Finals are Finally Finished!

Well, my finals are finally finished. On Thursday, they will post whether or not we passed on the wall of our school. Our success or failure will be public, like a Facebook post. So…let’s hope I passed!

 

I think my exams went okay. My first exam was written comprehension. I felt pretty confident about my answers, except for one. Unfortunately, it was the one question that was worth the most out of the entire exam. I felt like it was a pretty unfair question because it asked us to reword the philosophy of one guy and his quote was virtually impossible to understand. His quote, which we had to explain in our own words, was only three lines long, but it was filled with lots of unknown vocabulary. One of the words?  Décalcomanie. Don’t know what that word means in French? Let me translate it for you. Decalcomania. That’s an English word. I tried to be logical and use the context of the entire text to derive a meaning for this philosophy, but it was tough. After the exam, I looked on Wikipedia and found out that decalcomania is “a decorative technique by which engravings and prints may be transferred to pottery or other materials. It was invented in England about 1750 and imported into the United States at least as early as 1865.” I’ll be honest. That’s not what I wrote on my exam! Especially since the exam was talking about tattoos!

 

My second exam was oral comprehension and that was alright. I usually don’t have a problem understanding French and I felt like I answered most of the questions correctly. However, there was one question that had three answers to it…and I didn’t hear any of them at all. We’re allowed to listen to the document twice and I thought I just missed it the first time around, but I missed it the second time too. Oh well. I couldn’t leave the answers blank so I just wrote random guesses down. You never know, right?

 

My third exam was my written expression. Throughout the semester, my grammar teacher has been dropping strange hints like, “You might want to know synonyms for this word” or “It’s very important to know the difference between active and passive voices.” She always would say these things in a strange voice and I actually starred them in my notes. When I was studying for finals, I looked at these things and I’m glad I did! She actually gave us hints throughout the entire semester! She must have written the exam. I felt very confident in my answers for that exam.

 

All of those three exams were on the same day: Tuesday. It was an extremely long day and my brain was essentially fried after that. My final exam was my oral expression and that was yesterday.

 

I was pretty nervous because you pick a random topic and then have to develop a scholarly argument on it. You have fifteen minutes of preparation and fifteen minutes to speak, with questions from the professor afterwards. And you could get any professor. I got to the classroom early and waited outside of the door. At my time, the professor opened the door and I was immediately relieved. It was my theatre professor.

 

A quick words on professors in France. In the United States, I feel quite close to my professors. I feel like I can go to them if I have a question or a problem. But in France? My professors are reluctant to give you their university e-mail address and they don’t have office hours. They show up for the class and then leave. You don’t really develop a relationship with them as people, although this could be because we are international students and we usually leave after the semester.

 

However, one professor was a bit different from the others. My theatre professor. She helped me pick out my monologue for the cabaret. She definitely encouraged me during class and I always felt very comfortable around her, compared to other professors where I was scared to make a mistake when speaking for fear of a severe reprimand. So, when I saw it was my theatre professor, I felt much better.

 

I picked my topic at random and ended up having to talk about food scandals. At first, I panicked and couldn’t think of how to develop a two part argument with three argumentations and examples for each part. To make things tougher, someone is giving their oral exam at the same time you are preparing. So, you’re listening to that, but trying to think and it was a little stressful. But then I remembered something. Didn’t I learn about GMO’s in a French culture class at WVU? Didn’t I talk about the difference between local foods and commercial foods in my oral expression class just last semester? Suddenly, I had a million ideas and I scribbled those down on paper.

 

Then it was time to talk. When talking to professors, I usually make a fool of myself because I’m so nervous to speak. When speaking to French students or on the street, I’m much more relaxed and I definitely speak better than when I’m in a classroom. So, I should have been scared, but it was my theatre professor. I treated it like a performance and, suddenly, I realized I gave the best argumentative speech in French in my life. I was pleasantly surprised. Then, it was my professor’s turn. I expected the professors to grill us on our structure and our arguments, but she wasn’t too bad. I actually found out something important about France. I was talking about the scandal of food in Europe where horse meat was being sold as beef and I said that in the western world, it is a taboo to eat horse meat. My professor corrected me and told me that it is only a taboo in Anglo-Saxon countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Apparently, in France, it is possible to go to a specialty shop and buy horse meat. When my professor was in school, she actually ate horse meat in the cafeteria. I was pretty surprised by that. So, my oral expression was also a learning opportunity for me.

 

And then, I was done. I’m done with school. I’m Kellene O’Hara and I completed a semester of university in France. Now, all I have to do is wait for the results.

Preparing for Finals

I freely admit that, after five months, I still do not understand the French university system. I attend the Université de Nantes, but each section of the university runs completely separate from another part of the university. The dorm that I live in is not part of the university. This means that when I need something, I must go through many administrative hoops as there is no one central administration.

 

There is no such thing as a syllabus in France. This word is completely foreign to French students. Without a syllabus, I have no idea how my grades function, how many tests and projects I will have during a semester and I do not know their weight. Therefore, I have no idea how much these finals count towards my grade. My professors have been talking about them all semester, so they sound important, but I have no clue how important they actually are. All I can do is assume that all of my grades are vitally important and try to do my very best on all of them.

 

And is my very best the same in France and in the United States? Absolutely. Is it graded the same way? Nope. Not at all. I’ve thought about this for a long time. Why is it that in America I can get a 100 (out of 100) on a test, but in France only get a 17 (out of 20) on a test? Even when my answers are “correct,” my professor will still find some tiny error to deduct points or, worse, I’ve had a professor tell me that my work was “too perfect” and “too good” so she took off points! I think that it’s cultural. In America, we subscribe to the American Dream. We believe that if we work hard enough, we will be rewarded. Our school system reflects this. It is possible to get a 100 on a test if you work really hard. But in France? Students and faculty have accepted the fact that it is “impossible” to get a 20 (out of 20) on any assignment or test. The grading appears to be entirely subjective in France (as it is many times in the United States too). I have gotten a 19/20 from one professor while another professor takes half a point off for every mistake, every misplaced comma, every misspelling. So, I have to ask myself, what am I working towards? Am I working towards being a communicative being? Or a perfectionist in search of the unachievable, of a dream that cannot be?

 

All I’ve ever wanted to do was to learn. Yet, there’s a part of me that wants to do well. I want to get that 20 out of 20, even if they say it’s not possible. I guess that’s the Honors student in me. Yet, I am facing a system where I don’t know the rules, where I don’t know how to study.

 

There are four parts to my finals: written comprehension, oral comprehension, written expression and oral expression. Tomorrow, I take the first three exams in what can only be described as an academic marathon that starts at 8 AM and finishes at 4 PM. It’s a day crammed with exams…and I have no way of studying. The topics are given at random. They could be on anything. I will be expected to read, listen and write about virtually any topic in the universe. The only thing I know? It’ll be in French.

 

In many ways, I’ve been preparing for this since second grade. I’ve listened to French. I’ve spoken French. I’ve read French. I’ve written French. But at the same time…what if I have a bad day tomorrow? What if I fall upon a topic that I don’t know much about (I swear, if I get anything about France’s involvement with some scientific important thing, I’m going to have a rough time)? Only my oral exam is on another day. In addition, we are taking the tests in an amphitheater with all of the kids in the IRFFLE program. All of them. In one giant room. Our tests will be collected and graded at random. Remember that professor that gave me a 19/20 and the professor that takes half a point of for every potential error? Either could grade my test. Obviously, I’m hoping for someone who will grade on content, not on grammatical perfection/imperfection.

 

Nothing here is any harder than what I’ve been expected to do in the past. I had a teacher in high school who would make us pick speaking topics out of a hat and we’d had to give a minute speech right then and there. That’s essentially the same as the oral expression exam here, except that I have to build an argument and that argument will be fifteen minutes, with a question and answer period at the end (with three examples for two opposing arguments, preferably with quotes, facts, statistics, and these examples should demonstrate knowledge of French culture/history, although I’ve heard we get bonus points for making comparisons between French and our native cultures/histories). All of this is nothing new, it’s just a test in France.

 

At this point, either I know French…or I don’t. My days of studying were at Quidditch practice…my days of studying were in a kitchen learning to make chocolate mousse…my days of studying were at an Easter egg hunt…my days of studying were at the beach in Nice…

 

Fourteen years of studying, hundreds of experiences…

 

And one big exam day.

End of Classes

Yesterday was my final day of class here in France. My final exams are next week. I had a pretty busy week this week. I had a phonetics exam, I had papers due, I got papers back (scoring the highest written expression exam all semester for me). I had my final theatre project, which was an extract from Samuel Beckett’s En Attendant Godot. I’m super proud of this project and I’d like to thank my partner, Aini. I think this was one of the best theatre plays I’ve done all year. You can check it out on Youtube here:

http://youtu.be/rTnk9BMkO30

Last night was the IRFFLE cabaret where students in the IRFFLE program put together a variety show to celebrate the last day of class. At WVU, I participate in the cabaret every fall and in the Spring Spectacle in the spring. But, when I do a song/theatre piece/puppet show in French at WVU, it’s in front of a bunch of American students, with only a handful of native French speakers. But the cabaret in France? Yes, it’s for foreign students, but all of our professors are native French speakers. And they will be the ones grading our exams next week. And they brought their spouses. And some foreign students are married to French nationals. So, there were a lot of French people in the student union.

And Kellene O’Hara signed up to do a monologue.

A monologue that I hadn’t prepared very much because I was focusing on making it through that last week of class. I was studying and writing and working. Not memorizing lines.

I realized how nervous I was when I sat down and then realized I sat down right behind the professors. I was in France. I was trying to do a monologue in their language, written by a French humorist named Florence Foresti. Why did I think this was a good idea? Could I leave now? No one would notice if I ran out the back door.

Abort mission. Abort. Now!

I was half-considering running away when I realized that this was stage fright. Which is pretty funny if you know me. I have performed in front of many audiences doing a wide variety of things. In high school, I was a member of the show choir. I was a member of the drama club. I’d done countless monologues. I’d been to Regionals (a competition for drama clubs in your region). I’d been to States (the next stage of the competition, after winning Regionals, for drama clubs in your state). Last summer, I was in a Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. I will gladly talk to anyone that will listen to me. I volunteer first to give presentations because I genuinely like to give presentations. I’ve never been afraid to get up on stage…

Until last night. Last night was the largest French audience I have ever been in front of…EVER. This was my first public display of French. Either I would speak French or dolphin squeaking sounds would come out of my mouth and I would be banned from living in France and then I would have to go back to the USA and live in shame for the rest of my days because I made a complete and utter fool of myself.

I can’t do this.

I asked when I was going on. Right after the second break, a man told me. The first break passed, then the second break. I headed backstage to collect my thoughts where another international student was playing music during the break. We danced to American and British pop music. It calmed me down. Then I asked if they had a clip-on microphone because I needed to use my hands in the play. They didn’t. I panicked slightly. I hadn’t practiced only having one free hand. I hadn’t thought about what it would be like to hold a microphone. The room was too big, too crowded for me to project my voice over all of them. I needed to use the microphone.

Then, they called my name. Kelly, Kellena, Kell… I didn’t care. It was close enough. I knew what they meant. It was me.

I walked on the stage and realized something immediately: it was stupid to have this right after the break. Everyone was still talking, everyone was eating food. No one was paying attention to the people of the stage, but it had been like this for the other acts too. I had a difficult job. I had to engage the audience, get them excited, but also get them to shut up.

Unfortunately, they continued to talk throughout the entire performance. I was quite frustrated because… I was nervous, I was speaking another language…and they wouldn’t give me the respect to be quiet!

I have never performed in front of an audience like that before…ever. When I did drama and other performances, everyone wanted to be there (or at least knew to be quiet during a performance). At one point, you could even hear the professors trying to quiet the audience by going… SHHHHH! It didn’t work. I wasn’t sure what to do. I just keep going.

I did learn one very important thing from this experience. I would NEVER work as a comedian. Crowds, like this one, can be hostile. I don’t like that feeling at all. I was trying my best. Furthermore, the other performances were all songs/dances from peoples’ native countries (except for a mandatory performance from a French class and another French monologue by a friend of mine). Out of the entire evening, only three acts were French? At a French cabaret? It was quite bizarre.

You can watch the video here (taped by Kacy – thank you!):

http://youtu.be/c-ZyRAzf12Q

As you can see from the video, it was a tough crowd. But I did it. I gave a performance in front of a hostile crowd of French people and foreign students in France.

And I had a lot of fun doing it. My nerves went away as soon as I got on the stage. I was more frustrated at having to deal with the audience, but it was good to feel the warmth of the stage lights. It was good to act.

Other highlights of the night included having all of the professors get up on stage and do a dance from a girl’s native country. I am keeping this video as blackmail, in the event that my final scores do not go well (just kidding, of course).

http://youtu.be/2cwt_9Y1jGg

And watching Cédrick dance. Cédrick was my professor for oral comprehension. As you can see, he is quite a character. A girl did a hip hop dance and then Cédrick was called up to do the dance with her. I am definitely keeping this one as blackmail.

http://youtu.be/2MkSwbTcbG8

Another highlight? The event was alcohol-free, but my professors brought several bottles of wine. It was very funny because, as the night went on, they would open another bottle, then another…I guess they needed it to get through the evening.

But it was good to see that my professors are humans though. I liked watching them dance and enjoy themselves. They seem happier when they were at the cabaret than when they are correcting our horrible grammar.

And, so, that’s how my classes ended. Now, on to finals!

Weekend Adventures

My weekend was interesting, to say the least! Okay, my weekend was mostly devoted to my final week of classes and my upcoming finals, but I did get a few study breaks. On Saturday, I took a walk to the Jardin des Plantes in Nantes with a friend for a nice break.

IMG_4989 IMG_4991 IMG_4992

It was a beautiful garden, but I was quite surprised to find a rooster! This is the second garden in France that I found a rooster roaming about (the first time was in Toulouse). But I was even more surprised to find a herd of goats…in a pen…that you could walk into…that no one was supervising. Free petting of goats? Oh yeah! Count me in!

 

I jumped inside and got to pet all sorts of goats. I love animals and this was a real joy, especially since I have adored petting zoos since I was a little girl. At this garden, they even had baby goats. However, one goat started to eat my jacket…and I couldn’t get it out of its teeth. Eventually, I managed to get my jacket away from the hungry goat. I guess I should be honored that he thought I looked tasty… Yum! Look at that American! I wonder if she tastes like a cheeseburger…

 

Kellene: Age 20. College student. Petting goats in a garden. In France.

Kellene: Age 20. College student. Petting goats in a garden. In France.

Kellene (with mother). Kellene is 2 years old. This is the beginning of her parents taking her to many petting zoos and seeing many goats.

Kellene (with mother). Kellene is 2 years old. This is the beginning of her parents taking her to many petting zoos and seeing many goats.

Today, I took a huge break from studying to spend my entire day with Etienne and Beatrice, the couple with whom I cook. Unfortunately, Valentina (the other exchange student) was unable to make it today. So, it was just the two of them and me…off on an adventure to the north!

 

We entered Brittany (in French: Bretagne), a region up in the northwest. Our first stop was Carnac, about an hour away from Nantes. In Carnac, I got to see something super cool. I got to see something older than the Roman ruins. I was able to see stone formations and dolmens. What am I talking about? I’m talking about formations like Stonehenge, unexplained massive rocks that are arranged in a specific manner. The rock formations that we visited were in perfect lines. It was stunning. Why were they placed there? What purpose did they serve? It’s a complete mystery!

IMG_4996 IMG_4997

From Carnac, we went to Auray, where a famous American stayed for a bit during 1776. Are you American? If so, this year should be very important to you. Declaration of Independence ring any bells? Following the declaration was the war of Independence…and that’s where Benjamin Franklin comes in. He came to France to ask the French for help…and, apparently, he stayed in Auray for a short while. Who knew?

 

In Auray, I had a typical meal from Brittany, which involves crepes. I had a crepe made from black flour.* For dessert, I had a sugar lemon crepe, which is even more delicious than it sounds. It was so good. I was so happy that I got to try real crepes…in Brittany! And I had apple juice (we tried to get non-alcoholic cider, so it would be a more traditional meal with cider, but they didn’t have any. Apple juice works just as well!).

 

We then went to the Gulf of Morbihan and I got to look at a ton of islands from the pier. It is a very interesting area.

 

Then, we went to Vannes. I saw a church there. I also got to see the ramparts of the city under which was a huge outdoor garden exposition. They had different types of plants and garden equipment. Beatrice went off to watch a tomato planting demonstration while Etienne and I walked around to see the other expositions. He would point to a flower and tell me the name in French…nine times out of ten it was the same word in English! Although, I still don’t know what a majority of the plants…in English or in French! Plants are a mystery to me. I can memorize verbs, but the different between a Japanese azalea and a Chinese azalea? I have no clue.

IMG_5000

We then went to Rochefort-en-Terre, which is a super, super small town. It said that it was one of the most beautiful towns in France and I was like, yeah right. No really. It was. There was something quite charming about the town, which is too small for a modern car to fit through the old streets. There are vines growing over buildings, children playing near a wishing well.** It’s a charming city. Etienne and Beatrice sat down at a café for ice cream and I watched a donkey pull a wagon for children to take rides.

IMG_5002

Our final stop was to Guérande. Here, I was able to see a unique system. In the high tide, they bring the water in, then trap it into these huge squares of soil. Then, they let the water sit there, they let the sun evaporate the water. All that is left, after that, is salt, which is then collected and sold. Pretty cool, huh? I’d never seen anything like it before.

 

We took the long drive back to Nantes and, when I arrived home, it was nine o’clock at night…eleven hours since I had left! This might be the first time in my life that I have gone with speaking French for eleven hours straight, non-stop. I didn’t speak English. I didn’t read English. I just had solid French. It was super intense, super fun.

 

This may have been my last meeting with Etienne and Beatrice though. I am so grateful to have met them and to have participated in this project. Yes, we were supposed to meet three times…but we actually meet many more times! We did so much more than cook. We talked, we shared viewpoints, we shared languages, cultures…I’m so thankful for the time I spent with them. I wrote them a thank you card to the best of my ability in French, but no language can capture my true gratefulness. I had the opportunity to experience French culture unlike any textbook. But beyond that? I got to spend my time with two fantastic individuals.

 

—-

 

*Just looked this up on Google…apparently “blé noir” in French – which I translated literally as black flour – is buckwheat? I’m not sure exactly. No one is fact checking this blog, are you? If so, I cannot be held accountable for the numerous errors.

**The children were picking who was going to be “it” for tag. They put their feet into a circle and basically did “bubble gum, bubble gum” (only kids my age will probably understand this – it’s a rhyme to eliminate and choose someone for a game). I have no idea what they were actually saying, but a little boy would point to the feet and it worked the same way as the American version. I was pretty stunned. I guess some childhood games are the same.

Being Here

I talked to some of my friends at West Virginia University on Sunday. It was wonderful to see them, to hear their voices, to chat about the little things of life. Their finals are this week and then their semester is done. I met up with many of my friends here in France after my two week vacation. We talked about our vacations and about what little time we have left. A friend in Maine contacted me via Facebook. My grandmother in California e-mailed me.

 

It seems like I am always here, but never there. When I go there, then I am not here. It’s a constant, heart-wrenching reality. I can never be everywhere where I have someone who loves me, who misses me, who cares about me…and who I love, who I miss, who I care about. It makes me quite sad to think that I am never certain if our paths will cross again. What are the chances that after leaving France I will meet all of these wonderful people again? Sure, I might meet some of them, but all of them?

 

Life takes us in different directions. It leads us down country roads to a university made for mountaineers, it takes us away from the pine trees of a childhood hometown, it carries us across oceans to a country where, in a foreign tongue, you will never pronounce your name the same way twice…and it pulls us, tugs us into the future, stringing us along like Mark Zuckerberg’s timeline, when time itself is just a ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.

 

And here I am. There I am not. I can accept the fact that I am away from the ones I love…or I can realize one amazing fact. No matter where I go in the world, I will always be surrounded by people that are incredible, that care immensely about me…and who will, one day when life moves us along, be missed dearly.

 

I can only hope that the wind will, one day, push me into their presence again and I will miss them no more.

The Day of Elephant

I didn’t go to school today. Don’t worry. I didn’t skip school. There was no school today! Today is a holiday to celebrate the end of World War II. I don’t have school tomorrow either. It’s a religious holiday tomorrow.

 

Yes, I had two weeks of vacation. I had one class Monday, regular classes on Tuesday, no school Wednesday and Thursday, then one class on Friday, then the weekend. Yes, I know that this is crazy. But what can I say? Vacation, like I said in another blog, is very important in France.

 

What did I do on my day off? Well, I went to see the elephant of Nantes. It’s one of the top things to do in Nantes and it would be silly to have spent my whole time here without ever stopping by to see the elephant.

 

Kacy, my super traveling companion, and I headed out in the rain of Nantes to the center of town (making sure to watch the times of the tram, since it is a holiday, the trams don’t run often at all). Once in the center of town, we crossed onto the island. Here is where Les Machines de l’île can be found. I think that the best description can be found on their website: “Les Machines de l’île is an unprecedented artistic project. Born from the imaginations of François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, it is a blend of the invented worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, and the industrial history of Nantes, on the exceptional site of the former shipyards.”

 

We first headed to the museum, where it was like stepping into another world. It’s like I stepped into one of Jules Verne’s stories or Hollywood. It was very unreal. There were giant pods that hoisted people up to the ceiling. There was a giant bird that flew across the ceiling, controlled by two puppeteers/engineers. There was a caterpillar, an ant…and all of it was combined with tropical plants.

 

People hanging out.

People hanging out.

IMG_4964

This kid drove the caterpillar.

This kid drove the caterpillar.

Is it so weird looking? I don't even know what it does.

Is it so weird looking? I don’t even know what it does.

Outside on the tree prototype - it appears to be their next project

Outside on the tree prototype – it appears to be their next project

Then, we went to the workshop where we got to see them working on new projects. It reminded me of the woodshop that we had in middle school, except it was a million times bigger and the projects were much more elaborate than the wooden toy car I made in fifth grade.

 

Workshop

Workshop

Finally, it was time to ride the elephant. We entered the elephant with a million little kids (who also had today off of school) and their parents. I must admit. It’s not every day you ride on a three-story, wooden, mechanical elephant. It was very exciting. The tail moved, the head swayed from side to side, the truck moved in a realistic manner and even sprayed water! There was even a realistic elephant sound it made.

IMG_4978 IMG_4984 IMG_4986

At the beginning, there was a man who said something about going to the top of the elephant. I understood that, but what I didn’t understand was that he meant we HAD to go to the top of the elephant for safety information. He said in English that we had to go up to the top and we were like, oh. Okay. So, we went up top and he gave the safety information talk. Except, for every sentence he said, he translated it to us in English. I felt quite embarrassed because we understood the directions, we understood everything…we just missed one part.

 

After the safety talk (don’t run), we were off! At the pace of a snail! We were going so slow, it didn’t even feel like we were moving. In fact, we only managed to go about one fourth of the perimeter of the building in a half-hour. But, I can say that I rode a massive mechanical elephant instead of going to school today. I’d say that was a pretty good use of my day.

 

Of course, I COULD have been studying for my phonetics test on Tuesday or my two performances (one for theatre, one for the annual cabaret they host at IRFFLE). I COULD have been studying for my finals. I COULD have been working on my Honors project for WVU. I COULD have been preparing for the end of the semester.

 

But today was the day of the elephant. And did I mention that I have tomorrow off too? Oh yeah. Life in France is good. There is always time to work. There is always time to play. There is always time to see an elephant, to imagine, to create…and, for me, that is time enough.

Kellene and the Elephant

Kellene and the Elephant

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Notes about Traveling in France and Traveling Solo

 

My vacation has ended and I am now facing down my final weeks…and finals! I’ve had over a month of vacation since being in France and I’ve used all of it to travel and explore in France. However, I have had many people say that it’s a shame that I’m not exploring Europe. Several people have even said I will “regret” not traveling in Europe.

 

Really?

 

I’m here in France to study French. I’m here to study the language, the culture, the history…all of it. You can’t just go to Paris and say you know everything about France…there’s so much more to this country than baguettes and wine. I’ve been learning about this country for fourteen years and now I only have five months to experience all of it. Unlike some other college students who go abroad to party, I’m here because it’s a dream come reality. I’m here for France…not for Europe. I have studied very little about other countries in Europe and, when I went to Italy my freshman year, I admit I was a little ashamed that I hadn’t done more research about the beautiful country before arriving. I’ll have to go back one day and do a proper exploration of the country.

 

In addition, it’s expensive to travel outside of France. It’s expensive to find transportation, housing…all that stuff you need to survive. In France, I get incredible reductions on transportation, museums, exhibits…all because I’m young. I even get in to many places for free.

 

As for traveling by myself, I am aware that the world isn’t perfect. I know that there are bad people in the world, but there are also good people too. And I think that the good far outweigh the bad. There are some basic tips for staying safe abroad, most of them use common sense. Don’t be out late. Don’t go down dark alleyways. Always know the number to the police department. Avoid potentially dangerous situations. Of course, as a woman, I get all sorts of guys trying various pick-up lines. You learn how to ignore them and how to avoid them. In the end, traveling alone abroad isn’t any different from traveling alone in the United States. Unfortunately, you can be as safe as possible, you could follow all of the rules…and still get hurt. Just look at the student from China studying abroad in Boston. She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

But that’s the uncertainty of life. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Each year, my strings orchestra would participate in ASTA, the statewide string festival. The students are placed in orchestras with varying difficulty (1-5, 5 being the most difficult music). Students play with other students from all over the state and have two days of jam packed rehearsals…all for one final show. The conductors are usually music teachers from around the state, although we have had some semi-famous conductors in orchestra 5 (one year, we even had a string quartet play with us). One year, we had this really eccentric conductor who told us to “send our notes up to Beethoven,” high in the sky. He wouldn’t let us take a break until we played one section to his liking (which was essentially perfection). He told us, “Look, what if you go on break and you get hit by a bus? What if this was the last note you were to ever play? You better make it a good one.”

 

We never sounded better than in that moment. We sent our notes straight to Beethoven…and we got our ten minute break.

 

You can’t live in fear. Living in fear isn’t really living at all. You can only keep playing, making the best music you can, sending your notes up into the sky…and hope that someone hears them.

 

I went to the store today and the shopkeeper told me he was filling in for his younger worker, a college student. “He’s ‘sick’ today. You know what that means,” he said with a chuckle, “But that’s the joy of being young. The ability to party, to experience life. I’ve always said that youth is the beauty of life.

 

I’m young and I’m ready to experience life. But I think that the shopkeeper was slightly wrong. Youth isn’t the beauty of life – it’s just the beginning to the beauty of life. College years aren’t the best years of my life…the best years of my life are yet to come. Every year of my life keeps getting better and better and I know that happiness can exist if we choose it.

 

So, do I regret living my life or any decision I’ve ever made in my life? Every decision I’ve made, everything I’ve ever done has led me to this moment, this wonderful, amazing moment where I’m alive. How can I possible regret that? I’m happy to be alive…and that’s enough. I’m so blessed with opportunity and the presence of truly incredible people.

 

In the words of Edith Piaf, famous French singer, non, je ne regrette rien.