What a wonderful week to be packing to leave America. After all, in swipes a supposed “blizzard” and a prayer-answered snow day for my friends in Madison. Paralyzing snow storm or not, I’m stuck inside my house packing, reading about France, and hibernating. In just this past week, things have been coming together. I received my Visa from the French Consulate, met three girls for coffee who are in my program and will probably be my life support for the next four months, got my paycheck (a whopping $45!), received my living arrangements, and finally began packing for the big day.
Since it’s pretty traditional to dish out advice regarding packing and preparing for your departure, I thought I would follow the trend because I feel pretty confident about leaving now and I still have another week to go!
Phase One: Visa application process. This was not fun to think about or do. There were multiple steps and formalities to this process and half the time I was never quite sure I was on the right track. At first, I didn’t even know what a Visa was. Honestly, I thought it was a credit card I could use abroad to buy souvenirs. My experience with the application process is much like everyone else’s in my program. It first began with the online application where you have to make known who you are to the French Consulate. It sounds simple enough, but online apps always find a way to be the opposite. Then you are to wait a couple of weeks to receive your “Attestation” stating that your purpose for travelling is valid for that length of time, and then make an appointment with the French Consulate in Chicago. In summary, it seems very direct. However, it feels very much like the nerves you have going through driver’s ed. I felt like I was being tested throughout the entire process and I was preparing myself for a fail and a flight cancellation because I would never get my Visa. Ah, yes, I am being melodramatic. Although, I feel like any feelings a study abroad hopeful have are permissible because the process is so gosh darn thorough and time consuming. Not to mention that the French Visa is one of the most complicated in the world to acquire. Anyways, once I arrived in Chicago for my Visa appointment (which, if you question, does NOT look like a credit card with a black swiping line on the reverse side but a few stamps on your passport, your photo, and a little stapled receipt attached), I met with a women who was clearly French. I go up to the counter, where she sits behind a glass wall with a voice box, and she looks at me her head tilted and eyebrows raised. I ask if I were to check in for my appointment and she looks at me and just points to the sign that reads: DO NOT CHECK IN. YOU WILL BE CALLED ON YOUR TURN. Well I sure felt like an American idiot. Right when I sat down, she called out my name. So I got back up and walked back to her. She spoke in really fast English with a French accent. I probably had to ask her to repeat herself like five times while I was up there. If I can’t understand a French native’s English, I can only imagine what France will be like. In summary, the meeting with her was a piece of pie (except for the repeated “pardon?” and the fact the she fit well into the French stereotype). And within a week, I received my Visa.
Phase Two: Meeting friends. After receiving my Visa and feeling unmistakably proud of myself, I met three girls from my trip for coffee. If I could dish out advice, I would recommend doing this above all because you will at least end up knowing one other person. Plus, since we’re all going through the same process, we all had similar questions and at least someone had an answer. And how fun is it to dream about places you want to spend your weekends together in Europe. “Oh yes, well I do think it would be great to fly to Ireland for St. Patty’s day for a green beer…” All in all, the girls were all super kind and they even laughed at some of my jokes. Phew.
Phase Three: Arrondissements. And finally, what’s been putting me on hold from reading my French travel books is not having my French home address for a reference point. When I got the email yesterday and looked up the address on Google Earth, I admittedly teared up upon seeing the building. Tears. Of. Joy. It’s just like the apartment buildings you see in French photos-or even in the Inception scene when that Juno girl is architecting her dream for the first time. It even has the classic epitome-of-French-architecture curved roofs that glide past through the top window. Since my building faces north and is only six stories, I doubt I’ll have the Eiffel tower glimmering through my window at night. Not every window has a view of the Eiffel tower as Hollywood would have you think. Apparently, my district is in the Jewish and gay neighborhood. Isn’t all of France gay? That’s what the Germans at least say. It’s next to the Bastille, a mile-ish from the Louvre, and a good hour walk to the Eiffel tower. My apartment is even next to where Jim Morrison died, Victor Hugo lived, and a bar called Andy Wahloo. Booyakashaw. The drawback is that since Paris is TRES GRAND- bigger than you might think when holding a travel sized map in your hands- living close to my new friends isn’t on the docket. But it’s nothing the Metro can’t bring me to! I’ll go more into the Arrondissements in another post because this one seems to be long winded and I probably lost most of you back when I began talking about the exciting Visas.
T minus five days and I still have so much to accomplish. It will all pay off in the end when I spend my last American night relaxing to the Super bowl (GO PACK), or maybe I won’t be relaxing in the midst of shouting and cheering and then topping off the night to a more anticipated hour of Glee: Thriller Episode. Judge me all you want. I’m a gleek over a pack.