Friday, July 18, 2014

Week 3

I've just about finished my third week of the internship, which seems crazy. Since the other intern from Purpan left to take her vacation, I've been doing more work than usual. With feeding and milking, I work with just my two host parents, but that actually works out pretty well. With less people in the barn, I feel like the work is a little less pressured, and the atmosphere is really comfortable and friendly. We finish in about the same amount of time every day as well, so everything is completely manageable in that respect. Making cheese at the fromagerie is where the work has been piling up. Since Monday the 14th of July was the national holiday in France, there have been tons of orders for cheese, so we've been constantly washing all the trays and plastic sheets to keep up with the pace of the orders. Having one less person around to help out really makes a difference, but I also enjoy most of the work that I do during the day. Before this week, I would usually finish work for the morning around noon, but this entire week I've been working until lunchtime around 1 or 1:30, and some days I've had to go back to work after lunch.
For the first two weeks of my internship, it was pretty cold and rainy all the time, but it got up to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, and it's been hot all this week. Still, there's supposed to be a storm this weekend, so the heat may not last. Because it was so nice last night, there were a lot of people that attended the market where we sell cheese. I was busy the entire night preparing the dishes with cheese, honey, and walnuts, and we told a total of 91 plates of 2 pieces of cheese by the end of the night.
I also made a traditional Vietnamese dessert on Wednesday afternoon, a type of banana bread pudding using coconut milk and vanilla. I had eaten it before, but I had never made it, so I was really nervous about the way it would turn out. It was a success! It turned out really well, and I'm super happy and relieved about that.
On another happy note, my French has been progressing rapidly since being here and speaking solely French to everyone. At the beginning of my internship, I had a hard time picking out words from conversations that my family would have with each other, but now I follow most of what everybody is talking about at dinner, and I'm able to join conversations sometimes (usually by asking clarifying questions). My complex sentences are still not that great, and sometimes I make really simple mistakes because I don't think as much about my words before I speak (is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not sure) but I can handle myself pretty well around the house and the workplace now.
I have just less than a week left of my internship! It really does not feel like I've been living here for 3 weeks already, and I absolutely cannot believe that I've been in France for almost 2 months. Next Thursday, I will return to Toulouse to reunite with the rest of the students in my program, and we will each give a 10 minute presentation about our internships on Friday. After that, I'll be traveling a bit before heading back home! One other student from Purdue and I planned ahead to stay for a week after our internships, and we decided to visit Nice for a few days and then travel to Paris for our last few days in Europe. We're going to meet up with two other friends from the program in Paris, and all four of us are leaving on the same morning from the airport in Paris. I'm not sure exactly how I'll feel when it's time to leave, but I'll just plan to soak up as much as I can right now before that time gets too close.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Business and Busyness

Since I last wrote a blog post, a lot has happened. Though I’ve been doing some of the same jobs as I did the first week of the internship, I’ve learned a few other things about my host family and their daily and weekly routines. Cheese deliveries happen on Tuesdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, there’s a little market in a neighboring town where we buy some groceries. Thursday is the day of the market in another small village where we set up a stand to sell cheese. There are maybe 10 stands total at the market, but there are enough people who come to buy produce and eat there as well. Actually, there are a lot of English people who buy houses in this area of France and live here for the summer. Some of them speak French really well, but a lot of them just get by with the basics.
This weekend, the daughter of my host parents and her boyfriend came to visit. They both speak English because they lived in Ireland for a few years to study, and the daughter actually works writing French subtitles for English movies. Friday night we hung out around the house with them, and I saw the room where my host dad keeps his guitars and piano and actual recording equipment. We played songs on the computer and he was sort of disappointed that I didn’t know a lot of his classic rock songs, but it was a fun time anyways. My host mom’s brother also came to visit on Saturday with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. There were 11 people total for dinner that night. That morning, I went with the other intern from Purpan, my host parents’ daughter and her boyfriend, and their nephew (who has been staying here for the past week on vacation from his own internship…did I mention that already?) and we drove to the forest where we went hunting for girolle mushrooms to eat with dinner. That was quite an experience for me, and it was really fun even though I only found a couple of the right mushrooms because I was a little too busy trying to keep someone else in sight so I wouldn’t get lost. After dinner on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of the little three-year-old girl, we went to the center of the village where an annual event called Cinéma Solaire was being held. The cinema was in an outdoor venue and it played an independent film that I only understood partially, and then there was a DJ that played some music for a while afterwards as people mingled and bought drinks from the village bar that set up a stand there. I didn’t get to bed until about 2am on both Friday and Saturday, but I still had to wake up at 7am to feed and milk the goats. Sunday was a little more relaxed, but we stayed up kind of late again as my host dad played acoustic guitar and we found different songs to sing, in both English and French.
Monday and Tuesday were pretty normal work days, though my host parents’ nephew left on Monday to go back to his internship. Today, we started to clean some of the plastic sheets we use to make cheese, but apparently the town decided to turn off the water supply for the morning (it was a planned event, but my host dad, the mayor of the village, forgot to let us know), so the morning’s chores were finished a little early. If the water comes back on this afternoon we’ll have to go back and finish, and if it’s a little bit later then the chores will be almost double for tomorrow morning. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a little surprising to discover that this kind of thing happens every so often.

I hope to update the blog again within the next few days, maybe with a long-overdue summary of the first half of the program!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Getting into the Groove

In the past couple days, we’ve gotten into the real work of the farm. Every day, I wake up at 7:00, eat breakfast (of tea or coffee, juice, bread, butter, jam, fruits) around 7:30 and by 8:00 we’re feeding all of the goats and then milking. The morning milking is probably my favorite part of the day because all of the goats are calmer and quieter than any other time of day, and the morning air on the farm just feels really fresh and clean. Feeding and milking lasts until about 9:30 because there are three separate groups of goats that have to be herded into the milking room. After that, we go to the fromagerie (which is right next to the house), where I’ve been learning all of the steps in cheese processing. So far, I’ve been turning a lot of the cheese, which needs to be done every day. This involves picking up big metal trays of cheese, flipping them over, and restacking them. I’ve also packaged some of the cheese and worked a bit on draining the curds using a cloth inside of medium-sized crates. There’s also a lot of washing to be done, with all of the cages and trays that are used all the time. I’m pretty sure I’m going to build up a little muscle after this month is over. I also got to help my host mom deliver the cheese the other day, which was a really cool experience. She has to drive pretty far to the neighboring villages where she delivers to épiceries (really small grocery stores), slightly bigger stores, and restaurants as well. We work in the fromagerie usually until about 12 or 12:30, and then I eat lunch with the family (after changing clothes, of course, as by that point in the day I reek of hay and cheese). We feed the youngest goats and let the older ones out into the pasture just after lunch, and then we have a few hours of rest! I usually Facebook, write blogs, or take naps during this time. At 6:30, the evening feeding and milking begins, and the evening work usually lasts until about 8:00, when I shower and try to help out with dinner. If dinner starts around 8:30 or 9:00, it won’t be over until 10:30 or 11:00. Just like lunch, we eat hors d’oeuvres of bread with pâté or Saucisson (a kind of salami-like sausage), then a main course consists of some kind of cooked meat and vegetables, then the cheese and toast, and finally, dessert. The one thing that has really surprised me about French food is the mixture of sweet and salty foods. Americans tend to enjoy these flavors in snack foods (like chocolate and pretzels, or M&Ms in trail mix), but the French take this trend to another level. Yesterday, I was spreading my cheese (Rocamadour, of course) on my piece of toast, and my host mom asked me if I wanted some honey. I looked at her like I didn’t understand, because I was positive I misheard her at first. She assured me that it was really good, and it actually was better than I thought it would be. I’m not sure that I’ll take on that eating habit when I go back to the States, but it’s definitely something to remember. Another salty and sweet combination is spreading fruit jam on top of the goat cheese, which I actually really enjoy. Anyways, even after dessert, we drink tea and talk more (really long meals—it’s the French way) and then we go to sleep to start the cycle all over again. It’s a pretty routine life, but for me it’s a nice change from my busy schedule during the school year and also from all of the traveling I’ve been doing so far in Europe. Even though there’s a pretty set routine for my days, every day has been a little bit different, and there is certainly still a lot for me to learn here!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

et le stage est commencé!

So about a month has passed since my last blog post, and I just arrived to my host family's house to start my internship. Sorry for neglecting my blog, but I guess you can imagine the fact that I haven't posted anything means that I had no free time because I was busy having the time of my life :) but now that means when I have a little more time during my internship I can catch up on the first half of my study abroad program. I will say right now that I absolutely loved Toulouse, Purpan, all of the other places I visited, and especially all of the people I've met and the great friends I've made in such a short time. I can't believe it's already over, but I have plenty of pictures to reminisce when I go home.
The WiFi here was cutting in and out yesterday, so I'll just copy/paste what I wrote in the afternoon as well as what happened so far today:

28 June 2014:
After checking out of my flat at Purpan and taking a taxi to the train station, I was lucky enough to be on the same train as another student from the program! We succeeded in navigating to the right car of the train and getting off at the right stop, where my host mom and the Purpan student who is also interning at my farm were waiting for me. It was about a 30 minute drive from Cahors to Lherm, the village where my host family lives, and along the way we stopped at a vendor to buy apricots and cherries, and then we stopped at the bar in town just to chat with the owner, who is a family friend. Lherm is a very quaint little town with about 200 inhabitants, and my host dad just so happens to be the mayor. I think his English is very good, but my host mom is pretty adamant about me trying to speak French with them, so hopefully my French will be really good by the end of the month! My first impression of their house was that it looked very homey and decorated with a lot of books and toys. My host parents have 2 daughters, both adults that have already moved out, but there are still a lot of their things upstairs where I am sharing a big room with Claire, the Purpan student. She has been helping me out a lot so far, translating some things for me, letting me know what I should expect here, and showing me how to do the chores that I will eventually take over when she takes a couple weeks off in July to visit home. We had lunch (which lasted about an hour and a half, as that is the French way), and then I met the goats for the first time! We let the goats out to the field and then gave some hay to the younger group, as they need to be fed 3 times a day rather than just 2. I’m already kind of in love with them, just after jumping in to the pen with them and having them sniff me, like dogs would. All of the 100 goats have names, based on the year they were born (those born in 2005 all have names starting with “J”). I’m really excited to start working with them more and seeing all there is to do in the production of Rocamadour cheese!

29 June 2014:
After I wrote the blog post yesterday, around 6:30 we went to collect the goats from outside and separate them into their correct pens, and then I helped feed them and milk them. I got the hang of the milking process pretty quickly, and I really enjoy it! After that, I took a shower and helped cook dinner: we made pizza and ate salad with it. The mealtime atmosphere here (at my host family’s house and in France in general) is so different from that in the States. Though I spoke with my host family at lunchtime and tried to only use French, dinner was when I really said a lot. I had difficulties, but everyone was able to understand me, so that’s a good start. I think the biggest problem I have is with vocabulary, as my grammar is pretty decent for everyday conversation. My host family has a French/English dictionary, but it was published in 1964, and a lot of the words are pretty outdated. For example, the pits that peaches and apricots have isn’t addressed as a pit in the dictionary; it’s called a stone. Even though there are sometimes problems with communication, I know my host family has had another American intern, so they know what to expect, and hopefully they’ll be pretty good at using phrases that I will understand. There is WiFi in the house, but it keeps going in and out for me. Hopefully it’s just the storm that’s interfering with the connection, but I have been able to get in touch with my parents, and I’ve been hearing about how all of my friends from the program are starting their internships too. All of them seem to be having a really great time, and it makes me miss them, but I think I’ll have a lot of fun here in Lherm, too!

This morning, I woke up at 7 (like I will every day for this upcoming month), got dressed and headed downstairs to eat breakfast. At 8:00, we fed and milked the goats, and then we headed out for an excursion to a market in a town called Montcoq. Apparently the city is known for the play on words in its name. It’s pronounced “mon cook”, but some people see the name and pronounce it “mon coo”, which sounds like “my ass” in French. There was a lot of food, clothes, and books at the outdoor market, and we walked around the town a little bit and went into this tower called Donjon with really narrow spiral stairs and an open rooftop with an awesome countryside landscape view. We headed back to Lherm, stopped at the bar for a drink (my drink was pineapple juice…shhh), had a late lunch, and fed the goats again. After that, we have a break until the next feeding/milking time, which should be at around 6:30. I think my daily schedule will be pretty routine around here, but that can be a good thing. I get to start working in the fromagerie making cheese tomorrow, which is super exciting! I'll definitely take pictures of the house, the goats, and the cheese soon too!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

First Week of Classes!

          Since the last time I've written a blog post, we've gotten into the actual classes we're taking at Purpan. We had an awesome couple of classes about French/European culture and values, which was really engaging and provided some very useful information about how we should conduct ourselves with French people, especially the host families we will meet in a few weeks. We also began our French lessons! Coming into the program, I was really excited to continue learning French, though I was sure I would be placed in an intermediate class since I haven't really spoken French since my junior year of high school in 2011. After speaking to the teachers a little bit about ourselves in French and taking a placement exam, I was actually placed in the most advanced level with 4 other students. This really shocked me, and I was also kind of overwhelmed at first because I felt like everybody else had so much more experience with the language and I thought I was so far behind all of them. Even so, I'm really happy for this opportunity to challenge myself, and I know this class will really improve my French skills and hopefully give me the confidence to try to practice with the locals.
          Yesterday, we took a tour of downtown Toulouse. I had already explored a little bit of the city, but I actually never made it to the Capitole or the city center, so it was pretty interesting to get a tour of the city and hear a little bit about its history. Just in front of the capital building, there's a big star with twelve points embedded in the ground, and each point is decorated with one of the twelve zodiac symbols to symbolize the pagan origins of the star. Some pictures from the tour:

In front of the Capitole
Me with the pisces symbol

In the cloister of a church, where monks would come to meditate

This is called the palm tree, for pretty good reasons

There are still around 80 of these towers all over the city from the Medieval times when people would show their wealth by trying to build the tallest tower.

Monday, June 2, 2014


          After a 16-hour travel day, I have finally arrived at Purpan in Toulouse! I flew by myself from Detroit to Chicago, where I met up with my friend Rachel (who is also in the program) to fly from Chicago to Munich and then finally to Toulouse. There were some stressful moments on the trip over, as my flight from Detroit was delayed 50 minutes, and I only had an hour and 15 minutes layover in Chicago to begin with. By the time I made it to O’Hare, I had about 20 minutes to sprint from my gate with United Airlines gate to the gate at Lufthansa, which thankfully were not that far apart. I was able to sleep for a few hours on the plane, which is more than I originally expected but not quite sufficient for the long day I already had and for the events ahead of me. The airport in Munich was lovely, with complementary tea and coffee and lots and lots of German people who I would eavesdrop on as they spoke with each other (I am currently working on a German minor, but my French level is fairly elementary, so I was much more capable in the German airport and flight than I am in a French city). 

Some of the alleyways in Toulouse
          When we finally made it to the airport in Toulouse on Saturday around 5:00pm, we were greeted right away by Quentin, one of our program assistants holding a sign that said “Ecole d’Ingénieurs de PURPAN”, the full name of the school we are attending. He took us to the baggage claim and then we met four other students in the program: one from U of I, one from CSU, and two from MSU. Quentin and Bailong (another program assistant) drove us to Purpan, where we got a folder full of information about Toulouse and our apartments, and we went up to our rooms. Rachel and I were lucky enough to be placed on the same floor, and the rest of the students in the program (there are 50 total) are living all over the 6 apartment buildings here. There are 7 rooms to a floor, each room with its own bathroom. There is also a common living area and kitchenette that the floor shares. We also received a big bag of food for the first weekend here because we will not be receiving our stipend for groceries until the first day of classes. Inside the bags were a loaf of bread, a couple small bags of chips, cookies, tea, pasta, tomato sauce, a can of green beans, a banana, a few apples and tomatoes, a cucumber, some cereal, a box of orange juice and a jug of milk. We all have an Ethernet cable as well, but we won’t really be able to use the Internet in the rooms until we each get our own usernames and passwords on the first day of classes. After getting everything somewhat situated, it was about 7:30pm. The six of us that arrived together met back in the main conference room and together with Marienne, another program assistant, we took the tram (for which we all have public transportation cards good for the entire month) to the local McDonald’s for our first meal in France because it was quick, but mainly because there was
One of the beautiful bridges leading to the center of town
WiFi (pronounced WeeFee here) and we were all pretty anxious to get a little bit of Internet to contact our families and tell them we made it to the school in one piece. We then walked to the downtown part of Toulouse to meet the rest of the students that had already arrived at a bar, where people were watching a rugby game on TV. By the time we got back to the dorms, we were all exhausted from the long days we had traveling. I quickly took a much-needed shower and went to sleep. 
          When I woke up on Sunday morning, I got changed and went to the kitchenette, where Rachel joined me a few minutes later and we made breakfast from the food that we were given when we arrived. We ate some apples, made toast, and fried up some eggs. I also discovered that the milk here doesn’t actually need to be refrigerated, but I needed mine cold nonetheless. After we finished our breakfast, we cleaned up after ourselves and made our way off of the Purpan campus. Our first stop
was, naturally, McDonald’s…just for a bit, to check to see what the rest of the world had been doing for the past 17 hours. We then made our way back over the bridge to the farmers market and bought some macarons at a café, which were delicious. We explored the city for a while, stopping by the river to sit and take pictures and visiting a park with lots of artwork being sold. We had a lot of fun looking at the shops and restaurants around the city, most of which weren’t open because it was Sunday. When we got back to Purpan, we had a few hours before our program assistants were putting on a pizza party for us. We were able to rest a little before we met everybody back downstairs to eat and to talk and meet
with the students that had just arrived. We spent a while there, and then took a look at the recreation room with a pool table, foosball table, and piano, and then the laundry room (we get coins for the washing machine and dryer every week) before heading back to our rooms and settling in for the night. 
Monday morning we met with the group downstairs around 9:30am to walk over to the school (about a 10-15 minute walk), where we received welcome packets with the schedule for our entire 4 weeks here at the school as well as other useful information like our usernames and passwords for our Internet connection in the dorms. We had our first lunch in the cafeteria, where we are allotted a pretty substantial amount of food each day. I had a quiche for my entrée (that’s actually the appetizer in French, and I won’t be fooled by that again), the duck (which is a specialty of Toulouse and is very good) with a side of carrots, and crème brûlée for dessert. After touring the library and the rest of the school, we had drinks with the staff of the program and then 14 of us made our way to the centre commercial (the mall) to get SIM cards for our international phones as well as buy groceries with the stipend we were given for this week. Getting the SIM cards took up a lot of time, through choosing the best access package to buy and making sure we knew how to use everything, but the worker helping us was very friendly and patient, and his English was pretty good. We got back to our flat, and Rachel and I were just starting to make our own dinners as the rest of our flatmates decided to come eat as well. At first we were a little awkward, not really knowing what to say until I offered them some cucumber that I was slicing up for my meal and we all sat down at the table and introduced ourselves. There are actually 5 other guys living in the same apartment as us, and one of them speaks English fairly well. I’m really glad we finally socialized with them a bit, as we have seen them around this past weekend but never got past the simple “Bonjour” in the hallway before going back to our own rooms. We really only spoke English to them tonight, but hopefully after beginning our French lessons we’ll have enough courage to start speaking a little French to them.

So that’s pretty much everything that has happened so far on this trip! I know this blog entry was kind of long and painful, but hopefully the rest of them won’t be this bad. I have already made lots of new friends, and I’m very excited to start our real classes at Purpan tomorrow morning!