Thursday, August 25, 2011

All The Crap I've Had To Do To Prepare (A Working List)

Well Bonjour There!  Here it is, only a month (almost to the day) that I'll be flying to France, and as I look back on all of the things I have had to do to prepare for this trip (sans the actual "learning French" part), I am reminded of what a whirlwind it has been through my supposed summer "vacation".  Here is a working list of what I have done, inception to present, to prepare for France.

However, the mention of the word "Inception" makes me temporarily space out and think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred in the movie:
(To at least attempt to keep this blog post en français, I juxtaposed JGL with his co-star, Marion Cotillard, who is, of course, French.)

D'accord!  Getting back to the matter at hand, I have burrowed into my notes and planner for this past year, and here is my (working) list of all the crap I've had to do to get ready to go to France...

1.  2008 to 2011--"Wow.  Since I'm officially back in school, this may be the last chance I get to study abroad...I really need to think about where I want to go!"

At this time, I would have loved to learn French (actual French, not how to make quiche and French bread and watch The Lion King in French like all I remember from high school), but so many people said that I should learn Spanish or Chinese instead.  They don't offer Chinese at UNC-Asheville yet, so let me take Spanish during the summer and see if I like it.  I've already gotten credit for the class, since I took one Spanish class during my cross-cultural trip to Peru back in 2002 (during my technical school training for Archaeology), but I talked to Elena Adell, one of the Spanish professors, to see if I can just sit in on a class.  She agreed, I took it, but was still drawn to both the French language and the French culture, ripe with fashion, cinema, and food that drew me in.
After speaking with my college advisor, I decided to pursue The French Way.  This included three hard-core semesters of French classes, two each semester, until dear Madame Malicote pulled me aside and advised me that I was getting burned out, and asked if I had thought about taking a semester off.  This brings us up to Spring of 2011, when I didn't take ANY French classes, but kept reading French magazines at Barnes and Noble and watching Jean-Pierre Jeunet movies.  At this point, Madame Malicote said, I had hit the "plateau" with learning another language--I was right on the edge of it, but unless I jumped in feet first into the Study Abroad Pond, I would never really be able to become fluent. 

2. Spring 2011--More than just kicking an idea around

By this point, I had already researched some of my options to Study Abroad.  Of course I wanted to see Paris, but I was dissuaded from studying there--too many people know English so well, that as soon as I try to speak in broken French, they would simply encourage me to speak English, making it easier on both my ears as well as theirs.  But I didn't want that.  I desperately wanted to become fluent in French, and so I decided on a sister program, through UNC-Asheville, with L'Université Catholique de l'Ouest in Angers (pronounced "Ahn-jay"), France.  Here comes the paperwork!

3. Spring 2011-Summer 2011--The List Goes On and On
As of right now, the steps I have taken have been as follows:
During Spring 2011, along with taking a full-time load of credit hours:
-Meet with Study Abroad office and express my interest in studying in Angers
-Gather paperwork for Study Abroad application, roughly 20 pages, including a personal statement, cost of attendance declaration to help Financial Aid adjust my expenditures as necessary for my Cost of Attendance Record, three recommendation letters, and a campus-based scholarship application.
-Meet with all three professors for my study abroad recommendation letters, ask them to write recommendation letters for me, give extra paperwork to Madame Malicote to fill out for class transfer requirements between the two schools, and begin to draft both my personal statement as well as my UNCA scholarship application.
-Various meetings between my three advisors (French, International Studies, and minor in Psychology) to clarify any questions regarding their parts of the paperwork, stress out about making sure I fill out all paperwork, and ask for help from the campus Writing Lab regarding my essay and application.
-During another meeting with the Study Abroad office, discover a government-based scholarship, the Gilman International Scholars Program, through one of the workers.  The deadline is in a week.  Back to the Writing Lab. 
-Visited the Writing Lab to polish my Study Abroad personal statement and campus-based scholarship application, turn in all paperwork, receive soothing reassurances from requested professors regarding having their recommendation letters about me turned in, and double-check with Study Abroad workers as well as my French and International Studies advisor.  Anxiously wait for response on my Study Abroad application for the program, as well as the campus-based scholarship.
-Visit the Writing Lab again, polished my Gilman Scholars Application, triple-checked all paperwork, and emailed/snail mailed paperwork in.  Anxiously wait for response on my Gilman application as well.
-Find out I got into the Study Abroad program and won both scholarships.  Gratitude holds no bounds to how I feel about getting such an opportunity!  However, I kept in mind that I was still paying for the entire experience myself, and spoke with Financial Aid, Study Abroad, and my advisors to no end (and still to no end) from the beginning to now.  They have all been very patient with me, and I greatly appreciate their enduring guidance and advice.
-Immediately following these events, I have had to renew my passport (and getting a new photo), sign up for Campus France through the French Consulate (with help from Cara in the Study Abroad office), attend a webinar regarding my Gilman Scholarship, and pay for my application to the Angers University.  So far, that adds up to around 500 bucks.
-Signing up for a whole semester's worth of classes for the Summer, pleading with Financial Aid for assistance even though I was the one who didn't tell them I wanted to go to summer classes, speaking with my dear friend, mentor, and financial idol Thomas Witherspoon about my budget and trip cost worries, who encouraged me to cancel my summer classes and work as much as possible at the restaurant during the summer in order to save up money.  Sheepishly tell my wonderful Financial Aid advisor about my change in summer plans, withdrew from classes, and begin to study for the GRE before buckling down on work.
-Took GRE before it changed in August, and made a massive shift from two days a week, a schedule I have been used to for about a year now, to six/seven days a week.  Now I start smelling like steak ALL THE TIME!  I'm starting to feel like Lady Gaga in her meat dress:

"Beef, it's what's for dinner!"

-Alongside this, I am anxiously checking my Campus France email relentlessly for two weeks to receive confirmation that I have been added into the system, I begin the paperwork for the Visa.  This includes filling out two applications (one extra), two Visa stamp sheets (one extra), getting another photo for the Visa (no glasses and no smile--it was horrible!), and DRIVING BY MYSELF to the French Consulate Office in Atlanta (see freak out about this in last post).  Another 200-300 bucks later, and the Visa folks keep a hold of my passport until further notice that my application for my Visa has been approved.
-Did I mention the plane ticket to get to France?  Oh yeah, another $1300, and without a clue as to when I need to actually be in Angers.  During this time I met with a recent alum who went to Angers, who told me to go ahead and buy the plane ticket first, and worry about the details later.  So, I researched online for about a month, bought the ticket, and also booked a hotel room for four extra days before the date I was given to start school.  This way, I can either a) cancel the reservation once I get in touch with my host family abroad, or b) stay in the hotel for a few extra days to get my bearings in Angers.  As some of you may have guessed, I am pretty directionally challenged (hence the totalling of my poor Honda Civic last year), and want to be as prepared as possible before getting lost on my way to school.
-Speaking of no money, I also applied for two credit cards, one with Capital One (no international fees), and a debit/credit card with my credit union, who charges a flat rate for ATM withdraws, domestic or abroad, in order to cut down on sneaky fee charges while I'm in France.
-Shuffling dates around as far as quitting the restaurant (who told me I could be hired back once I return from France since I've been there for three years, which I was also nervous about), meeting prospective new roommates and ultimately gaining one, scheduling time with the beau-friend, and deciding on when to go home in Ohio before flying out from Akron/Canton Airport on September 25th.  Also deciding on when would be a good time for beau-friend to meet my parents, and having him schedule his flight up north accordingly.
-Writing, anxiously waiting for, and receiving a response from my host family regarding when to pick me up from the train station when I arrive, as well as details about renting my room (which has its own shower and WIFI access!  Woo hoo!)


And it's not over yet--I still need to cancel my hotel, let STEP (Student Travel Exchange Program), the French Consulate, and the Gilman folks know about my change in plans, buy my train tickets, and get all of my finances straightened out to pay for all of my bills from the U.S. (rent, car insurance, etc.) while I'm gone.  I also need to forward my mail to my parents' house while I'm gone, and *gulp* give Pops the car for a WHOLE SEMESTER!  He's a mechanic by trade, but when I envision him with my little Vera (my 2010 white Nissan Versa), all I can imagine is this:

As a side note, I have been watching French-ish movies, studying my old French grammar books, and reading about France in the meantime.  Lonely Planet's guide to France has been especially helpful, as well as Rick Steve's podcasts about France and another podcast entitled "One Thing In A French Day". 

Oh, and I've also managed to fit in a vacation with the Beau-friend, with whom I have been for a year and a half now.  We recently went on a week-long vacation to Oregon, staying at a beach that he first visited 17 years ago when he was a teenager, and where he has always wanted to return.  This was a true vacation for me, as he did all of the planning and booking of hotel rooms and flights.  I am a very lucky girlfriend!  For a mental break for both you and me, here are a couple of highlight pictures:
So Oregon-ers are Zombies?  I never knew!

But I wanna pet the sea lions!
Me and the Beau-Friend, hanging out by the lighthouse at Heceta Head.

Also, as a side note, I have been watching French-ish movies, studying my old French grammar books, and reading about France in the meantime.  Lonely Planet's guide to France has been especially helpful, as well as Rick Steve's podcasts about France and another podcast entitled "One Thing In French A Day".  The last episode I listened to from Laetitia, who publishes the latter broadcast, talked about "La machine à crêpes", and made me miss having banana-and-Nutella crêpes while I was in Greece last year.  I'm looking forward to seeing what are popular crêpes in France!  To bestow the miracle of crêpes onto you, here is a YouTube video of how the street vendors in Paris make them:
IHOP's crêpes are NOT equivalent to this!

Now that you're as hungry as me for Nutella-crêpe-goodness, until next time, mes amis, Souhaite-moi bonne chance!  (I wanted to keep "Wish me luck!" in the polite form!)

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