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September 30, 2011

Getting to Love Montpellier

I got into Montpellier a little over a month ago and was put up in a quite nice hotel by the program for about two weeks. My first experience with the streets of Montpellier was the walk from the train station to said hotel with my two pieces of luggage and a packed full backpack in tow. Luckily it wasn't the first time I had to deal with this setup but it was the first time I'd set foot in Montpellier. After a few detours which ended up being the equivalent of dead ends I finally realized that I was going to have to test out this southern hospitality. After finding quite a few kindly Montpellierans who were more than happy to help me out I finally made my way to the hotel without too many mishaps. I learned a few things from this walk: Montpellier has some great weather but is definitely hotter than Wisconsin, the people in Montpellier are really welcoming, and the hotel we were staying in has the tastiest water I've yet to find in France.

The stay at the hotel was a great way to introduce me to Montpellier. The hotel was in the middle of Antigone which is a relatively new neighborhood just east of downtown Montpellier. The neighborhood is a really cool place to explore; it was a cool combination of some of the bigger hotels in town as well as quite a few low income housing developments. It was great to see some of the less well-off people in town living along with tourists without any major problems that I could see. The neighborhood was contracted by a socialist mayor of Montpellier in 1977 thus the combination of low income housing with a more affluent neighborhood. Even though I moved out of the hotel more than 4 weeks ago I still feel a connection to Antigone that I'm sure will bring me back to visit quite a few times.

From the hotel everyone in the program was introduced to their respective housing arrangements for the rest of the semester or academic year. The majority of the students with the Minnesota program chose to live with host families scattered around Montpellier and the surrounding suburbs. A few students decided to live in the dorms close to the university and the rest chose to live in apartments with other Americans in the program. I was the only person to get into a student housing building called l'Observatoire. After exploring the area around the apartment building I was really excited to move in since it was in a really lively part of downtown. After actually seeing my room however, I realized that this wasn't exactly my ideal living situation. The room was just too small and the building didn't offer any kind of social environment to meet other international or French students. Luckily it wasn't too much of a problem to move into an apartment with a couple of other guys from the program so I did that as soon as I could. The time I spent in the Observatoire did introduce me to my favorite spot to go out that I've found so far in Montpellier: l'Antirouille.
L'Antirouille is a musical bar with live music most nights ranging from Dubstep to Reggae with a lot in between. Interestingly enough those are some of my favorite genres of music at this point and seeing some local talent spin live tracks is well worth the 5 euro cover charge they put on for some of their more popular acts. In my explorations of electronic music it was impossible to miss the influence that French artists have on the international scene but when I think of French electro I always thought of Paris and definitely not Montpellier. None the less the immense youth of the city attracts some great electronic music at very reasonable prices. Since I arrived I've made it a point to make it to as many free concerts as possible at l'Antirouille and I have been far from disappointed.

In one of the first tours of the city that I went on with the program the tour guide talked about the very strong student population in Montpellier along with the increasing presence of retirees. This dichotomy between old and young plays a major role in my fascination with Montpellier. There's definitely a diversity of age in Montpellierans but also in the atmosphere of the city. The latter can be found in various cosmopolitan centers in France such as the modern art exhibits at Versailles. I can't get enough of these apparent contradictions but for some people it's rather disrespectful to put modern culture in the middle of ancient history. In Montpellier, just like many French cities, the architecture is very old. Montpellier has one the oldest schools of medicine in the medieval world but at the same time has some of the coolest graffiti that I've ever seen anywhere. Obviously I haven't spent nearly enough time here to get a complete idea of what this city is all about but from what I've experienced so far Montpellier has got me hooked.

September 26, 2011

Getting to Montpellier

I got into France a little over a month ago for the third time in my life. The first time was when I was around 1 year old living in the Netherlands with my parents. I've heard many stories from my parents of our year visiting Europe and I've also been shown the photo albums we've carefully kept from the experience but unfortunately I can't add any of my own memories to this collection. Despite how young I was I really feel like the year I spent in Europe as a baby was a driving force behind my visits to France in the years to come.

The second year I spent in Europe was about 16 years later during my senior year in high school. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the Rotary club by a good friend of my dad's. Rotary has clubs around the world and they regularly send students from one club to another for a year as exchange students. I applied for the program without any real intention of actually going to France for a year but the farther along in the process I got the more I realized that this was actually happening. I ended up spending 11 months in a small town in the south of France pretty close to Nîmes with three different host families. Those 11 months brought out some of the most intense emotions I've felt in my entire life. I can't say that there weren't times where I would've hopped on a plane back to the States in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. Luckily for me that opportunity was always far enough away to convince me to give this new country a try. After about three months in France I knew this was going to be one of the best years of my life.

After 11 months living with french families, going to a french high school, and hanging out with french friends, I became connected to the french language in a way that everyone that spends time abroad can probably understand. Even more than that I became connected to France and in particular the south of France. Ok the weather plays a pretty big role but there is some kind of common attitude between everyone that lives in the south that I can't get enough of. I couldn't really put a finger on it the first year I was here but I knew that I wanted to spend more time here. That's what pushed me to study abroad once again but this time in the exact same area as I was the last time. After looking through the study abroad programs offered by the University of Minnesota I was immediately attracted to the Montpellier program. I was so attracted that I applied and am now studying at University of Montpellier 3 for the academic year. A few people have asked me why I didn't go at least to a different area in France or even a new country all together. I still don't really know how to respond but I'm starting to feel like this place might just be my permanent home in the near future.

September 15, 2011

New Year, New Digs!

All of us in ACE are excited for a brand new school year filled with new students, new opportunities and, for us, a whole new space. Even if you have spent lots of time in ACE before, stop in and check it out post-remodel! We also have lots of stuff going on for seasoned alums of our programs.

If you are new to ACE, stop by and ask about your options for: Honors, Study Abroad, National Student Exchange, scholarship opportunities, Morris Scholar stipends, UROP and more.

Our look has changed, but ACE is still the place!

Find us at 5 Student Center where the candy bowls are always full!

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