Combating Homesickness

After a series of mishaps I will admit that I was feeling extremely homesick. It was hard for me to cope with being abroad and missing home because I no longer had the things that I normally took comfort in. Especially, when the country you are studying abroad at has an 11 hour time difference, so it can be a bit difficult to communicate with loved ones. I was fortunate enough to have family members who visited Vietnam, which pulled me out of my slump, but I did find it a bit hard in a foreign country.

First, I believe when you are abroad it is important to find something that you love, for me it was bingsu, a delicious type of Korean dessert, and the friends I made in Vietnam. Those in my program felt the exact same way as I did, but we pulled through by finding new places to visit or restaurants that offered similar comfort food to the ones we find back at home. Also, my program provided me with a Vietnamese roommate, which was nice because she showed me all of the places that she normally visited when feeling down, but simultaneously it was a bit difficult because there are times when I felt that just want to be alone.

Bingsu, one of the greatest deserts ever created by mankind.

So, if you ever find yourself missing home I would highly suggest:

Find a sacred space: Ho Chi Minh City had a very beautiful, serene area called Turtle Lake. It was a very peacefully place in the afternoon, but it was quite busy at night. They also have a walking street outside of the People’s palace, where everyone of all ages just gathers. There are street performers, vendors, and a lot of great restaurants around this area.

Walking Street at sunset.

Calling loved ones: There’s nothing better than being able to call your best friend or family members at home. I feel that when you are in a rut at times, then it’s important to talk to someone who cares about you and I felt that they helped me keep a positive mindset while abroad.

Occupying your mind: This ties together with finding new places to visit or things to do. If you are in a large city abroad, it is probably one of the best times to consume yourself in the culture and all that it has to offer. Many countries offers a series of things that are not provided in the United States. The things that I found the most interesting were the museums, I know this may sound boring, but I guarantee you it was a lot of fun. There were 3D interactive art museums, the Vietnam War Remnants, and also interestingly enough a series of art museums dedicated to combat artists and female soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Exercise if you can: In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, it was very difficult to exercise because we did not have any access to any gyms and it was difficult to run in the city due to the pollution. You could literally feel the dust hit your face as you drive or run around. Either way, when I felt stressed out from studying the workload or just feeling homesick, I just decided to workout in my room, which was a bit strange, but it helped me relieve the stress and I instantly felt better. Also, Vietnam also has a few small parks with exercise equipment. Although, I would highly suggest brining your own disinfectant wipes.

Lastly, Remember the opportunity you have to even be abroad: We are very fortunate to be provided with the opportunity to study abroad. I know all of the Vietnamese roommates that we had have never even left their own city, let alone the country. I definitely can see that each country as their own uniqueness and if given the chance to explore. There were a lot of great things about Vietnam, particularly how cheap everything was and how kind and considerate everyone you meet is. I think I have never been to an area where everyone I met was so friendly and willing to help you.

 

Top 10 Favorite Things I’ve done in Brazil.

Oi Gators! After six wonderful weeks in Brazil, the best way to describe everything I have experienced is to compile a list of my greatest experiences. The most important experience was to learn about Brazilian culture and history and to expand my Portuguese language skills. However, this list shows my favorite trips or places I visited in the state and city of Rio de Janeiro. The list is in no particular order because ALL of these experiences hold great value in my study abroad journey. I hope you find some enjoyment and inspiration to visit Brazil after finishing this list!

10. Escadaria Selarón.

Chilean-born Jorge Selarón created the world’s most beautiful staircase by adding 2,000 pieces of colorful tiles, mirrors and ceramics to the staircase that sat across from his house. The staircase located between the neighborhood of Lapa and Santa Teresa. Selarón’s project was meant as a form of tribute and honor to Brazil, the country that had become his second home. This is why he began by adding green and yellow tiles that represented the Brazilian flag. The staircase is definitely a sight to be seen and explored.

9. Morro da Urca and Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain).

These are certainly two of the most famous morros or mountains in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Making an ascent 396 meters above the city in the cable cars will guarantee a beautiful view of Guanabara Bay, Copacabana, Cristo Redentor and other parts of the city. I decided to go up to watch the sunset and it was a breathtaking sight.

(View from Morro da Urca)

(View from Pão de Açúcar)

8. Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.

Definitely one of the most relaxing and picturesque spots in the city, I spent a Sunday walking around the 7.2 km walking path around the Lagoa. Walking through, I observed some of the platforms and structures for the future aquatic Olympic Game activities that will take place in the Lagoa. I had lunch at a near restaurant called Via Sete that offered a great selections of meals, especially for two hungry Americans. The service was truly great and attentive.

7. Copacabana and Ipanema Beach.

Of course, I couldn’t make a list without mentioning the beauty and unique experience of spending a day in either Copacabana or Ipanema beach. It is important to notice that these are two different beaches with their own touch of Carioca life. These two are definitely a “must” when expending time in the city.

(Copacabana Beach view from a Kiosk restaurant)

(Ipanema Beach)

6. Museo do Amanhã.

My favorite museums in Rio, Museo do Amanhã explores the reality of global warming, overpopulation, lack of water and many other ecological outcomes of an evolving Earth. The museum structure itself is truly captivating and so are the exhibitions within it. Lines for the museum are out of this world too so if you plan to go inside the museum, I suggest getting there early.

5. Gilberto Gil Musical, Aquele Abraço.

While in Rio, I had the opportunity to attend the Gilberto Gil Musical which serves as a tribute of the 50 years of career of the musician.  Gilberto Gil is one of the most famous Brazilian singer, guitarist, and songwriter. His style is unique thanks to its mixture of rock music, and Brazilian genres such as samba, African music, and reggae. The musical encompases the life and legacy of Gilberto Gil with incredible performances from outstanding actors.

4. Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, Opera Orfeu.

A night inside the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro is a pure dream. Besides watching a beautiful opera for the first time, being inside the exquisite structure was truly a privilege. I truly recommend anyone who visits Rio de Janeiro to spend a night exploring the beauty of a show inside the Theater.

3. Petrópolis.

Better known as the Imperial City, Petrópolis is a municipality in the southern region of Brazil. The city was the summer residence of Brazilian emperors and aristocrats in the 19th century, and was the official capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro during the First Brazilian Republic. The town is truly enchanting and filled with historic memorabilia, museums and palaces. It is the perfect place to visit if you want to learn more about Brazilian history and spend a day off from the busy streets of Copacabana.

(Catedral de Sã0 Pedro de Alcântara contains the tombs of the last Brazilian emperor, Dom Pedro II, and his family)

(Palácio Rio Negro, one of the official residences of the President of Brazil, used mainly as a country retreat)

(Crystal Palace, built for the crown Princess Isabel as a gift from her husband, the Conde d’Eu)

2. Corcovado and Cristo Redentor.

Probably the most iconic and famous of all, Christ the Redeemer on top of the Corcovado mountain was probably one of my most desired experiences in Brazil. The statue is as breathtaking in person as in photos. You also get an amazing view of the city and an encounter with the clouds. Truly an unforgettable experience.

1. Armaçao de Búzios.

Probably the favorite place that I visited during my stay in Brazil. Búzios is a popular getaway from the city and a worldwide touristic site. Located around two hours away from the city of Rio de Janeiro, Búzios is the perfect place for a relaxing weekend. The town has around more than 20 different beaches and a fun night life. I spend the day at the beach and did a boat tour that showed me the entire peninsula. At night, it was great to walk through Rua das Pedras and enjoy the restaurants options that the town has.

 

 

 

It’s Not The End, It’s The Beginning

IMG_8701

This week I leave to go home from Paris. It feels so surreal that the summer is ending and fall semester starts in just a few weeks. I feel as though I arrived in Paris last week and I already have to go. However, this summer has been one of adventures. One of meeting new people, discovering new cultures and growing as a person. I was able to fulfill my dream of living abroad, better yet living in Paris. It was a dream come true. Every day I was able to walk around the beautiful city, revel in it’s summer (not so warm) nights and experience the vibrance of one of the most visited places in the world. The second half of my summer abroad was even better than the first. It was a lot more jam packed with traveling, classes, and exploring Paris. There were so many factors that made July 2016 one to remember. DSC05068

1. Art Class

One of my favorite parts of this summer was taking the Art and Architecture course offered during the program. I was always the type of person who appreciated art, but never understood what most of it meant or what the point of different styles of art were. When I was little I disliked going to art museums because art made no sense, it had no point in my mind. This art class changed everything! I learned how art changed form the renaissance to the modern period and it gave me a whole new understanding and appreciation for a important cultural part of european history.

DSC05448

2. Traveling

In July I did the most traveling I had done in the entire summer. Most people were tired of staying in Paris over the weekend and we were all itching to finish checking off places off our travel list. I can safely say I made a dent on the list of places I wanted to see this summer. One of the most amazing (and most unexpected) trips I took was to Krakow, Poland. My roommate and I had wanted to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum because we’re both were really interested in World War II history. However, everything went wrong with this trip; our flights were delayed, one of them got cancelled, our hostel almost closed before we got there for the night and to top it all off we found out that Auschwitz was closed the days we would be there. It was safe to say that we thought Krakow would be a bust but it turned out to be one of the most amazing cities and trips. Krakow was a lot more vibrant than I expected. The amount of history wrapped up in the beautiful city made the hassles of getting there worth it, especially St. Mary’s church, the most beautiful church I have ever been to. DSC05300

After Krakow and between 2 exams and a final paper, we took two more trips. We were a little insane but Nice and Amsterdam were great places to also study for finals. Nice was a welcome change in pace and weather. The sun shined all four days we were there and the beaches were beautiful. I was definitely happy to cross that trip off my list. Another of my favorite trips of the summer was the trip to Amsterdam, but this mostly had to do with the people I went with. This bring me to the third reason why summer abroad was stupendous.

IMG_9283 3. Friendships

I can honestly say that I was worried about studying abroad because I knew I was going without knowing anyone. My roommate and I had briefly met in a pre-departure meeting, and hastily decided to be roommates. I was definitely not expecting the friendships I made whilst here. I think that was my absolute favorite part of being here. It was a completely different experience than I would have imagined. My roommate and I became really close, I can safely say I will need her in my life once I go back to Gainesville. While I got along with everyone else in the program, there was always a core group of us who did most things together. Who picnicked at the Eiffel Tower, travelled together and always had late night talks. It was those friendships that got me through the summer, that made all the memories I have even more worthwhile.

IMG_8800

As I think about leaving it makes me really sad that I won’t have all my friend a door, or a floor away but friendship always takes effort and that’s what will happen in Gainesville. I’m not only sad about leaving my friends but also leaving this beautiful city. Walking around today I thought about how much I would miss the little things Paris had to offer, like the themed metro stops and little parks everywhere. As I ate my falafel walking around Le Marais I knew I didn’t want to leave. I had my last meal, bought my last souvenirs but still knew that this was not the end of my life abroad. I made it my goal to come back and live in Europe again at some point in my life. While this good bye is bitter sweet, with a lot more sadness added to the mix, I’m still excited to see my family and friends back home and get back to a different routine.

2 Things That Will Always Remind Me of My Summer in Spain: A Reflection

1. Encountering a Struggling Nonnative English Speaker

After dedicating several years of my life to studying Spanish, I still found communication the biggest challenge. In every language class most people say that speaking in a classroom is far different from speaking in spontaneous, “real life” conversation. Don’t ignore the cliché: speaking a foreign language in its home country is not a different situation, it’s a different language entirely. My summer was abundant with sighs of relief when kind, patient Spaniards took time out of their days to listen to my tongue-tied, effort-filled attempt to speak their language. Each of those moments was a reminder of patience and understanding in the company of nonnative English speakers within the United States. I promise, they are trying their best. Take it from someone whose “best” was another country’s “oh my gosh she’s trying so hard but I have no idea what she’s saying” and be grateful that a nonnative speaker is trying to communicate with you in your own language out of respect for your culture. I know what it feels like to be on the other side.

2. Rushing to Be On-Time

No matter where I am going or what I am doing, I am often rushing out the door, fighting to be on time for whatever it is I have planned for the day. In Spain, I learned that the stress of being in a hurry is nothing more than a social pressure imposed by our time-focused, constantly-moving culture. While in Spain, whether I was going to the classroom, the market, the train station, my host family reminded me, “Tranquilo,” or “Calm down,” because they couldn’t understand the purpose of the rush. In Spain, the people shifted their focus from the clock to the experience: they don’t like being rushed, so they don’t rush. If they’re late, at least they’re relaxed. If they apologize for their tardiness, they are often comforted with a “no pasa nada,” or, “there is nothing amiss.” Now that I am back in my own time-sensitive, sometimes pressure-filled country, I will remember that in the grand scheme of life, being late and calm is often a better choice than being on-time and stressed. I will remember to focus on where I am rather than where I should be, and I will emphasize what I’m doing rather than what I have to do.

Gracias, España. Soy una persona cambiada gracias a ti.

Thank you, Spain. I am a changed person because of you.

IMG_6734

Charming Cambridge

Walking into Cambridge felt like walking through pearly gates. A cool breeze was in my hair, the scent of fresh and fertile earth brightened my senses, and the way the town is just so settled and solid in its place had me absolutely enraptured. I felt like I had come home. Well, almost. My dog isn’t here. But if he was? Home.

My time thus far in Cambridge has been relaxing and calm. The hectic life of a hot and busy city like Paris is gone. Its been replaced with the quiet English countryside. I’ve spent my days here in the Cambridge University library, researching and reading, writing and absorbing. I’ve continued to be surrounded by intelligent conversation and good company. And the food? Its not that bad.

We took an excursion last week to Bath and Stonehenge, which I absolutely loved. Bath was very beautiful. I didn’t like that much of it looked the same, but they had a lovely fashion museum and Jane Austen museum, which was right up my alley. Bath also just had a sense of being safe, which was nice to encounter. I didn’t have to clutch my purse all of the time and develop a cramp in my hand from the action. I could stop and take a picture in the street without being jostled.When we got to Stonehenge I was prepared to be unimpressed. A lot of friends of mine had been and they all told me it was much smaller than you would expect and not all that great. So when I got there, I wasn’t expecting much, and this worked in my favor. I loved it! It was much bigger than I thought! I was in a really rural area with crazy wind and rolling hills with cows and sheep just to my right. The history there was palpable. There was an energy that I could feed off of at Stonehenge, and the sandwich I had on the way out was something I was happy to feed off of too.

The way home from Stonehenge however, had a hiccup. The fifteen of us were in a small van with a lovely driver with an even lovelier accent and head of hair. As we got on the motorway headed back to Cambridge, a van and two cars had a major collision. The accident shut down the highway for three hours. We were at a complete standstill with a perfect view of helicopters airlifting the victims away from the scene. Police car upon police car arrived and had to put up a screen to steer away curious eyes.

And I really had to pee. I held it for a while. I danced on the highway and tried keep my mind off of the weight pressing on my bladder. “Just go in the woods!” my friends said. But my idea of camping is a Holiday Inn, there was no way I was taking a leak in the woods. But after two hours of holding it, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went back on the bus and grabbed a napkin out of my purse and headed off to the side of the highway. I ran into a policeman and told him what was going on. “Well, I’m not gonna make you hold it, given the circumstances, so go ahead.” With permission from the English police I climbed uphill into the woods, through thorns and slippery leaves to relieve myself. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it was still pretty bad. At least I can cross “pee in English woods” off of my bucket list.

The next day I visited Brighton with my friends Shereen and Michael on our off day. Brighton was a lovely coastal city. It was vibrant and colorful. I stepped on a beach with not sand, but rocks, and walked from one end of the pier to the other. It was nice. On the way to Cambridge we had a stopover in London. So instead of getting off of one train and onto another we decided to “pop around,” as the British say, London for a bit. We were at the London Victoria station which was very close to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. So we walked to go see the sights.

When I saw Big Ben I was like a kid on Christmas. I danced and squealed I was so excited. I didn’t expect to get so excited, but it was beautiful. More beautiful I would say than the Eiffel Tower. I felt a connection with this clock. I would keep looking back at it and smiling. This was a nice moment for me. I had been in a slump for a bit, feeling homesick and having nightmares about being forgotten. But Big Ben fixed it.

I had dinner with my childhood babysitter, Tara, Sunday evening. Her husband is in the United States Air-Force and is stationed in Cambridge. Meeting with her felt a little bit like home. I had a wonderful meal of ham, scalloped potatoes, salad, and cheesecake.The company was good. The food was good. I’m doing good.

I spend next weekend in London at the University of London. I get to see a play the Globe Theater and explore the city some more. I’m ready for it. And after that? Soon I’ll be home. Not quite sure how I feel about that. Good and bad. More on that later.

Cheers!

But can I just go back?

Everyone warns you about the culture shock you’re supposed to experience when you study abroad. You’re reminded that different countries have different cultures and customs, and that you won’t always understand them. You’re told that you’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone. That you’ll experience many strange and wonderful things. Mostly, you’re told it’ll be the experience of a lifetime. They’re completely right. Somehow though, everyone fails to talk about what it is like to come home afterwards. There is almost this sense of a reverse culture shock that occurs. After months of exploring another continent and redefining myself and how I see the world, it can bee extremely shocking to come home and have everything be the same as it was before.

I knew that I would miss Brussels about a week into my study abroad program. The people I met, the experiences I had, and the city itself are completely unforgettable. One of the best qualities about Brussels is that its not an overtly touristy city. I loved that I was able to wonder around and find these parks and plazas on my own. It was such an organic feeling. Before long, I had my favorite places and a happy routine. It’s pretty crazy how quickly I became comfortable there. I think that might be one of the main reasons why it was so hard for me to come back to Florida. Brussels quickly became my second home. Just as I had those moments of homesickness while abroad, I’ve also experienced them here. You have pictures, tokens, and memories to remind you that it happened. Yet sometimes it can feel like a dream.

Since I got home, I have started to look for graduate programs abroad. I accredit my study abroad experience for enlightening me on other possibilities I have for postgrad life. It can too be too easy to limit yourself and think that your scope is smaller than it actually is. Prior to this summer, I assumed I would go to graduate school somewhat nearby or get a job. I wasn’t too sure about my future. Now, I feel that I have better understanding of want I would like to do and where I would like to be. I am so immensely grateful for this opportunity for helping me expand my horizons.

An Emotional Ending

While it’s hard to believe my time in Israel has come to an end, my adventures of the recent weeks continue to be surreal in my mind. My past few weekends included a trip to southern Israel, a family visit in Skiathos, Greece, and a return home that included almost missing my flight. It seems like most of my plans included a different turn of direction but every minute in Israel, was time well spent.

Besides one small downfall of having my phone stolen, I still managed to recover lost photos from friends and make great new memories on the remainder of my trip. The first part to reflect on was my time in southern Israel. As part of my program, we traveled to the Negev for a a few activities with a highlight on a special hike and visit to the Dead Sea. We left early in the morning and made it to our first overlook of the craters of the Negev within a few hours. We then moved to Ben Gurion’s Grave, and later were given a tour of the Ein Gedi Kibbutz, the only kibbutz to have its land entirely considered a botanical garden.

The desert in Israel is actually much different than the desert portrayed in movies. Its rocky terrain makes for great hiking paths and the mountainous views it offers are incomparable. On this return trip to Israel, I found myself focusing less on the physical nature of the desert, however, and more on how calm I felt. When you’re standing in a spot like Ben Gurion’s grave and see only the vast expanse of the desert, the worries of the real world seem far away and it’s easier to reconnect with yourself.

This is a photo of us standing in front of the craters of the Negev. The view from that overlook is spectacular and allows for you to truly take in the peace and space for thought the Negev provides.

Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of the state of Israel, spent his final years in the Negev. He chose this area as his resting spot rather than Jerusalem like the other influential leaders, proving the impact the Negev can have on its inhabitants.

The following day of the south trip, we conquered a four- hour hiking trail and were rewarded with a visit to the dead sea. Hiking is a pastime enjoyed by Israeli’s and Israeli tourists alike. Our hike consisted of walking time through a stream, alongside cliffs and ravines, and finally ended at a beautiful waterfall and swimming area. After feeling accomplished but tired, we made our way to the Dead Sea where I swam in the lowest point on earth for the third time in my life. The water has no movement or current and can reach such high temperatures that entering it can feel much like a Jacuzzi at first. The edges of the water wash salt crystals and clumps ashore from the high salt concentration in the water.

This photo was taken from behind our group as we began our hiking journey.

The guys in this picture took some convincing to cover themselves in the mud but once they gave it a try, they loved it.

Fact: You can’t drown in the Dead Sea

You can’t visit the Dead Sea and be too afraid to cover yourself in mud taken straight from its depths. One fact about the Dead Sea is that it is predicted to be completely dried up in 40 years so if you want to visit, its time to stop making excuses!

That weekend was an incredible highlight of my program at Tel Aviv University. The following weekend I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the close proximity of the Mediterranean countries and I visited family in Greece. I’ve known about the group of cousins living there my whole life but traveling there was always out of reach because of distance and expense. Finally meeting my family was the most positive addition to my trip. They showed me the island of Skiathos like a local, I visited the top beach of the island, Koukounaries, enjoyed the nightlife of the town, and allowed myself to melt into the relaxing atmosphere that envelopes the island. There is never a sense of urgency or feeling of being stressed.

 

The first night I arrived, my cousin Stavros (pictured to the right of me) took us out to the town where we found a rooftop bar with live music and a great view of the town below us.

A panorama of the view from the house of one of my cousins. It seemed like everywhere you looked on this island, there was a picture waiting to be taken.

After an emotional four days, it was time to return to Tel Aviv and finish my coursework and take my final exams and head back to America. My last week was uneventful and filled with sad goodbyes and difficulty facing the reality of leaving. My birthday fell during that final week and spending it in Israel was the best possible present I could have asked for.

To anyone who studies abroad the future, the summer is over before you know it and you’re catching your plane back to the United States. Remember every moment and live to enjoy, not too look forward.

12 Interesting Facts about Vietnam

  1.  If someone from Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam were put in the same room, they would not understand one another. Vietnamese is a tonal based language (words are based off of high, low, or short pitches). Each region stresses each word differently, thus changing the meaning of the word or making it extremely difficult for someone of another region to understand.
  2. Sidewalks are not really used for walking, but primarily for parking.
  3. In Vietnam the most common means of transportation are motorbikes. Cars here actually pose a danger and for that reason if you purchase a car you will be taxed between 100%-200% of the price of the actual car.
  4. Small tire stations are commonly found on the side of the road.
  5. Vietnam is a cash based society, it is very uncommon for anyone to have a bank account or own a credit or debit card.
  6. Prices in Vietnam are very cheap compared to the American Standard, meals are normally between $1-$3 and often times in some areas drinks, such as smoothies or soda, or desserts cost more than food, ranging from $1-$8. This might due to the fact that drinks and desserts are a luxurious item, so normally those of higher status can afford to purchase these items.
  7. Approximately 50% of jobs in Vietnam are illegal. These jobs often include vendors in the streets, who will often try to sell goods, food, or flowers to make a living, but are not licensed to do so. They normally pick a street to sell their goods or will rent out a small area in front of someone’s home or office building.
  8. “White- skin” is considered beautiful. This notion of aesthetic is based off of the idea that if you are tan you have a hard, laborious job working outdoors, such as farmers; however, if you are light-skinned it is believed you have a prestigious career working indoors. Additionally, beauty here is also highly influenced by Koreans.
  9. “You are what you eat,” is a strong belief here in Vietnam. Individuals will often eat the brains of animals to try to improve their intelligence or goat breasts to grow larger breasts.
  10. Masculinity is associated with drinking black coffee, drinking beer, and eating meat; thus, if you are vegan and do not drink beer or coffee, someone might believe that you are gay.
  11. Autism is not yet recognized as a mental disability in Vietnam
  12. The entire city of Ho Chi Minh City has free wifi!

In the Streets of Ho Chi Minh City, with during rush hour.

Earthenware restaurant, meal for three was only 160,000 VND total, which is approximately $7.27.

An small area in China Town, district 5 of Ho Chi Minh City. Off center you will see two vendors with their carts. Carts are mobile, so at the advent of police appearing, vendors can easily move and hide.

Ideal vs. Reality

I write this as I sit on the Eurostar train on my way to Cambridge. I am so excited. Now I know I said I was excited for Paris, but this time its for real. You see: my time in Paris was not everything that I thought it would be. The city of love, lights, and dreams had become a bit of a nightmare. My first few days were blissful. I had a lovely hotel with a wonderful view, air conditioning, and I learned my way around via Uber. But once I got to Cite Universitaire things turned sour. During my time in Paris I ended up sleeping in four different beds. In my second night at the university I was about to settle down to go to sleep when I noticed a small bug on my bed as well as a bloodstain. I lifted up the mattress, and sure enough, I had bed bugs. I immediately called my professor for help and after three hours of dealing with security because reception was closed, and lugging my over packed bags two miles across Paris to another dorm, I was finally in a new room. But it didn’t end there. Because once I got to that new room it turned out to be a bathroom. Then the door handle broke off. Then the key to my new bedroom didn’t work so I had to go down 6 flights of stairs to get security to let me back in. After I was let back into my room the man looks at me sternly and says, “You’re in for the night,” and locked the door behind him. I had to hold my pee for a long time.

In the morning my professor helped me to get a new room closer to the other students, as no wanted me to be isolated. So with the help of my friends I lugged my bags back across the uneven streets and up two flights of stairs to my new digs. The room was bigger, and had a fridge so that was nice. But the man staying in the room across from me? Not so much. He would say suggestive things to me in the hallway and I made the mistake of asking him where the showers were. That night when I took a shower he was standing in the communal shower hall listening to me as I bathed. I had waited it out until he left. The next night he tapped and raked his nails on my door when I went to bed and would say “Ca va?” over and over. (Ca va means how is it going.) I had trouble falling asleep that night. My wonderful fellow students in my program offered to help me out if he ever came to my door again, but they were in a different building, and I would have to let them into mine.

But aside from bed bugs, bed hopping, creepy men, and dirty showers, Paris did have moments of wonder. Every street I turned down had a picturesque view, and the French people aren’t as grumpy as they are often made out to be. I was able to use my French a lot this trip, and it was nice to have moments of connection with someone of a different culture as we both struggled to understand what each other were saying. (In a good way, I swear!) I also got to see such wonderful art and absorb all of the history in the streets.

I have learned a lot about American privilege on this trip so far. In the USA A/C isn’t uncommon and things are much cleaner, including the people. Americans are loud and proud and we have all of the space that we want to do so. But in Europe things are hot and stuffy, people are quiet and keep to themselves, and everything is so much smaller. As an American I have grown accustomed to the dirty looks I would get if I laughed too loud, asked for a larger size, or just expected something that is a given in America, but a luxury in Europe. I have complained and whined a lot so far this trip. Some of it was PMS, but often times it was because I was without my creature comforts that I have grown so accustomed to. I shudder to think what my friends who have stayed in third world countries would think of me for complaining about my time in Paris. I want to make it clear that I am so very grateful for the opportunities that I have been given and how lucky I am to have embarked on this adventure. My complaints and whines are falling on deaf ears. No one cares. There is nothing I can do about my situation, and that is perfectly okay. I plan to learn and grown from this experience and make the absolute most of it. This is an adventure, and you can’t have an adventure without trials and tribulations.

Before I sign off, something needs to be said about my fellow students. I have fallen in love with them. Every last one of them. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to look back on this trip so far and smile as wide as I am. All 14 of them are extremely bright and intelligent individuals. They truly shine. It doesn’t matter whom I’m walking next to at any time, because whenever I turn my head I have a new friend at my side ready to engage in an interesting and vibrant conversation. I have learned so much from my fellow peers thus far, and as we make our way to Cambridge I can’t help but think of all of the good times to come.

I am so excited for Cambridge. I have friends to accompany me and cool British air waiting when I get there.

Until next time,

Shanna.

The Writings on the Wall

Signing on, again.

Hello, from Florida!

The weather’s hot and humid, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. It’s been three weeks since I’ve come home from my trip to Russia, and since then I have settled into the usual working regime. Sometimes the nostalgia hits harder than usual and all I want to do is buy a plane ticket, right then and there.

My family and friends have been asking me about my travels, my experiences, and the overall outlook of my trip. All I could say was that this study abroad trip was an experience I’ll never forget nor regret. I proceeded to retell story after story of my mini trips and interesting encounters, both the good and the bad. I recalled the new things I learned and the things that were so different. I reminisced about the memories I made with my new friends and the places that we went. I miss them all dearly, and hope to see them again some day!

If I had another opportunity to study abroad, I’d do it in a heartbeat, and wouldn’t look back. Experiences like these don’t always come around, so for that reason I think I’ll take what I can, and do what I can.

Until next time!

Signing off. ✌