Team Togo

After only a few days of being home I still can’t believe that I just got back from three weeks in Ghana and Togo. It was a whirlwind experience, but I learned so much and really enjoyed working with our wonderful UW team. This was a great experience as a primer for my service in Peace Corps next year in Togo. In many ways it helped me get a better understanding of what living in Togo will be like.
I learned so much working in the clinics. Before I left for Togo, I was a little unsure how my knowledge in public health would be very useful in a clinic, but I realized that so many of the systemic problems in Togo directly affect the people coming into the clinics. For example, we saw in many clinics that people were unable to go to the hospital because of transportation or the cost of hospitalization. These challenges were difficult to face and really drew on my initial thoughts that Togo is a forgotten country. There was much less aid seen in Togo compared to Ghana. The infrastructure was significantly worse and there was a clear difference in accessibility from one country to the other. It made me really appreciate that I choose to spend the first 4 days and the last 4 days in Ghana and use the comparison to better understand the need in Togo.
This was a fantastic experience and it really put the concepts that I have learned in health studies and other BIS classes into a real world perspective.IMGP3341

Go, Go to TOGO

Blog Writ­ten 7/9/2014 by Aimee Desrochers, Major: Health Studies, Study Abroad: Togo

As I organize my clothes, bug repellant, and mosquito net into one back pack to bring to Togo, West Africa tomorrow I wonder if I will be packing up all the same things in a year to start the Peace Corps. Tomorrow I am leaving for about three weeks in Togo to learn about global health in a resource poor setting. I am so excited to learn from the organizations and people we are going to be working with for 10 days and get hands on experience in global health. I am a senior in the health studies program and when I graduate in December I will be leaving for two years, living in Togo for the Peace Corps. I am so fortunate to be able to study abroad there before I move there and get a better understanding of what my life will be like there.

I am leaving a little earlier than the rest of the group and doing some sight seeing in Ghana and staying a little longer at the end to hopefully meet fellow peace corps working in the area I may be stationed. For ten days we are working with a team of nurses and doctors to provide primary health care and screening to individuals with little access and resources. I am going to be doing wind shield surveys and community assessments to determine what the community wants and what resources they have. I am looking forward to learning from the communities about their lives and what they want for their communities in the future. This is going to be an amazing experience and I cannot believe I am leaving tomorrow.


While living here in Paris, I find myself often discussing – with both other foreigners and French people – the complexity and frustrations with the highly structured systems that exist in France. More specifically, with the education and work systems, and most importantly, their crossover. Although I tend to look at The United States with a critical eye, I’ve always appreciated the flexibility and value placed on creativity and individual choice. I think that these cultural values manifest themselves within our education system. For example, even at the high school level students have a choice of electives, sports, clubs, etc. Then further, at the university level, with the plethora of degree programs – even within themselves having course choice options. Then after studies, the idea that your degree doesn’t have to correspond precisely to your work field(s), because it’s important to have a diversity of individuals within a team who can each offer a unique perspective/input.

I think that this conception of flexibility and ‘interdisciplinarity’ in degree and field of work shows how our culture emphasizes the importance of looking at the entire history of an individual in a broad, yet critical sense. While preparing my masters applications for French universities, and speaking with people already working here, I get the impression that this same flexibility isn’t as prevalent. For example, having changed courses of study, or having studied multiple subjects, is often considered as a lack of focus, or making a wrong decision. Further, it can be hard to integrate into a new field of study, since even at the high school level, the final diploma has a specialized mention. Even more difficult is to change career fields. This also puts a lot of pressure on students at a young age to commit to a specific sector, when later they may come to realize that they are better suited for another domain, yet cannot necessarily go back to get the appropriate training.

While there are certainly French universities and French companies that break beyond these severely structured systems that seek formulated, specific, and similar individuals for program/career placements, it doesn’t appear to be the norm. There are several universities that appear to actively seek international students, and in these cases, I think they represent a more modern, creative, and flexible system than the ‘old French education system.’ This idea also makes me wonder how globalization – both within education and work – will impact the French systems. My prediction is that it will slowly alter France to become more open and malleable, to the benefit of both native French and foreigners. After all, how can we know what we want to do or who we want to be without having a variety of experiences – educationally, professionally, and personally? Maybe it is because I’ve gone down paths in all sorts of directions, but without having done that, I think I would be lost.

Chapters Reopened

On August 29th, 2012 I wrote my last blog post about living in France for a year as a study abroad student. In that post, I wrote, “I think I’ll be back to France one of these days, maybe short-term, maybe long-term. But for now, I am going to enjoy the U.S. more so than ever, because I have learned more about myself, and about my coun­try, thanks to being abroad.” Just about one year later, in the beginning of August 2013, I moved back to Paris. It’s been about six months and the experience has been drastically different then when I was an exchange student.

My project upon returning was to improve my French enough in order to apply for a masters at a university in Paris. But, my project was not as constructed as when I was an exchange student. I enrolled in language classes, took a job as a nanny, and moved in with my boyfriend (at the time). But, for the most part, I was on my own, without a network, without a solid step-by-step plan. I wasn’t scared, but maybe I should have been.

After six months, my one network was ended when my relationship ended. His family was my family here, his friends were my friends here. I was left feeling completely isolated and questioning why I was here in Paris.

It’s been one month and I’ve remembered why I’m here: living in a foreign country is a challenge in independence and strength. You have to work harder and more in order to succeed; systems aren’t designed for you, the foreigner – they’re designed for the national. Everyday can be a little complicated with the language, with the people – things are different. But that is why I am here, it’s why I returned. What better way to explore who you are, what you want, than to be constantly surrounded by differences and adversity?

Don’t get me wrong, living abroad is just as much of a privilege as it is a challenge. But, it’s a privilege and an opportunity that tests us to constantly seek who we are and who we can become.


Week 1

I’ve only been in Japan for a week and I can’t believe the amount of activities and traveling around Japan we’ve already done so far! I’ll be honest, I was extremely nervous about multiple things such as: traveling to a different country with people I barely knew, being in a country where I couldn’t speak or read the language and not knowing anything about my surroundings.  Now that a week has gone by, my worries are completely gone! The Japanese people I have met so far are the most humbling and respectful people I have ever met, which makes me feel very welcomed. I also couldn’t have asked for a better group to go to Japan with and I truly believe we are turning into one big happy family. Anyways, my time here in Japan has been the best life-changing experience I have ever been through and I’d like to show you all what we have done so far…

This is the share house we are staying at in Matsuyama. It is quite interesting to live with other strangers and took some time adjusting to it.

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We rented bicycles to help us get around Matsuyama and it is so fun! I haven’t ridden a bike in so long and it brings back many great memories.

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The first activity we did was rice harvesting. We helped the farmers dry the rice grains in the sun to help make the rice sweeter.

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The next day we did a radiation lab at Ehime University where we tested the amount of radiation in different objects such as stone slabs from places all over the world.

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The same day we went to Matsuyama Castle which had the most amazing view of Matsuyama ever!

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A few days later we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum which was very emotional and depressing for me. It was hard to see all the damage and destruction the Japanese people went through. It felt really weird being an American and knowing that the US caused this devastation to them.

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After feeling like the worst people ever, we went to Miyajima Island (Deer Island) to lift our spirits.

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We also went to the Itsukushima shrine and saw its beautiful torii gate.

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Last but not least, today we went to the Ikata Power Plant which was mind-blowing to see. I can’t believe there are 47 of these that exist in Japan! I am very happy that I decided to take this class because I knew nothing about nuclear power. Now I am very educated and understand the pros and cons of the subject.

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So far I have fallen in love with Japan and I can’t believe my trip is already half way over! I will definitely be taking advantage of the rest of my stay here in Matsuyama. Up next will be my homestay experience as well as finishing up the rest of our classes and preparing to leave this beautiful country.

Day 1: Heading to Japan!

miranda blog1For someone who has never traveled outside of the United States (besides Canada but I don’t really count that), I was really anxious and eager to travel to Japan. I could not wrap my head around the fact that the first flight was 9 hours, and then we had a 4 hour layover in Tokyo before we finally had our last 1.5 hour flight to Matsuyama. Nonetheless, the whole travel experience was a lot easier than expected! It may be because I slept a lot on the plane, but the flight went faster than I was anticipating, which I was very happy about.

The food on the plane was amazing! I will create a separate post towards the end of my trip to show all the meals I had eaten. I also enjoyed tons of free music and movies on the plane which kept me very entertained for the entire flight. I didn’t even use my laptop, iPad or iPhone throughout the whole flight. When I finally touched the humid and hot weather I was expecting in Japan, I could not wait for all the experiences and learning opportunities I was about to endure.


Closing Chapters

After 362 days spent in France, it became more than just a “study abroad.” I met lifelong friends, formed long-lasting relationships, got a job, created daily routines — I started growing roots in France.

While still far from fluent, stumbling my way along with finally conversational yet broken French, I wasn’t a tourist or a study abroad student anymore. In the mornings I would go to the corner bakery, during the day I would go to various English tutoring and nannying jobs, and in the evening I would pick out dinner from various shops along the street.

However, as the months went along after school ended, people, one-by-one, started to leave. First, the other exchange students in May, then the family for whom I was au-pairing left for a three-month long summer vacation starting in June, then the last remanding exchange students who decided to stay for the summer started to dwindle away in July.

August rolled around and there I was going about my daily activities which had become so routine, so normal at that point, and I realized I had only a couple of weeks left. Getting to the airport was somewhat surreal, going through security was a breakdown. As I walked through the metal detector, crying, I made it buzz. As I tried to keep my watery eyes hidden, the nice French security guard asked me (as she patted me down), “Vous êtes triste?” (Are you sad?). Embarrassed, yet touched by the very personal, not so American style airport security pat-down, I replied, “Oui.” I had become so acclimated to the life, culture, and people in France that on my way back to the U.S., I had almost the same anxieties as I had had when leaving the U.S. to come to France for a year: but this time, I felt like I was returning to a foreign country.

I have now been back in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the year that I was able to spend abroad. I miss France, especially some of the people, and of course the croissants and pastries, but coming back to the U.S. after a year away has also made me realize how great the U.S. is, too! And, at the end of the day, it feels like home.

One of the things I loved about France is that it was so much easier to start a conversation with a stranger, or a clerk, or a waitress, because being foreign is an instant conversation starter. The clerk at the local grocery store always remembered me, and we always had little conversations, because there was something different about me — I was the young American girl who mumbled and bumbled her way through the French language. Being noticed and being remember was nice, and made trips to the grocery store much more enjoyable. Yet, being in the U.S., seeing faces of life-long friends, the familiarity, the comfort of ‘home’ is incredibly peaceful.

Studying abroad in France is something that I knew I always wanted to do, but, getting there wasn’t a cake walk. It took planning, financial struggles, and a lot of stress. Yet, despite the costs, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Studying abroad is not just traveling, it’s not just being a tourist, it’s not just being a student, it’s not just living in a foreign country — to study abroad is to throw yourself into a new world and just figure it out (and probably end up loving what you find and who you become). It’s like being a baby, but in a big person body, with extremely accelerated development.

I think I’ll be back to France one of these days, maybe short-term, maybe long-term. But for now, I am going to enjoy the U.S. more so than ever, because I have learned more about myself, and about my country, thanks to being abroad.

To my friends and those with whom I remain deeply connected in France and Europe, thank you for everything you have done for me.

À bientôt, Chelsea.

P.S. Thank you to the pastry chefs of France, for making my experience out-of-this-world delicious. 🙂

How to Spend 7 Days in Paris?

View down the Champs-Elysées from the top of the Arc de Triumph

This blog is a bit overdue – My Dad came to visit in June for 7 days. With 7 days, the task ahead of us was what to see in a city that has everything from the world’s most well-known museums, to the world’s best foods, and numerous sights. As my Dad walked through the airport, jet lagged yet smiling, we both knew that being in Paris was no time to sleep. A few espressos later, we were trekking around the bumpy, cobblestone streets.

First stop: L’Arc de Triumph

One of the best views in Paris, a cheap ticket and some stairs later, you can see all sides of the city:









Sacré Coeur / Montmartre 

La Défense (The Business District)









The Eiffel Tower

 Next stop, walk down the Champs-Elysées, visit some stores, buy some postcards, swim through the sea of tourists.

After that, it was time for some more coffee, and a beer. I took my dad to visit my school, and we stopped at a café on Boulevard Saint-Germain along the way…

After reenergizing, we strolled through the Tuileries Gardens and passed by (but not inside) the Louvre. Not long after, it was time for dinner, and then on to the next day…

We visited the Palace of Versailles. A must see for any traveler coming to France. The castle is beautiful, the gardens incredible, and my favorite — Marie Antoinette’s cottage – there are even animals!

The next few days of the trip were spent eating — cheese, crepes, baguettes, and most importantly, pastries.

We also visited the Pompidou museum, a treat for any modern art lover.

One of the very best moments of the trip came on the last day. We decided to go for a walk along the Seine, it was sunny and we had seen most  everything on our tourist check list. Walking along, we came upon a “Grand Market of the South of France” : one euro for entry and a plastic wine cup. After an evening of wine tasting, cheese samples, sauces, and some delicious mussels later, I would say that my Dad’s visit to Paris finished with a surprise bang.

It never seems to be the Eiffel Towers of the world that bring the most joy, but rather those surprises that happen when the mind is set at ease, not focused on checking off sights, but just left to wander…

Bastille Day, The French (1)4th of July

The 14th of July, is known as Bastille Day, kind of the equivalent of the 4th of July in the U.S. The 14th commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution on July 14th of 1789 when the revolutionary party, reacting against the power of the Monarchy,  stormed the Bastille, a French prison. The beginning of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” While I spent the 4th of July in France eating hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies, the 14th was spent watching an incredible fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. While my phone could only capture the photos so well, and my height was a bit of a limitation, here is a peak at the spectacular show: (P.S. This year’s fireworks display was a disco theme so the show was accompanied by some of the greatest disco hits- and note, the giant disco ball hanging from the center of the Eiffel Tower!)