9 Things I Didn’t Expect When I Came to France

I had studied French during all four years of high school and learned a decent bit about their culture, so I figured I had a decent idea of how France would be like before I studied there. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Here are nine of the things that I wasn’t really expecting before coming to France and some tips to help you overcome them!

1. Clothes: Everyone wears jeans and only jeans. And if you’re a girl, its high-waisted jeans. I tried this for the first few days, then I realized I hated being so dang hot 24/7. I really don’t know how they do it. What’s even crazier is the fact that they are usually wearing jackets too. Absolute madness!!! Now, I just wear my nice shorts and welcome the stares from everyone(may or may not be because the shorts).

Tip: Bring at least two different pairs of jeans if you want to fit in and not get the endless stares like me!

2. Appearance: I really stick out in a crowd. Everywhere I go, I always get many people staring at me. It could be the shorts, could be the fact I’m about a foot taller than everyone else or that I look like I’m from the USA(some have thought Netherlands). I didn’t expect that everywhere I went, I would constantly get stared at because of my appearance.

Tip: Don’t be tall or wear colored, pastel shorts like me.

3. Driving: The drivers here are CRAZY!! They weave in and out of lanes, dodge motorcycles that seem to have no rules and do it all while staying calm, cool and collected. Not to mention, they actually let drivers over when they have their signal on, and they do all of this without undercover cops patrolling the streets to hand out tickets(they use cameras). The best way to describe their driving is organized chaos. It is 10x worse than anything in the USA, trust me.

Tip: Don’t drive yourself unless necessary. Take the metro or walk and burn off those calories from the cheese and bread!

4. Food: Before I came to France, I assumed I’d be eating a lot of French food. Crazy right? But everything in Paris and the major cities has been Westernized and it was like eating back at home, except not as good. Even when we wouldn’t be in residential areas it seemed like all you could find were burger shops and Italian restaurants. Of course, you can go get an amazing crepe at just about any place you go, but you’re hard pressed to find restaurants with truly French cuisine. Don’t fret though, you can still find great food(like the fish and chips above) you’ll just have to search a little harder.

The main thing I didn’t expect when it came to food, was the fact that the seafood tastes could be so different in France than the USA. When I stayed at Mont St-Michel, I ordered a Fruit de Mer(fruits of the sea). I was looking forward to eating some scallops, shrimp, fish, mussels and crab. I was in for quite the surprise when they brought me out a plate with only one of those. My first reaction was to literally throw the plate across the room. Yeah, a little over the top, but it was warranted. It was one of the most unappetizing dishes I had ever seen. I gave it the ol’ college try and had some of these alien snails, prawns that had their insides explode on my hands and much, much more. If you’re like my brothers right now, you’re thinking I’m just a picky eater. That might be true, but even my parents couldn’t choke down this food. Needless to say, it was the worst food experience of my life and it still gives me the heeby-geezies thinking about it. Don’t worry too much though, I had fantastic lamb after that and the best vanilla ice cream I have ever had for dessert.

Tip: Try and ask locals where the best restaurants are and try and eat outside of the touristy areas. Also, try and clarify what exactly you will be getting and don’t assume it is the same as at home.

5. Language: They. Talk. So. Fast. When I listen to them speak it is like one long word that never stops. Add in the fact that they are speaking a foreign language and you’re completely toast figuring out what they are asking/telling you. And before you say, “Well why did you go to a country you don’t speak the language”, I DO!!! I am not fluent, but I know enough to be dangerous. Hopefully by the end of the summer I will be proficient enough to understand everyone and communicate much easier.

Whenever we went out my parents would typically ask them right away if they spoke English and typically the waitress/waiter did. We were at a nice fish and chips place(Poissonpare, highly recommended) on the Loire River in Nantes and my parents went through the usual routine and found out our waitress didn’t speak English and really didn’t seem very interested in having us eat there. So I stepped in and starting using my French skills to ask questions and order all the food for us. Everything changed after that. Our waitress was peppy and sweet, and no longer looked like she wanted to throw us into the Loire. When I went to pay, she was very sweet and was trying to tell me something in French, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying because she was speaking a million miles an hour. After, having her repeat it multiple times, she ended up telling me in broken English “congrats on your French, it’s very good”. HA! I didn’t even understand her complimenting me on my French. So much for being very good… In all seriousness though, it made my day. Let this be a reminder to always try your best to use the local language when visiting a foreign country because you never know what can come from it.

Tip: Know some French before coming. Also, make an effort to show you are trying and they will typically be helpful and speak in English.

6. Beaches: France has some amazing beaches… and they’re not even on the Mediterranean. I usually associated Italy, Thailand and Fiji with having nice beaches, but France definitely had a surprise in store for me!

For my parents last day in Nantes, we drove 1.5 hours outside of Nantes to Ile de Noirmoutier on the Atlantic Coast. What I thought would be an okay day trip turned into us discovering the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to. It had nice sand, a great town around it, nice blue-green water and many trails that led to semi-private, picturesque beaches. I may not have been able to get into the water because it was still too chilly, I can say with confidence it is one of the best beaches in France and everyone should go soak up the sun on the beautiful Les Dames beach of Noirmoutier.

Tip: Don’t skip out on the Atlantic Coast beaches. They may not be as famed as the Riviera, but they are just as beautiful.

7. Smoking: I had no idea how many people smoked in France. I am used to seeing a few people a day back at home, but when we were going through France about 50% of people smoked. No, I’m not exaggerating. It was absolutely mindboggling for me, because I now see more people smoking in 5 minutes than I would in an entire day at home. Basically the only place they can’t smoke is inside the restaurants and hotels. If you have issues with smoke, COME PREPARED!!

Tip: Eat inside restaurants if the smoke bothers you.

8. Tourists: I hate being ‘that tourist’, but there are just too many of them out there. We came when it isn’t even peak season, and I completely hated some of the places(Palace of Versailles) that I knew I would like, simply because there were 10x too many people there. I couldn’t enjoy the palace, the Musee Orsay and many other places because you would be packed in like sardines with people who don’t care that you’re trying to enjoy the moment.

At one point in the palace, some short little kid was bumping into me and I had mumbled something like “Watch out little guy”. Turns out it really was just that! An extremely short man, twice my age.

Tip: Visit main tourist attractions during the middle of the week. Also, plan your visits outside of the peak season of June, July and August.

9. Markets: Before I came here, I assumed everyone did their shopping like we do in the USA. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. First off, everyone here has to have their own reusable bags or a cart and if you don’t they will make you buy one. Secondly, most people walk to the market just about every day. They’ll get their fruits and veggies, protein for the day and a delicious baguette. When I realized this, I was thinking, “You mean they don’t hoard away 17 years of food in their basement fridge? Weird.” After going shopping a few times, I realized I definitely like this better. You always have fresh food. You get to exercise and burn off all those calories from the cheeses and baguettes. You just feel healthier.

Tip: Buy a few reusable bags and enjoy the daily ritual of walking to the market for fresh produce.

This list is by no means all inclusive of everything that I didn’t expect, but it highlights the main topics. Be sure to follow the tips to help make your time in France easier and more fun!

P.S. Most of this is applicable to every country I visited in Europe, so be prepared regardless of where you go!

A Survival Guide to Paris Public Transit

Hey there! Before I start with this post, my first in a series of survival guides for life here in France, I thought I’d introduce myself. I’m Ariel, a junior marketing major studying at ESSEC, a business university in Cergy, a suburb about 40 minutes north of Paris.

That being said, I take public transport all the time. I use it to get to and from class, get down into Paris, and travel around France. I’ve used probably every form of transport available here, from buses to the RER to the Metro. I’ve also had the *lovely* opportunity to get to deal with maintenance being done on the train tracks, resulting in a partial shutdown of the RER, which is how I get home.

So yeah, I consider myself a bit of an expert on navigating Paris’s public transit system. Since Louisville doesn’t really have public transport, the system in Paris can be a bit confusing at first, especially if you don’t speak French. I thought I’d help clear up a few things. Here are my top 5 tips when riding Paris public transport.

1. Vianavigo is your BFF

Vianavigo is an app that helps you navigate the Paris public transit system. You put in your destination and the app uses your location to figure out the best route for you to get from Point A to Point B. There’s also a map of the entire train system and timetables, both of which have proved quite useful for me.

My favorite thing about it is that it lets you know if there’s any kind of issues with the transit you’re going to be taking. That’s how I found out about the work being done on the RER.

2. Follow the crowd

If you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, watch everybody else first. For example, when coming home from Paris one night, the train I was on suddenly stopped and everyone got off. I had no idea what was going on, but I followed the crowd to a group of buses that were apparently set up to get us to various train stops. I use the “monkey see, monkey do” rule a lot when I’m traveling, especially if I don’t speak the language of that country.

Note: you’ll see a lot of people jumping over turnstiles or sneaking in behind people. This is because they don’t have tickets. This is illegal and you will be punished if caught. Always have a valid ticket or Metro pass.

3. Know how to pronounce the name of your stop or have it written down

If you need help, go to the ticket window or look for someone wearing an SNCF uniform. However, they won’t be able to help you if you can’t tell them were you need to go. If you’re afraid of butchering the name, have it written down or pull up your handy Vianavigo app and show that to them. They’ll quickly be able to tell that you don’t speak French, so they’ll use hand gestures and, in some cases, a bit of English to get the point across.

4. There will be armed police/soldiers and baggage check points everywhere

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, the country has been in a state of emergency. This means that at major train stations and tourist attractions, there will be mandatory bag checks. Just have your bag open, don’t act suspicious, and you’ll be fine.

You’ll also see armed soldiers a lot, at train stations, tourist attractions, and even just in the street. I would freak out if I saw this at home, but here in Paris, it’s totally normal. I’ve even walked to the train station near my apartment and found soldiers randomly walking around. The only time I ever get bothered by the heightened security is when “suspicious bags” are found and the trains are halted until the police have checked it out. Aside from that, I’ve actually grown to like it. It makes me feel safe, especially when I’m walking by myself at night, after class or down in Paris.

5. Public transit is easy to use

When there’s not work being done on the rails and workers aren’t on strike, the public transit system here in Paris is very user-friendly. There’s maps in all the Metro stations, so you can easily find out what train you need (if you haven’t downloaded Vianavigo). There are plenty of signs. And to figure out if the train coming up to the platform is yours, just look at the helpful screens on the platform. You’ll either see the terminus station for your direction or, at some of the larger Metro stations, your stop will be lit up. Easy peasy.

There you have it. My top 5 tips for surviving the Paris public transit system. It might seem unfamiliar, but as long as you have a valid ticket, you observe the people around you, and you know how to read a sign, you’re good to go. Just don’t freak out when you see a bunch of armed soldiers strolling by.

Adventure in Ireland

The other day I saw a post on LinkedIn by a CEO and it asked what advice you would give him in five words or less, I thought about it for less than a minute and settled on the words “have an adventure.” It doesn’t seem like the first choice and it probably wouldn’t have been 2 short months ago before I got to experience a great adventure in Ireland.

Sure the idea of an adventure appeals to everyone but the real adventure is when you dive into the unknown, you actually do something about the idea and act on it. I have never seen myself as the type of person that takes a lot of risks sure I have plenty of ideas but I never seem to act on them but that has changed. I now carry a little more experience and I have a little piece of Ireland close to my heart that I hope inspires me against all odds or reason to continue having adventures. In my time abroad I visited 3 countries, quintupled the number of times I have flown (it was 5 flights this time, including 2 that were 7hrs, my previous experience just one that lasted about 2hrs—and that was nearly a decade ago.) I have set foot in 6 castles, heard the tales of Irish folklore, met some great new friends, talked to some of the nicest locals, and it all went by so fast.

I have been back in the states for two weeks and I have been putting off writing this blog, not because I’m not exactly sure what I want to say but because this feels like an end to an amazing experience and I’m not ready for that. This was one of those things that you don’t want to end, it was hard enough leaving all the friends I had met a short month ago which seemed like only days. And now Ireland stands out in all the little details I have heard more about Ireland in my everyday life now than I ever have in any year before. Don’t get me wrong it’s great to be home, but an experience like that is something you don’t just take for granted. I will always remember my time in Ireland, and hope I can return some day.

Around Europe in 11 Months…

July 1st marked 11 months since I arrived in the beautiful country that we all know as Germany. With my first exam approaching soon, the time I have left in Germany is drawing to an end. I have been more than fortunate enough to spend two semesters in Germany, that simply the mere thought of leaving makes me disappointed. The city of Heilbronn, where I have spent the past 11 months, has become my second home. I have met so many interesting people, experienced so many different things and embraced the German culture with welcoming arms. I have even managed to pick up some German skills, which, if you would have asked me if I would be able to do 9 months ago, I would have told you absolutely not! However, while I plan on making a separate post to talk about my experience in Deutschland, this post will be a follow up on the rankings of countries I have visited. I managed to visit 17 countries while studying abroad and, naturally, I will tell you my opinion of them. I hope you enjoy! 🙂

Definite Rating of the Countries I Visited

18. Slovakia (Bratislava) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

17. Luxembourg (Luxembourg City)

Processed with MOLDIVWhy did I rank Luxembourg City so low? Probably because the city is very tiny… in fact, the country itself is very tiny. You can see absolutely everything there is to see here in one weekend. However, I am here to tell you why you should definitely visit Luxembourg despite all this. First of all, if you feel a little homesick, then you should definitely go to Luxembourg City because there are literally so many Americans here I almost cried. It was so beautiful to listen to clear English after 8 months… But joking aside, Luxembourg City is actually something like 40% immigrants and another fun fact is that there are 3 official languages here and they are: French, German and Luxembourgish, and the people also speak great English. Another thing to know about Luxembourg City is that it is the second richest city in the world and that is probably because of the opportunities and businesses located here. However, aside from the facts, when it comes to things to see, there are not that many monuments or palaces, etc… Which is another reason I ranked the city so low. However, my recommendation is to talk to someone at the hotel you are staying at or at a tourist information center because they will recommend you with really cool and nice things to see and do while you are here.

16. Spain (Madrid) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

15. Switzerland (Lucerne, Rhine Falls, Zurich) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

14. Austria (Vienna) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

13. Russia (St. Petersburg)

Processed with MOLDIVI know it is surprising, you are wondering how does an American get into Russia without a visa? Well, I will tell you how… you go on a cruise of the Baltic Sea and you take a Russian cruise ship, that is how! I think one of my favorite trips so far has definitely been the cruise through the Baltic Sea and I, along with the many other Americans that were on the trip joined mostly for the sake of visiting Russia. We were allowed 72 hours in Russia without a visa because we had arrival and departure cards prepared for us by the cruise ship and the nice part was that the cruise ship also provided free shuttles that hit certain points throughout the city, all we had to do was present our boarding cards. I will be honest though, I was petrified going through security and even speaking English in Russia. I did not know how the people would react, so I did my best to not draw too much attention to myself. However, with that aside, St. Petersburg is what you expect, I guess, from all of Russia. The ride over from the cruise ship to the central part of town, all the buildings were demolished and destroyed. There was Russian propaganda everywhere as well, especially mocking the United States. Nonetheless, once you get past all of that, the things to see in St. Petersburg will blow you away. I would see Google it and you will see what I mean. My two absolute favorite things in St. Petersburg were definitely “Winter Palace” and the “Church of the Savior on Blood.” You will get Instagram worthy shots here! 🙂

12. France (Paris, Strasbourg) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

11. Estonia (Tallinn)

Processed with MOLDIVWell Tallinn was definitely, without a doubt, the biggest surprise for me. Every expectation I had of this city was destroyed once I visited, particularly because of how insanely nice it was compared to what I was expecting. The coolest thing about Tallinn for me was how I felt like I was living in the medieval times. The people of Estonia really embrace the theme, especially in the “Old Town.” You can find men and women dressed in medieval costumes and there are even restaurants that once inside, you really feel like you are having a feast during the medieval times. I absolutely loved it. The well preserved “Medieval Fortress” located here is also one of the many reasons the people keep up with the theme in the old town. There is also a medieval prison that you can check out. Also, the secret passages, located underneath the old town, are basically a labyrinth of 17th century tunnels, and a fun fact about them is that they were used during WWII. Really, I was absolutely amazed by all Tallinn had to offer and I would certainly recommend the city to anyone, especially since it is also so insanely cheap, you simply cannot resist.

10. Finland (Helsinki) 

Processed with MOLDIVYes, I visited the home of Santa Claus, well the country… unfortunately I did not get to visit the amusement park “Santa Claus Village” in Rovaniemi, Finland, but believe me Helsinki sufficed my desires. I visited Finland partially because I loved all the Scandinavian countries so much, I wanted to see Finland and complete my list of visiting all the Nordic countries. Also, a friend from Finland who studied in Germany the previous semester was my personal tour guide and for that I was very grateful because I got to see sides of Helsinki a typical tourist would not get to see. However, do not fret, Helsinki is so easy to navigate because it was built on a grid-based format and the transportation is amazing here. Not that you need it, walking is also great because the city is very pedestrian friendly. The only time I would recommend transportation is if you plan on visiting one of the islands that also comprise the city of Helsinki. My favorite part about Helsinki was definitely the neo-classical buildings including the senate square, government palace and cathedral. Also, there are many marvelous structures such as glass palace, swimming stadium, tennis and Olympic stadiums. The last point I want to make is that Helsinki had insane shopping, there were, I believe four shopping malls laid out throughout the city and they were all four floors. I wanted to stay shopping forever here. Helsinki was truly a joy and I undeniably recommend visiting if you find yourself in Finland.

9. Czech Republic (Prague) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

8. Netherlands (Amsterdam)

Processed with MOLDIVWell, you can definitely prepare yourself and say hello to an overwhelming number of tourists in Amsterdam… you have been warned. However, I do not want to take anything away from the Netherlands and especially not Amsterdam. I really enjoyed my time here. There really was so much to see that you can easily spend a week in this city and enjoy yourself. So here are my recommendations. First, I would say definitely rent a bike because that is literally one of the things Amsterdam is known for. There are so many bikes everywhere and bike lanes all throughout the city make it very convenient to have a bike. My tip also is, stay out of these bike lanes. While the Dutch may be extremely friendly, they become a totally different person when they get on their bike. You may get run over if you are in the bike lane so stay on the sidewalk. Another tip, there are a ton of really cool museums here. The two I picked to visit are the Rijksmuseum, which was pricy, but so worth it and the Dutch Resistance Museum. Also, if you plan on going to the Anne Frank House, I definitely recommend getting tickets ahead of time because that is the only way to get in. Unless you plan on standing in line for hours. My last recommendation is to not spend all of your time in the Red Light District. Although, it seems appealing, there really is so much more to Amsterdam than just the Red Light District and of course, weed.

7. Poland (Kraków and Oswiecim –> Auschwitz Concentration Camp)

Processed with MOLDIVPoland was the one country I absolutely refused to leave Europe without seeing, and as odd as it seems, I had a motive for wanting to visit. I spent a great deal of time learning about the Holocaust in high school, so finally getting the opportunity to visit Auschwitz was a very overwhelming experience and although, difficult to put into words, the best way to sum it up is that I did cry. I do not know any person that can visit such a place and not get emotional. Moving on to Kraków, all I can say is what a beautiful city. I am just going to go ahead and brag about how cheap Kraków was, especially when it comes to food. I would definitely recommend any soup because there are so tasty. Also, I had the best steak of my life in Kraków, and I think I paid like the equivalent of maybe 12 euros for a full meal. In addition to that, the castles, cathedrals and various monuments are definitely enough to keep you busy. I would also recommend visiting the Kraków Ghetto and getting a little more history, especially if you combine the visit to the ghetto with your experiences at Auschwitz.

6. Norway (Oslo)

Processed with MOLDIVThe first thing to mention about Oslo is that this city will cost you an arm and a leg basically, Oslo is the most expensive city in all of Scandinavian and Europe. Literally, they could charge 13 euros for a Coke and that would be absolutely acceptable for them. With that aside, Oslo is stunning. Really, you will feel like royalty here and be treated like it as well. Oslo, in addition, is very large and actually a lot of the city is comprised of forests, but not many people know that. Oslo is popular in many regards, but here are some of my favorite because they are also the reason Oslo is very prevalent among tourists. The first thing, Oslo is actually the city that hands out the Nobel Peace Prize every year. Second, you can see “The Scream” by Edvard Munch because it is held by one of the museums here (National Gallery). Also, there is the Viking Ship Museum and the Opera House is absolutely insane. In fact, I have never seen an opera house as stunning as the one in Oslo. The last thing I want to mention about Oslo, that is definitely a must see, is the Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park, which is filled with 212 Bronze and granite sculptures, all designed by one man.

5. Hungary (Budapest) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

4. Denmark (Copenhagen) 

Processed with MOLDIVSaying that Copenhagen is as beautiful as a fairytale would not do the city justice. The magnificence surrounding this tiny place is absolutely unreal. I fell in love instantly and in my opinion Copenhagen is the most beautiful capital city of all the Scandinavian countries. There is no way you will be able to see everything in one weekend. I learned the hard way when it came time to leave because I knew there was so much more to see. From the museums, to palaces, to castles and galleries, there is enough to look at for the whole weekend. However, Copenhagen offers so much more than that. The Tivoli Gardens were my favorite, also I spent a great deal of time trying to get the perfect shot at Nyhavn Harbor and also of the Little Mermaid. Støget, the longest pedestrian street filled with many shops was amazing, even if everything was pricy… but hey, welcome to Scandinavia.

3. Sweden (Gothenburg, Stockholm) 

Processed with MOLDIVI do not even know where to begin with Sweden. Or should I call it land of IKEA and H&M… but in my honest opinion Sweden should also be known as the land of manbuns because every third man I saw had one. So if you are a person that is into that look, then you will surely enjoy the Swedish people. Not to mention that the Swedish are naturally perfect, tall, blonde and stylish. The Swedes also had the best English out of any people I have met during my travels, and believe me, I have met many. However, enough about the people, let us talk about the cities. I personally did not like Gothenburg as much as I loved Stockholm. Both are, respectively, the second and first largest cities in Sweden. The reason I did not really enjoy Gothenburg is because the city was very industrial for me. Which is great, I guess, but I like pretty buildings and nice monuments. That is why Stockholm was absolutely perfect. I mean the city is outrageously beautiful. Even the part of the city they refer to as “Old Town” did not even look like what you expect. I really enjoyed my time in Stockholm and Sweden in general. In fact, if Sweden was not so cold and expensive, I definitely would have liked to study here.

2. Italy (Florence, Milan, Pisa, Venice) *SEE PREVIOUS RANKING*

1. Germany (Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Heilbronn, Munich, Nürnberg, Stuttgart, Ulm) *SEE PREVIOUS POST*

Home Sweet…What Now??

I am writing this blog post in the comfort of my own home in Louisville, Kentucky after returning from Barcelona a little over a week ago. I have had time to reflect on my semester abroad and all I can say is “what now?”. I was “go go go” for four months straight and now I am unemployed and living at home! That’s reverse culture shock for ya! BUT, as a I think back to the 20 plane rides, 30 trips, too many nights out and the constant feeling of not knowing what’s next, I can’t help but be thankful to be home. I look forward to returning to the University of Louisville for my senior year, as a cultured, more independent woman and I have the amazing Study Abroad Program to thank for that.

Since I have had so much time to reflect on my semester abroad in the past week, I have compiled a list of “lessons,” that will be helpful to me in my future travels and everyday life, as well as, to all the readers out there.


1. Enjoy the Little Things: I say this because, when spending your weekends traveling Europe, you think that you must visit every museum, landmark and cathedral in just 3 days. But, I have to tell you, that is impossible and extremely draining. My advice is to allow yourself to enjoy a long lunch or sit in a park and people watch if you want to; the museum will probably be like the one you saw in Paris last week and the cathedral will never live up to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (; By taking time to enjoy the little things, you will create better relationships with your travel partners, get a better grasp of the culture of that country and probably save some money along the way.



2. Walk Everywhere: This is the best way to acquaint yourself with the city and the most healthy option if you are like me and ate a croissant everyday. Comfy shoes will be your #1 travel companion with the app, Citymapper, or just maps on your iPhone taking close second. I walked up to 13 miles a day on every weekend trip and close to 6 miles on a daily basis in Barcelona. It sounds exhausting but you will miss the option once you return to the states where everything is spread out.




3.  Don’t Just Visit the Biggest Cities: One of my regrets was not traveling to enough small, quant places. I didn’t realize this “mistake” until I came home and was asked “what was your favorite place you traveled?” My answers all had a reoccurring theme; they are all small cities, unaffected my massive amounts of tourism. The list includes Interlaken, Switzerland, San Sebastian, Spain and Lagos, Portugal. I love these trips because I allowed myself to absorb the beauty and simplicity of the cities as well as take advantage of the nature that surrounded me. Also, go skiing in the Swiss Alps. Just do it.

4. Money is a Factor But Not an Ultimatum: In my first couple weeks abroad I was extremely stressed out about money. I wasn’t used to spending so much everyday, plus I was planning all my weekend trips and my bank account was quickly dwindling. With that IMG_4974being said, my mom gave me the best advice and I will relay that to you. Now is the time  to spend your money. You have the rest of your life to make up for any money lost while you were abroad. Not to mention, it is only four months of increased spending. You and your bank account will recover. So if you can’t decide if you should treat yourself to the infamous steak in San Sebastian, spend the extra 10 euro to go to the top of the Eiffel tower or go to an over priced Barca game, JUST DO IT. Those memories are worth a thousand more euros and you may not get the chance to do it again.


5. Be Thankful: Not many people get to say they spent a whole semester abroad. Throughout my time in Barcelona I had to remind myself of how rare of an opportunity this is and that missing a flight, bad weather or being crammed onto a metro is nothing to complain about. I became much more laid back because in the grand scheme of things, I was abroad and nothing could ruin that for me. So all in all, go abroad with an open mind. Embrace the culture, embrace your roommates, embrace the course load because you are abroad and you are lucky.

I have many more lessons but I will end it there. While I have a mixture of feelings about being home, these important lessons remain constant and will be with me for life. My “home sweet home” in Kentucky is now shared with my home in Barcelona and I am looking forward to finding out what my “what now” has in store for me.

Grüße aus Deutschland!

In case your German skills are a bit rusty, or nonexistent like mine were, the title translates to “Greetings from Germany!” I have been fortunate enough to spend six months in beautiful Deutschland and I have enjoyed every second of my time here so far. This post I am dedicating to my travels. So prepare yourself, this might get a bit lengthy. 😉

Definite Rating of the Countries I Have Visited (So Far)

9. Slovakia (Bratislava)

Processed with MOLDIVI think I am being unfair to Slovakia, but there has to be a shortcoming. So I will say this, Bratislava was beautiful, however, a little small. The city is notorious for vine yards and the Danube River, which runs through it. In fact, there is the “Altitude Restaurant” which you MUST visit. Nowhere else will you get a view or experience like the one you will get eating here. I happened to have some of the best tasting food in Bratislava as well. I regret ranking the city last because it is not crowded with tourists and you will get a true authentic experience visiting it. There are plenty of things to see here like the castles, and Bratislava has some really interesting statues throughout the city. I guarantee you will enjoy yourself for a weekend.

8. Spain (Madrid)

Processed with MOLDIVMadrid absolutely broke my heart. Back story, I have never been to Spain and I have had a huge fascination with the country, Madrid in particular, for a very long time. However, once I finally visited, I was so disappointed. Dare I say, Madrid was a little ghetto for me. I guess I had such high expectations for Madrid and in the end the city did not live up to the beauty. However, Spanish people are absolutely amazing and super friendly. The highlight of my trip was definitely the shopping and visiting estadio Santiago Bernabéu (Real Madrid’s soccer stadium). The plus side is that Madrid is so big you have plenty to do. My best friend also studied here and she says the night scene is amazing.

7. Switzerland (Lucerne, Rhine Falls, Zurich)

Processed with MOLDIVBeautiful country, but a little too calm for me. That about sums up how I felt about Switzerland. I got to visit Switzerland at the beginning of my studies when it was still relatively warm and I really enjoyed my time here. There is a lot to see and experience. The cities and the Rhine Falls were, again, very beautiful. However, like I mentioned, it is a little too peaceful for me here. Also, Switzerland is very expensive and that is something to keep in mind. I will throw this one last bit out there, if you are into skiing, I had a few friends go ski in Switzerland over the holidays and they had a great time. Just something to consider.

6. Austria (Vienna)

Processed with MOLDIVAustria is like the sister of Germany. If you have visited Germany and you then go to Vienna, you will feel like you are in back in Germany. Vienna is one of the most artistic cities. There are so many museums you can visit here. My favorite would be any displaying modern art or music. Also, I particular enjoyed the opera house. All and all, there is plenty to see in Vienna if you are into arts and culture.

5. France (Paris)

Processed with MOLDIVI went to Paris during Valentine’s Day weekend and all I can say is that the city was truly magical, even if it rained all weekend (it almost always rains in Paris btw). However, Paris is Paris and everything you expect to be true about it most definitely is. The city is crowded with tourists so do not expect too much of an authentic French experience in Paris. However, the city has pretty cool clubs and plenty of monuments you can pose next to. I recommend buying an all-day metro ticket to save money AND because it is nearly impossible to see the whole city and all the touristic sites without the metro.

4. Czech Republic (Prague)

Processed with MOLDIVPrague is oftentimes referred to as the Paris of central Europe, and rightly so. Prague is absolutely beautiful and there is so much to see in the city. From churches and cathedrals, to castles and museums, and walking along the Charles’s Bridge, I promise you will need more than a weekend to see everything Prague has to offer. I particularly enjoyed Old Town Square and visiting the Jewish Museum. However, I do have a few tips. First, it is nearly impossible to find a place to eat if you are trying to do so directly in the city center. Most places are fully booked. Also, regardless what others might inform you of, Prague is not that cheap and if you are in the city center, you will definitely be running to the ATM machine if you do not have enough Czech Crowns exchanged. Also, be wary of the service in restaurants. The Czech people are not necessarily the nicest. My last recommendation, you must visit the largest club in central Europe, Karlovy lázn?.

3. Hungary (Budapest)

Processed with MOLDIVYou need a week to see this city. Plain and simple. Actually, you probably need more than a week. Budapest is unlike any other place you will visit in central Europe. If you are like me and love to take tons of pictures of really cool buildings, architecture and amazing monuments, then this is the city for you. Hungary is known for its word famous thermal baths so if you visit, I would recommend checking them out. Also, if that is not enough to convince you to go to Hungary, then the fact that this is probably the cheapest country in the European Union should be. I am not exaggerating when I say this, especially for a capital city, Budapest was very cheap. At the end of my stay I had to think of creative ways to spend my money because I did not want to take so many Hungarian forints to Germany and exchange them back into euros.

2. Italy (Venice, Florence, Milan, Pisa)

Processed with MOLDIVI do not even know where to begin with Italy. In fact, the country is just as magical as it is made out to be. Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There is so much to see and do here you will never want to leave. The same is true for Florence. In fact, if Florence was a country, it would be my favorite. You could spend hours walking the streets of Florence and not get tired of the beauty around you. Also, if you love beautiful architecture and art, then you must say hello to the home of the Italian Renaissance. In regards to Milan, there is not as much to see here as there is in Florence and Venice, however, if you like fashion and shopping then there is no other place more fitting. Milan after all, is one of the fashion capitals of the world and you will need more than a day to hit all the stores. Pisa is a bit more different and in fact not what you would expect of Italy. There is hardly anything to see here besides the Leaning Tower and two more monuments which are located in the same location as the tower. I would not recommend getting lost at night in Pisa. It can be very scary.

1. Germany

Processed with MOLDIVI could not resist making Germany my number one because it truly is my favorite place in Europe. There is so much to do here. From festivals, to markets, to sporting events and music festivals, Deutschland is always buzzing with activity. Need I mention that Germans love to party and are amongst the best drinkers in the world? Bars in Germany are superb and open all the time for anyone looking for a good drink with great company, especially during a fußball (soccer) match. German history, the ancient castles and beautiful scenery, the beer, their amazing food and sports, and the big cities are enough to convince anyone to visit Deutschland, but I recommend visiting the smaller, less known places as well because that is where German magic lies. Ever heard of Heidelberg?

Bonus: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Processed with MOLDIVBosnia is the hidden treasure of the Balkans… It is also my birth country. I would never shy away from recommending it as a place to visit. For those who do not know much about the country’s history, Bosnia was almost destroyed by a war that occurred not that long ago. However, despite the tragedy, today the country flourishes and is a very popular country to visit for those who want to learn about it. Tuzla, Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Mostar are great cities to go to if you want to experience Bosnia’s history and be greeted by beautiful scenery and warm hospitality. I would, however, recommend visiting Bosnia in the summer. Unless you like lots of snow, then by all means Bosnia is the place for in the winter.

That’s all for now! Enjoy 🙂

– Dzenita

Assessing the American View of Learning a Second Language

After spending a week in Shanghai, I have found that it is possible to live here and only know a few key Chinese phrases. The Metro has English transitions, restaurants have picture menus, and many people in the service industry know some English. While it can be difficult at times, we are able to get around the city without knowing Chinese. At some points in times, I have felt like I have been charged more for an item, but since I cannot speak the language, I have no alternative. That has been one of the few practical downsides of not knowing Chinese. For the most part, the Chinese have been extremely receptive to us and have been overly polite in our exchanges. The students all seem to have a background in English and can communicate with us, which is impressive to say the least. Furthermore, it shows that it is going to get easier to only know English and live in Shanghai.

However, should we not learn Chinese or other foreign languages just because we can get by without them? I recently read a really interesting blog in The Huffington Post titled “Cheating the Chinese,” which focused on Western businessmen in China who did not learn Mandarin. In quick summary, it critiqued the businessmen who complain about being cheated by the Chinese for not knowing Mandarin, and essentially blamed them for the issue. Chinese business leaders know English, so by not knowing Mandarin, American businessmen and businesswomen put themselves at a disadvantage. Just getting by without speaking multiple languages is not sufficient. Americans must push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and become globally competitive in language acquisition. As globalization increases, monolingual people will be left behind, and we must promote foreign language acquisition in the United States. Gallup conducted a poll of American attitudes toward immigrants learning English, and Americans learning a second language. The results are shown below:

gallup poll

The difference in responses to the two somewhat similar questions is glaring. To the at least 52% of Americans that deemed it essential for immigrants to learn English but not essential for themselves to learn a second language, what enables this attitude? I will attempt to answer it, but I must admit that I myself am curious. At face value, a critical difference between the two questions is that in one case, an immigrant chose to come to the United States. Some might argue that this decision creates an obligation for the individual to learn English, and that is the separating point.

While this might sound fair, it does not describe the entire situation. The United States forces assimilation, and many immigrants make their children learn English. In addition, they sometimes even focus on making sure their children do not learn their language of heritage in order that they can seem more American. We have created a culture that forces people to learn our language and judges them if they sound different. We have in many ways diverted away from our founding as immigrants. As a melting pot, we should not preach assimilation into one; instead, we should allow our differences to exist and look for other connecting points. Furthermore, we are rejecting globalization by not becoming a multilingual nation, and as such, we are stagnating our future as potential leaders in the global system.

Coming back to the Chinese example, learning the language is essential to understanding the culture. Language provides a cornerstone of understanding different cultures, and if we really want to understand the Eastern world, we must study all aspects including language. How can we hope to understand a country without knowing how they communicate with each other? For example, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that language has profound effect on how people think, and in some cases, it constrains the way a person perceives the world. In this model, foreign language acquisition would ease some of those constraints and allow for a better understanding of culture.

Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Language is powerful, and there is more to the world than just English. The American strategy of late has seemed to try and integrate English into as many countries as possible and make English the official global business language. Other countries have responded by making national strides in learning foreign languages, which is allowing easier integration of their workers into the global economy. We must recognize that learning foreign languages is necessary, and we are putting ourselves at a major disadvantage in the marketplace.

My suggested solution would be to increase People to People travel programs in high school and university study in order to give young Americans the opportunity to use the language they are learning. In addition to trips, partnering with other countries to have virtual penpals for students that effectively uses Skype or Google Hangout to allow for language practice. Essentially, these programs would broaden American students’ mindsets and help them see a purpose for language acquisition. Finally, a core piece to the solution is for more states to mandate foreign language study in high schools. As of 2010, only 10 states mandated foreign language learning in high school, which helps maintain the abysmal statistic of only one in four Americans knowing more than one language. While the United States is the global economic leader, Americans must also do their part to maintain this status.

Philip Moore

The Value of an International Voluntary Internship

When I think of a voluntary internship, I automatically notice the negative stigma that surrounds the concept, which I believe is triggered by either an inherent or capitalistic viewpoint that workers deserve wages, but after letting the initial feeling settle, I have found that the wealth one receives from work is not just monetary. Before I begin to divulge the personal benefits that I received, I do want to make a quick point from an investment standpoint.

For a person to live comfortably and pay his or her expenses, one must be employable or entrepreneurial; without one of those traits, a person will struggle to make ends meet financially. Thus, any experience that betters those attributes has a direct effect on the amount of income a person will make over his or her life. This perspective contributes to people’s decisions to attend universities and graduate programs, and many students spend tremendous sums of money for a college education. Statistically, graduates with a bachelor’s degree between the ages of 25-34 make 150% the median income of workers with only a high school diploma (National Center for Education Statistics 2011). Besides the obvious increase in salary, college students have the opportunity to learn how to think critically, develop their interpersonal and professional communication skills, establish a network of professionals, peers, and mentors, and personalize their experience with involvements in student organizations, semesters abroad, internships, and other opportunities. As such, I view an internship on a similar level as a college education, but in order to make what I believe to be a better point, I will compare a student completing a voluntary internship to a student doing research with a professor.

While some students have the good fortune of being offered a job to do research for a professor, others ask to research alongside a professor on a voluntary basis in order to increase their understanding of the field or because they want to publish. The emphasis on learning trumps the need for financial compensation, and from the experience, the students gain the ability to conduct research academically, more effective writing skills, and a deeper understanding of their chosen subject. The wealth of skills gained from the work should not be taken lightly, and from my perspective, I see them as adequate compensation for the work they perform. Although the professor and the university might receive financial or reputational benefits from the research, these indirect rewards from the student’s work could be taken as the cost of the apprenticeship. In the same light as students paying tuition to learn in the classroom, the fruits of their research could be viewed as the price they pay for all they knowledge and skills they acquire while working under a professor.

Now, as for what sparked my interest in the subject of voluntary internships, I interned at Silverman Sherliker Solicitors in London during my spring semester, and from my experience, I personally witnessed the various outcomes that can be gained from a voluntary internship. Before my first day, I was unsure of what to expect. I had never traveled internationally, yet I decided to go for five months to study and work. Besides expecting to gain a better appreciation and understanding of different cultures, I did not know what else I could reasonably anticipate. After six weeks of working in London, I had already noticed tremendous growth within myself. While I find it difficult to place on paper all that I have gained from my internship, I believe that I can show some of its value by recounting the various assignments that I undertook. Creating a weekly journal of significant moments during my internship has helped me critically reflect on my time with Silverman Sherliker especially when attempting to evaluate the learning outcomes.

While a comparison of my starting point to my ending point might provide a better academic model, I will analyze my internship from a teleological perspective because I believe it to be more fruitful in respect of learning outcomes. My first day, I immediately entered into an uncomfortable environment and was surprised by the organization’s response. When I arrived for my first day of work, I was greeted cordially by the receptionist; however, when I told her that I was there to begin my first day of my internship, she was unaware that anyone was starting that day. After about an hour, I was shown to the department where I would be working for the next twelve weeks, but the confusion showed me that no matter how clear I have communicated with someone, there are always unforeseen events that might arise. I also realized that it is important not to react impulsively in the workplace and that maintaining composure is a great trait to possess. Despite the initial surprise, the rest of my day went much more smoothly.
My first day I only accomplished four tasks, and as I reflect on my journal that day, I feel like it is almost laughable because by the end of my internship, I could have finished all those tasks in less than two hours. Such a drastic change in efficiency reveals that experience matters, and it also points to my strategic thinking style and my Belbin’s team role of resource investigator because over time, I looked for and found ways to accomplish more. As a research investigator, I responded to the challenge of embracing the new culture around me and took a studious approach to my job in order to find ways to better the work that I was producing. I improved greatly during my employment because I was able to find ways to solve the challenges that I faced and did not allow an obstacle to get the best of me. I learned to research solutions and complete projects by myself; while my boss was right next to me, he was inundated with work, so I found it best to be able to apply my past experiences and not bother him with a deluge of questions.

During the first few weeks, I did a lot of copying, couriering, acting as a receptionist, researching legal rules for my boss, and chasing information from the court or our clients. While I was happy to do those tasks, evaluating them shows me that they were all fairly administrative in nature; however, I actually learned a decent amount from them because I would always look for ways to make more out of those activities. For instance, I analyzed and read what I copied, and serving as a receptionist and communicating with the courts and clients helped me practice my professionalism and communication skills. The legal research gave me insight into what the British Civil Procedure rules looked like, but I discovered later that my boss could do that task in five minutes. From his example, I also greatly shortened the time it took me, and as a result, I was able to use my research and apply it to cases.

Improvement as an intern is the key to a quality experience. This lesson was critical for me; when I improved my ability to complete tasks, I was given more legitimate assignments. I moved from the mundane work to the real work that my boss was doing, and from it, I started to really understand British Civil Procedure. I would never have been able to learn as much as I did and complete all the projects that I was given if it were not for my improvement during my twelve weeks there.

After finding an opportunity, I made sure to capitalize on it, which revealed to me the other tool necessary for making the most of a voluntary internship. At the beginning, I did not have many chances to stand out or prove my abilities to my boss, so I actively looked for ways to prove my worth and set myself apart from other interns. My window of opportunity presented itself when I saw my boss stressing about his workload, so I offered my assistance and began working on the disclosure stage for two separate cases. After three full days of working on it, I amassed an index of documents and a summary for the 2500 page case. While it was an overwhelming task, I was able to complete it by the deadline and show my boss that I was up for the challenge. After that week, I noticed a drastic change in the amount of quality work that I was given, and I know the change was directly related to seizing the opportunity that was in front of me.

Making the most of an opportunity and improving each week are the two lessons that will always stay with me from my internship. By following these two lessons, I gained so much more insight into the British legal system, and I will continue to follow them throughout my career. In conclusion, I would like to reconnect my personal experience with that of a student doing research for a professor. As can be seen by my experience, I improved greatly from it. I am now a stronger writer, a more effective communicator, a more efficient and skilled researcher, a student of both the American and British legal systems, and a more experienced global worker. In addition, I had the opportunity to observe solicitors interact with clients and see how legal professionals approached their work each day, and from my experience, I am even more confident that I want to attend law school after graduating from the University of Louisville. While it would have been nice to be paid for the tasks that I performed, the skills and knowledge I received are much more important to me, and I see them as adequate compensation for my time at Silverman Sherliker.

Back Home Again

It has been just over a week since I returned home from the Netherlands. I did not realize that the adjustment of returning would impact me as much as it has. The weirdest thing about it is that after you have been away for a semester traveling and doing all of these awesome things and you finally return home, it almost feels like it was a dream. I feel like I was leaving for The Hague yesterday. Definitely make the most of your time abroad as you will be home before you know it. When you come back, people will ask you how your trip went and about your time abroad, but it is hard to describe a semester in which you have so many experiences. All that comes out of my mouth is, “It was great!” Others who have gone abroad before told me about this feeling before I left but I did not really understand it at the time. But now, I do. Some other tips for you in The Hague, is that it takes a while for professors to post their grades. They are not required to post grades immediately like they are here. But if you email them and explain your situation, they more often than not will help you get your grade back quickly. Also, the exams are often a majority of the grade for the course. Most of mine were between 60-70% of the total grade. So there is a decent amount of pressure to do well on the exam. I recommend not traveling the last few weeks of the semester and dedicate that time to studying for finals. It is hard to believe that the semester of my dreams is finally over. I keep thinking about the work that everyone put in to make it possible, the friends I made, the memories in each city, and the different cultures. It was definitely the best 5 months of my life. I highly recommend studying abroad. Thanks for reading my posts throughout the semester! Feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about my experience abroad.

Chiraag Bhimani

A Few Tips for You

It is hard to believe that within 6 weeks I will be back in Louisville. It feels like just yesterday I was walking into my room at The Hague for the first time. I wanted to share some advice about some of the things that can have an impact on your study abroad experience.

Make a list of the countries/cities that you want to go to: This was one of the first things AJ and I did when we got to The Hague. We have been able to visit 10 countries on our list. The key is to travel early and often. That way, you are not traveling around the end of the semester when final exams and big assignments are due. Save the local areas for the end. Make use of any school holidays you may have. Fortunately, we did not have any tests during the first exam period so we had an extended fall break of about 10 days.

Stay on top of school work: It is important to get work done, even if it means giving up a night out during the week. You do not want to carry your books and notes around on a weekend trip trying to get work done. It is a hassle. Balancing school with traveling is not the easiest thing, but it is important that you do so.

Research the places you are going: By this I mean take an hour or so to look up some info on the places before you get there. Ask friends and family for recommendations on things to do. I have been able to use info from previous posts on this blog by others. You might be able to find a nice local restaurant, bar, or attraction that is not known to tourists. Also, look into events going on in the cities during the time you will be there. You never know if your favorite artist or author may be in town while you are there.

Pack light: Whenever you travel, pack light. Take only what you absolutely need for a few days and leave the rest. Make sure all your liquids are travel sized. I recommend walking whenever you can, you’ll see more of the city that way and you do not want to lug around a heavy backpack.

Be creative in your travel plans: Look into trains, buses, and planes. Buses are often dirt cheap, but the downside is a long travel time. Trains and planes are pretty affordable given that you plan well in advance. Look into other airports around you. Often, the low cost airlines fly out of secondary airports. You can travel to a city one way by train and then return by plane or by some other combination.

That is all I have for now. I will try to add more as I think of them. If you have any questions or comments, let me know and I will get back to you. Thanks for reading!

Chiraag Bhimani