to pack…or not to pack.

it is eleven twenty. i leave tomorrow. i have not started packing.

Why why why!!! do I do this to myself. How am I supposed to cram nine months worth of things into two tiny suitcases, each weighing under fifty pounds!?!? doesn’t british airways know anything about French fashion? My mother keeps telling me that I need to wear half of my wardrobe with me…on the plane.  At first this seemed unreasonable. Now I think it is genius. I am trying to figure out a way to wear not only one pair, but two pairs of boots simultaneously. Ideas ?

What I am NOT packing, listed from most depressing down.

1. My flavia. A delightful and practical gift given to me by my best friend’s parents, this coffee machine gives me daily morning joy as I rush out of bed to brew a fresh cup of capaccino, french vanilla, or columbia coffee. My sanity.

2. My television with American TV. GLEEKS everywhere, I am missing the Britney Spears episode next week! HELP!

3. all of my fabulous short-sleeved, colorful, happy, clothing. goodbye, sweet warm temperatures. hello, frigid verdun. average daily temperature of…freezing. Also, goodbye to my sweatpants, yoga clothes, and t-shirts. If I wore you in France I would be excommunicated.

4. My books. Since I most likely will not have television and internet, I would love to bring a big old stack of reading to catch up on. However, books weigh too much, and I have already packed Goodnight Moon and If you Give A Moose A Muffin for my kiddies to read!

Do you have any book recommendations? have you ever experienced a packing nightmare!? email me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com

back to the alma mater

I am from a small town, one of those places where you walk down the street and everyone says, “hi brenna, you don’t know me, but my little Johnny plays baseball with your cousin, your aunt told me you were moving to France and your mom confirmed it when I saw her at the grocery store yesterday, I heard your sister has the flu…” This typical hometown gab results in me dressing in disguise when going out in public. Running to WaWa for an early morning coffee? Grab a hat and big sunglasses. ANYONE could be there: your elementary school gym teacher, your ex-boyfriend, even kids you used to babysit! You know what I’m talking about…

My dramatic tendencies aside, being from a small town has also been extremely beneficial to me as I adjust to being an adult in the “real world”. I have always had the help of my former teachers, employers, as well as friends and family when I needed it. For some reason, tomorrow night I have been trusted as being the guest speaker at the French and Spanish National Honor Society Induction at my High School. I mean, this is no Nobel Prize, but it’s exciting all the same. So, i’m going back to the home of the DRAKES tomorrow night! The following is my speech – please just imagine me looking fabulous and reading it aloud on Tuesday night!

Bonsoir, Buenos Tardes, Boa Noite, and Buona Sera, Thank you Mme G and S D for having me back to the place where I first fell in love with language. I will never forget my first day of French class, when Madame Guay was running around the classroom, juggling balls in the air and throwing them at her frightened students, shouting, “ce ballon est rouge!” “eh la, c’est un ballon vert!” “deux ballons bleus!” I was mesmerized by French. The language seemed so exotic and beautiful. It sounded like she was singing, and I longed to be able to imitate her voice. I knew I wanted to become fluent in French, and I made that one of my goals.

Nine years later, I am still not fluent, but I can surely communicate. I can read the works of Marguerite Duras in her native language, sing along to the pop music of First Lady Carla Bruni, and write letters to my friends in France. It has been a long journey, but one that has made my life more vibrant and fulfilling. The experience of learning a second language is one that I believe every person should take ownership of as a global citizen.

I took French all throughout high school, and my dreams came true when I participated in the exchange program with Madame G my senior year. I ate escargot with my French family, visited the home of Van Gogh, climbed the Eiffel Tower, and went salsa dancing by the Bastille. My first glimpse into Paris the most exciting and inspiring experiences of my life. I wanted to learn more about art, music, religion, philosophy, and literature. I went to the Catholic University of America in DC, a hub of international culture and politics. I ended up studying International Relations and French in college, and writing two senior theses: one in French African women’s literature, and another on the cultural immersion of minorities into the European Union. Throughout my studies I have been constantly engaged by comparing and contrasting different forms of thought. By no means am I an expert in any one subject, but everything I’ve learned has only encouraged me to learn more. Now I want to learn Spanish and Portuguese! This can be attributed to my initial study of French.

In addition to formal education, I have gained life skills unique to cultural immersion. After studying abroad in the South of France during college, my daily norms were turned upside-down. Everyday in France was like a huge puzzle. Could I use the right words when I was talking to a teacher? Do I speak in the formal sense? Are my tenses right? How can I get this person to stop bothering me? Excuse myself for being late? Make a friend feel better? Gaining a command of the French language was very challenging, and also very rewarding. There were days when I wanted to give up, when I had been on the phone with the airline company and they were yelling at me that they “couldn’t understand my strong accent”.  My host sister would make me repeat phrases over and over again, rolling on the floor laughing at my inability to pronouce the “u” in the word “bus”. Language and communication is the key to connecting with another person, whether you are communicating in your native tongue or not. Although learning a new language is a lifelong challenge, it is one in which you can always come back to.

But more than a language, I have gained another dimension to my world view. I learned about a new system of government, social policy, food customs, and other cultural habits that reflect their individual and group personalities. By adapting to a new culture, I was exposing myself to a different world view. Problem solving, communication skills, and patience are only a few of the invaluable life skills I learned while studying abroad. It is also proven that people who immerse themselves in other cultures are more creative than those who don’t. Creativity is an essential tool to have when solving problems.

Being “open” to the French way of thinking makes one more adaptable to other cultures as well. Not only did I become friends with French people, but I now have friends from all over  the world. Because I can see outside of the American “bubble,” it is much easier to relate to others from different cultures. One of my most memorable experiences abroad happened when I was in Venice. I shared a room in a hostel with a girl my age from Iraq. After a few icy exchanges, we ended up talking for hours, and left with a better understanding of each other’s points of view. I might not have been so open with her if I had not had the experience of studying abroad. Today, I have friends all over the world, and I know I can always call on them when I need a place to stay.

Already in my short twenty-two years of life, many opportunities have come my way because of my study of French. Last semester I interned at the FE, and helped to edit a quarterly luxury magazine that was published by the French government. One of my favorite parts about this job was the expresso and pain au chocolate in the mornings. I also got to attend parties and cultural events at the E for free. This summer, I worked for the FP, and helped immigrants gain better access to Health care by bridging the language gap. On Friday, I will be traveling first to Paris, then to V to become an elementary school English teacher. I hope to inspire French students to fall in love with English the same way Mme G showed me her passion for French, and I’m sure S D does in Spanish. I know that even if I do not want to work in France forever, getting a job will be much easier because knowledge of a foreign culture is a desired skill in today’s global market.

I congratulate all of you on your dedication to the study of language. I encourage you to continue your challenge, to find take what you have learned and find any way  possible to immerse yourself in another culture. Merci and Gracias!

If this sucks, is boring, or you think I am an idiot, leave a comment or email me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com

geaux tigers!

I just got back from my first time in the south! Hello Louisiana! My best friend just moved there to become a 6th grade English teacher. She is doing a great job! I really look up to her, because she has devoted the next two years of her life to making changes in the achievement gap in the educational system in the United States. To help you understand better, she works 15 hour days, her students can barely read and write, and spends her weekends planning lessons and grading papers. There is a lot to be done, the United Sates is in serious trouble when it comes to educational disparity. I am so proud of what she is doing! Most people couldn’t do it. After visiting Julia’s classroom, we did get to explore the town of Baton Rouge.

On Saturday, we went to an LSU football game. Scratch that. We tailgated with the locals for hours upon hours. There were pick-up trucks, boys in short khaki shorts with embroidered belts, babies in cheerleading uniforms, and jumbalaya being stirred in huge cast-iron pots with huge wooden paddles. Every time I heard the word “ya’ll” I giggled with excitement. Brenna takes on the south!

No, they're not clones, they're just southern.

My favorite part of this cult-like festival was the pre-game parade. Mike the Tiger, LSU’s mascot, is a real Bengal tiger living in a state-of-the-art habitat on campus at LSU. While this shocked me – cue the PETA radicals – it turns out he isn’t being tortured or stifled by his status as mascot of LSU. He is living like a king!

According to LSU’s website, “The new environment created for Mike is over 15,000 square feet in size with lush planting, a large Live Oak tree, a beautiful waterfall and a stream evolving from a rocky backdrop overflowing with plants and trees. The habitat has, as a backdrop, an Italianate tower, a campanile, that creates a visual bridge to the Italianate architectural vernacular that is the underpinning of the image of the entire beautiful LSU campus. This spectacular new habitat features state-of-the-art technologies, research, conservation and husbandry programs. It is, in essence, one of the largest and finest Tiger habitats in the United States”. [http://www.mikethetiger.com/index.php?display=habitat]

So even though Mike was lives in captivity at a college campus, he is treated well. That’s what I like to hear. When Mike the tiger “feels like” joining the parade to inspire the fans of LSU, he voluntarily goes in his cage and is paraded around campus. Now, does this seem normal to anyone? I mean, the most outlandish things I’ve heard is the hawk who never dies at SJU in Philly. But come on, that is just a man in a hawk uniform who waves his hands around for hours. An actual tiger? Brought from China? To inspire a football team? Genius!

Mike in his cage

I graduated from a school where the mascot is the Cardinals. This got me thinking – how can we inspire the students and alumni of CUA? Attendance at athletic events is low, and we could use a little of LSU’s spirit. Let’s start a bird sanctuary people! Instead of being bored at football games, watching our team being massacred by other division III schools, fans could bring binoculars for when times get rough, and do a bit of bird-watching. Sure, an urban environment isn’t the best for the health of these warm blooded vertebrates, but this is where survival of the fittest comes in. Of course, we could get a state-of-art-habitat like Mike’s, but that would require money from alumni, and since all of our alumnus are priests, we must start campaigning for this during the second collection. Ideas and feedback are welcome. Go cards!

I cannot talk about travel without mentioning something to satisfy the needs of foodies everywhere. Of course, I must talk about southern food, specifically crawfish balls. I was told that was one specialty that I could not miss. I then insisted on saying “crawfish balls” every chance I could get. Mature.

after consumption of crawfish balls

We drove to the country, to ensure authenticity of local cuisine. The restaurant we chose was called, “Not your Mamma’s”. Extra points for a saucy name. These gooey and spicy balls were a special treat. Similar to croquettes, the outside was fried and crispy, and the inside was a mix of dough, crawfish, spices, and veggies. I ate them up and demanded more! If you ever go to Baton Rouge, please eat crawfish balls.

What is the special local cuisine in your town? Does your college have a live tiger, bear, or maybe a “colonial” or “quaker” living on campus? post a comment here, or email me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com

why i am fleeing the country

You might ask yourself – why is this girl leaving our great nation to live in rural France? I mean the French – they’re nothing but a bunch of pansies! They take too much vacation, they openly criticize our government after we bailed them out of two wars, and, (the kicker*), they hate Americans.

Well, I can bore you with an explanation of why the French are a superior race, or I can give you four simple reasons for my ex-patriotism.

1. Cheese Addiction. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the French make over 2,000 different kinds of cheese. To the average American who is torn between  Swiss and Provolone for their turkey sandwich on rye, this can be quite overwhelming news. But to me, it is ecstasy. Imagine, it is your turn in line at the crémerie. The butcher is throwing you samples of tomme de savoie, goat cheese is melting like butter in your mouth, and you marvel at the mold growing on the  blue cheese. You begin to think, what can I eat with this cheese? Surely, a baguette is the perfect companion, but what about jam? Salads? Pasta? Your mind begins to churn as your heart races, going through pizza recipes and noting the necessities. It all becomes too much. When the lady behind you begins to tap her foot impatiently, you make your choice and leave with the most perfect piece of fromage, neatly wrapped up in paper. Heaven.

Veronique, my host mother, knew the key to my heart, and gave me this cheese plate as a twenty-first birthday present.

2. Pennsylvania State Liquor Laws. Hands down the most ridiculous laws ever promulgated in the history of civilization. When I returned to the United States from France right after my twenty-first birthday wishing to put into use my new legal powers, I nearly fainted from horrification upon entering the local state store. Besides the intermingling of cheap wine and alcoholic juice that shouldn’t even be in the wine section, the prices of decent wine are just too expensive for a girl on a budget. Not to mention outrageously expensive liquor, and of course the total absence of beer. God forbid I have a question about anything, when I eye down the salesperson I realize this individual might not know the different between cabernet and pinot grigio. If this country and certain individual states are intending to ruin the pleasure of a glass of wine or a cocktail, they are doing a good job. In the comfort of France I will be surrounded by winos who will not judge a girl for wanting a quality glass of wine that won’t break the bank and tastes good too.

3. Unemployment Rate of 10+%. Yes, I went to college and graduated with a degree in Politics and French. Yes, daily people laugh in my face for the decision to study something so impractical. Do I care? No. I loved what I studied, I received a well-rounded education, and I had a great time. Of course, marketing a degree in language and culture study has been more challenging than I imagined (cut to me at my computer at 5am, erratically searching craiglist/monster/linkedin for entry level jobs, harassing various professionals via phone and email to look at my resume, contemplating sleeping in the chapel at Catholic to get brownie points from God). The fact of the matter is, I’d rather live in France for a year getting paid pennies to teach than live through one more moment of mortification in the job search. Not to mention, I’ll only be working four days a week. (I can hear my friends cringing in their cubicles).

4. Feminism. When I tell people I am moving to France, the number one thing they ask me is “oh are you going to find a French boy?” My response: “of course! My goal in life is travel around the world and fall hopelessly in love! I have already researched French trends in dating and marriage, and have five dates set-up for my first week there. Don’t worry about the whole misogynistic culture – I’m ready to surrender myself for a boy, just like Bella in New Moon! (yes, I do believe that although the Twilight saga is catchy it is the explanation for the downfall of society). My family and friends accept this about me, and are ready to say goodbye to me forever”. Usually, the interlocutor is now crying, and I haven’t even gotten to the fact that I will also be dipping into a pool of skinny, cigarette-smoking, greasy-haired, patriarchal males. But of course, this is all generalizations and speculation. The point is, I am going to France for a job people. Not a boy.

A Frenchman in his natural habitat. Although seemingly handsome, note tight white pants.

There ya have it, folks. Send questions to me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com

a lesson learned

My grandfather passed away this summer, whom I was very close with. He was the best grandfather any girl could ever dream of. The model of a perfect gentleman, my PopPop taught me so much. A wonderful husband, he was lost without my grandmother. I loved hearing his stories about how me met my grandmother in the Poconos, their “courtship,” and marriage. It sounds so simple – yet their love was so deep.

My grandfather was the glue that held our family together. He was constantly keeping us connected with one another, boasting about my cousin’s accomplishments. He wanted nothing more than all of us to be together. He attended every single one of my important activities, as well as all of my cousin’s (there are 11 of us!). He was the favorite fan of every basketball team. All of my friends knew and loved “PopPop” – and not only for his infamous cocktail hours. He truly listened to me, and always made me feel important, valued, and cherished. Getting his phone calls were so important to me as I sought his advice on my career after college. He always assured me that something would work out, that I was smart and capable.

The intellectual loved to discuss my well-rounded education at Catholic U. At his funeral, all of his friends came up to me and said, “you must be the Catholic grad!”. He was a very devout and loving Catholic, and never, EVER, missed mass. I went to his last Sunday mass with him down the shore, at our lovely beach church. We enjoyed a typical Sunday brunch of home-cooked has browns, eggs, bacon, and coffee, followed by reading on the beach. I will never forget that day, as I waved goodbye to him on the porch of our shore house.

I think I am a lot like my grandfather, in that I am stubborn and try to fight for what is just. But there are a lot of things I can learn from him. Up until the last moments of his life, when he was suffering, he was still selfless. Even though he could barely speak he asked me about my summer job, wondering about my sister and brothers, wanting to know how we all were doing.

Why do I make public something so personal? Because writing it down is a way for me to cope with the loss I feel. Some people never get to have grandparents as great as I have, and I will never take for granted the relationship I was so fortunate to have with my PopPop.