Reflection on France: Study Abroad Experience

After arriving back in the U.S. this past Saturday, I’ve come to realize a huge gap in both social and historical culture between America and France. The experience has really impacted my views in a nearly indescribable way. It was almost an experience of going to another planet instead of just another country – a revelation of how diverse the world is in operation though everyone is effectively living similar lives. Not just now, but in contexts of the past – such as during the world wars – we share the same values of freedom and preservation of human life, paying the ultimate price to gain these basic rights. Every day spent in France, the overwhelming feelings of camaraderie in the face of adversity surfaced. Every location the students of Missouri S&T visited only served to peel the lid back on emotional barriers for us, with several students breaking out into tears – myself included – when taking in the gravity of standing on Omaha Beach in Normandy where thousands died on D-Day.

The American Cemetery

The American Cemetery

Taking a class at the university could never prepare someone for the things they might experience and feel when standing at the historical monuments in person. Yes, America has quite a few historical monuments that bring about similar feelings, but for France, World Wars I and II took place on their soil while we were an ocean away. Today’s American citizens could never compare such experiences of having their home country invaded and occupied, but for France the past still remains in the everyday of the citizens’ lives. Social order was heavily changed once France was occupied during World War II, with the weight of events still dictating how people act in social situations today by trying to have the utmost respect for another person despite differences so as not to repeat the mistakes made by others in the past.

Sky View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

Sky view from the top of the Eiffel Tower

In total, the experience of studying abroad has really changed my thoughts on several issues here in the U.S., and though it is a bit hard to explain the feelings one might gain through studying abroad, I insist everyone take the leap of experiencing another culture at least once in their lives. The world, as it turns out, is much bigger and brighter than one could ever imagine, and the past memories that mold our world can turn every thought around the minute you learn how oddly similar yet different we are.

Making globes during World War 2 - Caen Memorial Museum

Making globes during World War II – Caen Memorial Museum

Personal Experience in Paris

Today is Wednesday the fifth of June and it seems so long ago since leaving the States, even though it was only eleven days ago. Paris is easy to get caught up in, with the culture being a whirlwind of excitement and fast-paced life, hiding little nooks of quietness. It is surprisingly easy to function in Paris, even when you let slip English, but personally, I have made a few blunders. It was funny sitting in a café trying to order something in French and the waiter just switches over to English to make things less awkward. I’m also becoming extremely attached to the Metro, it’s so convenient and easy to navigate once one gets the hang of the system layout. Outside of the usual class activities, I just wandered around the city last weekend, exploring various side alleys near Notre Dame. The best part about that adventure was finding this amazing little shop called Bertie’s CupCakery, which sells oddly flavored cupcakes until either closing time or they sell out. The shop is owned by a young woman that moved to Paris from Virginia, in the U.S., so ordering in English is perfectly fine. The cupcakes are the best I’ve ever had – I recommend the Nutella and Oreo flavors.

Bertie's CupCakery - Only a few blocks from Notre Dame

Bertie’s CupCakery – Only a few blocks from Notre Dame

Later that same day, I wandered by the Eiffel Tower and, deciding to fulfill a childhood dream, rode the carousal next to the tower. Spinning in the tea cup going the opposite direction of the carousal is very fun, but I nearly fell off the steps from dizziness while disembarking and made quite a few French children laugh.

The carousal next to the Eiffel Tower is two stories with a curved staircase. Some of the horses also have bike pedals attached for no reason other that to pedal while riding.

The carousel next to the Eiffel Tower is two stories with a curved staircase. Some of the horses also have bike pedals attached for no reason other than to pedal while riding.

Now moving on to the Eiffel Tower itself, I just went to the top today! I’m terribly afraid of heights, but being at the top of the tower was so amazing that I felt no fear.

Looking straight down from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Looking straight down from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Seeing the cloud shadows float by over the city, shading various sections, seeing from the sky different monuments the Missouri S&T students had visited, the living traffic below becoming an integrated hum – everything came together. It’s hard to describe, but the feeling of seeing the world from above just filled me with such a peaceful energy. After I left the Eiffel Tower though, I witnessed the police, clubs in hand, chasing illegal street vendors down the Trocadéro steps – that was both hilarious and sad.

A panoramic view from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Last experience of staying in Paris these past eleven days: the nights. I’m not one to party or go out late at night, never found a joy in that, but observing the night life from the apartment windows is both funny and horrifying. It gets excessively hot in the third-floor room I share with my roommates, so we leave a window open, but by doing so you can hear everything. It seems recently a group of French guys have taken a liking to gathering in the alley below, but they like to play thumping music, drink, and play soccer. One early morning, a film crew was in the alley and they were actually filming a scene for a French movie. In total, you can never really know what you’ll find in Paris until you explore!

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

Photo2203On Tuesday, May 28th,  the Missouri S&T students and faculty visited various places that went over the entire Battle of the Somme, many of which included graveyards and memorials. One such memorial that was visited mid-morning was Thiepval, precisely, The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. Though we were only given a half-hour at the memorial, the impact of the site was still very heavy on us, as standing under the arches of the brick memorial and seeing every name of the nearly 72,000 missing men brought about feelings of intense loss. At the memorial, we visited the visitors’ center first and had an introduction to the Somme battles by our tour guide. We saw pictures of the men and  in the eyes of the soldiers one could see the horrors they experienced in war. Looking around the small visitors’ center could never prepare a person for the monument itself, even with the small model on display in the lobby.

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Second Day of Adventures

Today was an exciting adventure! A very – VERY – long adventure, but all us made it back safe and sound. Yesterday we visited the War Museum and took the WWI & WWII tour, then strolled over to the Arc de Triomphe for the afternoon. Today the students plus Dr. Fogg & Dr. Langston went on an 11 hour excursion to different war memorials, grave yards, and museums depicting World War I. Our first stop was the Australian memorial, Villers – Bretonneux, and the students actually got to venture up into the memorial tower.

British soldier's grave stone at Villers - Bretonnuex

British soldier’s grave stone at Villers – Bretonnuex

The main memorial building of Villers - Bretonnuex

The main memorial building of Villers – Bretonnuex

Our biggest stop of the day, after visiting various graveyards, had to be the trenches – we actually got to walk through the trenches along the soldiers path! It was very heart-wrenching thinking about how many men lost their lives in the very places we stood, but all the while an honorable memory.

The zig-zagging path of trenches at the Newfoundland memorial

The zig-zagging path of trenches at the Newfoundland memorial

Our last stop was the Historial de la Grande Guerre, where we got to see the uniforms of soldiers laid out in pits of the floor with all of their gear, propaganda posters covering the walls, and artifacts from The Great War. Seeing items that the men once used really strikes a chord in a person, it makes it hard to believe that the war occurred only ninety-nine years ago.

Uniform of a French Soldier - Historial de la Grande Guerre

Uniform of a French Soldier – Historial de la Grande Guerre

It makes you really think and feel the pasts setting, the feelings the people had to be experiencing in their time, and how those feelings echo into the present when we look back on our shared history. Everything we saw today brought to light the true meanings of memory and how those memories intertwine with history.

~Stephenie Lynch