August 07, 2009 - by Emmanuel Hector
I’ve been so many places, seen so many faces, and have even spoken so many languages, but Grenoble, France
will forever be more than a fond memory….and if I were to ever forget, a few aching
bones & scars & a body piercing will continuously testify.
I guess once you’ve seen a place go through the seasons…from
knee-deep snow storms, to the blooming of flowers, to the scorching-hot sun
obliterating the flowers back to nothingness…that place becomes part of
you…part of your own history.
As the seasons changed the appearance of the surrounded
mountains… personalities were also transformed… with strangers becoming
friends, then lovers, then arch-enemies, then lovers
again, then life-long friends. Most importantly, it was fascinating how strangers from different lands
were able to put our differences aside & lived like a dysfunctional family.
You don’t really know a place until you’ve seen it at its best
& worst …the same goes for personalities…you don’t know someone until
you’ve seen them go through multiple situations that elicit multiple emotions…It’s
even better when you meet people who can do that to you. And for the first time
in my travels, I’ve been able to experience them all. I’ve always been a
tourist or a half-hearted nomad who is always thinking of his next destination
rather than enjoying where he is…Grenoble changed all that. It’s amazing to be
in the middle of a heated discussion and then to suddenly realize…wow…I’m
actually defending home…France…from a French perspective. Perhaps Mos Def was
right in “Habitat” when he said your home “ain’t where you’re from, it’s where
Grenoble became that home…that place where you develop
un-patterned habits…like pain-au-chocolate, classes, KEBAB, internship,
baguette with cheese or Nutella (better than crack, not that I would know),
wine, Facebook, party, and sleep (if remembered)…then do it all again in
As much as I dreaded the day I had to return to
good ol’ New York
City, I had to face reality and put an end to this journey in France.
started with numerous frustrations ranging from the currency exchange
rates and the economic crisis, to a French language barrier, but ending
with a place to call home…a home that will forever remind me how
blessed I am…a
home that changed my perspective on Christianity, politics, wealth, and
an office job.
At last, SANTÈ (CHEERS) to the never ending good times!
Live. Love. Learn.
Until Next Time,
August 07, 2009 - by Emmanuel Hector
Someone recently asked why
I almost never write about my school work and internship in
France...well... it's simple...that kind of writing can be a bit boring
thus the reason I prefer to write about my adventures around Europe. I
believe that in however many years I'll be looking back at my college
career, I'll probably remember 10% of what I learned inside the
classroom, if even. However, I will surely remember the education I had
through adventurous travels, people met, & time spent with the
friends that became family.
Nonetheless, when it comes to my
education in France, it is almost the same as being educated in Adelphi
University in New York. The main difference is that the language is
making things a little more interesting & frustrating. All I have
to basically do is pay
attention to almost everything that is said
in class to avoid some surprises. So much easier said than done. For
example, one day I had an exam and since I was not focused
enough to hear the announcement the previous class, I had a nice test
on "memoire tabou en france" waiting for me. Let's just say I learned
the artist in beating around the bush that day.
4.5 months in France, the improvement in my French, actually, the
French learned during that time truly enhanced my educational
experience. It sucked the first few weeks of my 9 (yup, nine) classes because I
felt like the whole world knew more French than I did. I felt as though most
of the students in my classes, if they weren't French, have been taking
French courses since they were in diapers. And then...there was
Emmanuel, the only black American guy with so much to say but not
enough French words to express himself during hot discussions on topics
like sex, alcohol, discrimination, immigration, censorship, poverty,
professors as baby-sitters hired by the government, etc.
my internship at La Communauté d'Agglomération Grenoble Alpes Métropole
(La Metro)...umm...it's interesting. It truly wasn't what I was
expecting, in a good way, kind of. I feel like instead of me
helping my three hosts around the office, it is as though they are
baby-sitting me. I want to do work...get my hands dirty, but I simply
can't. There aren't even tons of phone calls for me to make, files to file
& copies to make since everything is done electronically &
requires months & months of learning the complex French
bureaucratic system to maneuver. They are certainly not allowing me
access to confidential information especially since it's a short term
internship. So what do I do for however many hours a week I spend in
the office? I go to meetings politicians in the region hold to discuss
things such as education & discrimination. They are a lot more boring than
you might think...causing me to question my motivation to eventually
become a politician. Furthermore, I also meet with different personnel
in the organization to discuss things that are of interest to me. For
example, I hope to be working in the public health field as a diplomat;
therefore, I regularly meet with a public health specialist who travels
around the world learning & showing how the French system works. I
get to converse with him, yup in French, about what he does, what
specific project his team is working on, what's going in public health
in France in general, which branch of public health has the most amount actions, etc.
it's been a great educational experience through school and internship.
It's unfortunate that everything will come to an end soon.
Until Next Time,
February 07, 2009 - by Emmanuel Hector
I've spent a decent amount of time worrying about various things since
I arrived in Europe more than a month ago. My worries spanned from not
knowing anyone, to the time difference, to not speaking French fluent
enough, to the possibility of failing my classes, to paying (19.60%)
taxes for everything, to the American's dollar's depreciated value, etc.
But then I said to myself, "What is wrong with you?" What good is it to
worry about such FRIVOLOUS things? Not only can things be so much
worst, but as a child of God, the concept of worrying shouldn't even be
part of my terminologies/existence. Besides, just 3 years ago, Europe
was a MYTHICAL place that birthed women like Joan of Arc and JK
Rowling and men like Christopher Columbus, Napoleon, and Hitler...thus
colonialism and world wars. All of a sudden, I found myself living in
this mythical land and appreciating its cultures, peoples,
architectures...so all the things that come/happen after that
opportunity...whether good and/or bad...are simply bonuses.
Since that realization, I started to appreciate the little things:
hearing people speak English, everyone saying "Bonjour" or "Bon Soir"
to me on the streets and everywhere else I go, striking conversations
with beautiful women (the pride and luxury that come with being a
foreigner), having a professor conduct a class a day early just because
my classmates and I want to go skiing during regular class time,
having people guess where in the world my accent is from, etc.
But, along with such a chilled mindset comes the consequence of
invincibility...thinking that I can take part of any risky adventure and then live to talk about it. For example, climbing a fort's wall
at night, hitchhiking, taking ice-cold showers, skiing the Rhône-Alpes
in places that are far beyond my levels, having no concept of time by
exploring the city at night, and so on.
Nonetheless, one of favorite quotes says:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat
or drink; or about your body, what you will wear...But seek first his
kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to
you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will
worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.(Matthew
6: 25, 33 & 34)
January 24, 2009 - by Emmanuel Hector
Three weeks later. Never have I been so frustrated and happy at the same time.
Top 10 Frustrations:
- Crazy drivers. Just because these Frenchmen drive tiny-toy cars,
they think they can take them anywhere and do crazy maneuvers that
exponentially increase your chances of getting hit or have your toes
- Living in a residence with no internet access. But, I was still given
an Ethernet hub and told if I break it, I will have to pay at least
50 Euros. Anyway, when I do get a 1 or 2 bar wireless signal, the
restrictions are ridiculous...even Adelphi's website is blocked.
- Time zone. The 6 to 9 hours gap between friends, family and professional contacts is aggravating.
- The irritating smell of cat feces in some parts of the mountain.
That smell goes straight to my brain to intoxicate me, especially when
I'm out of breath while speed walking to my residence.
- Paying high taxes (~20%) and insurance for almost everything...
- Walking home every night after class. I don't mind it much on a nice
day, but on a rainy, cold night, it's practically torture walking
uphill for about half an hour. Doing that trek about twice a month
tipsy is quite interesting : ).
- Sit in classes (9)
and translate lectures for hours and hours each week...that's not
even the frustrating part...it is listening to the professors drag on
and on about things I don't care about, but I still have to remain
focused with my low attention span.
- Go out, meet young, beautiful women but cannot truly hold an intellectual
conversation with them due to the language barrier. I gotta get fluent
in French ASAP.
- The need for people to bring up President Barack Obama in EVERY CONVERSATION as though I'm an expert on him.
- Currency Exchange. Cutting my bank account in almost half is
disgustingly disturbing. The dollar must be resuscitated.
I can only wonder of the lessons I'm suppose to learn from all these frustrations. Only time will tell.
January 12, 2009 - by Emmanuel Hector
Is it culture shock when it also occurs in your own culture?
I recently became conscious of my own racism. I realized that I've been
going to stores and making sure I distant myself from black Africans.
Why?...because they have a bad reputation in this French culture. I don't
know how exactly I did it, but I always managed to find a way to let
the security guards & store clerks know that I'm a non-threatening,
honest, educated black American who will not steal.
In the United States, on the other hand, I managed to establish the
same rapport by the way I talk, walk, dress, etc. I find it interesting
how I somehow have to prove myself by showing that I'm not part of the
statistics on young, black men in both cultures just so I can freely
spend my money.
Nonetheless, for the first time in my travels I am not 'exotic.' In
Asia, people would habitually walk up to me & touch my skin &
hair with an indescribable expression from seeing a black man in real
life. Here in France, I am looked upon as a potential criminal. With
the help of Barack Obama, it's as though it is 'better' for me to
establish myself as an 'American' rather than letting people assume I'm
African. My experience so far has proven that being the "American Boy"
attracts a lot more interest/attention from French women rather than
being just another black man. Why should I have to disregard my roots
in Africa in order to accumulate friendships and trustworthiness...
January 11, 2009 - by Emmanuel Hector
I am currently taking semi-intensive French for
a month with the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes Franôaises (CUEF) in
Grenoble, France. CUEF will not reward me any credit, it will simply
help me establish a good foundation in the French language. Since I
haven't taken French for the last 12 years, I need that refresher.
Once I am done with CUEF, I will start regular classes in Université
Pierre Mendè-France. These classes will include European and French
studies, comparative politics, and a few other intensive language
studies for a total of 30 ECTs or 15 credits. I essentially have to do
twice the amount of work of French students since I have to translate
then complete each assignment. Living at a residence on top of a
mountain with no internet access is causing me to practically live at
the library in the city below, thus murdering my social life.
Nonetheless, upon graduation, I am considering the Peace Corps. Fluency
in multiple languages will surely broaden my options of which corner of
the globe I will be sent to. Fluency in French can only further my
career in diplomacy. Besides studying French, my stay in France already
started to change me in more ways than I could have ever predicted. I
guess being 4,000+ miles from home with no roommate, friends, meal
plan, or anything familiar truly causes one to be independent. It is
causing me to grow mentally (intellectually), physically, spiritually,
and even socially. I have take initiatives, make consequential
decisions fast, and desperately try not to get hit by one of those
nearly silent trams roaming the streets of Grenoble.
What's next? I will backpack around Europe and possibly northern
Africa. Only God knows where I will end up before I return to the
United States mid June 2009.