I'm all settled in at le Catho, as the University in Lille is sometimes called, and the city is starting to feel more like home.
Classes are in full swing, and I feel that my French has already improved. Unfortunately, this comfort and set routine have resulted in less travel and exploration – the novelty of the city has worn off, even though I still have much to discover here; three-hour-long classes are mentally draining, and I've been away from home long enough to be wracked with waves of homesickness (besides the craving for a Bojangles chicken biscuit that I've had for weeks).
I love traveling and experiencing new things, but after a period of time, homesickness and a certain level of irritation at minor cultural differences have once again caught up with me.
The same thing happened last year while I studied abroad in England. This year, I can say that I'm better prepared for it, so I've been trying to keep my mind off the rainy weather, the fact that everything closes here on Sunday and the amount of sandwiches I've eaten (I would love to break up the culinary monotony with a chicken biscuit) by getting to know my new friends, watching more soccer/football in one week than I have in the past 10 years combined and reading Harry Potter in French.
To spice things up a little bit, I visited Dunkerque (Dunkirk) last Saturday on a sleek, efficient new train. The town is much smaller than Lille but has quite a bit of history relating to World War II. Dunkerque was the site of Operation Dynamo in 1940, during which thousands of Allied troops were evacuated to England during a nine-day period. There was a very thorough war museum with all kinds of memorabilia and scaled models. I saw the beach, the town square, a huge market in the city center and a very nice little mall.
Walking around Dunkerque with a map devoid of half the street names, I was a little disappointed at the lack of architecture and charm, especially after visiting Bruges and cities like Paris. I then realized that the city had probably been built up quickly after the end of the war using whatever materials were available in order to become fully functioning again. Given its past, Dunkerque seems perfectly content to be a normal town where people can live out their normal lives. It was definitely interesting to see another dimension of France that is not so much a "destination" as a "regular" place.
After grocery shopping on Sunday I decided to visit the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille's fine arts museum, instead of sitting in my room eating Nutella. The collection was fantastic (it's the biggest French museum outside of Paris) and had some really interesting pieces – not just your typical religious paintings. With my free audio guide I spent some quiet hours in the museum wandering through history, which was more satisfying in the long run than my Nutella.
There are still so many things I want to explore in Lille and the surrounding areas, including Vieux Lille, the old part of town, so check back again soon! Thanks for reading and au revoir.