French House assistant (Spring 2014), on loan from the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris, Pauline Warnier shares her thoughts on arriving in Madison, living and dining at the French House, her sad departure and her incredible adventures that followed.

I arrived in Madison one night in January 2014, along with the blizzard. I hadn’t slept in 30 hours, it was -5°F and I kept thinking “what on earth am I doing here?!”

The State Capitol in winter (photo by Pauline Warnier)

The State Capitol in winter (photo by Pauline Warnier)

My UW-buddy drove me to the French House and I crashed on my bed, barely noticing how warm and welcoming this house was. A few days later when students came back from winter break, I realized how great it was to live here. As a French Assistant, I shared every meal with my housemates but also with our guests at lunch to converse in French and learn about each other’s culture. It was a great way to meet exciting and open-minded people – from students to retirees – whom I would not have met otherwise.

Sunset from the French House (photo by Pauline Warnier)

Sunset from the French House (photo by Pauline Warnier)

I came to Madison on an exchange program to study at the UW-School of Business. That was definitely the best part of my undergraduate studies. I loved everything about it: meeting these great people, eating cheese curds, attending classes (as surprising as it may sound), going to the gym – whereas I had never set a foot there before! – eating Dave’s breakfasts and brunches, hanging out at the French House with my best friends, going to the games (Go Badgers!), visiting Madison and its great Capitol…  I really loved Madison and as a photography amateur, I would walk around a lot. Every morning I was amazed by the view from the dining room. It feels sad to have breakfast in front of a wall when I got used to watching this beautiful and calming lake each morning.

There is something about the way American people welcome you, introduce you to their country and culture. It was true for my classmates, and even more so with my housemates at the French House as we literally spent our lives together.

The colorful chairs of the Terrace (photo by Pauline Warnier)

The colorful chairs of the Terrace (photo by Pauline Warnier)

I left Madison one afternoon in June 2014, under a dazzling sun. I cried when saying goodbye to my best friends and I kept thinking “why on earth do you leave this place?!” I promised her though: America, darling, I will come back.

And here I am, two years later, writing this article from my bedroom in Ann Arbor, MI. But let’s take a moment to talk about 2015 first.

Paul and I had long dreamed about going on a big unforgettable adventure: we decided to cycle through the Andes in South America. Neither of us was really into sports, let alone into cycling, so it was one audacious bet. We chose to bike because it was a challenge, because it was faster than walking, because it enabled us to be totally autonomous, no strings attached. But above all we chose to bike because it brought us closer to people, it aroused interest and it was a great way to meet people.

We cycled for 6 months from Lima, Peru, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Bolivia and Chile. 4600 miles and 5 mountain passes above 13,000 feet. I can tell you, it’s not easy to breathe up there! We carried everything on our bikes: equipment, clothes, food, water, tools…  Sometimes we had to carry 160 lbs with us. We slept under our tent for the 180 nights, whether it was 5°F or 110°F (on December 31 in Argentina, true story!).

We came home cycling from Barcelona, Spain, to Chablis, France, where we got married 3 months later. A lifetime adventure, maybe less athletic but at least as challenging and amazing as the previous one. And we are already onto our next one!

Paul and I just moved to Ann Arbor where Paul is working as a maintenance engineer for an automotive company. We are so excited to be back in the U.S. We went to a Wisconsin vs. Michigan basketball game last week (sorry Badgers!). I am still waiting for my employment authorization and guess what? We just found an apartment on Pauline Boulevard!

I’m very happy to be back in the states and now that we are almost settled down, Paul and I are planning another mini-adventure: at trip to Madison.

~Pauline Warnier

Want to learn more about Pauline and Paul’s South American adventure? You can visit their blog by clicking here.  And if reading French is just too much, there’ll be a film!  Watch their two trailers here.