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

Au revoir, Paris!

Upon my return to the States I felt happy to be back, but also a part of me missed Paris. Looking back on the trip I remembered many things that were different that I had to readjust to. The hustle and bustle that comes with being in a city took a little bit to get used to compared to being in a small town for most of the year. Many of my opinions of Paris changed during the study abroad trip. The first thing that surprised me about the city was the size of it. When people think of Paris many people think of the monuments there such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. What I came to realize is that most of the famous monuments are very close to each other. You can even see monuments when you’re at other monuments. Besides the monuments, there are a lot more things in Paris than people realize, like the Luxembourg Gardens and river boat tours.
The most important thing that I learned from my trip from Paris is the amount of history still embedded in the city its self. It was amazing to see all of the buildings from World War I and II still in commercial use today. The buildings were used for everything from furniture factories to holding places for Jews. This trip has personally affected me in a positive way. I love traveling abroad and learning about new cultures and this trip has made me more curious than ever. I loved my adventures in Paris and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Three Weeks in France and a Day in London

The end of the trip is quickly approaching and I have had so many good experiences during this trip, which included a day trip to London. My first day wasn’t a complete disaster, but it felt like it at the time. I got into Charles de Gaulle Airport, got through customs and found my luggage without a problem. Getting from the airport to the apartment we were staying at was a different story. I got to Gare du Nord, which is a fifteen-minute walk from where we were staying but when I finally found my way out of the train station I was in a deserted street, so I decided to try to get to Gare de l’Est, which is closer to the apartments. The metro isn’t hard to navigate once you figure it out, but starting from scratch by myself made it a little difficult. I eventually got to the apartments after getting lost two more times and getting some help from a few nice Parisians. This experience taught me that the street signs in Paris are on the buildings, not on posts on the corners of intersections, like they are in the United States, which is confusing. After less than a week in Paris I felt comfortable getting around and confident that I wasn’t going to get too lost, but even after two weeks I still get lost when trying to find specific places. The winding, small streets continue to confuse me.

Tower of London, originally built by William the Conqueror.

Tower of London, originally built by William the Conqueror.

London in a day was a great experience. I got into London around 8:30am and started the day in King’s Cross Station, a necessary pilgrimage site for any Harry Potter fan. I then went to Westminster and got a great view of the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Next I went to the National Gallery and saw a few works by Vincent Van Gogh.The museum was free but if you wanted a map you were required to make a one pound donation. At the British Museum, my next stop, the map cost two pounds. I saw the early and Roman Britain exhibits there.

Big Ben in Westminster

Big Ben in Westminster

From there I got a chicken and vegetable pasty (a chicken and vegetable filled savory pastry) for lunch on Oxford Street. After lunch I went to the South Bank to see Southwark Cathedral, which has a memorial to Shakespeare and is not far from his Globe Theater which has been rebuilt not far from the original location on the South Bank. I then went to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge and took a ton of pictures. On the way home I decided to stop for English tea and a scone with golden raisins, which was delicious. The weirdest part of being in London was keeping to the left. Throughout the Underground (London subway) tunnels there were signs reminding people to keep left, which is the opposite side of the hallway from what I’m used to walking on.

London Eye in Westminster.

London Eye in Westminster.

Omaha Beach, one of the American D-Day landing beaches

Omaha Beach, one of the American D-Day landing beaches

Caen is a town in lower Normandy that was liberated by the British during the invasion of Normandy in the summer of 1944. It is also the home of the chateau of William the Conqueror. I took a ton of photos from the wall of the beautiful view of the city. While staying in Caen we visited the D-Day Beaches and the American Cemetery. It’s hard to picture all of the German defenses and the soldiers on the beaches because of how beautiful and peaceful the beaches are now. The American Cemetery was situated on a beautiful and peaceful location overlooking a section of the beach. While we were exploring the cemetery the sun finally came out and it got warm and it was so beautiful. I have enjoyed my trips to France and London and I look forward to coming back again.


The view from the top of Montmartre, in front of Sacré-Cœur. Absolutely beautiful!

The view from the top of Montmartre, in front of Sacré-Cœur. Absolutely beautiful!

Paris is a huge city! In order to run more effectively this large city is split into twenty arrondissements municipaux which are really just smaller administrative districts each with their own mayor. Each of these arrondissements has its own culture and personality. This is especially true of the 18th arrondissement, which is on the outskirts of the city and also the home of Montmartre.

Montmartre is the name of a 130m high hill plus the surrounding neighborhood and it has definitively been one of my favorite parts of Paris thus far. Historically speaking, in the context of war, which is a large portion of our class, the height of this area has played greatly into its importance strategically in many wars throughout French history. The view of Paris from the top is breathtaking. I would even say it rivals the view from the Eiffel Tower. It is also very well known by the presence of Sacré Cœur since it was completed in 1914, where again the height was significant in making this hill a wonderful location for such a holy place.  [Read more…]

Paris, Week Two

Week two of our study abroad trip is already behind us. As a teacher, it has been rewarding to see how far the students have come in their abilities to navigate around the city, order food by themselves, interact with locals, and communicate in basic French. In addition, students have become much more adept at “reading” the landscape around them. When they first arrived, they walked by many types of war memorials without noticing them. Memorials are in plain view throughout the city, but with so many other visual elements competing for attention—people, advertisements, stores, sculptures, architecture, traffic—they can escape attention.

[Read more…]

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!

My Europe Experience

WWI Memorial in Rome

WWI Memorial in Rome

It is the end of week 1 in France. I came to Europe early and my first stop was Italy. The trip to Italy was not what I expected at all. In places where there seems to be a lot of tourism, people tend to speak English. This was not the case in Italy. The public transportation in Italy is also not as expansive as in other major cities. These were the challenges Courtney C. and I took head on.

We did prevail and manage to see some pretty amazing things! Even things that would pertain to our class in Paris. In Italy they have memorials set up around the city just as they do here in Paris. [Read more…]

Finding Myself Abroad

070Coming to France was not a big culture shock, but it sure is different from American culture.  I have had many different experiences with their culture, such as how to eat for one example.  French people seem more sophisticated when it comes to eating food.  They eat their pizza with a fork and knife, which is different from picking it up with your hands and eating it, which is what I do and still do over here after using the fork and knife for a little bit.  Another thing French people do with food is eat their fries with a fork using mayonnaise as a dipping sauce instead of ketchup.  This seemed weird to me, but I tried the mayonnaise with the fries and it tasted okay.  The French also eat meals slower than Americans do.  They will sit down for a meal at dinner time for several hours and slowly eat their meal; they do not rush through it and the restaurant owners are not as worried about flipping tables as quickly as the American restaurants do.

Now a place where the French are not slow is on the metro moving about the city.  People will run you over to get on a train and will get frustrated with you if you move slowly in front of them and they cannot get around you.  Once on the train people will rush for an open seat. To avoid that I just stand because it is easier.  The metro system as a whole though was somewhat frightening to use at first, but after that it turned out to be very simple to use even if you do not speak French.

075I believe that the biggest thing that has shocked me the most is having everyone around me speak a different language.  I knew this would happen because of course I am in France, but I did not realize how relieved I would be when I started going to different tourist sites and being excited when I heard someone else speak English who was not part of our group.  Now some of the French people do speak English, but they learn  British English, so when they ask you for fries they say chips instead, which is different, but easy to understand. [Dr. Langston’s edit: there are all kinds of English accents here, not just British.]

I am excited for many of the different things we have planned for the next two weeks here in France and for many more experiences I am bound to have.  If you are thinking about doing a study abroad experience later in your school career I would certainly recommend it.  You will meet many new and different people, even people whom you go to school with and have never seen. You will bond almost instantly.

Life in Paris – Week 1

The first week of our program has ended already! Sometimes time just passes too quickly when you are exploring a new place.

My experience so far has been interesting, fascinating, surprising, and amusing at times. This is the first time I have been to Europe, so everything is new to me. The first day I arrived I was lost within the first 10 minutes. I must admit though, I have a horrible sense of direction so take this with a grain of salt.

Paris is surprisingly easy to travel through using the metro but I have never used a metro system like it. I would imagine that large cities like New York would have something like it. I am originally from Atlanta, GA and we do not have such an amazing public transportation system.

The people of France have been very kind, and I can only imagine how many visitors they receive. Every time I go to a hot tourist spot like the Louvre, you can hear people speaking languages from all over the world. I have heard German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese just to name a few. The tourists are often stumbling along with me when we try to speak French, so I no longer feel nervous when I have to ask if someone speaks English.

My final thoughts, of course, have to be about the food. I am a food person. I adore good food, and I can now officially say that no one can make sweets, cheese, or bread like the French. I find myself trying new things off the menus to discover a new meat or preparation at a cafe or Bistro, and I have yet to be disappointed. Today at the Angelina Restaurant in Versailles I ordered cœur de saumon fumé sélection astara even though I had no idea what it was. I do not regret it!

For breakfast they have sweets like a croissant with chocolate and muffins. For snacks they have sandwiches that are rich in herbs, meats, and cheeses. For dinner you can find almost any type of food in Paris! The culture is overwhelming and amazing!

georginna2013-05-29 16.27.59Check out chocolates at the Louvre! Don’t they look irresistible!

I could get used to this beautiful country…

-Georginna Quiros