Bonjour d'Aix with Ellie Tidman

June 8, 2012

Vanderbilt high jumper Ellie Tidman is spending her summer studying in Aix, France. The rising junior from Batesville, Ind., was born in France and moved to the United States at the age of 11. At Vanderbilt, Tidman is majoring in French and taking two classes while in Aix, Francophone Cinema and Advanced Conversation, with the goal of returning to fluency in the language. Tidman is one of Vanderbilt's top high jumpers. She placed sixth at the SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships this year and qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Round with a top-jump on the season of 1.77 meters (five feet, 9.75 inches).

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First day in Aix!
I got there in the early afternoon from the TGV station. I had a meeting at the center for formal paper work and proper introductions. I was so excited to get to be back in France given that I was born there but moved to the U.S. when I was 11. I couldn't wait to regain proper use of the language and rejoin the culture that I am so fascinated by! The staff was super friendly, which was extremely comforting! Then, off to the Auberge Hugo where I was to be staying for the length of the program. The Auberge was conveniently situated on a main street right by the Vanderbilt in France center. It is an apartment that I share with a room mate Diana and three other boys. I love it because it is spacious and having a kitchen makes it easy to cook healthy meals. The evening consisted of unpacking, getting to know the room mates and getting myself ready for my first day of class the next day!

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First day of class!
My first day of class was on Thursday. On class days, which are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, I have two two hours classes: Francophone cinema and advanced conversation. I was anxious to meet my professors as I had not taken any classes with them at Vanderbilt in America. Turns out both were great, very lively and friendly. The classes are engaging and move quickly because there are only 7-8 people in each class. This makes the teacher student relationship very casual and inviting. The classroom environment is very relaxed and promotes open discussion and gives each student the opportunity to ask questions. After my first day I already had homework! My brain wasn't ready to switch back to school mode yet but at least the topics were interesting.

No class today! It was the best feeling to wake up and realize I didn't have to go to class today! I woke up and took my time enjoying the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. Throughout the day I explored Aix by walking the length of its main streets. Most are lined with little shops and restaurants. The city is beautiful and famous for its many fountains such as "The Rotonde" which acts as the round about at the city's center. The streets of Aix are always full of people enjoying the beautiful weather in the outdoor cafés. Diana and I enjoyed observing the diversity of people that make up Aix's population as we ate Croc Monsieurs, a French toasted sandwich, at one of the restaurants. Friday night our group organized a potluck dinner so that we could all get to know each other. The evening included lots of reminiscing, food, cheese and! Once dinner was over we all decided we'd explore the nightlife! Together with our new French friends from the program we went out to the neighboring bars and clubs. It was incredibly fun and I was surprised at how many foreigners live in Aix. Within the first night I met students form Romania, Germany, Ireland and England. Many exchange programs feed into Aix to experience the southern beauty of the city and the liveliness of students that inhabit it, as it is prominently a student town. After a night of partying and dancing we were all exhausted! One of us looked at our watch and realized it was 6 in the morning! How about that for a first night! We then decided that it would be a good idea to go have breakfast as the sun rose.

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Before the potluck dinner (Tidman second from left).

Saturday, the crew didn't get out of bed until 1 pm from the events of the night before. The girls were tired but desperately wanted to go shopping in the center nearby so we made omelets showered and began our tour of the clothing stores in Aix. We found ourselves overwhelmed by the size of the stores and sometimes by the prices! At the end of the day most of us had bought more than enough to be satisfied with ourselves! After having dropped off all of our bags we met up to go out again that night and pretty much repeated the events of the night before! I have to say that Monday morning I realized how sleep deprived I was from the weekend. The nightlife hours are definitely different than what I was used to in the U.S., but easy to get used to. I can attest that every hour I spent dancing and getting to know more people was well worth it.

Sunday was reserved for sleeping and recovering from the night before. I spent my day relaxing in the comfort of the apartment and doing homework that was due the next day. In the evening me and my friend Mary took a walk and attempted to find the gym because we had intended on working out but ended up getting lost and having to walk back. Working out is something that is necessary here because frankly the food is so good that one can't stop themselves form eating every hour of the day! There always seems to be something delicious around the corner that I haven't tried or had in a long time! I was thankful to crawl into my bed that night and get a good night's sleep.

Monday, the group had an organized wine tasting. The experience was wonderful! We tasted a white wine, two roses, a red wine and a desert wine also known as "vin cuit" which is a specialty here in Aix-en-Provence during Christmas time. We had an instructor who gave us background about the wine and the wine making process. It was very interesting to hear how different wines are made and the steps that are taken to make them taste a certain way. After the introduction portion of the tasting the instructor taught us how to properly taste the wine! I didn't know this but there is actually a five-step process. 1) Hold the glass up by the bottom so that your fingers don't block the view of the wine and look at its color. 2) Swirl the wine around to oxygenate it and bring out the flavors that make it up. 3) Smell it to see if you can recognize the ingredients used to make it because some wines are more sweet or sour if they contain certain ingredients like fruits or nuts. 4) This is the fun part.... Taste it! Try to notice how long the flavor stays in your mouth and whether it is a dry wine or not. 5) And last but not least... savor it! Enjoy the flavor and finish off your glass! After the tasting the center provided us with a dinner of small hors d'oeuvres that were delicious. We got to choose from a selection of breads and cheeses as well as olives ham and tomatoes.

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Wednesday are our excursion days, which simply means that on these days we don't have class and get to take a field trip! Today was our visit Mont Sainte-Victoire, which is the mountain, situated in Aix, which the famous French painter Cézanne, painted 60 times throughout his lifetime! We departed from the center at 9 a.m. all wearing all wearing t-shirts shorts and tennis shoes ready to take on the day! It was about a 30-minute drive to the mountain because it is outside the city itself. As we get there the excitement is building up because most of us have never climbed a mountain before! The hike all the way to the top is three-and-half hours. None of us anticipated how exhausting and painful this experience would be! We started off talking and laughing, following our professor as she gave us facts concerning the mountain and its history. One-third of the way up... there is no more talking! People are feeling the burn and begin to get tired. This is not a small mountain by any means it is a straight-up hill! A very steep one too. To give a mental image I'll just say that while I was "hiking" up this mountain I felt like I was rock climbing! The paths weren't really paths at all, just rocks marked by a blue streak which indicated the way to the top!

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Three hours later we arrive at the top after the first group of people. They are already eating their lunches and enjoying the view... I am unaware of the view or the fact that I am starving... I am just ecstatically happy that I can sit down and not have to move for the next two hours! Once I regain some strength and manage to sit up I look out across the mountain and the view is breath taking! It is much cooler up at the top than on the ground and the horizon is cloudy and grey because we are so high up. From here I can see small towns and reservoirs that are turquoise in color! After two hours of relaxation and basking in the happiness of having achieved something we make our way down the mountain most of us practically running to the bus! At the end of the day people were burnt, tired and hungry but happy to have had such a successful experience under their belts!



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