Four thousand miles across the sea

Meghan McCallum

Today marks three weeks since I got on an airplane in Washington, DC and flew to Paris for my semester abroad.
At Lawrence, three weeks means the term is nearly one-third over; right about now I’d be thinking about term paper topics and starting to lag behind on my assigned readings. I would find myself coming up with more and more reasons to go to the grill, to clean my room, or to take a shower.
As expected, though, my life in Nantes has been pretty different from my Lawrence routine. For one, I live with a French family in an old three-story house. Though last year I had to walk up the same number of flights to get to my room in Sage, I can’t say that I can make any other connections between the two living arrangements. The kitchen really is the heart of the house and every night I look forward to dinner, which promises not only a delicious meal but also at least an hour of engaging conversation.
Instead of walking the paved crisscrossing paths towards Main Hall, to get to class I first make my way to the nearest tram stop, and then get off the tram about seven minutes later. After another short walk through a mixed residential and commercial area, I find myself at the door of the IES Nantes Center. Having never been to Europe before, I am constantly blown away with the convenience and reliability of French public transportation.
Besides a couple of classes at the IES Center, I am also taking three classes at the Universit de Nantes. This means taking a tram for a slightly longer period of time, but it is an easy trip nevertheless. My first class there was like something out of a movie: at least two hundred students in a lecture hall, with a professor talking and scribbling things on the board for two hours.
Though this is exactly the classroom situation I happily avoided by choosing Lawrence, I am fascinated by it. I had at first decided to not take any classes at the Universit, but now I’m enjoying this temporary glimpse at the non-“small liberal arts school” side of education.
It’s questionable that I’ll be making tons of Nantais friends in my huge psychology lecture, but luckily here in Nantes I have something very special to me — Ultimate Frisbee.
It turns out that Nantes has the biggest Ultimate club in France: a group known as the “Frisbeurs,” with which another group called the “Disco Stars” just merged. I actually have not had the chance to play with the Frisbeurs yet, but the sport’s popularity has spread through the city and I play with a club at the Universit.
Ultimate just might be the part of Nantes that reminds me the most of Lawrence. Though I don’t know the other players too well yet, there are some promising weirdos — and if you know anything about Ultimate at Lawrence (or just Ultimate in general), weird is good. One guy in particular, who wears his beard ponytail-style, looks like he plays on Soft.
After playing, we introduced ourselves in a less between-points, out-of-breath fashion. I explained how old I was and what I studied, the French students proceeded to make fun of Jerome (Beard Ponytail Guy) for being at least five years older than everyone else there. It reminded me of the days when we would make fun of Eli Carleyolsen. Good thing he’s not reading ***The Lawrentian*** right now. unless he decided to come back for just one more Fall Term.
So here I am in Nantes, far away from all of you in Appleton who just moved in and started classes. Though I am so far, there are of course certain things that remind me of Lawrence — whether it’s an Ultimate player I meet, a local cookie brand called “LU,” or my host mom buying Rice Dream soymilk for me from the “special” section of the grocery store. I’m sure that as the weeks go by I’ll be finding more and more similarities between these two worlds.

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