Donald Trump? Marine Le Pen?

Europeans are fascinated with Donald Trump.

If someone hears that you are American, they will likely ask you about the Republican candidate.

Case in point: Overhearing us speaking English, a man at a café enjoying his afternoon omelet, turned to us and asked, “Donald Trump”?

We immediately began blustering on about how his popularity is overblown and how most don’t support his policies on immigration. At least not in New York City… At which point we were stopped mid-sentence with a:

-And why shouldn’t you?

-Because banning all Muslims or building a wall is not conducive to anything and is racist. The solution is not as simple as closing the border.

– If they come and bomb us, what is there left to do? We don’t want them here.

Many in France are beginning to think like this: First privately and now openly. The rise of Trump has coincided with that of Marine Le Pen, President of the Front National, France’s far right, conservative, nationalistic party.

On one end are those saying that Europe has no one to blame but itself, claiming that the surge in Islamaphobia has created networks of native-born, marginalized radicals. On the other are those asking, How can we integrate people into our society who don’t want to be a part of it?

There is no simple solution to this complex problem, but a simple solution is certainly the most palatable.

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Paris, Brussels, …?

On Tuesday, a series of bombings occurred at the Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels. Today, according to the French Interior Minister, an anti-terror raid in Argenteuil successfully foiled plans of another bombing in Paris. The next major attacks are planned for Germany. My next weekend trip, I am going to Berlin – it will be interesting to evaluate the atmosphere there as compared to Paris.

Interviews with top rung Belgian officials, including the foreign minister, and European analysts, have taken over the evening news. The Eiffel tower lit up at night in the colors of the Belgian flag as a show of solidarity. Security has visibly tightened once again.

The only thing left to do is to stay vigilant and make sure your program and family can easily contact you. I would not discourage anyone from studying abroad in Europe – hiding will not achieve anything.

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Coming Together

I am about two months into my stay in France and this week, my mom and my best friend came to visit.

It was amazing exploring the city with these two and I was surprised to see how comfortable I’ve gotten in Paris and that I can do things like explain the metro system, recommend the best place to go, serve as an interpreter. You don’t even realize the progress you make in your French until you can show off in front of someone.

I think the defining moment of the week was having dinner with my three families around one table. Christine, my host mom, cooked a delicious meal and we were spoiled with foie gras and truffle cheese. Three languages were being spoken at the table – French, English and Russian – and conversation ranged from food and travel to politics. I am endlessly grateful for the openness and generosity of my host family and seeing everyone get along so well is an added bonus. Maybe one day we will all be sitting around a table on the other side of the Atlantic.

 

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Back at Sacre Coeur, but this time with Vickie!

Not Just a Pretty Picture

I have a love hate relationship with my art history class at the Sorbonne. At times the analysis seems farfetched. For some reason, art history professors enjoy teaching in semi-darkness which is not particularly conducive to staying awake. As this is my first time studying the material, I cannot keep up with everyone’s knowledge of obscure facts.

However, after my oral presentation there was a shift.

Researching Renoir’s Les Grandes Baigneuses in depth, I actually began to understand the merit of studying art, not just looking at it. My friend was visiting from the US this week and we headed over to the d’Orsay where I was surprised to see how much I’ve learned. There is also a change in perception when you can situate a piece in its historical context or know the artists background.

I could have just written an essay, but I am glad I went outside of my conform zone and chose to do the oral presentation. It was far from perfect, but this is the first time I actually felt equal to the other students in my section. Just because they are native French speakers or have been studying art for years, doesn’t mean their work will be perfect and there is nothing like commiserating over an assignment to bring students together.

Marrakech

I was in the red city this weekend. Marrakech is a vibrant maze. Its dusty streets are pulsating with life and there are hardly any signs so when you ask a Moroccan for directions, it goes something like this:

-Excuse me, how do you find La Maison Arabe?

-Ah! That’s easy. You go straight, then you make a left, take a right, and another right! You’ll see an alley, you go down and it’ll be right on your right. If you hit the Mosque, you’ve gone too far.

It is almost impossible not to buy something at the souk, but bargaining is a must. Thick woven carpets, paintings, carvings, jewelry. The colors are rich and deep. Snake charmers, henna tattoo artists and traditional dancers will beckon to you, as well as those sitting in front of piles of fruit, bundles of herbs, clay tagines, steaming piles of nuts and grilled meat.

On one of our days, we took a road trip to the nearby Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains. As our guide called it: La vrai Maroc. The government subsidizes work projects for women, especially those divorced or widowed so they can receive some kind of income. In one of the little villages, its population only 200 people, we looked at the argon oil production process and couldn’t resist indulging in the handmade spa products.

Further up, the road ends and we hiked to one the seven waterfalls, resulting from snow melting off the top of the mountains.

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La Loi Travail

The French love a good protest. I’ve passed by numerous manifestations, people chanting, holding up signs, making impassioned speeches. On one hand, it is impressive how sure people are that there individual voices will make a difference to causes they care about, on the other, it seems that going to protests is just a national pastime.

Back at Nanterre after break, we were met with a rallying student body. I was quickly approached and handed a flyer for the current cause. As far as I understood, the French government is writing in a law that will change how many hours one can work a week. In France, you get paid for 35 hours. It is not like the States where you can work 50 or 60 hours. In addition, bosses will have an easier time if they want to fire somebody. There has always been a good deal of protectionism and emphasis on workers’ rights in France. The spirit of this protest is: the government is demanding more for less.

Before class we were again given the spiel. Later, during our exam someone knocked on the door, but my professor put her foot down. Instead of leaving us to do our text analysis, the protester let rain the flyers he was holding.

Greves were announced for the next day, meaning the unions were striking and the RER and metro would be shut down. This happens a lot. As it inconveniences all the commuters, it is an effective bargaining chip. Though this time the greve lasted only a day, my host mom recalled a time when it took two months for all actors involved to find a compromise.

Moscow-Amsterdam-Maastricht-Bruges

February break went too quickly! After a few days in Moscow, I flew into Amsterdam to meet up with friends from back home. We stayed in Clink Noord, a warehouse now hip hostel, just a ferry ride away from the city center. I highly recommend the Van Gogh museum and Anne Frank House. At night we dared ourselves to do something new and ended up at a Red Light District sex show.

My friend is studying abroad in Maastricht so we took the train down and then left for Bruges in the morning. This Belgian town has the most beautiful architecture, swans serenely swimming in the river, and endless chocolate shops. An ideal weekend trip to take from Paris!

Meeting People

One of the most pressing concerns for incoming students is making French friends. The stereotype is that Parisians are closed off and that it is difficult to establish a relationship. First and foremost, I would recommend not stressing out about being alone. You will naturally meet people. Maybe they will not be French, maybe they will not become your best friends, but there will always be someone to go out with on a Friday night.

Don’t hesitate to speak up in class. Some French students will be drawn to the fact that you are American. However, I have found that those who are the most receptive to striking up a conversation are other international students. Hearing us speaking English after class, we were approached by an Italian ERASMUS student. We now sit together in class, grab an espresso during the break and later got our respective groups to go out together to a bar near Bastille. It was a funny night – half of us Americans, half Italians, our common language, French.

Incidentally, getting involved in Erasmus is a good way to find community. They organize activities, ranging from movie nights, potlucks to clubbing. Our favorite is international night, Thursdays at Mix Club. If you get there before midnight, entry is free and the party goes till 5. People are here to have a good time and you are more likely to start a conversation with a stranger. A surprising amount of French students go, but I personally like meeting other Europeans or Americans. I’ve run into situations in which I put forth my best French, chat for a few minutes, only to realize I live a town over from this guyandthat we can probably switch into English now.

And if bars and clubs are not really your thing? No problem! APA works hard to find each student an activity, both on and off campus. Mia is on the rugby team. Molly joined an acapella group. Eleanor is playing flute with an orchestra. I’m trying CrossFit. Quite a few people are volunteering as English tutors in local schools. Not only does this give you something to do, it introduces you to like-minded people.

Take advantage of student tickets for exhibits, shows, etc. After my Transitional Justice class, I joined a few classmates to go see an independent documentary about the Iraq War at half-price. Each university has a student center which is a good place to visit for information on what’s being offered, but it could be enough to just read your email or look at the posters hanging around campus.

As I’ve mentioned before, take advantage of APA’s offer to find you a language partner. This is a shortcut process to making a French friend who will then likely introduce you to his circle of friends.

Also, believe it or not, Tinder could be a good way to meet people. It does not have to be a hook-up situation. Just grab a drink or go for a walk. If things don’t go well, you are not obligated to see that person ever again.

Finally, maybe you don’t want to get stuck in the American bubble, but don’t underestimate the potential for new friendships amongst other APA students. You already have one big thing in common: out of all the places in the world, you chose to study abroad in Paris.