Last week was a whirlwind of goodbyes, planes, trains and family reunions, so it took a while for it to sink in that my six weeks in Arles are finally over.
I never thought that I would be anything but ecstatic to meet up with my sister and aunt in beautiful Greece, but I have to admit it was very hard to leave the one-of-a-kind south of France. After such a long time spent getting to know the town, hearing everyone speaking French, practicing the language myself, having amazing conversations with my host mom, seeing impressive photo exhibits and Roman monuments, and making American and French friends I'll never forget, saying goodbye was very bittersweet.
It can be frustrating wanting to relive all my experiences and talk about my summer all the time – of course my family and friends want to know about my trip, but their eyes glaze over a little when it's all I talk about and they can't relate. However, it helps knowing that I will absolutely be coming back to visit Arles during my next four months in Paris, and that I definitely want to return to France in the future and hopefully live there.
Obviously, the best part of the program was finally getting the chance to be immersed in French culture, speaking French almost all the time – during meals with my host family and language lunches with other students and staff in the program, with new French friends, out and about at the market and shops in Arles, etc. I'm really proud of how much more confident I (and all the other students in the program) became, how much my accent improved, and how many new phrases and expressions I learned. I can't wait to continue to get even better at speaking during my next adventure in France!
But in addition to just learning the language, my six weeks in Arles offered so many amazing experiences and opportunities that I'm going to miss so much.
My Host Family
First of all, of course, my welcoming, generous, smart and kind host mom, Katie, and her friendly kids. Whether we were drinking coffee together in the morning or driving to the beach in the evening or eating her delicious ratatouille, we always had the most interesting conversations, and I never felt uncomfortable or scared speaking with her in French. Thanks to Katie, I had the perfect balance of independence and time with my host family, and she gave me the best recommendations and advice for things to do in Arles. I couldn't have had a better experience with them, and I can't wait to keep in touch and visit them again!
My Favorite Foods
Since I'm obsessed with food, it's no surprise that it was hard to say goodbye to the Marché d'Arles and Maison Soulier, my favorite boulangerie and patîsserie in la Place de la République. All the smells and sights at the market – the fragrant baskets of spices, the tables of pungent fresh fish and blocks of local cheeses, the rows of giant red and yellow tomatoes from Provence, the sprigs of vibrant lavender and the giant pots of savory paella – always made for an exciting, lively Saturday morning. One of my favorite days was when I bought fresh, handmade basil ravioli at the Marché and cooked it for myself later that night. And at Maison Soulier, where the window displays alone make your mouth water, I would always stop in for a quick and inexpensive (but extremely high quality) mini quiche or a patisserie avec framboise et fruit de passion. I'm really going to miss these little neighborhood treasures.
The Friday Excursions
The group excursions were another highlight of the six-week program – on certain Fridays, we got to go to Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, and les Baux-de-Provence and the Pont du Gard all together. Although the heat was overwhelming at some points, we had a great time exploring the different towns and hanging out with all of the other students. Aix-en-Provence had great shopping and beautiful architecture; Avignon had crazy characters walking around everywhere because of the Festival de Théâtre; les Baux had amazing views and cute shops and cafés, and the Pont du Gard was the perfect place to cool down, jump off the cliffs and go for a swim. Thanks to these excursions, which were a great mix between programming and free time, we got to experience so many different sides of the south of France.
Finally, I'm so grateful for the people I met on the trip. The other students on the program were so interesting because they came from all different places, and they were always down to go on an adventure or to try a new restaurant or to practice French. In addition to the French friends I made and the amazing, helpful, friendly staff on the program, the people I clicked with in Arles truly made those six weeks so special for me, and I miss them already.
À bientôt, Arles! See you soon!