Letters from Home

“My dearest son, it’s almost June

I hope this letter catches up with you and finds you well

It’s been dry but they’re callin’ for rain

And everything’s the same ol’ same in Johnsonville

Your stubborn ol’ daddy ain’t said too much

But I’m sure you know he sends his love

And she goes on, in a letter from home”

Obviously, modern technology makes communication with home pretty simple. I can Facebook message, IMessage, Skype, and email! However nothing says, “I am thinking about you” quite like an encouraging letter or card from America. I am definitely no soldier like in John Michael Montgomery’s ‘Letters From Home’, but I have always appreciated receiving mail and this was the only song I could think of that represented how I feel accurately.

My mom snuck this in my suitcase and I found it while in Paris. You'll see that necklace featured in almost every photo I'm in :)
My mom snuck this in my suitcase and I found it while in Paris. You’ll see that necklace featured in almost every photo I’m in 🙂
I could spot her handwriting from a continent away. Her letters are always a good read!
I could spot her handwriting from a continent away. Her letters are always a good read!
And happy days I have had! Thanks Grandma & Grandpa Sparks!
And happy days I have had! Thanks Grandma & Grandpa Sparks!
Two cards from my parents, my rocks, and my best friends
Two cards from my parents, my rocks, and my best friends
Maybe my family isn't the only one sending some postal love... stay tuned!
Maybe my family isn’t the only one sending some postal love across the world… !
Preach it!
Preach it! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Clearly I have the best support system in the entire world!

I will catch up my readers about my activities as soon as possible. There is a lot to do this week because time is running out quickly! Stay tuned!

Traveling Toulouse

Toulouse is a pretty big place! It is the 4th largest city in France. Even though it is large, I can find my way around pretty well. That is coming from someone who is AWFUL with directions. Coming from a rural background, I never dealt with public transportation much. Also I can probably count the number of times I have hopped on a bus at Purdue with one hand so it is still weird to rely on public transportation as my main means of moving around. The number of miles I have walked this summer is definitely higher than average. However, thankfully we don’t have to walk a ton to get where we need and want to go.

Upon our arrival we were given a card that allows us to use the tram, bus, and trains systems as many times as we need. It’s really convenient and saves us a lot of time and money. We go into the city sometimes for class and it seems we find something to do around downtown almost every evening. Many people have asked me about how we get around so I decided it might be easiest to blog about it! There is a tram and bus stop near Purpan and our residence so once you make it to one of those places you can easily make your way into the city. For example to make to Capitole you walk to the tram station closest to Pupan and hop on, get off at Arenes, get on a train, and from the train you will get off at Capitole. Simple enough!

My card
My card
Arenes bus stop
Arenes bus stop
The tram!
The tram!
I will walk 500 miles and I will walk 500 more
“I will walk 500 miles and I will walk 500 more!” No seriously… I think I’ve walked over 500 miles in the last 2 months!!
When we go on field trips with the school we take a charter bus. Conveniently this was the only bus picture I came across so I had to take the opportunity to embarrass Nick and Nicole
When we go on field trips with the school we take a charter bus. Conveniently this was the only bus picture I came across so I had to take the opportunity to embarrass Nick and Nicole. Love you guys 🙂

Celebrate good times, come on!

It was a weekend for celebrating! First of all, Nicole was able to come back to Toulouse for the weekend since she had the weekend off on her horse farm. We decided to have a combined late celebration for my birthday and the 4th of July which we declared a 5th of July party! We relaxed and had some fun in the sun all day and went to Saint-Pierre that night.

On Sunday Nicole, Viri, and I made a large adventure out of just one meal. haha A girl that Nicole works with had told her about a restaurant that sells American style food called Tommy’s Diner. It was SO cool and the food was amazing. I would go more often if it hadn’t taken us over an hour to get there. We had a great time relaxing and stuffing our faces with hot dogs and milkshakes.

Just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any better, I got yet ANOTHER reason to celebrate!! After a few technical difficulties (my iMessage has stopped working and I had no clue I wasn’t receiving texts sent to me) I received THE best snapchat of my life. My sister and partner-in-crime got engaged to Mr. Evan Divine. I am sending a big virtual hug their way and I’m so excited to celebrate in person when I get home. There are so many happy things happening in my life right now and I am super excited to add calling Evan my brother in the near future to the list of awesome things! Everyone around the world come on, let’s celebrate!

So glad this girl got to come back and celebrate with me. Happy 5th of July to us!
So glad this girl got to come back and celebrate with me. Happy 5th of July to us!
A 21st celebration
A 21st celebration
We had to show our new friends how to Boiler Up and Hammer Down
We had to show our new friends how to Boiler Up and Hammer Down. You try explaining what a Boilermaker is in broken French/English.. haha!
A celebration wouldn't be complete without a Nutella crepe
A celebration wouldn’t be complete without a Nutella crepe
milkshake heaven!
milkshake heaven!
we decided to take a selfie at this cute restaurant. The waiter decided that he needed in on it too! haha
We decided to take a selfie at this cute restaurant. The waiter decided that he needed in on it too! haha
Such an adorable place!
Such an adorable place!
YAY!
YAY! (And the nails just happened to be painted PERFECTLY!)
My family keeps me up to date on the growing Indiana corn to make me feel more at home. This was my most recent update that read "Yup... It was knee high by the 4th of July!" haha I have the best family ever!
My family keeps me up to date on the growing Indiana corn to make me feel more at home. This was my most recent update that read “Yup… It was knee high by the 4th of July!” I had to laugh out loud at this one. I have the best family ever!

Born in the U.S.A.

The second portion of my adventure has begun! My friends have left to be with their host families and I have moved to a new house. It is right on campus and has earned the name “the pink shack”. It’s nice and I really enjoy the 3 minute commute to work!

It doesn't look like much but... home is where the wifi to talk to mom is! hahaha
It doesn’t look like much but… home is where the wifi to talk to mom is! hahaha

Tuesday I got to drive (yes, I drove!) to the city of Viazac to visit one of the students on  her internship. She is on a donkey farm and I learned about the production of soaps and lotions from this milk. Pretty unique farm! Seeing the dogs of the farms has become one of my favorite things. ESPECIALLY on this farm because it looked like my beloved Co-op. The picture  I got doesn’t exactly do the similarity justice but it made me stop in awe for a minute.

My new donkey friend
My new donkey friend
Tell me this does this not look like Co-op I dare you...
Tell me this does this not look like Co-op I dare you…

Wednesday I got to drop Hannah off at her new home. The farmer she is staying with had been in the United States so she had to wait longer than most to leave Purpan. She is staying in the city of Castelnau-d’Estrétefonds. Next we headed to the nearby town of Haute-Garonne to visit Michelle on her vineyard. Her host family was fantastic and their home was beautiful! I found yet another adorable dog at this place. I could get used to this traveling thing!

We finally got Hannah off to her live with her host family!
We finally got Hannah off to her live with her host family!
wine for days
wine for days
He was SO precious
He was SO precious

Thursday was spent in the office working on pictures and the footage I have gotten so far. It was also a pretty special day to me! This is definitely never how I imagined spending my 21st birthday. However, I am VERY thankful for the people I have met in France that were excited to celebrate with me and made my day special. They will never understand just how much I appreciate their compassion, excitement, and support to make it though this day without my family or friends. Djamel and Marianne took me to V&B (a local bar) for a drink before the day was over. I received many encouraging texts, emails, and messages from people all over the world. There are many people who are ready to celebrate with me when I get home and I’m pretty excited to do so! Viri (my roommate for the month), Elise (one of the program assistants), and Maria (a Purpan friend) and I went out for a little bit that evening to celebrate. To end my day, I got to Skype with some pretty special people. I think I would call that “Wenning”!

Snapchats keep me sane
Snapchats keep me sane
Not a better way to end my birthday than talking to these crazies!
Not a better way to end my birthday than talking to these crazy Wennings! (Well… two Wennings and a VERY soon to be Mrs. Wenning)

My first Independence Day away from home was spent traveling to Mayran and Albi France. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Tom Petty’s American Girl have been on repeat in my head all day… However that actually isn’t unusual! We visited a veal and honey bee farm and then made a pitstop to Albi to see this amazing cathedral. The churches here are incredible! The groundbreaking for this cathedral was in 1282. YES, you read that correctly…… 1282! It is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world. I ended this special day Skyping again. I was worried for a long time how I would handle being away from home during the 3rd and 4th of July but thanks to my amazing support system, I made it through!

Albi Cathedral
Albi Cathedral
since the church. The shade of blue is called "king blue". It think it might be a new favorite of mine!
Inside the church. The shade of blue is called “king blue”. It think it might be a new favorite of mine!
Another new friend, they're everywhere!
Another new friend at the veal farm, they’re everywhere!
21 years and I haven't missed a 4th of July with these people (minus the one the day after I was born).
21 years and I haven’t missed a 4th of July with these people (minus the one the day after I was born. Actually I probably saw some of you but sorry, I don’t remember). Love you guys!

 

School’s out for summer!

The last week of class has been a blast! Like I said previously it was really busy but classes are over as of Friday! The week was filled with more French lessons, field trips, and activities. Wednesday we took part in a Gastronomy workshop where we made an authentic French meal to enjoy. I loved it! We divided into three groups. My group made the appetizer and the other two made the main dish and dessert. We ate bruschetta with duck liver on it (Yes, it’s actually good), salad, duck and potatoes, and a delicious apricot thing with ice cream. Everything turned out great and of course it was ten times more fun because of the chef hat and apron we got to wear. We had a farewell potluck dinner that night where everyone made food from their culture. So not only did we enjoy French food but things from all over the world! (Not all students in the program are from America). After the farewell dinner we had a party at the school with the other French Purpan students. They graduated this week so they had a lot of celebrating to do! The classes are very small and their schooling takes 5 years so they are a very close group! Thursday I went with the viticulture students on their field trip around Bordeaux. It was beautiful and we got to try all sorts of amazing wines. Friday we gave our final presentation about beer and took an oral French exam. Our presentation went well but French was a little rough, I did my best though!

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Capitole at night!
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Chef Kelly
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Lalita, the selfie queen from Illinois!
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The gastronomy workshop was a blast!
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SO much food. This was what my group made
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Bordeaux was b-e-a-t-i-f-u-l! 
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My first Big Mac ever… When in France??
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Beware: Mustache ahead!

Busy Bee

The last week of classes have been incredibly busy but super fun! Everyone leaves for their internship at some point this weekend. I promise to catch you all up as soon as I can but for now I am studying for our exam tomorrow and spending as much time as I can with my new friends!

Stranger Doesn’t Always Mean Danger

There comes a moment in everyone’s life that you have to say, “don’t tell mom”. That time came a couple of times for me this weekend. Yes, I am aware my mom is reading this but I’m not one to keep secrets so I said “don’t tell mom until I’ve already done it and I’m back safely at Purpan”… I have no regrets!
From the time Americans are born they are trained to not talk to strangers, take things from them, or especially get in cars with them. However, my fellow Americans and I did exactly that on Friday as we carpooled to Marseille from Toulouse.
Before you start lecturing me, there were many precautions taken. I told a couple people from both home and Purpan our exact plans with this driver and to send out an SOS if they didn’t hear from us. So relax Mom, I just didn’t want you to worry too much! The train workers in France have been on strike recently. Almost all of the trains leaving the Toulouse station were getting cancelled right before they departed. Apparently these strikes happens often, mostly because French people don’t like to work. They use striking as a way to get a vacation and that is usually their only motivation. Since we had already booked and paid for our house in Marseille we had to find an alternative way to get there.
Carpooling in Europe is extremely popular as a way to save gas and money. The website BlaBlaCar is used for drivers to post where they are leaving from, where they are going, how many seats they have available, and what time they are leaving. Drivers are reviewed by riders on the website and you see their information on their profile. So with help from a French speaking friend Nicole, Laurissa, Nick and myself booked a 4 person car with Morgan P! Her profile picture looked nice, she had high ratings, and the four of us could have easily kicked her butt if she tried to pull any funny business! The way it is ensured the drivers take you to your desired location is that you are given a code by BlaBlaCar before you leave and when they arrive at where you agreed, you give them the code that allows them to collect their money electronically. Pretty neat system if you ask me!
While we were pretty nervous when we met her on Friday, this experience exceeded my expectations! We had no idea if this lady could speak English but thankfully she did. The 5 hours car ride would have been a little awkward if not. Morgan turned out to be a sweet, interesting, and gracious person. She brought her little dog along for the adventure and it loved sleeping on our laps and playing. She showed us all sorts of new French music and we showed her some American songs!
It felt great to be traveling by car for the first time in a month after endless train and charter bus rides. I saw a couple John Deere and Case combines harvesting along the way and even a big John Deere Dealership (so clearly we know who is better *coughcoughDavidcough*).
She made a pitstop at her house and she showed us her village which sounds really creepy I know but it wasn’t, I promise! She even dropped us off at our exact address, even though she wasn’t obligated to do so and could have just dumped us out at the metro station. The house we were staying was NOTHING like we expected it to look like but was actually very nice once you got inside. I wish you could have seen our faces when we pulled up to it.. I’m sure we looked completely dumbfounded. It was in THE middle of city above a yoga studio and surrounded by graffiti. Not going to lie it looked pretty rough but once again, it turned out perfectly fine!
On a lighter note, I went cliff diving as well on our adventure. No serious injuries to report! We hiked through a National Park Saturday morning to get to the most beautiful beach I have seen in my life. It had rocks instead of sand which was very unique and made laying out in the sun a little challenging. It was unexpectedly a pretty intense hike though and I wished I hadn’t worn flip flops and brought way more water. It was worth the pain though! Sunscreen probably would have been a really good idea too! Cliff diving was super fun and definitely one of those memories I will never forget.
This weekend was Fête de la Musique in France. This is a nationwide music festival and it is the only time musicians can play along the streets. Cities all over France become a big music party and restaurants sell their food at booths along the street. For my Greenfield followers, it was like a huge nationwide Riley Days about music but it was actually cool. If that helps you imagine! Since our house was in the middle of it all, we could literally step outside our door and join the party.
Another small highlight of the weekend was that I found some Dr. Pepper. I’ve been missing that stuff and that’s the first I have seen it here! It really is the little things that can make you feel like you are more at home. It wasn’t exactly the same taste as in the states but it tastes like home to me!
The strike improved by the end of the weekend so we were able to catch a train ride back. It’s a little faster and we don’t have to worry about getting stuck in a car with someone who can’t speak English. That might have put a damper on our first impression of BlaBlaCar. We are back at Purpan for our last week of classes! I can’t believe I’m saying that actually… It’s going to be weird to not be surrounded by 48 friends almost constantly. Good thing I will have the opportunity to visit them during the month of July!
Au Revoir for now! I have a French exam on Friday so I should probably start learning French and all that good stuff…

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Enjoying the sunset and music in Old Port
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I jumped off that thing!!!
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Our new puppy friend! The lady even took our picture with her dog before we left. Also disclaimer: the dog is not licking my teeth in this picture even though it appears that way….
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Cliff divers! (this picture was taken by a topless French woman.. we didn’t even ask her but it was hard not to laugh!)
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Oh how I have missed you Dr. Pepper. Clearly, I was pretty excited
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We might have had a lot of fun with this little girl…

The adventures of studying and working abroad