French excursion

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Undergrad finds riots an adventure and a hassle,’ not a danger

When Meghan Costello left Maine for a semester abroad in the French city of Angers, she never figured she’d end up spending countless hours in her apartment – or get stranded in London for four days – hostage to hordes of angry French etudiants (students).

Costello, a junior at the University of Maine at Farmington, moved to the northwestern France college town of about 30,000 in late January, where she lives in a French dorm and studies at the Universite d’Angers, taking classes in French.

She says she arrived with only a meager grounding in the language, though in a phone interview while seated in a flower-filled park (spring comes earlier in France than it does in Maine), she described the places she’s been with a very good French accent. Living and taking classes in French is a quick way to learn, she said.

Costello said when the rioting began in February – the result of a federal law that would have made it easier to hire and fire young people – she worried the demonstrations might get violent, like they did this fall when thousands of cars were burned all over France.

“I never went and took part in the marches but sometimes I would be in town when they were going on,” she said. “They’d go by me – people carrying signs, with their faces painted, playing drums and trumpets, making a lot of noise.”

The reason she never took part, she said, was because when some friends of hers went to Paris to visit, “they got tear-gassed immediately.” Some of Costello’s friends in Angers went to a riot at the train station and watched the big station doors being kicked down by angry students, she said. “They said it was cool,” Costello said.

For all the potential violence, Costello describes the rioting as more an adventure and hassle than danger. Rioting stranded her in England for four days, and in her apartment for countless afternoons. The riots were also responsible for so many hours of canceled classes, the semester had to be lengthened, meaning Costello and other foreign students who had already made travel reservations will have to forgo finals this spring.

But most of her time is spent experiencing French culture, studying, and spending time with friends – many of whom are not French, but from other European countries. “Pretty much everything is different – which I like. It’s a really cool experience,” she said. Part of the fun is just the result of “living in a bigger town than I’m used to,” she said – going out to listen to jazz, sitting with friends in a cafe, strolling around the old city center.

Costello says she has plans to go to Italy next month, where she’s “hoping to get a Vespa and bring it back to the states.

“Everyone rides mopeds in Angers,” she said. “It makes me feel very European.”

The only negative experiences she’s had, she says, are the prototypical stares and rude comments from French men. “But generally, other than that, I’ve really enjoyed meeting French people,” she said. “I was expecting some prejudice against me for being American,” but “usually people want to talk” politics with an American, she said.

Talk about French food – an unavoidable topic of conversation, really – ran throughout her interview, but though she raved about the cuisine, she said she has yet to try a traditional French meal at a restaurant.

“I don’t eat out much,” she said. Instead she cooks at home with her friends. “That’s one of the things I really like – people tend to do grocery shopping daily.”

There are lots of food stores. Patisseries, boulangeries and small supermarkets. Walking down the street, she says, “there’s the smell of the fresh baked bread.”

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