Meeting New People & Exploring New Places

Three weeks have passed by since I have arrived in Nantes, France for my five-week study abroad program. In this short time, I have made many friends and memories that will last a lifetime. While taking classes is important, as I have learned many things, it is the people and experiences that have taught me the most. Being subjected to new ways of thinking and different cultures other than my own have widened my knowledge of the world immensely. This is knowledge that I will carry on with me throughout my lifetime.

Upon my arrival to Nantes on a Wednesday, I had the privilege of meeting many people from all corners of the world, including the UK, France, Mexico, Germany, and China. I also met a few people from Cincinnati and some fellow Louisville Cards. They invited me along on their trip they had planned for the weekend to Munich, Germany. Even though I had just gotten to France, I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Having never been to Germany, Munich was an amazing experience. The friends I traveled with had a friend from Munich, Robert, who showed us around the city. Having lived there his whole life and being a student there, Robert was able to show us things that the normal tourist would never be able to experience. For instance, he invited us to his school on a Friday night where a crowd of the students gathered on the rooftop looking over the city, to watch the France-Romania soccer match on TV, as the Euro 2016 was taking place.

After returning from Munich and taking classes for a couple of weeks in Nantes, this past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Lisbon, Portugal.  Besides my face getting extremely sun burnt after a day on the beach, Lisbon is my favorite place I have ever traveled.  I would describe it as the San Francisco of Europe; the city, culture, and landscape are all very similar and quirky.  From laying on the beach to exploring the castles and hilly, cobblestone streets, Lisbon was a unique experience.  It’s a place that I can only hope to revisit.

So the moral of the story is when you are studying abroad, try to meet as many people as possible and take any (reasonable) opportunity that is thrown at you.  Not only will you get to go to cool places, but you will learn a lot about yourself and the world in which you live.

Preparing for el viaje de mi vida

El viaje de mi vida, or “the trip of my lifetime”, is quickly approaching and I have been planning for it for over a month.  I remember sometime at the end of May, I sat down on my computer writing a 2 page list of things I needed to take, which bag to put them in, what I needed to buy, travel tips, and packing tips.  You could say…uh… I went a bit overboard, but I’m a planner–what can I say? Finally, the week has come where I will travel to the rainy, hot, humid, but relaxing country of Costa Rica. For three days I will set out with some family where we will stay at a resort and go on an excursion and then on July 2nd, I will begin my five week study abroad trip!

All I can feel right now is a mixture of nerves, excitement, unexpectancy, and anxiousness but I know that with all of the planning I have done, I will have a blast once I finally arrive! All of the preparation I have made for this trip has done two things: made me unbelievably ready and a bit anxious since I have been preparing for SO long. I believe that planning has a lot of power, but I urge you not to allow it to make you go crazy.

I have done all of the planning and packing that I can and now I am ready for a month of spontaneity, 28 hours of classes a week, and adventure! If there are any tips I could offer as far as packing goes it would be these:

1) Research the culture and weather to decide on what to wear.

2) Roll everything tightly and organize your clothes in your suitcase so things stay wrinkle free and are easy to find.

3) Pack some of your favorite snacks and put a jar of peanut butter in your checked bag.

4) Start packing your clothes at least a week ahead of time so you don’t over-pack.

5) Leave room for things you may bring home from the country.

6) Relax!!! If you go into it with a positive attitude you will be ready to go 🙂

I cannot wait to share all of the memories I create and journeys I go on with each of you and I hope everyone reading this gains something out of it and develops or gains a stronger passion for travel and adventure. Pura vida!!  (the popular Costa Rican saying for “Pure Life”)

An American in France–During Brexit

Like so many other Americans, Brexit wasn’t really on my radar. In fact, if I didn’t intern in an international office with United Kingdom citizens, I probably wouldn’t have known what it was at all. If I didn’t know before, I certainly do now.

I arrived in France only a week ago to start my study abroad classes in the beautiful city of Nantes at Audencia. My first topic of choice? The EU: History, Institutions, and International Relations. How fitting that I would have the opportunity to broaden my knowledge of the European Union the week in which history would be made and the Union changed forever.

Did we cover the Brexit? Absolutely. We discussed possible scenarios either way the vote turned, the reasons it was happening, and anything and everything in between. However, I don’t think anyone actually believed they would vote to leave. While our esteemed professor admitted he wasn’t sure what would happen or the exact consequences should it occur, he liked to quote statistics in which staying in the union seemed favorable. Then, the day actually came.

Everyone woke up Friday morning, and by the time my homestay-mates and I made it to breakfast it was confirmed–the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. We were shocked! None of us believed that would be the outcome of the vote. Naturally, when we got to school it was all anyone could talk about. Our European Union class was focused on the new EU crisis of the day, the official Brexit. Our professor from Strasbourg allowed us to have our phones out so we could update one another on the news as it became available, such as David Cameron resigning and different countries or party leaders stating they would lead a referendum. All of a sudden, it seemed like the only thing we knew about the situation was that we knew nothing at all. It seems this is all we will know for a while as the United Kingdom has to negotiate with the European Union, but perhaps the longer we don’t know the better as it will allow the excitement that has erupted within the union to settle.

All in all, so many people are wondering the impact Brexit will have on the future of the European Union, the global economy, and shaping modern history as we know it…and Americans didn’t seem to know anything about it until it was too late.

Flying in Europe

This past weekend was the last weekend I would be in Europe. So naturally, my friends and I made plans to travel one last time. This trip was a bit different than any of our other trips because we decided to take a plane. In hindsight, I realize that probably wasn’t the best idea.

We left Friday night for Lisbon, Portugal. We caught a train to the airport and from there waited around for 4 hours due to so many delays. When we finally boarded our plane and were on the way, it was the worst flight I have ever been through. Everyone was loud and screaming and the flight attendants wouldn’t turn the cabin lights off even though it was a 10 pm flight.
Once we finally landed it was already 12:30 in the morning. We decided to take the metro from the airport to our hostel. We had to switch to a different line after about a 20 minute ride on the first line. When we got off the first line to switch to the other we realized the platform was completely empty. Apparently the metros stop running at 1 in the morning and we had gotten to the next platform right at that time. So, we were stuck somewhere in the middle of Lisbon with no way to get to our hostel.
Eventually my friend decided to turn on her cell phone data and call an uber to get us back. We finally made it and everything ended up fine. We spent a lot of time on the beaches and walking through the hilly streets to try and see as much as we could before we had to leave Sunday night.
Sunday rolled around and we made it through security and were waiting at our gate without a care in the world. Until all hell broke lose.
Our flight was delayed about 3 different times until they canceled it all together. We were about to be forced to spend the night in the airport and had no idea how to even book a new flight for the next morning. After many hours of passengers yelling at the airport officials, we were told we would be given a hotel voucher and be rescheduled for a flight the next morning at 7. At the time we were very happy to hear that we would be getting a hotel, however by this point we were going to miss our morning class the next day.
After even more waiting, we were taken to a bus which brought all 90+ passengers to a nearby hotel. By this point it was midnight. Once we got to the hotel and finally checked in, we only had about 3.5 hours to sleep before we had to get up and catch the bus back to the airport for our new flight.
4 am came around and we all crammed back on the bus, even more exhausted and more annoyed. We got to the airport and had to check in but were given no information about where to go or where the new flight would be.
After a lot of misunderstandings with the other Portuguese natives we found out that we had special passes to get through security. However, as if we didn’t have enough problems already, our flight was not assigned a gate number. A large group of us sat/slept in the food court area of the airport waiting for someone to give us information.
7 o’clock rolled around and we were still not given a flight or gate. Finally, at 8 o’clock a new gate number popped up and we all ran there out of pure joy that we might be finally getting home.
We made the flight and got back to Brussels after spending over 12 hours stressing over ridiculous travel arrangements that we had no control over. Apparently our first flight was delayed due to strikes.
After all of this madness, I missed both of my classes on Monday and am still currently sitting in the airport waiting for the train to come and bring us back to our town.
Needless to say, I will not be flying through Europe unless I have to. I think I’ll stick to trains and buses from now on.

What Nobody Tells You About Eurotrips

It’s true, it will be one of the most eye opening, liberating, exciting, amazing times in your life. There is no way around it. But what no one tells you is how exhausting it is. Unless you are fifteen different types of superperson, you cannot possibly travel to twelve countries in 20 days and not be exhausted. Even 12 cities in 20 days is outrageous. Sure, there is enough time to show up, take pictures, and go on to the next place, but you miss what traveling is really all about.

With all due respect, you can only see so many churches before they all start looking the same. If you go from one European city to another without taking time to fully stop and appreciate what is different about each individual one, the same applies to cities. Europe is not going anywhere, but I STRONGLY URGE you to be realistic about your energy reserves. Plan an extra day to go to the beach and nothing else. Know that if you’re traveling for a month, two of those days you should be able to just relax and talk and reflect and read and be immobile.

I say this because I learned the hard way through Barcelona. One of the most amazing cities (from what I have been told) I spent burnt out and completely unable to appreciate because every moment I was experiencing the city, I was thinking about experiencing my bed. Two days is not enough to experience any city larger than 50 sqkm, so do yourself a favor and wittle down that ”to do and see” list to a more traveler-friendly version. I promise you’ll thank yourself later. These places are amazing, so take the time they merit to sift through and figure it out for yourself. Tripadvisor can only do so much.

And P.S. I promise there are better restaurants than those on main streets. Turn left, turn right, get lost, and stumble into a place without a sign, it’ll be the best food you’ve ever tasted. xo

Walking around Europe

I’ve been in Europe for only two weeks now and I have never walked so much in my life. We walk to and from school, to the grocery store, to restaurants. Anywhere you could imagine. There is a sufficient public transport system, yet we all decide walking is a better way to explore.

Maybe my surprise is due to the fact that I come from a smaller town and go to school in a relatively small city as well. But before arrival, I was expecting Lille to be a city similar to the size of Louisville. After all, not many people have even heard of Lille, France. You can see my shock when I arrived and realized that this is practically the only city in the northern part of the country and it is the fourth largest in France.

Needless to say, with all of the walking that I have been doing with the friends I have met here has not dismayed us from traveling to other cities and walking around there as well. This week we took a train to Brussels to see all of the sites that everyone talks about. Then, we took another train to Bruges, a small Belgium town that looks like it is straight out of a fairytale book. At the end of the day, the fitness app on my phone had logged 13 miles. That’s 13 miles of walking around cities and seeing things from the beautiful gold trimmed Town Hall in Brussels to the swans swimming through the canals in Bruges.

Everyone studies abroad for different reasons. I’ve realized the main reason I came to Europe was to travel and see more of Europe. I’m very grateful to be able to have this opportunity and to have already walked around such beautiful cities like Brussels, Bruges, Amiens, Roubaix, and of course Lille.

I’m on my way to Paris this morning and will no doubt be doing more walking. Maybe I’ll log another 13 miles.

Louisville ~ Nantes

France was never at the top of my bucket list but when I was told that UPS would pay for me to go, I was all about it. I wouldn’t be near Paris, instead I would be studying in a smaller town in Brittany called Nantes. I decided I wanted to stay with a host family so I could get a real, authentic feel of what life in France was like. The closer my departure got, the more excited I got. I have wanted to travel for a long, long time and knowing that we would have 3-day weekends off, I started planning my trips immediately. There were so many places I wanted to visit while I was in Europe and had the chance- Rome, Barcelona, London, Venice, Munich, and most of all Prague. I decided not to plan anything in advance though so I could make plans with other people wanting to travel. I got the time off I needed from UPS, booked my ticket, emailed my host family and was ready to go. My adventure began when I left Louisville and it has been nothing but ups and downs since I’ve been here. First was the flight; Wow, 12 hours on a plane will really get you beat. I landed in my small city of Nantes and took a taxi to my host family’s house. That was my first taxi ride and I was terrified. It was raining and the driver was driving like a maniac and almost ran over a biker and then took the time to yell at the biker when we passed him. We finally got to the house and I was so relieved. Then I walked up to door, rang the bell and nothing happened. I rang a few more times and then started to panic. They knew I was coming right? so where were they? I walked around up and down the street emailing and texting the hosts and my advisors from both schools. I was terrified I would be stuck in this strange city with no place to stay and nowhere to go. Finally, the host mum text me back saying she would be home in two hours, apparently they were expecting me two days later and were just as confused as I was. I don’t know where the miscommunication occurred but I felt like such an imposition and was put on the futon until my room was ready but I was happy just to have a roof over my head.
The next few days were great. I got to explore the city and relax and even take a trip to the beach! Then school started. It was great to meet all these new people and it helped that the class I was in was so fun and had a great teacher. My first free weekend I decided to go to Paris. I booked a train ticket and a hostel and went on my way. When I finally arrived I was so excited to see everything that I decided to walk to my hostel… and hour and a half later I arrived at this small, hole-in-the-wall, home in the middle of china town to a room I shared with 5 other girls. Paris was crazy for me. It’s massive and there’s new things to see and do every time you turn around. I got lucky with beautiful weather and enough time to see all the main spots even though my trips got cut short because of a weird situation with my ride home. Then it was back to Nantes and school and planning for the next adventure!
More to come…

Living without mobile technology

June 2, 2016

Before I left for France I had decided not to purchase an international cell phone plan and to just live off of the free wifi when available.  I never thought of myself as the kind of person who has her phone attached to her hand permanently so I really didn’t think it would be a problem.

When I arrived in Lille I couldn’t have been more excited to explore the city and meet new people.  As the day progressed and the jet lag really set in I started to panic thinking that this trip would not go as well as planned.

I was in the Brussels airport waiting for the shuttle and had no way to communicate with anyone at home.  All I wanted to do was text my parents and let them know that I had landed safe and sound and, it being my first time abroad, my anxiety started to climb.

Once I finally arrived at my apartment, I was sad to realize that there was no wifi available in my apartment either.  At this point, I was becoming nervous that I would not be able to contact anyone for the entire time I was abroad.  After what seemed like forever I was told that there was wifi available in the lobby of the apartment building.  Glad that I had finally found a way to contact my friends and family, things started looking a lot better.

I developed a system where I only get on my phone once in the morning and once in the evening.  It took some getting used to, not talking to my family or friends all day, but I have come to realize that it is a blessing not having wifi and not being able to be on my phone.  I am forced to truly interact and bond with the other students who came abroad with me and because of this I am realizing that there is so much more time in the day to spend exploring and having fun.

I am very glad and thankful that I can experience as much as I can and not have my eyes glued to my phone screen.  The fact that there is no service has actually inspired me to make better friends and explore/get lost in the city.  I’m even more excited for this month ahead.