Sorry for the late write everyone. The day I figure out how to use technology correctly will be most miraculous. Also because of this I”m not sure of the quality of my photos.

Looking back over my short time in Montpellier, I have to admit it wasn’t the architecture or the language or the city or the culture that made that month the most memorable of my life. Don’t get me wrong! I am the biggest history geek and the other students will attest to my rapture during the walking tours and giddiness over seemingly ridiculous historical facts from tour guides. These were all absolutely AMAZING. Still, however much I enjoyed all that it’s not those moments that will stick with me.

What I will remember are the moments. Moments shared. I’ll never forget Nikita’s or Ana’s face while they tried escargot,  being terrified on top of any cool building while everyone made jokes and Ana held my belt to make me less nervous , the little Scheus “adventuring…”

I’ll remember all the facts, the language and the culture because of the little moments. And the laughter? I’ll remember that more than anything else. Traveling is less about where you go and much more about who you go with. 

So, in conclusion, I guess this is a love letter to Montpellier and most especially the amazing people I shared it will. 

Je vous adore tous. 

- Erin Stringer

Professor Scheu certainly knows how to show off! Always reminding us of why she is the professor and we are the students (haha)! 

Really, she was always willing to try anything, help us with everything, and live this adventure right along with us. We couldn’t have asked for a better professor to share this experience with. Thanks Madame Scheu! 
~Ashleen 

Professor Scheu certainly knows how to show off! Always reminding us of why she is the professor and we are the students (haha)! 

Really, she was always willing to try anything, help us with everything, and live this adventure right along with us. We couldn’t have asked for a better professor to share this experience with. Thanks Madame Scheu! 

~Ashleen 

101 Inspirations

Wandering the streets of Montpellier one cannot help but notice the details of the buildings, the smells of the food, the fashions of the people who walk the streets, and the dogs running back and forth in amongst it all. It seems as if everywhere there are dogs running about. The image that such a statement would conjure in my head before arriving in France would be one of dirty, scrawny, stray dogs ravaging the streets for food, however the dogs exploring the streets of Montpellier were anything but. Many of them were well groomed, all were well fed, and almost every single one had a collar on. This left me wondering if this meant that the dogs did indeed currently belong to someone, or perhaps once did, but nonetheless they seemed to be cared for. The canines travel in packs, seem not to care much for humans, and really have full run of the city. From owners being allowed to take their dogs into restaurants, shopping malls, and stores, to no one offering a second glance at pack of dogs climbing on the fountain in la Comedie, dogs seem to be a part of the culture in France. Looking at this specific scene of the pack leaping onto the fountain, I could not help but imagine a scene from 101 Dalmatians (admittedly, I am a Disney girl through and through), the inspiration behind the story suddenly became clear. It no longer seemed to me that the story came from  a stroke of genius, but rather merely an observation. It does not take too much effort for one to imagine the “conversation” these dogs must be having, the types of lives they must lead. Nor does it take more then a minutes pause from ones daily life to observe such a scene. Perhaps this spark of inspiration that it is so clear the writers behind a work like 101 Dalmatians must have experienced is not uncommon in France. Looking around, pausing to observe, sitting in a cafe, simply watching the city go about its day, is something not uncommon to the French, and perhaps that is one of the many reasons so many brilliant artists come out of France. There are experiences in France created by the culture that it is impossible to understand from the outside, and it is not until one can go and experience those for themselves that they can truly begin to understand. There are more then 101 things to be inspired by every day in France, and I feel lucky enough to have experienced even the few that I did. 

Cheers,

Ashleen

Here we see a couple pictures from our visit to the Mikve (french for ritual bath) Medieval bain juif. This discovery of the ritual/ceremonial Jewish Baths from the 13th century reminds us of the important role that the Jewish community plays in the history of Montpellier. During the 13th century, Jews would bathe here for the restoration of ritual purity.

Nikita

L’attelier des chansons françaises interprété par Jeremie

It is extremely noteworthy to talk about our French song workshop led by our very own tourguide Jeremie ! I was very very sick and could hardly speak… my voice sounded like a man trying to whisper but I knew it would be an expérience that I did not want to miss and I was right. Jeremie is a very talented 29 year old who plays a multitude of instruments and sings like you would not believe. I particularly love listening to him play the harmonica. Jeremie did a fantastic job of engaging all the students from all over the world to come together to sing a couple french songs ! My favorite was « Le lion est mort ce soir » from the Lion King. There was such an incredible energy and you could really feel the vibrations running through your blood and the chills in your bones. We had a couple stand-outs in the crowd including Erin, Molly, and Marielle who I sat next to drown out my raspy voice ! Erin beautifully sang her own rendition of a french song. Following that performance, Molly and Erin also gave a delightful duet at the end based upon a scène from legally blonde. What was most interesting to me was the pronunciation of some of the verbs ending in –er… in the songs we pronounced an extra syllable or vowel even if it just ended in –e… there was a certain élégance to the way you pronounced certain words and held certain pronunciations during the songs. 

-Nikita

Personal Blog Post: My favorite experience

On January 13th, our class took a full day excursion to Avignon. This was my favorite excursion and I learned so much that day, historically and culturally. Although, it was early and cold we all packed into two vans and away we went. The drive there was beautiful as we passed by much of the French countryside, which I love. We arrived at Avignon and learned some historical facts about the great bridge in front of us before walking to our destination: Palais des Papes, or, the Palace of the Pope.  This great bridge was a place where people would cross it and go party before re-entering the city and going on with their daily religious lives. We came to Palais des Papes where we learned much historical information about the popes. We walked around the exterior of palace and took pictures of the gorgeous views. We took a break for lunch and had some free time to explore Avignon before exploring the interior of Palais des Papes. Our tour guide, Nicholas, was very friendly and very funny. He made this excursion and all of our excursions a lot of fun, while at the same time educational. After our break, we toured the inside of the Palais des Papes. We each had an audio tour guide which I found to be full of facts. I loved learning about Palais des Papes and was especially interested in the gorgeous Gothic architecture as that is my favorite. My favorite part of Palais des Papes was climbing up on top of the tower. The view was breathtaking and the wind was strong. It was a fantastic experience. The Palais des Papes was gorgeous and after we toured that we visited the Church. We had to take our hats off in respect, which is a cultural difference in which I had known about, but was not present in my mind. It was great to tour this beautiful church as well as Palais des Papes as they hold so much interesting history. When we had finished our excursion we walked back to our vans and stood in the grass and drank some wine from the region. Jeremie, the other tour guide, played us a song about Avignon. It was a great time and one of my favorite experiences while in France

~Michelle Machesney

Le Français et le fromage, shedding stereotypes!

Traveling to Montpellier, France was one of the most exhilarating and well-rounded trips that I was fortunate to be a part of because it taught me a lot about myself as a citizen of the world and those with whom I interact. This voyage also enabled me to realize cultural differences and to overcome set-in-stone stereotypes. This growing opportunity allowed me to arrive at several findings: 1) the French structure of classes and the French grading style are different than those of the United States 2) Every aspect of food, eating, and meal time is different in France 3) French people as a whole are not closed-off, snobbish, and rude.

            When I stepped into class the first morning after our placement test at Institut Linguistique du Peyrou, I had no idea what to expect. I was absolutely terrified. I was the only American in a group of students from Germany, Colombia, China, and Syria. There was no getting around the language barrier, I had to speak French. What was the most perplexing to me was the way that our Professor, Franck, conducted the class. In this setting he preferred students to use the familiar “tu” form, or the verb to refer to him in this manner, “tutoyer.”  The expected distribution of a syllabus on the first day of class was never realized. No syllabus, no structure? How was I going to succeed? How was I going to know how I was going to be graded? Soon after I concluded that this was not going to what I expected, I had to accept a different norm. A norm that was more focused on improving and focusing individually on each student’s weakness and trouble areas. It was tough at first to follow this method but it made me focus less on if I was going to receive and A or an A- and more on if I was improving in oral, listening, and written expression. This was a nice change of pace. I believe that the American educational system could learn something from this system.

            Another aspect that differentiates French lifestyle from American lifestyle is the way in which they treat food and eating. One stereotype that proved to be true is the infatuation that French people have with their cheese, “fromage.” The French receive worldwide praise for their cuisine and the artistry of preparation. The French take more pride in their food and what they eat. In that vein they do not use genetically modified organisms and chemicals in the majority of their food. Everything comes in smaller quantities. My host mom, Véro, would go to the market each day to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and baguettes, but in small quantities… just what we needed to eat for the day and sometimes the day after. We always ate healthy and the meals were always balanced. We would start with a vegetable soup of legumes or pumpkin with melted cheese on the bottom, followed by a salad and the main course, and then desert. Desert is not your typical bag of chips or ice cream or cake (only on special occasions). To the French, desert is a helping of yogurt or a piece of fresh fruit…my host mom and I share a love for Clementines!!! Even though I ate small portions and at a slow pace… I always felt full.

            The third point is probably the most crucial lesson that I have learned on this trip. That being… It is dangerous to assume and make generalizations about the French people as a whole without any facts, knowledge, or experiences. Even though I have been to France before when I was younger, I still would look at French people as being closed-off, snobbish, and rude. This is just not the case. When you stay with a French host for an extended period of time and actually get to know him or her or the family… you begin to understand why French people are the way they are and what makes them a certain way. You begin to understand differences and cultures and how each culture perceives the other. Once each understands the other, barriers begin to disappear.

            The first day I arrived in Montpellier I though “Oh, great. Well this is going to be fun. Another stuck up, snobby French lady that is highly fashionable and doesn’t talk a lot” I even sent worried text messages to my mom and some of my peers. However, a few hours later at dinner that all began to change. We sat and talked for a couple hours. I think once she saw me curious about France and her language and making my best effort to speak fluently in her mother tongue, she respected me. Our relationship grew more and more with each dinner and mealtime as we got deeper and deeper into discussion. No subject was left out of discussion: Gerard Depardieu seeking citizenship in Russia, France’s engagement in Mali, Taxi drivers striking in France against the government issuing a new form of transportation for the sick to the hospital (strikes in France are quite common), the banning of hijabs (head veils) in school for women… (interesting to note that difference between how much religion remains a part of our elections and in government compared to France… who I used to regard as being more religious), and homosexuality in France. We would even talk about my nights out, the gossip, and my love interests. Véro even joked that I should not tell guys that I play soccer at first because I would be considered a lesbian. I thought this was very funny. Despite progress, however, soccer is still very much considered to be a man’s sport here in France. When Véro started to respect me and saw that I respected her and followed her rules and limits our relationship grew and we became very close. She was not standoffish, rude, and snobbish… she just demanded respect. That is different from our culture where we do not see young children respecting their parents or elders any more. As a nation we have lost a certain level of respect for one another.

            All in all it was a very eye-opening experience. It taught me a lot about the way I may perceive something. This trip made me more aware of stereotypes that I tend to place on people or cultures without really noticing or paying attention to that action. Now I know that it is dangerous to assume and to make generalizations, and I cannot take everything for face value just because it is what everyone else believes. I need to have my own experiences so I can make that judgment for myself. 

C’était un plaisir.

Nikita <3

Chateau de Faugergues

On our last day in sunny Montpellier, January 25th,the group travelled to the Chateau de Faugergues. We started off our day by enjoying the beautiful gardens next to the chateau. In the center of the gardens were tall bamboo trees. It was very unique but we all had fun taking pictures in the middle, surrounding ourselves with the tall bamboo. Afterwards, we met up with our tour guide who brought us inside the Chateau de Faugergues. A castle once owned by Etienne de Flagergues. He was an advisor of the court of counts in Montpellier back in the 17th century. Today, the castle is open to the public to show the way of life of the important people and events of Montpellier, France. Although centuries old, the castle was perfectly kept, and is still owned and lived in by the family to this day.
    Inside we noticed the beautiful decorations such as the large tapestries hanging on the walls as you entered. We were in shock as we learned that these tapestries took over 100 years to make!
    After the tour of the Chateau, we were eager to begin our regional French wine tastings. We were kindly served four different kinds of wine, one white, one rose and two red wines. As we tested our wines, we were taught first to describe the colour, then smell very intensely and finally taste the type of wine. The white wine was a delicious mix of bananas, lemon and jasmine flowers. The rose had a mixture of berries which was perfect with any type of food. The first red wine we tried was called “Le Vin de l’Uncle Charles which had a strong chocolate and berry taste. The last red wine, “Cuvee Colbert” was very dark with unique blends of peppers and cinnamon.
    Our tour guide gave us crucial tips and advice on how to distinct wines from other wines, especially from outside of France, and continued to tell us “wine is very personal.” All in all, the group felt the tour and wine tasting was a perfect way to end our memorable adventure in Montpellier, France!

Chateau de Faugergues

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Ana reenacting some French fighting scenes with an original sword inside the Chateau: 

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Enjoying the bamboo garden!

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Bon Appetit! Regional French wine tasting:

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- Ana Koch & Emma Singleton

Photos by Ashleen Brydum

The cooking class with Jeremy allowed us to make and taste different foods from the Languedoc region. From baguettes with tomato and tampenade to crepes with chestnut marmalade, and baguettes with goat cheese and honey everything we made was delicious!

Pain Bagnet a L’olive

This was probably the most culturally different dish. You start by grilling half a baguette. Then, you take a peeled garlic clove, and rub it ALL over the grilled bread until your hands smell like garlic for the next three days, your crying, and there is garlic juice ALL over your bread (NO KNIVES!!!). Then repeat these exact same steps with half a tomato (try to keep the juice off the floor). Now for the fun part, pour a little olive oil on the bread and “ski slope” it all down the rest of the bread, so it covers the bread (yes, this is the technical term). This step is how the bread got it’s name, translated it means bread soaked in oil! This way of making bread sans utensils is quite different from how we do things when cooking in the states. Last step=best step, tempanade! Tempanade, is this amazing, delicious spread from the region, that we had never had before. It is made of olives, capers, and anchovies, and it is absolutely addicting (Erin bought some and tried to bring it back to states with her. Unfortunately, it did not make it to the airport, as it was all consumed before the flight… oooopppss….). You spread as much, or as little, as you would like on the bread and enjoy! 

Pain des Garrigues

This was another lovely addition to our taste pallets, and again, quite different from what we are used to in the states. To make this, we once again started with half a toasted baguette. This time instead of garlic and tomatoes, we rubbed fresh goat cheese on our bread. Again, without utensils, this was quiet a different experience (and somewhat difficult at that) but it produced a delicious experience in the end. The fresh goat cheese from the region is unparralled in the States. Cheese (fromage), both pasteurized and unpasteurized, are somewhat staples of everyday French life. Almost all meals incorporate cheese into them somehow whether that be through the ingredients of the meal itself, or as a dessert. If you are a cheese connoisseur we highly recommend you come and explore France in that it seems to have never ending choices for types of cheese; everything from light and lacking aroma to covered in mold and admitting quite a strong smell. After we had (somewhat) successfully rubbed our cheese onto our baguettes we were given local miel (honey) to drizzle on top of the cheese. This struck many as odd, but as we were in France we all had an adventurous spirit and tried it anyway. We finally topped our creations with a sprinkle of mixed herbs, once again, native to the Langedoc region, this mix included rosemary and thyme. Finally, we got to enjoy this very french creation and it was scrumptious! There is something about the bread (another staple of almost all French meals) that just tastes better then the States. Perhaps because the bread is such a staple of daily life, the bakers take more care in preparing it, also they seem to have perfected the art. Food in general seems to overall be prepared with more attention and care in France then it does in States, this goes from the small bakeries, to the chain food stores, to the nice sit down restaurants  There is a different mentality toward food that is accompanied by a respect for it that involves actually taking the time to sit down and enjoy it. It is not uncommon for meals (including lunch) to take over two hours, because one is expected to enjoy their food and their company. This is something that Ashleen has come to very much appreciate and would like to bring back this sort of philosophy to the States with her. 

Crepes

The art of flipping crepes is one not easily mastered, however (with the exception of Nikita and Ashleen) our class seemed to be naturals! There is a tradition in france that you hold a coin in one hand while you flip the crepe with the other and this is supposed to bring you luck financially. While no one can attest to the validity of this tale yet, we can all attest to the delicious taste of these crepes we got to make from scratch!  

The chestnut marmalade they provided however was anything but delicious. Some people liked it, it was earthy and dark and… not nutty, but similar. Preferring nutella banana crepes as a rule, my taste buds rebelled. I’m not sure I’ll ever try chestnuts on an open fire now. The strawberry jam, that was how I expected the crepes to be. Sweet, delicious and highlighting the natural flavor of the crepes. 

Whether they were crepes and chestnut marmalade, tempenade or goat cheese and honey, our tongues certainly discovered new combinations we would never have tried before. And they are certainly better for it. The next question is… are our cultural differences so ingrained in us that agricultural products are irrelevant in this economy? (Translation: WHERE IS TEMPENADE SOLD IN THE US?)

Happy cooking and bon appetit!

~Ashleen Brydum and Erin Stinger

The Importance of Host Families

I know this topic is broad, but I just wanted to touch down on the importance of home stays when traveling abroad.  Some are intimidated by this, and others are open and willing to learn and grow throughout the process.  I am truly grateful for all my host family has done.  This blog post could easily turn into a thank you letter to them, but I will try and focus mostly on the learning experiences that I have come across throughout living here in France.  

There are many ways to learn language and culture.  One way is to go to the country, live by yourself in either a hotel or some other form of shelter.  When doing this you can explore and learn independently.  This works well for some but I find it hard to really put yourself out there, in what can be intimidating situations to some people.  When living with a host family, you are basically forced to learn the language and other topics that might come along with this.  I know my host family is great in helping me to grow in my French speaking abilities.  I think this goes both ways as well, they are able to teach you but at the same time, you are helping them as well.  This creates a win/win situation.  Being an international business major, I have been learning in my classes how to create value to everyone.  2+2=5, as Professor Morris Shapero would say.  You do not want only one side to benefit.  When combining the ideas of two completely different cultures you are able to think more clearly and open your eyes to a completely different world.  My host family has taught me so much throughout this journey and I would like to thank them greatly for the opportunity and openness they have shared with me.

My first breakfast, I made the “odd” mistake of putting my coffee in a cup.  They provided me with what looked like a cup with three different types of coffee.  So I proceeded to poor hot water into the cup, and got a few weird looks.  I looked over and they were making their coffee in the bowls.  They then ripped a piece off of the baguette and dipped it into the coffee in their bowls.  Ooops!

On to another topic, I believe I remember learning about the French taking their time when eating and enjoying their mealtimes.  The part about them taking a long time for each meal is correct, but when it comes down to eating slowly, not so much.  It took me almost three times as long to finish each meal.  When we finally finished, they started quizzing me on different items around the house.  They also helped me with my pronunciation.  They taught me that this is one of the most important parts of French linguistics.  I never really thought about the fact that one pronunciation might be similar to another’s, but actually mean two completely different things. 

In conclusion, my host family was remarkable.  They provided me with so much that enhanced every aspect of my experience in Montpellier.  I am so grateful for them.  Thank you so much!

-Ana Koch