Patricia Qualheim is a Junior in French at the University of Utah. She spent the 2010-2011 academic year on an exchange program in Grenoble, France.
I spent the last school year in Grenoble – a mid-sized southeastern French city surrounded by the Alps. I really loved the program and have progressed so much since coming here. I came with so many hopes and ambitions and feel that Grenoble was the perfect environment for helping me accomplish my goals. The campus was really beautiful and, much like the University of Utah, surrounded by mountains. The view from my apartment is gorgeous. It definitely makes up for the small size. Grenoble is about the same size as Salt Lake City and the tram system is fairly reliable, except for when the French have one of those strikes or rallies that they're so famous for. The first rally that I saw was really cool to watch. It was basically a parade. Communists, socialists, human rights activists, and a marching band interrupted public transportation as they waved their banners and flaming torches through the city's center.
There were several great programs on campus for integrating students. One of which was the Cuef, who did a really great job of organizing trips to important landmarks and events in the Rhone-Alps region. One of my favorites was a trip to the nearby village of Annecy for the festival of cows. Venders and artisans lined the cobbled streets to sell various traditional foods and art –usually handmade- from the region. I chatted for a minute with a group of ladies who sat on the street making lace by hand to sell and watched a painter making ornaments for Christmas, putting great detail into each one. Later my friends and I filled up on tartiflette, a traditional Rhone-Alps dish made from potatoes, cheese, and bacon, while listening to a live band dressed in a customary celebratory costume in the street.
The neighborhood I lived in was quaint and very French. There was a giant fountain in the center of the neighborhood and we had several fresh food markets just down the street that sold goods grown by local farmers. The atmosphere was always lively, with locals rushing in and out during breaks from work to get their fixings for supper. But my favorite local spot for grocery shopping was a little local bakery who sold the best baguettes in all of France. I became quite the bread connoisseur by the end of the year. I can’t say I had quite the same success with picking out produce, but I had fun miming the locals who sniffed, squeezed, and searched over their veggies with expertise before heading home. It’s the little things like that that really make a study abroad experience. My morning was very French. I went to a nearby boulangerie to buy a baguette for my lunch and then to a little street market to buy fresh vegetables for dinner. It was so cute, and I felt so French when I had mornings like that. Sometimes I got carried away with pretending to be a french shopper and came home with weird vegetables that I don't know how to cook, but I bought because they were pretty. The more vegetables & colors I had in my little red basket, the more I felt that shopping at the market was a legitimate French experience.
Grenoble is a rather sporty city in general, and thanks to mountainous surroundings is a famous skiing and hiking spot. While I’ve never been skiing, I took advantage of several amazing hiking trails. The photo I took at left is a picture from one of my favorite trails, overlooking a small village in the mountains. It was so beautiful. But my very favorite trail is one found just at the end of the tram line. About two miles after the start of the trail, there are amazing waterfalls. Additionally, there are several amazing lakes the surrounding areas that are fairly easy to reach with public transportation.
Throughout the month of December there are Christmas markets in nearly every European city. Cute little shops selling handmade little goods line Victor Hugo Park and one can really feel Christmas in the air. Food vendors were selling nutella covered waffles and hot chocolate to warm up freezing customers as they browsed the goods from local artisans. Shelves were overflowing with toys for children, nativities, hand painted Russian nesting dolls, a hundred different perfumes from homemade soaps, and candies. The light covering of snow gave me the impression of really being in a winter wonderland. Spending the holidays in Europe is a really a unique experience and though I missed my family and friends, I’m really glad that I got the chance to be there.