Week 4: Final Projects and Homesickness

When you are study­ing abroad, espe­cially for a short time, make sure that you have seen and done every­thing that you’ve wanted by the time the final week rolls around. I have spent most of this past week work­ing on my final project and try­ing to assess what I can take home and what I have to leave behind. Thank­fully, I have had noth­ing that I have needed to do around Paris through­out these past few days.

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The final project has been inter­est­ing to say the least. We were asked to put together four entries each into a larger “Surrealist’s Guide to Paris.” On top of it all, we are not being given any con­crete instruc­tions on how to cre­ate our entries, only that they must rep­re­sent the Surrealist’s atti­tude and grant some sort of instruc­tions on how to find sur­re­al­ist objects or areas around Paris. It is a dif­fi­cult project, and designed to push our cre­ativ­ity and under­stand­ing of the sub­ject. I like it, but I’m also a lit­tle wor­ried about meet­ing the nec­es­sary criteria.

 

I’m feel­ing a slight ache for home that has been all but silent up until this point. I find myself think­ing of my fam­ily, my friends, and yes, my cat on a near-constant basis. I am also eager to begin my stud­ies for the GRE this fall as well as try out a few new classes that are required for my degree. While I am happy to have been in Paris, the needs and com­forts of home have begun to tug at me a bit.

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Leav­ing a for­eign place that you have wanted to see for years can come with bit­ter­sweet emo­tions, and no mat­ter how reluc­tant or eager you are, no feel­ing toward it is incor­rect or mis­placed. As long as you can wrap things up nicely and have enough of an expe­ri­ence to take back with you, I’d say you are entirely enti­tled to how­ever you wish to feel about the return jour­ney. I have seen both hes­i­tance and enthu­si­asm about leav­ing from my class­mates, and each per­son has very good rea­sons for their attitudes.

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I have made friends. I have hugged those who have left ahead of me and will con­tinue to rem­i­nisce a lit­tle with those who are still here. Paris has made many of us who are now star­ing at our plane ticket (or train, for those whose trips aren’t over yet) and smile a lit­tle sadly. The cul­ture has sunken in and we are now think­ing about home and try­ing to read­just our brains to the Amer­i­can mind­set. It’s a lit­tle harder than you might think, after a month of com­plete sub­mer­sion in another country.

 

Over­all, I think I’ve grown tremen­dously on a per­sonal level, and I am not sure that many peo­ple will directly notice the dif­fer­ence on the out­side. I find myself look­ing at peo­ple and lan­guages in a way I hadn’t con­sid­ered before. I now know exactly what it’s like to be unable to speak or nav­i­gate with­out hav­ing to guess at words I don’t know. I under­stand how hard it is to ask for help, order food, or sim­ply buy some­thing with­out under­stand­ing the language.

 

But I also know that I can rely on myself in these sit­u­a­tions. When calm, aware, and deter­mined, I can get to or find any­thing I need, and no one needs to hold my hand along the way. With this has come a huge gust of con­fi­dence and bold­ness that I did not have upon my depar­ture from Seattle.

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I encour­age all stu­dents to study abroad as soon as they are able. And if they do not feel they are able, there are ways to make it hap­pen. I was a stu­dent who shrugged off study abroad for a long time because I believed I would never be able to do it for finan­cial rea­sons. But I found the resources, and now it is prob­a­bly the most mean­ing­ful part of my expe­ri­ence at UW thus far. The edu­ca­tional oppor­tu­nity was excel­lent, and I don’t think I’ll ever regret this decision.

 

Thank you so much for read­ing about my stay in Paris and hope­fully I’ve prompted you to at least explore your oppor­tu­ni­ties. Don’t let your aca­d­e­mic jour­ney go by with­out doing part of it in another country.

 

Cheers!

Week 3: Food, Scotland, and Learning a Little Bit About Me

The past few weeks have been as much of an explo­ration of the city and the cul­ture, as they have been of the food. I am not use to the fact that so many things are so nat­ural, and not alto­gether beyond the stan­dard fare at home. Yes, the French love their cheese, and indeed baguettes can be found on nearly every street cor­ner. And, while some dishes may have seemed to fit a some­what Amer­i­can standard—steak and fries, roasted chicken plates, sal­ads galore—there were a few that stood out for me and I would rec­om­mend these to any per­son trav­el­ing to France:

 

Escar­got is a neces­sity. Did I try it? Yes. Did I like it? Nope, not one bit. So why I am sug­gest­ing it? There were many peo­ple in my group who enjoyed it tremen­dously, and it can be served with a vari­ety of sea­son­ings and sauces. For me, it was an issue of after­taste and tex­ture, but if you can get past that and the fact that it was once a lit­tle slimy snail, you might be sur­prised. Plus, I think hav­ing tried it is far more impor­tant than hav­ing enjoyed it or not.

 

Do not—I repeat—do NOT leave France with­out try­ing duck. The duck steaks and con­fit dishes I had were lit­er­ally gasp-worthy. Duck is far dif­fer­ent than chicken or any other poul­try dish that one might expect to com­pare it to, so give it a shot. You can even order it rare to well-done just like a steak, and with­out the worry of becom­ing sick from it. I’d rank it as the best thing I tried in France overall.

 

My last rec­om­men­da­tion is for the more adven­tur­ous folk. Not every­one will want to go near this one. If you go to France, you should try steak tartare. What is it? It just so hap­pens to be com­pletely raw ham­burger meat, served cold, in a vari­ety of sea­son­ings and sauces. I loved it, but I’m also a rare meat lover. This was com­pletely uncooked and com­ple­mented by a salad, fries, or rye toast. Each time was bet­ter than the last and you can find it on most menus around Paris.

 

Out­side of this, my jour­neys have been much the same. Our pro­fes­sor has taken us to see a few very old Cathe­drals, flea mar­kets loved by Sur­re­al­ists, and a few art muse­ums. I have to admit that these quaint lit­tle wan­der­ings away from the main attrac­tions are really very pleas­ant and give me more time to absorb the his­tory. When some­thing is well-known, and con­tin­u­ously vis­ited, it loses a bit of its magic. Lately, I have pre­ferred my lit­tle jour­neys out­side of Paris, as I am becom­ing desen­si­tized to the archi­tec­ture, stat­ues, and con­stant pes­ter­ing by ven­dors. I am glad that a few of our class trips allow us to see the lit­tle vil­lages with cob­ble­stone streets, old wind­mills, and dainty gar­dens. France’s coun­try­side is def­i­nitely more slow-paced and relaxed.

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This brings me to my final report for this entry. A cou­ple week­ends ago, I made a bold deci­sion to pur­chase an air­line ticket that would allow me to ven­ture out of Paris and the coun­try by myself, and see a par­tic­u­lar des­ti­na­tion that has been on my mind for years: Scot­land. I set foot on the plane this past week­end and I have never been hap­pier about any deci­sion I have made. Though it was only two days, the sim­ple fact that I said, “Yes, I want to do this” and “No, I don’t need any­one else to do it with me” made it one of the most impact­ful moments of my life.

 

Though I would love to write more, I will keep to the highlights.

 

You tend to learn a lot about your­self when you force your­self into a sit­u­a­tion where you are your only resource. I had to get off my plane in the mid­dle of the night in Edin­burgh, find a map, nav­i­gate a tricky roundtrip bus sched­ule for the week­end, learn where my stop was, and travel the city on foot for two days. Is it easy? Not if you don’t have an open mind and a ton of patience. The whole week­end was bit­ter cold and I had noth­ing but a tourist map and an umbrella for com­pany. So I took off at 7 a.m. each morn­ing and began just walk­ing, walk­ing, walk­ing. Through­out the day, I man­aged to find a cas­tle, a city park with part of the high­lands still intact, a mile-long street of tourist shops, national mon­u­ments, war muse­ums, cathe­drals, ancient ceme­ter­ies, old plague alleys, armories, and more. One night, I came home at 1 a.m. after a ghost tour of the city’s under­ground vaults. I’ve never felt so inde­pen­dent and entirely on my own schedule.

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A lit­tle note on the food: Scot­land has won­der­ful hag­gis, which is basi­cally ground sheep’s lung, stom­ach, liver, intes­tine, and heart in case you were won­der­ing. If you can get past the thought of that, it’s very good.

 

I went back to Paris hav­ing learned a lit­tle bit about me that I didn’t know. I know that I am my own best resource, and that I am a com­pletely capa­ble of doing any­thing I want on my own. I now feel much more self-reliant, less hes­i­tant in gen­eral, and far more open to jump­ing into new projects or expe­ri­ences. I think every per­son should make an effort to travel alone at some point in their life, safely of course, and if only for a short while. I am very happy that my study abroad trip to Paris granted me a path­way to do some­thing entirely unplanned, but entirely mean­ing­ful to my per­sonal growth.

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Next week is my final week of study­ing abroad, and truth­fully, I do miss home. I look for­ward to report­ing on any other tid­bits I have for you. Thanks for reading!

Week 2: It’s Okay to Be a Tourist

The sec­ond week of my jour­ney through Paris has been filled with extreme sight­see­ing. Tourism could def­i­nitely be a sport. Each day I have walked between 4 and 7 miles, in a com­bi­na­tion of wan­der­ings with our pro­fes­sor and the absolute need to see any­thing and every­thing that Paris has to offer. Each time I am faced with the peo­ple of Paris, I find myself fight­ing the urge to whip out my cam­era and point it at some mon­u­ment or build­ing. I am striv­ing to appear as nor­mal and “French” as pos­si­ble. But one thing I have learned while wan­der­ing through the Lou­vre, climb­ing the steps of the Eif­fel Tower, or sim­ply mean­der­ing along the Seine is: It’s okay to be a Tourist.

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My cam­era is nearly an exten­sion of my right hand, and like the hand, it is one of the ways in which I expe­ri­ence and doc­u­ment the world around me. It’s how I keep mem­o­ries intact, and a way of pro­vid­ing sou­venirs that often go beyond the thou­sands of alu­minum Eif­fel Tow­ers you are offered by ven­dors on a daily basis. So I have learned to shrug off the occa­sional glances and snap the photo any­way. As of right now, I am at about 900 and qui­etly won­der­ing if I may be more gung-ho about it than I think I am.

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This week has been a busy one. I man­aged to wan­der into war muse­ums, vis­ited Napoleon’s tomb, ascended the Eif­fel Tower by stairs, climbed into the bell tow­ers at Notre Dame, stood under the Arc D’ Tri­om­phe, and much more. Every known tourist attrac­tion is com­ple­mented by curi­ous lit­tle side streets, end­less win­dow shop­ping, and café after café filled with warm bread and super tiny cups of cof­fee. While I am join­ing the hun­dreds and thou­sands of tourists that flock these mon­u­ments on a daily basis dur­ing a Parisian sum­mer, I am also com­ing to the real­iza­tion that I know very lit­tle about them in com­par­i­son to the French, who are rather par­tic­u­lar and inti­mate with their famous struc­tures. There’s his­tory here and—especially after man­ag­ing a 4-hour walk through part of the enor­mous Louvre—I am begin­ning to under­stand that that is some­thing I will only fully under­stand through a more pro­longed expo­sure to the cul­ture. Unfor­tu­nately, my time here is lim­ited and I have more spe­cific stud­ies to which I need to direct my attention.

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One of the things that our course is requir­ing us to do is to look out­side the “pur­pose” of objects and art and to try to under­stand their artis­tic nature solely from the fact of their exis­tence. It’s a hard one for sure, espe­cially when Mar­cel Duchamp decid­edly signed a uri­nal, called it “Foun­tain,” and put it on dis­play; yes, it’s a lit­tle bit much to grasp at times. But despite the awk­ward dif­fi­culty that this sub­ject some­times presents, we are keep­ing in mind the Sur­re­al­ist move­ment as a dis­man­tling of con­cepts, rather than a true attempt at “cre­at­ing art.” This topic is also grant­ing us the oppor­tu­nity to look at archi­tec­ture and mod­ern art with a more crit­i­cal eye. I have to admit, it’s col­or­ing my expe­ri­ences in Paris in a unique way.

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Over­all, I am lucky to be absorb­ing the city in a very Sur­re­al­ist fash­ion, while receiv­ing enough down­time to be a tourist. Hav­ing both sides of the coin is more valu­able than either one or the other.

 

On the agenda for next week: Flea mar­kets, escar­got (maybe), cathe­drals, and a week­end excur­sion to Scot­land. I look for­ward to telling you about it! Cheers!

Week One

danielle blog 2(2)I have been in Paris for a week now and I am still feel­ing a lit­tle bit of cul­ture shock mixed in with con­sis­tent excite­ment. I feel as if I am stuck in a whirl­wind of sights, sounds, and smells I don’t under­stand but am grow­ing to love. The con­fu­sion that accom­pa­nies the inabil­ity to speak the dom­i­nant lan­guage of the city is only mag­ni­fied with every excur­sion I make away from my dorm, and I am find­ing myself quickly rear­rang­ing my per­cep­tion of how words should sound and look. Along­side this comes a con­stant obser­va­tion of the peo­ple around me, and what is cul­tur­ally accept­able or not. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

When I arrived on Sun­day, August 18th, two other stu­dents and I thought it would be an ideal time to ven­ture into Paris to find gro­ceries for the week. After pass­ing street upon street of closed stores and cafes, we quickly found out that most busi­nesses are not open on Sun­days, and that we had landed in the mid­dle of a high vaca­tion time for Parisians. This encour­aged us to take advan­tage of a very small mar­ket tucked into the cor­ner of a build­ing, and to make do with snacks until the fol­low­ing day. Once we were able to make a for­mal shop­ping trip, we were amazed at the food selec­tion, and the fact that most food items are far more nat­ural and organic by default than what we could find at home.

danielle blog 2(3)I remem­ber a num­ber of study abroad meet­ings at the main cam­pus where we were told how to behave while in France. The Amer­i­can con­cept of cus­tomer ser­vice does not align with that of the French, and it became real the moment I arrived in Paris. No mat­ter the busi­ness, I am incred­i­bly aware of the fact that I must address each employee I meet and acknowl­edge their pres­ence. I can­not brush past them the way most of us would in Seat­tle. Demand­ing, aloof, or indig­nant behav­iors are not appro­pri­ate here, and I am sur­prised at how much I enjoy this aspect of the cul­ture. This is where I have come to real­ize that “French rude­ness” is a myth of sorts. You will only receive less than cour­te­ous treat­ment if you fail to observe these cul­tural norms in the first place.

The trans­porta­tion sys­tem is amaz­ing. We received weekly passes that allow us to use the tram (street­car), the metro (sub­way), and the buses. Every­thing is effi­cient and I can lit­er­ally travel from one end of the city to the other in less than 20 min­utes. How­ever, with this comes a new neces­sity; con­stant vig­i­lance against pick­pock­et­ing. Though I haven’t expe­ri­enced it, there are signs and announce­ments at nearly every ter­mi­nal warn­ing pas­sen­gers to guard their things. This is more dif­fi­cult dur­ing rush-hour, as the idea of per­sonal space does not exist, and stand­ing squished between ten other peo­ple on the metro is unavoid­able after five o’clock. But with a lit­tle cau­tion and a bit of com­mon sense, there is gen­er­ally noth­ing to worry about.

danielle blog 2My classes are won­der­ful, and my pro­fes­sor is so knowl­edge­able of this city that I am com­pletely com­fort­able with every bit of advice he has to offer. We are learn­ing about the Paris of the 1920s and an explo­sive art move­ment named Sur­re­al­ism that sought both to negate art and to change the per­cep­tion of it irre­versibly. Pablo Picasso, Andre Bre­ton, and Louis Aragon are just a few of the many artists and writ­ers who have con­tributed to art’s diver­gence from pre-nineteenth cen­tury con­cepts into Cubism, Dada, and finally Sur­re­al­ism. Our wan­der­ings with our pro­fes­sor have led us to the parts of Paris that many tourists over­look and have given us a wider under­stand­ing of its cul­ture and its history.

Over­all, I am still reel­ing from beauty of the city and the waves of new infor­ma­tion rat­tling my brain. I am look­ing for­ward to my next set of adven­tures and I am extremely grate­ful to the uni­ver­sity for giv­ing me an oppor­tu­nity to ven­ture into the city of my dreams. The thrill of being here is over­whelm­ing, and I am so anx­ious to see every­thing that I have already blis­tered my feet from the walk­ing. I am jumpy and gid­dily antic­i­pat­ing what­ever I am about to expe­ri­ence next, along­side the fas­ci­nat­ing nooks and cran­nies that our pro­fes­sor plans to lead us to.

There is so much to say! How­ever, I am afraid I’m going to have to end here. I will post again soon with any new adven­tures or learn­ing expe­ri­ences that I have for you. Thanks for reading!

Danielle Stor­beck

Preparation: Recommendations for buying and preparing for an international trip

Hi every­body!

danielle blog 1If you’re like me, prepar­ing for an inter­na­tional trip comes with a long list of ques­tions and wor­ries. Some­times, the answers to those ques­tions can be elu­sive or uncer­tain. There are a num­ber of con­cerns about what to bring, how to com­mu­ni­cate once you are abroad, and where to find infor­ma­tion. Here are a few things that I have learned so far, which have been extremely help­ful in the prepa­ra­tion process:

For books, I rec­om­mend going to Amazon.com. Buy the older or used ver­sions if there aren’t par­tic­u­lar or new edi­tions required. Many of the used books I received were in per­fectly usable con­di­tion, not to men­tion cheap. Order them at least four weeks out or more; you never know how long it will take for the books to arrive at your doorstep.

Phones are a con­cern, but not always nec­es­sary. Nav­i­gat­ing for­eign web­sites to obtain dis­pos­able phones and plans that are based in your coun­try of study ahead of time can be con­fus­ing. Check with the car­rier you have now. Find out what the rates will be once you’re abroad. How­ever, if it becomes too much of a has­sle and you are guar­an­teed to have inter­net ser­vice, remem­ber that Skype is a great replace­ment and typ­i­cally pro­vides you with every­thing you need. If your car­rier can­not pro­vide inter­na­tional ser­vice, Skype sim­ply isn’t enough, or if the cost is too much, then net­work with other stu­dents and see what they are doing. They are typ­i­cally a great resource and can some­times speak from expe­ri­ence. Oth­er­wise, don’t worry; your pro­fes­sors are usu­ally going to be fairly obser­vant of the trans­porta­tion in your coun­try of study and will have a game plan as to how to get you from one place to another.

danielle blog 1(2)Check out your coun­try of study and see if the out­lets and plugs are dif­fer­ent. In most cases, they are. You will prob­a­bly need to buy a volt­age trans­former and a plug adapter that will allow your U.S. plug to work with for­eign out­lets. You can find these in almost any store that has a travel sec­tion. Keep in mind, how­ever, that many lap­tops and cam­eras these days have dual volt­age capa­bil­i­ties, which means that you might only need the plug adapter.

When study­ing abroad, there are times where you need to be aware of the chance of pick­pock­et­ing. Be aware of the items you bring with you at all times. Already, I have had a cou­ple of friends expe­ri­ence pick­pock­et­ing and it is unpleas­ant. Keep your purse or bag in front of you at all times in crowded areas, and keep it strapped across your body rather than sim­ply hang­ing at your side. Watch the peo­ple around you, and make sure that you aren’t dis­tracted, par­tic­u­larly in crowded trans­porta­tion areas or pop­u­lar tourist destinations.

The last per­ti­nent thing I found that you can do is coor­di­nate with the other stu­dents in your pro­gram. If you’re like me, and you don’t know many of the stu­dents going abroad with you, this takes a lit­tle bit of out­reach and extra con­fi­dence. Set up a Face­book page for your group. The stu­dents I am cur­rently with use it almost every day to arrange out­ings. You are about to embark on a long trip with these stu­dents; estab­lish­ing a con­nec­tion prior to your arrival will only strengthen your trav­el­ing expe­ri­ences and bol­ster the oppor­tu­ni­ties you have for get­ting the most out of your trip.

I hope this helps! Of course, there are many more things to con­sider for extended inter­na­tional travel, but the items men­tioned above are what I have found to be the most press­ing as well as less obvi­ous. These are tricks and tips that I have man­aged to fig­ure out, and which I feel are the most ben­e­fi­cial. Thanks for read­ing and I hope these ideas are help­ful for other stu­dents who are plan­ning to go abroad in the near future!

Danielle Stor­beck