by Riley H. Well, it’s our one-week anniversary with each other here in France. Through the ups and downs of any new experience, we have found ourselves mostly settled and familiar with the town (we only sometimes get lost, and we always find our way back to our temporary home). Our days are long and full, rich with laughter, stories, photographs, learning and adventures that only bring us closer together. A month after I return home from this trip, I’ll leave for yet another home away from home at boarding school. I’ve noticed one similarity that is huge between boarding school and the residence here in Aix, and that is how much everyone is willing to help and look out for one another. So yes, you are independent from your parents, which feels like a huge accomplishment, but you are never alone. Living without your parents can be tough for a lot of people, but somehow within a week we’ve noticed that we are, in fact, fine. We’ve figured out how to do our laundry with French directions, do all of the grocery shopping for a week, and try gloriously to remove chocolate gelato stains from a white shirt and failing. It’s all quite a big mess and it’s wonderful. Being here, it’s almost hard to realize how much culture you are absorbing because it’s at such a quick rate. However, when I reflect, I’ve learned, tasted, and experienced so many amazing things! I’ve actually noticed that I’ve broadened my French vocabulary and phrases. While shopping, which is just as enjoyable anywhere, I’ve seen knew styles of sunglasses or shoes that I hope to try. My friends and I have made wonderful purchases including, but not limited to, lovely pastel color block sneakers, a shockingly pink mascara, fresh lavender, funny and artistic postcards, fresh fruits and vegetables, and sweets that won’t last forever but you cherish nonetheless. I’ve even tried a wonderful frozen coffee and managed just a sip of what I’m sure is the strongest espresso in existence. I’m not a caffeine drinker (boarding school and no caffeine? How do you do it?) so just one touch and it’s safe to say I was up late. One of my favorite experiences is the artistic culture of France. I’ve learned many new words from my photography class and my recent class on Cézanne, who spent much of his time in Aix. Art is very important to me and I hope to spend some of my day’s here drawing with friends. We’ve attended an opera performance at a local church that was hidden in the masses of shops and cafés. I’m not a religious person and classical music isn’t my music of choice, but sitting in the pews and listening to these people sing in a way that I could only dream about is so breathtaking. We also spent one evening on karaoke for French music. How fun! I absolutely loved the exposure to new music and relaxing with some off-key singing – a perfect way to end the evening. Behind our closed doors you can have meaningful conversations with your roommates, silent discos where you dance to the beat of your own headphones while your friend is writing in her journal. Catching up on your favorite television shows can be difficult, but when you finally succumb to spending money for them on iTunes (who knew Netflix wouldn’t work!) you can ease the pain with a pint (or two) of ice cream. The nighttime, like in most cities, initiates a transformation into a vibrant, ecstatic environment that can and will always describe my home in New York, or my new home in Aix-en-Provence. To summarize, every day I’m learning, whether it’s about culture, my friends or even myself. The next time around I’ll have even more knowledge. I can’t wait.