Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't worry, kids!

I'm fine!

Some of you may have heard that I got to experience French healthcare first hand! It's true, it's true. My friend, Erin Risch, whom some of you may know, is studying in Paris currently and she came to stay with me. On her last night here, I took some NyQuil to alleviate the symptoms of a cold that was hindering my sleep. Something, whether it was a lack of enough sleep or something else, reacted badly with the NyQuil and when we woke up in the morning I fainted. As I fainted I hit my nose on the edge of my bed, then hit the floor. While I was unconscious, Erin used the emergency phone on my dorm floor and then knocked on the doors of my friends. Very soon firemen came and took me to the hospital.

I'll spare you a lot of the detail, but I will say that a lot of nausea and dizzyness was involved, plus a bit of a headache! They took an X-Ray and found that I had broken my nose, just slightly. I was surprised to find this out because it didn't hurt that badly, and it wasn't very swollen. After I had been on an IV for about ten minutes I felt perfectly fine and ready to go home, but the nurses and doctors would have none of that. They told me that I had to stay the night, just to be on the safe side. Everyone was very, very sweet, and apologized for their broken English (which was silly, as it was I who needed to be apologizing for my broken French!). My friends were so good to me. Erin called a lot to make sure I didn't need her to come back to Caen and stay with me, and I told her that I had to stay at the hospital overnight so she couldn't. Erica stayed at the hospital with me for hours, and later Emilie (French friend) and Courtney (American) came to visit with a goody bag of magazines, Jane Eyre (which I read most of during my stay), a brush, mirror, apples, and chocolate.

My roommate was a woman named Valerie whose husband stayed with her as much as he could. I noticed her looking at my chocolate earlier in the day and when her husband left I offered her some, and she took it. Today I think she became overwhelmed with her condition (which I think has to do with depression-- I think she OD'd on some medication), and her husband wasn't in the room so she sat on my bed and held my hand for a long time. We talked, and I told her that I was a Christian and would pray for her. She closed her eyes and nodded, and I held her hand some more. Later, her husband came in and gave me a gift of fine, dark chocolate, for which I was grateful! Later, she had to be moved to a different room, and when she said good-bye she cried and hugged me so tightly and kissed my cheeks.

I'm not going to say that it wasn't a hassle going through all of this. I feel awful for how badly I scared my friends, and I hated being hooked up to an IV for so long! But you know, if I went through it all to give a sad woman a piece of chocolate and a hug, it was all worth it! Please keep me and the rest of Caen in your prayers. It's been a rough couple of days!

In a few days I'll send another update about the rest of my life in Caen. It's an amazing place, and every day I wake up so excited that I get to spend another day here. I miss my friends in the United States very dearly, but I'm so grateful for the experiences I get to have in France! The city, my classes, and my friends are all wonderful.

Monday, September 22, 2008


France is so interesting. I feel like life is so laid-back and charming. People spend all of their time outside reading, biking, shopping, dancing, and napping on the lawn of the castle. We can't figure out when our favorite pastry shop opens and closes, but I have a theory that it goes something like this:

When the planets are aligned in just the right way and the breeze is light, the store opens. By the time a cat has walked by the front door three times, the store closes. When the direction of the wind changes, the store opens again, then closes when the cat walks by three times, then opens again when the planets realign themselves properly, and the cycle continues. The French seem to understand this delicate harmony between pastry and galaxy, but it's a secret we hungry Americans who want nothing more than a strawberry tartelette have yet to discover.

I like France a lot, and this makes me wonder why they are so fascinated with America. They really are. Many people we talk to in restaurants and all over talk about how much they want to live in New York City (Karen, our waitress at the Chinese restaurant, wants to live in Manhattan), and how much they love our culture: apparently our movies, music, and tv shows make up for the fact that they think we're lazy and fat. A few have said that they just feel like Americans are more free. I wonder if that's because we really are, or if it's because that's what we keep telling everyone? Apparently there must be something to it because the French people I know in America feel that they have more freedoms. I need to do more investigations on this!

I guess one thing people have said is that they are fascinated that a black man can run for president and a woman can run for vice president. That's still unheard of in parts of Western Europe, and I think it's just something I've been taking for granted.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Classes & Open Market

Fromage du jour: Chevre. Yes, France, go ahead and correct me when I mispronounce the name of a Monseiur Seguin crepe and then turn around and pronounce a Jose crepe “Jo-suh”.

This weekend has been so lovely, which is great, because we received our class schedules. Nineteen hours of class each week isn’t so bad, I suppose, because I will not have a job. Here’s my class list:
• Comprehension and Expression—writing/grammar (4 hrs/week)
• Corrective Phonetics (2 hrs/week)
• France History & Culture (3 hrs/week)
• Comprehension and Expression—oral (3 hrs/week)
• Language and Literature (3 hrs/week)
• Writing & Oral Expression Workshop (3 hrs/week)
• Phonetics & Phronologie (1 hr/week)

One thing that is very different about French class schedules is that the classes meet at different times in different rooms each time they meet, and one day the class may be scheduled to last for an hour, while another day it may be scheduled to last for two. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, I have two classes, which is nice. On Thursday I have three classes and on Wednesday I have four. Wednesdays are going to be loooong days for me! Class begins at 8:20 and I don’t get out until 5:10. There’s a one hour break in there somewhere.

Also, to answer a question many people have been asking, every word in every class will be French. Even when we’re asked what a certain word means we have to respond with a synonym in French. That’s the only common language between the students since we all come from different countries!

Enough about class! On Friday we went on a boat ride with the rest of the foreign students. It was free because it ended up being an advertisement for a local bank. They had representatives trying to get us to sign up for various deals the whole time. We made up for it by going to our favorite Chinese restaurant where we finished off a delicious meal with huge bowls of ice-cream. Yesterday we went downtown and had amazing goat cheese crepes. I also went to Carrefour to buy a hotpot, tea, and other things. The hotpot blows a fuse every time I use it in my room, but not in Erica’s room. I nearly cried! I’ll have the maintenance man look at that tomorrow.

Today is Sunday, and that means Open Market at the Port! Ooh, I am still so excited about it. I bought a beautiful winter coat for 35 Euro. It’s not exactly the coat I want, but it’s fairly close, and for that price I couldn’t pass it up. Plus, it’d make me look like a spy if I only had a fedora. I didn’t want to spend too much on one because when I go home for Christmas I can get the one I bought last year. The coat I really want is probably well over 200 Euro anyway! We wandered around for a long time, bought crepes, and went home for lunch where I am now. Open Market days are going to be my favorite, I can tell. There’s so much to see, so much to buy, and it’s very inexpensive.

Here is my class schedule. Each color of pen represents a different class.
I took this at the open market today.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Boat party

Michael stands in the front of the boat, and says that he’s king of the world within the first hour, or I give you my next paycheck. --Jim, "Booze Cruise", The Office

I live here and I'm confused as to what part of France I live in. It was finally cleared up today: I am in Lower-Normandy, in the Calvados region, in the city of Caen, which is the prefecture of Calvados. For some reason I thought Calvados meant Normandy plus some other areas, but no, it's a region of Lower-Normandy. Got it. In a month I will have my residential permit for Calvados, which will be nice to get out of the way.

Caen is a small city. Much smaller than I had initially thought. It has about half the population of Lexington in a much, much smaller space. I feel like I've seen almost all of the town, excluding the residential areas that aren't of much interest, and that makes me feel much more at home. Let me tell you, the French may be a wee bit behind on technology when it comes to internet access, but they are decades ahead of America on public transportation, even in a small city like this. It couldn't be easier to get around unless you just had a personal taxi driver.

Today the foreign students are being taken on a boat party, or, as we Office fans call it, a Booze Cruise! We're all very excited about it because we have no idea what it consists of. Hopefully pastries. I just got a loyalty card at my favorite patisserie today!

Today I was in an information session with all of the foreign students who will be staying here for the year. There were seven westerners, a handful of Ghanans, a handful of Koreans and Vietnamese*, and the rest were Chinese. Soooo many Chinese! They're the cutest and sweetest people in the world. I feel so sorry for the Asians because they struggle so much with French. The English, Spanish, and Italian speakers among us have it sooo easy. I admire them so much for being brave enough to come here, and I'm so glad they have so many others who speak their language so they won't be lonely!

I got my first postcard the other day! I felt so loved! Personal mail is like gold here. My friends were very jealous.

Hope you all are having a good day! I'm now off to bombard my parents with more e-mails about what to put in my care package.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Holiday at Sea

Kylie and I are watching a movie on her bed and vegging out. Practice classes began today. Mine was far too easy, and so I hope to be moved to a higher level. After we took a test we did an activity in which we had to converse with a small group of people and then tell the class a few interesting things about one of them. Next to me was a man named Curtis. About him I said that he was from Vermont, he loves Nutella, normal things like that. . . and then he proceeds to tell the class that I am American and I love France, but the one thing I don’t love are the lack of toilet seats here. The toilet seats! After he asks me tons of questions about why I study French and what I like to do, that’s all he can remember to say! It was part of a long conversation in which our group (Erica, Courtney, Curtis, and me) talked about the differences between France and the USA. I was so embarrassed! I wasn’t complaining about the dorms or anything, but I’m sure it looked like I was a spoiled brat American to the teacher.

Today I felt like a real French girl because I went to a bakery and cremerie to buy a baguette and Camembert for dinner for Kylie, Erica, and I (Courtney doesn’t like cheese). That and a chausson de pomme from my favorite patisserie makes a great meal, though I’ve discovered that I am not fond of Camembert.

Classes are over by lunch time and we have the rest of the day to do as we please. This is kind of a problem because right now there is no homework, and nothing to do unless we want to spend tons of money. I’ll be happy when sports begin (oh my gosh, did I just say that out loud?).

(Two days later… it’s such a hassle to update blogs when you don’t have internet!)

Yesterday my friends and I visited the Abbaye aux Hommes, which is next to the Hotel de Ville (which we did not go into). William the Conqueror’s tomb is in the church, so we went to see him, or rather, his leg, as the rest of him was dug up and destroyed during the French Revolution. The church was gorgeous, dark, eerie, and reverent. And old. I can't stop thinking about the hands that made the castles, walls, and churches hundreds of years ago!

After that Kylie, Robert, and I took a bus to the beach at Lion-sur-Mer, which is an adorable town. The beach was cold and beautiful. There were tiny cave-like structures along the cliffs that we climbed on until an old French man either told us that the rocks would fall, that we would fall, or that we were not allowed to climb them, or a combination of the three. It was too windy to hear him! We spent a couple of hours walking and talking on the beach, then went to a little cafe to have cheese and baguette while we waited for our bus.

In other news, I'm in level B-1, which is almost where I wanted to be (B-2 would have been preferable). This permits me to do many things that I wouldn't get to do in the A level, and so I'm pleased.

And in yet more news, food is exceedingly difficult to find on Sundays!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fete du Port

I have been in Caen, Normandie for about six days now. The first two were extremely rough, but I’m doing fine now. I think I am entering the “honeymoon” phase of study abroad. On Thursday and Friday we did a lot of registration sorts of things. We had to sign up for health insurance and obtain a student identity card and all sorts of things—most that we did not understand. Today we opened up our French bank accounts and signed even more papers that we did not understand. Oh well! Hopefully our new bank accounts will help us get our own wifi plans.

The town is gorgeous and clean. Walking to town involves going through the castle of William the Conqueror (Chateau de Caen, I think). The castle’s moat has long been dry and that and the rolling hills and gardens surrounding it are popular places for people to picnic and lounge with a book. Boulangeries and patisseries are everywhere. I’m rarely able to resist the temptation of citron tartelettes and pain au chocolat! Amazing food is everywhere. . . baguette sandwiches, gelato, kebabs, crepes. . . Even the cafeteria is pretty good, and McDonald’s has some pretty nice pastries as well. McDonald’s (which I only go to for the free wifi!) has four styles of hamburgers: American, Australian, British, and Canadian. We have yet to learn the difference, except that the Canadian burger has French fries on it.

Today Kylie and I went to a mall sort of place called Carfourre. There are shops and restaurants inside and a large, Wal-Mart like store. C’est tres americain! After lunch at a boulangerie we headed back to our dorm to rest and to get ready for a fete on the port. We got all dressed up, really, for no reason, because it was more like a little carnival, but getting dressed up is fun anyway. At the port children were riding a carnival ride and kayaking, and everyone else was listening to live music, eating, and shopping at the booths.

My parents called from home, My aunt and uncle called from skype, and Missy from where ever in France she happens to be. I love phone calls! I love hearing familiar, American voices. I listen to the Bob & Sheri show podcast all the time here because I listened to their show every morning when getting ready for school my senior year of high school, and even hearing their voices is comforting! As homesick as I can be, I am having a good time here and am looking forward to classes beginning.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Don't worry, everyone! The culture shock is wearing off. I've met some great people, and have eaten some great food. I didn't know those first couple of days would be so difficult, but I'm glad I know what culture shock is now. I was discussing it with Erin and before we had these experiences we were pretty sure it was a myth. She's coming to visit soon, and I can't wait. I've met several girls in my dorm, and they're wonderful. The food is so amazing. I cannot stress that enough. And cheap, too!

Here's my dorm

Go to my flickr account to see pictures of my dorm: http://flickr.com/photos/seemmert/

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Suitcase Calling

After I had finished packing last night, I opened my bedroom door to go find my dog so that she could sleep on my bed. As it turns out, she had been waiting outside of my door for who knows how long. Aww. I am going to miss her so much!

I leave in a few hours. Very exciting.

Here is my address if you want to send me things such as postcards, peanut butter, Mexican food, and anything else:

Suzanne Emmert
Cité des Tilleuls / Campus 1 Chambre 216
23, Avenue de Bruxelles - BP 5153
14070 CAEN Cedex 5

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'm ready to go!

Fromage du jour: Giordano's Chicago-style cheese pizza (that counts, right?)

Yesterday my father and I went to Chicago so that today I could pick up my student visa. We met a friend for lunch and in the evening went to see violin virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird concert at Millennium Park for free. Aside from some ridiculous animations, it was a good concert. He's friggin' talented! I think he did a little too much of the recording & layering at times-- it just got a little repetitive. I would love to see him again, though. Especially in Chicago, where security guards do not escort drunk girls who climb on the stage off of it-- no, they just push them. Today, we got my visa, we went to the Chicago Art Institute, and somehow made it home despite the flight delays on account of the incessant rain.

Finally getting my visa felt like climbing a set of stairs and thinking that there was one more step than there actually was. Painless, but mildly unnerving. That's it? That's all it took? I hand you these papers and $74, and I get to go to France? I've had such anxiety and so many nightmares about it-- I just knew that I would be rejected, I just knew there would be a problem with my paperwork like there was with a few of the other people I saw in the consulate! Last night I had dreams that I was rejected for the following reasons: my ethnicity, lack of exact change, lack of proof that I have a ride from the airport to the train station in Paris, and many other ridiculous things that I hope no embassy would reject you for!

At the airport I met Cobra Starship in the security line-- they're known for their Snakes on a Plane song. I knew it was them because "Cobra S" was written on everything they carried with them-- and because of my pure intuition, of course.

And then I went to a bookstore where I got into a discussion about books with a few people in the store. After that, I went to another bookstore to look for a book the previous store didn't have, and one of the guys from the previous bookstore was there. His name was Dwight. He recommended Jitterbug Perfume so highly that he said he would buy it for me if I wouldn't buy it for myself. He asked for a recommendation from me, and I told him to look at Welcome to the Monkey House by Vonnegut. While I was looking for the book I wanted, he went to checkout and on his way out of the store, pushed a book in my hand. Inside was the receipt, which showed that he had purchased the Vonnegut, and on it he had scrawled, "Hope you enjoy this! If not, return it! Stay golden, Dwight." No last name, number, or e-mail, and he didn't ask for any of my information. He must have been a benevolent librarian of some sort!

I like Chicago O'Hare! Obscure, indie bands and free books? Sounds good to me! I'll be passing through again on Sunday on my way to France. I'm nervous, and excited, and happy, and sad.