It’s a lovely Friday afternoon here in Aix-en-Provence, and I cannot believe that this place is real. I have officially been here for two and a half weeks; every minute has been incredible. French people are usually stereotyped as being rude to Americans, but everyone I have interacted with has been so friendly. My French is very limited, so every time I get to speak with someone is another learning experience! They have been so great and patient with us as we try to learn. There’s no one better to learn French from! It’s incredible to watch them speak; they talk with such passion and emotion behind every word. Their facial expressions tell entire stories. I may not be able to understand the words they speak, but I can (usually) comprehend what they are expressing.
The culture here is so special. Aix is a small, bustling city, but it feels like a close knit community. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is so kind to one another. My favorite thing to do so far has been to sit at a cafe and people watch. Human interactions are precious to observe, and I love seeing how people live here. It is such a relaxed way of living. It’s quick paced like a city, but without the overwhelming pressure of New York or Paris.
Classes here are much smaller than at Pitt, and they are mainly conversation based. Some smaller classes I’ve taken at Pitt are similar to the ones here, but these are very different from big lectures. My class has 16 people in it. Essentially, it’s all one big conversation for the entirety of class. It’s a great way to get to know people since there’s so few of us. I’ve also been able to build great connections with my professors. The professors here are really focused on making sure us students are acclimating okay to this new environment. They are here with us every step of the way and only want to see us succeed. It’s been a pleasure so far getting to know them.
“Campus” here is quite different from Pitt. My host institution is the Institute for American Universities, and there really is no campus. There are three academic buildings spread out over the city, but all of my classes take place in just one of the buildings. With Pitt, campus and the city are intertwined and exist as one. Here, it’s a city that happens to have a few school buildings, but I have absolutely no complaints about that. The few academic buildings are filled with so much character and fit right into this picture perfect place.
I previously mentioned people watching, and as I write this, I am sitting on my balcony filling my mind gaps with people watching. My neighborhood is so wholesome. There are families walking home from dinner, grandparents coming back from getting ice cream with their grandkids, neighbors sitting on their balconies doing the same thing as I am, people so in love that they can’t help but show it. It feels like a movie set. I love being here and being able to share it with my friends and family.
Here, I live in an apartment with two other roommates. I share a room with my roommate from Pitt actually! We planned this study abroad trip together. Getting to travel the world with my best friend is something I am so grateful for. It’s so nice having someone here from home to keep me from getting too homesick.
This trip has been incredible so far, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. Last weekend, I took a trip to London. While I was there, I realized how refreshing it was to look around and be able to understand everything. Knowing the bare minimum of the French language had had more of an impact on me than I thought. I didn’t realize how tiring it was to get through conversations racking my brain of all my French knowledge. However, this is only even more motivation for me to increase my skills and learn more. I have been managing pretty well, but my trip to London made me realize I don’t just want to get by. I want to be fluent. With every problem, you can either just accept it, or you can do something about it. I am going to do something about it, and I am going to learn my way through this problem.
Living in Aix so far has made me appreciate how lucky I really am and how grateful I am for this opportunity. It’s crazy to me that I’m almost halfway through! Time really does fly here, but I’m doing my best to absorb every moment.