It really pays off to stop and look at those bulletin boards around campus. You know the ones I’m talking about- they are covered with advertisements for different organizations, clubs, performances, political rallies, forums, rooms for rent, books for sale, and almost any other college-y sounding thing you can think of. I used to stop and look at those things all the time. They are pretty much everywhere on campus, and always are full of interesting things. As a freshman, I remember writing down websites, phone numbers, and taking down dates of meetings and performances, but my busy schedule (and lack of motivation) kept me from ever really benefiting from any of it. As I began to realize this, I stopped less and less to look at the boards, and eventually I began to not even notice them anymore.

But, as one would assume (and some may know), life in a new place can change your perspective– as has been the case with me. The Unil campus, like almost any other campus, has the same bulletin boards with the same kinds of advertisements; but to me, it is a whole new world. Thus, my fascination with the signs and ads returned, and just as I had done before, I have begun writing down events and dates again. A few days ago, I happened to see a sign with the word “gratuit” on it. If you don’t know already, that means “free” in French. A very good word to see if you are an international student like me. So, I wrote down the date, location and time and made it a point to attend this event.

I ended up dragging along Amber with me, and at 7:30 am we met on the EPFL campus (the neighboring college campus where they have majors like engineering and physics, as opposed to Unil’s language and arts programs). After walking around for a bit, searching fruitlessly, and eventually reading some maps (wandering aimlessly is one of our new favorite pastimes), we found the room where the free stuff was supposed to go down. We were the first to arrive, apart from one girl who was apparently part of the organizing team. Wanting to make sure we had come to the correct location, and that indeed they were giving free stuff away, we attempted to ask her if we were in the right place. After a few awkward sentences and much head shaking we almost left discouraged. However, Amber’s brilliant idea to show her where I had written down the name of the event : “Vide Grenier Gratuit” proved a success and she welcomed us in with a smile.

I’m still not exactly sure of the correct translation of “Vide Grenier Gratuit,” but I do know that it is made up of the words vacuum, attic, and free. As expected, people had donated unwanted items in hopes of benefiting someone else. The quantity seemed scant, but I quickly realized that we had made the right decision in coming. I found a fan (something I will need once summer comes– because of the lack of air conditioners here), and Amber found a much needed lamp. I also picked up a French CD and some French books, some paper, a notebook, and a binder (school supplies are NOT cheap here). The fan and the lamp alone (necessity items that would have needed to be bought) saved us probably a total of around 100 CHF (!) That’s a lot.

Lesson learned? Take advantage of the resources available, it is definitely worth waking up early, reading a map, or overcoming the language barrier anytime.

My new super awesome fan