Café Culture in France and the Art of Taking One’s Time


I live close to a metro station named François Verdier. It is a section of the city that is particularly lovely, in large part because of its many parks and squares. One thing that has surprised me is the proliferation of public parks and squares in France. Three large parks, the Jardin des Plantes, the Jardin Royal, and the Jardin du Grand Rond, sit side by side in my part of the city. Furthermore, the sheer number of cafés that surround each of the parks is impressive. I would say that the number of outdoor public spaces reflects the way people enjoy life in Toulouse.

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Studies during Study Abroad

One of the most important aspects of junior year abroad is the opportunity to experience a system of education different from what you’ll find in the US and to take courses with local students. That is one of the main reasons I recommend study abroad. I’m now enrolled at a public university in Toulouse, France, along with 30,000 other students, and as I have discovered, Mawrtyrs should expect a very different classroom experience from what they are used to.

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Le plateau de fromage; a French Experience

 

The same night I met my hosts, I also was introduced to the ubiquitous plate of cheese. Consequently, the cheese plate stayed on the table for every meal and has become one of the things I love most about France. Easily it was the most cheese I have seen at a single meal, with more than seven kinds crowded on the plate, varying in shape, color, size, and smell. Every couple of days, a new cheese will appear on the plate, and join its companions soon to be savored.

I learned that the cheese is tasted at the end of the meal. The cheese plate is as elegant as a dessert, and one has to be particular with one’s selection, for the number of cheeses on the plate is not equivalent to the number one is expected to eat. Rather, the cheese is the crowning moment, whether eaten with a bit of bitter endive and tart apple, or placed on a slice of crusty bread, or enjoyed just by itself. I watched my hosts carefully choose pieces of cheese, taking care to savor each as it is eaten.

My host told me, “We eat not only to nourish ourselves.” I think that people who love their food, love life. In France, the experience of eating is valued as much as the sustenance it gives. And so, perhaps the enjoyment of eating food can be represented in the way one approaches a plate of cheese in France. The taste, the texture, the smell—everything is savored. The cheese plate brings balance to the meal, so that the harmony and the contrast of flavors dance in the mouth and the eater is left satisfied, having taken pleasure in the experience of the table.

 

Toulouse: Impressions and Snapshots

Hello all and welcome back from winter break. It is odd to be starting a semester without seeing familiar faces. Instead, my study abroad adventure in Toulouse has started and I am meeting new people and seeing new faces everyday.

My host parents Blanche and Michel were at the airport to pick me up. They moved back to Toulouse from Paris about 10 years ago, and live in a modern yet cozy apartment along the Canal du Midi. Their apartment’s walls and shelves display little sculptures, masks, paintings, and other objects that they have acquired over time. Each has its story; a Carnival mask from their honeymoon in Venice, a Japanese brushstroke painting of a relaxed cat, a pair of oxen bookends carved from the wood of a coconut tree and brought back by Michel’s uncle in Madagascar. I was happy to add Bryn Mawr to their collection, and gave them a painted owl ornament, which they hung from the mantel.

Sunday we went to the market that encircles a church to purchase groceries for the week. Whether there is snow, rain, or fog, Sunday is market day. Dozens of stalls surround the Church of Saint-Aubin to the east of the city. Michel and Blanche made a beeline for the apple seller. He was happy to see them. His cold had improved since last week. Unfortunately, his apples had not. The hail, while it had not altered their taste, had left puckered parts that made them look less appetizing. He threw his hands up in the air and sighed. Oh well.

The next stop was the nut seller. Blanche bought a pound of freshly picked almonds from an orchard outside Carcassonne. Hazelnuts would be for next week, said Michel. The vegetable seller provided fresh lettuce, persimmons, bananas, clementines, parsley, and a slice of pumpkin. Behind the church we found fresh eggs, and next to the fresh eggs, live chickens for sale. We passed stalls of meats, handmade salamis, fresh pastas, hand-woven baskets, bouquets of wildflowers, and chickens roasting on a spit while their juices fell onto the golden brown potatoes in the roasting pan beneath.

This afternoon I took a short bike ride around town. Toulouse is a bike-friendly city, and there are bike rental stands in every neighborhood and a multitude of paths along the canal. You take out a bike and can replace it in any of the stands once you have finished the ride. Furthermore, if the ride lasts fewer than thirty minutes, it is free.

The city is a wonderfully warm color because of the pink and orange bricks that make up all the buildings. The light makes the bricks glow, especially during sunrise and sunset. Yet while the buildings are made of brick, the cast-iron balconies and wooden window shutters are usually painted in contrasting colors—turquoise, green, fuchsia, even violet. With its small winding cobblestone streets, cafes with tables clustered in the sunshine, and the aromas of food in the air, it is a city to explore.

My courses will start Monday, just as they do at Bryn Mawr. To all, bon courage!

 

The Stress Buster Schedule – How to Stay Calm and Carry on During Exam Week 

Last week I shared some tips about preparing for exams. Now, a week away from exams, we are nearing the end of the semester. If you are like me, you are surrounded by mountains of papers (some of them not yet organized…) and are alternating between subjects; essay outlines, vocabulary lists, oral exams, study group meetings, teacher meetings, and more essays. It is an intellectual marathon. How to devote enough time to each subject when there are multiple papers and exams in a space of one week? Pace yourself and remember to write that Done is Good List. Next to each task tape a Hershey’s kiss, and treat yourself when you complete it!

PC: Aaron Windhorst

Thankfully, Bryn Mawr provides ways to combat stress, from massages and make-your-own zen gardens to Pets in Canaday and cookie decorating. Take an extra 30 minutes to pet a bunny or decorate a cookie.

I attended an event called “Cookie-decorating Stress Buster with Optional Political Activism.” A friendly group of Mawrters filtered in and by 8:30 there was a lively conversation about the snow*, cookie patterns, NextGen America, and exams. As Sasha, the host, explained, the cookie decorating was to raise awareness for their branch of NextGen America which would become a club at Bryn Mawr next semester.

As a club, they intend to raise political awareness, rally for affordable health care, help students sign up to vote, and participate in protests in Philadelphia. Come this week, Saturday from 7-9 p.m. in Rhoads QSR (the basement common space) and join not only in the cookie decorating, but also political postcard making. (Suggested scripts will be provided to write postcards to representatives and senators.)

Need a Study Break and interested in other on-campus Stress Busters? Here is a list which will be periodically updated as exams week comes closer!

  1. Bob Ross Community Art Night, 7:30-9 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 14 at Arnecliffe Studio
  2. Cookie Decorating NextGen America Stress Buster, 7-9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 16 at Rhoads QSR
  3. Midnight Breakfast, 11p.m.-12:30 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 17 at the Haverford DC
  4. Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show, 4-8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 17 Franklin Square, Philadelphia
  5. Christmas Village, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., all days of the week, JFK Plaza, Philadelphia

* It snowed for the first time this year and Bryn Mawr was coated in white! The change from fall to winter always looks especially striking in the cloisters of College Hall.

 

 

It’s That Time of Year!

At Bryn Mawr we have a system of “Self Scheduled Exams.” During exam week, students can choose when to take their exam. There are usually three time blocks per day and several designated rooms open. When we are ready, we then pick up the exam we wish to take from the Registrar’s Office and bring it back after three hours. *

Sample Exam Schedule

I have always admired this policy because (a.) Bryn Mawr trusts its students to abide by the honor code and we do not betray that trust. (b.) We can take the exam whenever we wish. If you want to leave early for break, take the exam on the first day. If you are a procrastinator, you can leave it until the last day! (c.) It is up to you the student to structure the exam week that will work best for you.

During exam week some tips would be :

Take Study Breaks. Whether that means a walk in the woods, or a cup of tea or an espresso and a venting session with a friend. Save time for yourself.

Remember to sleep. My sleeping patterns always falter in the weeks leading up to exams. Can’t get to bed early? Take a 20 minute nap in the middle of the day. You will feel refreshed.

Make study groups with your classmates. It helps to compare notes with friends, especially if a concept was particularly challenging.

Make an offering to Athena. It may give you that extra boost of divine wisdom needed to conquer your exams. Athena watches over College Hall and she is always surrounded by various offerings ranging from garlands to handwritten notes. Naturally exam season is when the offerings multiply at her feet.

Here are some other tips from BMC students!

 

Lizzie Siegle: I drink tea and coffee, try to form study groups, make a fun study playlist (instrumental Disney music! Also Christmas music!), and take study breaks by dancing to upbeat Disney songs. I also go over my notes, meet with professors and TAs, and make lists highlighting what I want to accomplish and when.

Tiffany Wang: I prepare for finals by usually setting up a study plan a week beforehand and then trying my best to actually follow the plan. I also stock up on snacks and prepare to never leave my room!

Paola Salas: I like to make a really pretty and motivating Done-Is-Good list early on! It helps me have the right mindset and the artsy-ness of it makes it entertaining. It’s all about balance!

*Most but not all exams are self-scheduled. Generally beginning language exams have a set date. Furthermore, in some classes you may have a paper or final presentation in place of an exam.

Q: What are your tips for exam week?

Seven Things I Cannot Live Without in my Dorm Room

The carved owls sitting on top of the bannisters were what caught my eye the first time I toured of Bryn Mawr…The owls, the grand piano in the common room, and the *stained glass doors of each dorm room. Now, in my third year at Bryn Mawr, I have a cozy room in that same dorm, Rockefeller.

For new students, what follows are a few packing suggestions. These objects always come with me to my dorm room at the Mawr!

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Lantern Night 2017

Lantern Night 2017

I love Lantern Night because it combines two of the most important aspects of Bryn Mawr; our tightly knit community and our thirst for knowledge. During the ceremony, each first-year is given their own lantern symbolizing the light of knowledge being passed down.

The lantern is in the student’s class color; dark blue, green, light blue, or red. (My lantern is a lively green and sparkles when the candle inside is lit.) Our lanterns always come with us to college as they are one of our most precious symbols of our attachment to the Mawr. Currently, my lantern is nestled between the books on the mantel above my fireplace.

Sunday at 9 o’clock, runners from the sophomore class placed the glowing ruby lanterns with wrought-iron little owls as the design at the feet of each first-year. Soon after, with the stunning backdrop of the cloisters of College Hall, and the song of the Sophias in Greek “Friends of wisdom, let us gather…” led by the Night Owls, the first years held up their sparkling red lanterns. The cloisters were illuminated.

Lantern Night is a solemn tradition. It is beautiful because of the night sky, the black robes, the Greek songs, and of course, the light of our lanterns. At the closing, the first years picked up their lanterns and silently processed out of the cloisters. Just on the other side of College Hall, we could hear their excited screams and cheers.

I remember holding my lantern my first year, surrounded by the upperclassmen, friends, classmates, alums, warmed by the heat of the lantern and the knowledge I was a part of something so sacred and special in Bryn Mawr’s history. I know that my lantern, and what I have learned at Bryn Mawr, will travel with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

Happy Lantern Night Class of 2021!

 

 

 

Outside College Hall the freezing night air was alight with warm red owls and filled with the contagious excitement and joy of the first-years swinging their lanterns.

Quotes from Lantern Night:

“Seeing all the different-colored lanterns made me think of how all these girls have been through Lantern Night too. We’ve all been in the same place, and we’re all welcomed at Bryn Mawr.”

“I love my lantern!”

“My lantern went out…but I got a new one!”

“It was just so pretty to be in the cloisters with everyone there, that was so nice.”

Favorite part?

“The singing part!”

“Getting a free lantern!”

“Coming together, feeling you are part of a bigger sisterhood.”