So I hate starting off this post on a somber note but… I just wanted to extend my condolences to Nate Kirkland’s family and friends. Most of you who read this blog probably don’t know who Nate is which is ok. I was blessed to know him and I am honestly so happy I got to know him before he died. Nate was a sophomore at Dickinson (year below me) and I met him through Alternative Spring Break, a service trip I participated in last year in March 2008 (almost a year now which is crazy). Honestly this guy was full joie de vivre, I don’t think I’ve ever known someone who had so much passion and enthusiasm for life. He was always, always smiling, I never saw him in a bad mood. What tears me up is that he died during a Serve The World trip in Guatemala (another service club through Dickinson that organizes trips during student breaks), so he died while serving others which is really how I met him in the first place. Details as of right now are sketchy but I think the story is he ended up drowning at sea while a group of Dickinson students went swimming (and there were lifeguards around). He was the comic relief of the Arizona trip and he also was constantly filming with his camera, gathering footage to create a documentary. Unfortunately the mean reservation lady took his tapes for political reasons… I don’t think he ever got his tapes back. He was very active on campus and judging by all the messages he’s receiving on his Facebook wall, a lot of people were touched by him, myself included. He always greeted me with a smile and a “What’s up Amelie?” I truly can’t believe he’s gone. I didn’t really hang out with him after Arizona, but he became another person on campus I regularly said hi to. Wherever you are right now Nate, I hope you know you will be truly missed at Dickinson. Your family was so lucky to count you as one of their own. Rest in peace buddy.

So besides being shocked last night at receiving an email from our college president announcing Nate’s death, I’ve slowly been getting used to my new life in Toulouse. I’ve been here a little over a week and I’m still doing orientation activities, which I won’t deny is kind of tedious but necessary. Classes don’t start another week or so for me. In fact, all the universities in Toulouse have different start dates for classes. I’m taking classes at Universite de Toulouse Le Mirail and I’m really hoping the classes I picked don’t conflict with each other. The schedules for some of the classes aren’t available yet (as always, nothing is simple in France) so I’m going to have to wait and see if the classes I chose don’t have times that coincide with each other.

I live in an apartment this time on the the fourth floor though technically it’s the third floor in France since French people don’t count the ground floor of any building as the first floor. It’s always “rez-de-chaussee” (ground floor) and then they start counting upwards. There’s no elevator in the building so that means I will be getting lots of exercise walking up and down the stairs. I certainly got my share the first day when my host mother and I carried my incredibly heavy suitcase up the four flights together. I am super happy I sent my 2nd suitcase back home with my parents. I don’t know if my host mother would have been so accomodating… also because that other suitcase was a pain getting up and down stairs because it didn’t have a handle on the back. Nevertheless it seems I still have a lot of junk… I plan to send stuff home in packages before I leave!

The apartment is on the top floor and it’s a gorgeous and very spacious and wide apartment. My room is ridiculously big, bigger than any of the bedrooms I lived in in Malaga (I ended up changing bedrooms twice in Malaga) and it also has a closed up fireplace/hearth with a wide and long mirror right on top of it. I will get around to photographing my room so you get a better idea of how big it is. I’m also right next to the kitchen so that makes it nice to get up in the morning and have food right at your disposal. However I don’t live in the main hallway with the other bedrooms so this means I’m very far from the bathroom… kind of an issue for me. I always feel kind of awkward being in that hallway when I need to use the bathroom or take a shower because it feels off limits.

My host mother is incredibly nice and as opposed to Spain, I can actually speak the language fluently. My host mother has a very interesting past. Though she was born in France, she’s lived all over Asia and Africa (Vietnam, Cambodia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, French Guyana, Cameroon) due to her father’s UN associated job which kept her moving place to place. She met her husband in Senegal one summer while learning how to wind sail (at least I think it’s wind sailing… planche a voile anyone? Oh it’s wind surfing haha). Currently her husband (who is originally from Lebanon but the whole family emigrated to Senegal when he was young) still lives and works in Cameroon. He apparently has a few different jobs such as working for his own travel agency which my host mother used to work for to when she lived in Cameroon with him and their 3 boys. He does a few other things, also developing some strip of land for something… I forget exactly, she explained it all to me but it’s all kind of confusing when you’re trying to keep track of all the places she’s lived in! I know that she and her husband have been living apart for about 6 years now. She moved to France for her boys to receive a better education and I guess for one reason or other her husband thought it would be better to stay in Cameroon where her sons grew up. I know he’s coming to visit in February so that’ll be the first chance I get to meet him. And now my host mother owns her own furniture store and sells these antiquey looking pieces of furniture. I have yet to visit her store but I’m pretty sure I will soon.

All 3 boys seem nice enough. The oldest is actually my age and turns 21 tomorrow and I think he’s going to a business school. The middle son who is a year younger than me is preparing for exams in June which will hopefully get him a spot in an osteopathy school. The youngest is in 11th grade and preparing for his bac. It’s interesting living with all boys–I’m not used to having brothers. However I will admit I’m not 100% comfortable with the family here yet. I forgot how long it took me to feel comfortable in Malaga with my host mother (who I miss terribly and plan on sending a letter too very soon… and visiting as soon as I get the chance!!) but I remember it wasn’t right away. I still feel like some strange girl who just happens to be around a lot of the time.

I live very close to the city center which I’m happy about so hopefully that means no more bus riding. I will need to take the metro to get to classes but I’d rather ride the metro than take the bus. Buses confuse me too much!! I live within 15 minutes walking distance of the Dickinson Center and there are 3 subway stops near my house. While Toulouse stretches beyond the city center, most of the historic stuff is in the city center and I think the rest of the city is mostly residential.

So far it’s been cold here. I am no longer used to cold because of Malaga and I must admit I’ve been pretty cold in the apartment. I felt bad for admitting this to my host mother who was surprised to learn this but then I’ve always gotten cold easily. I mean, she admits it’s cold out in the living room, some of the apartment’s rooms are simply too big to heat up with the radiators. Well I suppose I will just put up with the cold apartment until March when it starts to warm up. I’m already very excited for spring here!! It also snowed here last week two days in a row. Honestly it was barely an inch of snow but the buses were apparently not running haha. Apparently it rarely snows in Toulouse which is fine by me because I’m not fond of snow.

While I never leave the apartment without a map, it really is easy to make your way around the city center and make your way to Place du Capitole or to the Garonne, the main river running through Toulouse. I live very near Canal du Midi, which is apparently one of 3 canals (maybe that’s bodies of water) running through Toulouse? I might need to look at my map again…

Indeed La Ville Rose aka the Pink City gets its name from the bricks that most of the buildings are built out of. I find the city to be very beautiful architecture wise and just very typically French looking. Honestly it’s hard to describe what I mean by that… but honestly no matter what the region, all French cities sort of look similar. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re all filled with bakeries…. I’m not sure what it is. But Toulouse is definitely a very beautiful city compared to Malaga. Malaga isn’t ugly per se… but it wasn’t the most beautiful Spanish city. I won’t complain though because I lived in a really nice neighborhood over there and the Mediterranean was practically knocking on my door.

We’ve all been out on a few walks in the city with our guide M. Crema, the Manolo of Toulouse. Unfortuntely it was very cold last week and our 2nd outing with M. Crema was torturous because not only was it freezing and I was not wearing proper footwear but it was also raining. Then we ended up going to some museum with Roman art stuff in it which was interesting but the tour guide kept going on and on about death and squeezed us in this narrow room full of Roman tomb inscriptions… I ended up sneaking out of the room because I just couldn’t take it anymore. After this tour we watched a scene of the play Everyman. However the set up of the play was weird… the actresses (all girls) were not talking, simply miming. They had prerecorded their lines on a recording which played as they mimed. This was probably not a good idea… all girls were French and so the recording was them speaking English with their French accents. The sound was horrible quality and honestly I had no idea what was going on… I ended up dozing off as did all the other Dickinson students that were next to me.

I’ve been out to eat a few times and so far I’ve liked all the restaurants I’ve been to. I went out to a few bars Saturday night and while it was fun, I don’t think I’m going to make it too much of a habit in going out with 20 other Dickison students at the same time.

What else…? OH I had to write some kind of compte rendu on some hearing exercise we did in our language tutorial and ok I don’t want to brag but… I did get a 20/20 on it! I honestly thought my writing skills in French would be way rusty. But apparently not too much! That made me happy. 🙂

Ok I should probably go. This Saturday I’m headed to Albi which I’m excited about because it means I will have more to blog about this weekend! Also I will try to take advantage of the sales going on during the week because it was a mob scene when I went out this past weekend!

Love you all,
Amelie