Les Marchés de Noël

Marché de Niort - Opening Night

Marché de Niort – Opening Night

Les marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets, are an important part of Christmas in France, and in many other European countries as well. In France, the markets generally open in the beginning of December and run until Christmas, although some are only open certain days.

Many towns and cities of all sizes host Christmas markets. One of the biggest markets is held in Strasbourg, which is also the longest-running Christmas market; it has been held annually since about 1570. The biggest is in île-de-France.

Even in my little city of Niort there is a Christmas market. It opened on December 7 (which is also coincidentally La Noche de las Velitas in Colombia) with a parade in the town and it was the first day they turned on all of the Christmas lights that illuminate the town. There are also temporary booths set up that sell crafts, hot wine, and crepes, among other treats.

Today I also visited the Christmas market in a town called Coulon, about twenty minutes from Niort. I bought some delicious chocolates and looked at the different arts and crafts. Here are some more photos of the markets in Niort and Coulon:

Parade in Niort

Parade in Niort

Chocolate taste test in Coulon

Chocolate taste test in Coulon


Lights in Niort

Lights in Niort

Niort Marché de NoelCrepe Booth




Thanksgiving Reflections from France

Thanksgiving flashcards I used in my classes

This week in all my classes here in France, I am teaching my students about Thanksgiving. I talk about the history of the first Thanksgiving (I leave out the bit about the pilgrims later killing the Indians-they’re ESL students ages 6-11 so it’s a bit difficult) and I explain how and why we still celebrate Thanksgiving today.

I tell them how all over the United States, families and friends gather to have a meal together, and I teach them the traditional Thanksgiving foods: turkey, cranberries, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc. I explain why it’s called Thanksgiving—because we give thanks. Then I have them do an activity where they have to write a few things for which they are thankful.

And this is where my students look at me with a blank stare. I explain again (in French and in English) that we are going to write a few things that we have that we really appreciate, for which we are grateful.

One child asks, “Like a list for Papa Noel?”

“No, not a list of things you want, a list of things you already have that make you happy.”

I make a list on the board to help them, of ideas they can use. I say, “Maybe you are thankful for family, or friends, or your house, or your pets.”

After a while they start to catch on, but it surprises me how difficult this concept is for them. I thought it would be simple, that would all immediately come up with family, friends, toys. I wonder, is it just a difference in cultures? A language barrier? Or are all children like this these days?

It makes me a little sad that the notion of being thankful is difficult. I know that all of the students in my school are quite privileged, and have everything that they need and more. I think it’s so important that we teach children about the importance of being thankful and to appreciate what they have.

As I think about all of this, I have a newfound appreciation for the holiday of Thanksgiving. I think it’s wonderful that there exists a day dedicated to being thankful. Never mind that the other 364 days a year people may forget about this; at least there is one day where people come together to give thanks and truly appreciate all of the things and people they are so fortunate to have in their lives.

So for everyone back home in the US, or those of you celebrating Thanksgiving abroad (like me), please don’t forget the true meaning of this great holiday. As for me, this year, I am thankful for Thanksgiving.

Back in France

I’ve been in Niort, France for just under three weeks, but it feels as though I’ve been here for much longer. I am completely settled in, I have my phone, I set up my bank account, and I began work. I’ve found my regular boulangerie, my grocery store, and my favorite cafe.

It’s been quite a smooth transition, easing into life in France. This isn’t my first time here, and I speak French, so I know that helps. I lived in Cannes, on the Côte d’Azur, for four months in 2008 while I was studying abroad. It was an amazing time, and I’ve always loved France and the French language.

There are some funny little nuances of life here, like the fact that I have a sink in my bedroom and the toilet and shower are each in their own separate rooms in my apartment. Also, stores always close during lunch time, and most places are closed after 7pm and all day Sunday.

Houses along the river in Niort

One of the most notable differences I’ve observed between Niort and Bogotá is the driving. it’s so crazy; people here use the crossways, and drivers always wave the right of way to pedestrians. So even if I’m crossing the street not in a crossway, cars always stop for me. That almost never happens in Bogotá.

So perhaps you may be wondering, Dear Readers, why did I leave Colombia to return to France? One reason is because I want to relearn French. I’ve lost a lot of it after not speaking it for three years and learning Spanish during that time. I understand people just fine when they speak to me, and although I can make myself understood, I struggle to form grammatically correct sentences.

Along with my goal of perfecting my French, I am determined not to lose my Spanish in the process. Luckily, one of my roommates is Spanish, so I’m able to maintain my Spanish by speaking with her, and I’m going to Barcelona for ten days in two weeks.

I also decided to come to France because I was accepted into the Teaching Assistant Program, which is what I am doing here. I work 12 hours a week in two different primary schools, and I teach kids ages 6-11, which is great experience because it’s an age range I haven’t really worked with before.

And finally, how could I pass up an opportunity to live in Europe, with a job that allows me plenty of time to travel and to write? I couldn’t. So even though I sometimes really miss Colombia, I know I can go back someday; I know I made the right decision to come, and I’m really happy that this is what I’m doing now. I love being back in France, one of my favorite countries, and I’m excited to explore new places.

The Long Goodbye

So I’ve left Colombia. I am writing this post from Niort, France, the city I will be living for the next seven months. I left Colombia about three weeks ago, spent some time with my family in Pittsburgh, and then came here.

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Feria de las Flores

Every major city in Colombia has some major festival or fair at some point during the year. In Barranquilla, they have carnival. In Bogotá, they have the theatre festival (every two years), and in Cali, they have a salsa festival. In Medellin, dubbed “The City of Eternal Spring,” they have La Feria de las Flores, or, “The Fair of Flowers.”

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Bucaramanga, a Hidden Treasure

Photo Credit yonolatengo

Okay, now that I’ve caught your attention with this title, let me contradict myself by saying that Bucaramanga is not at all hidden, although it is a treasure.

Bucaramanga is the capital of the Department of Santander, in the Northeast of Colombia, and the city with the sixth largest population in the country. Continue reading

Small World

Photo Credit Jerry Bunkers

I have been blogging for almost a year now. Admittedly, I have published a bit less frequently than I did at the beginning, but I hope you, Dear Reader, are still enjoying my posts.

Before I began blogging, I was quite wary of it; you can read more about my feelings on blogs in one of my first posts. But then I began this blog, and I love it. I love writing, and this is an excellent way to discipline myself as well as get my writing out there. Continue reading

A New Year

Feliz Año Nuevo and Happy New Year (a bit belatedly)!

I am back in Bogotá after being home in the States for 3 weeks for vacation. Bogotá right now is delightfully empty, as many people leave during the holidays, often to Cartagena, Santa Marta, San Andres, and the US. Businesses are still open, but most people get a decent amount of time off over the winter holidays. Tomorrow, however, things will be back to normal.

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Top 5 Things I Miss from the Coast

Flag of Barranquilla

Today is my last day in Barranquilla; I go back to Bogotá tonight. The next time I’ll be here will be for CARNAVALES! I can’t wait. I’m excited to go back to Bogotá, but there are some things from Barranquilla that I have really missed, so I want to share my top five.  Continue reading

Back in La Costa!

View from my old classroom of the preschool where I taught

I am back in Barranquilla, my old home, for the first time in five months. It is wonderful being back. Everything feels so familiar still; it really feels so much more like home to me than Bogotá does. Although perhaps that will change in a few months.   Continue reading