French cuisine on an outdoor terrace.

une baguette = traditional French bread. une baguette magique = magic wand. les baguettes = chopsticks

The word “baguette” describes a carbohydrate, the wizarding world’s no. 2 pencil, and the contents of my family’s utensil drawer. This is the culture of French cuisine perfectly manifested in the language. I recounted my revelation to my French friends, but it seems I’m the only one who finds this hilarious.

French meals are three courses, comprised of an entrée, a plat principal, and a dessert. When you go to a French restaurant, there are formules that convince (or manipulate) you into getting all three courses. I won’t fight it. One of my favorite entrées is the chèvre chaud, which is a bed of romaine topped with warm chèvre cheese, jumbo croutons, and French dressing. The plat principal follows the entrée, and is could be a protein with greens and potatoes on the side. To finish off a French meal, you might have fromage blanc for dessert, which is a sweet yogurt cream hybrid. Dessert includes a shot of espresso, locally coined un café.

I shared dinner with my host family five times a week, which was agreeable for both my language learning and appetite. Frommy was an excellent cook! She spoiled me with quiches, pastas, various meat dishes, and casseroles. At the end of each meal, she would break out the bread and the most magnificent assortment of cheeses. Frommy wasn’t too big on sweets, but that was probably for the best. My favorite of her dishes, was a salade compote, which had romaine, corn, parmesean, ham, tomatoes, and cucumbers all dressed in olive oil, salt, and pepper!

After 5 weeks pampered with French cuisine, I moved into an AirBnB, and was left to fend for myself. This was a blessing in disguise, because then I discovered Paris’ plethora of outdoor markets. Each arrondissement of Paris has a unique local market, each with its own character and charm. I love browsing through the colorful selection of produce, exotic meats (duck and rabbit?), fresh seafood, bread, and cheese. There are over 300 types of cheese that originate in France. Depending on the market, you may also find prepared dishes, used books, clothing, and plants.

As much as I love cooking, there is nothing really quite like the French café. In the mornings, locals relax over espresso and gentle conversation. During meal hours, you can see folks enjoying courses of bread, salad, meats, and dessert. As the daylight dims, Parisians sip wine and laugh amongst friends. Grocery stores close at 9pm, but cafes remain lively until 2am. Seating is so packed that you often move the entire table to settle down, and so intimate that only a few, animated, decibels above a whisper are sufficient.

French cuisine and meal-time etiquette gave me great insight to their way of life. They value quality time, food, and company. The outdoor terrace culture also reveals the mild nature of Parisian weather, because this would not fly in South Bend, IN.

Week 3

This week has been a tough week across Europe. It has been HOT. My classroom and apartment are both on the sixth floor, which can make for long and sweaty days and nights. Despite that, though, I lived to see the other side and managed to get out and do some cultural activities as well. Notably, I visited The Pompidou Center and the Musée d’Orsay with some friends that I have made in class. Having studied art history before, it was really interesting to see the juxtaposition offered by a contemporary/modern museum and a primarily impressionist museum. Each museum showcased many artists that I have already spent great time studying, so it was really great to try to remember the specifics of each artist’s technique and style.

In other news, I finally made it around to doing a book shop tour! While I loved most places I visited, my favorite was called Shakespeare and Sons. While the bookstore does have locations across Europe, I found the Parisienne version to be the best one I have visited yet. There were both French and English sections (the books are normally only in English). In addition, there was an entire section dedicated to used books containing French poetry. If you know me, you know that I spent at least an hour in this one room alone… I ended up buying “Ne tirez pas sur l’oiseau moqueur”, or To Kill a Mockingbird, in French. I spent the following few days engrossed in the book just as I had been when I first read it. The best part for me, though, was rediscovering the story through the eyes of the French language — there are tons of nuances in the story that simply do not exist in English.

Speaking of French, my class has been continuing very well. While I must admit I had trouble getting out of bed to go sit in a smoldering hot classroom each morning, I found that each time I decided to go I ended up being happy with my decision. This class has already helped me so much (maybe even more than a semester’s worth of French in the US). This week, our class only had five people in it, so we each received a lot of personal attention that allowed for me to focus a lot on my oral production skills (which are certainly what I lack the most). My professor, while nice, is quick to point out errors and make corrections. While some in the class do not apreciate her bluntness, I for one find it incredibly helpful. I only wish that French people had forcibly pointed out my mistakes before this class! Who knows what kind of awful mistakes I have been ignorantly making all along! While it is unlikely, I am hoping that our class remains intimate!

Anyways, that’s all for now. I’ll be sure to update you next week!

à plus!


Cezanne’s famous apples at Musée d’orsay!

A few photos of the bookshop! On the right is a part of the French poetry room.

I Governi Diversi

As our last true week of classes comes to a close and we begin studying for finals, I thought I would take a bit of a different approach for this post. Rather than talk about how my classes were each day, I’m going to share some insights about the Italian view of the United States. I’ll try my best to avoid making it totally political, but everywhere we go people love bringing up President Trump.

Our first week here, Nick and I had a political discussion with our host mother where she made it clear that she is not a fan of President Trump. What we soon realized is that most Italians are in the same boat as Nonna. Whenever we meet locals and tell them that we are Americans, the first thing they typically ask us about is our opinion of the governmental situation back at home. What I have come to realize in these discussions is that most Italians aren’t huge fans of President Trump because they are reminded of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. They seem to find the two very similar, and they fear that President Trump will become embroiled in corruption or promote his business interests before the wellbeing of the country as a whole. Examining this a little further, these fears are very similar to the fears of Americans who don’t like President Trump.

Not everyone is so anti-Trump, however, as we have found certain locals who think he will be good for America. One local businessman, Enzo, thinks President Trump will be good for the American economy. Enzo is hoping to open a shop in Fort Lauderdale or New York City, so he likes President Trump’s desire to bring businesses back to America rather than outsourcing jobs. While I was initially somewhat surprised to find someone in Italy that likes President Trump after encountering so much negative sentiment, I think it makes sense for an entrepreneur such as Enzo, who hopes to expand to America, to admire the economic policies of our president.

Besides just political views, we had the opportunity to speak with Nonna’s granddaughter, Annabella, about learning English as an Italian student. Annabella is now in her late 20s and she speaks beautiful english (definitely some of the best I’ve ever heard from a native Italian speaker). She studied multiple languages at the University of Naples so she speaks fluent English and French in addition to her mother-tongue. She usually lives in Naples, but last night she came to Sorrento to visit her mother and grandmother and she ate dinner with us. At dinner we asked her about her experience learning English, and it was actually very interesting. For her, the hardest part of the English language is “Phrasal verbs” (honestly, I had never heard that term used before last night). A “phrasal verb” would be something like “looking forward to,” where adding the word “forward” changes the meaning of “look” to something closer to “anticipate.” I had never thought about that before, but for a non-native speaker, English’s lack of structure and rules can be extremely difficult to grasp, even for some of the best linguists. We also discussed different idioms in each language such as “In boca lupo” (literally “In the mouth of the wolf”) as a way of saying “good luck” in Italian, or “Feeling blue” as a way to express being sad or depressed. I learned so much in just a thirty minute conversation with Annabella, and I hope that we have another opportunity to talk to her before we leave.

Second Go-Around

So, this is the second installment of blogging my trip in Japan! This is a bit shorter than the first post, as I’ve been settling in more and picking out the most memorable and challenging events, but I hope you enjoy reading nonetheless!

In terms of communication, it has definitely improved between my host family and me since my last post. There’s been a weird unspoken agreement of using mostly Japanese but utilizing our equal knowledge of Japanese-English whenever the need arises. I think one of the largest mistakes I’ve made thus far was thinking “りんご” meant squirrel (りつ) instead of apple, leading to the faulty conclusion that my host family’s dog enjoyed eating squirrels. Thankfully, I didn’t say this aloud and the misunderstanding was cleared up fairly quickly. Most of the difficulty in trying to speak the language now comes from varying sources, usually when I try to interact with other natives.

At most times within the boundaries of the HIF program, I can understand what is being said through context or practice. During a trip to a nearby temple, however, I found this was not the case. The teacher who was leading us there gave most of us a list of specific words that the monk would be using in explaining the decorations set up and the like. Other than that, they told us to stick by some of the upper level students and have them help translate. Luckily, I’ve become friends with a student from the highest level class and I stuck by her for most of the time. It was really interesting to see the inside of the temple though, and I was able to take a picture while I was there.

As I might have said previously, the older sister I’m staying with works at a kindergarten, and I’ve had some chances to interact with a few of the kids while I was over there. When I was first introduced to two of them, we played with spinning tops for a while until their parents picked them up. This was when I discovered I had even less of a grasp on Japanese than I had thought. At my university, with my current knowledge of Japanese, my professors told us we would be at least able to converse with four-year-olds. Well, they were slightly mistaken. The kindergarteners I was talking with were clearly the better speakers, as I could only mutter sparse words amidst poorly put-together sentences in an attempt to answer their wondering queries. I was grateful to note that they barely noticed I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, too enthralled in the game we were playing.

Another interesting experience I’ve also partaken in has been going to an Italian restaurant. I would say the food tasted authentically Italian, but being that I’ve visited Rome before, I could not say that was the case. Despite this, it was incredibly delicious, and it was a rare meal where I was allowed to use a fork and knife instead of the usual chopsticks. Additionally, the restaurant had Phantom of the Opera playing in the background, so it was a definite 5-stars. Below is the food I ordered, accompanied by a picture of caramel gelato and tea.

If nothing else, interacting with the kindergarten children and eating more of the culturally diverse food has increased my curiosity for what else Hakodate has to offer. Thanks for reading!

Chance Encounters + ผลไม้ FRUIT as National Identity

The foul-smelling King of Fruits,
the durian, is in peak season here!

For some, the durian’s pungent odor is fragrant and sweet, but to others, its smell is closer to old gyms socks, turpentine and onions, sewer gas, or rotten cheese. It’s a beautiful, yet mean looking fruit and it is truly tied to Thai identity! 

There is an art to picking a good durian. I often watch people hunting for their perfect durian. Similar to a car accident or NYC breakdancers, it’s hard not to notice the frenzy and excitement that happens around durian stalls. People intensely inspect the stems and character of its outer layer. The spikes are felt for firmness, the skin mustn’t have dark spots, the smell must be sweet… When one knocks on it, the sound must be right. And then, the fruit seller will split it open very carefully. It’s inside flesh must be somewhat firm, not too mushy or yellow.

Finding the perfect (or not-so-perfect) durian can mean love or disgust for this fruit – am I am on the prowl!

Airports, hotels and other public places sometimes ban the fruit because of its strong odor. A Thai scientist has even invented an odorless durian

*This post was inspired by SLA’s community task, to find a food that is unique to Thai national identity.

Quick summary of the week:

  • I was able to read 4 things on the Thai menu and ordered one for lunch!
  • Flipped through a beautiful book on the Ramakien, a mythological epic of higher beings influencing mortal life. (When I was growing up we had a large wall hanging of one of the scenes and I never knew anything about it until now.)

    Rubbings of the Ramakien depictions are no longer permitted.
  • Sat in the front seat of a songtaew (pick-up truck bus) and spoke Thai with the driver who gave me a bracelet for good luck!
  • Double meaning incident – At the stationary store, the checkout cashier asked “Saai toong?” I knew it meant bag, so I said no thanks. I asked her to repeat it because the verb sounded familiar. I had just learned this verb meaning to “put on.” There was a strange look between the 2 checkout cashiers and she repeated the phrase. I then went to my lesson and without mentioning what had just happened, the teacher explained that this phrase can mean “put it in the bag” OR “put on a condom.” Hmmmm.
  • I attended a great international language exchange event and made new friends! Few days later, invited to a house gathering of natives and expats. (Thai, English and French spoken – all my languages!)
  • Reading “Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind” by Carol Hollinger.
  • As the sun was setting, I ate rambutan on my balcony.  The book I am reading (link above) describes เงาะ as “an improbable fruit that tastes like a grape and looks like an aged strawberry equipped with porcupine quills.”

Colloquial Language

I have been learning a ton of new vocabulary in class and around the city of Alicante simply by picking up on new words! One of my classes here is focused on colloquial language, which is a tough task in Spanish because there are so many words that are regularly used. In trying to learn all of these new words, I have found that picking and choosing my favorites to use is most effective to add them to my vocabulary. In addition, I have talked to many local people in Spain about the colloquial language, and all of them have said that it is very common. Bad words or foul language here are used in everyday life by all ages, including my host mother and host sister, who both regularly use swear words. In Spanish, these words do not have nearly the same meaning, because they are used so frequently, even though they often translate into words that are much worse in English. Regardless of gender or age, swear words are used in everyday language, and is considered normal in most situations besides formal business settings.

This new experience of understanding the colloquial language has been one of the most exciting experiences of my time here, because it has opened up the entire manner of speaking that I was not picking up on before learning these words. Now that I am learning, I hear these words used all the time, and it has become second nature to pick up on and understand these phrases. Overall, I was taken aback at first at some of the words that were used, because they would be considered intense in English, but once I understood the cultural significance, it did not bother me as much, and I am able to use them as well. I really enjoy learning this bit of language because it also directly impacts my understanding of the culture here, and has been a great experience so far.

Первый день в Москве

After struggling for several weeks trying to complying with the Russian Visa requirement, I finally arrived in Moscow on June 7th. While I was waiting for the driver to pick me up, I talked to the first Russian local I met to purchase a local SIM card. The first thing that came to my mind when I tried to speak Russian was: Wow, I really should have studied harder back in school. With a mixture of Russian, English and body language, I was finally able to purchase the plan I wanted.

On my way from the airport to Moscow State University where I am going to study at, I was able to glance at the city for the first time. It was nothing like the stereotypes that we always hear of. The temperature was normal, even warmer than South Bend. The city was new, showed little sign, if there was any, of a decaying economy.

Moscow State University Main Building

After almost an hour’s drive, I finally arrived at Moscow State University, my home for the next month. Moscow State University is the most prestigious school in the country and was established in 1755. It took me almost one hour to finally find the rector who was in charge of moving in issues. I was assigned to a double with a Russian post-doc student. Although the room is called as a double, it is actually a room divided into two singles with two people sharing the bathroom and toilet. You may think Russians are cold, as no one walking on the street would smile like people do in the states. My roommate said or did nothing as she saw me move in to my room until I knocked on her door and started introducing myself. She is actually very nice and friendly, giving me her number and telling me to ask her for help if needed. Later that evening I met with the orientation guide from my program. She gave me a tour around the university and helped me buy some daily necessities. We also ran into other students of my program accidentally, and went out together later that night.

La Penultima Settimana

We’re back! As I mentioned in my last post, a group of Sant’Anna students and I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful island of Sicilia this weekend. We packed a lot of activity into a short amount of time but it was well worth the experience. We began our trip with a 45 minute flight from Naples to Catania on Friday morning and arrived in Sicily around 11:00 am. From Catania we took an hour-long bus ride to our hostel in Giardini Naxos, the beach town neighboring the popular tourist destination of Taormina. We spent Friday on the beach in Giardini Naxos trying some authentic Sicilian cuisine before we took the short bus ride to Taormina for dinner. At dinner we had some very entertaining and enthusiastic waiters who provided us with a great first night in Sicilia. After a big group dinner they gave us a free taste of the most popular Sicilian desserts: cannoli, cassate, pistachio gelato, granita… it was all delicious. And to top it all off, the restaurant had a gorgeous view of the Sicilian coastline at night. The next day we took a snorkeling boat tour along the coast and met some American Marines stationed in Sicily who were completing their scuba certifications on the same boat. They were all a little shocked to finally be talking to Americans again after five months in Sicily but they were happy to have some compatriots for once. Two of the Marines convinced the boys on the trip to do some cliff jumping as well, and it was definitely worth the experience. Like they said, how many opportunities would I have to cliff jump in Sicily again? The photo below is a shot of all the boys in our group before the sun got the best of us on the open water (From left to right: Rob, Nick, me, Tyler).


After our boat experience we decided to go back to Taormina again, except this time we wanted to spend a few hours in the center of town. Doing so was a great choice. Taormina is as beautiful as all the photos on the internet make it out to be. The town is built into the side of a mountain so the views from just about anywhere are breathtaking. The first thing we did when we arrived was visit the Ancient Greek theater located at the highest point in the city, and from there I captured some magnificent photos.


After walking around for a while, we made it to the main piazza where we took a rare full group photo against the beautiful skyline. Finally, we ate another fantastic dinner in Taormina and then returned back to Giardini Naxos for the night to have some dessert and relax at a restaurant right on the beach (From left to right, beginning with the back row: Rob, Nicole, Vera, me — Sophia, Tyler, Megi, Nick).

Sunday consisted of planes, trains, and automobiles. First we took a bus from Giardini Naxos back to Catania airport. From there we flew into Naples. And finally we took the train from Naples back to Sorrento, arriving at 9 pm after leaving the hostel around noon. Today we were all exhausted in class, but it was definitely worth it. I truly cannot wait for my next visit to Sicilia.

A Touch of Fimilarity

This past week I was fortunate to meet up with three friends from home, all in separate instances. I’ll first comment on the experiences as a whole – it was undeniably nice to finally come into contact with some level of familiarity. The dinners and meetups had this odd recharging effect. As fun as it’s been to be the only native english speaker in my language classes or hostel, the day-to-day can be quite exhausting. In talking to these three individuals – a friend from ND, someone from my hometown who now lives here permanently, and my high school german teacher – I didn’t have to psychologically drain myself to keep my brain in german mode all day.

The first meeting was with close friend from ND who’d home base is in Berlin for the summer. He made a trip down to Munich with some other classmates and we were fortunate enough to be able to meet up, get lunch, and walk around a bit. We talked prospectively about the way in which being abroad will affect our view of our lives in the US, the nuances of German culture, and his economics courses. Our conversation about post WW2 german economic development was particularly interesting and thought provoking to me; I thought in that instance about pursuing the subject as a research foray, with an emphasis on the philosophical and political side of the coin rather than the economic.

My second meeting was for dinner at a Biergarten with someone from my hometown. For an economically stagnated town of 14000, finding out from my mother that he resided in Munich was an absolute treat. And the dinner did not disappoint. He is an extremely bright guy – I think personally connecting with novice (I use that term strongly) intellectuals is easier for me. We talked about the transition from American to German life, differences in cultures, and so on. Our most interesting discussion was on the idea of leisure in Europe versus America and how the continents’ respective leisure habits can say things about the people that live there and what it’s like to live there. This blew up into a full scale unpacking of the European condition – seemingly more wise and aged than the United States – full of appreciation for life that arises from massive levels of death and destruction. Our conversation really inspired me to possibly live overseas for awhile; it firmed up the idea of the necessity of globalism in leading a rich, wise life.

Finally, I had the absolute treat of meeting up with my former high school german teacher and a group of her students for dinner. The above hometown friend also attended. I could tell my teacher was elated, teeming with pride over two former students whose life course she affected so greatly. It was an unbelievably laid back dinner, which was aided by her insistence that I try both the Weiß and Weiß Dunkel beers. We finally talked on a peer-to-peer level, which was enlightening. It gave me an even deeper respect for her than I had before; I was finally able to see the world through her eyes. It made me grateful to have such a positive presence in my formative years.

2eme Semaine — Les élections législatives (le 1ere tour)

I can hardly believe that I am writing this, but today marks the end of my first two weeks living in Paris and studying at l’alliance française. Time has flown by, which I suppose is a good thing because it means my days have been filled with exploration and learning, but I do hope things slow down a little bit so I can absorb all that is happening in my life before making the trip home to the US.

This week has been an especially interesting one, as the French partook in the first round of the legislative elections, which confirmed that Macron will most likely have the majority he needed to be an effective leader. While the results were not surprising (and thank God, I have had enough of political surprises….), it was still incredibly interesting to view the French political system for not the first, nor second, but THIRD time this year. As a Political Science student, I could not have picked a better time to be in France as I have been able to watch the elections from a unique perspective. In my class, we spent an entire day debating the merits of each prominent French political party. However, we were randomly assigned the party that we would debate in favor of…. Being a relatively hardcore leftist, I was naturally assigned le Front National (the party of Marine le Pen et co.). What was interesting about this exercise, though, is that we were able to cross so many different disciplines in order to practice our oral french: politics, philosophy, french, ethics, history, etc. The activity also allowed for us to ask our professor questions about her experience as a French person during these elections, which was an interesting insight in the political mind of a Parisienne. This small activity sums up my experience thus far with my classes. The Professor is incredibly forward thinking, and is not afraid to try out different activities even at the risk of a failure. I have found her style of teaching the most effective that I have ever received in the subject. This experience has been exactly what I needed in order to cement the huge progress that I have made on my French within the past year.

In terms of city visits, I thought that I would stick to the political theme (even though in my last blog post I promised a review of Paris’ best book shops… that’s to come, I promise!) I spent Wednesday walking around the center of Paris, making stops at the National Assembly, the Senate, and the Hotel de Ville (the home of many city departments). These visits were super touristy, filled with people, sweaty, but so amazing. After my yearlong experience watching and learning about French political systems, it was so cool to be able to finally see the buildings where the 5eme Republique operates. Below are some pictures of the things I saw!


The National Assembly

The Senate (why does it look like fall / spring you ask? Okay, so yes I got this image from google… none of mine did it justice… you caught me),

Hotel de Ville


Until next week…!