Skip to main content

Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Andrea Webster
Aix-en-Provence, France
Spring 2006

Marseille, France: Airport
It was my first time in France. I was nervous, scared, and tired. One piece of luggage was lost, 27 hours had passed without sleep, and my new host mother was, to my knowledge, not in site. I promptly found the luggage claims sign and got in line. While waiting, I practiced in my head what I would say. I noticed a woman in her mid-forties carrying a photo printed on computer paper wearing a short black skirt and a lacey black top. I considered approaching her to ask if her name was Madame Poletti. Unsure of my French and highly doubting that a woman in scantily clad clothing could be a host mother, I continued repeating French phrases in my head. When I was finally able to speak with the baggage claims representative, I immediately asked if she spoke English. She replied negatively and so I attempted to describe my suitcase and tell her my new address and phone number. Once this frightful experience was over, I began my search for a pay phone. Remembering how difficult it would be to use a foreign public telephone, I found the help desk where a nice lady gave me explicit direction in English. I called Madame Poletti and as soon as she answered, I was so nervous and confused that I accidentally pulled out the calling card and, consequently, hung up on her. I found my courage and called her back. A combination of broken English and broken French were used to find a location in the airport to meet. When she arrived, I recognized her right away; she was wearing a short black skirt and a lacey black top.

Interstate between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence
Madame Poletti introduced herself as Danièle. She started our first conversation, in French, of course, explaining that she would speak slowly and clearly for me. If ever I failed to comprehend, I was supposed to say "stop," and she would find another way to explain herself. She followed this by telling me about her trip to South Africa in October of 2005. I would soon learn that her entire life was shaped by the "Big 5": the elephant, leopard, lion, rhino, and buffalo. Directly in front of the interstate was a mountain, which Danièle informed me was named Mont Saint Victoire. She told me all about Paul Cezanne and how the mountain is closed to the public every summer because of the high risk of fires. As we the prominent mountain disappeared behind us, Danièle appropriately taught me the word for jet lag, "décollage", and, thus, I entered my learning curve in France.

137 Chemin de Beauregard, "Le Petit Nice", Aix-en-Provence
The suitcases were removed from the car and placed at the bottom of a soon to be familiar 4 meter staircase, followed by a 5 story apartment complex. I was informed that our home was on the fourth floor, denoted by the balcony overloaded with plants. I immediately noticed her use of the possessive "our." Subsequently, I began my climb.

Apartment B6
Danièle opened the door and as I entered, I felt like I was on an African safari, but I still knew that I was in Provence. Photos, paintings, and figurines of lions, elephants, giraffes, African shields, and African spears covered the walls while the smell of lavender overcame my senses. It was a combination that fits Danièle perfectly.

Foothills of Sainte Victoire
Three weeks had passed and I continued to absorb my new surroundings. On this Sunday morning, some fellow programmers and I decided to tackle the monumental Sainte Victoire. We packed our backpacks with French necessities: baguettes, cheese, sausage, chocolate, water, and a little wine. Despite our confusion, we finally found the correct path up the south side of the mountain. I had never seen a mountain up close and I had never climbed one. I was in for the exciting adventure. I think there were about eight of us all together. Everyone had different hiking experience, but we all tried to stick together anyhow. As I climbed the mountain, my legs began to feel weaker and my breathing informed me just how out of shape I was. The others mostly agreed. Then an elderly French woman hiked by us as almost a running speed, and we decided to keep going. The hill was never-endingly steep, the air became colder, and the view behind us gave us a reason to take many gazing breaks. As soon as I could see our final destination, we turned a corner and frost covered the ground. This, alone, amazed me.

The Peak: Sainte Victoire
The top of the mountain, overlooking my new home for the next five months, still remains indescribable. Neither words nor pictures can recreate the memorable scene. However, I will try my best. I have always had a passion for the outdoors, respect for the earth, and admiration for immense geographical landforms. Combined with my newfound appreciation of foreign lands, this moment alone was the climax of my journey. I felt like I had conquered something. I wasn't sure exactly what that something was. Studying abroad is not easy and neither is climbing a mountain for the first time. And yet, I had somehow completed both. The reward was spectacular. I climbed the mountain two more times throughout the semester, but those times never compared to the first. I will always have respect for Sainte Victoire. The mountain represents my stay in a France and always makes me smile.

Other Recipient Essays