American University Center of Provence
Aix-en-Provence, France, Fall 2010
When I went abroad to the south of France, I did not know what to expect. Besides the classes I would take and the clothes I would wear, I had a hard time imagining what it would be like living in a different country. As both a French and an International Studies major, it was assumed that I would spend some time overseas, an expectation I was happy to carry out.
I am lucky enough to say that I lived in the vibrant city of Aix-en-Provence, which is geographically and culturally halfway between the bustle of the port city of Marseille and the traditional countryside of Provence. My experience here can be characterized by many wonderful things–my gracious and welcoming host family, the challenging immersion program in which I enrolled, and the French and American friends I made along the way. But there is one thing that stands out particularly as I linger in my warm memories: throughout it all, there was always delicious, gourmet food and the bonds that it brought among the people who shared it.
I had always known the French ate well, but I had no idea what a central role food would play in my study abroad experience. More than just a meal, living in Aix taught me how lively fresh fruits and vegetables can be. Every morning, I walked past le grand marché on the way to class and picked up fresh and inexpensive ingredients to make my daily lunch. At night, my host mom put her magic on the table as she executed the use of olive oil and légumes as a key piece of the Mediterranean-style cuisine popular in this region of the world. Later in the evening, our French and American circle of friends would gather at the downtown café “Happy Days,” where we shared sips rosé wine while reflecting on the fun, challenging, and often bizarre moments one encounters living in a different culture.
Looking back on it now, it almost seems silly to think about and describe my love of food that developed from my francophone experience. I always have been a hearty eater, but my gourmet encounters abroad could be characterized differently: over there, it was more about savoring the natural taste of food––being culturally distant from the fast-paced and processed manner that distinguishes much of American cuisine was both refreshing and cleansing. That being said, the abundance of vegetables surrounding us did not prevent my friends and me from indulging in the plentiful pastries, ice creams, and most of all, Nutella crêpes, that were readily available at the food stands on the streets. Eating our lunches together in the student center garden as a tight-knit class of 32 students gave us Americans a new perspective on the power of sharing food as a way to bring all sorts of people together.
No matter what challenge or triumph I faced during my precious four months in France, it was the food that was the key ingredient, so to speak, that was always there. As a senior now, I can experiment with French cuisine in our apartment’s kitchen. Learning to appreciate simple foods lead me to my profound appreciation of the French pace of life, where people live in the moment–savoring a quiet pause in a café; perusing the markets of endless food and clothing; and just slowing down enough to be able to be grateful for all that we have in life.
Please enjoy my photos–I often find myself looking at them to bring back the memories of one of the best experiences of my life. The photos, taken over the course of my stay, are a sort of a day-in-the-life perspective of the beautiful scenery–and food–I would encounter as I explored France with my dear study-abroad friends. Through them, I hope you can see how peaceful and thrilling daily life is in such a beautiful place as Aix-en-Provence.