Blogger: Natalie Wilhelm 

Program: Cergy-Pontoise, France


View from Hilltop Park — Natalie Wilhelm

Voila, I have arrived! I am now safely set up in my own little apartment at the Université de Cergy-Pontoise, in – you guessed it! – Cergy, France! Madame Arrizabalaga, a director of international students here, picked me up from the airport. After she helped me with the paperwork to get into my room, she introduced me to some awesome French students. They helped me and Lauren (my fellow Valpo student) find the shopping mall and – most importantly – lunch. Now I just have some administrative things left to do before classes start on the 16th. Until then, it’s another week of vacation!

This is my second time coming to France, yet I still find the process of travel so fascinating. I woke up in my own bed on Thursday morning and went back to bed in a strange apartment in France on Friday night. I was up for almost 48 hours in a row since the plane hit a patch of turbulence that seemed to last forever and made it difficult to sleep. I don’t recommend staying up that long, unless you’re flying to your favorite foreign country. Then, I suppose, it’s worth it.

It’s also fascinating to me how difficult it is to sleep at night. Whenever I lay down to go to sleep, my brain decides to go on a tangent and think about all the things from home (Parents! Dog! Car! Favorite stores!). It’s also difficult because when it’s 3 am here, it’s only 8 pm at home. The first night here, I didn’t fall asleep until past 6 in the morning, and didn’t wake up until noon. But the second night was better, so I think I’ll be back on track soon.

It’s lovely outside here, even though it’s rainy and chilly. My apartment window opens onto a little soccer field. Behind that is a little playground built on top of a hill. I climbed up to the top of the hill, and I could see the rooftops of the other apartment buildings. It is seriously beautiful. It’s like all the buildings in France are built in this gorgeous architectural style that you would almost never find in the United States.


View from window — Natalie Wilhelm

Another big difference is how much independence students have here. Everyone lives in different housing throughout the city; some are five minutes from campus, while others are forty minutes. We are expected to buy our own metro passes and groceries for whenever the campus cafes aren’t open. There are no RAs putting on programs, or RLCs coming through the hall just to check in. It’s like we’re actual adults. Yikes.

This kind of scared me at first, so I didn’t really leave my room much yesterday except to check out the hilltop park. But today, I decided to branch out a little and find the train station and some food by myself. Once outside, I followed the trail of people carrying baguettes and eventually found some shops that were open. A lot of shops close on Sundays for worship and rest. So I was very glad to see some stores still open!

I bought myself a baguette and other things to eat and walked back to my apartment. When I got that baguette home and looked at it sitting on my counter, I started crying a little. Before I came to France, I spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to live here. If I would make new friends, if I would be able to communicate effectively, and just be able to handle living in a foreign country. Somehow, buying that baguette made me ridiculously happy. I actually went into a store and spoke French to the grumpy shopkeeper and bought myself food. I proved to myself that I can do this. I can make friends and live four thousand miles away from my parents and my school for six months – 168 days, exactly.

Even though it may seem like a simple thing, I was glad I decided to walk to the train station. After all, I can’t spend the whole six months sitting in my room, can I? Here’s to 165 more adventures!

A bientôt,