Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Allison Ranshous ’13 is currently studying History in Aix-en-Provence, France at the Aix-Marseille Université. The Gazette asked her about her blog, Cultural Mishaps, and about her adventures so far.
How are you doing on your bucket list?
Wow, I haven’t looked at that in a while. So far, I think I’m doing a pretty good job with most of them. I’ve been traveling, learning about Aix, and definitely making plenty of mistakes with French! Plus my outlook on work and the pacing of life here has changed pretty dramatically; the change of pace from the U.S. is a tangible thing here, and you just learn to let go of the fact that you miss your bus, or that your dinner lasts over three hours and you have work due the next day. I’m a pretty Type A person, so getting used to going with the flow has been really good for me. A few things that I would like to get better at are feeling more comfortable traveling independently, and speaking French consistently. While I have plenty of American or British friends here, making French friends has been pretty intimidating so far because of the language thing. But recently I’ve finally started reaching out to others in my classes, so I’m hoping something good comes from that.
They say the French know what they’re talking about when it comes to food. What dishes have you tried that you’re dying to try again? Have you been cooking while abroad? What about the cheese!? And all that wine..?
I’ll use an example to explain this: in the United States, my favorite reality show, Top Chef, is an hour-long battle between amateur chefs hoping to join the next generation of elite chefs. I love the creativity on the show, and how crazy some of personalities can be. And, it turns out, in France they have Top Chef too — only here it’s a 3+ hour epic each week that is essentially a national pastime. Everyone watches it. The contestants on French Top Chef are already extremely accomplished, having graduated from the top culinary schools or worked under France’s best chefs. And the stuff they make absolutely blows our American version out of the water. I guess the French version of this show is a complete reflection of the culture of gastronomy in this country, and how it’s a huge symbol of pride for people here. So, yes, don’t mess with the French!
Speaking for myself, I haven’t been living in quite that amount of luxury, but I have been enjoying all of the food here. Aix, like a lot of other cities in Provence, has daily fresh markets every morning in the old city center where fresh vegetables, honey, spices, cheese, meat, and fish are always available. And since I live with a host family, I’ve had the opportunity to try a lot of seasonal dishes, as well as some of my host mom’s more interesting experiments. And while I can’t even pretend to be a connoisseur here, I’ve got a growing appreciation for some fresh chevre and a dry red wine. And now I just sound like my dad…
Where have you traveled thus far? Your blog post about the onesie is incredible!
So far, I’ve taken some excursions around France and one trip outside of the country. We spent our orientation in Paris, so for the first two+ weeks I was there and in Normandy for a weekend. I went skiing in the French Alps with a couple friends, and visited some Provencal towns like Avignon. Last week, my host family took me to visit their family outside of Grenoble in the Savoie region, and from there I hopped a plane to Brussels, Bruges, and Amsterdam. Looking back on this now, I’ve already done some considerable traveling!
How do you feel about having some distance from Swarthmore?
So far I’ve really appreciated how this semester has given me some distance to reflect on Swarthmore, and how it’s given me the freedom to forget about real life for a while and live in the moment here. I’m realizing now how amazing this opportunity is — to immerse myself, and to travel around Europe — so I hope I get more chances to do this. Academically, I’m realizing now how I should keep up with French once I get back, and the whole “to stick with Honors/to drop it” question has been leaning more and more in the latter direction.
Any advice for Swatties considering going abroad, in Aix or elsewhere in the world?
DO IT. No matter where you want to go or what you study, you can make it work. I’m quickly realizing how much I would have regretted not going abroad. It’s given me a break from the stresses of Swarthmore, and it’s made me get out and meet an entirely new set of people. However, do your research. I wound up choosing a program that Swatties have never been on before, and while that required extra work, it was totally worth it because I picked something that I could see myself loving.
For those of you who are French speakers — pick Aix! As a city, it’s fairly small, but it’s situated near so many other cities in Provence, including Marseille, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Plus it’s a university city, with a huge population of French students and lots and lots of sun. If you’re thinking about France but want to avoid fancy schmancy Paris, feel free to shoot me an email with any questions about more of the specifics of studying abroad here.
Where can we find you next? What’s in store for you next? Still planning to meet up with Swatties while abroad?
I’m thinking about booking a last-minute trip to Madrid in a couple weekends, and hopefully Istanbul for Easter break, where I’ll be meeting two other Swatties abroad. Fingers crossed. Also, my program director randomly announced that we’re going to Switzerland the last weekend of March, so I guess I’m doing that too! I started this semester with an epic list of where I’d like to travel, but I’m quickly realizing that it’s impossible to go everywhere. But for keeping in touch on what I do do, feel free to shoot me an email at my Swat address or you can follow my blog.