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Week One (Part 1)

My first week in Clermont went about as well as could be expected. Well, not at first.

I got here on a Sunday evening. The woman who checked me in to my dorm room spoke incredibly fast, and once again I was reminded that I was a stranger in a strange land. She asked me a question several times, and I was only able to pick out three or four relevant words—not enough to answer the question, just enough to feel horribly incompetent and hope that she wasn’t getting too frustrated with me as I asked her to repeat herself several times. As it turns out, she was just asking me if I’d had a pleasant trip.

We arrived at my dorm room, on the fifth floor of Building C. She unlocked the door and showed me what was basically a hallway with a bed in it. The woman kept rambling, showing me all the features. I basically just nodded and said “oui, oui, d’accord” (Yes, yes, okay) over and over until she left. Then I was alone, able to inspect my surroundings.

It’s a nice room, recently renovated, according to one of the phrases I was able to pull from the endless stream of rapid-fire words my dorm manager hurled at me. Everything is light-colored, pale wooden floors with dark wooden accents, white textured walls and lime-green cabinet doors. The smallest mini-fridge I’ve ever seen sits on the floor by the door, underneath a few shelves and a cabinet. The bathroom? A closet. I have enough room to turn around, and not much else. If you’ve ever been in a bathroom on a train or an airplane, picture that, except with a shower wedged into one corner. If I was any bigger, I genuinely don’t think I’d be able to fit. And yet, there is a surprising amount of storage. I’d taken the advice of the study abroad advisors and brought a single, enormous suitcase. All of my clothes could probably fit in the shallow built-in chest of drawers opposite the twin bed. A desk is also built-in, against the far wall between the little dresser and the bed, underneath a window. There are still more shelves and cabinets screwed into the wall above the bed. I unpacked what I had and sat down on the thin mattress.

I just sat there, for at least ten minutes, thinking “This is home for the next six months.” I think I was too tired to be excited or thrilled. I forced myself up and began to make the bed with the sheets I’d brought in my duffel bag, desperate for a nap. Then I realized I didn’t have a pillow, or a heavy enough blanket for someone who gets as cold as I do at night. In the end, I curled up with my travel pillow and my little travel blanket and closed my eyes.

When I woke up, it was night, and my stomach was growling. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that practically everything in France is closed on Sunday (including the restaurant in the dormitory), and that there is no such thing as “Open 24-hours,” either. I didn’t have the WiFi passcode or anything, so I send a text to my parents to apologize for the phone bill and turned on my data, looking for something that was open. As soon as I found a restaurant, I got cold feet. How could I go wandering around, at night, in this strange city? I just sort of looked around my room until my eyes fell on a little cake that the flight attendant on my last flight had given to me, but that I didn’t eat because I was half-asleep and also because I didn’t recognize the brand. I figured something is better than nothing, so I ate it, and turns out, it was pretty good.

With no internet and no means of getting anything more substantial, I put on my thickest pajamas, some fuzzy socks, and a long-sleeved shirt, and laid back down on my travel pillow to sleep my hunger away.

After shivering through the night, I woke up with a crick in my neck and hunger pangs. A friend of a friend, named Salomé, was going to show me around the city. My friend Leo, who is an exchange student from Bordeaux that I met last semester, gave her my information. She was coming at 1 pm (or 13 h, since people use the 24-hour timescale here). Despite how cold I was and how my back ached, I was drawn to the window in my room, and took a photo of the view—my first morning in Clermont. Then I took the worst shower of my life in the little bathroom.

It’s currently my sixth day in Clermont, so now I know better, but the first time I could not understand for the life of me why the shower kept going off. Now I know the water only stays on for about 30 seconds—something about water conservation. I’m all for the environment, but it’s easier to be that way when I can choose to conserve water, instead of it being forced upon me by some unfamiliar plumbing system.

I got dressed, went downstairs to meet Salomé and her friend, but not before poorly communicating at which entrance I was waiting. Salomé had told me that her English wasn’t very good, but her friend Amé (spelling is questionable) spoke very good English. They introduced themselves, and tried to perform le bis, the well-known French greeting of kissing each cheek, which I had forgotten about until they tried and I panicked, wondering what the hell they thought they were doing. They laughed, because apparently, we Americans are known for not being very tactile, and I felt embarrassed. Then they asked if I was hungry.

I’m a proud person, and I would literally rather die than embarrass myself or be seen as incompetent, so had they not asked I probably would have starved another day. I told them I hadn’t eaten the day before and they took me to a kebab. I learned that a kebab does not, in fact, have to sell kebabs at all. Kebabs are what we call “greasy spoons,” little shops that sell whatever kind of food the owner knows how to make. I had the best sandwich of my life at this particular kebab, though perhaps it was because I was so hungry. I told them that I desperately needed a pillow and a blanket, and they took me to the Centre au Jaude, which is basically a plaza between two big malls that share a name. They’d bought me some tickets for the tram, though the locals usually don’t pay to ride, money is kind of loose around here.

They ended up taking me all around town before we made it back to the mall to buy my pillow and blanket. I saw the church, called Notre Dame—big, Gothic, and black from years of car fumes and cigarette smoke. They showed the different university buildings, scattered around town, as is a necessity for a university in an urban setting I guess. Then we waited for Amé’s boyfriend to get out of class at the local high school, or lycée. As it turns out, both girls are eighteen, younger than me by two years. Then they took me to a brasserie, or bar. Even though it was 2 pm, there were lots of people there. They ordered a Monaco for me, which is a beer with strawberry syrup. Naturally, I was a little apprehensive, because I’m for the US, where you have to wait till you’re twenty-one to drink and even then, you get carded. But the waiter just took our order and walked away. I was honestly shocked at how simple it was. After that, Amé’s boyfriend Victor left, and they took me back to the mall. We bought a pillow and a duvet from a pushy saleswoman who spoke far too quickly for me, and I was suddenly grateful for Salomé and Amé being there. Knowing myself, had I gone alone, I’d have been so flustered that I would have left without buying anything and simply froze another night.

Then we went grocery shopping, because I needed cleaning supplies for my dorm (thanks, Mom, for teaching me to be neurotic about cleaning living spaces that aren’t my own home), and because Salomé and Amé were going to make dinner for me that night and she needed food. The grocery store, it turns out, isn’t far from my dorm at all, and I bought some bleach wipes, toilet paper, and trash bags. Despite having called my bank before I left, my card still didn’t work, probably because I was using overseas, so I had to pay for a four-euro purchase with a 50-euro bill. The cashier was not amused.

They took me back to my dorm, marveled at how tiny my room was and gave me the time and address for dinner. I slipped my new pillow into the pillow case, wrestled my duvet into the duvet cover I’d bought, and wiped down everything in the bathroom with the bleach wipes. Then I realized I still needed hand soap, some dishes, a rug, school supplies, and food. Deciding that I would deal with that another day, I went downstairs and waited ages at the office for the Wi-Fi passcode. Despite the fact that there were three secretaries, they were all helping one boy at the same time—he apparently was looking for a job. When he left, one of the secretaries waved me over and I tripped over my words as I tried to spell my own name with the French alphabet and ask for the Wi-Fi code. Successful, I went back to my room and connected all my devices. I was determined not to fall asleep so that I could get on the right time zone, so I watched Netflix until it was time for dinner.

I found my way to Salomé’s apartment all by myself, a feat which I was irrationally proud of, and had a diner of crêpes full of potatoes and cheese. It was pretty good. Then we listened to music, which was shockingly, mostly in English. In fact, Amé, who was controlling the music, is a big fan of Motown artists and old Black funk groups—which I thought was hilarious. All the songs were familiar to me, I just never thought I’d hear Earth, Wind, and Fire in a millennial’s apartment on the other side of the world. We traded stories about our family’s and hometowns as best we could, and I honestly had a great time. After a while though, I couldn’t ignore how tired I was.

I bid them good night, and they told me to text them if I had any questions or if I wanted to go somewhere and needed some company. I promised I would, and made my way into the night, feeling a little more confident—and not just about wandering around at night.

Going to Clermont-Ferrand

I didn’t feel anything before I left. Everyone kept asking me if I was excited or nervous, and I knew that I was. But I didn’t feel it.

My parents woke me up on January 13, and I just opened my eyes and looked at them. I’d gone home for Christmas break, and they had been nearly insufferable about me leaving. My mom kept saying “One last hug,” nearly a month before I even started packing. My dad was full of advice that was either intuitive or repetitive. My sister was playfully angry at me for leaving her for six months, even though I’ve lived an entire state away for nearly three years now. My brother seemed indifferent, though not so indifferent that he wouldn’t make jokes about mimes and baguettes.

Right from the beginning this trip seemed both inauspicious and promising. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe things will go wrong, even when all evidence should lead me to the opposite conclusion. Sometimes this gets me into trouble. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through something so monumental. To escape my parents’ wailing and lecturing, I checked my phone and saw that my original flight had been delayed, then cancelled. My mom was convinced that this was going to be a huge stumbling block; my dad was full of extreme backup plans. I told them to just take me to the airport at the original time and it would all work out.

And it all worked out. I got a new flight and it actually went much quicker than my original flight plan, not that this would actually help me out or ruin me, as it turns out. But I’ll get to that.

Originally, I was supposed to fly from DFW airport to JFK in New York, then to Charles de Gaulle, in Paris, then to Clermont-Ferrand. Instead, I ended up on a flight from DFW to ATL—Atlanta. But the rest of my trip was unchanged. The flight from Dallas to Atlanta was uneventful, and I just kept contemplating why I felt so neutral about something that’s so important to me. Even though this is normal for me, not getting nervous until after the big event—whatever it might be. I still thought that something as big as my first trip out of the country, with four different flights and all the potential for sabotage that came with them, would elicit some sort of response equal to the size of the adventure I was on. But it didn’t matter. I got to ATL with more than an hour to spare, and so I had a terrific lunch and took my neutral emotion onto the flight.

The flight to Paris was long, about seven hours, and I’ve never had to sit in such a cramped space for so long. My mom gave me some special socks to keep my legs from going to sleep, but once I was on the plane, I was too self-conscious to put them on.

I kept looking around and listening to the other passengers, some of who were Americans going to Europe, and some of who were Europeans leaving America. Not just French people—though they were certainly the majority of the non-Americans. I heard Italian, Spanish, something that sounded vaguely Eastern European from a crotchety couple near the lavatory. That’s when it hit me—well, it didn’t hit me. More like a thought that you’re aware of in the back of your mind, but for some reason you can’t bring yourself to focus on it too hard. The fact is: I am going to a foreign country, I don’t speak nearly enough of the language to feel totally competent, and that’s something that I’m not used to at all. One of the few skills I know I have is clear and precise communication, and suddenly I felt truly aware of just how narrow the purview of that skill really is. After all, I’m only a competent communicator in English. But now I’m about to go to France and probably sound like a child, or an idiot. And it’s too late and too impossible to simply pick up a language.

All this was a whisper in my head, not a shout or even an alarm. I don’t even think my expression changed when it occurred to me. It’s just a fact, not even really a hurdle I have to jump. More like a condition I will have to cope with, until exposure to the very thing causing this underwhelming anxiety cures it.

My seat mate came at that very moment; he was an older guy, tall and gangly and tan. I knew he was French, by his accent and the fact that when he came upon me he said, “Pardonez-moi,” and indicated that his eat was next to mine. I got up to let him in—I had an aisle seat—and I was immediately struck with a bad smell. The very first thing that I thought was: “Way to confirm that stereotype about French people smelling weird,” and then I immediately felt guilty. The last thing I want is to encourage negative generalizations, especially since as a woman of color, I encounter them often. But the smell was seriously heinous, like old pond water and mold and rust.

I had a conversation with him, partially in French and partially in English. We were equally matched—his English was as bad as my French. But I learned that he’s literally been travelling all over the world for nearly a month now. Anyone would be a little rank by then, after all, how often can you really launder your clothes if you only spend a few days in a country before moving on? He was kind and encouraging, and it only made me feel worse about judging him for the smell (right up until he took off his shoes midflight and it literally made my eyes water). I told him that I get nervous speaking French to people who are actually French, and he laughed. He told me that I would speak excellent French by the time I came home. I hope he’s right.

I read The Secret Life of Bees for the majority of the flight, great book. It’s quite sad though, and uplifting too, in that way that makes you cry the whole way through it. My seatmate kept looking at me worriedly until I showed him my Kindle and told him “Cet livre est triste.”

They turned off all the lights halfway through the flight, and I guess I was supposed to go to sleep like everyone else. I had my travel pillow and my blanket all ready, too, but I was so cramped and could neither lean toward the aisle (because of the lack of support) nor toward my temporary travel companion (for reasons I think I’ve well covered). Instead I sat up and got a twinge in my back and read until my Kindle died, then gave in and paid for the in-flight WiFi (which was irritatingly spotty for something so expensive) and fiddled around with my phone until the battery got uncomfortably low. It was only then that I felt like I had nothing else to do, so I pulled my beanie over my eyes and tried to sleep. I only got to that weird no man’s land where you’re not quite asleep but you might as well be, for all the thinking and moving you’re doing, before they turned on the lights and served me breakfast.

We landed shortly after, and even though the giant “Bienvenue! Paris vous aime!” sign told me that I had, in fact, arrived on the other side of the world, I still felt no immediate excitement or nervous jitters. For me, getting to Clermont-Ferrand seems like a mission; I don’t have the ability to focus on anything else but getting there.

In the airport, I had to put all my things into the bins and through the scanners, which was fine. The French-version-of-the-TSA agent spoke English and was kind, but efficient.  I had to throw out a full water bottle and take off all my jewelry, which was a hassle (everyone knows how frustrating it is to try to put on a lobster-claw bracelet on with no help), but I made it through the first security check and caught the shuttle to my gate just in time. My bag did get “randomly” searched, though, and I tried to ignore the irritation that threatened to break through my single-minded neutrality.

It turns out that Charles de Gaulle is a huge airport, it took nearly 15 minutes to get to the correct boarding area by shuttle—which still has about 20 gates. It then took another 25 to 30 minutes to go through customs. My dad promised that it would take at least 2 hours, but all they did was stamp my visa and wave me through. It was actually in the “Border Patrol” line that I inevitably made my first international faux-pas. A Chinese man behind me in line must have a cold or something, because he sneezed about 12 times. I turned and said, “Bless you,” mostly out of habit, and he just stared at me like I’d grown three heads. It occurred to me that he might not speak English, or maybe he just wasn’t used to being blessed for sneezing. Either way, the look on his face made me turn back around in embarrassment and resolutely stare straight ahead as he sneezed another 5 times. Some half-hearted vengeful malice in me made me think “He better not have gotten me sick.”

I got through the line and went to yet another waiting area, glad to see “Clermont-Ferrand” on the switchboard, as it made me confident that I was in the right place. But, since my flight was switched, I arrived here in Paris nearly five hours before my flight to Clermont. I used the restroom and looked around for a way to kill time. I finished The Secret Life of Bees and decided I might as well write a journal entry while everything is fresh.

This airport is almost more a mall than an airport. There’s a bar (which, even though I know I’m of age here, I’m still too nervous to go near—plus it’s 5 am), a newsstand selling books, coffee, and cigarettes, and a giant store named “BUY PARIS DUTY FREE.” Oh, yes, it’s in all caps. I did go in and look around. There’s lots of American candy, but some from other places too. You can apparently buy anything you could want there: perfume (Chanel, Dior, and the like), makeup (lots of L’oreal Paris, obviously), candy and snacks, liquor, cheese, wine to go with the cheese, and fancy tobacco (I have witnessed at least four people roll their own cigarettes). There’s a coffee kiosk also selling baguettes, funny enough, though their coffees look so small it can’t be worth the bother. There’s a little smoking room full of business men. There’s even a clothing store—with negligées you can buy.

If I were to be stranded in Paris—which I am, for the next hour and a half—this is where I’d want to be. Only thing is these chairs are rough on my already creaking back.

My flight to Clermont doesn’t leave until 9:25, and they don’t tell me the gate to go to until 30 minutes before the flight, for some reason, so at 9 o’clock, I have to just be ready to sprint in one of these directions. The sun is starting to rise now—it hasn’t quite broken over the horizon, but the sky is fading from the midnight blue it was when I arrived to hazy cerulean. More and more people are starting to arrive, and they all look so awake that I’m realizing how tired I really am—still with a flight and a cab to catch before I can collapse in my dorm. Maybe it would be worth it to buy a cup of coffee, not matter how tiny it is.


At the onset of this month, Trump declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. I will admit to not being very well-versed in the historical aspects that affect this part of the world, so I visited the CNN newspage and clicked the article that I was sure would solve all my problems. It is entitled “Why declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel is so controversial.”

To summarize, it would first undo nearly a decades worth of diplomatic processes that have slowly nudged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toward a peaceful solution, as well make foreign embassies a target for violent attacks in response to the news, according to one US State Department official. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for nearly 100 years, and Jerusalem is the most sensitive aspect of this conflict, as both nations declare it as their capital–both with historical justification for doing so. For foreign policy officials, especially during the Obama administration, Jerusalem has always been the ‘final problem,’ and after years of negotiations, all the work has been undone by one rash move by Donald Trump.

Not only is simply declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel problematic for the Palestinians, but moving the US Embassy is an entirely different issue. It could be a simple thing, to move the capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem–especially considering that the US already has a consular outpost there. However, Trump has decided that an entirely new embassy will be built, which of course, is a logistical complication. Moreover, it invited Arabs and Palestinians to protest throughout the entirety of the construction project.

In respect to the international nature of the history of Israel–after all, several countries were party to the original declaration that gave Israel statehood–it is important to note that because of the conflict, no countries have embassies in Jerusalem, while nearly 86 have their embassies situated in Tel Aviv. Were the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem, it would be the only one.

The Israelis, of course, are quite pleased with this agreement–at least officially. The leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are applauding Trump. THe Palestinians, however, consider this declaration, and its potential enactment, a breach of international law, and a huge setback in regards to peaceful and permanent solutions to this dispute.Some Americans believe the the timing of the announcement was suspicious, and have posited that Trump made such an irresponsible decision to draw attention away from Robert Mueller’s investigation into his relationship with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. The rest of the international community has found it concerning, careless and rash, and the United Nations has condemned the decision 14 to 1.

Because this is such a sensitive issue with so many moving parts, it is important to keep an eye on both official and unofficial reactions in the days ahead.

Not All News Is Bad News

Recently, it was announced that Prince Harry of Great Britain’s royal family is engaged to American actress Meghan Markle. For some Americans, it’s like Princess Diaries come to life–well, not exactly, but still very exciting. Some are indifferent to the news–after all, we fought to be a separate country from England, so why should we care? But I can almost assuredly say, that no significant portion of Americans are particularly upset about the upcoming royal wedding.

I, unfortunately, cannot say the same for some Britons. There have been a slew of racist tweets, mostly along the lines of the “dilution of the bloodline” or the “devolution of the Crown.” In general, comments that make no sense and don’t truly bear repeating. After all, I’m sure it’s hard enough to find true love if you’re a part of the royal family. How could you not be paranoid all the time that someone is only after your money, or station? I hope the Prince Harry and Meghan have found the real thing, and I wish them luck in the years ahead.

And of course, there are some who choose to make every event political. While it happens to be a skill of mine to find political implications to every action, I don’t really find it necessary to apply said skill in this case. However, some think that Ivanka Trump’s recent tweet, congratulating the happy couple, was in fact a fishing expedition for an invitation. The thought process behind such a theory is that Obama, who had a great relationship with the Royal family and still does, will be in attendance, and therefore the Trumps cannot bear to be left out. Despite the fact that it is well known that neither I nor the Royal family have much love for the Trump family, I am choosing to believe that this really was a good faith, well-wishing tweet from the First Daughter. If that’s not the case, and it truly was an ill-conceived attempt to wrangle an invitation, I think it’s safe to safe that she tried in vain.

The Royal couple have set their wedding date for May 19, 2018. Prince Harry’s older brother, Prince William, and his wife Kate are expecting their third child next year as well.

I wonder what is the American obsession with England, even after all this time. The culture of both countries have grown so far apart the practically the only thing we share is a language. Even that can be divided into British English (e.g. colour, bins, ‘taken to hospital’) and American English (e.g. color, trash, ‘taken to the hospital’). I think most of the fascination is the fact that England is kind of like America’s ‘parent’ that tried to hold on too tight, and America is like England’s ‘rebellious teenage child’ that was estranged for a while, but now we have a mutual respect and fascination with each other. We find each other’s accents attractive, we watch each other’s television shows. America is obsessed with concept of royalty and nobility–despite the fact that we are vehemently against that sort of thing happening here (at least, in any official capacity). I once had a friend from England who was obsessed with American southern culture, specifically barbecue.

Whatever the reason, it is an impressive relationship that we have sustained. And in that same vein, on behalf of any Americans who care, I wish the Royal family the best.

Libyan Slave Trade

This is by far the most upsetting thing I’ve had to write in 2017. I find myself baffled by the very fact it’s so ostentatious. One thing that I know is an unfortunate truth: the slave trade never truly went anywhere. People have been sold into sex slavery since the dawn of time–in fact, Oklahoma is one of the hotspot for sex trafficking in the United States. But the actual sale of people in ‘old-fashioned’ slavery: what with the chains and the auctioneer and actual bids on human lives, makes it seem like we truly are stepping back into the past.

CNN broke the news of the Libyan slave trade, with horrifying video footage nearly a month ago, and already it’s become old news in mainstream media. The original story broke in November, but it was in October that the CNN news team witnessed the sale of Libyan men, some for as cheap as $400. I find myself wondering–what kind of person knowingly buys another person? Who willfully and intentionally participates in such an antiquated and clearly inhumane practice? Maybe I’m coming from a place of innocence or privilege–after all, slavery, as I previously mentioned, is alive and well in certain parts of the world, such as East Asia, parts of Africa, and even Ukraine. But it’s the familiarity associated with the way in which slavers in Libya are going about it. If anyone has ever seen a slave documentary, or Alex Haley’s television adaptation of Roots, or been to a terrifying ‘interactive slaving’ experience like I have, one would think–or at least hope–that that sort of practice is done.

Of course we cannot ignore the political causes and effects of this sort of news. Many believe it was the destabilization of the region by American interference (namely, the removal of Gaddafi by the Obama administration) that led to people’s desperation for income. This is the sort of oversight that leaders and governments need to fully consider before taking action. The renaissance of the slave trade is a little…unforeseeable…but surely it was known that removing a leader, not matter how corrupt, would have impacts beyond the immediately known.

The Trump administration has also had some effect on this abhorrent practice, and much like everything out of the Trump administration, the news is not great. Trump’s relationship with American media is tumultuous, if one is being kind. He frequently tries to undermine the integrity of any news source that reports on him negatively, including such accredited news stations like CNN. Libyan slave traders are now using President Trump’s quotes wherein he calls CNN ‘fake news’ to cast doubt on the report and continue this corrupt behavior under the guise of journalistic dishonesty. President Trump, as of today, has done nothing to distance himself from the Libyan slave trade. He has neither put out a statement to bolster CNN’s credibility (to the surprise of no one), nor has he publicly condemned the slave trade in Libya. To say I am disappointed in the United States response would be an understatement.

The United Nations, which currently backs the Libyan government, has promised to investigate these claims in conjunction with Libyan officials, who say that it is the rest of the world’s response to Libya’s migration crisis that has allowed smugglers to exploit desperate citizens. To put it mildly, I am underwhelmed with the international response as well.


I was preparing to go down to Houston for my Consular Visit. Houston is where the Office of the General of France is, which means that it where I had to go to get my visa approved.

This process was nerve-racking and anxiety-inducing. I only enjoyed the process insofar as I knew that it was just one more hurdle I had to clear until I could go to France. That’s the goal I had to cling to through frantic calls from my parents, frantic calls to my parents, gathering materials, making a list, checking the list, printing so much that I probably have the destruction of an entire forest on my conscience. I hated everything about this process–everything except for the fact that it was going to get me closer to studying abroad.

Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to travel and see everything and everyone there is to see. Maybe if I had travelled outside of the country before, I wouldn’t have been so nervous. But as it is, I have never been outside the United States, though not for lack of trying.

I planned my consular visit to take place during Thanksgiving Break. I took the train to Dallas, my hometown. My mother picked me up, I had a brief moment to say hello to my brother and sister before my dad came home. We were rushing around (and by ‘we,’ I mean ‘me’) trying to find the last few official documents that I’d need for the visit. I had two different versions of a checklist in my hands, and I’d check them and the folder with all my documents in it several times, every few minutes. Even once we had gotten into the car and were already driving down to Houston.

We spent the night in town, five minutes from the consulate, so that we wouldn’t miss my 9:30 appointment. Despite my meticulous checking, we’d forgotten the prepaid envelope which was required for the appointment (I later learned it was to mail all my important documentation back to me, like my passport). So, at the crack of dawn, we drove around looking for a post office and a bank which was open before 9 am, because one of the documents needed to be notarized. We found a post office, but all the banks were still closed, it was too early in the morning. I was nervous, because I am the type of person who just waits for something small to derail something big and important. But my mother had a great idea to see if the French Consulate had a notary that we could use when we got there. We called the consulate, and the secretary assured us that it was no big deal, so long as we had identification for everyone who signed the documents.

I was still a ball of nerves when we parked at the consulate. By the time I walked in and sat down it felt like someone had lit a campfire in my stomach, and every so often my anxiety would force me to involuntarily contract my stomach muscles, like it was trying to put the fire out.

I walked up to the window and she asked for proof of my appointment. I knew I had gotten an email but I didn’t think to print it. All my meticulous planning, printing and list checking and this was the thing that was going to derail everything. But no, she checked my email confirmation and everything went smoothly from there. In fact I had forms and printouts in my folder the man behind the counter just handed back to me.

By the end of it all, I got my visa, valid from January 8 to June 8.I plan to leave on January 14 (since my sister’s birthday is on January 11, and she has insisted I stay for it) and I will return on June 13.Even though this process was and still is nerve-wracking, I am more excited than I am afraid.


I have an OU Cousin. I have been part of the OU Cousins program before, but I was often paired with a cousin who didn’t really want to hang out or do anything together. But this year, I met Céline, a French exchange student from the University of Bordeaux.

Céline is at OU to study American History and Literature. She prefers to concentrate on African American history, which is perfect because not only am I black, and therefore compelled to enjoy the company of anyone as woke as Céline, but I have an extensive knowledge of African American history due to my elementary education at a private all-black elementary school and my parents’ influence. From the very first moment we hung out, we hit it off. We’d been emailing back and forth, talking about this and that. I invited her to coffee, but she told me that she needed groceries and had no means of transportation. So, a few Friday’s back, I picked her up at Traditions and the two of us went grocery shopping.

She told me about markets in France, and how they’re not usually as big as Walmart. I convinced her to try some Little Debbie snacks, which I think she enjoyed. After the grocery store, we went to lunch at a Mediterranean place near my house. I live right across the street from her apartment, so it was no big deal for us to have lunch on my roof. We talked about our families. She has a brother and a sister, like me. But she’s the middle child, and I’m the oldest. We talked about “frat culture” and Greek letter societies, which are apparently unique to America. She said that they don’t have fraternities in France, at least not in the same way that we do here. We even talked about police brutality and how social justice movements that address American societal problems get more support abroad than they do here. She told me that they even had a Black Lives Matter protest at her university.

Last week, Céline came over and she and I went thrift shopping with my roommate. It was really fun, despite all the traffic and road construction. Céline was really excited to be invited thrift shopping, she said that she didn’t know that we had second-hand shops. I’d recent;y gone to the Pre-Departure Orientation for my study abroad program, where I’d learned some of the American stereotypes. On the ride over, my roommate–Nikki–and I asked her if they were true. She said that she’d heard that “all Americans are rich” and that “Americans are loud” and even “Americans are dumb/gullible.” I asked her why she thought Europeans thought that. She said: “Well, since America is far, when people can come to Europe, people think they must have lots of money. And when people think of America, they think of…I think his name is George Bush? And also Homer Simpson, that’s why some people think Americans are not smart. But yes, Americans are loud.” Nikki and I cracked up.

When we got to the thrift stores, I found a few sweaters and Céline found a denim jacket and few other pieces that she liked. We also stopped at Sonic for a milkshake. Well, Céline got a milkshake, a cheesecake milkshake to be exact. She loves that you can get two desserts in one here.

Céline is staying for an entire year, which is a little bit of a bummer, because I’m going to France next semester, so we won’t get to hang out after this semester ends. But I’m glad that I’ve gotten to know her, and maybe one day when she’s back in France I’ll get to go visit, or she’ll come back to the States for a trip. All I know is that it’s fun to make new friends, no matter where they come from.

Congressional Republicans, Trump, and Russia

Once, again, I will have to editorialize. Because once again, I have too much of an emotional response to just report facts.

Yesterday, two very important things came to light. The first was that Trump’s transition team was aware that Michael Flynn was being investigated by the FBI for his ties to Russia and Turkey, but hired him and National Security Advisor anyway. The second is that House Republicans have had their doubts about Trump and knew that he was a potential national security risk, and backed him anyway.

I’ve said it before, but the more I hear about this administration and members of this congress, the more I fear that partisanship and politics has replaced any actual care for the American people. Our public servants seem to have forgotten that they work for us. We’re not just votes, we’re people who cast those votes in the hopes that the names on the ballots would do what is in our best interest. Anyway, on to the stories that broke yesterday.

First off, Michael Flynn told the Trump administration that he was being investigated. He personally told them, so it wasn’t speculation or hearsay. But the vetting process for this president has been so lax, and the standard of qualification so low, that they hired Flynn anyway. As National Security Advisor. Like in what world does it make sense for a man who has his loyalties in question, and has actually admitted to illegal lobbying for a foreign nation (Turkey) to be a national security advisor? It’s reasonable to assume that his advice wouldn’t always be for our nation. Instead of not considering Flynn for the job at all, and moving on to an actually qualified candidate, Trump and the members of his team seemed to think that it was enough to know about the investigation.

But not only did they know about the investigation, they lied about knowing about it. Sally Yates, Barack Obama, and other members of the FBI and Justice Department told the Trump team that Flynn was not a good choice because of the ongoing investigation. This too was disregarded. But when it came to light the Flynn was under investigation, every one in the transition team, and Trump himself, claimed ignorance. I’m gonna skip ahead here, because this is an important point I don’t think enough people have mentioned. Because of the information about Trump’s connection to Russia that I mentioned in the previous post, many people are whispering about impeachment. Here’s the problem with that: Mike Pence is the Vice President and second in line for the presidency. But he was head of the transition team and said on TV that he knew nothing about the Flynn’s ties to Russia and Turkey. If that’s true, he is almost as dumb as Trump. He was head of the team and somehow knew nothing? Also, the head of the DOJ sent a memo detailing Flynn’s investigation directly to him. So if he still knew nothing, he’s as lazy as Trump and didn’t read an important document that was send right to his desk. And if none of the above are true, then he knew and he lied to us about it. Is there anyone on the right willing to stand up for us, even if it’s not the popular thing to do? Are any of them willing to be the one who goes agains the crowd and does the right thing, instead of the politically smart thing? DO any of them care about us anymore?

So, Trump and his transition team lied. But even now, this is something that the American people are unfortunately no longer surprised about. But what about the Representatives, that are specifically elected to represent our interests state by state? Surely they are willing to stand up for us even if the executive side of the government is untrustworthy, right? Wrong.

It was reported yesterday by The Washington Post that House Republicans had their suspicions about Trump’s affiliation with Vladimir Putin from the beginning. In 2016, a month before Trump secured the nomination, someone secretly taped a private meeting with GOP members in which the then House majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “I think Putin pays Trump.” This statement garnered some laughter, to which McCarthy quickly responded: “Swear to God.” Paul Ryan, the current House Majority Leader then said that there were to be ‘no leaks’ and that that was how they knew they were ‘all family.’ The most important aspect of this exchange is that no one ever said “that can’t be true.” Instead, the focus was on making sure the conversation never was leaked.

This is what’s crazy about this who thing: not only no one in the entire transcript ever deny that it was a possibility, but again they lied about it. Paul Ryan fervently denied that this was ever said, until he was made aware that a tape existed. Then he changed his tune, saying that yes, it was said, but it was a joke.

This is  not a joke to us. Our elected officials had reason to believe that the man they were about to nominate to be the leader of the free world was on another country’s payroll-not just any country either, our frenemy, Russia. And they nominated him anyway. And then they lied about it. 

When will the American people be put first again? When will our leaders actually lead, and not be the doormats for men with no loyalty and no sense? When can we trust the people we voted for for protection, to actually protect us? Especially when it seems it’s them we need protection from. 

Trump, His Admin., and Russia

This was a long time coming also, and the past two weeks have been a whirlwind of non-stop disconcerting news about our commander in chief and his ties to Russia. I absolutely have to editorialize, even though I usually just sort of report what I think is interesting, because you can’t write this stuff. So my editorializations will be in bold.

The suspected collusion with Russia on the part of Donald Trump began on the campaign trail, when he ‘jokingly’ asked Russia to interfere with the election and hack into government property to find Hilary Clinton’s emails. Come to find out, the Russians actually did interfere in the American election. Suddenly, it was looking like less of a joke.

Then both Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions were removed, Flynn from his position as National Security Advisor and Sessions (though still Attorney General) had to recuse himself from Flynn’s investigation because he himself had questionable ties to Russia. The entire time his administration was in question, Trump never said a bad word about Vladimir Putin. In fact, he has praised the dictator on many occasions. This alone should have been enough, in my opinion, for the House and Senate Republicans to at least pull a little of their support. But in today’s America, unfortunately, partisanship is king.

This all happened months ago, but last week, the worrying saga continued. Russian officials visited the White House, and while no American press were allowed in to photograph the event, the Russian press was permitted to attend. At this meeting, Donald Trump personally leaked sensitive information about ISIS and US anti-terrorist strategies that could endanger the informants who risk their lives to give us this information. Whether he was trying to brag about having sensitive information or if he purposely handed over this intel is unclear, but both are equally plausible in my opinion. I’d say he was just impulsively egotistical and desperate to show off, were it not for what happened next. The very next day, Trump fired James Comey, the FBI Director who was investigating his ties to Russia. Ostensibly, Comey was fired for ‘mishandling’ the investigation into Hilary Clinton’s emails. Obviously, if it was about Comey’s handling of Clinton’s investigation, he’d have been fired as soon as Trump got into the White House. But it was clearly about Flynn and Russia, who for some reason Trump is determined to protect. However, sure enough, in a later interview with Lester Holt, Trump said that Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation. This alone raised eyebrows about obstruction of justice, but this week the 24-hour news cycle was packed with even more information and even possible hard evidence that could put Trump’s presidency in jeopardy.

It has now come to light that Comey wrote a memo, as many high ranking officials and FBI employees are wont to do, that detailed a meeting with Donald Trump before he was fired. Trump reportedly made everyone else, including Sessions and Pence leave the room before asking Comey to ‘let Flynn go’ -in other words, stop the investigation-on account of he (Flynn) being ‘a good guy.’ Trump also asked Comey to ‘swear loyalty to him.’ Like he’s some sort of king or dictator! Every time Trump does something questionable, his team’s only defense of his actions is to reiterate that he has the ‘authority’ to do whatever crazy thing he’s done. But having the ability to do something doesn’t automatically make it the right or prudent course of action. Also, this is America, a democracy where title doesn’t automatically guarantee a person to get respect. This is what I think Trump doesn’t understand. I think he literally thought once he was president, he’d be automatically loved. The fact that it’s not true gets to him, since he constantly mentions ‘winning the popular vote’ (which he definitely didn’t), and is infuriated by the media’s criticism of him. The media and the American people are itching to see this memo, as it could be considered evidence. Memos have been considered credible by courts in the past. Trump tried to threaten Comey in a tweet, saying he’d “better hope there were no ‘tapes’ of their conversation.” This backfired though, because since catching wind of Comey’s memo, we all would love it if there was a tape. Put up or shut up, Mr. President. 

The memo has a chance of being introduced, as  there  was finally enough suspicion for Congress to pressure the US Department of Justice into appointing a special and most importantly independent investigator into Trump’s Russian connections. Former FBI Chief Robert Mueller has been praised by both Democrats and Republicans as highly qualified to run this investigation.

The suspicion of Trump and his campaign and  his administration’s collusion with Russia had been planted in the minds of Americans since his days on the campaign trail, when he directly asked Russia to interfere. Then, before he’d even reached 100 days, his national security advisor was being investigated because of the connection and his Attorney General had to recuse himself from said investigation because of his own meetings with Russian officials. Trump himself has never said a bad word about Vladimir Putin, and I’m sure if he thought long and hard the could come up with a few. Despite all this mounting evidence, Trump this morning has insisted that the investigation, which will now be carried out by someone he can’t fire, is a ‘witchhunt.’

I’m worried and embarrassed for us. We can’t even trust our own leaders, and I’m tired of feeling like I have to root against my own government.


The French Election

After how our elections turned out in November, the world held it’s breath for the results of the French elections. With one candidate, Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European liberal, and the other, Marine Le Pen, on the far-right, this was a diversion from the usual French politics. Traditionally, the leaders of France have been either members of the Socialist party or the centre-right. But like the US, a new wave of populism has taken over and caused a deviation from politics as usual.

Macron vs Le Pen

Most people following the French election remarked that Marine Le Pen, who ran on an anti-terrorist platform that rhetorically mimicked Donald Trump’s attacks on Islam and Muslims around the world while he was on the campaign trail in America. She also was in the shadow of her father, who was a Holocaust denier and self-professed anti-Semitic. Similarly, Trump and members of his cabinet have “mis-remembered” aspects of the Holocaust. Le Pen eventually denounced her father’s racist remarks, but her delay followed her in the public perception throughout the election. Le Pen also campaigned as an anti-establishment candidate and a nationalist, which was the most important aspect to the global community. She praised Brexit, which some feel destabilized the EU. Le Pen wanted France to be less involved in Europe and the EU. Her nationalist approach to politics was also reminiscent of Donald Trump’s philosophy during the 2016 electoral process. It is all of these attributes that led people around the world to remark that Marine Le Pen was a “female Trump.”

Macron Victory

Ultimately Le Pen was defeated by Emmanuel Macron, in a sweeping victory. Macron, tho youngest president in French history, ran on a platform of strength and continued attempts at unity in the face of the recent terrorist attacks France has experienced. He also wanted France to be more involved in the affairs of Europe and the European Union. In the second round of voting, Macron polled at 60% over Le Pen. He then decisively triumphed on May 7, 2017. It is significant to note that, like in the US, many eligible voters abstained from voting at all. Nevertheless, 66% of voters preferred Macron’s plan to loosen labor laws, and make France more globally competitive as well as more intwined with the European Union, which calmed fears of global economic instability. Macron, in his victory speech, promised to do what was necessary to combat terrorism

French Election Party 2

After Macron’s victory, a rave was held at the Louvre in the country’s capital of Paris. Videos of the victory party have made many-including myself-yearn for a similar response to political victory in the US (as soon as we deserve it).


French Election PartyRave at Louvre