Following my delicious dinner of pasta and pinot noir, I have some time to record my thoughts about the past couple of days. I forgot just how much of a whirlwind it is to get settled into a new home for a year! Thursday was a bit of a recovery day. I did a few errands--got a few grocery/kitchen items, got my demi-tarif card for the train, and my first snafu of the trip occurred. My debit card got refused at the train station, so I went to an ATM machine, thinking it must have been an error in reading the card. And then... THE MACHINE ATE MY CARD. SWALLOWED IT WHOLE, WITH NO HOPE OF RETURNING IT. Pas de panique, I went home, called the UW Credit Union from my computer and sorted the whole thing out (even though I had put a travel alert on my card, due to a large sum, they had put a hold on my account! arrrrrgh! the replacement card should be arriving in the next week). A bit of a bummer, but I knew I would get my fellowship in cash the next day, so not a huge deal.
On the whole though, I was having a bit of a sad and lonely day until I went to a practice for the Cercle Choral de Genève, a group of about 80 singers who remind me of my choir back at home--welcoming, a bit silly, not afraid to use a finger to indicate where the pitch should be on an imaginary scale suspended in the air. :) The walk there took about 45 minutes (since I got semi-lost twice--more on the whole concept of being lost later!). When I arrived they knew exactly who I was, were eager to try pronouncing my name à l'américaine (I LOVE hearing my name pronounced by French speakers--there's something about those long vowels that proposes a challenge!), and directed me immediately to the Alto section. This choir is different from the one back home in that they memorize their songs. This definitely helps with working on pitch! We practiced a few other songs, and then we took a break. During the pause, the Présidente of the Chorale introduced the two new members: me and a woman named Sandrine. I couldn't stop smiling the whole time, and I thought of my first choir practice with Jen, three years ago. I kinda had the same feeling. These are good people :) The practice ended with a little mingling over wine and snacks, and I really enjoyed speaking French with them all. The only difficult thing is that the Chorale meets 30 minutes away from where I live! The Director was gracious enough to drive me home, but I need to master the public transportation options to get there myself. Even with public transport, it will probably take around 30 minutes to get there. I need to decide if it is worth the commute and try a few other groups closer to where I live, but I think it just might be worth it.
Today was the séance d'accueil, or orientation, for international students who are here as part of a departmental exchange. After being bombarded with information (and discovering I had a 2pm meeting that I did not know about!), we were served coffee and croissants and spent time introducing ourselves to one another. The majority of students I met were there as part of the ERASMUS program--second or third-year university students, which makes me ancient by comparison. :) I did meet a girl from Johns Hopkins University who is a doctoral student, and we enjoyed chatting about our research. All of these introductions made me think back to my first year abroad--how much I absolutely loved it and how far I've come since then... I'm a lot less frightened by these types of situations now, a lot less concerned about my French (even with all its rusty edges), a lot less reticent to ask questions when I need to! After this first meeting, I had to get the first installment of my fellowship--in cold hard cash. Admittedly, I felt a bit like a baller walking around town with a 1'000 CHF note. And then some. Not a practice I plan on cultivating.
With that administrative detail taken care of, I went back to Uni Mail and ran into my new American buddy, Matt. We had lunch at a great pizza place and agreed that we were both a bit overwhelmed. Then it was on to the next orientation meeting for the Faculté des lettres, where we met our advisor and talked about course planning. Just before the meeting, I crossed paths with Patrick Chappuis--pretty much the only person I knew prior to getting here. It was a complete and utter coincidence. The world is so SMALL! And he's not even at the university anymore! He just happened to be there taking his students to see the university. Amazing.
As for the orientation meeting, about five minutes in and after some brief introductory comments, Professeur Tinguely told me I was free to leave, since the remaining information was not really pertinent for me. I was the only one who got dismissed. Everyone else is doing a certificat. I still have the option to take courses--and I plan to! "Langage des médias (arabe)," a course I've ALWAYS wanted to take and that isn't offered at the UW, and a course for exchange students called "Activité théâtrale: du texte au spectacle" where we'll be reading theater and going to see productions in town. Those classes both meet only once a week, and the rest of the time will be dedicated purely to the dissertation. Sunday will DEFINITELY be a writing day, too, since most everything is closed. My goal is to write a chapter over the course of three months, so by the time I'm done here--three chapters down, only the introduction and conclusion to go!
Freed from the meeting, I went to a stationery store bought a $9.00 notebook (yes, you read that right! but I need a notebook that has a larger surface area than an iPod!). They didn't have change for a 1000 franc bill, so I proceeded promptly to La Poste and opened my bank account. And then went back for the notebook. (Just kidding. Fortunately, I had exactly the right amount of coins to pay for the notebook.) The last errand of the day was getting my monthly bus pass and more passport photos. Next week, I'll master the TPG.
The biggest lesson from all of these things? Patience. There are often more steps than anticipated to accomplish a task. Les commencements sont toujours difficiles. I've been here less than a week, and I'm already getting a better feel for the city. The only really major errand left is the permis de séjour, which I'll take care of on Monday. Classes and writing begin in full effect on October 1st. Practicing patience until then... with the process and with myself as I get acclimated. :)