Mes pensées sur l’Université Bordeaux-Montaigne – rien dont s’enorgueillir

Au printemps 2017, j’ai eu l’insigne honneur de faire partie d’un programme d’échange universitaire entre l’Université d’Oklahoma et l’Université Bordeaux-Montaigne. Mon séjour en France était une expérience inoubliable à bien des égards, et, dans l’ensemble, je l’ai aimé. Néanmoins, j’ai été choqué et atterré par ce que j’ai trouvé à l’université.

Je veux commencer par dire que j’ai aimé tous mes professeurs (ou, plus précisément, ceux dont je n’ai pas supprimé les cours). Ils étaient tous sympa et m’ont beaucoup aidé, surtout ma professeur de géographie politique, qui est allée bien au-delà de mes attentes pour m’aider. (J’irais même jusqu’à dire que son cours était le seul dont j’ai appris quelque chose d’utile.) Pourtant, j’ai quitté la France en étant complètement convaincu de la supériorité de l’enseignement supérieur américain.

Peut-être les défauts que j’ai remarqués à l’université sont dus à mon point de vue d’étudiant américain. Il n’empêche que les différences (voire les différends) sont extrêmement inquiétantes.

Le nœud du problème provient de la philosophie d’enseignement française qui exige beaucoup d’apprentissage par cœur tout en minimisant l’importance de la pensée critique. J’ai suivi trois cours d’histoire du monde arabe dans lesquels le professeur prêchait sans cesse deux heures interminables durant. À part les questions que la classe posait au professeur, il n’y avait pas de discussion. Le prof parlait, on écrivait ce qu’il disait et ce qui était écrit sur les diapositives de ses diaporamas. C’était la même chose dans chacun de mes cours.

Mais, vous pensez, on confiait des tâches supplémentaires aux élèves, afin de vérifier leurs progrès, non ? Grosso modo, non. Pour chaque cours (et pour la plupart des étudiants il y en avait une quinzaine, généralement avec une seule séance de deux heures par semaine), il y avait une petite rédaction de deux ou trois pages, à peu près. Et un exposé oral (ou, dans les cours de langue, un entretien). Et peut-être un examen final. Pour le semestre entier. Oui, oui…c’est tout. Il n’y avait presque jamais de devoirs (j’ai fini par me confier des devoirs afin que j’aie pu avoir l’impression de faire quelque chose). Même les tâches écrites ne requéraient qu’une analyse superficielle de la question dont il s’agissait (il s’avère très difficile de dire quelque chose de profond avec une limite de trois pages). Pour réussir, on n’a qu’à mémoriser tout par cœur pour les examens finaux. On n’apprend pas, on ne comprend pas. On recrache.

J’ai connu des étudiants d’arabe en troisième année qui ne pouvaient guère formuler une phrase complète en arabe. Une amie à moi qui étudie l’arabe et qui est également allée à Bordeaux il y a plusieurs ans m’avait prévenu du piteux état du programme d’arabe, mais jamais je n’aurais imaginé la mesure dans laquelle elle avait raison. Je me demandais constamment comment on en est arrivé là.

Une pote américaine à moi à Bordeaux m’a dit qu’elle ne reviendrait jamais en France étudier parce que « I love myself too much to do that ». J’abonde dans son sens.

Some non-academic things I learned in Bordeaux

Studying abroad isn’t just an opportunity to take classes elsewhere – it’s a chance to experience life in a different corner of the world. Here are some of the things I learned outside of my courses while in France.

1. Relearning to count

Counting may seem simple, but it really isn’t. Especially when it involves floors. You see, every time I leave the United States I forget that the ground floor isn’t also the first floor. The “first floor” in Europe is what Americans would call the second floor. This isn’t necessarily a big deal unless you spend the first two weeks of your time in France trying to go to your apartment on the (French) third floor, but end up walking down the hallway of the second floor, which for some reason seems to you like the third floor, given that it is the third level off the ground. But alas, the actual third floor is the fourth floor off the ground. Bizarre.

2. Smiling is bad

When I went several years back to get my US passport photo taken, I was told it would be better not to smile for the photo. However, upon being told by the unfortunate man at the post office taking my picture that my non-smiling face makes me look angry and drunk, he let me smile for the picture that I eventually sent in.

The French are much less tolerant of smiles for naturally inebriated-looking faces like mine. I was warned upon my arrival at my university in Bordeaux that for any official photo in France, smiling was strictly prohibited. Hence, I ended up having some very drunk-looking official photos (except for my Bordeaux transit system card, where I look like a bewildered owl caught off guard by the flash of a camera in the middle of the night).

3. American taxes are stupid

That’s a pretty blunt statement, but it’s true. In France, tax is included in all the prices of every good you buy. Thus a book that costs twelve euros means I pay exactly twelve euros at the register, not something closer to thirteen. What a shocking concept!

4. I love American sidewalks

The paths I walked going from my apartment to my classes were mostly made of gravel, or were simply dirt paths whose vegetation had been crushed by human feet over the course of many years. Now, while that doesn’t necessarily seem too bad, when it rained 80% of the time I was in France, you can understand why my feet, shoes, and pants longed to be back in Oklahoma, where I can walk to class without ever leaving paved pathways. The French, outside of downtown sidewalks and some suburban sidewalks paved with asphalt, were very minimalist with their pathways in a way I rarely appreciated.

5. Sitting on the grass on a nice afternoon is a good idea

On nice, warm afternoons, Bordelais will flock en masse to the city’s public spaces, especially the jardin publique, to enjoy reading a book or talking with friends while sitting on the grass under the warm sun. I took a liking to this tradition and went out to parks with a book every day there was nice weather (which, granted, wasn’t too often).

French Culture Shock

I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Europe, and France specifically, is not the United States. In my opinion, that couldn’t be a better. While I’ve been abroad, I’ve been reminded that, when people think rationally and work to construct a society that rests on values like conservation and rationality, things work really well. Here in France, the priority is not work, but rather leisure and enjoyment. Meals last as long as you want, the workday lasts as long as there is work to be done… the only downside is that there aren’t really stores open 24-hours, but I’ve survived. I’ve also realized that there’s far less sugar in things in Europe. Despite a focus on food that many Americans might abuse in a cultural sense, the French relationship with food focuses on quality ingredients and a healthy balance of caloric intake and excercise. It is no wonder to me that there aren’t really many overweight people in France. The understanding of food is just a bit different.

There are certainly some things about French culture that have been a bit hard to adjust to. First of all, there is no ice. Anywhere. I am someone that really enjoys an ice-cold beverage, and the only place that seems to serve them is Starbucks. I’ve went to the one in Paris more times than I’d care to admit. There’s also sufficiently less air-conditioning, and it may just be that I run a temperature a bit above the normal Frenchmen, but I’d rather be outside than inside most of the time when it comes to climate control. The thing that has been the most uncomfortable for me has been the incessant propensity for smoking. I would never say that Americans are more healthy than the French, but there is certainly not a widespread belief that smoking is an activity meant to be avoided. I am shocked by the amount of pollution in cities like Paris that come from discarded cigarette butts.

However, other than that, I can’t fault France for much, especially because this week my president decided to walk away from the Paris Climate agreement while Machron stood up to Putin about the Russian state media’s influence (among other things). Machron has even gone so far as to invite American climate scientis to France in order to continue their work in an environment hospitable to their work (pun included). One last thing about French culture that I’ve found to be interesting is their relationship with the language. I am a novice of French, but I have learned enough to be somewhat functional in a bakery or similar place. That being said, without fail, the owner of the shop switches to ENglish when they hear my American accent. The French language is not to be mauled by foreigners, especially not by one that has only learned a few phrases for the purpose of the trip. THe message is kind yet clear: This is our language and our heritage. Either speak it with grace, or don’t speak it at all.

The End

I’m sitting on intercity train number 5970 in car 16, seat number 18. It’s 1:11 and the train is scheduled to depart at 1:25 for Paris Bercy. I took my debate final this morning, cleaned my room, fought with the cleaning lady, returned my key, and drug my suitcases to the train station across town. I have with me one large suitcase weighing 49 pounds, one large duffle bag weighing 45 pounds, a backpack weighing 30 pounds, and a purse.

When I arrive in Paris at 5:00 pm I’ll attempt to use Über for the first time (I know, I’m behind the times) to get from the Gare de Bercy to my hotel near Charles de Gaulle Airport. My flight is tomorrow Saturday June 4 at 11:25 am. I’m flying to Dallas where my family will pick me up and we’ll all drive back to Oklahoma.

My forearms are exhausted and are throbbing. My hands are red and raw from the suitcases and my back is sore. I’m not exactly excited but I’m not sad either. I feel like I’m on autopilot just completing the tasks I need to complete in order to get from A to B.

Right now when I think about going home I see it as a positive thing. I’ll eat Cool Ranch Doritos, get to see my family, and play with my cat. I have plans to hang out with some friends. Overall, home should be cool. I think I’ll miss the independence that I have here. It’s going to be weird to return to my hometown of Moore, Oklahoma where I know most of the people. It’s going to be weird to see people I went to elementary school with. I guess I like it here because I can walk around without seeing people I know or I can go see friends. If I want to hop over to the grocery store I can do it without talking to anyone, which is nice. Back home I won’t have to walk everywhere (boy do I miss driving) but there’s something special about walking to the corner store or cutting through the park to get a kebab.

I’m going to be frank- I’ve had a weird relationship with France during my time here. It’s kind of crazy. I’ve gone through phases where I love it here, then I hate it here. France is awesome, then it’s awful. I’ve met people that are extremely helpful and kind, and I’ve also met people who are so incredibly rude it’s astounding. I think at the end of my study abroad experience I’ve landed somewhere in the middle. France is cool and there aspects of life here that I enjoy, and then there are things that I can’t wait to get away from. I’m glad I came here. I’ve undoubtedly improved my French, made some good friends, and eaten a lot of good food (with good wine of course).

It’s now 1:35 and the train has yet to leave the station- it’s been delayed, most likely due to the country-wide strikes. I think this pretty much perfectly sums up how things work in France.

UPDATE:

My train had to take a longer route and arrived an hour and a half late. I successfully took an Über and my driver Jamel was a really nice French-Tunisian guy. It was a 45 minute ride so it wasn’t cheap, but I was worth it to avoid the chaos that is Parisian public transport at the moment. I’m now sitting in my hotel room. I took a shower, bought a delicious burger from a food truck, and I’m about to watch Netflix and drink some wine.

 

 

See ya later France, it’s been real.

Let’s Talk About Drinking

Drinking can be a great way to hang out with friends, see the city, and even meet some new people. However, it’s not without problems. Questions of health and safety should be addressed before a student considers going out. Drinking as it relates to study abroad is an incredibly important and unjustly taboo subject. Here are my tips based on my personal experience from my year abroad in Europe.

  1. Don’t go home alone

I’m not saying you shouldn’t leave the club without a hookup; I’m saying go out with a pal and a plan. I don’t go out unless I have a “buddy”. We both agree not to leave without the other person and to NEVER  let each other walk home alone. I’m studying in Clermont-Ferrand, France. I can honestly say that this city feels very safe (though I’m usually a safety-nut) and scary situations are not the norm here. It’s a college town, much like Norman and there are plenty of bars and nightclubs that cater to students. Despite all of this, it only takes one bad experience to realize that being drunk and alone in the early hours of the morning on a dark street is a terrible idea. Having a designated going-out buddy helps to keep you safe and you always have someone to grab a kebab with before heading home.

 

  1. Know Yourself (Drake reference)

Coming from a country where the legal drinking age is 21 and my university campus is officially “dry” means that my experience with alcohol consumption as a 19 year-old was relatively limited. I would recommend that students test the waters first. Starting out with beer or cider (which is basically adult apple juice) can help you to realize your limits. Besides, you can slowly increase your consumption until you find your limit but you can’t take back those tequila shots that seemed like a great idea at the beginning of the night. Most evenings out in my experience go like this: pre-gaming (whether at home or at a friend’s place) followed by a trip to a bar or club. Being too drunk before you even head out to the club is absolutely awful and your night will probably end early.

 

  1. Money matters

A lot of places here in France have a minimum amount you have to spend if paying by card. Paying with cash is usually much easier and you can physically see how much you’ve spent that night. I usually take a limited amount of cash with me for safety and to ensure that I don’t regret spending too much on alcohol. (Sidenote: alcohol is expensive, especially at a bar.) I usually prefer to buy less expensive alcohol (like Sangria, wine, or Desperados) so that I don’t buy as much when I’m out and about.

 

  1. Bread is your BFF

A baguette of considerable size costs .35 cents at the grocery store. If alcohol is a car, bread is the breaks and the suspension. Having a full stomach can help control the rate of inebriation and makes for an all-around smoother experience. Seriously, please eat.

 

  1. Be able to say no

Everyone handles alcohol differently and what’s right for some isn’t right for others. If you’re going out several times a week and find that you’re not sleeping well, you’re consistently hungover, you’re missing classes or neglecting homework then you need to start reevaluating the place that partying has in your life. It can be super tempting to go out on Tuesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday but the party will still be there. Staying home because you need the sleep or you have an upcoming presentation is absolutely acceptable and you’re not missing out. Your friends will understand. Not everyone can stay out until 5 am and be ready for an 8:15 class, much less do this multiple times a week.

 

Drinking and going out is an awesome part of the study abroad experience, and some of my favorite memories are from nights out with my friends. However at the end of the day, you are there to study and to learn. If you’re going abroad, it’s probable that you’ll drink. The key is to be informed, self-aware, and safe.

No Anglophones, Please.

I have a confession to make. There was an oft-repeated phrase that I’d heard countless times before I came to France for my year abroad. My confession is that I too was guilty of thinking this way and I’d uttered the phrase countless times. “I’m going to avoid Americans. I only want to make French friends.” Wow. These words evoke a much different feeling in me now than they did before September 1st. The idea behind this phrase is awesome. I wholeheartedly believe that in order to be successful while studying abroad one must integrate into the host culture. Having friends who are native to your host country is super helpful and can be an enriching experience. The reality is unfortunately rather harsh. You can’t be choosey. Sorry. Here’s how things really go down when you arrive in a new city in a foreign country: Everything is a whirlwind. It’s normal to initially regret leaving home. Feeling like “Oh my gosh, why did I come here” is actually really common. Then you meet people. Lots of international students arrive within the same week and it’s not uncommon for a large number of international students to live in the same residence. Basically, the first friends you make might be Spanish, German, Finnish, Mexican, or even American. These students are looking for friends just like you and they’re just as lost. My advice is to help people out. Show some people where the grocery store is, help them get their documents together if you have good language skills, or invite everyone for pizza so they have a reason to leave their room. Then after a few weeks the friend groups are really solidified. If you’re in a foreign country to learn the language then, surprise, you won’t have classes with natives. You will meet natives on the street, in restaurants, in nightclubs, and sometimes at school. Depending on the country in which you study you’ll have varying degrees of success in maintaining these friendships. Don’t get discouraged- just keep making an effort in your target language and you’ll see results in no time! Having friends from all over the world is one of the best things that results from studying abroad. I’m so glad that I ditched the “no Americans” attitude and let friendships happen. I have American friends from Georgia, Kansas, and New Jersey who’ve helped me to feel at home here in Clermont-Ferrand. I also have made friendships with English-speaking students from Turkey, Ireland, Wales, Greece, The Czech Republic, China, and so many other countries. The perspective that comes along with diverse friendships has further broadened my worldview and added immensely to my study abroad experience.   Basically, don’t sweat about making certain types of friends while abroad. Things will happen organically as long as you keep an open mind.

Travel: Szia Budapest!

Budapest and Prague had always been places I’d love to visit and I made it a priority to see them while I’m studying abroad. I managed to convince my friend Jill to go with me during a week-long break.

The trip began on a Sunday morning with our departure point of course being Clermont-Ferrand. We decided to take a bus all the way from France to Hungary as this seemed like the least expensive option. The bus ride was… interesting. We used the company “Eurolines” and I honestly would not recommend doing the same unless you love adventure. We drove around France for around 7 hours until we ended up in Lyon (which is usually a 2 ½ hour direct trip). Once we’d reached the bus station in Lyon an employee approached us and asked where we were headed. We proudly told him we were headed to Budapest and subsequently learned that we had to get off the bus. Apparently we had a layover in Lyon that we didn’t know about. The ticket office was closed so there was no one to ask which bus we needed to take next. I called the company and they told me that this would be our last bus change and after this our route would be direct. Okay, no big deal. We waited for 30 minutes and the office finally opened. There we got a boarding pass for our next bus. After 30 more minutes of waiting our bus was supposed to leave in a few minutes but was nowhere to be found. We asked the drivers of the waiting busses (we had to ask in English as none of them spoke French) and they didn’t know where our bus was. Our bus finally arrived and we were off!

Somewhere along the way we met Grandma. At one of the stops a man boarded with an elderly woman. She had trouble walking and she seemed to be at least 90 years old. Jill offered her seat to the man who refused, saying that he was simply helping his mother who was travelling alone. An hour or so later the woman offered Jill some mint candy. I was peeling an orange and I decided to give it to the woman. We eventually started talking with her and she was really nice; the only problem was that she was speaking a foreign language and understood no English at all.  We decided to adopt her as our grandma and watched over her for the rest of the trip. We had another changeover in Strasbourg so we took Grandma’s bags and helped her off the bus. While we were waiting we decided to figure out what language she was speaking. We flashed “Hello” at her in several different languages with the Google Translate app but no cigar. Finally thanks to lots of hand gestures she said something resembling Macedonia and we decided she was in fact Macedonian. The word Vienna sounds similar in Macedonian and so we knew she needed to get off at the Vienna stop. When we reached Vienna we were sad to see her go, but it was pretty cool to make a new Grandma.

On the final leg of the journey to Budapest we were both exhausted and were getting a little delirious. This wasn’t helped by the fact that we were constantly being awoken for passport checks as we traversed various borders. As we left Bratislava and entered into Hungary the bus driver put on a movie. Much to our dismay the movie was The Pink Panther 2…in Hungarian. The whole experience was kind of funny because the woman seated in front of us was washing her hair with body spray, her son was guffawing at the movie (though he didn’t speak Hungarian), and I was going in and out of consciousness from sheer exhaustion.

We finally made it to Budapest after a 27 hour bus ride. First on our agenda was obtaining money we could actually use. We found an ATM after asking for directions in Hungarian/English (Jo Napót! ATM?). Then we bought metro passes from a man who kept laughing at us. We took the metro to the stopped listed on the hostel-given directions and after a short walk we had arrived! The hostel owner was amazing and gave us directions to an authentic Hungarian restaurant after ensuring we had everything we needed. We ate an AWESOME lunch of goulash and pasta and learned how to say thank you in Hungarian. We spent our first day exploring the city on foot and orienting ourselves in the beautiful city.

metro passes! made it to the hostel yum! jill with the food me with the food

The next day we had a free breakfast at the hostel where we met some lovely girls. We planned to meet up later with our new friend Larissa from Holland. We took the metro to the Hungarian National Museum where we figured we could learn a little bit more about Hungarian history. WOW. The museum was so much fun! We learned so much and the artifacts on display were presented in such a neat way. After the museum we were running a little late for our meeting with Larissa so we grabbed some pizza from Pizza King. I’m a bit of a pizza enthusiast and I can say this was the best pizza I’ve ever had. We got pepperoni pizza with corn (it sounds gross, I know) and it was delicious! Two pieces of pizza and a can of Pepsi cost less than 2 euros!

the big bridge the crest of the city overlooking the city breakfast at the hostel in front of the Hungarian National Museum corn pizza

We met Larissa across the bridge and explored the area around Buda castle and an old cathedral. There were men holding falcons and Larissa got her photo taken with a huge fountain! Jill and I decided to take a walking tour which started at 2pm so we had to catch a bus to the meeting point. We got on the bus and almost immediately after the bus filled with a group of at least 30 older women. There wasn’t enough room to move at all! Naturally, my mom called me as I’m squeezed between old Hungarian women, so I told her I didn’t have time to talk.

the falcons selfie the city during a rainstorm on the bus full of old people

We made it to the walking tour on time. It was led by two Hungarian girls who explained the history of the cathedral, the parliament building, and countless landmarks. They gave us lots of info about the modern history of Hungary, which was wonderful as the info was coming from locals. Once we got back to the hostel we were pretty tired! We took showers and napped a bit. During our absence some Turkish guy had moved into the adjacent room. That night they invited us to eat soup with them in the private kitchenette of our apartment. After dinner we went out with Larissa and the Turkish guys, Mücahit (sock buddies) and Canpolat, who are studying abroad in Poland. We had an awesome time and ended the night with some kebabs of course! We got home rather late and ended up sleeping for only about 30 minutes before leaving the hostel at 5 am to catch our bus to Prague!

the cathedral inside the cathedral oh hey Ronald Reagan? in front of parliament casual enjoying Budapest nightlife selfie with mucahit

Travel: Italian Adventure!

When studying abroad in Europe travelling can feel like an obligation- you’re so close to everything! I’ve decided to write a series of posts which will be personal reflections about the trips I’ve taken so far.

Paris/ITALY

I was fortunate enough to have my mom, aunt, and grandmother (hey me-me) come to France for a visit on December 31st. They came to Clermont-Ferrand (my mom’s first time off of the continent!) where I met them at the train station.

We had a few hours in Clermont so I showed them my residence, the city center, and my favorite kebab shop.

PARIS

We then took a train to Paris where we were to spend the next couple of days. We went to an amazing restaurant for New Year’s Eve dinner. We ate foie gras, had champagne, and counted down to midnight in French.

 

Yum! A NYE treat

Yum! A NYE treat

2016 here we come!

2016 here we come!

I showed them around Paris and we saw most of the “must-see” tourist attractions. The following day we went shopping at an outlet mall (my mom’s pick) and we had a lot of fun popping in and out of shops like Diane Von Furstenberg, Burberry, and Longchamp. We ate waffles and European hot chocolate (the kind that is literally just melted chocolate) before having lunch at a cute little café.

Shakespeare & Co. Notre Dame le Tour Eiffel

We took an overnight train to Milan which was absolutely hilarious.

the train to Milan was a tight fit!

the train to Milan was a tight fit!

the cutest person alive

the cutest person alive

The “room” was TINY with enough room for a bunk bed, a sink, two suitcases, and nothing else. We had about six hours in the Milan train station which we spent sitting like zombies in the McDonalds. (my aunt had about 4 cappuccinos) This was the point in the trip where I became unable to communicate in the local language which was bizarre. I’d never been to a country where I wasn’t at least conversationally proficient in the local language and it was messing with my head!

 

BOLOGNA
We hopped a train to Bologna where we spent 2 nights. Bologna was BEAUTIFUL. The city was the least “touristy” city we visited on the trip. I pretty much ate my weight in pizza there. Our guide for the walking tour never showed up (bummer) but, armed with a map and giant coats and scarves, we did get to see some of the major sights.

ascending into Bologna we have arrived it's cold! "take a picture with the menu so we remember the name of the restaurant" arguably the best pizza ever this place had really good snacks

VENICE
We took a day trip via train from Bologna to Venice.

Venice was amazing. Every street looked like a postcard. Lunch in Venice was delicious. I ate seafood pasta and they had lemon Schweppes which became my beverage of choice in Italy.

delicious pasta with fresh seafood

delicious pasta with fresh seafood

We walked across the city (I used google maps and my grandma asked every few minutes “are you sure we’re going the right way?”) and made it to St. Mark’s Square. We toured the waterways of Venice in a speed boat and saw Elton John’s house!

a little bit of rain can't stop us gondolas everywhere this is real life homes of the old merchants of venice

 

FLORENCE

After Bologna we ventured on to Florence. We were all excited to shop for leather in Florence as we’d heard they have some good stuff! Unfortunately my aunt was sick for most of the Florence leg of the trip. (One morning I ran to the pharmacy to get her some medicine only to discover that it was a national holiday and I’d stumbled across the only open pharmacy in the city.) Our hotel was an old monastery and since it was the end of the Christmas season we got to see their nativity collection. We saw il Duomo  and walked around the city for a while.

"okay so just lean a little bit, i'm going to take a picture"

“okay so just lean a little bit, i’m going to take a picture”

We had a morning tour of the Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze where we saw the statue of David! (It was enormous.)

Stradivarius viola owned by the Medici family the David

It was raining for most of our trip but that didn’t stop us! That afternoon my grandmother was tired and stayed at the hotel to take care of my aunt. My mom and I braved the rain and ran (literally ran) across Florence to make it to our next tour. The Uffizi Gallery where we had a 4 hour tour!

this painting is all original except for the bottom right panel which is in the Louvre selfie with the Birth of Venus The Birth of Venus only finished painting done by Michelangelo to survive-- The Holy Family this place is huge! Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca this room was really fancy

That night we shopped until we dropped at H&M and finished the evening with a spaghetti dinner where the Russian tourists next to us stared at us the entire time.

Our last day in Florence was spent shopping for leather purses and wallets!

 

ROME

Next stop: ROMA!
Thankfully, my aunt was much better and well rested for Rome. We took a bus to Vatican City for a day-long tour. We saw St.Peter’s Basilica, were blessed in the Sistine, and saw lots of nuns.

 

rome at night ready to take on the city! busts inside of the Vatican what a view 20160108_093008 20160108_093023 20160108_093258 intricate tiles on the floor 20160108_093958 20160108_102932 St. Peter's Basilica St. Peter's Basilica St. Peter's Basilica Pope John XXIII

Our Colosseum tour didn’t pan out (another bummer) but we got to see lots of ruins and the Trevi Fountain!

the Colosseum a gate near the Colosseum the Colosseum detail ancient forum ruins the Trevi Fountain the Trevi Fountain selfie time make a wish! me-me contemplating the fountain Saluti!

POMPEII
We got up super early the next day and took a guided tour of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Our guide, Davide (pronounced Dah-vie-day), shuttled us, an Irish couple, and two Filipino girls across Italy to the site of the ruins at Pompeii. The guide at Pompeii was excellent and we learned a lot about the lives of the ancient people who lived there. (This part wasn’t really my mom’s thing, but it’s a must-see for history buffs!)

i found a cat inside the town square it was hot but we were learning a lot! primitive refrigerators for vats of wine at the site of an ancient wine bar cool steps ancient spa/bath house preserved artifacts columns preserved artifacts town square town square

 

POSITANO

Then we all squeezed back into the van (I was sitting on the six-inch space between Davide and the passenger seat…) and headed to Positano! If you haven’t heard of Positano, you’re missing out on a truly beautiful place. The homes, beached, and storefronts are unlike any other place in the world. We had a lunch mishap (the restaurant was closed, another restaurant made us wait 45 minutes and didn’t even take our order) but we ended up having a slice of pan pizza (and schweppes of course) at a cute little restaurant with a view. I bought an orange and a lemon (specialties of the region) which were both delicious.

citrus fruits! wow selfie stop taking in the views citrus growers found an Italian flag! walking through town beach views at the beach cool tiles i found another cat My mom loved the beach in Positano! Limoncello

AMALFI

The next stop was Amalfi. Amalfi was incredible. It’s such a unique place with a really relaxed vibe. We tasted limoncello from a local producer, had some delicious lemon gelato, and took in the seaside views before heading back to Rome.

Limoncello producer in Amalfi "let's take a selfie with the gelato" -my mom Amalfi nice view our tour guide Davide and the Irish couple that was with us

The next morning I said goodbye to my family at the Rome airport and boarded a plane to Lyon.

boarding the plane "window seat"
Overall, I had an awesome trip and i’m so glad i got to see Italy with some of my family!

 

The next travel post should be about my trip to Barcelona and Sitges. Until then!

13 Signs You Might Be an OU Student Abroad

1. You can still count on OU Mass Mail to send you ~12 emails a day.
•shout-out to Kasra Ahmadi, Crimson Park, and Aspen Heights

2. You get Facebook invites to cultural events every week.
•Diwali, dance shows, cultural nights, and so much food.

3. You basically live in Traditions because of all the snap story parties you’ve virtually attended.
•except that because of the time difference you see everything like half a day later.

4. You still dream of the caf.
•Can you swipe me in from across the Atlantic?

5. Social media on game day makes you feel like you’re there- without all the parents and litter.
•BOOMER!

6. Other libraries just don’t compare- the Biz still holds a special place in your heart.
•Booking a study room in the basement makes for a chill Sunday writing essay after essay.

7. You walk the campus on Google Street View sometimes.
•It’s not weird.

8. Not even a french café can compare to chilling on the Starbucks terrace with your best pals.
•Friendsickness is real.

9. You almost miss the dorms…almost.
•the community, the togetherness, loud neighbors at 3 am…

10. You get the Bursar bill and it reminds you that college is expensive.
•Are there any 2 year majors that I could get for 1/2 price?

11. You question how you’re ever going to get these courses equated
•Cultural History is basically the same thing as Advanced French Composition… right?

12. You miss being able to wear Nike Shorts without people staring at you
•I understand the variations in cultural norms that are expected when abroad but seriously, I miss wearing whatever I want.

13. Breakfast at Cate Main
•Avocado Bravo.

5 Things to Know Before Studying Abroad

Before I came to France I was so excited! I was ready to travel Europe, make lifelong friendships, become fluent in French, and become independent. The truth about studying abroad is a little different. Don’t get me wrong- it’s still awesome, but there are some things that no one tells you.

 

1. You’ll watch a lot of Netflix

Assuming the country to which you’re travelling has Netflix (although VPNs solve that issue) you’ll probably find yourself watching The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Adventure Time, and/or a ton of documentaries. I didn’t want to be someone who travels abroad and then sits at home instead of going out to meet people, but here’s the thing: you’re going to have downtime and sometimes you won’t have the energy to go out. That’s totally okay.

 

2. Meeting people is tough!

I’ve met a lot of really cool people here, both French and international, but it wasn’t so easy. The best way to meet people in my experience is to hang out in common areas, make small take with those around you, and go out. Going out is probably the best way to meet new people in your new city. You don’t have to drink to go to bars with people (most bars have great non-alcoholic beers and cocktails) and you don’t have to like dancing to go to a party. With such a variety of people from so many places there’s bound to be several people who like what you like, you just have to seek them out.

 

3. It’s hard not to be a zombie.

I now have a working French phone number so this isn’t as big of a problem as it was when i first arrived.  A lot of my time upon arrival and for about the first month thereafter was spent hunting for WiFi. In the US I like WiFi as much as the next college student but when studying abroad it can feel like a lifeline! It’s really important to stay in contact with family and friends but i found that i was spending a little too much time staring at my phone trying to connect. Monitoring technology use can make the difference between just living abroad and truly integrating into your new city.

 

4. Your support system is thousands of miles away

This has been huge for me. I was the last person i thought would be homesick. I’ve been to France twice before and i managed well without my family and friends; however, being away for so long is a whole different story. Being in a foreign country for 10 months without my family and best friend is way harder than i imagined. I can’t grab Starbucks and gossip with my friends, or go to eat Mexican food with my mom, or see my sister and play with my nephew. I’m so thankful to have this opportunity and i’m glad i’m doing this, but i wasn’t prepared for homesickness. I talk to my mom almost everyday and I get pictures and videos of life back home and that’s been really nice.

 

5. Most things are a challenge

Once again, this one kind of hit me all at once. Since i’m in a foreign country I can’t just drive somewhere if i need something, I have to do everything for myself (grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry) and while i’ve done these things before it’s just weird to have only the financial assistance of my mom and not her actual presence. There were so many things I didn’t think about such as: buying toilet paper, trash bags, dish soap, and a sponge; preparing to pay a semester’s worth of rent in a foreign language (when the lady is rattling off numbers in french); and trying to get a cell phone and bank account. So many things are just more difficult when navigating a foreign language and culture shock but it’s really cool when you can look at what you’ve accomplished on your own.

 

 

Basically, studying abroad can be really challenging but it’s totally worth it. Dealing with new challenges, meeting new people, and exploring a new city/country/continent is awesome!