BorDeauX live

Hello everybody, after having an excellent time here in Bordeaux, I have decided to let you know some really good advice for those of you that are planning to come here.


No matter if you are not sure about coming, reserve your place in advance. Melting Potes, which is the student organization in charge of helping int’l students, can help you with that. They take a while in answering you, so keep sending emails on a constant basis. Personally, I recommend asking for a flat as soon as you decide to come here.  During the first week of the semester there are a lot of student looking for other places to live for several reasons – they do not like their actual flat, or they just want one closer to centre ville (downtown).

Having a good place, in other words, a place centrally located, gives you the advantage of having to walk short distances to stores, and tourist areas in case the tram does not work or is in strike (extremely common here). Also, you would be able to walk home when parties are over, because most of them, plus all clubs and bars are in centre ville.  But if you do not get a flat there, do not worry, it is not the end of the world, and you have several options to compensate for that. For example, you will probably be living closer to the university campus, so you will have more time to sleep before classes.

Public Transportation

Basically, there three ways to move around Bordeaux:  Tram, bus, and public bikes. Tram stops at midnight from Sunday to Wednesday, and at 1:00 am from Thursday to Saturday. After-hours buses usually just work from Thursday to Saturday, which makes it really convenient to use public bikes that are spread around different locations in Bordeaux. In order to have access to all these modes of transportation, I recommend getting the local transportation contract for a year, where you just pay 15 Euros per month to use everything. If you are not staying for a year that is OK, just ask the university administration for a letter saying that you have to depart soon, and you present it in the TBC office (Public transportation bureau) in order to cancel your contract.

Academic Issues

You will hear several times that things here are really easy, and that you will have a lot of free time. Well, they are not lying. Comparing this to the U.S., this is not “easy” it is just “not demanding”. So, I recommend you, during the time that you are not travelling, get enrolled in the French Alliance, which is international private school to learn French. This will cost 100 Euros per month.

If you are coming here for your last semester, you need to know that your final grades will be sent to UofL after one or two months after you are finished here. Just in case you are planning to get your diploma as soon as possible after the graduation ceremony.

Social Life

International students are just great; each one has a different background and different life experiences that makes them really interesting people. But also try to make some French friends, this will make your social integration here easier, and of course, you will learn or improve your French much faster. So try to keep a balance between these people, it is always good to have the best of two worlds.

Bank Account

As soon as you arrive, get a copy of your housing contract and go to any bank to open an account, for almost every bureaucratic procedure here, private or public, that involves money, they will ask you for your bank account number –Gas, electricity, cable, internet, TBC, etc. And as you will notice here in France, everything takes a considerable amount of time, especially taking in consideration the time for things to get done. And you never know when some union will be in strike, which makes things even worse, so be proactive in this aspect.


Since you will have a lot of free time, It is a great idea to travel, so try to plan in advance and try to travel in groups because by doings you will spread the cost of things among friends, which makes thing cheaper for everybody.  Also, take in to consideration that strikes are really common here, so you will probably get stuck in some place, since train or airline unions decide to go on a national strike. Just to mention, if you go to Barcelona, PLEASE, watch your stuff, especially your wallet, these guys are more than thieves they are artists at stealing from you, so be aware of that.


That is all have to say for the moment, in conclusion, this have been an excellent experience. So, I recommend preparing yourself to be really sad when you realize that you are going back home soon.




A little about my travels

As I am starting to settle back into the school mode, I have been preparing myself for the coming semester. I have been traveling on and off through Europe for the past two or so months, and am just now returning to some form of normalcy (though some friends and I are off to Barcelona for a friend’s birthday at the end of the month – some birthday party!). The way that most German universities break up their year is as follows: the summer semester, from about the middle of October through the middle of February; and the winter semester, from about the middle of April through the middle of July – with short breaks and vacations within the semesters, of course! But, this system leaves the students with a substantial block of time (mid Feb. through mid April) to travel, prepare for the upcoming semester, take exams from the previous semester, work or a whole slew of imaginable other time-occupying activities! Aside from my job duties at the university, I was very happy to be left with a great deal of time to travel and enjoy the convenience of living in Germany (within 5 hours of pretty much everything!).

I was lucky enough to have a few friends of mine come over and visit during this break. A great friend of mine from high school and fellow business student, Eric Chapman (University of South Carolina) came over and visited for about a week and we trained to Brussels and Bruges in Belgium, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, were we met up with a friend of mine from Texas, Katie. After this we went to Stuttgart (in southern Germany). It was definitely really wonderful seeing two of the three Benelux countries (the third is still to come)! It was a very enjoyable experience and wonderful to see my friend Eric again, but I would definitely like to return to Belgium!

Two days after Eric left two friends of mine from UofL flew in and visited for about a week – my friends and coworkers at the Office of the President Megan and Britney. I showed them around Mainz and then we were off to Paris, Strasbourg and Munich! We met up with our friend and other coworker, Patrick in Paris. Patrick is doing the year long exchange in Montpellier, so this is the first that the four of us have been together since sometime in August, so it was a very surreal experience. The four of us all reunited, and in Paris of all places! So that was quite an experience, no doubt about it – and it was great to see my friends again! It was really great to have a few weeks with my friends – the first time I have seen any one from home in a long time, and as I am not going back to visit, it is going to have to last me until August!

After we returned, two friends and I went on a road trip to Vienna and Bratislava – well, we started off for Croatia, but road trips are all about spontaneity and enjoying the ride! It was a very interesting trip – and we met a few very interesting people in Bratislava… but you will have to ask me about that in person when I return! Before my friends came and visited I did a little traveling – Berlin and Hamburg, to name a few. Before christmas I went to Morocco and New Year’s Eve I spent in Venice – that was a pretty amazing experience!

I have been working pretty diligently for the university – I am a Mitarbeiter at the university’s International Office (Abteilung Internationales) and I receive a scholarship to help cover my expenses, which is really helpful and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. Most of my job entails translating or proofreading documents for the International Office or the President’s Office. The largest task I am responsible for is translating a website for international students to come out soon for the next year. I think that it is going to be a valuable resource for students who will be studying in Mainz in the future (I wish I had it!). Either way, I have been putting in some extensive time and effort translating all of the documents – it is a lot harder that you might imagine! Especially when the original documents have very Mainz-related terms (dialect, for instance!).

Ok, well I have written enough for now!

Liebe Grüße,

Return to Changsha

Since my last blog over three months ago, a lot has happened in China. Things that were planned, such as going to Hong Kong, didn’t play out quite like I had expected. The winter stayed rough, and the homesickness grew stronger with every day that went by. By the time final exams came during the latter part of January, not only myself but many of my classmates had grown quite tired and we had all lost a bit of our motivation. For me however, my attention was focused on my return trip to America that was scheduled for the very end of January. I was fortunate enough to be able to return home for a few weeks during the Spring Festival. After exams had ended and before I left however, there were many changes in the campus and the surrounding area. Since many of the other students had finished their exams before the foreigners, many students had already returned home, and stores began to close. Even in Back Street, the area behind the foreign student dorm that holds many independent shops and restaurants, had begun to shut down some, as people returned to their homes and spent time with their families. Although the campus was getting a bit quiet right before I left, it apparently became much worse after I left, and became eerily similar to a ghost town, as my friends referred to it.

When the day finally came to return to America, I couldn’t have been more excited. It was a really long and tough journey, but I eventually made it. Being back in America was amazing, and so many things that I used to take for granted felt like luxuries to me (such as having heat and a drying machine). I spent a lot of time eating a lot of the foods that I missed, most notably Taco Bell, and seeing a lot of friends again. Even if I was just relaxing at home, the fact that I was at home and in America made it very enjoyable. It really helped to refresh me, both physically and mentally, from the long time spent in China. Most people that go there for a short time, such as a few weeks or even a couple of months, tend to think of it as paradise. While in many ways that may be true, once you spend a bit more time there and really see the country outside of your vacation bubble, it can be quite exhausting sometimes. That said however, China is still a really great place, especially if you’re a foreigner (normally meaning non-Chinese, but in this case it really applies to non-Asians in general).

In the last week of February, I left America again and returned to China. It was the longest journey I’ve ever made in my life, but after over 30 hours of traveling, I finally made it back to my dorm around 3 A.M., on a particularly warm morning. After I got back, getting used to things again happened very quickly. I was a little worried that my Chinese had gotten rusty while I was back in America, because I didn’t really use it much when I was home and I really didn’t want to much either, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually just about as strong as ever. Class started a few days after I got back, and we all got back into the groove of things.

Since then, a lot of things have happened. As well as strengthening the friendships with many of my current friends here, I’ve made many new friends, and had a chance to experience a lot more of the nightlife in Changsha. I’ve seen many new parts of the city, and discovered some things that I didn’t know existed before. I also just recently returned to my English school to work part-time again. As well as that, I celebrated my 24th birthday here a few weeks ago, and enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day Chinese-style, with some friends from Brazil, India, and Turkmenistan, as well as a few Chinese friends. Definitely one of the more memorable birthdays that I’ve had in my life.

I’ve also been busy planning trips for the near future. Still on the list are Shenzhen and Hong Kong, as well as return trips to Guangzhou, and Shanghai for the 2010 World Expo. As well as that, I’ve been planning my own trip to Beijing sometime in May or June, to visit the the UofL students that go to Bei Wai (Beijing Foreign Studies Univeristy) every summer. I’m actually quite eager to return to Beijing, as it’s a very fun city, and after spending a long time in real China a visit to Beijing is a great way to relax and have some fun. I’m also eager to have some fun with the pirate-like accent found in Beijing, where you can throw r’s onto the ends of words seemingly almost at free will. However, the timing of the trip is a bit difficult, as I’m already quite busy and things will likely only be busier around that time. Despite that, I’m really looking forward to going to Beijing again.

With the HSK exam looming in the distance, I’ve been making every effort to improve my Chinese as much as I can. I’ve found some new ways to expand my vocabulary and understanding, and I feel like I’ve been making a lot of progress. The HSK exam however will be no easy task. As our teachers have informed us, on the HSK exam, there are four sections: Listening, Reading, Grammar, and Comprehensive. I’m not sure what exactly Comprehensive consists of, but I believe it also involves a lot of reading. Thankfully, there is no writing on the HSK exam at all, it’s all multiple choice. However, our teachers have also informed us that the section that you perform the weakest on limits your overall score. So, let’s say you scored an 8 on everything but Listening, and got a 6 on that. From what I understand, that means your overall score is a 6. Which basically means that you need to be really well-prepared for this exam, and you have to work on your weaknesses as much as you can.

In other news, there was a holiday here this past weekend and Monday, known in China as 清明节 (qing ming jie), which literally translates to something like “Clear and Bright Day” but is called “Tomb Sweeping Day” in English. Despite the rather gloomy sound of it, it’s actually not a particularly sad holiday. Qing Ming Jie is all about paying respects to one’s deceased ancestors, and people will travel to where their grandparents or other ancestors are stored, and will sweep and clean their tombs. If they don’t have a tombstone, as many people are cremated and their containers are stored in buildings, then their containers will also be swept and/or cleaned. An interesting holiday, but unfortunately, as a foreigner there wasn’t much for me to do except enjoy the one day off from class.

There are probably an endless number of things and experiences that I can talk about, but I’m going to end this relatively short and just say that a lot has happened in the past few months, and my understanding of and appreciation for China has grown quite a bit. As I spend more time here, I can feel myself growing in ways that I wasn’t able to do back in America. Not only is my Chinese improving more and more, but my understanding of the world and other cultures is growing. It’s not always easy being here, but it’s a truly rewarding experience. And even though I miss home sometimes, I’m really glad that I made the decision to come here and do what I’m doing. It’s an adventure that I will definitely never forget. I would strongly recommend that for anyone who has the opportunity to come to China, do it. But do yourself a favor and take some time to learn about the culture and the people first, because that makes a huge difference.

Look Out China… Here I am!

                China is by far one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The culture has proven to be rich, and unique, yet somehow similar to that of home. My trip is planned for four and a half months with one down and three and a half to go from the date of this blog post. While here, I am staying in Beijing, attending the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).

                Getting off the plane my first night was an interesting experience. I arrived in Beijing at 1:30 am, had no idea where I was going, only a little exchanged currency, and could speak very minimal Chinese (which has improved greatly in the past month). Walking out of the airport I saw a taxi stand, and found a taxi and stretched my limited knowledge of the Chinese language as far as it would go to get to the University. After about ten minutes of trying to communicate with the taxi driver, we finally negotiated price of transportation, and away we went. After a 45minute, awkward taxi ride, we finally arrived to the university. The driver dropped me off, and drove away. So there I was, alone in the middle of the night, at the front gate of an unfamiliar university unable to speak the common language. I pulled my map out of my folder and asked a night guard if he could help me… He couldn’t speak any English… So again I stretched my very limited Chinese and pointing at the map learned I was at the wrong side of campus, meaning I had to cross an eight lane road with all of my luggage. Luckily, there was little traffic at 2:30 in the morning, so crossing was not too bad. After walking for about 20 minutes I finally found my dorm… The next 45 minutes were spent talking to the receptionist trying to get my room. By about 4 in the morning I found myself sleeping in my dorm, which was to be my home for the next 4 and a half months.

                Since that first stressful night my experience has been amazing! I have made some great friends and been completely engulfed in the fast pace life style and culture.  The people here seem so much friendlier here than back home (perhaps it’s because I am white?) and very willing to help. Also, everyone you meet, either through class or friends or in a line in the cafeteria, are very willing to become your friend. My first day here, I did not know anyone and ate my lunch alone in the cafeteria, and had a guy sit next to me, we traded phone numbers and that night we ate dinner together. Such connections are almost unheard of back home and it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to make friends here.

                Chinese hospitality is another aspect of life that I still struggle to get used to.  For the first few days, with friends, I had to fight to pay for my own meal… And even still the people I am eating with will cover me before I can reach for my wallet. This custom is gender neutral and goes beyond food. Drink and taxi rides are also usually covered and everyone deemed “guest” does not typically need to worry about it. A few days ago, I surprised the people I was eating with, by asking for the check (though they may have been surprised I was able to ask for it) and paying for the meal. This was followed by several assurances that they would take care of the next couple of meals.  And now they all watch me extra carefully to make sure I at least let them pay for their part of the meal.

                Another one of the more shocking aspects of China is how cheap everything is. I can literally eat 3 meals for under $5 (USD) and that is when I pay for all my food. Bottle water is less than $.30 and high brand clothing about a fourth the price of back home.  This of course means (since I am posting this on a public site) that I will be bringing back gifts for friends and family.