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COLUMN: Four months in France makes a world of a difference



street_art

Street art in the old Panier Quarter of Marseille. Fishing and trade via the Old Port was the traditional way of life in Marseille, and they are both still tied to the image of the city. Rachel Rosenstock Buy Photos

Just shy of four months since I wrote my first travel column this semester, I’m sitting down to write the last one.

I outlined four concrete goals all the way back in August before I had ever set foot in Aix-en-Provence. My two short-term goals were to lease an apartment and become familiar with 
the town.

Both have long since been accomplished, but assuredly it was not easy. I still can remember the mad dash to secure a great living situation for the year, but now I’m loving my cute, rustic French house.

It’s five minutes from the Cours Mirabeau, and my roommate and host mom are cool. Our host mom even gave us little Christmas presents yesterday.

Learning my way around Aix took a little longer with all the tiny, winding streets that are so easy to get lost 
on.

I still probably couldn’t tell you most of the street names here, but I can confidently get to all my favorite spots in the old town and the university on the outskirts for class each day.

My long-term goals are still in the works, but I expected that because I have a whole other semester to spend here.

First, becoming fluent. I’ve noticed a marked difference in my comprehension. I almost never have problems in lectures, conversation or even watching movies.

It feels really incredible to get to that point, especially because I have to battle with the southern accent a lot of natives here have. Trust me, when the words for “five” and “hundred” sound exactly the same in your history class, timelines can get a bit rough.

However, speaking has become less nerve-racking because I’m forced to talk every day if I want to go out.

So many awkward situations have happened that it’s not even a concern anymore. I just expect to have misunderstandings, but I’m also confident that I can work through 
them.

Reading and writing are still in the works, but I’ve always lagged behind in those two categories. I’ve written several papers entirely in French so far that were tough but invaluable to improving my skills.

Last but certainly not least is traveling. I’ve visited more than a dozen cities and five countries in just four months, and I count each trip a success. The friendships started here have grown stronger by traveling together and encountering challenging situations — see my Barcelona column.

I’ve gone all the way to Norway, somewhere I never imagined being able to visit just a few years ago, and made a third trip to my favorite city, Paris, in the world. Some weekends only took me a few hours away from Aix to places like Bordeaux and Annecy, but all our stops around France have only made me fall more in love with this 
country.

It’s hard to believe I still have five more months to explore Europe and improve my French. Second semester has a lot to live up to, but I can’t wait to see what the new year has in store for me.

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