My first week has been quite a roller coaster. When I arrived at the airport in Basel, my luggage was not waiting for me. I have never been in airports in living memory before this trip, but despite my unfamiliarity, I was able to figure out where to go and place a claim for my baggage.
As soon as I stepped off that plane, all of my conversations were in about half French and half English. At least in the airport, it was easy enough to ask around for directions. After placing a claim, I ended up taking a bus, two trains, making a phone call, and then taking another bus, getting lost, and finally being directed properly to the UTBM.
Ah, but there is no rest for the weary. Tired as I was, it was only midday and there was lunch, shopping, and games still planned for the day. Without my luggage, I had minimal clothing, most of my electronics (but not my adapter, oops), and all of my important papers. At the store (called E.Leclerc, it’s like a Wal-Mart), I bought the minimum to get me through the next few days. My bed for the first night was a sad sight for someone used to having sheets and blankets:
Don’t worry, it got better! A few days later – with a lot of hassle and many emails and phone calls – my luggage arrived. It was quite the relief.
Lots of paperwork happened in the first week. We (the foreign exchange students) started the paperwork for our bank accounts, for our bus cards, bought SIM cards if we needed them so we could have French phones, filled out UTBM enrollment paperwork, sent info to the OFII (Office Française e l’Immigration et de l’Intégration) so that we can get a small grant to help with housing costs… and something else, at least. Oh, yeah! We took French level tests to see if we needed to take intensive French lessons and which language course we should take.
As the lady who assists incoming exchange students told us many times, “Welcome to French paperwork.”
There is a student group called the Welcome Club that helped us through the first days. They fed us more than a few meals, led us around town, and facilitated most our paperwork needs. They even took us up to the top of the Citadel, where we could look at the whole city under the light of the setting sun.
It took me a few hours of trial-and-error during the first couple of days to figure out the door system. I have never seen doors that are magnetically locked. You have to push a button to open the door, and the door handle is not always intuitive. In discovering doors, though, I also found that there is a kitty who lives in our mailroom/building. Someone feeds her, and students let her in and out as she asks. Usually, she can be found prowling around or sleeping atop one of the radiators.
Despite all of the hassle with my luggage, I had plenty of successes in the first week. I bought a pot in which I have since fried chicken, cooked butternut squash, and more than one serving of pasta. Pasta was, in fact, my first cooked-it-myself-in-France meal.
I’ve made quite a few new friends already, and expect that I will continue to do so. I taught one of my new friends, how to play pool! Not long after that, a student from Romania taught me a lot more about the game and helped me improve immensely in about an hour. The pool tables here are quite a bit smaller than what I am used to, and the one Claudiu and I have played on is in rather bad shape. But it’s not a big deal, because we just learned how to take the table itself into account.
I have discovered that even if my eating habits don’t change at all, I will lose weight while I am here. We walk almost everywhere, but if it’s a bit too far, we’ll take the bus. Just a few days ago, I spent three hours at an open gym. Not long afterwards, the three Spanish women asked me to go on a walk with them. I said, ‘Sure’, and on we went…. until we met the rest of the exchange students hanging out. We ended up walking for a good 40 minutes before finding dinner and then walking another 30 minutes back home.
Classes start Friday the 20th for me, and on Monday or Tuesday for everyone else. We have a week of classes before our first week of holiday. Yes, one week of school and then one week off, what world do I live in? (Hint: France) There’s a festival in Bescançon next weekend that I would love to attend!