Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: France (page 1 of 7)

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!

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)

Taking Courses in Paris

Author: Bianca Gamez

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

As a Political Science and French double major, I always knew that I wanted to study abroad somewhere in France so I can be fully immersed with the culture and language. However, I never would have imagined actually having that dream of mine come true. As many students who have studied abroad know or who are currently applying to study abroad, the application process is tedious and the transition to a new country can also be a bit difficult. On the other hand, the experience received by being able to study in a different country is unforgettable. I decided to study abroad through the program provided by Boston University which includes half the semester of classes and the other half we get an internship in our concentration.

Currently, I have been taking classes that started on the 6th of September and will be ending on the 25 of October. The classes I decided to take were art history, the study of French cinema, theater, and songs, and a language course on French writing. I made the decision to take courses that would help me obtain a better knowledge on the French culture and not just on the language. My art history class has exposed me to not only the history of art but to the meaning of art in France especially in Paris. For instance, art in Paris is important in their culture and it’s a conversation started, as well, because as my professor said art is one of the first things French people were exposed to because it is everywhere. Throughout this course, we have visited the Museum of Orsay, Museum Marmottan, the Nation Art Museum of Centre Pompiduo, and Palais Tokyo. The course began from the classical art pieces to the more modern pieces of art and we talked about how each style of art was influenced.

(This was at Musée D’Orsay)

(This was one of my favorite pieces of art at Musée D’Orsay which is by Seurat called Cirque)

(This is a piece from Centre Pompiduo which is considered to be more modern)

My other course on cinema, theatre, and songs offered me the same opportunities with outings to go see French films in the movie theaters and see French plays at the theaters. This course has been teaching me about the law on French radio stations and about the culture around plays and movies. For example, I learned that French radio stations have a law where their music that they play has to be 60% French music and cannot play the songs numerous of times throughout the day. The reason they have this is to help make sure those hearing music on the radio are being expose to different types of music. In addition, this course was a bit more difficult than the others because when the class would go to the movies or the theater there were words that I could not understand and sometimes the dialect spoken would be challenge. Because of this, I always had to remind myself that it’s okay not to know everything that is being spoken because this is the reason why I am studying abroad, so I can speak more fluently the language and understand the culture and traditions here.

(This was when my class went to the theatre to watch the play Art by Yasmina Reza at the Theatre Antoine)

(My class also went to a smaller theatre to go see the play Et pendant ce temps Simone Veille)

So far, I have been very pleased with the decision to study abroad in Paris. Every day I am exposed to new challenges where I am forced to get out of my comfort zone. For instance, in the beginning of the program, I had no idea how the metro worked and how to get a metro pass so I was forced to ask multiple people for directions and assistance in a language where I did not feel that I could fully express myself. On the other hand, now the challenges for me are figuring out where I have not explored yet and making sure that I speak French almost the whole time with my friends so that I am prepared to speak it at my internship which is at a law firm. Overall, I look forward to learning new expressions and words from Parisians around me and at my internship.

(The Eiffel Tower at the stop Trocadéro)

(Me on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower)

(Me at the L’arc de Triumph before a couple of friends and I had dinner on the Champs-Elyssées)

(This is when my friend, Lidia, and I decided to go visit Le jardin de Luxemburg (the Luxemburg Garden) in Paris)

(My friends Lidia (far left), Allie, Emily, and me at Sacré-Coeur enjoying the nice day)

Stockholm, Sweden; Reutlingen, Germany; Paris, France

Author: Shannon Ilg

Location: Stockholm, Sweden; Reutlingen, Germany; Paris, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

October 20, 2018

Stockholm, Sweden. A beautiful city! Although, it was rather chilly to walk around all day (40,000+ steps, if anyone is counting…) so I ended up purchasing a coat from a second hand shop and a touristy winter hat. Both of them have since then been wonderful additions to my travel wardrobe. Side note… my silly self decided that I wouldn’t need a winter coat so I had originally just brought a jean jacket and a slightly insulated raincoat. I think I would have been okay just in Reutlingen, but with all of the traveling I am certainly glad to have bought the coat and the hat.

October 21, 2018

To save time on traveling by train I secured a cheap flight back from Sweden. It was certainly a great choice, as I got to see the beautiful sunrise over the wing of the airplane (and also saved myself from a 24 hour journey…). Upon flying back into Hamburg, we significantly lowered travel time, and also were able to stop briefly in Berlin again, where we attempted to buy currywurst where we had previously (a delicious sausage street food). Unfortunately, the vendor was not open yet as it was 9 am, so we settled for a chain restaurant.

October 22, 2018

The next morning, Reutlingen greeted us with the first frost. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

October 23, 2018

Another day, spent completely in the walls of the study room, working endlessly on homework. I mean, this is *study* abroad… we can’t just travel all the time! (Although I have done a fair job of traveling every spare moment)

October 24, 2018

I just have to say kudos to the chef of this wonderfully magical mac and cheese that breathed the life back into me at 2 am. It was delicious. Thank you, Lauren.

October 25, 2018

Here you see the contents of approximately 73% of the meals I eat when I’m traveling. A) it’s cheap. B) it’s quite delicious. C) it’s easy to pack upwards of 5 meals for two people at the same time. D) It’s relatively light and packable. E) You can easily carry peanut butter and jam, Nutella and honey, or a number of other combinations so it doesn’t get boring. F) I mean, I could go on, but I think you get the gist…

Oh, by the way, this is the start of Fall Break for classes in Reutlingen (although I still had to keep up with my 3 classes from Valpo), and this countertop is in Paris.

October 26, 2018

Oh, look at that! The Eiffel tower! In all honesty, I was not expecting a whole lot from it at all. My thoughts were approximately ‘it is an overrated hunk of metal that everyone likes taking pictures of’. But it was actually really cool to see in person! It was a lot taller than I was expecting, and you could see it from very far away. Although I don’t think I need to go back any time soon, it was certainly worth the time to go see.

October 27, 2018

So as you can see, I had a pigeon on my arm. This was in front of Notre Dame, and there were a bajillion of these birds out there. There were some men selling bird food that you could attract them with, some people having ten or twenty birds on them at the same time. I happened to have a bunch of stale granola with me, so we used that and had the time of our lives waiting for our tour to begin.

Paris Weekend Adventure

Author: Ulises E. Hernandez

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Europe is famous for its food, culture, parks, monuments, and buildings. Located in Paris, France, The Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic monuments in Europe. With less than two months remaining in our study abroad program, my best friend and I decided to designate a weekend to visit the wonderful city of Paris. From the Cambridge study center, we took the train to London where we took a bus to France. You might be thinking, England is part of the United Kingdom island?!? Yes, that is correct, England is part of an Island, but thanks to the outstanding European engineers, a tunnel was constructed that allowed the connection between the British island and the European mainland. The bus ride was 7 hours long and it dropped us off outside of Paris.

The very first major building that we visited within about an hour from arrival to Paris was the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We had the opportunity to go inside to look at the most amazing artwork and religious artifacts. Hundreds of tourists from all over the world visit the Cathedral and many of them go up the towers to get a better view of the city and also to look at its amazing bells. Due to our narrow time frame and tight schedule, we were unable to go up the tower, but we did take time to take a few pictures outside the cathedral.

During our visit, the weather in Paris was very cold and windy, but that didn’t stop us from visiting the Eiffel Tower. After taking the metro located about a mile away from Notre Dame Cathedral, we ate dinner at a French restaurant a few blocks from the tower. After eating an amazing lunch and having experienced very strange service, we walked to the tower and we got in line to enter the enclosed area around the tower. From the ground level and to the first and second floor, Ben and I took the stairs. The view from the top of the tower was amazing and we had the opportunity to see the entire city. By the time we made our way down the tower, it was already dark so the lights came on while still inside the tower which to me was a very unique experience.

On our second day in Paris, we visited the Louvre Museum. This museum has a lot of artwork and also has very historically important artifacts from all around the world. One of the most famous artworks in the museum is the Mona Lisa, which attracts a lot of tourists. After walking through the museum for a few hours, we took the metro to visit the very famous Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is actually much bigger than what it seems in the pictures. Ben and I took a few pictures from across the street of the Arc and we walked around the city. Before we left Paris, we took a cruise that takes you to see the major tourist destinations since most of them are located near the river. Overall, we had a very interesting and amazing experience in Paris, France.

Introducing the Bloggers: Skylar

Blogger: Skye Schoedel

Location: La Rochelle, France

Major: Marketing with a French Minor

One of the biggest regrets college students have is not going abroad. Going abroad and living in a foreign country after college is something that is typically incredibly expensive, but doing so while you’re in school allows for SO much money to be saved – you pay the same tuition as you would at Valpo and the cost of housing is typically similar. I knew I wanted to study abroad since I was in high school, because it’s an amazing opportunity for me to get out there and explore the world – pushing myself out of my comfort zone and taking my language skills and putting them to use, it’s an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

I’m incredibly excited to travel around Europe – I’ve never been to Europe and I am beyond excited to go and see all of the different cultures and people, their ways of life, the food, just everything that will be different. I cannot wait!!


Unsolicited Advice

Author: Natalie Wilhelm

Location:  Cergy-Pontoise, France

Hi all! Here we are, already at the end of the semester! Since I’ve made it to seventeen days before my flight home, I feel myself qualified to offer some free advice to anyone who is going abroad or just considering doing a semester à l’étrangère. So here are the four things I wish somebody had told me before I came abroad.

1. You are going to change (a lot)

I have changed so much since coming abroad. I’ve become more determined, more capable, and, strangely, more relaxed. I’ve learned to love life even more than ever before. I savor every minute with my friends, and adore making new ones. My plans for the future have also changed; the picture I have of my future now is different than it was five months ago. And that is okay. Allow yourself to grow while you’re abroad. Take the good with the bad and roll with the punches. You’ll come out the other side stronger and wiser than ever before.

2. It’s okay to miss home

You are going to miss your home, and Valpo, and everything that those places mean to you. Your chest is going to ache with the missing it sometimes. That doesn’t mean that you’re not making the best of your experience abroad. All that means is that you left something behind worth missing. You left people and places that you love, and that is a beautiful thing. Never, ever feel badly or embarrassed for being homesick.

3. It’s okay if you don’t want to move

You do not have to want to drop everything and move to your study country. It’s a common thing for people to say, “OMG, I can’t wait to move back to France/England/Spain and live there FOREVER.” It’s okay if you don’t feel that way. Before this semester, I thought I wanted to work abroad and never go back to the states. But since coming to France, my determination in that has shaken. I miss the U.S. I miss the miles of flat road through Indiana; the rolling hills and mountainside monuments of South Dakota; the ruggedly beautiful, self-assured streets of New Orleans. It’s natural to feel that way. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t picture yourself living abroad forever.

4. You are not a failure

Dear reader, please take this one to heart. There will be days when you will feel utterly exhausted. You will be homesick, tired, and lonely. You’ll miss speaking your native language all the time. Everybody else will seem more well-adjusted than you are. You’ll feel like you’re falling out of love with your study country. And you’ll think, “I’m failing at this. I can’t do this. What was I thinking?” But you are doing it, every single day, even if a day involves nothing more than walking to the bakery or to the post office to mail a post card home. You are learning about yourself and the world. Your beliefs, experiences and faith are being challenged every day. The goal of studying abroad is not to become French/English/Spanish. The goal is to learn, and learning you are. Trust me, it’s going to add up. It’s going to work out. And when you get back home, you’ll have all these amazing stories rattling around in your brain (and people will want to hear them!). So hang in there. Don’t give up!

So there’s my advice that nobody asked for. Keep chugging along, Crusaders. I’ll see you soon.


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