Bye, France

After nearly two months, I left France this morning, and it was quite an emotional departure. This study abroad experience has brought out the sentimental side of me. Believe it or not, I’m not much of a crier at all, and my travels have been reason for a handful of bittersweet crying sessions. I was sad to leave France today, and I choked up after leaving my Parisian host family. Thankfully, I haven’t gotten emotional over a lot of genuinely sad circumstances during my summer study abroad experience.

My friend’s mom drove me to the Nice airport, which is relaxing and peaceful. She walked me right up to the security checkpoint, wished me luck, and headed out once I made it through the shockingly easy security process, which didn’t involve jacket or shoe removal. The employee was friendly and applauded my French speaking abilities. Who would have thought friendly airport workers existed, let alone in France, where most people don’t really go the extra mile to be nice to anyone?

I had an easy flight to Rome, but I was sad to leave France. I’m disturbed by the lack of Francophone culture in Italy. It scares me to hear Italian, which is all Greek to me. I miss speaking French so much already, and I’ve done so by accident in Rome. I respond to all the Romans in French, whether I like it or not. Many of the Romans speak French, so I’ve been able to at least pretend I’m still in France. I don’t really know how to handle not speaking French. It’s a culture shock already.

Rome is so gorgeous. Italy seems much different than France. Rome is grander and much more beautiful, but I’ll always have a place in my heart for dirty, corrupt Paris. I prefer Cannes, of course, but I actually lived in Paris for a while, so I feel like I know the area a tiny bit.

It’s hard to be away from home right now. I’m currently really, really disappointed about a certain situation at UA. Yes, it’s about a boy. Even from across the country, I’m unsatisfied and a little broken hearted. It goes to show that your problems will always follow you regardless of how far you travel. It’s easy for me to write about in here because I know certain friends will empathize with me. As Sylvia Plath said in The Bell Jar, travel will not eliminate unpleasant emotions. Hopefully, tomorrow’s voyage to Florence will at least give me some time to think.

I miss Cannes, and I miss my host family. It’s going to be really, really difficult to leave Europe. Only then will it hit me that I may never again live in France.

The Most Fantastic French Family Ever

In case you haven’t read my previous entries, I’m currently staying with my friend’s family in Cannes, France. Cannes is home to the well-known Cannes Film Festival, and it’s a popular beach town in the south of France. As I said before, it’s France’s version of southern California without all the bleached blond, fake tanned, plastic surgery addicted women.

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Yesterday, the mom gave me a tour of the different beaches, and Cannes as a whole felt very nineties to me. There are lots of light pink/salmon colored walls everywhere, and the ocean side restaurants seem to be pretty old. There’s a lot of charm to Cannes, not to mention history. Apparently, Napoleon walked from Golfe Juan to Paris in 1815. I’ve really grown to love Bonaparte, all thanks to my summer French class.

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The family is one of the nicest I’ve met in my entire life. They’re hands down the warmest people I’ve encountered in France, and you know what’s ironic? They’re technically not French. Her dad is French born Algerian and her mom is Italian. I don’t want to be rude or anything, but I don’t know if it’s possible for the French to be as friendly and outgoing as this family. Even the mom agreed that she hates that people in France are so unfriendly. She’s very pro-American because of the candor in the States.

After a long walk on the beach, I went with the family to their family reunion gathering. The dad has 11 siblings, so there was tons of noise and lots of talking. I felt so welcome with everyone. They asked me lots of questions, invited me into their family pictures, and repeatedly complimented me on my French. I felt like I was back in the States again. I really haven’t felt this comfortable with a group of people since I left the US. There’s just an inexplicable cold feeling I got from most French people. They’re not rude as they’re stereotyped, but they’re not warm, and these people were very warm.

They gave me Nutella to eat, even though I refuse to be that much of a fat American. They also gave me a bunch of postcards of the different parts of Cannes.

It truly feels relieving to finally be with happy, outgoing people. I just didn’t feel this kind of warmth and sense of welcome in Paris. It’s very difficult to explain. You can’t smile on the Paris metro because you don’t want anyone to think you’re flirting. With that, there are no discreet “hello’s” or “how are you’s” on the street. I really missed being with genuinely happy people.

I definitely want to come back to Cannes. The family is sad that I could only stay for three days, but they assured me that I’m welcome to come whenever I want.

They remark on all the differences in France and the US. The mom can’t believe that there aren’t very descriptive cards in France. In the US, we have birthday cards for uncles, aunts, sisters, mothers, etc., and in France, the birthday cards simply say, “Happy Birthday” without any more detail. It makes her sad because she would like to buy a card with a poem inside, but it’s not possible in France. I noticed the same thing when I couldn’t find “thank you” notes in France. It’s hard enough to find cards. None of the Arizona in Paris students could find greeting cards anywhere. Ava and I got lucky to come across the cards at a cheesy Parisian merchandise store by our house. Otherwise, we couldn’t even find greeting cards at the Monoprix or the Supermarche.

This family is truly the nicest I’ve come across in this country, and oddly enough, they’re not originally from France, and they don’t even really like France. I felt more comfortable with them in two days than I did with anyone during my entire six-week stint in Paris, where I was constantly walking on eggshells and wondering if I was unintentionally being rude just by being myself.

I love the way this family reacts to me. They make fun of me in a really nice way. The mom was like, “You’re so white! You blind me!” and the other family members thought I was British because I’m so pale. They laughed at me for ordering a club sandwich at l’Up, a French restaurant, and they can’t believe that a Californian could be as white as me. I love it, though. They’re the only people that know how to tease in a very friendly, fun, non-judgmental way. They’re very family oriented, too. I don’t want to leave!

France has made me a lot more assertive. I’m much more likely to ask for help than I was before, mostly because I don’t want to risk being screwed over and confused in another country. I ran into a few problems at the train station, and even though I figured I could solve the issues on my own, I asked half a dozen people for help, and I ended up on the right train as a result. I’ve just learned that it’s better to be annoying than to be lost. Going abroad will teach you to reach out to strangers for help, regardless of how moronic you sound.

Au Revoir Paris, Bonjour Cannes et l’Italie!

I’m no longer in Paris, France.

Yesterday, I walked through the Notre Dame area, bought gifts for friends and family, and then had my final Arizona in Paris group event. The group met up by Pont Neuf and ate at La Contrescarpe. I had an incredible vegetarian salad, a too-soft piece of salmon, and amazing chocolate. Afterward, the group took a boat tour on the Seine. Half of the group broke out into song, and annoyed tourists from other European countries could only scold my fellow UA classmates for so long before laughing.

We went out to the American Cocktail bar for the last time, and Ava and I went home before 2 a.m. We got up early and my host dad saw me off.

I had some drama retrieving my TGV ticket at the Gare de Lyon, but once I asked for help, I found out that it’s normal for the ticket machines to reject ticket confirmation numbers if the ticket was purchased with an American credit card. That would have been nice to know beforehand. Good thing I got to the train station early.

To kill my five-hour train ride to Cannes, I read through The Reader and three magazines, US Weekly, Look, and Elle, none of which really captured my interest. I’m tired of reading about Michael Jackson and his bizarre parental decisions, and I wasn’t that captivated by Elle’s story on Emma Watson’s wardrobe. I just thought I’d immerse myself back into US culture.

I’m staying with my French UA friend’s family in Cannes. My friend couldn’t make it to Cannes this summer, but her family was eager to invite me over for a few days.

I’ll post pictures soon. Cannes is absolutely gorgeous. I felt right at home as soon as I drove past the beach. Cannes is like the French version of San Diego. It’s a hot tourist spot like Paris, but fewer people speak English. It doesn’t see nearly the amount of American tourists as Paris. I feel like I’m back in California. I love the scent of the ocean, and the cliffs are beautiful. A lot of people take advantage of the nude beach. That’s all I’ll say about that.

My friend’s mom is so unbelievably nice. She drove me all around Cannes, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, and the area. We switch from English to French a lot because she speaks English pretty well. This is definitely the most welcoming French family I’ve met in France, although I did love my host family in Paris.

I feel bad for my friend, who is feeling homesick and sad that I’m staying at her house while she’s alone in Tucson. In a way, we switched countries. I felt pretty alone this summer, and I guess she’s experiencing the same thing because most of her friends left Tucson for the summer. We’re both just itching to be with our closest college and home friends.

It feels good to relax in France. I’m definitely a beach person, so I can’t wait to explore it some more tomorrow. I do, however, miss my French host family and their apartment. I teared up on the train over. I have a feeling I’m going to have an intense culture shock when I’m home in seven days.

On the bright side, I’ll eat my favorite Los Gallos burrito, see my dog, and be in California in exactly one week. I’m actually really, really pining for home right about now, mostly because I’d like some familiarity before I can really muse about this summer.

L’orangerie, la Tour Eiffel, Finals, Bye Paris

Now that finals are over, I finally feel like I’m on summer vacation. Last night, I spent a few hours studying for my French film and history courses, but the studying didn’t necessarily pay off in the way I expected. We were given one essay prompt for each course. I liked the film essay question, which asked the students to describe what kind of film directors they’d be. Some students chose to be Avant Garde filmmakers. I said I’d want to make autobiographical films. The essay topic was easy.

We struggled with our second essay question for the history class. We were asked to write about two French quarters. I kind of forgot about those. I was too busy reading up on Saint-Denis, Clovis, Marie Antoinette, Charles de Gaulle, Francois Mitterand, Robert Sorbon, Etienne Marcel, Phillippe Auguste, and a mess of other French historical figures to remember the significance of the Latin quarter in France.

But I figured out a way to answer the question. We all initially struggled with the prompt, but all was well in the end. I’m pretty sure I passed both classes. I’ve decided to take on my older brothers’ “C’s get degrees” mentality when it comes to college. Thankfully, my chosen career path of journalism implicitly looks down on grad school. It’s a good thing I chose a job that prefers work experience to scholarly abilities. I’d be forever SOL if I aspired to be a doctor, professor, dentist, psychologist, or lawyer.

It feels great to be done with classes. I want to keep all my notes. French history is so fascinating to me now. I’ve always loved reading up on WWII, and it’s especially interesting now that I’m in France. I enjoyed learning about it in my history class, at the Invalides, and in the required readings. I’m actually reading Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, which is a complicated love story that takes place in Nazi Germany. I’m really excited to see Brad Pitt’s new film Inglorious Basterds, a WWII movie. France is one of the best places with WWII history and information.

At 3 p.m., everyone met up at l’Orangerie, a museum dedicated to art. I actually loved this museum, even though we’ve been to at least fifty museums throughout this six-week program. I saw art from Gaugin, Urtrillo, Modigliani, Monet, and more. I learned about most of these arts in a past classics course, which I loved as well.

The group had the final activity this evening. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower together. All was right in the world. 030I leave Paris in two days. What will I miss most?

What I’ll Miss About Paris

Nutella Crepes

The Seine

Relaxed Alcohol Laws

The slow city pace

The Metro

How suprisingly friendly and helpful most French people actually are

The lack of filler-conversations

The fact that you can buy beer at McDonalds (not that I ever did)

Berthillon ice cream

Chatelet

Sitting and talking for hours out at dinner

Nutella

FNAC

The tiny sidewalks

Smart cars

Rectangular apartment complexes

My French host family

La Fete de la Musique

La Fete du Cinema

What I Won’t Miss

Average customer service

The fact that everything shuts down on Sundays

The low water intake

The dirty metro conditions

Creepy, overly forward European men

The nostril-stinging scent of cheese in every grocery store

Eating too much ham and bread

Unpredictable weather

Humidity

Men with no chivalry

Rude taxi drivers

Overall, Paris has been a great experience. I got different things out of this trip than I expected, and I learned a lot about myself. I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling group. Even though I wouldn’t go on every single group outing, I liked everyone in the program. We’re lucky that we can all hang out in the fall, when we get back to school. I definitely miss my college and D.C. friends right about now, however. In good time, we can all catch up.

Would I recommend this program? Yes, but with precaution. This program isn’t for everyone. It’s not a typical study abroad experience where the education is generally (so I’ve heard) light. Most students who go abroad for a semester have much more free time than the Arizona in Paris program allows for. If you want a fast-paced, stressful-but-exciting Parisian experience, the Arizona in Paris program is a decent selection. If you truly want to be immersed into another culture, study abroad somewhere else for a semester.

I’d be really grateful to do a semester abroad, and I may actually look into this possibility. If I could do it all over again, I’d still remain in this program, mainly because I liked my UA life too much to put it on hiatus for a semester. In the end, though, you will get a fuller study abroad experience if you stay in a place for several months.

Regardless, I know I’ll feel good to be home in nine days.

Entry from July 8, Places Visited, Classes, Art, History

8 juillet 2009

I have finals tomorrow, so I’m using my brief study break to recall all or most of the famous French monuments and museums I’ve visited during my six-week stint in Paris. Just so you know, I’ve probably seen a lot more than what I’ve listed:

Le Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise (Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where Tim Morrison, Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, George Melies, and many others are buried)

The Catacombs of Paris

La Sainte-Chapelle (Saint Chapelle)

La Conciergerie

La Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo’s house)

La Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower)

La Basilique Saint-Remi de Reims (Saint Remi Basilica in Rheims)

Palais du Tau (Tau Palace)

Le Louvre (The Louvre)

Cathedrale de Reims (Rheims Cathedral/Notre-Dame de Reims)

Air and Space Museum

Normandy

Brittany

Rennes

St. Malo

La Cathedrale de Saint Vincent (Saint Vincent’s Cathedral)

Le Mont-St-Michel (Mount Saint Michel)

Chateau de Vincennes

Le Musee de Jean Moulin (Jean Moulin Museum)

Les Invalides (Lots of military/WWII stuff)

Omaha Beach

Caen

La Basilique de Saint-Denis (Saint Denis Basilica)

Le Pantheon (The Pantheon)

Eglise de la Madeleine (Madeleine’s church)

La Defense

Montmartre

Sacre Coeur

Monet Museum

Holocaust Memorial museum

Notre Dame

L’Arc de Triomphe

La Seine (The Seine)

Place des Vosges

Cluny Museum

St. Michel Fountain

I can’t count the amount of places I’ve visited in this jam-packed six-week academic program. I’ve complained a lot throughout the program, but now that it’s over, I feel incredibly fortunate to know the city of Paris so well.

I walked into the program in hopes of having as much fun as possible. I didn’t think I’d need to take my classes seriously, and in the beginning, my grades suffered. I wouldn’t admit that I was in Paris for academic purposes. To be honest, I’ve wanted to take a year off college for a long time, and this summer had me seriously considering taking fall semester off to just relax. I’ve been at war with academics since I started first grade, but the war will be done when I graduate in May. There’s not much time left in school.

Anyway, this program forced me to learn, and I literally want to bow to Madame for making me work so hard. I feel like I’ve scratched the surface of Parisian history, and I actually enjoyed reading everything. The French Revolution is fascinating, especially when given the opportunity to see Versailles and feel the same disgust that the poor French public must have felt in the late 1770’s. It’s equally interesting to learn about the decapitation of Saint-Denis and proceed to visit the Saint-Denis Basilica, where Marie Antoinette is buried. Last semester, I learned about a Monet painting in my Classics 329 class, and I actually saw it in person at the Monet museum. There’s always the Mona Lisa (or La Jaconde).

Most people don’t realize how rich Parisian history is. When I came here, I assumed I’d be going out every single night and wanting to get the most out of Parisian nightlife. After having that fix, I felt there was more to studying abroad than getting wasted all the time, at least for me. I definitely drank, but I realized for the millionth time that I’m just really bad at being a college student when it comes to alcohol and partying. If I go out, I’ll make it count. I refuse to sacrifice a good night’s sleep for a so-so evening out at the bar, where I’m just going to get creeped on by strange French men in their late 20’s.

I’m walking out of this trip with a tremendous appreciation for European history and art. I’m not sure I can handle walking into another museum for the next few months, but I love everything that I’ve gained from this program. If there’s a round two to my study abroad adventures, I’d like to take a lighter academic load just so I don’t have to torment myself in the beginning, but in the end, I’m so glad I was forced to buckle down and learn in a fascinating environment.

Studying Abroad can be dangerous. Now I want to travel everywhere. I’m actually upset that I’ll only be visiting Cannes and Rome after my Paris studies. I want to go to Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, Africa, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Hong Kong, and everywhere imaginable now. I never had an interest in visiting most of those places before this experience. Paris is very Americanized, so I felt this was an easy transition for US residents going abroad. Most Parisians speak English, and French is a romance language, which is easy to pick up on if you’re familiar with Spanish, Italian, Portugeuse, and even English.

I kind of want to do another program in South America, where the host families are supposedly very down to earth and warm. I got lucky with my host family, but the French culture doesn’t feel very warm to me at all. I always get excited when I meet another American on the streets of Paris. The American candor is refreshing.

I must say, the French are much kinder than they’re given credit. They put up with many grievances from Americans who automatically say, “Do you speak English?” instead of “parlez-vous anglais?” If Paris has rubbed off on me in the least bit, it shows in my annoyance at Americans who don’t even try to speak minimal French. It’s not that hard to approach someone with, “bonjour madame/monsieur, parlez-vous anglais?”

The French cater to us in so many ways. I have yet to see a French person flip out on an obnoxious American. I was only made fun of once, and even that guy apologized for being so unnecessarily mean. He was a jerk regardless of his French citizenship, so I wouldn’t use him as the French standard.

I have sounded like the biggest moron at times, and the French have been nothing but helpful. I’ve accidentally asked the host family’s son if he needed a rifle instead of a shoe, and I rambled on and on with my bad accent for the first week in Paris. The little kids always came to my rescue when I stumbled upon a word, and the parents nicely corrected my bad pronunciation.

The host dad said I’ve made tremendous progress, and I’d like to think he’s correct. It makes sense, in a way. Fewer street vendors respond back to my French in English, and I’m not getting corrected nearly as often as I was at the start of my trip, when I mis-pronounced many crucial words. My comprehension level is higher, and there are few words that genuinely stump me.

I’d be a stronger speaker if I studied abroad for a year and had zero interaction with American students. All this English speaking really stunted my French comprehension. At the same time, I can never just lose the English language, especially since I want to be a writer. I’d truly be lost if I couldn’t write, and let’s face it, I can’t express myself in French the way I can in English.

This program has had such different effects on my than I initially expected. I thought I was going to talk to my host family for hours on end at dinner. Most French families spend hours at the dinner table, but my family was more American in that they ate quickly and went to bed. With four kids running around the house, the parents didn’t have the time to lounge around and eat.

Less time at the dinner table meant less time to practice French with the host parents. I made up for this lost time with the little kids, who I played games with nearly every afternoon. We’d play cards, watch TV, play with the jump rope, play with dolls, etc. The kids were easier to talk to, but as you can imagine, we didn’t discuss intellectual topics together.

It’s easier for me to formulate sentences, and I don’t have to think so much before speaking now. Everything is more natural, even though I’m nowhere near fluent or even proficient. It took me a long time to get to the level I’m at, where I at least understand the idea behind everything.

Arizona in Paris is a nice introductory study abroad program. It’s probably the only abroad program I’ll have had the opportunity to partake in, but perhaps there’s more traveling for me to do in the future. I’d like to do a longer program in the south of France, without the assistance of UA students. I could even foresee myself doing a program in an entirely different country where there’s little to no American influence. It would be nice to feel like a true foreigner.

Three Days Left in Paris, La Poste, Finals

My Paris adventures are quickly coming to an end. I’ve done so much in this city, yet there’s so much more I wish I’d seen. Maybe I’ll have time to check out the Moulin Rouge on my final free day in Paris.

I have both exams tomorrow, and I’m absolutely terrified. Tests stress me out like nothing else, and these exams are worth 40% of our grade. I never really know what to study, so I have to look everything over. This summer abroad experience is really going to annihiliate my GPA. There’s a good chance I’ll get a “C” in at least one course. I think I’m allowed to say FML at this point. In many ways, I’m glad I’m not the greatest student in existence. I actually know what I want to do careerwise, and I feel like I’m more responsible than some students who just stay in school forever to avoid making choices. They’re probably much more scholarly than me, however.

My host mom and I had a long talk today. She says she’s really going to miss having me around the house, and she assured me that I can always stay at the house if I ever return to Paris. She also mentioned that the kids really enjoyed my company, and she hopes we stay in touch. I definitely want to keep writing them throughout my life. I’m very curious to see how the children turn out. They’re unbelievably worldly and smart because of their American student exposure. The kids are outgoing and mature, and they’ll probably be fluent in English at a young age.

After all this, I definitely want to house French foreign exchange students when I’m a lot older. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life. I’d love to help someone who is desperate to learn a foreign language, and I want to be extra helpful and attentive.

Most Parisians have already left for their vacations. France is basically on hold the month of August. Everyone goes away to a summer house of some sort or travels. Paris is supposed to be really hot during that time. It’s strange to be in a country where stores are closed on Sundays, no one works more than 40 hours a week, and where there is an entire month off work. I could never survive in this slow pace.

I’m taking the TGV train to Cannes this Saturday, and my friend’s mom warned me about the high number of passengers at the train this weekend. Most people will be leaving for vacation, so I should probably have fewer bags to carry on board.

I shipped a bunch of stuff home, and I’m pretty sure I can stuff my duffel bag into my other luggage. My stuff is all over the place. Most of my clothes are in Tucson, Arizona, and now I’m sending stuff back to my California house. I’m so sick of having things at this point. Traveling light is the best option all around.

I’m planning on going to le Musee d’Eroticisme, also known as the Sex Museum. It’s positioned right by the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre. A few friends have already gone, and apparently, the museum has seven floors.

I can’t think of a single museum of sex in the United States, so I’m thinking I should go to the Parisian one while I have the chance. Imagine all  I can learn while browsing the seven different floors?

More than anything, the concept of a sex museum is pretty interesting. I assumed it would have a lot of history of sex, but my friend said that there’s only a slight portion of the museum that is dedicated to history.

One of my friends doesn’t really want to join me because she associates it with sex shops, but she may just come along regardless. A sex museum doesn’t have to be perverted or weird. I won’t immediately assume that a sex museum is all about nymphomania.

I’m going to try to list all the famous things I’ve seen in France:

Hotel de Ville

La Defense-La Grande Arche

Saint Chapelle

Notre Dame

Notre-Dame-de-Reims

Basilica in Rheims

Le Musee d’Espace

Normandy

Omaha Beach

Mont St. Michel

The Catacombs

Rodin Museum

Jean Moulin Museum

Les Invalides

Chateau de Vincennes

Monet Museum

Victor Hugo’s House

Sacre Coeur

Versailles

Cinematographique Francaise

Le Louvre

Pere Cimitiere

There have been many, many, MANY more things I’ve seen. There are easily twenty more monuments that I’m just not remembering right now. I’ll get back to you later.

What I Would Like to See…

Moulin Rouge

Le Musee d’Eroticisme

Giverny

More cafes

Study Abroad Evaluation

I have six days left of the Arizona in Paris program, but I’ve experienced enough to make an accurate evaluation of the program as a whole.

The Benefits of Arizona in Paris

The university sends twenty UA students and two UA professors to Paris for six weeks. If you decide to do the program, you’ll step into another country with an immediate sense of comfort. You’ll travel everywhere with people you know, and you’ll automatically have a group of  friends to go out with.

The education is slightly easier,  mostly because you’ll only have two classes which don’t (theoretically) require computer/internet access.

Most study abroad programs don’t put credits toward the student’s GPA. Arizona in Paris not only gives you 6 units, but it also allows the grade to transfer over to your university transcript. It’s nice having the grades in addition to academic credit, but only when the grades are good.

You’ll see a lot of places. My host father said he thinks I know Paris better than he does. I’ve seen so many museums and famous spots, and I can imagine it’s nearly impossible to see all of this without this kind of intense academic program. If you love art and history, you’ll really appreciate the opportunities of this program.

The Downsides of Arizona in Paris

This program is a double-edged sword. You travel around the city with people you’re already acquainted with. This is comforting until you want to break away from the group and meet French natives. You won’t really be given this chance because the director plans so many group activities. It’s kind of impossible to meet anyone outside the Arizona in Paris program. You can always talk to people at bars and such, but you’ll rarely have the time to get to know anyone in another environment. In a nutshell, you don’t have time to get to know other people/French natives, so there’s no inter-cultural mingling of any sort.

There’s also the rigorous itinerary. You have classes from 10 a.m. to noon, an hour for lunch, and then activities until about 4 p.m. You’ll walk around in extreme weather.

It’ll either be really cold or disgustingly humid in Paris. After activities, you’ll go back to your host family’s house and still have homework to complete. You’ll have to make a decision early on: Do you want to be sleep deprived and go out every night, or do you want to enjoy the city on your own terms? I had more of a balance in the beginning, but I go out a lot less now, mostly because I’ve always found alcohol kind of boring after a while.

There are definitely benefits of going out every single night. Just ask some of the people in my program. One guy got really close to a bar manager, and that relationship has been ultimately rewarding.

If you choose to partake in this program, you have to be ready to walk and walk and walk. I love to walk and move around, but my comfort is dependent on weather conditions. When it’s humid, you have to endure the heat, and you also need lots of water in your system. Then again, you can’t have too much water, which leads to necessary bathroom trips, and those aren’t guaranteed.

What I Wish I’d Known Going Into this Program

School is School Regardless of Location

Never forget that you’re in a STUDY abroad program. You’re going to have homework, and you can’t blow off assignments. Treat it like any university class, because that’s what it is. Never trick yourself into believing that you’re just traveling for fun. Prioritize school above all else, and you’ll find ways to manage your time to do other things.

Paris has Unpredictable Weather Patterns

It will rain while you’re in Paris. Bring an umbrella with you whenever you’re going out for an entire day. In the humidity, bring sunblock and dress down. You may even want to invest in a paper fan. This country doesn’t believe in air conditioning, so you’re on your own to stay cool.

Other Countries are Conservative about Resources

I got dehydrated and threw up my first week because I wasn’t drinking enough water. The French drink less water than Americans, and I thought I could survive on the French water intake. It didn’t work out so well. I started drinking water out of my host family’s tap, and I stashed extra water bottles in my bedroom. Be prepared to drink water whenever you have the opportunity. In order to partake in all the walking and required activity, you’re going to need to be constantly hydrated. It’s worth risking annoying your teacher over. Yes, he may be upset about your amount of bathroom breaks, but at least you won’t be fainting or puking.

Ignore Weird Strangers

I was shocked that there are more creepers and weirdos in France than in Santa Cruz, where I’m from. There are tons of crazy guys who will approach girls and say some of the most offensive, vulgar things imaginable, and I truly believe all these men should be castrated and hung.

One of the Arizona in Paris girls was spanked by a large muscular man, and she was too intimidated by his size to strike him back. I was physically assaulted on the metro and followed on countless occasions. I’ve gotten so mad at these perverts, I wanted to tear their throats out, but I just ignored them and turned my head. If you suspect some guy is looking at you in a suggestive way, avoid absolutely all eye contact. Unless he’s touching you, don’t give him the time of day. In the instance that he should assault you, study his physical attributes so you can write out a description in a police report.

Suggestions

Packing: Less is More.

Before your trip abroad, pack as little as you can. You can always buy more clothing when you arrive in your new country. I was very conservative with my packing of clothes, and I ended up buying more stuff in Paris. You’re going to make purchases anyway, so just be conservative with what you bring. From this trip, I’ve learned that my wardrobes in Tucson and Santa Cruz are useless.

I’ve spent the past eight weeks (after leaving Tucson) wearing the same three pairs of pants, the same 9 shirts, and the same jacket. I’ve done lots of laundry, but I’ve learned how few articles of clothing I really need.

Phone

You have many phone options when going abroad, but the most practical option by far is to have a cell phone, especially in this day and age. Jerris brought his iphone, which he uses to make phone calls and go online. Two other girls brought their Blackberry World Edition cell phones. Everyone else bought an international phone or a SIM card for their regular cell phones. I went to Orange and purchased a temporary cell phone. Ava went to SFR for the same service. One guy uses calling cards.

Skype is also the greatest invention of all time, if you have internet access, of course. I, unfortunately, had to go to McDonalds to use the internet in France. Most of the French host families aren’t really with the times. Some don’t even have email addresses. My host family of six has one computer and dial-up internet, but the American students have never been allowed to use it (I didn’t even ask).

If you won’t have internet access at your house, you should still download Skype and buy a mircophone. If you know for sure that you will have internet acces at your house, you may not need a cell phone. Just use Skype. Then again, you may want phone access in the instance of an emergency. It’s all about how often you call home and want to go out with other people.

With Skype, you can make free or ridiculously cheap phone calls to anyone in the world as long as you can get online. Go to a restaurant or cafe with wireless internet access, and you’ll be set. I’ve made tons of Skype calls, and I avoid using my cell phone when I have the chance to call from Skype.

In the long run, you’re better off having a cell phone, at least for emergencies. What else are you going to do if you’re stranded in the middle of the city at 3 a.m., or if you’re locked out of your apartment? We’ve become so dependent on technology that cell phone possession is necessary while abroad. It’s convenient, too. I can’t believe I went the first three days of my trip without internet or phone access. Pay phones are complicated to use and require a telecarte, and they have so many hidden fees if you pay with a credit card.

When all else fails, buy a phone.

What to Keep in Mind When Living with a Host Family

Consideration

You’re staying at someone’s home, not a hotel. Whenever you do anything at the house, you have to take the family into consideration.

For example, I lived with a family of six. There were four children and two insanely busy parents. My roommate and I were very careful not to be too loud when we’d come home after a night out in Paris. The kids had school and a schedule, so we had to make sure we weren’t being noisy. It’s not like coming home to your own college apartment after a night of too much partying. You can’t turn on a million lights, and you can’t spend ten minutes cleaning up in the bathroom. You’ll inevitably wake someone up, and you don’t want this to happen.

Bathroom Time

The French are very conservative about shower usage. The host mom actually told my roommate to stop taking such long showers. One morning, she kicked her out of the bathroom even though no one else needed to use it. The host families want to make sure the students know that there’s not an unlimited amount of water usage in the house. In Europe, an appropriate amount of time in the shower is about ten minutes at most. If you’re using the bathroom, only stay in long enough to wash your hands and do your business. Don’t dilly-dally, especially since there’s probably someone else waiting to use the toilet.

Don’t assume you can use all the host family’s toiletries, either. They’ll obviously allow you to use toilet paper, but never assume that you can take their q-tips, tampons, handkerchiefs, toothpastes, etc. I brought all of my own stuff, but if I needed anything, I always first asked the host parents if I could borrow something. Luckily, I never really had to ask for anything. They removed the box of sanitary napkins when my roommate took a handful (she asked if it was all right, and they said yes). They don’t want you to feel like your things are interchangeable. They’re willing to share, but they don’t want to be taken advantage of.

Food

When it comes to meals/food, NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING AT ALL WHATSOEVER. Don’t take food from the fridge unless you’re told that it’s okay to do so (and it almost always is permitted). Don’t assume you’re permitted to leave your own food in their fridge (ask first, and they’ll probably say that it’s fine).

This may sound crazy, but don’t assume that they are going to stuff you sick for dinner. Ava and I can eat an entire loaf of bread together, so the family started breaking us up pieces of bread. I’m pretty sure they just don’t want us eating too much, and they have a right to monitor that. They have four other children to feed, so they can’t have us eating all the bread simply because our American stomachs can handle it.

My family did enjoy giving me tons of food, however. They would always ask if I wanted more, and to be polite, I’d respond with “yes please.” Everything is basically on their terms, and in most cases, the families are easy going.

Dishes

As you’ve read in my entries, it’s not socially acceptable to do the family’s dishes unless given permission. I thought I was being considerate when I cleaned up after myself and the children, but the mom eventually told me not to do her dishes anymore. By cleaning all the plates at the sink, I was invading the family’s territory. From then on, I asked whenever I wondered if I should do the dishes.

What to Do When in a Country with a Different Language

Never be embarrassed to try out the official language. I have absolutely no pride when it comes to speaking French, and I’ve saved myself a lot of trouble because I’ve tried speaking French to so many people. Most French natives will be kind and helpful. You’ll meet the occasional jerk, and I was lucky to only encounter one, but even he apologized for making fun of my American status.

Speak loudly and with pride. You’ll never learn if you don’t try out the language. Avoid speaking your mother tongue if possible. It’ll stunt your immersion process. This blogging has actually worsened my French speaking/writing skills, but because I want to be an English writer, I’ve chosen to let my French suffer. I can never just stop writing.

Take Risks

Make sure you have fun while abroad. Even if nightlight isn’t your thing, at least experience it once. I went out a handful of times, and I definitely have my fix for now. That’s all I wanted out of it, and I’m doing my own thing now. Even if you can’t stand drinking or partying, at least give it a shot just-to-say-you-did-while-in-Europe. Once it’s over, you can decide whether or not you want to go out again.

If you do go out, make sure you plan everything out before hand:

Know the Metro Schedule

Unfortunately, most of us had dinner at 9:00 p.m. most nights, meaning we couldn’t go out until 10:30 on average. We’d stay out for hours. At 12 on weekdays, we had to make a decision: Did we want to stay out late and catch a cab around 4:00 a.m., or did we want to try to get on the metro for its last ride of the night?

In many instances, my roommate and I made one metro and missed the cut off for the second ride to our house, meaning we had to find a cab regardless of our attempt at taking the metro home. On some nights, we spent up to 45 minutes waiting for a cab. When you’re getting harassed by weirdos in the pouring rain at 1:30 a.m., you don’t want to be running around the streets looking for a taxi. Understand the metro schedule so you can take the metro home, and if you want to stay out later than the metro operates, call a cab.

This means that you should have the number of a cab company with you whenever you’re out late at night. You have a pretty good chance of finding a cab by luck, but you never know what traffic will be like.

Money

Exchange Rates

The exchange rate isn’t great in Europe. To avoid ridiculous transaction fees, exchange money at a bank. I did all my exchanges at ATM’s because I will pay extra for convenience, and our program didn’t mesh well with bank hours of operations. If you can avoid paying extra fees, go to a federal bank and you’ll get the best deal. In Paris, the Banque de France will definitely provide the best rates.

Carry Cash

Have at least 20-30 Euro with you at any given time. It’s safe to have cash with you no matter what situation you’re in. When in another country, you’re going to need money. Don’t get yourself in a dangerous situation where you have no money in your pockets.

One More Thing

Have Fun

I listed a lot of things to keep in mind, but sometimes, you just have to have fun and disregard certain rules and regulations. At some point, your grades will suffer a little, and it’ll usually be worth it. Stay out too late once in a while. Half-ass your homework assignment if you have a party to get to. Spend the extra 3 Euro for the world’s greatest Berthillon ice cream, and eat too many Nutella crepes (because you won’t be able to buy them in the States)!

Don’t worry too much about anything. Stay on task, but remember that you’re abroad. You may never again have the opportunity to travel the world. Make the most of it, even if it means receiving a “B” over an “A,” or even a “C” over a “B.” You didn’t fly to Europe to be studious 24/7. Allow yourself to indulge and make a few stupid mistakes. We are, after all, college students.