During the Spring semester of my sophomore year, I am glad I got to study abroad at the Université Clermont Auvergne in France. It was a great opportunity to improve my French, travel to new places, and put everything into perspective. Although I will do a post with a more comprehensive reflection of studying abroad, the best part of getting to study abroad was the people. To all the wonderful people I met, and the best friends I made… may we meet again <3
In April, I went to Nice, France and Geneva, Switzerland– alone. So here’s how that went in a nutshell.
Nice, France: My favorite part was the walking tour group I’d signed up for in the first day of the trip. Having a tour guide explain the sights and artistically rich history that Nice had helped me to appreciate everything I saw. It allowed me to explore the city, see the main sites, and add things to my to-see list.
Geneva, Switzerland: Oddly, the greatest parts of this trip ended up being the tour I took of the Palais des Nations where the artwork throughout encapsulated the UN’s history and mission as well as the group of travelers I met in my shared dorm room.
I found that when I was by myself for the entire day, that made me want to stay out from sunrise to sunset doing as many things as possible each day. Being on my own, I found places like cafes, museums, walking tours, and the beach in both Nice and Geneva to be the most fun and conducive to solo travel.
For the first time, I stayed in hostels. It’s certainly a place to sleep, but I will never forget to bring a sleeping mask and earplugs again. Trust me on that one. Overall it was a good experience since I got to meet other travelers. In Nice, I was able to walk everywhere because of the hostel’s central location. In Switzerland, I got to take advantage of the free travel pass provided to tourists who stay at hotels/hostels, so it was easy to get around.
Being alone, people will feel more comfortable approaching you, warranting either harmless situations like people asking you to take their photo or finding yourself needing to get out of that encounter quickly. For me, I think the experience of being able to figure things out on my own ultimately outweighed this step outside my comfort zone and the potential danger of traveling solo.
For the second part of Spring Break, I hopped on a bus and headed to Geneva, Switzerland. Among my favorite parts was learning the history behind the art in the United Nations, seeing the sights like Bain de Pâquis, and meeting people in the hostel I stayed at.
To begin Spring Break, I took a 10 hour Flix Bus to Nice, France (situated on the French Riviera in the South of France), then followed up by taking another bus from Nice’s airport to the train station to find the hostel I’d be staying at for three days.
After settling in, I walked along the shopping avenue to get to the seaside promenade in Nice– the Promenade des Anglais. Central to everything, the Promenade des Anglais stretches several miles along the Mediterranean sea.
Though I’ve traveled by myself before, this was the first time I was without family or friends to go or meet up with to actually visit a place. To adapt to this new experience, I tended to do a lot every day to keep myself occupied. So the following two and a half days, I took a walking tour that magnified my appreciation for I everything I would see in Nice, went to the Musée Des Beaux-Arts, hiked Castle Hill for the views, spent time at the beach, and explored the city markets and cafés.
Walking through the shopping avenues, squares, and by the sea, I could see why Nice had a rich history of writers, painters, and other artists of the like coming to Nice to search for inspiration. This request was certainly fulfilled in the muse of the Promenade des Anglais bustling with tourists, poignantly blue ocean, and the fresh air.
As a U.S. citizen studying abroad, I’m not sure why I expected to feel somewhat removed or foreign from the problems of the United States as I was abroad. But, that’s certainly not the case.
In the revelation that I’m American, I am met with an array of emotions ranging from disbelief to curiosity to judgment. Some find it hard to believe that decency and American can be synonymous. Other’s are curious about American culture, while most of the judgment boils down to the current political climate. Some want to talk about current events, while other’s are more interrogative about President Trump. It’s undeniable that his administration is like none other before. Particularly in the European continent, he has garnered widespread unpopularity– and this sentiment is made known.
My saving grace has been that I’ve been able to engage in these conversations being informed and the conviction that a country’s leader, as is often the case around the world, is not representative of a nation of people. And that the people of the United States are more than what we may be portrayed as. That’s not to take away from the warranted, necessary criticism of the government, but there are individuals and groups throughout the U.S. that are working to make progress in matters such as human rights and the climate crisis.
Of course, it would be even more effective if the government was on board with the people. But if history has taught us anything, activism for the “right thing” often precedes political change. Unfortunately, we must not let ourselves be fooled into believing we’re too small to make change happen, or that just because that’s the way somethings always been, that’s the way something always will be. If we had accepted that way of thinking, we wouldn’t have the progress in human rights that we have so far today.
No matter where we go, the varying political climates of countries matter.
Having been in France for almost 3 months, I’ve observed the Saturday demonstrations that the Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vests) organize. They protest increasing fuel prices and taxes along with other government policies, partially growing out of the mass disapproval of a controversial tax proposed by President Macron that would have increased fuel prices and taxes. Some, especially those held in Paris, have become violent. Protests that continue operate under “anti-elitist” ideals.
The protests in Clermont-Ferrand are present every Saturday but aren’t as numerous as the ones in the capital. Still, military men armed with automatic firearms often patrol the city square (Place de Jaude) and periodically throughout the city.
At first, this constant armed patrolling was alarming. But like the people here, I’ve grown used to it. The narrative that I’ve found most French people I’ve talked to buy into and reinforce is that the military is here for their protection and that although the demonstrations are laudable, they have spiraled out of control in terms of violence. There also seems to be a sizeable disconnect between the typical French person and their President. Many have described him as too elitist to be a president of the people.
Wherever we choose to travel, we will encounter different political climates. Being in France this semester, I have made the conscious decision to stay informed about American politics, but also to orient myself to keep up to date with the local politics of where I’m studying abroad.
In paying attention to France’s political climate, I’ve been able to observe not only France’s problems from an insider’s perspective but also the United State’s issues from an outsider’s angle. Politics is important everywhere as travel will confirm.
Over the winter break, I got to explore Toulouse. A vibrantly colorful city that was bursting with character.
The smell of violets pervaded every rue from the numerous shops and markets dedicated in its honor. Public squares and parks sprinkled throughout the city provided pockets of oasis from the whir of cars. Buildings of all different shades of pink being completely transformed by the time of day. And
Let’s talk about the sheer volume and surprising recreation of parks in France. There are food, rides, playgrounds, grass areas to sunbathe or picnic, and people at all times of the day to populate the parks.
The parks in France is just one of several examples of the widespread importance placed on simply enjoying nature. Parks can provide an oasis amid the incessant nature of the city. As a newcomer to France, I’ve been to the park almost every day, as it is the perfect place to talk with friends, relax, eat, and are gems in new cities.
Maybe this newfound discovery comes from the normalcy of the hassle of getting to parks. Where parks are not a part of the daily routine, but instead a place to hike occasionally. One aspect of life I’ve truly enjoyed here is the return to parks in daily life. If I cannot be by the sea, then the beauty of nature’s green can suffice.
and sometimes… it’s astounding how much comfort street art, that looks eerily similar to Mojo JoJo, can provide.
Almost taking the wrong train, lugging a heavy suitcase up numerous flights of stairs, struggling to enroll, and accidentally walking 1 hour to reach a grocery store are the sorts of things that make up the bulk of my experience thus far,
Studying abroad has presented more challenges than I planned for, but I’m lucky to have a support system in my family (especially my Mom of whom I call too many times to count) and friends– new and old.
My favorite moments have been spent exploring the city’s square– Place de Jaude (mall), making new friends, and the small victories en français.