’s International Bazaar, an event where international student organizations showcase and sell items and food from their home countries. This was the second year that I’ve had nothing to do with the event, and I was a little disappointed by this year’s bazaar in comparison to last year’s bazaar. That isn’t to say that the bazaar this year was not fantastic, because it was most definitely amazing. However, there were a few things missing or changed that I, personally, was not a fan of. For example, and this definitely happens every few years, there weren’t nearly as many international student organizations represented this year as there were in the past. I counted less than 10, which is by far the lowest number I’ve seen in my college career. However, there were some very welcome additions to these organizations! A new version of the Pakistani Student Association was formed at the beginning of this year and had their debut at this bazaar! While they have definitely been a part of previous bazaars, their presence and energy at this one was very remarkable, as seen by this video of one of their officers here:

 

Furthermore, while I liked the implementation of singers and dancers in last year’s bazaar, I found that this year’s had far fewer performances. However, the performances that were done, such as Angolan Student Associations dance, were excellently executed and extremely amusing to watch. One thing I found myself (but not my wallet) enjoying was the abundance of food this year! I think more organizations than not were selling food, and even a few of the sponsorship tables had treats out. I had homemade empanadas, rice pudding, fried spinach, baklava, and a fried cheese curd while I was at the bazaar, and every single one of them was a delicious treat. Overall, this bazaar was a complete success. I just felt like it might not have had the same extravagance as the one that came before it. This could, in part, be due to another change from years prior that saw the International Prom held before the International Bazaar. While I couldn’t attend the prom this year, I have heard that it was a blast that even surpassed last year’s prom, which is widely accepted to have been the most successful rendition of IAC’s winter event, which has had many names. Perhaps it was merely the timing of the event that made it a bit tricky to find organizations willing to participate, as November is a particularly busy time for many students, and it becomes very difficult for organizations to find enough people.

NISO Event

My first international event of this academic year is the exact same one that I did around this time last year: the New International Student Orientation. This event, organized by the College of International Studies, is actually a mandatory event that the college has made more interactive and stimulating for students. International students who come to the United States for study are generally required by law to attend orientations about different aspects of American life and culture, usually before the start of the semester. These orientations are normally stretched out over a week-long period of 2 to 3-hour long sessions each. However, the College of International Studies has decided to combine all these orientations into one mega-orientation, with a couple breaks between talks. I personally think that approach, while absolutely cumbersome in length, is a much better approach to these orientations simply because it doesn’t require international students to commit more than one day to them; since they do tend to be dull topics, I bet some students would choose to not attend the rest of them if they were spread out over multiple days. I also think the addition of peer mentors is a nice gesture and a strategic one. Not only do we greet students with open hospitality and get them used to campus life, we also ensure that no one leaves the orientation and are tasked with making sure everyone understands that leaving will result in them having to redo the entire 8-hour thing. It’s pretty smart.

The orientation this year seemed more upbeat than the previous year, despite the fact that the majority of students seemed to be nearly falling asleep. There were a few organizational issues that I remember from last year that persisted onto this year, for sure. For one, the media was done much more seamlessly. I remember getting a few loud bursts of sound during otherwise quiet presentations last year, and those were certainly jarring. Additionally, there were way more snacks this year! Last year ended up being a bit of a snack disaster, since we ended up running out by about hour 4, which meant there were many hungry students. Finally, the overall setup of the orientation was much more organized and much less boring to watch, honestly. They juxtaposed the least interesting topics between singing and really fun topics, for example.

NISO Peer Mentoring

The NISO peer mentor program is one led by the College of International Studies that seeks to make incoming international students get acquainted with student life at OU and, more importantly, feel as welcome as possible on OU’s campus. This was my second year participating in the program, and I definitely feel that my mentoring style between then and now. Before, I was very worried about making sure my mentees were retaining the information well and also worried that they didn’t like me because they either didn’t talk or said very little. This year, however, I felt like the system was set up in a way that made it easier for students to follow what was being said. They were still very quiet, but now I chalk that up more to general shyness and jet lag, especially now that I’ve been in their position before. I’ve come to realize that, regardless of how the program is run or improved, the attendees will always be a bit overwhelmed due to the experience of being in a new country, sometimes a new native tongue, and the sheer amount of content that the orientation must cover. Therefore, I focused less on making sure they were retaining information and more on making sure they weren’t becoming too overwhelmed. I took notice whenever someone seemed a little out of sorts and brought them food or a water bottle, since the orientation was early morning and quite a few students actually arrived the night before.

I still haven’t quite perfected my followup technique for my students. Somehow, I once again got a group of students who happened to become very busy and involved in academic and in student life, meaning that taking them to events or meeting them all up for food or coffee was pretty much impossible. However, I already had experience with a group like this, so I knew that they best thing I could present myself as to these students was a resource rather than a traditional group leader. So, I’ll check in every few weeks with them, and ask if there’s anything in particular that’s been confusing them. Usually this then leads to me sending them the email addresses of certain people they need to contact to resolve small problems or giving them directions to the nearest Hobby Lobby.

Study Abroad in France: Cussing Out Pervy Old Men

Bordeaux is, unfortunately, not immune from people who find absolutely nothing wrong with harassment. Men, women, small children, dogs (not a joke), everyone seems to be a target in France. The perpetrators don’t have a singular look, as is true wherever you go in the world. It could be a drunken man on the street who decides to pick a fight with a college kid, or an angry older woman feeling the need to proselytize and inform you that you’re going to hell for wearing extensions. It could be a group of kids running around and kicking people’s dogs. And with such a wide array of perpetrators, it is almost inevitable that, in a given week, you’ll find yourself being harassed at least twice. I’m going to list the different encounters that I and my friends have had. While they will seem to be ranked from most to least severe, know that in the event of escalation any one of these could be dangerous.  With that in mind, I would also like to add a warning right here that there will, unfortunately, be mentions of sexual assault.

  1.  Bordeaux has a large homeless population. As such, you will definitely see a few homeless people around town when you go pretty much anywhere. They may or may not ask you for money. I’ve known many people who have done so with no problems, and I know one who, in the process of doing so, was mugged. Most people in Bordeaux, sadly, tend to just ignore their presence altogether.
  2. People may attempt to sell you drugs or, in some cases, attempt to buy drugs from you. I, as well as many others my age, encountered many people attempting to sell us various drugs, usually outside of bars and nightclubs at night. I’ve never known anyone to actually buy them. Most likely, whatever they’re trying to sell you is illegal in France. It could also potentially be deadly or dangerous. Do not, under any circumstances, buy anything from these people. Also, as I mentioned, some younger folks tend to assume that people of Arab or African descent have drugs on them. I, as well as the majority of my friends who are black or Arab, have definitely had people come up to me and ask me if I sell weed.
  3. As I mentioned earlier, you may encounter a drunk person while walking around or on the tram, especially on the weekends. These people, if vexed, may begin to scream or yell profanities at pretty much everyone. If this happens on the tram, it is ignored by most. However, in some cases, they might become violent and may target certain people depending on who this person is. Racism, sexism, and homophobia still exist in Bordeaux, as they do around the world, and I witnessed the aftermath of a hate crime when two of our French friends came to my friend’s home with bloodied noses and black eyes, saying that they got jumped by two drunk men after leaving one of the gay bars downtown. What shocked me the most about this situation, though, was that they weren’t surprised, as this wasn’t the first time this has happened. 
  4. All of my points after this one will be about sexual harassment. I want to put this here in its own note just in case anyone reading this may not be comfortable or able to read about this.
  5. I have yet to meet a woman in Bordeaux that has not been sexually harassed at least once in this city, and I truly do not believe that I personally have ever encountered the frequency or the level of sexual harassment that I experienced in Bordeaux. I wish I was joking when I say that it was a daily occurrence. And, these incidents range from gross words made in passing to uncomfortable staring to actual stalking.
  6. Getting on the tram and staying on until you reach the city center will almost inevitably result in you getting stared down by a creepy old man. This seems to be a widespread occurrence among the young women I spoke to about this.
  7. Men in the city center may say something lewd in passing, give you a prolonged stare, or follow you to try to get your attention. This also seems to be a widespread occurrence, especially in the city center and, more worryingly, especially at night.
  8. Be very wary of men at nightclubs. They may actually attempt to put their hands on you. In the event that you start feeling uncomfortable or that you’re being watched by someone, go to the bartenders or the bouncers at the bar/nightclub and tell them immediately. That person will then be watched by the staff and most likely escorted out if they attempt anything else or make anyone else feel uncomfortable.
  9. Going to nightclubs in a group is necessary. Do not go alone.
  10. There were two times during my time in Bordeaux that I got stalked by men. I’m not going to sugarcoat this or make it sound like it wasn’t a big deal. Both times I was followed off the tram and followed down streets. Both times I noticed what was happening and quickly went into a nearby store and told the employees what was happening. This is something that you need to be aware of. I’m not the only one that this happened to.

Study Abroad in France: I Guess Meat Is Poison Now?

These posts are not going to be me just bashing everything about France. I promise. However, I would be remiss in not talking about the negative aspects of my time in France. It’s great to talk about how great the experience was, or how insightful the study abroad experience was, or how I’ve become much more independent (and those things did happen! And I appreciate them a lot!), but I feel like oftentimes when speaking of study abroad experiences people tend to add in negatives almost as a side-note. Therefore, I feel the need to talk about negatives so that anyone studying abroad, in Bordeaux or otherwise, knows that things might not go well, and that that’s okay, too. You can still turn these negative experiences into a teaching tool of some sort. Going through that bureaucratic nightmare for four months, for example, taught me how to navigate it, and now I find myself helping others navigate through these difficult channels that are sometimes filled with equally difficult people. And my experience with food in Bordeaux, which was vastly different from what I expected it to be and definitely different from what I remember it being when I came to France during the summer, taught me some pretty valuable lessons about cuisine in general and about French culture regarding food. So, now that I’ve gotten that blurb out of the way, here’s how things went down:

January

 Like most do whenever they travel to a different country, I hemorrhaged money on restaurants and street food. I don’t think I cooked in January once, despite having a communal kitchen not even 4 yards away from my doorstep. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in France, Bordeaux had more restaurants on any given street than there were stores. You could have a Belgian waffle for breakfast and then follow up with a baguette sandwich from Paul for lunch, and then dinner could be Italian food or Indian food or even Korean food. Rinse, wash, and repeat, adding Burger King whenever you felt a little bit homesick. However, like I said, a lifestyle like that leads to an empty wallet, and I was no Bill Gates. I also started to realize that the tap water was absolutely disgusting. I was told to just buy bottle water, because no one drinks from the tap here. Near the end of this month, I also started to take note of the eating habits of people around me, but not in any serious way. I also get food poisoning from a kebab restaurant in January, which was swell.

February

 I was introduced to French Walmart by, strangely, a childhood friend of a friend I met here in the United States who just happened to be from Bordeaux. We met before we realized this coincidence. The world is small. Anyways, this place had the exact same structure as a Walmart, with clothes, furniture, and cleaning supplies in one section, electronics and books in another, and food in yet another. Instead of being spread out in a wide store, however, these sections were divided into floors. I quickly bought as many junk foods as humanly possible, as well as some fruits and vegetables, some pasta, and also some chicken. I also bought an obscene amount of dairy. I started replacing some of my restaurant outings with meals at this point. No one around me seemed to want to go anywhere for breakfast, so those became almost exclusively a home-meal. I also bought a water filter, because I felt bad constantly throwing out water bottles. My first lunch that I cooked was pasta with meat sauce and chicken. The chicken tasted terrible. In fact, I realized that I hadn’t been a big fan of any of the meat I had eaten in the past two months, and had, at best, tolerated it. At worst, and this happened often, the restaurant meat upset my stomach quite a bit. At the absolute worst, after frequenting yet another kebab restaurant, my friend threw up and I began to have strange stomach pains. Three weeks after this incident, my friend dragged me to the doctor, stating that I looked pale as a ghost. My stomach pains had gotten worse, but I chalked it up to being lactose intolerant and eating too much dairy. Boy, was I wrong. E. Coli. I got E. Coli and I had it for about three weeks.

March

 E. Coli. From a kebab. Pair that with the fact that I already wasn’t a fan of the meat in France and you’ve got the whole reason I became a vegetarian. I started cooking my breakfast and my dinner at home and picking up a small sandwich for lunch, usually. This was in part due to the fact that I knew that if I cooked it, it would be thoroughly cooked, and also due to the fact that I started to get into the same rhythm as my French friends when it came to hanging out and going out. Most would eat a small breakfast, go somewhere for a large lunch or make a large lunch, and then almost exclusively have dinner at home, meeting up later to go out. This schedule was almost never broken, so I found myself simply doing the same. I also started to get more creative with what I made at home, buying a crock-pot and starting to experiment with different soups and broths.

April

 During my last month in Bordeaux, I found myself actually enjoying this newfound routine. It was easy to just get up and have some fruit for breakfast, eat a large sandwich for lunch, and then a small bowl of pasta or maybe more fruit for dinner. I also started to realize that I had a lot more money saved for this month than I did around the same time last month, and definitely the months prior. I realized this was because I spent no more than $25 on groceries every two weeks. Pasta, sauce, fruit, veggies, and dairy are quite a cheap shopping list, actually. I hadn’t gone anywhere near the meat since the E. Coli incident, save for an Italian restaurant where my friends assured me that the meat was imported from Italy and not a French product.

Studying Abroad in France: The Bureaucratic System

One of the many interesting aspects of French culture that I still, to this day, cannot wrap my head around is the strange bureaucratic system that, at times, really seemed to be attacking me personally. Even before I made it to Bordeaux, there were little nuances that seemed a bit…off. For example, I had to mail my application to France, after I had already submitted it online. This required me to go the CVS not once, but twice for two sets of four separate photos of myself that I then literally had to glue onto a small square designated on each document that I needed to mail. I found this particularly strange because I then had to take the exact same documents online and attach a picture of myself to those as well. I didn’t really understand why I would need to do this twice. But I digress.

Once I actually entered the country is when the real bureaucratic nightmare began, though. I went to the main office of the university, as my arrival email informed me to do. When I got there, I filled out a lot of paperwork that I still haven’t ever seen since then, and then got two sheets: one with eight stamps on it that was my official enrollment form and one that I was to take directly to the housing office. I also had to pay a $260 mandatory insurance fee that was non-waivable, even with my international insurance card literally in my hand. I never received my insurance card, by the way, for reasons I will explain later. I then went directly to the campus housing office only to be told, aggressively might I add, that in addition to these two forms, I also needed my birth certificate to obtain my room key. This was never brought up once in any of the housing forms I received. Not once. When I asked them if I could just use a copy, I was sternly told no. However, another student from OU who filled out the exact same forms as me was able to secure his room key despite also not having a physical copy of his birth certificate. It then took me three days extra to convince them to give me my key, and I spent those three days, luckily, sleeping inside the other student’s apartment.

Now, I was certain that that was the pinnacle of the bureaucratic nonsense that I would encounter in France. “Nothing could top that nightmare,” I thought. I was so naiive. So incredibly and awfully naiive. Let me tell you about the mail. So, the French seem to love sending things through the post, which is incredibly different from how I’m used to things being sent in the United States. Sure, things like credit cards and important legal documents tend to come in the mail, but this was the first time that I found myself literally signing a document, watching someone make another physical copy of that document, and then inform me that I would get the exact same document in the mail in about two weeks. Now, this doesn’t sound like much of an inconvenience, and honestly at this point I was just happy to have an actual apartment with a mailbox at all, but it turns out that things that get returned to sender tend to get lost. How, pray tell, did I find that out? Well, it turns out that I have to physically take a piece of paper with my name on it and stick said paper onto my mailbox, otherwise everything I get mailed gets returned to the sender. Like, for example, an insurance card. Now, I wasn’t told about this particular issue for about three months. Which means, for three months, I did not have mail. At all. Thinking about what important documents I potentially missed during this period causes me literal physical pain, so I don’t. But it’s safe to say that I probably lost one or two.

The bank was another mess. In addition to the aforementioned document madness (I got a binder of about 100 pages of things that I needed to keep), banks in France also don’t have a mobile banking app, which meant that checking my balance while I was on the go meant either going to the bank or going to the extremely mobile-unfriendly website. A small complaint, sure, but it’s the little things that make it so awful. Need to walk into the bank to deposit money? Nope, you accidentally came by during lunch time, which was marketing as being from 12pm to 2pm but was most definitely from 11:30pm to about 3:15pm. Want an actual username for your online banking account? Sorry, you have to use the 16-character alphanumerical code that we only hand you ONCE in physical copy form. Lost that? Well, guess you’ll have to wait for us to mail you a new one. In 8 to 12 business days.

I don’t know if the process of getting a French phone was actually easier than the other tasks or if I was just dull to it all by that point, but it didn’t seem terrible. There were still 50 pages of documents I had to sign and then take home with me, but the rest was pretty straightforward. I was slightly miffed that I had to pay full-price for a phone, but now I have an unlocked phone that I can easily switch SIM cards out of depending on where I am, so that’s nice. Honestly, the worst offender in this situation was the United States for regionally locking phones and allowing companies to literally not allow any SIM that’s not their SIM to work at all. The entire phone becomes blocked, too, not just the mobile capabilities.

There are probably loads more examples of this messy bureaucratic system. The fact that you can’t actually rent without having a co-signer with a French bank account, for example, or the fact that you should always carry no less than 2 pictures of yourself in case you need them for official documents. But the gist of this post is that if you come to France, bring some pens because you’ll be doing a LOT of paperwork.

Studying Abroad in Bordeaux, France: First Impressions

Between January and June, I will be studying abroad in Bordeaux, France. My classes will be conducted completely in French, and all of course assignments must be written in French, as well. Additionally, unlike Paris, the chances of meeting a fluent English-speaker in Bordeaux is much lower. Although curiosity almost got the better of me, I decided not to research or look at any pictures of Bordeaux before arriving. This was due in part to my experiences during my first study abroad last summer in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. I found myself disappointed in the cities that I had heard about and researched thoroughly before arriving, such as Paris and Munich, while loving the new sights and experiences in places I had never even thought to research, like Brussels. I believed that my 5-month experience in Bordeaux might be more enjoyable if everything I saw and all the information I learned about the place was seen and learned for the first time. So far, I have not regretted this decision.

What I have learned about myself since I began my study abroad experiences, however, is that I probably have some sort of travel curse. On my flight to Germany last summer, I nearly missed my flight in New York because I didn’t know I had to find transportation from LaGuardia airport to JFK until about 2 hours before my flight to New York took off. Then, when I finally found the shuttle to JFK, I realized that my ticket didn’t even have the terminal number for my airline, because it was one of the handful of airlines that doesn’t have a set terminal. So, I just randomly picked a terminal and got incredibly lucky with that choice, since that’s where my airline was. Then, on the return trip, there was a freak storm in Chicago that made me have to sleep overnight in the airport and then wait an additional 5 hours for a flight back home. So, needless to say, I wasn’t too optimistic about the flight to Bordeaux. And I shouldn’t have been. Neither Oklahoma City nor Norman had experienced any sort of precipitation, let alone snow, since the winter began. This past Christmas was a dry one. So, imagine my surprise when I look out the window at around 4am and see a literal BED of snow covering the roads, the house, and my car. Apparently, winter decided to really start the one day I needed there to be clear skies. The drive to the airport was long and dangerous, since no one had prepared for the freak storm and the lines on both the roads and the highways were completely covered in snow. That meant that pretty much everyone on the highway was guessing where these lines were, and we definitely almost got hit once or twice on the way to Will Rogers. By some miracle we made it there on time…only for me to find out that a.) This was the first flight of the day which meant that b.) The plane we were using needed to be de-iced, but c.) It couldn’t be de-iced until the pilots and crew were present and  d.) The pilots and crew were trapped in their hotel because of the snow. Needless to say, that 2-hour layover in Chicago wasn’t going to be enough and I would have to reschedule my flight. So, after an 8-hour layover in Chicago, I finally made it onto a plane headed towards Madrid, where I had yet another 8-hour layover.

I landed in Madrid and decided to take a look around instead of waiting around for 8 hours in an airport yet again. So, I took the train to the center of the city and did some light exploring. I was way too tired to really retain any of the sights I saw, but I did enjoy the colorful scenery that stook in stark contrast to what I had seen in Munich and parts of Paris. I remember hoping that Bordeaux was a little like that as well. I strolled through a botanical garden while I waited for the museum to open, then abandoned the museum altogether in favor of just ambling around the gardens and then ambling around the city itself. I really wanted to try tapas, since there was a tapas restaurant on every corner, but my stomach was feeling funny from the sleep deprivation and I didn’t want to risk it. I looked around a bit more and then took the train back to the airport and waited to board to Bordeaux.The flight from Madrid to Paris was a strange experience. I heard some people speaking French, others speaking Spanish, some speaking Spanish with a French accent, others still speaking French with what seemed to be a Spanish accent, and then some in-between thing that I couldn’t quite make out, but learned was later another language called Occitan.

I had come a few days earlier than my lodging would let me move in, so I had ordered an Airbnb in advance to give me some time to adjust to my surroundings. This was a very very good idea. I took an uber to the Airbnb, realizing quickly that I was WAY too tired to comprehend let alone speak any French. Luckily, the driver understood the broken French I could speak and we made it to the destination quickly. I didn’t know that we were in the outskirts of Bordeaux, so I figured that it was a very suburban area with very little to do. It reminded me a lot of Edmond, actually. Since it was late at night by this point, I decided to walk around this small town for a few hours and then go to bed.

When I woke up, my Airbnb host had left a pair of tram tickets with a note suggesting that I take the tram to Bordeaux Centre. So, thinking that it would just be a larger version of what I had already seen, I got on the tram and just watched the scenery pass by. I realized quickly that my initial impression of Bordeaux may not have been the most accurate:

 

 

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