Kristina Kutsukos ’14

  • Fin

  • May 12th, 2013

The end is not near, it’s here.
If anyone has lived in the past century, you will understand the significance of the fact that the Hogwarts express is heading towards King’s Cross and I have a ticket on board. The year has finished, even though it feels like I just arrived on the platform in Tours 10 months ago. It’s on that platform where I met the people with whom I would be sharing my year abroad, and who would help get me through the good and the difficult times this year. If I haven’t said it enough in my blogging, I will ask one more time: where did the time go?
I am referencing Harry potter not only because I journeyed to London two weeks ago and felt like I was Hermione Granger herself, but also because I finally had the chance to ride in one of those private train compartments on the way home from Prague yesterday, and I really felt like I was ending what seemed to be a J.K. Rowling worth fantasy year. On this train, I feel like I did a lot of reflecting. While my year abroad may have seemed like a typical student’s experience, (living in a different country, a wonderful excuse for vacations, etc.) I have come to realize and can proclaim first hand that no student’s experience is the same. In terms of my own experience, there are several challenges and obstacles that I have had to adapt to this year, none of which would have been possible without wonderful friends and family at my side.
1. Living with a host family
While this idea may have seemed easy at the beginning, you don’t realize until you get there that you are not at home, nor at College. A host family is not like trying on a glove and hoping that it fits; it’s about making changes and sacrifices in order for you as well as the family to feel comfortable together. Once this happens, you can easily communicate with each other and realize that while it may not be home, it’s a place where you feel close to a new culture, family, and way of living. I am so thankful I was placed into the Rothhut family, and I know that the relationship built with them is one I plan maintaining, even though I will no longer be under their roof. Plus, did I mention my host brother is staying with me in August?? He is definitely in for an American culture shock!
2. Eating MEAT
Yes, for the twentieth time I have to confess: this happened. Will I eat meat when I go home? Probably not! But hey, I tried many new things this year, and I am proud to say that I didn’t hold back from anything (plus, the Greek girl in me real likes her lamb).
3. Traveling Alone
Take London for example: I flew there all by my belf (no, that’s not a typo), found the hostel that I booked online, and managed to meet up with a fellow crusader and friend from home! I have to admit, I was very proud of ourselves for managing to conquer the city, which included a visit to three museums, Big Ben, the London eye, the millennium bridge, the London production of Wicked, Mass at Saint Paul, and a discovery of some of the best local hangouts (best view in London: sushi bar 40 stories up). Did I mention we did this in all under 48 hours? Needless to say, I am no longer afraid to take the train to New York for the day.
4. Different language
New culture means new language and new way of thinking. Did I ever mention it can get mentally exhausting thinking and speaking in a different language all day…and I’m not just talking about French? For future Strasbourg study abroad goers: take German, you won’t regret it!
5. New Friend Circle
5 girls, nothing really in common except for our love of Holy Cross and France: this turned out to be the best combination possible. Not only did we all have different friend groups and experiences back in the States, but none of us knew anything about each other before arriving in France. Well, I am so blessed to say that I could not have imagined my experience in France with anyone else and I am so thankful for everything we have gone through together this year. Shout out to my girls: liebe!
So while this year was a definitely a journey within itself, I must also share how I ended up spending my very last few weeks abroad, which may include some physical journeys along the way.
A trip to London: Yes, I am truly obsessed with the UK and will be returning one day.
Cooking Greek food with the girls in celebration of Orthodox Easter chez Malou (Christos Anesti!)
Dressing up in Alsatian clothes with my host sister Aelys (yes, it was just as fun to do as ridiculous it looks).
Traveling to the Czech Republic with Kelia, Barbara and Jess: This was our last trip in Europe and we decided to go all out! 3 trains and a 4 hour bus later, we survived out voyage to the city of Prague. During our time, we ended up eating the typical cuisine three times in our trip which included goulash, spinach, and lots and lots of cabbage (plus beer is astronomically cheaper than water there). Besides seeing all the main sites like the astrological clock tower, the medieval castle and cathedral, and several historical museums noting the fascinating history of the Hapsburg Empire, we also stumbled upon a tea room AND the largest music club complex in central Europe… it was definitely a voyage for the books, and I’m proud to say we went out with a bang!
Now, I am currently packing up my things, saying good bye to all the wonderful people I have met in Strasbourg this year, and am still trying to figure out how I condensed all of my belongings in 2 suitcases that would last me for a whole year…To all my wonderful friends, family, and dedicated blog readers, I am signing out to profiter from the last few days in this beautiful country. See you back in the US of A!

It’s finals week people! Yes, the time has come once again to crank out the books, head to the library, and chug Starbucks till the wee hours of the morning. Oh, wait, I keep forgetting that this is finals week FRENCH STYLE. This means that while we still get a week off from classes, we have to do things a bit differently than Holy Cross. While we do have a week to study, being that we are abroad, with the exception of Italy bound Colleen, the four of us decided that we should take advantage of small day trips near and around Alsace, as well as to stay and enjoy the city that we have been able to call our second (well, third if you count Holy Cross) home away from home. Also, day trips are less expensive, and at this point, let’s face it; we are all desperate for summer jobs.

For me, Sunday started off with a day trip to northern Alsace with my host family to visit the parents of my host father! While the village might not be as tourist bound as Strasbourg, it was a quaint little town with typical Alsatian gingerbread houses and I finally got to ride in a car! Granted, my host sister, who doesn’t yet have a lot of driving experience under her belt, was the chauffeur, but we all made it there in one piece and the day itself was absolutely gorgeous! My host mom made a Kougelhopf, the which if I haven’t already explained, is an Alsatian beadlike cake with raisins and almonds, the sun was shining, and I finally got to wear shorts! Spring is here people, spring has sprung.

The next day was even more beautiful, and the girls and I headed to Stuttgart, a great city in Germany (let’s face it; we’re in Germany more than we are in France). I wore a dress for the first time in months (which cost 50 centimes from the school flee market: SCORE) and we even made a friend on the train there! (Ok, I guess we were a little hard to hide considering he could tell right away that we were American by the volume of our voices and by the amount of times we said “like”).Tough blow. While in Germany, we got gelato, went shopping, sat by the grand fountain, took the walking tour led by the fabulous Jessica herself, and found ourselves at a lovely little Italian restaurant where I think we had one of our best pasta dishes of the year (fish and zucchini and a red sauce over Tagliatelle: Yum!) We may have even bought Starbucks (thank you Germany) as well as tickets to our final travel destination of the year, which will be revealed to y’all in due time.

Wednesday, Kelia and I decided to take another daytrip to Metz, the capital of Lorraine (the French region just north of Alsace) to discover the city of churches! We arrived at the station with not a clue of what to expect, but found ourselves having a wonderful day of cathedral hopping (our cathedral is better than your cathedral), strolling through the gardens, and taking pictures of the diverse architecture (they sure do like the color brown). For lunch, we decided that we should try something from Lorraine! Needless to say, we made the mistake of eating Lardon, Lardon, and more Lardon (Je peux pas…). I am going on a very strict vegan cleanse when I come home. After this meal, we decided we needed to cheer ourselves up so we ended up going on a shopping spree for five hours. I think I have the right considering we’ve been here for 8 months!

Over the weekend, the five of us were reunited and created a noteworthy celebration of Barbara’s 21st birthday. While the appeal is somewhat lost considering we are already in Europe, it’s still a very important milestone (her golden year) and needed to be acknowledged! One of these celebration days included a homemade meal chez Rachel (eggplant and chicken parm, chocolate flourless cake, and raspberry sorbet) and a night at the ballet! The other days: let’s just say that Strasbourg is in fact a very beautiful city at 6am…In other matters, we are now in the process of final exams and I am 3 for 4 people! Yet, with the trees in blossom, the Strasbourg citizens have finally come out of hibernation and the Gelato stores are welcoming customers with lines out the door. This is making me reminiscent of Tours, meaning that we’re making the annual circle and that our time here is almost up. I guess that means that I will be living the next three weeks like there’s no tomorrow…beginning by a couple days to London! Ciao!

Despite the fact that I have been here for a total of 9 months now, it has taken me this long to realize that France is a diverse country. I thought the United States was an anomaly due to its west and east coast differences and the fact that the south is a region of its own to which many new Englanders know not of fried chicken. America, however, is nothing like France in its regional differences because although we may have coastal abnormalities (apparently fluff was just introduced to the West coast several years ago), France is composed of 27 regions in which, to my experience, none of them are identical. In case I haven’t mentioned it already, I am currently dwelling in the north eastern region of Alsace, which despite what people may think, is nothing like what people typically think of as France. In fact, if you combine Pinocchio, a pig festival, the Irish potato famine, and the French language, voila, you’ve created Alsace.

This weekend, we had the experience of travelling with Malou to the southeastern most part of France known as the beautiful region of Provence! When people say they are going on holiday in the south of France, this is the place they are talking about. We left Friday morning at 5am sharp for the six hour train heading straight for the sunny quaint city of Avignon. When I was little, my mom went to Avignon and brought me back this cute little floral skirt and matching tube top…unfortunately I don’t think I could pull this off today. Instead, when I bought many postcards and toured the famous pope palace in the heart of the gated city, which was the home of nine popes during the 14th and 15th century. From this historic tour, left the sunshine and headed to the city of Arles, in which it poured cats and dogs the entire day. However, no rain can rain on our parade! We then ventured through the ancient roman ruins following a guide who had no intention to subject herself to the weathering elements, so it was a bit of a hastened tour. After stopping at a cute little sandwich shop where we all indulged in the excessively delicious amount of olive oil and avocado, we then made our way back to the train station, snapped a few photos of the Van Gogh’s inspiration landscapes, and found ourselves in the coastal city of Marseille. Here, we saw many a boats and continued to immerse ourselves in the Marseillaise culture, architecture, and massive precipitation. Marseille also happens to be the European cultural capital city for the year of 2013! Quelle coincidence! Lucky for us, we woke up the next morning and the sun graced us with its presence once again! We left Marseille and its delicious bouillabaisse behind, and headed to our final destination, Aix-en Provence! This magnificent village is full of fresh markets, beautiful architecture, and French flower shops! All the fountains, outdoor cafes, and flourishing gardens made me feel once again that I was truly in France. Don’t get me wrong, I love Strasbourg and the Alsatian storks, but once one goes to the south, it’s really hard to return anywhere else.

So, now I am back in Strasbourg where the sun is finally beginning to shine again. Yet, there is still a large part of me that just wants to return to the lavender fields, the breezy ocean, and the quaint villages that scream “heart of France”. All I can say is that this trip and my entire experience in France would not be possible without my wonderful French filles who really just make this year worthwhile. Merci for all of you dedicated bloggers! I will be praying for sunshine next week when I’m home studying for finals! (Can you believe it, I’m almost done with classes?) I have to make the most out of this next month! Go big before we go home…vacation plans TBA. A plus!

Bonjour tout le monde,

I know it’s been forever, I’ve just been what the French call “très occupée!” Instead, I would like to center this blog around something that has become very important to me. This is a place to go to forget all troubles, sort things out, and even clear one’s mind to concentrate on the present and receive a second wind of renewal. One can call this place our “hiding place,” others may call it a meeting point of different people and convivial faces. This place is not a travel destination, nor a natural landscape; rather it is centered in the heart of the city of Strasbourg. It is known as “Tarbouche” and is the preferred restaurant for my belle amies et moi.

We discovered this restaurant after meeting with our advisor Malou, who decided to meet there one afternoon for lunch. To our greatest surprise, we walked in and felt as if we entered a different country, with the beautiful fragrance of a Lebanese kitchen filled with bold flavors and ingredients of the Middle East: Oregano, tomatoes, fresh lamb on a skillet, chickpea galore, and freshly brewed black tea. Once you enter this lovely nook, I simply do not know if you could ever leave. From this day forward, the girls and I crave this meal. We will even talk about it days in advance. Not only do they now know us by face, but they still welcome us in and address us as the “Americans” (what else is new?). This place helps us for many reasons:

a. We can talk about our problems: it’s true that since the service sometimes takes a good amount of time to prepare our fresh platters, and since we have already memorized the menu by heart (I take falafel with hummus and cucumber tomato salad almost every time), we are allotted much needed time to hash out our issues/ complaints/ positives/ and negatives of the day.

b. Tarbouche brings people together: while some may say we have an addiction to this place (don’t worry I’ve only eaten there twice this week), I think it’s a must for all the people who have visited me! My brother, my friends from home, friends from school, Epitech students, advisors, and of course the 5 amigos…I just realized I have yet to bring my host family here. Speaking of my friends from home, I thought I would also announce that I recently brought two of my best friends from home, Amanda and Enxhi, here because they surprised me with a visit to Strasbourg a couple weeks ago!!! Don’t worry, we did more than go to Tarbouche (even though they did go and absolutely loved the chicken chwarma and babaganoush). We spent the week touring Strasbourg, going to the Cuban boat bar, entering the Cathedral (the astrological clock show is definitely still a letdown), and meeting all my notorious Epitech students, host family, advisors, and of course the girls (our gathering took place at the Tarbouche, bien sur!) There was also a wonderful visit to Frankfurt where we stayed for the weekend with family of mine (right, I didn’t know I had family in Germany either). To sum it up, it was wonderful to have with me a piece from home and I’m so happy and thankful that they came!

c. They give us free tea. While this might not be a huge factor considering their tea is only 1 euro, it’s still the thought that counts and we are poor college students (that and the fact that we have to pay for food over here in a more expensive currency, and what can I say? We enjoy good food!) Tea also has the charm of helping out everyone in need! Are you sick? Drink some tea! Had a bad day? Have a cuppa! Wanna watch a movie? I’ll put on the kettle! (Quoting my host mom at least) The English are totally doing the right thing with their whole “afternoon tea time” spiel. This is why I’m enjoying a nice cup of herbal tea right now while watching “The divine secrets of the ya-ya sisterhood” with my host sister.

What I am trying to say here is that while the Tarbouche has become a large part of our experience in France, it is also a place that creates joy, harmony, and positive energy. While this weekend is a gift for the fact that we have four days off from school and I will be eating chocolate and watching movies till my cheeks look like an Easter bunny, it’s a little bittersweet for the fact that we will have to give Tarbouche a rest for now. Yet, this also means we will have to make up for it next week! Wishing everyone a wonderful Easter from France! Next week: South of France with the girls and Malou….things are about to get fou.

Today was the first sign of spring. The birds were chirping, the sun was finally shining over the city of Strasbourg, and the smell of Easter filled the air. I met up with the girls for lunch, as well as Rachel, our advisor, and we fawned over the display of chocolate eggs and bunny rabbits in the window. It had been over 10 days since we had seen each other and it was so wonderful catching up, listening to stories, and sharing everyone’s different vacation travel experiences.
My previous three “vacations” include a weekend in Amsterdam with Jessica and Jack, a wonderful 10 day visit from my brother, and a week spent in the French countryside with my host family. What do these three experiences have in common? Truly, the most important thing I have learned from being abroad is that it is not about where you go, but the people you spend time with that make it all the while. Certainly, there are highlights from these adventures, which include:
• Shielding my eyes away from the Sex Museum and Red light district of Amsterdam (both of which Jess and I were forced to endure)
• Home-made taco night chez Barbara….which is why I still have a third degree burn on my hand
• Meeting up with our family friends for a dinner in Paris (NEIGHBORS!)
• Visiting my “host grandmother” and training my host brother the art of running each morning (in the mud, nonetheless)
• Planning an oral presentation on the history and degustation of the notable Alsatian wine Pinot Gris (It’s gris, not grigio)
While it may be true that I could go on and on about how fantastic my study abroad experience has been, one important thing I always must take into account is what is it that makes it so special? Is it the classes, the beauty of the French language and culture, or the opportunity to travel and the fact that we have Europe at our feet? I know for sure that all of these factors are not nearly as important as the fact that I have met so many incredible people along the way. New friend or old, European or American, a long built in friendship or brief crossing of paths, studying abroad is living abroad and creating memories and relationships that will be ingrained in me forever. Thank you for everyone who as shared these experiences with me, and I can only hope that in the next few months here, while the weather gradually turns warmer, my relationships with others will grow stronger.


This week in our Holy Cross course, we were required to read short texts from the notorious French writer Philippe Delerm who just so happens to be gifted in the art of writing about small pleasures in life. Reading on the beach, the joy of ordering a banana split, the smell of a croissant baking before sunrise, or the beauty of walking to the bakery on a Sunday morning: the small things in life that make everything worthwhile. In light of reading these texts, I decided to devote my week, as well as this blog to enjoying the small pleasures that we take for granted but make life worth living for. In France, it seems I have more time to appreciate these things, especially when I am already so immersed in and captivated by the beauty of the French culture. It’s true: there is something to be said about enjoying a walk to work in the morning, or taking the time during the day to appreciate the effort and creativity going into a simple meal, as well as the small encounters we have with new people each day. A new perspective on a mundane task can change our sentiments from viewing it as a chore to welcoming it as a gift. After all, what’s the point of living life if we don’t try new things, learn what we like and dislike, and continue to do what makes us happy?
I discovered from my academics this week that I have a passion for the history of wine. I know this sounds a bit overzealous, but there are so many aspects that go into the creation of wine, that I simply just want to know more. For my oral presentation, I chose to do an exposition on Pinot Gris, an Alsatian white wine which I happen to love the history just as much as the taste. Luckily, on our class field trip this week to a wine tasting, this was one of the wines that we got to sample. Even more fortunate, one of the menu selections at “Au Crocodile”, one of the best restaurants in Strasbourg, was a “grand cru” Pinot Gris. (I apologize; somehow I always end up writing about food)
My wonderful host sisters so kindly invited me to go to this French bistro this weekend to experience French cuisine or “gastronomie francaise” at its finest. This meal was comprised of 8 courses, each paired with a different type of wine, and I can honestly contest that it was the best food experience of my life. From tender goose liver to a melting praline chocolate mousse, the food was absolutely exquisite, and three hours later, I think I discovered a whole new appreciation for the art of cuisine. This type of eating, when enjoyed in good company, with no prior obligations, free of stress and worry, was just “la cerise sur le gateau” and the best way to finish my week.
So a little note to you lovely readers, I kindly encourage everyone to make this week full of gratitude, timeless, and whatever makes the soul happy. Whether this is attending a jazz concert, going for a run in the snow (it could be magical), inhaling deeply just because it feels fantastic, whipping up some poppy seed muffins only because you love the smell of them baking in the oven, enjoying a cup of tea to go along with some more tedious work at the office, or quieting the mind curled up with a great French read…and no, you don’t have to do everything that I’ve done this week because everyone is true to their own wishes . Be love, be gratitude, be you.
Ps, if you don’t hear from me in a couple weeks it’s because I will be in Amsterdam with my brother! <3

Hello Friends!
I am writing to undercover, from the top secret grounds of my host family’s apartment on Rue de Haguenau in Strasbourg, France. Well, maybe it’s not that top secret, but I would like to take the opportunity in this blog to cover the everyday life of a Study Abroad blogger in France to gain a perspective, especially for prospective study abroad students, what life over here is like on a daily basis. What is in store for the day of January 30th, 2013? Well, I will tell you people, the full out truth, ups and downs, of the daily life living abroad.
First, I had to wake up early this morning, because I now have an internship at the International Institute of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, France conveniently enough. So, because it was an early morning, I had a bathroom run-in with my host sister (because like a normal family, we share the same bathroom) and then went to the breakfast table to take my usual yogurt, homemade apricot jam (I really need to learn how to make that), butter (it’s unavoidable), toast and tea. I then proceeded to have a lovely conversation about the weather, which is unusually humid, warm, and rainy on this mid-winter day, and headed outside to catch the tram for my “stage”. The tram, in case you were wondering, is a lovely invention, because although it still takes me ten minutes to walk to the nearest stop, this above ground metro system cuts my commute time in half. I then got to the institute, which is this little Alsatian looking building, and was assigned the task of translating a document from French to English, which by the way, is great practice, although I think they have far too much confidence in my language proficiency than they should (and I’m mostly referring to my English vocabulary). After “slaving away” at this all morning, I was told that I finished all the work needed, and besides my usual two and a half hour lunch break, I didn’t need to come back this afternoon at all! Chouette.
I then proceeded to get back on the tram, whip out my French version of “twilight” for some reading pleasure/ French practice, and met Jessica, Barbara, and Colleen for lunch at our favorite Café, Café Michel (They make the best goat cheese salads!). This week is also very special because I get a whole week off from Epitech! This, consequently, means I have more time to do things like go to the gym, take an extra leisurely lunch, and to make chocolate mousse. Yes, my host mom taught me the secret to make a fabulous mousse au chocolat and when she says I can proceed to make this anytime for the family, I will gladly take her up on this offer!
In the past week, on the other hand, I have been very busy with classes (my new wine history class is wonderful), visiting the wine caves of the hospital (yes, in France the caves were obviously made underneath the hospital so that Priests could heal people), and watching many old French films with my host mom. Last Saturday was also very special because not only did I have a three hour gossip girl marathon (with French dubs which makes it that much more ridiculous) with my host sister, but she also took me shopping so that I could finally buy a good pair of French shoes (And bonus, they were on sale with all the “soldes” going on)! I hope everyone else is “profiteering” of their winter days, because if we don’t take the time to seize opportunities, the best moments will slip away from us. Goal for this weekend: go back to the boat bar so I can dance the salsa again…
A plus!

Happy New Year one and all! It is now 2013, meaning we have all survived the apocalypse so congratulations because I was a little bit worried there for a while…I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday like myself, in which for the first time in a total of five months, I was home (well home as in at least on the same continent as my hometown). There are too many exciting things that happened over the past several weeks so I think I’ll save everyone the agony of reading and go straight to best parts.
I can’t tell you how much it was a blessing to be able to come home for Christmas. I know that all the advisors tell study abroad students that they should not go home over Christmas break, but I have to say that it was the best Christmas present a kid could ask for. While I’m sure my experience in France would have been special indeed, I have gone five months without having direct contact with my closest family members and friends, and although we do have lovely technology to connect, there’s nothing better than having Holiday parties for four days in a row surrounded by people I know and love. It is also a good refresher to sum up my halfway point experience in France, and an opportunity to be able to step back and really appreciate everything that has happened to me here. While blogging is one thing, I had not yet been given the opportunity to recall my experience and wonderful memories and feelings face to face with those inquisitive souls from the States. It also gave me an excuse to sit back and reflect on what I would like to change about next semester and what I would like to accomplish. Therefore, below are my new year’s resolutions:
1. Hit my top travel destinations to see friends. This does not involve seeing everywhere in the world that I want to see (mainly because I am far too broke to do that) but instead, to visit those friends who are close by me who can share their cultural experience with me as well! Therefore, I have narrowed down the list to six travel destinations which will be shared with you in due time.
2. Make Friends. I love my Strasbourg girls dearly but especially after visiting Kelia in NYC (yes, that happened because it had been a whole week without seeing each other and technically that coincides with resolution number 1), we decided that we need to branch out and meet more French friends (I’m hoping my EPITECH boys can help me with this one).
3. Say Oui. This is the last semester to accomplish everything that I want in France (for this year that is) so it is time to branch out, take risks, and make my Junior study abroad experience one that will truly be for the books!
With that in mind, I will continue by recalling my Euro trip with my two long lost neighbors from home, Nikki and Daniel. These two friends both agreed to come to Europe with me and see what my life here is all about, in addition to taking a couple pit stops at Paris and Vienna for some sightseeing fun. With that being said, I left home, a little sad because my time there was so short, and arrived in Paris, to my great relief, completely reborn and ecstatic to begin a whole new semester here. I will again highlight only a few key components of the trip:
1. The Jazz Club (yes, Nikki and I took Paris by storm and swing danced all night in an underground 1930sesque cavern with several 65 year old men in suspenders)
2. The Mystery Tour guide (let’s just say thanks to my wonderful academic advisor and her incredible connections, I was able to get in touch with an invited guest from Thanksgiving who lives in Vienna and toured us around the city, introducing us to the best restaurants and sights)
3. The Food: Schnitzel with noodles, wild geese (just kidding), pumpkin soup, spinach puree like I’ve never quite seen nor tasted before, Chocolate torte, Himalayan food (let’s just say I have a magic book with wonderful recommendations), Goulash (don’t worry, only Daniel consumed this carnivorous dish)apple strudel and lots and lots of Kaffee. Yes, friends, if France had not already convinced me to start liking Espresso, Vienna definitely changed my thoughts about coffee (and when I say I drank it every day, I think it’s only fair to say that I am now spoiled by the strong dark Viennese coffee flavor that I will never be tempted to drink American coffee anyways)
4. The French-American connection once more where my two close friends from home got to interact with my life here and experience the life abroad, hopefully to share this experience with all of you as well! Feel free to ask them what they think! (If they happen to mention anything about me getting on a wrong bus and leaving them at the curbside, don’t believe a word they say Fraulein…)
Keep reading and I wish you all a healthy and pure loving start to 2013! To be continued.

Blog 13 : Joyeux Noel
And so, we are winding down towards the end of my journey here in France…PART 1 that is! I cannot be more than ecstatic to go home for the holidays, but I am also so thankful that I have next semester here to look forward to. Before I go home, however, there are just a few things that I need to soak in right now. First, the holiday season (bien sûr!) If I haven’t mentioned this in almost every blog already, I will just say again that the Christmas Market in Strasbourg is something that people look forward to all year. The beautiful lights, the smell of hot apple cider, and the mob of people that I run into on a daily occurrence really make this town that much brighter. I could almost stay here for the holiday season! (Ok, let’s not take things too far now). However, I have to compliment my host mom for all the wonderful holiday activities that I would have not had the opportunity to experience at Holy Cross. For example, I walked into the kitchen today to find not just a plate but exactly 14 Christmas tins; all of which were filled with a different assortment of home-baked Christmas cookies. I look at this as just another major food group to add to my current diet: bread and cheese. She also made this beautiful wreath all on her own, which I was extremely impressed about, which she incorporated hand-picked leaves, fresh dried oranges, and candles that she bought at the market. While France doesn’t get as Hallmark about Christmas and the Holidays as the US does, I am still happy that the true Christmas spirit still exists ,which of course is not just about the presents, the wrapping paper, and the holiday movies. (However, I keep bugging my host parents every night to watch a Christmas movie and I think it’s officially safe to say that they think I am a deranged fan).
I also promised I would explain a bit more about the Marché de Noel. Basically, there are several things to look out for when dodging through the hustle and bustle of Christmas Cheer:
1. Vin Chaud (Mulled Wine): Honestly, a bit too sweet for my liking but people really should try it once and keep the great little souvenir cup. I preferred the hot apple cider which was just as festive and better smelling (maybe that’s also my nostalgia for my apple-orchard loving farm town of Glastonbury).
2. The dreaded Tarte Flambée Baguettes: The Alsatian specialty, “La Tarte Flambée” (I’m sorry I cringe whenever I think about it) is basically just a flat pizza with cheese and lots and lots of bacon. You see now why I’m more than enthused. Well, they created the wonderful idea that they should incorporate this into a baguette with cheese and bacon….and yes; people do come from all over France to taste these phenomenal hot sandwiches (Instead of me trying it, I’ll let you all just go eat a bacon pizza and tell me how it is.)
3. I am, however, an extreme fan of the vast displays of Christmas Ornaments, Christmas tea booths, Pain d’epices (Christmas spice Bread), Wood-crafted Strasbourg Christmas trinkets, and Christmas Candy EVERYWHERE! (Yes, it’s necessary to put Christmas in front of all of these words to really accentuate the CHRISTMAS cheer). Unfortunately, I have not yet seen anyone dressed up as Santa…
While the Christmas spirit is upon us, I must be honest and say that I haven’t just been focusing on Christmas…last week I celebrated my 20th Birthday in Scotland! Instead of boring you with all the Scottish details, I just made a trip to Saint Andrews, met up with several Holy Cross kids, explored the town, and even got to see the dorm room where Kate and Will stayed in when they attended the University (Def, the highlight of the trip). I also really thought it would be a break from the usual French language barrier, but to be perfectly honest, I had absolutely no clue what the old Scottish bus driver was trying to say to me. So, as another naïve American, I learned that Scotland is definitely a foreign country in itself. Besides my last voyage of the semester (except if you count the most exciting adventure back home to America in T-8 days), I have also been suffocating under the massive weight of finals weeks….To be blatantly honest, it is not as bad as Holy Cross finals because they are spread out in three weeks, and I have not been nearly as stressed (there is absolutely no correlation between the stress and the amount of gauffres I have consumed in the past week). This could also be because all of my finals are in French (besides German of course) which makes the impact of the “finals signals” less real. I have also had a little bit of downtime to go to work (yes, still working at the boy tech school who made the mistake in telling me that they have never seen “How the Grinch stole Christmas” before), watching the Miss France Pageant with my host dad (It is exactly what it sounds like…Congrats to Miss Bourgogne!), and volunteering at the hospital. For my ICIP (I am actually still not sure what this stands for but it’s something along the lines of a cultural project one must do while studying abroad) I decided to volunteer at the hospital, which in France you can only do so by joining the hospital’s Catholic chaplaincy (Shhh, they don’t need to know I’m not Catholic). What I can do, though, is become a visitor and have conversations with people who are in the “Internal Medicine” section of the hospital. I never thought how much fun this could be until last week, I went into the hospital, got lost, and walked into a random room to which I wasn’t exactly assigned. The best part of this was that I met this very sweet woman from Alsace, got to practice my French with her for over an hour, and promised I would return and visit her again this coming week!
Other than that, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to practice my German at the Opera which we all attended with Malou. This was also my first Opera attendance and although it was a modern interpretation of Mozart, I felt very special to dress up for the occasion and hear songs that I was somewhat familiar with (there are people like Mozart who really make music universal to every language). I also must throw out there that before I go home, there are two more things I am overly excited about: these include a Cookie-making Slumber Party, a Christmas Dinner, Malou, Rachel, and my French-American sisters (the Strasbourg 5). I wish everyone else who has to endure finals or the madness of last minute Christmas shopping “bon courage” and I hope to see all you Americans next week!! May everyone have a safe and blessed Holiday! Tis the Season!

Guten Tag! Yes, once again it’s one of those occasions where I feel it is necessary to pay tribute to my German tongue after returning from my last Deutschkurs of the semester! My my, how time is really slipping away…there is so much to share just from the past two weeks. First on the agenda, I would like to recount our wonderful trip to Dijon, France where we were reunited with our other French-loving Holy Cross friends. While most people tend to only think of the mustard (Dijon mustard…anyone?), I can now contest that there is so much more to the beautiful city. For starters, the region is the wine region of France (Burgundy) and is just as quaint as one would imagine it to be. I oftentimes forget that I am living in France because although Alsace is a French region, it is very much German-influenced and the architecture, regional specialties, and French accent is very particular. As much as I love Strasbourg, I realized after climbing a wonderful tower in Dijon that I need to be exploring more of France! I re-discovered my love for “typical” France and so, Jess and I began house hunting (the only way to find where we’re going to come back and live here is through exploring all our options).
In terms of Lily and Alexandra, they are doing fantastic! Colleen and I were given the honor to stay with Lily’s host family and they are absolutely adorable (I swear the mother should have a career in better homes and gardens). We arrived Friday night, met up at a Café, retold all our great stories from the past three months (can you believe it’s been three months?), and then decided that we would need to be daring…KARAOKE! Yes, we crossed yet another thing off our bucket list, and I convinced Barbara to do a duet of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” It was at the least a night for the books (I won’t recall the random man who got on stage with us and decided that he wanted to share his love for ABBA too #awkward). We then proceeded to spend a wonderful weekend sightseeing, trying the local specialties, and visiting historic places (like the setting for Cyrano de Bergerac, several exquisite Cathedrals, and the Museum of Fine Arts). We then returned from a very relaxing weekend and realized that it was GO TIME. I’m not sure if Malou and Rachel wanted to distract us from the Thanksgiving home-sickness or not, but they definitely did a fine job of doing so.
Wednesday, we were given the privilege to enter European Parliament where we sat in on a discussion for Environmental protection. Quite fascinating if I might say the least…but a little bit too hectic of an environment if you ask me (people in that place really need some yoga in their lives). Before Parliament however, it was time to go where no Holy Cross student has ever gone before…Yes, the five of us, Rachel, and her three sons all contributed in the grand production of cooking for Thanksgiving! I don’t think I have ever witnessed such a mélange of different cultures in my life…and I’m not talking about Europe. Apparently, in the United States, certain people eat Macaroni and Cheese as well as Marshmallow sweet potatoes (not mentioning any names #Kelia) for their Thanksgiving Dinner. I guess there’s a first time for everything. I was really concerned however, that I would be missing out at Thanksgiving at home, which is an important Holiday for all of us, and although I did miss all my family at home, I could not have been more thankful for the incredible Thanksgiving gathering that Rachel prepared. In the end, we dined with precisely 25 American/ German/ French friends, ate an alarmingly fantastic “traditional” (take out the marshmallows and succotash) thanksgiving meal, and were obligated to give a singing performance of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” with Rachel as the pianist. I cannot say that I will ever want to watch that ear-shattering video anytime in my life, but it was a lot of fun and I’m honestly so lucky to have such a wonderful advisor, a great group of friends, and a once in a lifetime study-abroad experience.
To sum up the weekend, we attended a “spectacle de danse” (I must admit I was not too keen on the “modern” approach), took a day trip to Baden-Baden, Germany (the same place I went with my parents, yet this time got to experience the baths), and finally returned to Strasbourg for the beginning of the Christmas Market!! For all of you who have not been reading my blog, the “Marché de Noel” is the biggest event in Strasbourg and the town basically goes all-out for beautiful Christmas decorations, a giant Christmas tree, and hundreds of little Holiday booths (most of them stocked with Christmas treats and hot wine/cider/orange juice). I have already walked through the markets twice since Saturday and am way too enthralled by how pretty everything is! Don’t worry, more to come on that one. Until next time, finals are approaching and I have to study! Yes, this word has become foreign to me for the past 6 months because the French University system creates classes where there is only 1 exam at the end of the semester (C’est fou!). Yet, that doesn’t mean I can’t squeeze in a trip to Saint Andrews in between right? Thanks for reading or Danke Shoen! Tschuss!