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Ania is bringing a year of American sunshine & sass to Lyon, France

I think I’ll like Sundays the most

Oh Sundays. In the States, I always wished I could have a truly restful Sunday, spend some time catching up with friends or going for a walk. However, I always found myself getting to know Pius library better (things that aren’t missed one bit by moi - the 5th floor, third cubicle to the left) and feeling anxious that I wasn’t getting “enough” done. Well, Europe, you’re teaching me the way to have a blissful Sunday.

I got up this morning, dressed for church (important to add because remember, I have more than Asics to wear as shoes now), and headed off to meet Lindsay and Madame (her host mom remember) at their apartment for mass. Lindsay’s bed was broken last night so she slept terribly and the jet lag is still hitting both of us really hard so she decided to take some time to sleep. So that meant it was just me et Madame. I was way too excited about having Madame to myself for my first Catholic mass in France.

Madame and I walked to church which is right across the Rhone. On the way, we chatted about my family and when/if they are visiting, where I want to travel, and she pointed out little things that one would want to know when living in Lyon such as shops, metro stations, and the swans on the river.

Upon arriving to the church, Madame was on fire telling me about St. Nizier (, her/our church. She pointed out the chapel where she noted they have daily mass instead of in the church in the winter because it’s easier to heat. She told me about the perpetual adoration they have and how she has an hour she regularly attends once a week. Once inside the church, she took me under her wing, found us seats, and ran off to find us programs for the music when she realized we had grabbed the bulletins instead. The church is beautiful and large, but simple. It feels home-y and the priest just seemed so gracious (starting to see a trend of the people in Lyon?).

Once the liturgy of the mass began, I realized I could really use a Magnificat but perhaps a version in French. The order is the same of course, but I needed to see the responses in front of me in order to know what to say. Without missing a beat, Madame pulled a small book out of her purse, dog-eared the pages with the liturgy of the mass along with the readings for this Sunday and handed it to me. She’s an angel.

As the mass went on, I observed the people around me. There were so many young people, even though there’s a separate youth mass on Sunday nights that I’ll have to go to at some point, and everyone was dressed simply but elegant. That’s definitely something that’s true of Lyon in general - the women aren’t flashy but would look better than me in a ball gown in one of their typical skinny jean, high top, trendy box top outfits. I’ll get there - I brought my Converse high tops and I’m definitely breaking them out this week.

It was also more loud than mass in America which I remembered of my time in Spain. People have their children with them always and I even noticed that the men who went around with baskets for donations had their daughters helping them. Children after the mass were scurrying around, cute as can be, and I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to grow up in a culture where it’s more prevalent to be Catholic but also emphasizes family time so much more as well. Maybe it’ll be the case for me one day…..

The rest of the mass proceeded and I loved how I could feel how the Church is truly “universal”. Having the order of everything the same regardless of where you are in the world is the most comforting feeling I’ve had since being here. I can’t wait to visit other churches around Europe and even more in Lyon.

After mass, we visited with her friends and she introduced me to everyone. Madame remembers everything you tell her. One lady commented on my blue eyes and she quickly responded with how it might be because my mom is from Poland. I told her that yesterday in an aside comment but it just goes to show how much she listens and cares.

After walking back to the apartment and chatting about the history of Christianity in Europe, she gave Lindsay and I our picnic for our adventure to the Parc de la Tete D’Or which is an enormous park in Lyon. It has a lake, a zoo, botanical gardens, tons of roses, and fills that little Forest Park part of my heart.

We met another student from the Oregon program there, Gabrielle, who had a picnic with us before wandering through a tiny part of the park. Afterwards, we saw her apartment which is just down the street and then each went our own way.

I spent the afternoon chatting with my mom and dad (pray for our dog Bailee - she got attacked by another dog so naturally everyone is very upset because B wouldn’t hurt a fly) and trying to motivate myself to go on a run. The jet lag is REAL and still super strong so I ended up taking a long shower instead which was good because we ended up having dinner early. I gave my host family their presents which had been in my lost luggage and they absolutely loved every one of them. They were literally putting up the ceramic figurine of the hot air balloon as I was walking back to my room after dinner.

I truly feel so fortunate to have the Forests as my host family. Not only do they invite me on vacation with me but they are also a great resource, always offering advice and tips for traveling. They have been to the States 6 times, their son had an internship in China and their daughter had one in New York in addition to just having gotten back from a trip in Greece as well as multiple places around Europe over the years (Jean Marc is an amazing photographer) so they truly know what it’s like to have the travel bug and live here.

Tonight we dined simply because it’s Sunday and they were relaxing instead of cooking (how it should be) but usually it’s a five star meal. I’ve eaten everything from stuffed vegetables and rice to a salmon ravioli pasta bake to homemade pizza with a salad complete with Jean Marc’s “special” dressing. Every meal is followed by fruit, bread, cheese, and yogurt. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of the world and I am getting to know that quite well from the comfort of their apartment. Jean Marc is putting Ilona’s cooking to the test - he is exceptional and I look forward to every meal.

Today during dinner I asked them what I do about lunch which is not included in the program’s fees and mainly because I was curious if I should go to a market or buy a sandwich on the street. Jean Marc and Fabienne rapidly told me that even though it is not included, they want me to know that their fridge is my fridge and proceeded to tell me I could come home for lunch (I have a two hour break, at least for the next two weeks) or I could pack something. After I said “merci” about 17 times, Jean Marc started up again about how I can grab a snack whenever or eat a big breakfast and Fabienne and Audrey laughed, explaining to me that he is very insistent on people eating. It was just such a comfortable conversation that made me think of my own mom’s crazy antics about eating well and truly made me feel that much more a part of their daily life in the apartment.

Today was a simple day but it made me feel more at home in Lyon. From now knowing that I can use Fabienne’s hair dryer if I need one to Audrey trying on the earrings I gave her and loving them, I just feel like this year is going to be great, even if I never had to leave the apartment. It was one of my biggest prayers that I would be blessed with a family that would make me feel at home and I cannot be more thankful for the Forests. The laughter at dinner and their knack of going above and beyond makes me excited for what is to come - aka going on vacation with them to the French Riviera next weekend. ;)

Orientation, Markets, & Country Homes

On Friday we had our first day for the Centre Oregon program (which is the one through which I am studying abroad) which was mainly an overview of how to be safe, what to do if you want a cheap cell phone for calling French amies and other practical, basic information. It was at the university, Lyon 2, that I will have my classes first semester for the CIEF program which will be classes and electives entirely in French. We also opened a French bank account which is how we pay our host families along with having a delicious lunch of baguette sandwiches and tartes!

Friday evening, I came back, chatted with Jean Marc and Fabienne, and then packed a bag to stay overnight at Lindsay’s host home. Her host mom (we call her Madame - her request) is probably one of the top 3 classiest, kindest, most gracious women I have ever met and acts about 30 when in reality she’s in her mid-60’s. She is so full of life and even after losing her husband in a tragic diving accident is still so bright and really seems to capture every moment. If I am a quarter of what Madame is when I’m her age, I’ll be close to Beyonce status - that’s how amazing this woman is.

Anywho, Madame made us dinner (see below) while she was out at a garden party. Lindsay’s “grande apartment” has about 6 bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, the master bedroom, two living rooms, + more and is decorated beautifully. We feel like Princess Mia the first time she went to Genovia - except Lyon is a real place and we’re not actually princesses.

On Saturday, after I slept at the palace, I met Madame in the morning while I was stuffing my face with the most delicious granola I’ve ever eaten and she whisked us away in her little European car. We first loaded up on fruit, a delicious spread for bread, vegetables, and cheese at the market which was along the Rhone river before venturing out to her house. There are open-air markets all over the city every day and this is one of the biggest ones and is held every Saturday. We got there towards the end but it was still overflowing with fresh produce and everyone was nice as can be. The people of this city are so genuinely interested in how you’re doing but not in a “how are you doing? oh fine? okay bye” American sort of way - I’m constantly asked where I’m from, how long I’m staying, if I like it, and I truly feel like they’re interested in my answers. It makes me feel right at home.

Madame handled the place like the true lady she is - waltzing around getting us free samples, causing the men to shower us with a free avocado here, some free cheese spread there.

After the market, we jetted off to Beaujolais which is north of Lyon and known for its vineyards. What we thought was her “country home” turned out to be a stunning 4 story house complete with a house for the caretakers, fields of fruit trees, and beautiful gardens everywhere you looked.

She prepared us a light lunch of thin crust pizza served with her family’s signature wine which is made with citrus. She gave us small glasses of it but let me tell you, she’s a smart lady doing that - homemade wine is STRONG.

After lunch, she insisted on cleaning up herself so that Lindsay and I could roam the estate. I am not kidding you, I was speechless at times because of the natural beauty of the surrounding hills and her estate. It’s been her family for generations but it’s meticulously well-kept.

After our self-guided tour, complete with trying fruit from every tree in the orchards, trying to take self-timed selfies with my camera perched in a plum tree (yes, it did fail, you’re right) and being smiled at by an old man driving a tractor, Madame gave us a grand tour of her house.

The house was absolutely regal. It can sleep 20-25 people and there are parts of it that have been there since the house’s beginning. All I could say was “wow” as we wandered through the bedrooms which had mini bathrooms in their closets (this lady thinks of everything to make people feel at home, I’m telling you), the billiards room, the enormous pantry which is actually a room the size of my garage at home, and a library. I literally told her I didn’t want to leave to which she replied (in French, but that wouldn’t do you all any good) “Oh, would you like to come back one day and stay the night?” - it was almost embarassing how loudly I said “OUI!!!!”.

She told us about her family, her late husband and her love of parties. Every year, they hold a New Year’s Eve party and they pretend it’s still the time when the house was built. All the ladies wear long dresses and the couples take pictures in front of a backdrop, hand in hand, like old-fashioned pictures were posed. They don’t use electricity and she said the entire house and property is lit by candles. I’m still trying to figure out if I can use my overnight stay pass that night…..

We then dined on une tarte aux fruits et le cidre. Afterwards, the sun came out and she made us some tea while she sipped on a small cappuchino. I will honestly never forget that moment being warmed by the sun that peeked out while chatting and eating.

On the way back, while Lindsay took un petit nap, she asked me about my family, my studies, and my faith. She told me to come to her church and told me all about it. (Obviously I did go to church with her but that’s the next blog post). She asked me at one point why I wasn’t sleeping and I told her it was because I didn’t want to miss anything, including the view and the chatting. She smiled and continued.

AND THEN I CAME HOME TO MY LUGGAGE!!!!! Yes, Jean Marc and Fabienne (my host parents who also happen to be the best in Lyon by my survey) met with the airlines and now I have all of my belongings. It feels great to not be wearing the same tank top and yoga capris everyday - I also look a lot less American in my full wardrobe.

When I went to Spain a couple of summers back, I met four older women who really impacted me by their humility, their servant style of living despite being from one of the wealthiest family of their time, and their kindness. I remember knowing that God had sent me four grandmas since I currently had none and how it was just one of those things that you knew was supposed to happen. Serendipitous. It was the same with Madame. Her faith, hospitality and stunning style leads me to believe I was supposed to meet her.

Saturday was a day of beautiful sights and a quiet escape in the country. I’ll be forever grateful for Madame for inviting Lindsay and I along but more importantly, for becoming one of my first true friends in Lyon. :)

For your own viewing pleasure!

France: 3, Ania: 1


I am safe and sound in Lyon, currently typing this out at my desk in my nouvelle chambre at my host family’s home!

Yesterday, or whatever “day” the last 36 hours was, flew by and crept by all at the same time. Let’s start at the beginning….

So I wake up refreshed Tuesday morning, ready to start my day with a shower and a pep talk from Natalie Lynch (the best combo). Instead, I got those two AND french toast courtesy of Mama Lynch plus snacks for the road. Good travel morning = check!

We head off to the airport with my luggage in tow, complete with bright blue ductape with my address and more of it covering my handles so I could easily spot it on the baggage claim in Paris (you’ll chuckle at the irony of this all later). As we pull up to the airport, it starts monsooning - I am not kidding you, Natalie was driving by faith not by sight. By some work of God, we pulled up to the US Airways terminal, I jumped out with my luggage, and said my last good bye (see you around Europe?!).

Once inside, I checked my luggage, met up with Ellie (another student from SLU studying abroad in Lyon for the year) and we went through security and got to our gate without a hitch. Also, a quick word of thanks to my mom for the luggage scale - I checked two bags and squeezed by with both of them being under 50 lbs! You go Ilona!

So now this is where it gets to be a bit less like a walk in the park. Due to the monsoon earlier, our flight to Philadelphia was delayed and then cancelled entirely. France: 1. Without breaking a sweat, US Airways put us on an American Airlines flight to direct from Chicago to Paris that left at 5:35 pm. Lindsay, another SLU student doing the business semester program in Lyon, joined us at our new gate. So, 7 hours after my early arrival to the O’Hare airport, we were at our new gate boarding. I made the nicest new French boy friend (space inbetween - he was 16, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves) who gave me his contact information in case we ever wanted to visit his town which is an hour north of Paris - merci beaucoup, mon nouveau ami!

The flight was a mix of me being so excited I actually felt a little nauseas and being so tired that I couldn’t even think straight. They served us a dinner of a tiny salad, some bread, two crackers, a brownie and some chicken with rice and vegetables. The flight attendants were the kindest people - or maybe they were just super relieved everytime they got to us because they were done dealing with the man who was sitting in front of me who had three Jack & Cokes along with three beers. I mean, to each their own but maybe don’t next time, monsieur…

Once we landed in Lyon, we navigated the airport for our luggage and OH WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT Ania’s luggage is nowhere to be found. France: 2 more points. Yes, ladies and gentleman, cue the prayers to St. Christopher because this lady’s 100 lbs of checked bags was MIA. After filling out a form and trying to think of it as a blessing in disguise that I don’t have to lug around the two huge bags, we set off in search of the TGV, the train that would take us to Lyon. We bought our “carte jeune”, a card that will give us amazing discounts for trains throughout the year, bought a ticket to Lyon and found our train.

Now this is where the tears come in (tears of embarassment/laughter). So after getting on the train, Lindsay finds that someone had put a wheelchair in the aisle and we could not get to our voiture. I will never forget those next twenty minutes. As she tried to drag her 70 lb suitcase around it and I tried to help by lifting it, an entire voiture of French men and women just stared and the people trying to get on the train behind us were literally pushing me from behind. Following that, I accused a 7 year old girl of being in my seat, her dad came to her defense and told me I was in the wrong voiture, I realized I WAS in the wrong voiture, and we finally got to our seats. I was laughing so hard I was sobbing and I couldn’t make eye contact with Lindsay for a solid 15 minutes.

Two hours and through beautiful French countryside later, we met the Centre Oregon at the Salle D’Attente in the train station in Lyon, and waited for our host families to come pick us up. My host dad, Jean Marc, and my host sister, Audrey, came and picked me up while my host mom, Fabienne (I am obsessed with that name), was waiting in the car. The car ride was a combination of me trying to speak French, take in the surroundings, and trying not to be overwhelmed by the fact that all I had to my name was what I was wearing, a rain jacket, and my socks.

Once at their apartment, they gave me a tour of their home. I am in love with it. Also, the French are SO social. Within 10 minutes, they already had their family friend, Elizabeth, over and they were all chatting in the backyard. THEY HAVE THE MOST LOVELY JARDIN IN THE WORLD! My room has a door that opens up to it and I am currently feeling the breeze on me as I type this.

As I unpacked my one bag, Jean Marc checked on me every 10 minutes to make sure I had gotten a hold of my parents, that the wifi was working, that I wasn’t hungry, that I wasn’t thirsty, that I had everything I needed, etc. He is so intuitive to what I have been feeling because just when I was about to lose it because it hit me how alone I was, he sauntered down to my outside door and invited me to come chat with Elizabeth and his wife. They showed me pictures of their trip to Greece, we chatted about my program and he pulled up a metro map and showed me how it works. Then, as if they could read my mind, they invited me to go on a walk with them around the neighborhood. Literally moments before I had been telling my mom that I was completely clueless as to where we were in the city. CLUELESS. They showed me around Villeurbanne, the suburb of Lyon that I live in, where the metro is, why their boulangerie is better than the 4 others we passed and the man who cuts their meat even waved to them through the window of his shop!

The architecture is stunning. Like truly breath taking and I have seen about 4 square blocks. Afterwards, we came back, they helped me figure out if my luggage was found (it wasn’t), they comforted me and we all made jokes about it and then Jean Marc worked his magic in the kitchen. He is an AMAZING cook and made the family (Audrey was back now!) pizza, ratatouille, and a delicious salad. We then followed that with bread and cheese. And then followed that with yogurt. And then I was like holy smokes, I need to stop eating. They eat every night at 8:30 and explained that their fridge is my fridge - of course, I love that.

And this is where Ania scores a point. We were just sitting there chatting and Jean Marc, so casually, asks me what I’m doing next weekend (Labor Day weekend). Laughing a little, I say “Je ne sais pas!” because I obviously have no plans whatsoever and HE INVITES ME TO GO WITH THEM TO THE FRENCH RIVIERA!!!!!!! ANIA: 1! Could they get better? I don’t think so. Also, they then gave me a tour of their kitchen and all the cabinets and every item of food they have, so if they hadn’t won me over with the vacation invitation, they had now.

PHEW! That was a lot. Yesterday was A LOT. Fabienne emailed me this morning from work that one of my bags is being dropped off tomorrow at her work so keep up the prayers for bag #2!

I now need to find an outfit to wear to our walking tour of Lyon provided by the Centre Oregon (jk, I don’t have any clothes other than what I’m wearing) because Audrey is kind enough to take me to the metro and come along for the ride to where I am meeting the group! Pictures to come because this girl is breaking out the camera for the first time!

I woke up this morning and all I could think was “oh wow, I’m here for a year”. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I know parts of this year will be challenging and I might feel very alone at times, but hey T Mobile has free texting and my host family is being amazing, so what’s the worst that can happen, right?! I think the worst is behind me!

Twas the night before leaving…

Well, here we are. Or rather here I am. Alone. On my kitchen floor with my computer on my lap, a jar of JIF Crunchy Peanut Butter in one hand, and a large spoon in the other. Eating a sample of everything in the Sullivan family’s two fridges, three freezers, and our large pantry seems like the perfect way to bid adieu to my favorite spot in the house.

The fact that I leave home tomorrow to study abroad for a year in Lyon, France hasn’t really hit me yet (except for using it as an excuse to find the answer to life at the bottom of this jar of pb). I know I will feel a large part of my heart stay behind with my parents and Goldendoodle as I board the plane tomorrow morning, but right now I am just so exhausted from packing and driving around the desert (aka where I live: Albuquerque - “kerke” for short) searching for everything from low top white Converse to a luggage scale, that it seems surreal that it’s finally the “last night”.

Earlier this summer I happened upon this bible verse and it has continued to resonate with me, bringing me a certain sense of peace:

"Therefore I tell you do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his span of life?" (Matthew 6:25-27)

The last line struck me as I thought about the visa I hadn’t gotten, the friends I hadn’t spent enough time with, and the constant checking of my bank account. Yes I could worry - I mean, I think I could find a few topics to occupy my mind about going to a foreign country by myself where I will navigate by speaking a foreign language. But that would not add extra time and would only have taken away from one of the best summers I have ever had.

So yes, I am feeling curious, overwhelmingly fortunate, and I am trying to rapidly think of as much French as I can as I sit here on the floor. But whether or not I worry, it’s happening. Tomorrow I will fly to Chicago, spend a night with a dear friend, hop on a plane Tuesday afternoon to Philly and then catch a flight to Paris. Via train, I will cruise over to the magical land of Lyon and meet my host family at the train station - from there, I know just as much as you do!

If you want to tag along for the ride, I promise to blog about embarassing moments, include some pictures and write Ania-style descriptions of everything from my daily life in Lyon (still feels weird saying that) to my adventures across Europe!