Emily M. Socha

esocha2@bryant.edu

Hi Everyone! My name is Emily Socha and I’m a sophomore Global Supply Chain Management major from Southington, Connecticut. I love being part of the Bryant community as a student, Resident Assistant and the secretary of the Society of Global Supply Chain Management. I also work as a Campus Engagement office aide, UTC Aerospace intern, and student blogger. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences at Bryant and the experiences of the many other people that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. Bryant is an amazing community that I’m very fortunate to be part of.

Study Abroad: We’ve only just begun to dig in…

May 9th, 2014

When I arrived in France I thought "Wow!  Four months is going to be a longggggg time!  How am I going to fill it all?" But today, this sentence feels like such a joke!  These last two weeks are flying by.  I flip through my calendar and see all the penciled in day-trips and the week long vacations I took and am so curious, how did I manage to pull it off while still actually STUDYING abroad?  It has definitely been a challenge: classes, culture, and adjusting…but this experience has been one of a kind.  I started off the semester tracing the streets of Aix getting to know the quaint little artisan town I'd call home for four months.  After a few weeks, the cobble stone roads eventually became familiar territory and I wasn't mindlessly winding my way until I found a familiar landmark.  I also was able to find a good place for lunch instead of walking around for 20 minutes comparing prices and paninis.  This feeling of familiarity is nice but no matter what, I was always on my toes discovering something new about the city each day.  One of the greatest feelings was coming back from my winter or spring break and after a week of traveling, Aix felt like home.  There was always a sense that when I returned, I wasn't traveling anymore and I was just where I needed to be.

            Throughout the semester I had the opportunity to travel to so many different cities and countries and experience a new culture and lifestyle everywhere I went.  The U.S. is so large but in Europe, not too far away is a completely different culture, language, and landscape waiting for you to explore.  I was able to make it to many cities in southern France as well as Paris, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Venice, Florence, Rome and lastly, the country of Tunisia.  Tunisia was a "spur of the moment" trip to stay with some family friends.  But these spontaneous travels, cramming for an exam on an overnight bus, and taking in as much cultural experiences as possible is what the entire four months were about.

            IAU College was such a great choice for me and I'm so happy that I chose to attend this institute.  The professors were caring, the class sizes were small, and the events and resources we had here made our whole adjustment and "fun searching" so much easier.  Each week there were academic lectures we were encouraged to attend and I enjoyed going to mostly all of them.  Sometimes some of our professors would offer their opinions on different topics or their personal work.  Other times there would be guest speakers.  Jane Goodall is even coming to Aix-en-Provence, unfortunately a day after I head back to the U.S.  Also, IAU has an activities coordinator who was always posting great events/activities to attend and always answering our questions on how to get to and from our favorite destinations.

            Leaving Bryant, my friends, family, and second home, was definitely a challenge.  There's days that I was homesick and missed the comfort of my dorm room or just wanted to take a stroll around a quiet campus and not a bustling city.  But at the same time, this really was a "once in a lifetime" experience that I'm so grateful to have.  I mean, when else am I going to have four months in my life to go off and just study and country hop? Probably… never (haha).  This was also a great time for me to discover things about myself like my interests, strengths, friendships and more about what I hope to accomplish throughout the rest of my life.  At our closing ceremonies the other day, one of the art professors closed with a quote that really touched me.  He said "there's never enough time, we've only just begun to dig in".  I enjoyed this closure to my study abroad experience because it really sums up how I am feeling.  I've finally figured out exactly what I want to do or don't want to do on my weekends and have made severe adjustments to the culture.  It's also nice to now finally be able to hold a decent conversation with someone in French, and I don't want to lose this once I go back home.  We've really just "dug in" as was said.  And I know I'll have to come back someday in order to pick up where I left off.

          As the semester closes at IAU and I look forward to my summer plans and heading back to Bryant in the fall, one of the things I'm most happy about is that I still have two years at Bryant! At Bryant I'm in the same boat...I've only just begun to "dig in" to what I want to do and how I can make my mark at Bryant and I am so happy I studied abroad as a sophomore.

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Paris!

May 6th, 2014

Check out some of my adventures in Paris! Even though I'm studying in France, this was my first time to the big city! After traveling so much this semester...I think Paris is my favorite city I've ever been to! (:

Day 1: Paris

3:30AM wakeup call and a 4:50AM shuttle to the train station to catch my 6:00AM train to Paris…one of my dream cities.  The sketchy walk to the bus station made me reconsider the two other overnight buses we have planned for our week of travels, but we're young, and on a budget…we can handle it!  When we got to Paris it was surreal.  Just a few minutes and I saw the Paris Institute of Design with the bright green architecture overhanging the Seine.  With a few clouds in site but no rain for the day, I was happy I chose to wait to travel to Paris until the spring unlike many other IAU students who rushed to Paris their first few weeks in Europe.  My friend Kaylen and I are traveling together for our spring break and we always have a good time because we're up for putting on our walking shoes to discover as much as we can.  After dropping our bags off at our hostel, we set out for the ultimate tourist attraction: the Eiffel Tower.  Not looking at our map and just feeling our way through the streets of Paris we came across the Pantheon.  Having seen the Pantheon in Rome, Italy during our winter break, it was really cool to compare the two.  As we continued our walk now down a main boulevard, we saw it for the first time.  It's surreal almost, seeing it in movies, books, pictures, and knowing it's just a few blocks away.  But when I saw my first glimpse of the giant lump of metal, I was smiling so much and couldn't believe I was actually in Paris.  We didn't have much of a plan per say…more just "walk in that direction".  For us, it worked out really well!  On our journey to the Eiffel Tower we ran into the Luxembourg Gardens which were absolutely beautiful.  (My dad, mom, and step-dad are all much better gardeners than I and I'm pretty sure they don't ask me for help in fear of me messing something up…but after seeing how beautiful these gardens were and all the others we saw in Paris, gardening may be a new hobby I choose to take up!)   Eventually we got to the Eiffel Tower and it was a beautiful site, one I'd always wanted to see and a major force to study abroad in France.  Kaylen and I took as many pictures as we could to take in the site, and then we began our climb.  (Of course…after we stood in our first of MANY huge lines…but luckily they all surprisingly move fairly quickly).  We climbed to the second level of the Eiffel Tower and the site was beautiful.  It was nice to see an overview of the city and climb as far as possible.  We then took the elevator (OTIS elevator might I add ;)) to the top of the tower.  (I even snapped a quick picture of the OTIS sign as I was being pushed out of the elevator by other eager tourists).  When we got to the top we could see just how big Paris was.  Well in fact, we couldn't see how big it was because it was SO BIG that you could tell the city kept expanding further and further past the last point our eyes could see.  The diagrams displaying all the other towers in the world, compared to the Eiffel Tower, reminded me of being in the Shanghai TV tower and there were similar diagrams.  Not only did we see the Eiffel Tower, but we climbed it too which not everyone is able to say! (: After a fun few hours of taking the wonderful sites in at "La Tour Eiffel", we got a nice lunch/dinner.  For the second time in France my mispronunciation of my menu item left me with a plate I would not enjoy…but luckily the waiter was kind and understanding and within minutes I had my correct meal.  After fueling up, we headed out for a walk on the Champs-Elysees to enjoy some window shopping and see the Arc de Triomphe at the top.  The Arc was very impressive but was more impressive were the cars circling the Arc and how they managed to make it to their final destinations with no accidents.  If you're wondering, out of curiosity, how many times you have to circle the Arc de Triomphe before you can find the underground passage to take you there, it's definitely somewhere over 5 times.  After trying for what felt like an hour to find the passage, I eventually asked someone who liked like they were from the area.  Finishing my sentence with "désolée, je parle un peu de française.  J'espère que vous pouvez comprendre » and receiving a reply of « oui, je comprends bien » made every French class I ever took worthwhile because I knew I was going to be able to receive the directions I needed.  Finally making it through the passageway, seeing the Arc de Triomphe up close was a nice site.  In a strange way, it was also calming to watch all the cars passing by, all rushing to get somewhere, when I was just sitting and enjoying my time in Paris.

Paris: Day 2

Our feet hurt.  What does that mean? Nothing….because we've only got three days in this HUGE city and we want to see as much as possible.  We set out with a general plan of what we would see that day and first headed to the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle.  We had our heart set on the gardens on the museum grounds the most and we got to enjoy the morning sunshine as we walked through and admired the natural beauty.  We then headed in the direction of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.  On our way there, we perused through some local shops and looked at souvenirs from local street venders.  As we continued our walk, we noticed that more and more vendors were selling padlocks.  We made the immediate connection — vendors with padlocks means the famous lock bridge had to be close.  And we were right!  Both bridges that lead to the Notre Dame were filled with locks dating back years and some we saw were even dated as recent as the previous day.  The lock bridge hosts millions of locks of couples from around the world who lock their love on to the bridge and throw the key in the Seine so their love will last forever.  The concept is very beautiful and the lock bridges are such cool pieces of modern art.  After seeing the lock bridge, we admired the Notre Dame and then headed to the Louvre Museum.  The museum is SO HUGE there was no way we could get to every floor and exhibition but we did make our way to a vast majority of the musée and it was all very beautiful.  Of course, I had to enter the mass of people and take a "selfie" with the Mona Lisa.  It's bizarre how small the painting is when you see it in person and how everyone flocks to get their picture!  On our way back for the night and in search of a good dinner that didn't cost a fortune, we ran into "Ruby's American Burgers" and knew we had a steal!  I'd compare this place to Johnny Rocket's back in the U.S. and it was DECLICIOUS!!!  We did some late night window shopping again and then hit the bed early for another fun day in Paris!

Paris: Day 3

We set out for the day with shopping in mind and wandering the streets of Paris.  Within an hour our plans completely changed and we were on the metro headed to Sacré-Coeur church.  I knew I wanted to see this church while in Paris but I didn't know the surrounding area was full of touristy shops and other fun things to do/see.  As we got on the metro and realized it was about 15 stops away, we were so thankful we decided not to walk!  We walked up the 90 plus steps to a really cute area full of tourists, music, performers, and this really cool wall that had "I love you" written in every language.  It was really beautiful to see! Someday, I can't wait to come back to Paris with my future husband to see the Eiffel Tower, the lock bridge, and this wall! J (Of course, not rushing anything though)!  We budged through the crowd of tourists to make it to the church.  On our way there, we stopped in a few little shops and I even found a beautiful pink-stoned necklace to purchase (: We heard some great street performers on the way, saw some beautiful paintings, and then grabbed a sausage sandwich for lunch.  They were selling like crazy as they were all being made in the street in a giant frying pan and handing them out one customer after the next.  We then went to the Musée D'Orsay and I got to see some wonderful artwork.  I LOVE impressionist art and seeing artwork completed by Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne and other artists alike in this museum was stunning.  We then walked down the boulevard next to the Seine rivière and tried enjoying our $10 milkshakes but this was definitely NOT our smartest purchase as they ended up being the size of an extra small coffee.  In fact, they didn't even taste like milkshakes…just watered down banana juice and Yahoo chocolate milk.  We grabbed our bags for our overnight bus ride to Amsterdam and lucky for us, we navigated the metro system just in time to make it to our bus to Amsterdam.  We had wanted to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night but we lost track of time putting us behind schedule and couldn't risk missing our bus.  However, we did get to see it sparkle through the hazy metro train window as we zipped by on the way to the bus station.  Almost everyone on that bus was like us: young and on a budget.  We through our bags under the bus and tried as best we could to rest our eyes to arrive in Amsterdam the next day.

 

Pastry Diary

April 22nd, 2014

My Pastry Diary!

The fresh scent of baguettes and pastries fills the streets of France.  Instead of just imagining what the countless decadent desserts taste like…I decided to find out for myself! I've created my own little "project" to taste pastries a couple times a week and see which ones are "to die for!" and which ones can be left alone. By far…this is one of the best projects I've ever done J

Pastry #1: Tropézienne

Rating: 4

This pastry caught my eye because it reminded me of Pillsbury cheese danish (yummmmm!).  It looked good but unfortunately did not taste as wonderful!  Instead of a cheesy thick center, it ended up having this airy, fluffy, creamy texture that was too sweet for my taste buds!  The tropézienne was made famous in St. Tropez, a coastal town in Southern France.  It's a cake filled with a mixture of three creams between sugared brioches.  Although the cream wasn't my favorite, I did enjoy eating the sweet brioche separately!

Pastry #2: Tartalette Caramel

Rating: 5 - (eaten plain)

6 - (eaten with an apple)

I'm not exactly sure what attracted me to this pastry.  I love caramel flavored ice cream and coffees and I think when I saw "caramel" I just picked it without actually thinking what it was!  When I took my first bite I realized that this was a caramel pie.  Basically, thick, sticky, heavy, caramel with a small amount of crust on the outside.  I was enjoying it but after the first two bites knew it was wayyyyyy too heavy to be eaten alone.  So, I thought about my favorite fall time dessert — a caramel covered apple! I made this treat much better by taking a bite of my apple and a bite of the tart to even out the tastes!  They made a good combination! (:

Pastry #3: Pain au chocolat

Rating: 8

You can't go wrong with this choice!  I wouldn't even consider it a pastry, but I had to add it to the list because it's so delicious.  It's similar to a croissant — airy and flakey — but this time filled with a nice, thin, hard chocolate layer in the middle.  It's just enough chocolate and sweetness to satisfy your taste buds without giving a sugar rush overload!

Pastry #4: Beignet

Rating: 8

Needless to say…I walked into a boulangerie to buy a sandwich and soda for lunch…I walked out with a beignet.  I couldn't help myself!  The sugared covered donut for 1 euro had me sold!  Beignets can be made many different ways — donut style or fritter style for example.  Usually they are covered in sugar but can also be adapted for a savory meal if stuffed with meat, vegetables, or fruits.  This one I had was in the shape of a donut and was too much to eat in one sitting.  It was very sugary, and very delicious!

Pastry #5: Herisson

Rating: 8

I had been choosing so many pastries lately I thought…why not let someone else pick one out for me! It'd be a great surprise!  So, when my friend Nicole asked if I wanted anything while she was out grabbing a coffee, I gave her full liberty to choose any pastry she wanted for my "project"!  I thought it'd be so cool to see what someone else would pick and add it to my diary!  It turns out, she came back with a herisson, which looked like a little chocolate cupcake but tasted so much better!  It had a thick, chocolate buttercream top with chocolate shavings on it.  The cake portion tasted like a battered cookie dough with a slight taste of almond.  This dessert was so small but so rich, we shared it amongst 4 girls.

Pastry #6: Tartelette aux fine pommes

Rating: 8

DELICIOUS!  This pastry was the right bit of sweet and fruit.  The flakey bread too hit the spot.  Sometimes a simple dessert like this can do the trick! Tasted like an apple pie….but better! Next time if I were to warm it up with some vanilla ice cream, mhmm mhmm good!

Pastry #7: Tartellete aux framboises

Rating: 9

This pastry was just right to quench my sweet tooth without making me feel like I've eaten 1000 calories afterwards.  The berries were so yummy and the mini pie crust with a light cream layer was just enough to satisfy.  Now I know what I won't be able to resist when I need a little "pick-me-up"!

Pastry #8: Choux Chantilly

Rating: 4

I knew I shouldn't have bought this pastry but it just looked so good!  I could tell I wouldn't like it because the cream was going to be the same as the filling of the tropézienne which was not my favorite.  Nevertheless, the cute dessert caught my eye.  Next time I won't let the aesthetic appeal override my better judgment!

Pastry #9: Baklava

Rating: 2

Don't worry…I did NOT eat all of these!  One of my professors bought these Arabic pastries for us to try.  Unfortunately, one bite in and I couldn't even finish it!  It's a very sweet pastry made with rosemary water.  It's very, VERY juicy and has a rice-like texture.  (AKA…not my definition of a tasty pastry).

Pastry #10: Éclair au chocolat

Rating: 7

My friend was having a rough day so I decided one way to cheer her up would be with a nice, yummy pastry.  Of course, I wanted to play it safe so my plan didn't go wrong.  A chocolate éclair was a safe bet and its delicious chocolate coating and filling really did the trick.  Brightened her day, filled us up with some sweets and became one more addition to my diary! (:

Pastry 11: Gaufre avec Nutella et la glace chocolat

Rating : 10

BEST DESSERT I'VE GOTTEN ABROAD! I'm not sure if this really qualifies as a pastry…but as you can tell from my ratings…maybe pastries just aren't "my thing"!  This waffle was DELICIOUS. I got it while I was in Brussels, Belgium and being famous for their waffles…I just had to try it (:  I could taste the sugar grains in the waffle and the way the cool ice cream hardened the chocolate on some parts of the waffle but was steaming hot on others was a perfect combination.  It's a good thing I didn't study abroad in Brussels because I know I wouldn't have been able to resist them each week!

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Brussels, Belgium: EU Capital Excursion

April 16th, 2014

Syllabus day: First day of class when the professor explains the dos, donts, grading policies, absence allowances and the assignments that are bound to cause headaches and stress for the next four months.  Basically, this is the beginning of every college class whether you're studying abroad or at your home university.  But, when you open your syllabus on the first day of class and see an international excursion to Belgium, the capital of the European Union, you can't help but smile.

This past week I was able to take part in a European Studies tour in Leuven, Belgium.  Here, we spent two intensive days listening to speakers talk about various topics related to the EU and we concluded with a visit to the EU Parliament buildings.

The conference was held at the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe and is a very well-known and respected university.  Just a fun fact…the official day for St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) was decided at the Leuven Institute.  We learned this from the Institute Director, Mr. Malachy Valley, who began our first day with a warm welcome.  After learning a bit about the college town of Leuven and the history of the university, we then heard from the first guest speaker who discussed the Belgium political system.  It was very interesting to see how a country, such as Belgium in this case, manages national sovereignty and EU membership.  Next, we discussed current issues/topics pertaining to EU governance such as the electoral and leadership aspect of EU commission members.  Differing greatly from the U.S. electoral process, this was also very fascinating to learn about.  After exploring the city and finding Belgium fries and waffles for lunch, we came back to discuss a few more topics such as the European World Bank and the economics of the EU which opened the opportunity for discussion about the tactical economics as well as the political aspects that always play a role in the economy.  We closed the day with a current topic in Europe: the bid for Turkey to become a member of the EU.  This topic is gaining a lot of publicity right now and it was interesting to discuss all aspects of the debate.

We were able to explore the city of Leuven that evening and rest up for another long day that followed.

We started the day again with a few sessions in the morning.  The first session related to European citizenship.  We compared and contrasted EU citizenship rights with U.S. citizenship rights as well as the legal ways to gain citizenship.  This topic was very interesting especially as we studied the various legal cases regarding EU citizenship debates.  During the second session we discussed the role of the Irish regions office in Brussels.  Many member states have offices in Brussels in order to stay more connected and centralized.  We learned a lot about Ireland's position in the EU and we also discussed the "Europe 20/20" initiative which offers a plan for all EU member states to help Europe gain better footing in the following five areas: employment, innovation, climate/energy, education, and poverty.  After that, we grabbed sandwiches as we rushed to the train station to make our 2:00 meeting time in Brussels to visit the Parliament offices.

It's quite difficult to get a tour of the parliament building but with our professor's wonderful connections, we were able to get one of the direct assistants of the longest standing member of Parliament who was also the former President of the EU.  Unfortunately, parliament was in session during or visit or we would have had a chance to meet with him and see the plenary sessions in action.  Nevertheless, touring this building and hearing more from a direct employee of a party member was a tremendous learning experience and opportunity.

After some debate about parading around Brussels, we finally convinced our professors to let us explore the city of Brussels for a few hours before heading back to Leuven to debrief the conference sessions as a whole.  Within minutes of entering the city we found more sugar coated waffles, crispy fries, and delicious Belgium chocolates to sample and take home as gifts.  After eating our way through the streets, we had just enough time for a few quick pictures and some shopping.  It was a great fun way to end the conference.

I'm not a political science major nor do I follow politics on a daily basis, however, all speakers and discussion sessions peaked my interest.  Everyone gave great insight, opinions, and discussion to political issues and topics in the EU that were well-worth exploring.

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One Month Left!

April 14th, 2014

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It's crazy! I feel like I just stepped off the plane yesterday for my semester abroad but the days are slowly coming to an end!  I have about one month left in Aix but it feels like I still have so much left to see.  As I reflect on the past few months here in Aix, there's definitely a few things I would have done differently…

1)      Language programs.

IAU offered so many different opportunities to meet more French students to practice speaking skills.  I wish I had attended more of these sessions and put myself out there to really dive into the culture and people my age who live in the city.

Next time: Just do it!

2)      More "Aix" adventures.

At the beginning of the semester it seemed like four months was going to be a VERY long time.  I tried to settle in and acclimate myself within the city day by day.  What I should have been doing was purchasing cheap rain boots and hiking my way through the streets and local museums so that when the weather finally turned around, I would have already checked all the indoor activities off my bucket list.

Next time: Embrace the culture shock and 'just go with it'!

3)      Travel more in the beginning.

Sometimes buying a RyanAir flight with people you just met can be the best decision you'll ever make.  You never know where you're going to end up, what you're going to see, and you never want to rule out any opportunities.  Instead of trying to fit in as much traveling as possible toward the end of your stay, it's nice to go to a few places in the beginning and not being afraid to meet new people along the journey.

Next time: Take advantage of every opportunity to travel.

4)      Money Matters.

There's a big difference between being smart with your money and being cheap with your money.  At first, I really didn't want to spend a lot of money on things such as food, clothing, souvenirs, events, etc.  But after realizing that trying new foods, purchasing clothing and souvenirs for friends and family, and going to events that you'll never go back to, can many times be worth the cost.  Of course, keeping a budget and being smart is important, but don't miss out because something costs "too much".

Next time: Be smart, not cheap, when it comes to money.

5)      Research before traveling.

It's nice to go to a city and walk around and marvel at all the wonderful European architecture…but at the same time, you may be missing one of the coolest things 20 feet away on the "MUST SEE" list if you don't do any research!

Next time: MAKE the time to sit down and research the cities you're going to.  You don't need an hour-by-hour agenda, but a list of the places you want to go, costs, and hours is definitely important!

6)      Bring more of "home".

No matter how independent you are, homesickness happens.  Be sure to make room for your favorite comfy sweatshirt to wear at night, a few pictures of friends and family, and a few things that remind you of the people and places you care about.  Also, packing some peanut butter, candies, and other essentials is important because once you hit the city and the exchange rate is no longer in your favor, the essentials become costly and home is too far away.

Next time: Ditch 3 of the 8 different types of shoes you plan on bringing to make room for things that will be more helpful.

7)      Talk to past students.

In Aix, for example, there is no such thing as lined notebook paper!  It's all graph paper! Trying to take notes and focus can be hard enough sometimes let alone getting a headache from staring at all the lines on the page.  Talking to students that have previously studied in the areas you go to will prove very helpful!  Also, it would be nice to know some local cities/places that are "must sees!" so you don't miss them!

Next time: Reach out to friends!

8)      PACKING!

PACK PRACTICAL, NOT FASHIONABLE!  Yes, fashionable is important especially in France because you don't want to wear your college T-shirts every day and Nike's or you'll stick out in a crowd very quickly.  But at the same time, you still need warm layers and options.  When it comes down to throwing a few things out at the end of the semester to bring new gifts home, you want to be sure you don't have to sacrifice anything you value too much.

Next time: Fashionable can still be comfortable.

9)      2 euro day trips.

When you have the choice of spending 200 euros for a weekend in some far away city, or 2 euros for a weekend in a city close by, don't discount the closer city.  Sometimes, the coolest things are the closest, you just have to know where to look!

Next time: Research more day trips in local areas.

Although I wish I had done these things during my study abroad experience, I have still had such an amazing experience and this last month I'll continue to take my own suggestions into account!  These are just a few tips that I want to share with all those who plan on studying abroad as students!  The little things can make all of a difference sometimes!

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A Typical Weekend in France

April 3rd, 2014

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Friday night everyone is having a great time celebrating another work-week done! In France, generally, people are only allowed to work a maximum of 35 hours a week (much different than the 40 full-time average for Americans!)  You can find many people relaxing Friday afternoons at the cafés and then later enjoying a nice dinner and a glass of wine.  This past Friday, a few friends and I went out to sing karaoke and had lots of laughs and a great time!

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Saturday's are a hustle-and-bustle day around town!  Market shopping in the AM and tracing around town with friends and family!  This Saturday I decided to stay in Aix-en-Provence and see more of the city I'm actually studying in!  I took a trip to the morning market and tried many different cheeses.  I bought some fruit for the week (all locally grown) and did some market shopping…good thing I didn't find anything I wanted because euros run out pretty quick! ;)  A few friends and I picked up lunch at a local bakery and ate in Parc Jordan.  It was so relaxing to lay out, eat our lunches, and enjoy the good weather.  I couldn't help but grab a delicious pain au chocolat for a sweet dessert (:  After that, we went to Musée Granet, a beautiful museum with work from famous artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Picasso.  It was a beautiful exhibit and the first art museum I've been to in Europe!  Saturday night we finished our evening with friends at a nice little Italian restaurant.  I had been to this restaurant once before but for the price and food — definitely worth returning to!  The owners are extremely welcoming and care about their customers.  I finished diner with a scrumptious Nutella crêpe with powdered sugar.  There was no better way to end the night.

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Sunday everything is basically closed in small cities such as Aix-en-Provence.  Therefore, many families like to spend time together at parks, the beach, or even the famous Mt. Saint Victoire.  My friend and I decided we'd spend our Sunday by taking a trip to the coastline town of Cassis.  So far it has been one of the most BEAUTIFUL cities I've ever been to.  This town is famous for the "calanques de Cassis" which are the beautiful port inlets.  You can visit them by boat or enjoy hiking through the nature trails to see them.  We were having so much fun and of course, this day offered many opportunities for tons of laughter…

1.       We thought we were going to miss the bus as we took a few wrong turns in the morning to make it to the bus station…luckily the street spit out right where we needed it!

2.       We had to change buses in Aubagne to get from Aix to Cassis.  When we got off our first bus, we saw the next bus we had to take but the driver was talking to others and we arrived early so we just figured we'd wait for him to be done talking and then get on the bus.  Luckily we were paying attention as he got on the bus and closed the door.  We quickly walked up to the door and putting my hands in the air with a very confused look on my face, he laughed and let us in.  We paid our ticket and sat down.  The bus pulled 30 feet forward to the actual stop where the other passengers were let on the bus.  They were probably very confused where we came from haha.

3.       We decided to use the public restrooms before starting our hike to the first calanque.  These restrooms fully sanitize themselves after each use.  Therefore, when you close the door after you leave, the door stays shut until it is done sanitizing and ready for the next person.  I had heard about these restrooms before but didn't quite fully understand how they worked.  So, as my friend goes to use the bathroom the light won't turn on, so she opens the door back up and asks if I can hold it open while she wipes off the seat.  No problem! Now the door shuts for the second time.  All the sudden I hear a massive WOOOSH of water and AYEEEEE coming from the bathroom!  SHE'S GETTING SOAKED was my initial thought! Luckily my friend came out within a few seconds with only her shoes wet!

4.       We spotted people with HUGE baskets of french fries and knew we had to treat ourselves.  We walked up to the snack shack that everyone was crowding and got lost in all the flavors of gelato.  After deciding our lunch would be gelato and fries, we walked up to the register.  Seeing quickly on the menu "steak frites" we ordered that thinking we were going to get the big steak fries we saw everyone eating.  To our surprise, they handed us a long narrow bag, and that's when it hit us.  We had just ordered a "steak-and-fries sandwich".  This was the first time I'd ever ordered something I didn't mean to…but it was the best mistake we made all day!  We got a delicious sandwich that was perfect to share, gelato, and we even went back and got some shoestring fries that weren't exactly what we saw everyone eating, but they did hit the spot! (:

5.       We almost missed the bus back…even though we wrote the schedule down in the morning.  We were sitting at the stop and were trying to read the schedule because it hadn't arrived.  Good thing we happened to look up and see the bus we were supposed to be on!  It was definitely our lucky day as everything continued to work out just right.

I'm making the most of every opportunity I have while I'm abroad —seeing the town where I live and the surrounding area!  I'm hoping to get back to Cassis soon and hike the other two calanques to see more of nature's beauty! By that time I'll probably be a professional at navigating the buses as well! (:

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Southern France - Great Choice!

March 27th, 2014

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                I debated for a while between Paris and Aix-en-Provence, France.  Yea it'd be cool to say I lived in Paris for four months, but at the same time, the experiences I'd be getting in Paris would be extremely different than the ones I'm getting in Aix.  I ended up choosing Aix because I'm an outdoor, adventurous person.  I wanted to be able to go hiking, visit smaller towns, and travel the coast to kayak and spend time on the beach.  This past weekend I was yet again so happy with my choice to study in Aix as our school took a trip to the Le Luberon valley.

                Le Luberon is a small collection of villages in Southern France.  It's one of the most picturesque areas and many of the settings in these towns here have been used to film movies.  We started our day by driving around the eastern edge of Aix and taking a rode through Puyricard and Rognes, up through a pine forest that covers a low range of hills called the Trévaresse.  After we passed the beautiful blue lake of St. Christophe, which is part of the Marseille city water system, we stopped at a beautiful Abbey Church of Silvacane.  This abbey is one of three sister abbeys in the Provence region that housed monks of the Cistercian order.  The monks prayed most of the time and when not praying, they were growing their food and making clothing.  The simplicity of the stone work of the abbey is reflective of their very serene lifestyle.  The abbey was built on a slate of rock, therefore, the people who built it could not dig down into the earth in order to level off the ground floor.  Instead, the abbey slowly declines in gradient on the inside and the main three sections are all of differing heights.

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After visiting the abbey we took the bus across the Durance River into the department of the Vaucluse.  Our next stop in this department was the beautiful city of Lourmarin.  Here we got to see the 15th-16th century chateau that was built on top of a fortress from the 12th century.  We also were able to pay our respects at the local cemetery for the Novel prize-winning author Albert Camus who is buried in Lourmarain.  His daughter still lives in the small village and cares for his grave site as well as his reputation.  Lastly, the day of our trip (March 23rd) was municipal Election Day in France.  Always held on Sundays, a small group including myself went with the dean of our school to learn more about the French elections and see them in action.  It was interesting to see how the French System differs from the American. Upon entering the town hall, residents would show their ID and be able to pick up a piece of paper and envelope that correlates to the person they wish to vote for.  For example, if there were 5 candidates, there would be 5 sheets of paper, each paper being specifically devoted to one candidate.  From there, the individual can either pick up the candidate he/she wishes to vote for, place it in the envelope, and then place the envelope in the clear Plexiglas urn on the way out.  Many times, people will take an envelope but a few of the papers before going behind the curtain in order to keep their vote a secret.  At the end of the night, the urn will be opened and the papers will be counted.  It's a public event to go and watch the votes being counted and anyone is welcome to watch.  This was a very unique stop on our trip and I'm glad I went with the small group to see it!

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 After grabbing some lunch in Lourmarin, we traveled to our last destination: Roussillon.  The local legend of the town of Roussillon is that the hills were died red in a tragic love story.  Really, the town mined the ochre in the city for centuries and now people are able to visit the old quarries.  Ochre was used as a pigment, notably for barn and boxcar red paint.

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   Visiting these three locations would have been impossible had we not traveled with the school because they are such remote villages.  The towns were all beautiful and had their own special distinctions.  My favorite part of the day was visiting Roussillon — the ochre quarry was simply magnificent.

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Snowboarding in the French Alps!

March 27th, 2014

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                I can officially say that I have snowboarded in the French Alps!  What a fun experience!  I heard of a great deal that a local tour company was offering for the Pra Loup ski resort in France and knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity.  It was "Women's Appreciation Day" as well and therefore our lift ticket and round trip bus fare was only HALF what the guys had to pay.  (Good for us, not so great for them!)  So, a group of us who wanted to go bought tickets a few weeks in advance. The ticket would cover the roundtrip bus fare, the lift ticket, and 30% off our rental equipment.  As the day got closer we all grew a little worrisome…the weather suggested a 90% chance of rain and we were hoping we wouldn't be going down the mountain in slush, especially because most of us didn't have the proper attire and were trying to borrow as much as we could from friends and our host families.  Next time I know when I go somewhere there may be a snowboarding opportunity, I should always pack my winter gloves and ski goggles…from there I can try and makeshift the rest of an outfit.  After waking up at 4:30am to catch the 5:30 bus, we were all excited for a fun day and so far…no rain!  The bus ride was beautiful and once we got closer we were surrounded by the largest mountains I've ever seen.  The natural beauty was spectacular.  Small little neighborhoods were occasionally perched up on the mountainsides and I couldn't help but think about the lives of the people who live there and what a "day in their life" might feel like.  I was a little nervous as our huge tour bus navigated the winding turns and skinny roads through the mountain tops but thankfully, we made it there in one piece.  When we arrived at Pra Loup we got our tickets from the company and headed to get our rentals to start the day!  We originally went to the wrong rental place where we couldn't receive the discount.  Luckily, one of the people I was traveling with remembered this before we had walked up to the counter ready to pay boots and boards in hand.  After searching and trying to find buildings that matched the few French words we could pick out from what the tour guides were announcing, we made it to the right spot and our group was there.  One of the coordinators spoke a little English and was nice enough to help us all out, bring us to the front of the line, and make sure everything we needed was taken care of.  They also had some nice breakfast and orange juice to start off the day.  We got everything we needed and we were off for a day of adventure!

                It was Kevin's first time on skis, needless to say he got to know the bunny hill real fast.  It was my first time on a snowboard in a few years as well so it was nice to go down the bunny hill before hopping straight onto the big mountain.  Of course, some of the younger children on this hill were better than me…but that was expected! Haha.  It took Kevin a while to get the hang of it, but as adults we all knew we could split up and reconvene so everyone could make the most out of the day.  Julia and I, both at around the same level for snowboarding, took the lift up together and we were ready for some fun!  At this time it was only drizzling at the base of the mountain but as we got higher, we could start to see the flurries in the air.  Pra Loup was the biggest mountain I've ever been to.  For me, it was also the first time I got to ride in an enclosed gondola and put my snowboard on the outside of the cabin.  (To a beginner — this was super cool!)  We took it easy going down a few greens but of course, ended up at a rope tow that we had both never been too great at.  In Julia's case, she tried over 20 times and still couldn't make it up the mountain.  Luckily it was time to reconvene for lunch so after she hiked a little ways to another trail, she was able to make her way down.  For me, I was nervous knowing 6 out of 10 times, I usually fall trying to use the rope tow.  Nevertheless, I gave it my all, balanced as hard as I could, and didn't let it jerk me around or the snow blowing in my face stop me from concentrating.  I made it up the largest rope tow I've ever been on and I thought the whole way up how my dad and brother would be so proud!  After reliving my accomplishment for a few minutes at the top of the mountain, I found a nice trail to ride down.  It was one of the beginner trails that curves along the outside of the mountain.  It was such a fun and relaxing ride.  My friends and I ate lunch and within an hour we were back on the slopes! This time Julia and I were with two others who were more advanced than us but we decided we'd attempt some red trails anyway.  To our surprise, they weren't that bad!  We did a few runs that afternoon and as the day came closer to the end, we decided we'd do one more run down the trail we hadn't been on yet.  It started as a blue, merged into a red, and then at one point as it kept getting harder and harder I looked at my friends in astonishment.  We were on a black diamond in the Alps with moguls and everything.  My abilities were enough to get me down safely, but the last ride down was definitely interesting.  At one point I fell on the hill and the whole time I couldn't help but laugh at myself as I was slowly sliding down the mountain for at least 20 feet.  The last run of the day was a challenge, but a lot of fun.  We turned in our gear and hopped on the bus.  After using a few shims to get the bus unstuck, we were on our way down the winding snowy roads back to Aix-en-Provence.  I may not be the best snowboarder, but this was definitely an adventure worth taking.  I needed a change from all the city seeing so while other people were touring yet another city today…I was snowboarding in the Alps.  I'm not sure the next time I'll be back on the mountain again — but I will definitely remember how great this day was!  I also learned that I wasn't even half bad — black diamonds? Piece of cake! ;)

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#FlatTupper Takes on Aix, France!

March 20th, 2014

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Little dogs trail the winding streets of Aix-en-Provence, France but there's not a dog in this town that can compare to Tupper!

Tupper is always at our school events and trotting around campus.  Whenever there's a "Tupper sighting" you are sure to run his way for some extra love during a tough week of class!

Tupper makes his way around Bryant, but I decided to bring Tupper to a few places I thought he would enjoy in Aix!  I found Tupper some great local FOOD choices, a great EDUCATION (I know the professors are multi-lingual, but we will have to check if they speak "dog"), and of course…a FRIEND!

The markets in Aix are phenomenal and if Tupper was here, he would have plenty to choose from.  Fresh fish and meat is available to purchase.  You can choose cheeses from different shapes, sizes, tastes, and ages.  Specialty stands are arranged with nougat, calissons, cupcakes, roasted chestnuts, and other provincial specialties.  And last but not least, the fruits and vegetables line the stands for *meters*.  Almost everything is locally grown and if not, it is clearly stated so you know exactly what you are buying.   Of course, I had to stop by a bakery as well so we couldn't let Tupper leave France without a French baguette! With Tupper's handsome looks… I'm sure he could get a great deal and a great snack at these famous places.

I wish Tupper could make it to the IAU (Institute for American Universities) Campus as much as he makes it around Bryant!  Our school buildings are located in the center of the city and full of professors who are extremely knowledgeable and faculty that are very helpful.  It's mid-term time for us here and we all just got back from our winter break adventures around Europe.  As we cram for exams, it'd be nice to have Tupper here to boost our spirits!

Lastly, I found a nice friend for Tupper to play with!  It's always fun to have friends to share your experiences with!  So, I found Tupper a friend who is very energetic…they should have lots of fun together around the city!

As much fun as I know Tupper would have here in Aix-en-Provence, I couldn't take him from our Bryant community!  I'm sure as the weather gets warmer and spring truly blossoms, Tupper will find ways to make new adventures alongside the students in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

P.S. –> Unless Tupper does a lot of exercise with his new furry friend here in Aix…after all the market food & French baguettes, I'm not sure if Tupper will be #FlatTupper for very long!

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An Age of “Total Surveillance”

March 14th, 2014

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Did you ever think it'd be possible for someone to see every email you've ever sent? Every Facebook/Twitter post you ever put online? Or every website you've visited on the internet?  In today's society, it really wouldn't be too difficult.  With either some computer hacking skills or an NSA badge, things online are no longer as "private" as they used to be.

This week our school is hosting a conference titled: Peace and Conflict in an age of Total Surveillance.  As part of the conference, one of our renowned professors, Mr. Aboubakr Jamaï gave a keynote speech about some of his experiences with "total surveillance" as well as some current examples in the media.  Aboubakr Jamaï has received countless awards for his contributions to the areas of political science and journalism over his lifetime, and most recently has been chosen, along with his co-founding partner of lakome.com, a Moroccan based online news site, as the recipient of the 6th annual Leaders for Democracy Award presented by the prestigious Washington Group, the Project on Middle East Democracy.

Professor Jamaï began his keynote by recounting a story of him and his co-founding partner of lakome.com which proved very interesting.  He explained that one day, the Moroccan police were at their front door ready to arrest Jamaï's partner, claiming that he was promoting terrorist activities.  Earlier that week, Jamaï's partner had posted a link on their website with an embedded YouTube video that after many links, apparently was traced to an Al-Qaeda affiliate.  After his partner was taken to jail, Jamaï knew he had to do something.  His first reaction was extremely smart.  Jamaï immediately emailed the U.S. State department in order to ask if the U.S. thought that his website was promoting terrorism.  This was a very simple question for the state department to answer.  Of course, Jamaï explained in his keynote that although he was directly emailing the state department, he was truly reaching out to the USA National Security Agency because he knew that his email was going to be flagged, seen, and analyzed based on the content of the email, where it was from, and who it was sent to.  His self-realization of this, he noted, was a bit scary — that he has internalized the fact that government agencies are capable of reading our mail.  In cases like this it was used to his advantage, but is it always going to be as helpful?   Just as Jamaï suspected, the state department replied within a few days concluding that his site was not promoting any links to terrorism.  With that information, Jamaï was able to reach the Moroccan government and within a month, able to free his co-founding partner from jail.

There's much to be said about this story relating to surveillance in today's society.  As quick as the Moroccan government was to claim the site had terrorist material on it, the U.S. NSA was just as quick to denote that it was a clean site.  And of all countries concerned with monitoring terrorism, Morocco was forced to accept the ruling made by the U.S.

This case, as well as many other such as WikiLeaks and the recent whistle blower Edward Snowden, opens the question about how we as citizens feel about the age of "total surveillance" that we are living in.  Every time we sign up for "free" services such as Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, etc…are they really free? Or are you paying by giving up some of your privacy?

As technology continues to improve, this will be an interesting topic to follow.

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