My cat is going to hate me

A week before my departure, everyone keeps asking me what I have done to prepare. Each time I am at a loss for words. What do you say? “I bought a bunch of granola bars and some EasyMac,” or, “I googled all the awful things that could happen and trust me you don’t wanna know.” While I cannot list everything, here’s a short list of all that I have done to prepare to leave:
1. Made a list of things I’m supposed to do
2. Snuggled my cat endlessly (no matter how much she squirms)
3. Eaten at every Gainesville restaurant food that I know I’ll have a hard time living without including but not limited to peanut butter pie, gnocchi, various Taco Bell items, and more
4. Cleaned my room four different times
5. Made a mess of my room five different times
6. Slept in every day
7. Whined about the cold at least twenty times
8. Puked in two separate Walt Disney Parks (not recommended)
9. Read three different Irish travel books
10. …essentially none of the things I should have been doing

I struggle daily to decide how much of a big deal it is to know that I’ll be living in such a different place for a semester, but I know it won’t truly sink in until I’m on that plane about to leave. A lot of me is sad at some of the opportunities I chose to take a break from in Gainesville but, mostly, I am excited and so eager for all the possibilities.

In our pre-departure sessions, they advised us to lower our expectations so every now and then I remind myself of the cons of being so far; however, the negative aspects never seem to outweigh the value in my head of how this is going to help me figure out what I want. I am so, so eager to learn more about myself through this experience while still being able to connect with new people. Here’s to hoping I’ve got enough Irish in me to get along 🙌🏻

First Week of Classes

Hello from 4,321 miles away,

It’s me again.  We’re finished with our first week of classes!  This week was very educational and also a lot of fun.  We explored a lot more of London and will probably continue to do that leading into the upcoming weekends.  Londoners are obsessed with weather; so, adapting to the culture that’s the first thing I am going to talk about in this blog post.

The weather is getting colder in London.  I am very hot blooded and usually do not get cold easily.  Therefore, I LOVE this weather.  However, all of the other Florida students are suffering in the consistent 30 and 40 degree weather.  Meanwhile, I sometimes go outside in a light sweater with open-toed shoes on.  The weather is glorious!

School here is very different from school at UF.  My largest class has 12 people in it.  Participation is a main component of most of our classes which is very different from straight up lecture classes.  I am taking three classes at the moment.  They are Management, British Life and Media, and British Life and Business.  All of my professors are really cool and have a lot of experience in their respective fields.  In my two ‘British’ classes we take a lot of field trips around London to see how things differ between the US and the UK in real life.  We have already been on one field trip for media.  On Thursday, we took the tube and visited BBC’s studio.  The tour was very fun to participate in and we learned a lot about British media simultaneously.  I would describe the British method of teaching as more hands on.  The courses also move very fast because I’m only in most of them for 6 or 7 weeks.  Therefore, I already have a mid-semester exam next week!

Other than 15 hours of school, I did many other fun activities in London this week!  On Monday, I walked around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park before my night class started.

Photograph of Kensington Gardens

One of my friends, Steele (who is studying abroad in Milan this semester), arrived to visit London on Monday also.  After my class ended at 9 PM, I showed him around all of the main London touristy attractions.  We were at Buckingham Palace at 11:00 PM and there was nobody around (because London nightlife dies at this time). I have included a really cool photo of the palace at this time though.  I love the way it looks in the dark.


On Tuesday, I went to class in the morning and then I attended a concert in Brixton that night.  Panic! At the Disco was the band I saw live.  They are one of my favorite bands ever and this was my first time seeing them in concert and it was amazing.  The crowd, lightshow, and atmosphere was incredible.

By Wednesday, Steele had already photographed the majority of London.  We went out at night in Camden and tried to participate in a traditional London pub crawl; however, by the time we arrived the crawl had already left.  So, we decided to explore the area and do our own.  The two of us went to some cool places and bid farewell at the end of the night.  Hopefully, I’ll get to visit him sometime in Milan this semester!

My classes for the week had ended after our BBC tour on Thursday.  I came home and took a bus to go shopping on Kensington High Street afterwards.  I purchased some groceries, lotion, and a rug from some stores on the street.  At this point in time, I think I am completely settled in London.  I know how to get around, and I have everything I need to live comfortably for the next four months.

Friday is the easiest day for my roommates and I to explore London and Westminster because none of us have classes.  Our friend Andrea, who is also from UF, decided to tag along with us.  Our destination: The Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.  We did not actually go into the Tower of London; however, we did climb to the top of the Tower Bridge and saw an amazing view of the Thames.  There are two parts at the top of the bridge with a glass floor and we were able to see the cars below us and the Thames.  Good thing I’m not afraid of heights, right?


Tower Bridge at a Distance

Tower Bridge Up Close

Looking Down From the Tower Bridge

View of the Thames
This weekend was fairly relaxed.  On Saturday night, some of us went out to celebrate Andrea’s 20th birthday.  When we were coming back at 3 in the morning it SNOWED.  Some of us had never seen snow before (I have but Florida girl me still appreciates its rare form).  This was London’s first snowfall for the year and it felt magical that we experienced it coming back from such a happy night.  Sunday was also very relaxing.  At night, we went to Kings Cross station to see the Lumiere London festival of lights and to pay our tributes to Alan Rickman at the memorial that had formed at the Harry Potter Platform 9  ¾.

Kings Cross Memorial

It was sad but touching to know that he had such a large impact on many fans.  I believe that he was a wonderful actor, and I do not think there could have ever been a better portrayal of J.K. Rowling’s Snape.

Two weeks down. Time is flying and I’m trying to make every second count.


Jennifer Saporito

la deuxième semaine

My second week in France has come to an end. While this week was also filled with hours of orientation and registration for classes, we also took some time to explore Strasbourg’s city center and toured some governmental institutions. Each day I’m getting more accustomed to the idea of living in France.

I love having the opportunity to live at the Château de Pourtalès. Yeah, it’s obviously stunning, and I get to say that I live in a castle in France. But it’s also a place rich in history that is wholeheartedly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and multi-cultural learning. Since it was built in 1750, the Château has seen peace and prosperity, beauty and aristocracy, prodigy and higher learning.


Château de Pourtalès

It has persevered through several wars, suffering fire damage during the French-German War in 1870, and serving its duty as an army hospital during that same conflict. The two World Wars were also difficult, for it was held by the Germans in WWI as “enemy property”. Private owners closed the Château in 1939 without plans to reopen. During WWII, it was confiscated and forced to house high-ranking German officers, then occupied by Allied Forces for a short period following the war.

After the end of WWII, the Château began to decline and eventually fell into utter despair. It spent many years in such disrepair it was scheduled for demolition by the City of Strasbourg.


Château de Pourtalès

Just in time, the Château was purchased in 1972 by Dr. Walter Leibrecht, founder of Schiller International University and a pioneer in higher education and study-abroad learning. Dr. Leibrecht and his family literally rescued the Château from its ultimate demise, granting it a new mission when he appointed it home to the Strasbourg campus of his beloved Schiller International University. The Château is now used as a CEPA Study Center for their EU Studies Program, which is the program I am now participating in through Georgia State University.

Some former residents of the Château swear that the place is haunted by the ghost of Mélanie Pourtalès, the Château’s namesake. Daughter of the Viscount and wife to Count Edmond de Pourtalès, Countess Mélanie was exceedingly beautiful and had a reputation for peerless grace. She elevated her social standing to its pinnacle when she became a member of Empress Eugenie’s Paris Imperial Court and subsequently associated with many distinguished intellectuals and artists of her time. Renowned for garden parties and receptions she frequently hosted, Countess Mélanie gathered Europe’s most notable elite and nobility at the Château de Pourtalès for intellectual and cultural exchange. The idea of Mélanie still watching over the Château doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. She seems like she would be more of a benevolent spirit friend than a haunted lingering soul. Maybe she would teach me piano or how to arrange cheese plates.

As part of the EU Studies Program, we tour all of the governmental institutions that call Strasbourg their home including the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Court of Human Rights. We toured the Council of Europe our first week in Strasbourg, and this week we toured the remaining two.


European Parliament

We started on Wednesday with the European Parliament. Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament and the institution is legally bound to meet here for twelve sessions a year lasting about four days each. All votes of the European Parliament must take place in Strasbourg. Other work takes place in Brussels and Luxembourg City and although de facto a majority of the Parliament’s work is now geared to its Brussels site, it is legally bound to keep Strasbourg as its official home.


European Parliament Building Exterior

The building in which the European Parliament is housed is modern, grand, and full of symbolism (for example, the thousands of windows that make up the exterior of the building are meant to symbolize transparency). The building is named for Louis Weiss, a French Member of Parliament.

Weiss was an author, journalist, feminist and politician. Growing up she  was trained as a teacher against the will of her family, was a teacher at a secondary school for arts and awarded a degree from Oxford University. From 1914 to 1918, she worked as a war nurse and founded a hospital in the Côtes-du-Nord. From 1918 to 1934, she was the publisher of the magazine, L’Europe nouvelle. From 1935 to the beginning of World War II, she committed herself to women’s suffrage. In 1936, she stood for French parliamentary elections, running in the Fifth arrondissement of Paris. During the War, she was active in the French Resistance. She was a member of the Patriam Recuperare network, and she was chief editor of the secret magazine, “Nouvelle République” from 1942 until 1944. In 1945, she founded the Institute for Polemology (research on war and conflict) together with Gaston Bouthoul in London. She traveled around the Middle East, Japan, China, Vietnam, Africa, Kenya, Madagascar, Alaska, India, etc., made documentary films and wrote accounts of her travels. In 1979, she became a Member of the European Parliament.

Weiss was a truly incredible woman, and it’s inspiring that France recognized her brilliance and named the entire building after her. I don’t think they would ever name such an important government building after a woman (much less a… feminist) in America. Feminists don’t even wear bras! And the entire movement is detrimental to society and mankind because the sexes should be equal, right? (#NotAllMen)


European Parliament Main Chamber

On Thursday we visited the European Court of Human Rights, an international court set up in 1959. It rules on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly.

We spoke with a lawyer who works for the court, and she detailed the intricacies of her job and the duties of the court. She also discussed with us some of the most pivotal modern-day cases on topics such as abortion, the death penalty, freedom of religion and religious symbols, assisted-suicide, torture, military abuses and the treatment of refugees.


European Court of Human Rights

The topic of the death penalty is a huge issue here in Europe. A citizen’s right to life is fiercely protected by all institutions, and many look down upon the United States for allowing such practices to persist (some even believe that our status as an observer state of the European Council should be revoked for this reason). I find this interesting, as it is a topic that I have never had any particularly strong feelings about. I’ve always viewed the death penalty in America as the status quo, but now realize that it is a topic worth researching. On a similar note, in the case of abortions, the court has ruled that the life of the mother overrules the life of the child and women’s body sovereignty is protected.


Strasbourg City Center

Throughout the week we have also taken more time to get to know our city. It rains here. A lot. I used to think that Florida was soggy, but it has absolutely nothing on Strasbourg. I’ve been living in Rainesville for nearly three years, and I spend my summers in Brevard, a town that receives so much precipitation that it is literally classified as a rainforest and I just now purchased my first pair of rain boots. The situation is dire.


Strasbourg Cathedral in the Snow

Luckily for a deprived Floridian, lots of rain means lots of snow. I had seen it snow all of two times in my life before coming here, and now that number has doubled within the last two days. Snow is magical but significantly colder than anticipated. And also less fluffy. But that’s okay! Because walking through the streets with hot chocolate in hand while it’s snowing in this fairy tale city is really incredible. Snow is weird, but I have a whole lot of it to catch up on, and I can’t wait until it starts to actually stick to the ground and coat the city in a blanket of white.

On Saturday we had a guided walking tour of Strasbourg. I learned so many new things about the places I had been passing by everyday for the past two weeks! For instance, the Strasbourg Cathedral at 142 meters was the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874 (227 years). It’s a shame that I can’t get any good pictures of the inside of the cathedral, all of the original stained glass is still intact and incredibly beautiful, as is the Gothic architecture.


Petite France

I also had a chance to visit Petite France for the first time, which is a lovely area even though the weather was not particularly kind to us and made for terrible pictures. Interestingly enough, the name Petite France comes from the “hospice of the syphilitic” which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island, to cure persons with syphilis, then called Franzosenkrankheit or “the French disease” in German. Imagine if they had named the area “Little Syphilis.” I think it would have detracted significantly from the neighborhood’s charm.


Eglise Luthérienne Saint Thomas

We visited the Place Saint-Thomas where the Eglise Luthérienne Saint Thomas is located. The church is a historical building in Strasbourg and it is the main Lutheran church of the city since the Cathedral became Catholic again after the annexation of the town by France in 1681. The church is internationally renowned for its historic and musically-significant organs. Most notable is the 1741 Silbermann organ, played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The French organist Louis Thiry also recorded the Art of fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach on this organ.


Place Saint-Thomas

After our walking tour on Saturday we all sat down for a traditional Alsatian meal at a restaurant near the Cathedral. The most traditional dish of the area seems to be the tarte flambée, which is bread dough rolled out very thin in the shape of a rectangle or circle, which is covered with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and bacon. It’s a little like the region’s take on pizza and is incredible.


Traditional Alsatian Dinner

On Sunday we continued with our second French lesson at the Château. Our teacher is quite eccentric and speaks to us only in French, but I think the few hours we spent with her were helpful. I’m going to try to pick up a couple of copies of classic English books translated to French (ie Harry Potter) so that I can work on expanding my vocabulary a little.

Classes start this upcoming week, and I’m looking forward to having a weekly routine. I’ll be going to Slovenia next weekend with a trip through the University, which should be incredible, and a trip to Munich and Salzburg for the last weekend of January is in the works. I feel like I have an obligation to travel everywhere, since so many beautiful countries and cities are a short bus ride away, and the rates are fantastic. Luckily I think everyone on the program is on the same page, we all want to get as much out of this semester as possible.

Well, with that I’m off to shop the sales in town. Apparently nearly every shop in the entire city has sales the first few weeks of January to get rid of their winter collection and make room for spring. Works for me. I’ll have to pick up some school supplies and a big bag because apparently the French don’t wear backpacks to class. Too trendy. Not like I don’t already stick out like a sore thumb… (although a hostess at a café did ask if I was German, so perhaps I’m assimilating more quickly than I anticipated).

A la semaine prochaine!


It’s officially been a day since I arrived in Lyon! And per usual, so much has already happened. So lets begin:

First-off, yesterday concluded the marathon equivalency of travel days. (*Yes, let’s take a moment to discuss that 8 hour layover in Chicago). With the long layovers and triple plane exchange all included, the total travel time was 25 hours. (*try using the excuse “I’m tired” around me again and I promise I’ll rebuttal). But you know what I’m going to say: It was all SO incredibly worth it. Because now I’m here, in Lyon, and its snowing, and my home is cozy, and I’ve eaten at least 3 baguettes in 24 hours. So there.

Donc, after I arrived in Lyon, I was greeted by my host mom. She is wonderful, and lives in one of the most picture-perfect spots in Lyon that I’ve seen yet. You can see the *mock Eiffel Tour from her kitchen window. And then this morning, I walked out to find myself stepping right into the heart of a morning market. A market. With flowers. And cheese, and bread, and meat, and honey and you get the picture. It was like something you’d see in a movie. Except it was me, and I was rushing to the metro. But I’m getting ahead of myself and we’re going back to yesterday now.

Yesterday, after my host mom picked me up, and gave me the tour of her home, we walked around the area near her road. It’s full of little shops and bakeries, and again, it reminds me of a little place from a movie. We went to the cheese store and bought yogurt and milk, and went to a mini-market to find shampoo (*human error while packing). Let me also add how weird it was to see American products in France. Just imagine seeing Special K granola bars (but in French), looking quite pitiful in comparison to all the fine French food next to it. After the errands, we attended an exhibition at a local art gallery followed by a late dinner; which was, well for lack of better words a pie, filled with potatoes and ham. And after, a chocolate cake. Talk about a “Hello, I know you’re from America and had a long flight and want food you recognize” meal. Parfait.

Now it sounds like it’s all been a fairy tale thus far. Yet you’ve forgotten that every fairy tale has an evil stepmother as well. Not that there’s any evil stepmothers, but there are culture shocks. Same concept really. It will take some time before I understand it all. Naturally. Until that point, I’ll just relay all of the somewhat awkward stories here. Then, in addition, there’s the whole language barrier. My host mom and I both agreed that she wouldn’t speak in English while I’m here, to really enforce the French, but that’s also hard when you don’t practice the language over winter break. Which leads to the 24/7  over-usage of d’accord (okay). It may or may not have gotten to the point where it’s become my answer to everything, besides Merci. Or situations arise where you think you know what your host-family is asking and you answer with something completely unrelated. Or answer the question completely wrong. Let’s just say day two allotted for lots of these situations. But it’s good, because its all apart of the learning experience.

Day two also brought along the following: First time using the metro (metros and a tram actually), orientation, first time doing a walk-about in the city and getting lost (*on purpose) for future reference, and another magnificent dinner with the host family. Plus also it snowed today. Which just adds to the ambiance of this city even more.

Alors for now, all I can say is that it’s been a crazy whirl-wind of a first 26 hours, and I couldn’t love it more. The learning curve may take time, but I’m here, and I am prepared to throw caution to the wind in order to understand this language and the beauty it holds.

Hello, from the other side!

Week 1: Arriving

After all the packing and flights, I am finally here! It has been a few days since I have arrived in Helsinki and everything is so different and exciting! I feel like child experiencing this brand new city.

The first couple days I explored the city, finding some indoor malls and possible future hangout spots. I also visited the Helsinki Times building, Finlandia Hall, and IKEA. I think I have also found my favorite store in the city, Stockmann! It has everything imaginable from clothes to shoes, to even a supermarket and multiple dinning locations on site!

Rhea Dinner I spent New Year’s Eve starting off with having a nice dinner at Elite in Helsinki. This was where I tried Blini’s. They are thin pancakes, sort of like crepes, however they aren’t sweet. You eat them with toppings such as sautéed onions, mushrooms, and sour cream. Then for my main course I had a roasted black bean patty and to finish off with Tosca pie with redcurrant sorbet. Of course, each course was accompanied by a glass of sparkling champagne or red wine ;) After dinner we continued to ring in the New Year at friend’s place with good conversations, more champagne and fireworks in every angle of sky! It was one the best nights thus far.

During this first week I also saw my first snowfall ever! Which was probably the most exciting thing for me since I had not experienced real snow before being from sunny Florida.

Rhea SnowSome observations I have made as of now is that everyone will speak to you in Finnish first but as soon as you say something in English they quickly switch languages. Finnish people are not as reserved as the stereotypes make them out to be. In fact they seem to be very down to earth and are willing to help with any questions you have. Another thing is that you can find only adults in Finnish candy stores and only children in line for coffee at Starbucks. They seem to do things a little backwards, hehe! Stay tuned for more adventures! :)

Hi, Europe.

Upon arrival in Paris, my first impression was that French people reminded me of Brazilians (physically). For a second I almost felt as if I were in the Sāo Paulo airport. I also thought French people were kind and helpful – if you speak French. Contrary to popular belief, I actually felt very welcomed by the people I spoke to when I was asking for directions. Nonetheless, one American friend who came to spend a few days with me had a tremendous communication barrier that compromised the quality of her stay in France. She tried to speak in English with several people without any success. She thought the French were being rude to her by not even trying to speak English, but the French were probably feeling the same way towards her, since she was not making any effort to speak their language. Fortunately, she had me to translate everything :)

What I came to realize is that if you at least try to say a few French words beforehand, and only then ask if people can speak English, the chances of finding a French person willing to try to speak English are much higher. I also observed that it is relatively difficult to find a French person who speaks good English, so maybe that is why many feel hesitant to do so. However, as a matter of respect, I think it is important to learn a few French words even if you are only coming to visit.

Now, speaking of the country itself: France is breathtakingly beautiful. The architecture, the roads, the trams… Even though the weather was a little gloomy in Paris, since I chose to come during wintertime, it did not take away any of the beauty and charm of being here. France is like a romantic dream. Now I understand why people say that Paris is the city of love.

In order to go to Reims, we had to take a train from the Paris airport to Champagne-Ardenne. We had to change trains in Marne-la-Vallée, where the Eurodisney is located. When we were about to go in our next train, the entire station had to be evacuated, since somebody had left an unattended bag. Without further instructions, we were left standing outside in the cold weather not knowing how to proceed, while officers armed with what seemed to be submachine guns kept passing us by. To top it all off, one French lady told me the stations typically close around 9pm. It was already 7:30pm and we were left wondering if we should just get a hotel to stay overnight since we had no idea if the train station was going to reopen in the same night. Meanwhile, it was getting colder outside and we were feeling more apprehensive by the minute. Fortunately, about 1 hour later, the train station finally reopened after they apparently exploded the bag, and we were able to move forward with our trip. At least I already had a story to tell my friends about my first day in France!

The arrival in Reims was great. The town is very charming and people were friendly. Most of downtown still had all the Christmas lights and decoration. It was beautiful to watch. Even though my friend and I were excited to start exploring around, we were beyond tired and left the plans for the morning after.


Hola from the Other Side

(The view from El Parque de las Montañas, a five minute walk from my apartment)

Today concludes my first week in my new home of Madrid. I have only gotten lost twice and stared at a handful of times, so I’d say I’m practically a local.

Just kidding! Es Coña! I am still slightly overwhelmed yet totally in awe of one of the largest, most beautiful cities I have ever visited, let alone lived in. It has been go go go nonstop since I first landed in Madrid at 8:30 Monday morning, and only today have I been able to sit down and catch my breath. It will take me a couple of days to catch up on the incredible experiences of this week, but for now here is a summary of what I’ve learned:

Crash Course in Spanish Slang

  • Valle = good/alright. Professors, sales people, tour guides…everyone uses valle! We’ve started to pick it up around my apartment; it’s quite addicting.
  • Que guay = How cool
  • Tio = dude or bro. I was very confused why my roommates kept calling each other “uncle.” Thank God someone explained.
  • Caña = beer. Definitely had some Spaniards make fun of me as I was practicing this word at a local bar. Hey, at least I’m trying tios!
  • Cual es el clave de wifi? = what’s the wifi password? Essential.
  • Lo aye sea/ no importa = whatever. Because sass knows no borders.

American No No’s that Are Spanish Si’s

  • PDA: macking on your SO here is totally acceptable here, as evidenced by countless couples of all ages.
  • Staring: on the Metro, on the streets, during tapas, staring is a-okay. Spaniards are very curious. (I don’t mind though because now I have an excuse to stare back!)
  • Compliments: throwing your napkin on the floor of a bar is considered a compliment. I haven’t experienced this one quite yet but I’ve heard it occurs at only the most authentic restaurants.
  • Service: tipping is not obligatory
  • Shopping: most stores are within walking distance, so you only buy as much as you can carry. People usually stop by the grocery store at least every other day. Chinos are little Chinese dollar markets where you can pick up odds and ends.
  • Time: lunch isn’t until 3:00 pm, dinner is at 10:00 pm, and nightlife doesn’t begin until after midnight. Adjusting to this new schedule has been difficult, as I’m used to winding down right as the Spaniards are going out.
  • Food: eating and talking for hours on end is completely acceptable—when it comes to the necessities, the Spanish are my kind of people.

Although I’ve obviously learned a lot, with learning comes mistakes. Here are a few doozies I’ve committed over the past week…

Spanish Faux Pas I am Guilty of

  • Kiss both cheeks, don’t shake hands! It gets awkward when your new supervisor goes in for a kiss and you have your hand stuck in between.
  • Tone down the talking. This might be a personal one, but even for such a vibrant culture I am STILL the loudest person in the room.
  • Don’t touch the produce at El Mercado de San Juan, no matter how shiny it is. The little merchant will give you the stank eye and the Spanish couple next to you will laugh and wink at each other.
  • Bring your own bags to the grocery. This isn’t so much a faux pas, but you do get charged for plastic bags.

It’s been a whirlwind of a week, but if it is any indication of the semester ahead, I’m in for a good one. Cheers and thanks for taking this adventure with me!



Settling In

Things are finally starting to feel normal again. It’s been a week since I arrived in France, and it’s just now hitting me that I’m not here on some sort of vacation, I’m here for quite a while. This is my new home, and I’m reminded of that fact each time I recognize a street, or know what stop to get off of the bus at, or actually remember where something is in the grocery store.

On Sunday most of the rest of my group finally arrived. We all went out to dinner that night at Le Jardin du Pourtalès, an Alsation Winstub situated at the very beginning of the Château’s long gravel driveway. I believe that the building was formerly the Château’s guardhouse. It was only nine girls at this point in addition to our coordinator Lisa, and I enjoyed getting to know some of the people I would be spending the next four months with. We were served an incredible three course meal, and we purchased ourselves a couple bottles of nice wine. In hindsight, we all realize that we made a huge mistake in even considering buying those bottles of wine.

I’ll probably never settle for spending more than $5 on a bottle of wine from the store ever again. France has ruined me. The wine is cheaper than water (well at least the wine I buy is anyway). And it’s great! It’s just great, and I can legally purchase it, and it goes so well with my freshly baked baguette in the evenings even though, to be fair, everything goes well with freshly baked baguettes in the evening.

We eat so much bread here. It smells like heaven on the first day it’s baked, and we buy the longest baguettes we can find. Our enthusiasm was slightly diminished when we realized how quickly the bread goes stale. The use of preservatives in American food is so incredibly excessive that it quite honestly shocked us when our fresh bread was essentially inedible within two days. Although it would be more convenient if I only had to buy bread once a week or so, I’m positive that I’d rather take my daily trips to the bakery and fresh baguettes.

We aren’t the only group of students staying at the Château. There’s a group of culinary students from Canada, and they’re fantastic. After we proved ourselves to them by agreeing that Donald Trump is a lunatic, they accepted us as their own. They cook for us! They bake us bread and pastries and we get all of the leftovers from their cooking courses! In return we amuse them with our stories about college life in America. Apparently it’s fascinating. There’s also a group of Brazilians who are only here for a week, but they teach us Portuguese and give us cooking lessons as well. We all use one kitchen, so it’s pretty chaotic during certain hours, but also pretty wonderful.

We’ve spent a lot of time in orientation at the university this week. It can be a bit overwhelming. So many things are done differently here, and I can already tell that I’ll need a lot of patience and time to adjust once classes start. Fortunately, the available to us seem much more interesting than most of those offered back home, and learning about economics and politics in a non-American setting will be an invaluable experience.

We’ve visited the city center quite a few times this week. Strasbourg is perfect. Everything is so idyllic, and each street looks as though it belongs on a postcard. The city seems to be especially unreal in the winter because everything is decorated with lights. Strasbourg is the Christmas capital of France, and the entire population takes that title very seriously.

I can’t wait to learn more about my new home, and to adventure throughout Europe in the coming months. I’m so grateful already for the time I’ve spent here, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s only just begun.

First Four Days

Greetings from London,

Here is my virtual postcard to all of you reading this post.  This blog post is all about the four day orientation that was put on for us by Foundation for International Education (FIE).  Before I jump into my long spiel about how great London is, here are a few points of information.

  1. The UF in London program is sponsored and run by FIE.
  2. I live in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
  3. The residence hall I live in is called Metrogate.
  4. The place where all of our classes are held is called Foundation House.

Day 1:

I landed today in London at 7:12 am.  However, I could barely see us landing from all of the fog surrounding the plane.  The fact that I own a jacket by a brand called “London Fog” just made everything even funnier.  Today has been the longest day of my life.  The day started off strong.  Jamie, Jimmy, and I breezed through the UK border control and customs.  After we were done with Gatwick airport, we collected our luggage and needed to take the Gatwick express train to the London Victoria Station.  Once we lifted our bags onto the train and found some seats, the train took off.  Everyone on board was silent.  Not a single passenger talked.  There was no whispering or overheard music, only silence.  I was a little creeped out.  Everyone told me that the Brits do not like talking on public transportation; however I did not know it was that extreme.  To be honest though, I really enjoyed the silence after I became comfortable with the concept.  I was able to concentrate on my thoughts as I watched the English South roll by me.  In addition to the picturesque scenery, I am not a morning person; so, after a 7 hour flight and only being 8 in the morning, I embraced the silence.

As of right now, I have unpacked and shoved most of my belongings in a wardrobe so far.  I am still waiting on going shopping for a rug for our bathroom and some additional hangers.   After unpacking, I tried attending a registration session for our orientation.  However, after successfully navigating the streets of South Kensington and arriving to foundation house, I realized that I forgot my passport.  Luckily enough, I can attend the same session tomorrow morning.  After staying home in defeat, I finished unpacking and then attended a residence hall meeting from 6 to 8 pm.  This was the hardest part of my day.  All of us were so tired and jetlagged at this time. I was zoned out for a good portion of the meeting.  After the meeting though I had the best sleep of my life!

Day 2:

Day Two in London found me incredibly dehydrated, yet incredibly well rested.  I was out the door at ten and was given a short tour of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  I was able to register for classes today because I actually brought my passport. (Whoo!)  After registration, a group of us UF students went shopping at Sainsbury’s, which is an English grocery store.  I was so overwhelmed when I walked in.  The store was HUGE.  There were so many different items to choose from.  There was a tailor and a dentist also inside the store, which I found a little strange.  Sainsbury’s’ meat section was also overwhelming.  Beef was everywhere and there was a whole new section in the store for just sausage.  One of the meat sections was titled “Duck and Game” instead of “Chicken” which I am used to seeing in the states.  The layout of the store was similar to many American stores; however, some aisles were different and hard to navigate on a time crunch.  I will have to go back later this week when I have more free time to explore the store.

Another noticeable difference between British and American stores is how they treat plastic bags.   In London, you have to pay for bags to take your goods away from the store.  They are not free.  Sainsbury’s charges 5 pence for each bag.  This is not a terrible price though.  The plastic bag’s cost helps promote sustainability, which I think is pretty cool.  In order to save money, the planet, and my groceries from falling onto the London pavement, I purchased two higher quality, reusable, and water resistant bags for 50 pence each from Sainsbury’s.  Now I will not have to pay for bags the next time I go because I already have some.

After shopping, I put all of my belongings away and stayed in Metrogate until orientation part one began.  Orientation was held at Imperial College (a university right next door to us) at 2 pm.  It was informative, though we did get a little lost on the way.  My roommates and I (Victoria and Lindsay) walked all the way around a building and walked up stairs to find the auditorium we needed to enter.  It turned out that all we had to do was turn right after leaving Metrogate and walk straight until we could enter the first building we would have walked into.  Oops.  What can I say? London is very confusing.

After orientation we had a three hour period of free time before we had to get to Piccadilly Circus to see a play in the Apollo theatre: Peter Pan Goes Wrong.  During our three hours of free time today, my roommates and I became masters of the tube. We made it to Westminster by 5 pm and saw Buckingham palace, Hyde Park, Big Ben, Parliament, and the London Eye.  Everything was gorgeous and I have even included some pictures below for you to see.  I can’t wait to see what everything looks like in the daylight soon.

The City of Westminster at Night
Our final orientation event was seeing a play all the way in Piccadilly Circus.  We decided to eat at a Pub before Peter Pan Goes Wrong.  The food we ate was aMAZing.  I ordered a grilled chicken breast with bacon, cheese, and barbeque sauce covering it.  The bacon here is like ham and it is so so so so so so so so good.  Food over here does not have as many additives as it does in America and this adds so much flavor to everything.

The show we saw tonight was one of the funniest plays I have ever seen in my life.  I was in the third row in the very middle and the performance was amazing.  It was so funny seeing the actors acting badly on purpose.  I was laughing throughout the entire performance.  One way Peter Pan went wrong, is that the stage was on a rotating platform and it would rotate multiple times (on purpose) to wrong scenes and actors behaving improperly.  The actors played characters from Peter Pan with stage fright, forgotten lines, and ages that did not match up to the descriptions.  A thirty year old man played 4 year old Michael and claimed that “he was only four” at one point in the play with a smug look on his face.  Everyone laughed at the grown man in the pink onesie after he delivered this line.  The play was an absolute disaster (which it was supposed to be).  It must have taken a lot of practice to make the show go as wrong as the actors made it go.  Everyone loved the show and I think it might be my favorite one I have ever seen.  Tonight was incredible and if all of my other nights will be like this in London then I cannot wait.

Day 3:

Today was a very relaxed day.  We had two hours orientation at the same building as yesterday.  Afterwards, we had six hours of free time before we were allowed to attend the FIE welcome reception at 6 pm.  During our free time, we went shopping on a street in Kensington that had SO MANY different shops.  Today we were looking for essentials, but I know where I’m going in the future to go recreational shopping.  The best part about the street we were on is that it is only 10 minutes away from Metrogate.  I was able to buy a rug and some wardrobe organizers to help solve the pile of everything that is currently in my wardrobe.  After shopping we visited two of the museums that are about a five minute walk from Metrogate.  We visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of National History before heading over to the reception.  See pictures below.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Museum of Natural History

Dinner and two free drinks were provided at the reception.  A raffle that included a trip to Dublin and Amsterdam also occurred. Sadly, I did not win.  However, the evening was lovely and all of the UF kids had a great bonding night.

Day 4:
Today was my favorite day by far.  We finally had our last day of orientation.  However, the fun events were saved for today.  We took a 2.5 hour guided coach tour of London today and saw some really cool places in Kensington, Westminster, and London.  All of the history behind the city is incredible and I was fascinated by it all.  I also saw all of the famous landmarks in the daylight which was also really cool.  Once the tour was over we were dropped back off at Metrogate.  I cooked myself lunch and then we went to our last orientation event, which was a tour of Parliament.  We received headphones and walked around the commons chamber, lords chamber, and the royal gallery.  Visitors could only take photographs in two of the ten rooms we visited so I only have pictures of two rooms.  See below.

Me outside of Parliament’s Entrance

Westminster Hall

St. Stephen’s Hall


This experience was incredible though.  I have never been in a real palace before, and FIE brought me on a tour of The Palace of Westminster (Parliament’s official name) and I had a grand time.  After spending an hour astounded at the detailing of portraits, sculptures, and architectural design, my roommates and I headed back home and grabbed a burger at the pub down the street from Metrogate.

I cannot believe I have been in London for four days and our Orientation is now over.  Everything is still so surreal.  Classes begin on Monday!

Until next week,

Jennifer Saporito