Christina Quinn ‘23
In Reflection: A Year in (Aix-en-)Provence
When I was looking into study abroad programs for my junior year, I was immediately interested when I saw Aix-en-Provence, France as an option. I had visited Aix-en-Provence for a weekend in 2018 on a school trip and had wanted to go back ever since. After the application process, time flew by and I soon found myself packing my suitcases to spend junior year there. A few weeks into my study abroad experience, I remember running around from class to class, spending hours on homework, studying for exams, and living the way I was familiar with back home in Massachusetts.
One evening when I came back to my host family’s house, I was met by my host motherwho was relaxing at the patio table reading a mystery novel, as she typically did most evenings. We exchanged how our days went and after some time I headed into the house, her words echoing in my ears; “Profitez-bien.” It was something she had said to me before, a phrase similar to carpe diem. However, in this moment I began to reflect on how I was spending my time and if I really was making the most of my abroad experience. I began to see how differently I treated my time in comparison to my host family, as well as most people around the city. I began to question if time worked differently where I was than how it worked back home.
I soon found answers to this phenomenon from a British author who had lived in the region years before. In his book, A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle describes how he attempted to apply this view of time to his own life: “to treat days and weeks of delays in the Provençal fashion -- that is, to enjoy the sunshine and to stop thinking like city people”. His words resonated with me as I came to the understanding that people's relationship with time in Aix-en-Provence operated differently than it did back home.
This insight allowed me to understand that time is a part of the cultural exchange experience that is not often talked about, and seeing it as an opportunity to immerse myself in French culture, I soon found myself applying it to the rest of my time abroad.
After spending many weeks intentionally applying this perspective of time to my everyday practices, I was no longer rushing from ‘A’ to ‘B’ but rather slowing down and appreciating my surroundings. I found myself spending morning hours sitting at Café Weibel with an espresso and daily newspaper, people-watching and soaking up the always abundant sunshine. I paid more attention to the smell of fresh Christophe madeleines filling the warm provençal air as I walked through the sunny rue de Gaston de Saporta.
I also found that I had changed my interactions with other people as well. I slowed downmy pace and began asking more questions. I learned from a local cheese-maker how seasonsand aging changes the flavor of a cheese, from a perfumer how different flowers can produce a sweet perfume, from the olive farmer at the daily market what life is like in his profession. I began to form relationships within the community through trading stories and connecting shared experiences. Through my year, I gained a new perspective of time and how to “profitez-bien” in a way that has shown me the importance of intentionality, slowing down, and appreciation of the present in which we live.
Christina Quinn '23