Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tim's Blog: The First Week

After everything that's happened here,

I need to get out, find a change of atmosphere

I need to get out, see the world from the other side

And live life (live life)
That's right (that's right)

-Dela Change of Atmosphere

Where do I begin? Should I describe the exhilarating atmosphere of this city? Or how about the priceless, breathlessly beautiful scenery that I've encountered only within the first week? Or maybe I should describe how this group of people I've only just met seems to be like long lost friends straight from the beginning of this trip?

I guess I'll begin with the plane ride to Montpellier a.k.a Heaven.

The plane departed from JFK at approximately 6:50 P.M, and was to be a 6 hour flight to Amsterdam, where we would have an 8 hour layover. But we rode in on "excellent tailwinds" and arrived an hour earlier, giving us plenty of time to leave the airport and see Central Amsterdam. Our group met appropriately right after we got off of the plane, and proceeded with finding lockers to store our carry-ons and purchasing train tickets to Central Amsterdam.

The best way to describe our group is that every one of us has an outgoing personality, so it's been one of those experiences where we all "clicked" instantly. The train to Amsterdam was easy enough, and arriving to the city, the first thing I noticed was that people there are soccer (excuse me, 'football') crazy. There were orange streams and giant soccer balls decorating the narrow streets and shops for their team in the FIFA World Cup, and roughly every 4-5 shops was a merchandise shop filled with orange jerseys. The style and architecture of the buildings were absolutely beautiful, and the streets were narrow and cozy. Though none of us went on a shopping spree here, we were able to kill a few hours walking through the plazas while getting to know each other.

We headed back to the airport and took the plane to Marseille where we met Dr. Arens, who escorted us via coach bus to the University of Montpellier. We got a two hour taste of southern France as we drove past its rolling hills, its many farms and vegetation, and its towns. There is nowhere in America that is like France. We arrived to the dorms in a timely fashion and checked into our rooms. The dorm rooms were made for a single person, complete with its own shower, toilet and refrigerator (though some of the lucky students were able to obtain a stove and a sink as well). We all settled in and did the only American thing left to do; we ordered Dominos. Well fed, we succumbed to jet lag and the anticipation of a very long Monday.

The next day, we traveled to our classrooms via tram, which overall took about 10 minutes. We took our oral and written comprehension tests and were placed in the appropriate classes. I, who doesn't speak a word of French, was placed in the beginner class with some our group and an amazing professor, Fabian. For the entire week, every single one of our classes have been funny, intriguing, but also difficult (Fabian will only speak to us in French for the remainder of the trip). At the university, we were able to meet another group of students from Spain who are also studying the French language. They share the excursions and classes with us, and both groups have become increasingly close over the past week.

Our first excursion was a tour of the city of Montpellier and let me tell you, this city has EVERYTHING! From amazing restaurants to entertainment in the main plaza (called Place de la Comedie) to its beautiful architecture and endless amounts of shops; this city has it all! One of its best features (strictly in my opinion) is the amount of outside eateries and bars, where you can sit yourself, have a drink and watch people pass by. Our group has made it a habit to travel to la Comedie on an almost daily basis.

The following day, we visited the village of St. Guilhem Le Desert and the Gellone River. The Languedoc styled village is set up in a Romanesque cloister. Walking through the streets, you would swear that it was left untouched by time. After the visit to the village, we jumped into the Gellone River and swam before finishing up the excursion with wine tasting.

On Thursday evening, our group attended an evening dance at the University, where we learned and practiced the traditional dances of southern France.

On Sunday, we traveled an hour and a half to Carcassonne; a famous ancient fortified town with ramparts. We took a tour of the church and the ramparts, and afterward spent time shopping through the town.

The first week has been life changing. I've made so many friends from all over the world, had so many amazing experiences, and just overall I've been having the time of my life.

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