These last few months have felt like they have flown by! After being accepted into UW-Madison’s Aix-en-Provence Spring Semester Study Abroad Program (and uploading a cute, albeit very cheesy Facebook post about my acceptance) I have been thrown into the world of bureaucracy. Program forms, visa forms, housing forms, scholarship forms -you name it and I bet I’ve filled out the form for it!
The Study Abroad Office warned us that getting a French Visa is a lengthy process and I have to say I agree. If you ever want to visit France I suggest applying for a visa early, early, early! I finally got a visa appointment at the French Consulate for December 3 and I am praying to every French idol I know that I will get my visa in time to leave on January 6th. I have no clue if the late, great Brigitte Bardot has any supernatural powers over the visa process, but I’ve taken to listening to at least one of her songs a day to get into her good graces just in case.
That being said, filling out all of these forms has made my trip to Aix start to feel absolutely real! Thanks to the flight itinerary form I had to fill out I found a plane ticket way earlier than I was planning on. A complete blessing in disguise! I ended up meeting up with a girl studying abroad in the same program as me so we could buy plane tickets together. She had already talked with another girl in our program about buying tickets as well so I ended up being part of a French travel trio!
Traveling with other people takes a huge intimidation factor out of going to France. I can barely navigate my way around campus and I’ve lived here for three years. My mom always told me that if I were one of the rats that had to find their way out of a maze, I would die. Finding my way through three different airports on the way to France and then finding my way to the French university I will be attending is my equivalent of being asked to roll a two- ton boulder up a hill. Hopefully, my newfound travel mates will be a bit more navigationally inclined.
After finding my plane ticket I started to become more curious about Aix itself. I’ve started reading articles online from a local paper from Aix-en-Provence and learning about the food. The traditional Aix snack I am most excited to try is a calisson. A calisson is a little cookie that is almond shaped and usually topped with white or pastel colored frosting. According to local folklore, the cookies were invented to cheer up a 22-year-old princess after she was wed to a 45-year-old king. Who knows if their marriage lasted, but at least the calisson is still around!
These simple looking sweets are deceivingly complex. The cookie itself is a wafer that is topped with a ground paste made from almonds, candied melon, and orange peel. The cookies are usually run through a special press to get their signature petal shape and are then topped with royal icing. My first French bucket-list item is to find a pâtisserie (French for bakery) that will let me film the calisson making process. Hopefully I’ll be able to post it back here!
While for now I am stuck getting glimpses of Aix-en-Provence from either the internet or from stories of Aix study abroad alumni (be sure to check out the study abroad office’s email list of past study abroad students. It is a gold mine of information!) , it will be only a little over a month that I will be walking the streets of Aix myself! Filling out a form may not sound like something that could make a persons toes twitch or put butterflies in your stomach, but with each form I fill out I remember that I am one step closer to Aix, and that is enough to put a goofy smile on my face for the rest of the day.