Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Europe (page 1 of 9)

“Studying” Abroad: Balancing School with Adventure

Author: Dakota Kampmeier

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I’ll be the first to admit it: I was not planning on genuinely studying during my study abroad trip, and I was not shy about saying so. In my mind, study abroad was my one-way (okay, round-trip) ticket to finally live out my dream of seeing the world, traveling frivolously, and paying for it later. I did intend on going to class, but not that often, and I had absolutely no intent to get notably involved on my campus or make any serious commitments to clubs, committees, etc. My plan was to meet people from all corners of the globe and drag them along on weekend trips across Europe. My “plan” was to not have much of one at all, a task I’ve been challenged to accept since I got here.

view from my dorm room of Newton Hall

In high school, anyone would tell you that I was the person to go to if you needed something planned. Whether that be homecoming, junior prom, or a fundraiser, I was your go-to gal. When I got into college, I felt that the pull of wanting to plan everything was weighing me down, dragging me away from the spontaneity of my peers. A few months into school at Valpo I made a promise to myself: be more spontaneous. I vowed that I would ease myself into the free-spirited lifestyle of shrugging at a missed train and plans that fall through. So far, I’ve done a pretty good job at letting go of the need to be in control and always know what’s coming next. When traveling, this is a very valuable asset to have and it has already benefited me in just one month of being abroad. At the same time, I’ve let it get to my head a little bit too much.

Right now, every weekend in my planner is marked up in pencil with the names of cities I want to visit while I’m here. Prague, Lisbon, Cambridge, and Basel, just to name a few. Between the weekends, though, school assignments also emerge. I’ve found that if I want to return to the States well-traveled but also with a boosted GPA, I need to get my priorities in check. To be completely honest, traveling comes before school right now. I love my classes; small in size and not too taxing, they’re all very doable and, dare I say, easier than Christ College courses. I’m taking French again for the first time since high school and reading a novel a week for my intro to literature class. Truly, I love school and I love learning; I always have. However, I find it hard to sit in the library on a Saturday morning when I know I could be just a train ride away from the greatest adventure of my life.

So far, I’ve come to this conclusion: Monday-Thursday is dedicated to on-campus adventures, whether that be homework, making dinner with my unit mates, or catching an improv show with some friends. Friday-Sunday are my days to enjoy the “studying” portion of study abroad. I’m allotted five missed class periods for each of my courses, and I intend to use up all the ones for my Friday morning French class. My GPA will be important to me until the day I graduate, but at this time in my life, I recognize that there is a wealth of knowledge I cannot gain from inside the classroom. Keeping my grades up is vital for my success at Valpo, so I know that balance between schoolwork and traveling is a necessity.

The other day I realized, with a shock, that I have a mere twelve weeks left in Utrecht. There are so many places I want to go, so many I know I won’t get to this time around, and a handful that I must see before returning home. Right now, my grades are high, and I’m taking a low enough amount of credits to grant myself some free time to lay out preliminary plans for these trips. Studying abroad, like everything else, is a balancing act between work and play. Figuring it out on my own is daunting, of course, but also incredibly rewarding. I know that I’ll come home with a totally different worldview, full of knowledge I learned on and off school grounds.

A Weekend in Belgium

Author: Julia Riordan

Location: Brussels & Bruges, Belgium

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

This weekend, a friend and I traveled to Belgium. It was a hastily planned, last minute trip, but I loved every second of it. I initially was unaware that there were trains traveling from London to Belgium. This train, also called the Eurostar, actually travels in a tunnel through the ocean, connecting England to Mainland Europe! Ever since I heard about this train, I was interested in taking it. So, a week ago, my friend Sabrina and I booked train tickets and headed to Belgium.

First, I would just like to preface this blog by saying that the Eurostar is an extremely easy and efficient way to travel. The security lines were short, the stations were clearly marked and the train was clean. However, when you travel under the ocean, it is pitch black. There are lights in the train of course, but you cannot actually see any of the ocean (which was honestly really disappointing). However, it still amazes me that we crossed the ocean between England and arrived in Belgium in exactly two hours time.

Upon arriving in Belgium, Sabrina and I stumbled upon a restaurant called Waffle Factory. Although it is a chain throughout Belgium, I maintain that this was the best waffle that I had while in Belgium (I tried a LOT of waffles). It was slightly crispy and sweet, but also fluffy. After trying some traditional Belgian food, we headed to our airbnb located near the Brussels Midi/Zuid station. It was definitely not the most picturesque location, and a couple of the locals gave us weird looks as we would walk through residential areas with our loud American accents. Regardless, the airbnb was only about 15 minutes from the city center.

A Belgian waffle with Nutella

The center of Brussels was so unbelievably cool. As you walk down the narrow, cobblestones streets of Brussels, the smell of chocolate wafts between stores. Regardless of how late or cold it is, there will always be people laughing and enjoying dinner on the patios of the restaurants. Brussels is busy and crowded, but the city itself is quaint and friendly.

The city center of Brussels!

Our second day in Belgium, we decided to travel to Bruges. We stumbled upon this town while planning our trip and instantly decided that we HAD to visit. Bruges is essentially a medieval fairytale town, with unique architecture and numerous shops. This was arguably my favorite part of the trip. While in Bruges, we admired the architecture and tried some of the chocolate shops.

Bruges, Belgium

We spent our final day in Brussels, exploring the city more and trying traditional Belgian food. We were both sad to leave, but surprised at how easy the travel had been.

A beautiful chocolate fountain in a chocolate shop in Brussels

I was initially worried about my first international trip as a Study Abroad student. But, I know that as the semester progresses, I will gain more experience with travel! I’m sure I will have the opportunity to travel to many more countries this semester and I look forward to sharing my future travel with you!

Traditional Belgian Meatballs!

For the Love of Protesting

Author: Ella Speckhard

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

My homestay in Paris is situated in the 11th arrondissement of Paris on Blvd Voltaire. This is a lovely neighborhood with lots of great places to eat, shop, and observe the “real” Parisian life away from the tourist traps. My host’s apartment is just a short walk away from Place de la Nation, a monument commemorating the square with the most active guillotines during the Revolution, as well as the Père Lachaise cemetery. This is the largest cemetery in Paris, a beautiful place to walk, and contains the graves of such famous people as Edith Piaf, Chopin, Oscar Wild, Jim Morrison, and the fictional character of Jean Valjean in Hugo’s Les Misérables. I’ve really enjoyed having easy access to these two spots; the cemetery is a lovely place to take a walk when things get overwhelming because there’s lots of trees and green space and it feels like a different world from the city that surrounds it. Living near Nation gives me access to a lot of different metro lines and makes getting around the city much simpler. However, what I didn’t know about this location is that it’s also central to the thing French people love most: protesting.

I receive regular emails informing me of different protests happening around the city so that I can try to avoid them. However, many of the protests pass right in front of my apartment so avoiding them is easier said than done. Luckily, I’m usually at school on the other side of the city when they take place so I’m not super inconvenienced, but I have witnessed a few and wanted to shine some light on what to expect from a protest in France.

The first protest I saw was one of the marches for the transportation strikes. It was early in the semester and I was interested to actually see something that I had heard so much about in my classes. I’ve never been to any marches or protests even in America, so I was a bit nervous. I shouldn’t have been though because it was basically just a boring parade with lots of signs. People came from all over France to participate so this was the largest protest I’ve seen so far, but I only caught the tail end of it, so I don’t have a great reference for how many people were marching. That evening during dinner my host turned on the news and we watched live footage of the protestors at their final destination, Place de la Bastille, and it was there that things got a little bit rowdy towards the end. We could hear the commotion in the distance, but luckily it didn’t affect our neighborhood at all. There were just a few fires from people burning their signs and people yelling at the police, but nothing violent or drastic.

The second protest I saw was a completely different story, and probably my most adrenaline-inducing experience abroad. It was a completely normal Tuesday afternoon and I was on my way home from classes, finally feeling confident in my routine. When I exited the station and went up the steps to the sidewalk, I could immediately sense that something was off. Cars were parked on the street so I couldn’t immediately tell what was happening, but I could see the sirens on top of police vehicles to my left. All I had to do was cross the street and walk for 20 feet and I would be home, but if I had been 30 seconds later getting off of the metro, I would’ve had to go somewhere else for the evening. I wasn’t sure if I should cross the street or not and hesitated for just a moment before the woman next to me decided to cross, so I followed her. When I stepped out into the street was when I saw a wall of police running my way, carrying their shields and batons. I jogged the rest of the way across the street to get out of their way and as I walked away from the commotion towards my apartment, I couldn’t help but turn around to see what was going on. People were stopped on the sidewalks watching, and as more and more police ran past, I truly felt like I was living out a movie scene. It was with the first blast of the tear gas cannon (I’m not really sure what the technical term for that is, but it felt like a cannon the way it shook the ground) that I snapped out of it and ran inside. Once I was inside, I felt comfortable watching things develop from the balcony, but only managed to get a few short videos because the tear gas was actually making my eyes itch even from 6 stories up. I was able to figure out that this wasn’t a transportation protest, but a protest of firefighters.


Although the video makes it seem pretty scary (and it was, I’ll be honest), I felt really lucky a few days afterward when I saw an article on social media about the other protests that the firefighters in Paris had done that week.

They stayed out on the street for about half an hour, and then the blasts I was hearing grew further and further away as the protest moved toward Place de la Nation down the street.

A video I took as things were breaking up and moving elsewhere

Finally, the most recent protest I’ve witnessed was extremely small, but loud. The group of marchers were led by a van with many speakers and a man yelling into his microphone about their cause. I’m not sure what they were protesting, but it’s amazing to think just how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to these types of events. I’ve only seen three in person, but they’re so deeply engrained into everyday life in France, and particularly Paris, that I didn’t even think twice when I heard the commotion on the street.


Hopefully I don’t run into any more protests where my safety is in question because that was a pretty intense experience, but I feel confident that I know the signs of a protest turned hostile and would be able to just turn in the opposite direction and find something to do until things settled down enough for me to go home. Inconvenient? Yes. But the French love their protests and so learning how to live with them is essential, especially where I’m living. Remember, priority number one when studying abroad is safety! Research where you’re staying before you arrive so that you’re able to prepare for the different facets of your neighborhood, for instance, the presence of a bunch of protests right in front of your apartment!

Making a New Home

Author: Emily Gustin

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

After a few weeks, I feel I am finally settled into life in Cambridge. It was not the easiest journey to get to this point, but I am glad for the struggle– it has let me grow in ways that I never would have otherwise.

Culture shock is a strange experience and difficult to describe because it affects everyone in different ways. For me, I was finding it hard to talk to the people in my classes. In British universities, students choose a course of study and take modules (classes) in that subject with mostly the same people throughout their degree (unlike liberal arts schools in the US, where students take classes in different subjects). So, when I showed up to my first class, I was definitely the odd person out– everyone had already been taking classes together since the start of their first year, and they were already a tight-knit group. I felt self-conscious and concerned that I might not make any friends, since I was an outsider. It took a couple weeks, but some of my classmates have opened up and I feel comfortable having conversations with them– I just had to be patient and give them and myself some time to adjust.

Moving away from my family and friends has also been difficult for me, but I have found such comfort in talking to my cohort– we are all in the same situation, and I am so thankful to have them as a support system. Because of them, I know that I am never alone.

When I walk through the streets of the city, I feel like I am a part of it, fully immersed into a new way of life that did not seem possible a month ago. Getting to know the city has been one of my favorite parts of living here, but I also wanted to explore places outside of England. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Milan, Italy, for my first trip outside of the UK. I went with two others in the Cambridge group, Grace and Katie. Traveling is a wonderful thing, but we learned that you have to be prepared to be patient. It’s a lot of work just to get where you want to go, including many forms of transportation (train, bus, plane, metro, and others). After arriving in Milan, we had to figure out the metro system (in Italian, which none of us could read) to get to our hostel. Thanks to Google Maps, we were able to find the correct route to take.

We had two full days in Milan. The Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) is a beautiful, massive building in the heart of the city, and it’s hard to miss. It took over six hundred years to build and is the 5th largest church in the world. We were lucky enough to go to an organ vespers service, so we even got to go inside for free. All of the readings were Italian! We spent much of our time in Italy enjoying the art and architecture of Milan. The three of us went to Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) and Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle), which had amazing collections of Italian art, as well as art from around the world (including Michelangelo’s last sculpture and Mategna’s Lamentation of Christ, which are both very famous).  We also got to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie, which was an amazing experience; I couldn’t believe that I was seeing such a piece of art history.

Grace, me, and Katie in front of Duomo di Milano

Tagliatelle bolognese—one of the several pasta dishes I enjoyed in Italy

Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, located in Santa Maria delle Grazie

Katie, Grace, and I did not have a shortage of Italian food; we had either pasta or pizza for every single meal while we were there, and I have no complaints. My favorite meal was homemade rigatoni with tomato sauce and burrata cheese on top, complete with custard pie for dessert– it was all so delicious. We also had gelato several times, which did not disappoint.

I had appreciation for these yellow apartments that we saw while walking the streets of Milan

When we started the journey back to England, I think we all felt a little different, but in all the best ways. We had seen some of the most iconic architecture and art pieces in Italian history, eaten some amazing food, and mastered public transportation in another language. Though we were tired, I felt a sense of accomplishment. As the three of us headed for the airport once again, I watched the sun come up over the mountains and I felt a moment of stillness. It was such a beautiful view, and I was so thankful to have experienced it.

Our last glimpse of the cathedral

After taking a taxi, a bus, a plane, and a train, we made it back to Cambridge safe and sound. I think we all agreed that it felt a little bit like coming home.

Twelve Hours in Rotterdam

Author: Dakota Kampmeier

Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Rotterdam is a city in the Netherlands full of funky architecture and packed food courts. I was told before visiting that the buildings are so unique because Rotterdam “got super bombed” during the war by the Germans. As it turns out, this bombing was a complete accident and the result of delayed communication. Leave it to the Dutch to find the silver lining, though, because they took their destroyed city as an opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of Rotterdam. Only two buildings survived the bombings, a rectangular-looking building where the Germans held office and the fifteenth-century Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk church, which the Germans used as a lookout tower. Rotterdam is an alluring mix of old and new, skyscrapers that tower over cobblestone roads and traditional Turkish foods inside a modern all-glass food court. Exploring the city for a day with a local added an appreciation for the atmosphere.

My buddy Sam played tour guide for me and my friend Maddy, another American girl, and showed us all the good spots in his hometown. We ate fries in a cone called “Patatje Oorlog” and wandered the streets in a drizzle as Sam explained what the many statues that peppered the city represented (spoiler alert: they almost all serve as reminders of that time the Germans bombed the city in the forties). We wandered around the infamous cube houses, another testament to the architecture of the city. While they look tiled from the outside, apparently inside the homes are completely level. That sort of thing boggles my mind because I’ve never heard of someone living in a lopsided cube before, but they were cute and just enough of a tourist trap that I ended up buying a postcard with a photograph of the houses. As the rain came down a little harder, we ducked inside the Market Hall, a food court of sorts on the first floor of an apartment building. This building, too, was shaped oddly enough that if you looked straight up through the mural on the inside, you could see the window of someone’s bathroom about a hundred feet above your head. After purchasing some sought-after frozen yogurt, we wandered back outside and stood on the steps of the bustling market, seemingly ignorant to the fat rain drops that fell into my spoon.

Once all the yogurt was consumed, Sam pointed out a small bookstore beyond the market and we headed over to check it out. Inside was the most obscure collection of books I had ever seen. From two five-hundred page volumes about Belgium transport to a comic-type book series called “The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore”, I can assure you that you’ve never read a single book in the store. Without meaning to, we spent almost an hour pouring over the strange titles and bending over in laughter at “The Hypnotic Power of Crop Circles”. By the time one of us checked our watch, it was time for us to catch the movie “1917” in an attempt to wait out the rain, which we did. The streets were slick with water when we exited the theater and the rest of our evening, though chilly, was dry.

The evening consisted mostly of finding a place to eat. 7pm is dinner rush hour, and every place Sam suggested had a line out the door. We finally found a German-chain Italian restaurant (do with that what you will) and ordered personal pizzas and glasses of wine to recap the day and get to know each other even better. After dinner, we took a half-hour stroll to the other side of town, passing through a forest of flags by the river, and we guessed (poorly) which countries they belonged to. Just over an industrial-looking bridge we found Hotel New York, a sweet building nestled along the water that used to be the harbor where ships would set off for America, carrying immigrants and all the hopes and dreams one could manage. We sat at the bar of the hotel and enjoyed drinks and good company before catching the metro back to the station for a late-night train ride into Utrecht.

Exploring Rotterdam, even just for twelve hours, was a pleasant surprise. Even though it was only a thirty-five minute train ride from Utrecht, it was unique in a way that made it feel like a completely different world. There was so much that we didn’t see, but still I returned to school with sore feet and a full camera roll. Sooner or later I’ll venture outside of the Netherlands and see the rest of Europe, but I can’t forget how much this tiny country has to offer, either.

Discovering Utrecht

Author: Dakota Kampmeier

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Utrecht, Netherlands (pronounced oo-trecht) has been a pleasant surprise and the epitome of culture shock. I have been here for one week today, and the rollercoaster of emotions has kept me from writing an intelligent sentence about this place I am now starting to call home, but I finally feel ready to attempt to emulate what this place and its people are like. Everything is still all so new, so fresh, but slowly some elements are starting to become routine. Slowly I have unpacked my suitcases and laid my makeup out on the windowsill. Slowly, I am settling.

I could sugarcoat my experience thus far and say that it has been nothing but a dream, that I made lifelong friends on the first day and that I slept like a baby the first night. However, I am not here to sugarcoat. This experience has been wholly and completely mine, which is fantastic, but part of that experience includes telling the raw truth. The raw truth is that I wanted to come home when I was still on the plane. The raw truth is that I woke up the first morning in a foreign place and an unfamiliar bed and wanted my mom. The raw truth is that I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt before, and for a while I thought I had made a mistake. Sure, this has been my lifelong dream for who knows how long, but what if I’m not actually cut out for it? I was terrified this week, and there are still moments when I miss my couch and American cereal and Midwestern weather. Now that it has been a week, though, I can already see how far I’ve come and how far I’ve still left to go.

I have made friends (don’t worry mom and dad, nice people are everywhere). They’re from all over the globe, from the coast of California to the surprisingly developed city of Nairobi, Kenya. I’ve met people who make me laugh, people who taught me how to bike “correctly”, people who make me feel like the well-travelled soul, and people who rekindle the excitement about being here that I felt before I left home. The trick to homesickness, I’ve discovered, is throwing yourself into the situation you’re in totally and fully, without reservation, without shame. The water is cold, sure, but it’s so refreshing. On my campus, especially, there are so many people who felt the same way I did when they arrived, so many people just trying to make their way in a foreign country and find friends to ease the lonely nights. The UCU campus is a bubble, as they say, but the kind of bubble that makes me feel secure instead of trapped.

While there is an abundance of things to do on campus, everyone encourages newcomers to venture off campus and meet people in the city centre or through community events. There’s truly no limit to possibilities here, which is precisely what makes it as equally daunting as it does electrifying. The person I have always dreamt of becoming is starting to emerge the longer that I am here. I biked to the store by myself today, and I am now sitting in a small café drinking green tea surrounded by the smell of books and lavender. The first day of classes has rekindled my desire to learn, and although school will not be easy by any means, it will certainly be more steady than last semester. Overall, as the homesickness wears off, a sense of finding home in this adventure is taking its place. By May, I suppose I’ll already recognize myself, but in the best way possible.

Photo Tour of Le Marais (3rd & 4th Arrondissements)

Author: Ella Speckhard

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

In my French language course, we’re giving oral presentations next week on one of the districts of Paris. My partner and I were assigned the Marais, two arrondissements right along the Seine in the heart of Paris. We followed instructions from our professor and saw some amazing things, taking pictures and jotting down notes to share next week. Here are some of my favorites!

It was finally sunny the day we went! Paris has been very gray lately, so it was really a blessing to walk around in the sunshine for a while (and all of the buildings are so much more beautiful)!

Saint Gervais and Saint Protais Church, Paris. This church is celebrating 600 years, even after being a victim in the bombings of WWI.

Le Marais is home to some incredible street art—unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of my favorite piece due to traffic, but these are close runners-up!

Place des Vosges was full of life this evening; children played, couples strolled, and teens ate together, surrounded by the beauty of these buildings. I definitely plan on coming back here later in the spring when the trees are blooming!

Statue of Louis XIII at the center of Place des Vosges. Every building in Paris is connected to the history and story of the French. It can be hard to wrap my mind around sometimes because compared to Paris, everything in America is pretty much brand new!

L’Hôtel de Sens

Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis. We didn’t get to go inside this one, but it was spectacular even from the street.

Finished our tour with dinner on the Seine. We grabbed sandwiches from a cool shop in the historically Jewish neighborhood of the Marais and although it was a bit chilly, the view was worth it.

Moving In and Hardly Moving

Author: Ella Speckhard

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Before arriving in France, I had created this image in my head of how things were going to go the first few days. I was going to arrive early in the morning, take a taxi past the Eiffel Tower and watch the sun rise before meeting my host, who would click with me immediately. Reality was a lot less glamorous. My flight arrived at Charles de Gaulle around 6:45am and as I lugged my carry-on and my backpack through the airport to the baggage claim, I was in a terrible mood. I couldn’t sleep on my flight, my knee was killing me, I was sweating, and then to make matters worse my suitcase was broken, and the wheels were barely working. Then, I got into a taxi hoping to relax a little bit and enjoy my first ever sights of Paris. That idea proved a bit difficult for two reasons; one, it was still pitch black outside so all I could really see were advertisements along the highway, and two, I was a bit busy clutching the door as my taxi driver weaved in and out of traffic with no apparent regard for lane lines or traffic signals. Once I arrived at my host’s apartment building, I tried using the door code she gave me only to find myself locked out. Eventually, I gave up and called her (using expensive cellphone minutes since I didn’t have an international SIM card yet) and she let me in. I crammed myself and my bags into the tiniest little elevator I’ve ever seen and then arrived at my new residence. Life lesson learned? Lower your expectations. Things have a tendency to go wrong when you most desperately want them to go right.

Another life lesson I learned early-on in this endeavor is that there are few things in the world as awkward as showing up at a complete stranger’s house and moving in for four months. Christine, my host, is absolutely wonderful and she was so warm and welcoming, but I was exhausted beyond belief, I could barely understand her French because my brain was fried, and I had so many questions swirling around in my head that I couldn’t even ask a single one. She quickly caught on that I just needed to sleep for a couple hours, so that’s what I did. Now, three days in, we have somewhat adjusted to each other’s habits. There are still plenty of things I feel uncomfortable about (Which dishes am I allowed to use? Should I be regularly checking in with her when I’m not home? Should I tell her if I spill in the kitchen or just clean it up myself?) but we seem to have developed a rhythm and I bet it will only improve from here on out. Life lesson learned? Homestays are an amazing opportunity to fully immerse yourself in another culture, but it will be awkward, and you will forget all of the questions you want to ask as soon as they say, “Do you have any questions for me?”

So far most of this has seemed negative, but things really have improved since that first day. I know myself, and for me the first day doing something brand new is always terrifying and full of anxiety. I was a mess as I was unpacking, crying because of my homesickness and wanting to go home all the while knowing that this was the thing I had been looking forward to for months. A few good nights’ sleep and some amazing French food from my host Christine have helped improve my mindsight so much. I also know some of the other people in the program now and have started to develop some friendships, which is so essential in helping combat the homesickness. As much as I love my alone time, being around others who are in the same situation as I am is a huge comfort. Life lesson learned? Your physical well-being has an enormous impact on your feelings and mental health. When I was jetlagged and nauseous, my first reaction to everything was tears and my anxiety was through the roof. Once I slept and got some food in me, my outlook became much more optimistic.

Finally, I want to say that the current transportation strike in Paris has affected the day-to-day life of the city tremendously. Without the metro lines running consistently, traffic is a nightmare, buses and trains are packed to the gills, and walking often becomes the main mode of transportation. This can make for some extremely long walks through the city, but what better way to get acquainted with the lesser-known parts of Paris? It’s been irritating not being able to fall into a regular routine with the metro since there are different lines and stations open every day, but it has been interesting getting to see all of the little side streets and shops that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. The culture of public protest and striking is much different in France than it is in the USA. I’ve discussed this idea in my classes before, but it’s fascinating to see up close and personal how people react to these kinds of situations between the government and the people. If you can, read up on “la grève” (the strike) in France right now—it’s a fascinating look at how French and American people view work differently. Life lesson learned? When in doubt, walk it out. 2 hours is long, but it’s better than getting lost in a metro system you don’t know very well and missing mandatory orientation sessions.

A good representation of my mood on the first day

Finally smiling on my third day in Paris!

Interning at a French Law Firm

Author: Bianca Gamez

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: He/His/Him

For the second half of the semester, my study abroad program had the students do an internship in either English or French. Before being placed somewhere, the program teams up with EUSA that deals with the placement of each student. This process was tedious for me and pretty much every other student because over the summer we had to turn our resumés into a CVs which is a different format and it also needed to be in French. Apart from this, we also had to have a Skype interview with one of the EUSA representatives in order for them to see our French speaking skills and be able to get to know us. Not only did we have to do this, but we also had to fill out a couple documents and surveys online through their platform. After all of this, we just had to wait until we came abroad and see where we would be placed and who we will be interviewing with.

Since each student could specify which sector they would like to be placed for their internship, I decided to be placed in either political science or law sector. Since, I have already had experience working at a law firm in the U.S. it was not hard to convince them to place me in one. Fortunately, I conducted my interview at Cabinet Castellane Avocats which is a French law firm. The founder, Béatrice Castellane, of the enterprise let me intern with her firm for the rest of the program, and so far, I have been pleased with this internship.

Cabinet Castellane Avocats is located in the northwest part of Paris, Trocadero. In order to get into the building, you need three different types of codes in order to enter the private neighborhood, the apartment, and to access the stairs and elevator. The office is small and only consists of the attorney Castellane, another intern who is about to graduate from law school, and me. The other intern and me both have our own desks, computers, and work folders. I only work Mondays through Thursdays from 10a.m. to about 7p.m, and my tasks mainly consist of reading and responding to e-mails, reading cases, contributing my thoughts and opinions on the cases, helping draft documents, and preparing the documents for the hearings. Most of tasks and communication is in French except for the cases that are conducted in English.

(This is the outside of the law firm.)

(This is our kitchen. We are given an hour for lunch and just to relax after our busy morning.)

(This is my desk where I work on the cases that are given to me and translate words from French to English for my own comprehension)

Throughout my internship, I have been taken out of my comfort zone and have had my own morals and thoughts challenged. I learned that this was normal since my culture and the French culture is different especially when talking about politics. I will say, however, that I have learned so much from interning at a French law firm. My vocabulary and grammar have advanced so much legally and also from a day to day basis. I have become more comfortable when speaking in French because of this opportunity since I am forced to communicate effectively on what I am thinking and feeling about documents. Overall, this internship has helped develop my French speaking skills and has opened another professional career for me which is arbitrational work.

(I went to the Palais de Justice for a hearing. This is one of the main lobby areas of the courthouse.)

(This is also inside le Palais de Justice except this is one of the areas that is restricted and only those who have cases in this area are allowed to enter.)

Normandie: Bayeux

Author: Bianca Gamez

Location: Normandy, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Europe, especially France, has so much history within it when dealing with World War 2, and historical war sites in Europe were one of the things that I have always wanted to see in person. Since I finally had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris, I decided to take advantage of that and go up north to Normandie and visit Omaha Beach and other D-Day historical sites. Since I wasn’t the only one who wanted to see historical landmarks, some friends in the same program as me, joined along for a weekend in Bayeux. We took a 2-hour train ride, which is very typical here in Europe when traveling to places. We ended up arriving at Bayeux late at night due to some difficulties with the train, but we were still optimistic that we would still enjoy all of Saturday and half of Sunday.

The next morning, we decided to have breakfast at a cute little pink café. Since most of the group members were females, we all pretty much felt as if we were in a Barbie playhouse because of how much pink was in the place. There were also doilies and news clippings from years ago. However, overall, it was a cute little café and the owner was super sweet with us and would explain what was on the menu and what she would recommend. In the end, we ended up ordering a typical French breakfast which was tea or hot chocolate with croque-monsieur or madame. A croque-monsieur is a piece of long bread that is toasted with ham and cheese, and the croque-madame is the exact same thing except it has a sunny side up egg on top.

After breakfast, we decided to start our adventures in Bayeux. We visited one of the cathedrals, Notre Dame de Bayeux, that was in the middle of the town. This cathedral was built in 1230-1270 with medieval architecture.

(This is the front of Notre Dame de Bayeux)

(This was the stained glass inside the cathedral)

(Once you enter the cathedral this is the first thing you see)

The next historical site that we visited was the Bayeux War Cemetery. This cemetery has almost every soldier that fought in the Bayeux War. Walking through the cemetery was an unexplainable feeling because seeing all the tombstones was astonishing since many were from different countries, different ages, and had different experiences. For instance, some tombstones read “unknown soldier” and others would read “to my only son”. It was hard walking through the place and just realizing that some of the soldiers were our age when they died. It was a weird feeling because they fought fighting for what we currently have today which one appreciates a lot but it is also sad to realize that many had to lose their lives in order for that to even be possible.

(This is the sign before you enter the cemetery)

(One side of the cemetery that shows a couple of many tombstones)

(An unknown soldier’s tombstone. It was sad seeing how many of these were here.)

(This is placed right in the middle of the cemetery)

Next to the cemetery, there is a museum that houses articles of clothing and war items like knives, bombs, and invasion plans. Inside the museum, there is also a small theater that explains D-Day and how the plans for the invasion were planned out and what steps they took.

(One of the military machines used during D-Day)

(Another one of the equipment that was used on D-Day)

(These were the badges that were used by the US)

(Some of the badges that were used by the Nazis)

The last historical site that we ended up visiting was Omaha Beach, where D-Day took place. We had to take a taxi all the way to the beach since it was too far away to walk to. When we got there, it felt so surreal because the atmosphere felt so peaceful and calm, but when I reflected to what happened at that beach it was not like that at all.

Overall, the trip to Bayeux and Omaha Beach was an amazing opportunity! I had a great time with my friends and also had a moment to reflect back on life and those who fought for us and our future.

(The view of Omaha Beach)

(One of many bunkers that can be found at Omaha Beach)

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