Tag Archives: Paris

Weekend Trip Ideas from Paris, France

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Are you about to travel to or study abroad in France? After studying in Paris for almost four months and experiencing a Trafalgar tour of France a few years ago, I can tell you some of my favorite weekend trips to help spark ideas for your travel planning. I limited each recommendation to a couple sentences – if you have questions, feel free to comment and I can share more ideas with you!

  • Giverny: My absolute favorite place slightly outside of Paris, where you can tour Monet’s home. Explore the water lily ponds, luscious gardens, and quaint home where Monet and his family resided.
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Giverny with my mom in August 2011

  • Palace of Versailles: Learn why the French revolution occurred based on the extraordinary, ornate palace from the French royal families. I can almost guarantee that you will likely never see so much gold in one building at one time.
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Palace of Versailles with my mom in August 2011

  • Bordeaux: Enjoy the best wine in the world with a Bordeaux wine country tour. I enjoyed Medoc which has stronger red wines. If you prefer lighter red wines, go to St. Emilion. The Bordeaux Tourism Office offers excellent city walking tours for affordable prices, great views, and interesting history.
  • Normandy: Visit Deauville, the home of Coco Chanel, and Honfleur where you will find artsy neighborhoods and sailboats. While I did not have the opportunity to see the World War II battle fields, I would also highly recommend going there to see one of the most emotional historical sites.
  • Brittany: Visit St. Malo for a medieval experience along the sea. Try both sweet and savory crepes, which are originally from Brittany. Tour Mont St. Michel to see one of the wonders of the world. The cathedral and castle are incredible.
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Mont St. Michel in January 2016

  • Strasbourg: Go on the Happy Tour to learn the city’s history of the city, including political control issues between Germany and France and one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.  Admire the fairytale-like buildings and enjoy a mix of German and French cuisine.
  • French Riviera:Explore some of the most beautiful cliff-dwelling beaches of France and posh shopping in Nice and St. Tropez. Explore the playground of the rich and famous in Monaco.
  • Arles: Enjoy Vincent Van Gogh’s home where he painted over 300 pieces of artwork and explore ancient Roman ruins.
  • Lyon: Experience the third largest city in France that has become a gastronomical capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • London: Take the 2-hour EuroStar trip (underwater!) from Paris to London. Sandemann’s walking tour provides a great overview of the highlights of London, including Big Ben, Westminister Abbey, and the changing of the guards. Also take advantage of excellent theatre options – I enjoyed Phantom of the Opera! Consider a day trip – I had an amazing time in Stonehenge, where I saw the famous rocks. I visited Salisbury where I saw the Magna Carta and Western Europe’s tallest cathedral. I ended the day trip in Bath, where I enjoyed learning about the Roman baths and tried crème tea at an Alice in Wonderland inspired café.
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London in January 2016

Check out my Spanish Adventures Revealed blog posts to learn more specifics about France (Paris, Paris cont’d.Giverny and VersaillesAvignon, Arles, French Riviera, French Riviera cont’d., Dijon, and Lyon). Do you have other favorite weekend trips from Paris? Help out your fellow inspirNational readers and comment below :).

 

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What I Will Miss About Studying in France

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With a blink of an eye, almost four months have passed and I am now at Charles de Gaulle on my way back home. My winter and early spring in France have been some of the most exciting, challenging, and thought-provoking times of my life, and I could not be more grateful to have studied abroad here.

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Every time I go abroad I enjoy reflecting on what I will miss and not miss about the country I have experienced. Below I have captured some of the highlights:

What I will miss about studying in France:

  • Connections to new cultures. By learning French, I am now able to speak the language of 72 million people throughout the world, helping me connect personally with those who speak French. I have found that one of the most rewarding parts of life is connecting with others, and language is the first step in the connection process. My spirits were lifted when I was able to speak French and be understood by others, especially when I started to think in French about a month ago. I am grateful to now be able say more than “bonjour” and “merci” when I travel or work in France, Africa, Canada, the Middle East, and other Francophone regions. As a French student in Paris, it is interesting to think that I actually ended up meeting more foreigners than French people, since the foreigners were in classes with me also learning French. My classmates were from every continent except Antarctica, and often times our only language in common was the one we were learning. Not only did we learn French together, we discussed the differences between our countries and our cultures, related to all facets of life (food, family, history, law, politics, etc.). I was able to connect with so many unique people and develop a better understanding not only of the Francophone world, but of the world of all of my classmates. In many ways I felt like I was in the United  Nations. I truly think that if we all have the opportunity to learn a language or take any class with peers who are different from us, we will develop a better understanding and stronger appreciation for diversity.
  • Freedom to explore. A student by morning, I had the afternoons free to “go wherever the wind blows” as I like to say. Each week I visited a variety of tourist sites, balancing being a tourist with the fact that I needed to rest, stay in touch with loved ones, plan travel, complete administration work for my university, and prepare for my summer internship. It was so refreshing to have some time all to myself with no boundaries except the ones I created. I took advantage of my free time and learned about centuries of history with disciplines spanning from art, to food, to history, to cuisine, to sports, and more. I think it is important for all of us to take a break from our normal regimented routines in order to expand our minds and allow creativity to come to us.
  • Attention to detail. Each French person has/her own specialty and he/she does it well. The boucherie offers excellent meats, the fromagerie offers world-renown cheeses, the vignoble offers wines that make your taste buds smile, and the boulangerie offers breads and pastries better than you would ever imagine. The architect builds some of the most intriguing buildings in the world and the fashion designer creates styles never seen before that change the world of fashion. I will really miss eating gourmet cheese and drinking gourmet wine as part of my regular routine. The  exquisite attention to detail is unlike any other country I have visited before, and inspires me to have my own specialty.
  • Work-life balance. I have observed that the French prioritize life outside of work just as much as work. The strict labor laws in France dictating a maximum of 35 working hours per week encourages the French to spend time with their families and friends, develop new hobbies, and focus on their health and fitness. While our careers are one of the most rewarding parts of our lives, we have to remember that our lives outside of work can also be enriching. This lesson strongly resonated with me when I first studied abroad in Spain and changed my mindset about how I want to organize my life. My experience only helps that lesson grow stronger as I advance in my career and grow older.
  • Ease of travel. With the small size of countries and access to public transportation, you can be in four different countries with four completely different languages in one day. I took advantage of this while in Paris and traveled to Bordeaux, Normandy, Brittany, Strasbourg, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal during the weeekends.

What I will not miss about studying in France:

  • Poor customer service. This was by far my strongest pet peeve, as I often felt mistreated in restaurants and stores. I realize that expectations for customer service vary by country, especially from the United States where tips encourage excellent service. I wish that there was an international code for customer service, ensuring that whether a person is given a tip or not, he/she will treat customers with respect and a friendly attitude.
  • Overgeneralizing about Americans. Almost every day I heard negative comments about Americans. At first, I accepted the comments as many of them were partially true. After a while, though, it became irritating because not all Americans are the same and we have so many positive qualities about us. The United States is fortunate to have one of the best democracies in the world, equal opportunity for all citizens, innovative businesses, one of the best healthcare systems, and the best university education system. I often wondered, if the people who criticized Americans hate us so much, why are they using an iPhone, listening to Justin Bieber, watching American reality TV, following American politics, wearing Nike shoes, and speaking English? I often felt that people made negative comments to follow the bandwagon of what they have heard in the media. With the current United States political election, I recognize that we are on everyone’s radar throughout the world with the controversies discussed on TV. Rather than fighting back, though, I have chosen to demonstrate the positive qualities of Americans by being an ambassador of sorts. This is food for thought for us as you meet others and represent your citizenship!
  • Overcrowded public transportation. The metro and bus system in Paris are fantastic in principle, but they are often so crowded that it is difficult to breath and get on/off the metro/bus. My commute time to class and tourist sites on the metro was not pleasant, and naturally made me have more of a negative attitude. I learned that the metro system has not been updated recently. With a growing population, it will be necessary to add more public transportation options for Parisians and tourists to ensure the safety and health of the population.
  • Public health issues. While smoking in public has decreased immensely in recent years, I was still amazed by how many youth smoke and throw cigarette butts on the streets in Paris. My exposure to second hand smoke was probably equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, which is dangerous! Besides smoking, hygiene was different than I’m used to even after traveling the world, especially oral hygiene. I have learned that oral hygiene is prioritized more in the United States than in other parts of the world, but I hope it becomes more of an international standard. I have learned from my dad (retired dentist) that oral health is significant to overall health.  Overall hygiene, including oral and body odor, will also help make the crowded public transportation more manageable and pleasant for everyone.

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Combining all of my thoughts, I am so grateful for the personal and professional growth I gained from my experience studying in Paris. As always, the people were what made my experience so memorable, and I am happy that social media will enable us to stay connected. I look forward to continue growing and learning about the world as I travel and work abroad throughout my life.

First Impressions of Europe From the Eyes of a 25-Year-Old American Guy

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Earlier this month, my boyfriend, Hunter Reams, visited me in Paris and we explored France, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland. We experienced new cities together and had adventures of a lifetime! From meeting locals through AirBnb, to experiencing our first night trains, to enjoying cuisine from menus that we didn’t understand, to walking miles through historic streets, to exploring art and culture museums, to sipping coffee (or wine 😉 while people-watching and enjoying the breathtaking views, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel with Hunter during our busy and budget-conscious graduate student lives. Since it was Hunter’s first time visiting continental Europe, I thought it would be interesting to capture his perspectives of Europe as a mid-2os American. Thank you, Hunter, for sharing your perspective of our story and your candid thoughts!


Everyone dreams of traveling through Europe. If you have not visited, Europe is that magical land that you have quickly scrolled through on Facebook on your friend’s endless Facebook pictures. Well, having recently returned from a 2-week trip through France, Hungary, Austria, and Switzerland for the first time, I am now one of those Facebook picture posters. That is because Europe is beautiful. A land of beauty in a way that I truly did not know existed.

Besides losing all hope of sleeping on my plane, due to a baby in close proximity, everything about my trip was incredible. From my first moments in France, traveling through the suburbs to reach downtown Paris, I could tell that this would be an adventure of a lifetime. Several times throughout the taxi ride I compulsively exclaimed: “Wow, look at that cathedral,” “Everyone is so slim,” “The cars are so small,” “This neighborhood reminds me of D.C.”. Never before had I felt so far away from home, yet things did not look all too unfamiliar. I think that my major theme from my trip comes down to exactly that: It is another world over there – so much history, conflict, and culture. But also, it also showed me that we live in a small world. I saw shops and restaurants that originated in the U.S., next to 1,000 year old historical monuments from early human empires. It was definitely a cultural dichotomy.

Strasbourg, France: Simply put, Strasbourg was amazing. I visited Strasbourg for a day and a half with Brittany and one of my best friends and would love to go back again. Strasbourg was a city that seemed like something out of a movie. While on the walking tour, I noticed that literally every building looked like it was from the year 1400. Additionally, it is on the border of Germany and France – so both cultures are seen throughout the city. I enjoyed German-inspired French food at historic taverns. But the most distinctive and memorable part of Strasbourg was the Cathedral. This mammoth of a church dots the skyline in the center of the city and is truly one of the most breathtaking buildings I have ever seen.  Strasbourg is a hidden gem that I would recommend for anyone traveling through Europe.

Exploring Strasbourg with Brittany and one of my best friends, Nick!

Exploring Strasbourg with Brittany and one of my best friends, Nick!

Budapest, Hungary: Budapest was definitely my wild card coming into the trip and it was one of our most exotic experiences. Brittany and I flew into Budapest and were picked up by our Airbnb host. Not only was our rent a mere 31 Euros a night, but our host Victor drove us home from the airport and all around the city. I am telling you this because one of my most resonating impressions of Budapest was that the Budapest people were incredibly friendly! I felt like everywhere we went in Budapest we would run into people that were nice, helpful, and overall just happy people. Now, I think Brittany and I were given a particularly accurate view of Budapest because we accidentally booked our Airbnb in the middle of the Jewish Ghetto…(I swear the description said “city center”). While we were not too thrilled at the prospect of staying in a poor part of the city, it actually ended up to be a real blessing. We walked all around areas of Budapest that were not meant for tourists and saw the lingering effects from WWII and the Nazi control of Hungary. Now that being said, Budapest is gorgeous and has probably the most beautiful riverfront that I have ever seen. The rolling Hungarian hills line both sides of the river with beautiful and historic buildings. The best decision Brittany and I could have made was to do the Danube river cruise. We enjoyed a full buffet dinner for a reasonable price, met great couples from England and Argentina, and had the perfect view of Budapest and its riverfront! After the river cruise, we wanted to experience the famous Budapest nightlife. Coming from Paris, where the bar scene was not as active, Budapest made up for it and then some! Brittany and I decided to go to a “ruin” bar, which is essentially a bar that is in a really old building and has all sorts of interesting and old objects throughout. For example, Brittany and I had drinks while sitting in a bathtub! With several floors, outdoor seating, happy bar-goers, and almost all 90’s American Music, it was designed for a great time. Brittany and I love 90s music so that was an unexpected plus!

View of the Hungarian Parliament from the Danube River Cruise

View of the Hungarian Parliament from the Danube River Cruise

Salzburg, Austria: Salzburg is a city that is more significant than some people may think. It is the birthplace of Mozart, home of the Sound of Music, and was an important military outpost with the oldest and best-preserved military castle in Europe. Salzburg was clean, historical, gorgeous, and it had a very unique and cool vibe. Brittany said it was her favorite city of our trip and I can definitely see why. When I think back to Salzburg, I picture myself walking around the city with the beautiful mountains surrounding the valley, and I think of all of the brightly colored shops and historical monuments all around. Although we only had a day to spend in Salzburg, the beauty of the area has stuck with me. On top of that, the food and drinks were delicious as well – we enjoyed weinerschnitzel and local beer on our first night! I will also never forget our last night in the city. We went on the Sound of Music tour and saw all of the famous settings from the Sound of Music. We then went to a beer hall – connected to a church for some reason – and drank beer with other Michiganders we bumped into at the hall of probably 1000+ people. We drank for a few hours, drinking out of the same big mug, washing it out with water, and getting it refilled from a keg, (like good Germans). After we both had our fair share of beers, we stumbled around Salzburg, went to another bar, ate burgers and fries (like good Americans), and then hopped on our 2:30am train and headed to Switzerland!

Salzburg Scenes from the Sound of Music Tour

Salzburg Scenes from the Sound of Music Tour

Bern, Switzerland: I look at Switzerland as a place that does everything the right way. Bern is so beautiful, historic, charming, and really encompasses the beauty of Europe in one city. Yet at the same time, Bern is modern. Public transportation is the main form of transportation. The buses, trolleys, railways, were all modern and sustainable. People walking everywhere or riding bikes. And the culture blended several influences from France, Germany, and Italy all in one place. It was the ultimate melting pot in one of the most beautiful locations I have ever seen! At this point in our trip, Brittany and I were definitely a bit exhausted after 4 days of non-stop travel. Bern was the perfect place to relax. We walked all around the city, climbed to the top of a hill and witnessed one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen, and enjoyed some Swiss fondue. Definitely a great place to visit!

On our way to dinner at Rosengarten, overlooking all of Bern!

On our way to dinner at Rosengarten, overlooking all of Bern!

Paris, France: I spent the majority of my time in Paris. Luckily, I was able to spend it with Brittany in her host family’s apartment and experienced a more accurate picture of Paris – not one as just a tourist. When I think of Paris, one word comes to mind: “grand.” Paris was so grand. Every building, all of the people, the food, the culture; it was all so beautiful and so detailed. I was fortunate to have enough time to visit all of the major attractions: I stood on top of the Eiffel tower, looking over the beauty of the city from a bird’s eye view. I saw Notre Dame, explored the exhibits of the Louvre, enjoyed wine and cheese at Montmarte, wandered around the incredible Palace of Versailles, and shopped along Champ-Elysees (I bought my new work bag that will be a great memory while I am interning this summer). I ran along the Seine River and enjoyed an evening picnic at Pont des Arts (like a typical Parisian – I carried wine and cheese in my backpack during my run and Brittany was very grateful :)). I spent mornings studying at the coffee shops and people-watching while Brittany was in French class. I shopped in Galeries Lafayette and enjoyed famous pastries at Cafe Angelina with Brittany, observing a level of affluence and eloquence that I had never experienced before. Paris is a city that is too surreal for words. Even in the outer portions of the city, the detailed buildings and quaint shops made it all so cool. Paris had it all. The public transportation is excellent and the cleanliness, history, and modern conveniences make Paris a city that really represents the best of the Western World. Admittedly, I will concede that I was a bit disappointed with the Parisian nightlife, culinary scene, and the pompous attitude of quite a few French people. But the overwhelming beauty and history of the city more than made up for it. I am not exaggerating in saying that Paris is a city that everyone needs to visit!

Beautiful, sparkling Eiffel Tower at night!

Beautiful, sparkling Eiffel Tower at night!

Overall: Europe was an amazing place that gives me both faith in humanity and faith in our planet. I explored a continent that combined the best of both worlds: historical culture and a progressive sustainable society. People were in shape and stylish. People I met were knowledgeable, and understood history and the melting pot of cultures throughout the world. People were aware of American issues and I had some great debates with Europeans about the current state of American politics. The cities were all clean and safe. If I had to point out any cons to Europe, it would be that the food and drink portions are too small (as a pretty big guy I had to make an adjustment). But other than that, Europe really changed my perspective on the world and blew me away. I think that everyone should try and explore Europe to discover this world for themselves. Ultimately, as it did for me, I think Europe will give you a different perspective on life. A perspective that values history, the public society, and culture. I explored four countries that truly value providing for the public good, which I hope the will continue to inspire the U.S. I have learned so much from my time in Europe and I have now caught the travel bug. I can’t wait for the next time I satisfy my wanderlust and I greatly recommend any of the places I visited on my first of many Eurotrips!

Why Study Abroad More Than Once

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Many of us are confronted with the opportunity to study abroad during our university studies, but what happens if we have an opportunity to study abroad more than once?

My first reaction: Go for it! I was blessed with the opportunity to study Spanish at the University of Salamanca, Spain while an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. I also spent an extended spring break in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil as part of one of my corporate growth strategy classes. Now, I am studying French in Paris as a part of my International MBA program at the University of South Carolina.

Why should you study abroad more than once?

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Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Your first study abroad experience is likely going to include a lot of adjustment. It may be your first time outside of your home country or at least away from home for an extended period of time. With this adjustment comes a lot of time spent on learning how to travel alone, how to adapt to a new culture, how to speak a new language, how to stick to a budget, how to be spontaneous, and the list goes on. You gain a lot of wisdom about  yourself and the world around you when you first study abroad. By studying abroad a second time, you can apply that wisdom you gained to make your next journey smoother and more fun.

With less adjustment related to some of the administrative details of travel, you will be able to focus more on on introspection and personal growth. Studying abroad provides with more time to work on “you” – changing your dietary habits, improving your fitness habits, becoming more multicultural and globally aware, and learning a new language. I have been actively working on enjoying each morsel of food rather than feeling the need to indulge. I am also becoming trilingual and adding France to my list of places where I can live and work one day.

While studying abroad a second time, your priorities will likely change, as every year we grow older (and hopefully wiser :). For example, life circumstances, such as relationships, may make you less focused on dating in your new country and instead experiencing places alone or with your significant other. Perhaps your first study abroad experience you learned that you can’t travel every weekend without feeling stressed. You may realize that you want to travel more or less during your study abroad experience. After my time in Salamanca, where I traveled every weekend, I realized that this time I would prefer to travel less and become fully immersed in the Parisian life. My friends in Paris have also discussed blogging and how they forgot to write about their experiences the first time studying abroad and  would like to share their experiences with their families. In my case, I have decided to change my approach to blogging. While in Spain, I wrote a blog post every day about my agenda and travels. Now in France, I prefer to focus on stories, personal reflections, and lessons that I can share with others.

During my second study abroad experience, I have been much more comfortable with alone time, planning solo travel and  visiting sites independent from my school field trips. This is the result of learning how fascinating solo travel can be, as you can shape your trips according to your own personal interests, you can pause when you want, and most importantly, you can reflect about the world around you. Learn more about why you (especially women) should travel alone in one of my previous posts here. I especially enjoyed last weekend when I traveled to London alone, experiencing the Chunnel for the first time. I stayed with one of my good friends, but she had already visited many of the tourist sites that interested me, so I explored solo. Together we did a Sandemann’s walking tour of London (which I highly recommend!), attended the Phantom of the Opera performance at Her Majesty Theatre, played trivia with the Belsize Rugby Club, and enjoyed fish and chips and Indian cuisine. Then, I visited the Tower of London, Westminister Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London alone. I also went on a solo day trip to Stonehenge, Bath, and Salisbury. I was fascinated to learn about the royal history in London, the primitive culture in Stonehenge, the Roman influence in Bath, and the democratic influence of the Magna Carta at the Salisbury Cathedral. I was able to reflect about all of these curiosities while walking around the sites, taking photographs, and riding on the bus between destinations. I also felt encouraged to meet new people and spark conversations with others attending the tours with me. While on the Golden Tours trip to Stonehenge, Bath, and Salisbury, I met an interesting woman who considered herself to be a global citizen, with a background in Spain, England, the United States, and now Israel. We had a fascinating discussion about life in Israel and the importance of serving your country in order to develop stronger patriotism and respect for all that your country does for you. Had I not traveled solo, I may not have sparked a conversation with her!

My conversation with the woman from Israel reminded me the importance of being a global citizen in today’s interdependent world. Studying abroad more than once will demonstrate to your future employers that you are globally aware, multicultural, adaptable, and potentially multilingual. As companies continue to expand to more countries and we all become more connected through the wonders of modern technology, it is important for all of us to develop global understanding. Studying abroad provides further depth of understanding about the world than a quick vacation, so I strongly encourage you to search for these opportunities while you are a student.

When you are faced with the choice and you have the budget, I hope that you will study abroad at least once. The world is at your finger tips if you are willing to do the research to find affordable travel, housing, and education options! If you are considering studying abroad in Europe, you can learn more about how to travel Europe on a budget here.

Overcoming Living Abroad Challenges

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We often learn about all the adventurous and joyful stories of studying abroad. But what happens when life gets in the way? Studying and living abroad are very exciting life experiences, but they come with challenges. Below are some of the common challenges I have faced and insights about how to overcome them to make the most of your time abroad.

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Source: expatexchange.com

Insomnia: Time differences and foreign beds make insomnia a likely occurrence when moving abroad, especially when you first arrive to the destination. I experienced this intensely when I studied in Spain a few years ago. It took me almost a week to adjust to the time difference! Now in Paris, it took me no time whatsover to adjust to the time difference. My secret this time was to not take a nap when I first arrived on a Thursday morning, and to instead go to bed early that evening. I have experienced insomnia in recent days, likely related to doing too much (e-mails, studying, blogs, social media, chatting with friends) before bed. This is common for me even at home so I need to remember to give myself time to disconnect and unwind before bed.

Adapting to food: With a new destination comes new cuisine and dietary habits. I like to call myself a fish for the large quantity of water I prefer to drink. In Europe, I have felt like I have been living in a dessert because of the small portions of liquids and tiny cups to fill with water. In class, I bring two cups of water to make sure I stay hydrated throughout the day. I encourage you to bring a water bottle that you can easily refill (assuming that water is sanitary in your destination). It is also challenging to adapt to the timing of meals, quantity of food, and food content. For example, in the United States, I am used to Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast at around 8am, a salad or sandwich for lunch at around 12pm, a protein bar at around 3pm, and meat/carbs/vegetables for dinner at 6:30pm. I have learned to let go of this expectation, as it is common to not eat snacks in France and to have dinner at 8pm (or 9pm for my host family). Despite Americans having a reputation for eating poorly, I have learned that I actually have access to more fruits and vegetables in the United States than in France. I have learned that Parisians often eat fruit as a dessert rather than a staple food for meals. Vegetables are often cooked or are prepared in soups rather than in the form of a salad. I have adapted to this custom, but also make sure to purchase salads and fruit when I eat at restaurants. Enjoying the local cuisine is part of learning process of living abroad, but make sure that you maintain a balanced diet to keep your digestive system in check!

Living with a host family and cultural differences: This is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself into a new language and culture! However with that immersion comes the expectation that you will adjust your routines and adapt your behaviors to mesh well with your new family. It is sometimes difficult to let go of everything you know. Before moving abroad, I encourage you to research your new destinations and customs. For example, it is an adjustment for Americans to get used to the French greeting of a kiss on each cheek, rather than a handshake. The more informed you are about the new culture before arriving, the more mentally prepared you will feel. However, don’t be afraid of the unexpected – this is part of the adventure! I am still trying to figure out why my host family closes every door of every room in the house – but I am starting to realize it is a habit of privacy, which is less common in the United States and respectable in some ways. Adaptability is one of the most important life skills, especially in the ever-changing global world where we live.

Keeping in touch with loved ones: Time differences and new schedules make it difficult to contact our loved ones. However, modern technology has been a God-sent in our mobile world. My favorite communication tools are WhatsApp (free international messaging and calling) and Facebook messenger (which now allows international calling). I also plan Skype dates with friends and family to have an “as-close-as-possible” experience to chatting in-person. Postcards also seem to be a more thoughtful approach to staying in touch, since they take more effort and are a flashback to the past of international communication. I encourage you to use all the new applications, but don’t forget to be a little old-fashioned and send postcards, letters, and packages to stay in touch with your loved ones!

Making friends: This is often what intimidates people the most when moving abroad, especially because of language and culture barriers. A university setting caters to social networking with planned activities and field trips for students. For those outside of the university setting, check out http://www.meetup.com which provides networking groups related to any and all topics (local events, sports, arts, dating, etc.). I have enjoyed attending expat events in Paris, which includes expats from around the world. We can all relate to the adjustments involved in moving to Paris! Also, for those hoping to learn local languages, check out conversation circles. Especially if you speak English, many countries have conversation exchanges between English and the local language. I look forward to trying this in Paris. It is a win-win for me to practice French and help others practice English!

For those of you considering or in the process of moving abroad, you may face these challenges like I have, but I hope that you remember with any challenge comes a solution. Now that more and more people are moving abroad, there are more advice articles than ever before. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about moving abroad!

Suivez votre bonne étoile

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“Suive votre bonne étoile” = “Follow your lucky star”

The tagline of my new favorite parfum, Étoile, from the Fragonard Parfumeur really resonates with me and describes how I have been living in Paris. While I generally have goals, a basic itinerary and places to visit each day, I am allowing spontaneity to direct me. In some ways, I feel that living spontaneously has been my lucky star.

Every day after French class, I leave in a new direction to explore the surrounding neighborhoods of Paris. My adventures started in L’Opera district, Notre Dame, and Montmarte last week. I also spent the weekend on a Seine River cruise, wine tasting at O’Chateau (I highly recommend this to you!), and trying tapas in the Montorgueil neighborhood. This week, I have had no official plans and have stumbled on some very intriguing areas and interesting experiences.

Starting on Sunday, I went on a run from Pont Mirabeau along the Seine River towards the Eiffel Tower. I stumbled upon dozens of tents selling antiques.  It was amazing to see antiques (furniture, paintings, jewelry, trinkets, and more) that were from as early as the 1500-1600s. I was most struck by letters written from the last two centuries, capturing brief moments in Parisians’ lives throughout history. I knew that antiquing was popular in the United States, but not in Paris! I told my host family about this and they said that antiquing is a trend in Paris, and you can actually find pretty affordable items at these markets. While at this point I am not ready to buy antiques, I will remember this when I am decorating my future home.

Yesterday, I planned to walk to Champs d’Elysses after class. En route, I found several cute boutiques and luxury stores and let myself get distracted. With the soldes happening until the beginning of February, it is the ideal time to shop and plan what you will need in the coming months, because soldes only happen twice a year in Paris. I shopped for clothes for my nieces at Chocolat et Tartin (couldn’t resist the most stylish toddler clothes I have ever seen) and had some luck at Zara.  I bought the cutest, most Parisian party shoes that I could find, along with a new black top and washed jeans. I then came across Chaise Longue, which has become one of my favorite places to buy cadeaus for family and friends. The best word I can think of to describe it is quirky, with interesting and unique gifts that are destined to make my loved ones chuckle. I bought an adorable Parisian umbrella and gifts for my parents, which I can’t reveal in case they are reading this :). One of my new expat friends, Chen, stopped by to show me Parisian highlights near L’Opera district. We walked along the Seine River to Pont des Artes, Place St. Michel and through Quartier Latin, which was so lively and welcoming. I was inspired to have a sunset picnic like the locals when mon copain visits me in March. It was interesting to learn from a Chinese-turned-French citizen about living in Paris and previously studying at the University of Lyon. Brag moment: we spoke almost the entire time in French! Imagine a native Mandarin-speaker and a native-English speaker communicating in French; I’m sure the locals were confused if they overheard us! With all the walking, I was starving, so I stopped for une tarte de framboise and un verre du vin rouge. It was the perfect way to end the day and people-watch in Quartier Latin.

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Today after class, I again planned to visit Champs d’Elysses. On my way there, I came across the Musee de Parfum, Fragonard. I learned that there were free museum tours and was intrigued.  I entered the museum, and without realizing it at first, joined a tour group of French senior citizens (mostly women) for a French tour of the museum. I am sure I was out of place, but no one said anything (despite a few glares), and it was interesting to learn about the museum in French to test my comprehension. The tour guide explained the history of the creation of perfume, and specifically Fragonard parfum starting shortly before the First World War. I learned about the olfactive triangle, which was fascinating to discover that a parfumeur is like an artist, combining different levels of scents that appeal to the nose. It was interesting to learn that the founder, Eugene Fuch’s intent was to encourage tourists to take home a “scent of France” from their travels. I was easily convinced to be one of those tourists. At the end of the tour, we were able to sample several fragrances, and I fell in love with the first one, Étoile. I purchased eau de parfum and body lotion. Upon leaving the store, I noticed a crowd of women near stems of what looked like yellow flowers or pines on the ground. One of the ladies informed me that the museum was throwing away extra sprigs of mimosa and we were free to take them. I left the museum with new parfum and a bouquet of mimosa. I’m sure I looked silly carrying freshly cut mimosa flowers as I continued walking throughout the streets of Paris towards Champs d’Elysses.

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My next discovery was a beautiful park near the Grand Palais (which is another site I hope to visit soon). I sat on a park bench and enjoyed the fresh air. I was reminded of the importance of pausing and reflecting – it is easy for me to forget to do this in my daily life in the U.S.

Alas, I reached my desired destination of Champs d’Elysses. At this point I was starting to feel exhausted and was carrying a bouquet of mimosas, which limited me from doing a lot of shopping. I did, however, walk by the Renault store, which sparked my curiosity, because I have studied international business strategy cases about Renault in my IMBA program. I decided to enter the store. Right away, I noticed that their front display included Michelin tires, which was exciting for me as they will become part of my daily language this summer. The next displays showed the latest electric cars and highlighted that Renault sells the most electric cars in Europe. I was impressed to see that the store had a restaurant for customers to relax and recharge while shopping for new vehicles.

Who knew that one afternoon in Paris could combine learning about the history of parfum and the future of mobility and electric cars? C’est la vie de la spontanéité! I truly believe that I have had such diverse and exciting experiences because I have enabled spontaneity in my new Parisian life. I am going to continue follow my lucky star, which is a spontaneous, cheerful, and grateful path to being inspirNational in my daily life.

Enlightenment from Living in Paris

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Approaching my first two weeks abroad, I already feel that I have had substantial time to reflect on my adventure in Paris. As expected, I have learned a great deal about the French language and culture while in class, living with my host family, visiting tourist sites, and exploring the city. More significantly, though, I have learned about myself and how I can apply my Parisian mindset to my daily life. Below I have captured some of the key lessons that have enlightened me while living abroad in Paris.

  • Eat to enjoy, not to indulge. Many Parisians eat bread and cheese at every meal, and chocolates or pastries after every lunch and dinner. Most of our waistlines are saying “no fair! How is that possible?” This seems contrary to all diet rules we have heard. I eat sweets almost every day now, including crepes with Nutella, creme brulee filled chocolate, coconut cookies, and chocolate waffles. One significant observation is that the portions are a quarter of the size of those in the United States. The smaller portions are encouraging me to enjoy each morsel, rather than feel full after eating sweets. My host sister told me that the average French woman’s BMI is 19, which is on the verge of being underweight.  This reminds me that portion control is key. Rather than restraining ourselves and then indulging too much, we should allow ourselves to enjoy small portions and satisfy our cravings.
  • Look to appreciate, not to just see. Notice differences between your new destination and your home, and learn from them! Tourists are often better at looking to appreciate than locals, especially because tourists experience a series of “firsts” when traveling: “first time seeing the Eiffel Tower,” “first time cruising on the Seine River,” etc. For those living abroad, it becomes easy to overlook our surroundings. We may walk past monuments without appreciating their history. Or we may drive home from work when the sun is setting without noticing the beautiful sky. With the opportunity to visit Paris a second time, and now fully engage with the city as a student, I am focused on appreciating all of my surroundings. I am taking several photos to capture memories. I am reading every sign and researching the significance of the buildings, monuments, and streets around me (centuries of history I should mention). This appreciative outlook is helping me become more understanding of the French culture. I also feel more grateful for the small things that bring me joy and empowered to face adversity in my daily life.
  • Listen to understand, not to judge. While traveling and especially while living abroad, we are constantly encountering new people, which means new perspectives. In various conversations, we will likely hear things that enlighten us, surprise us, or even enrage us when living abroad. I’m surprised by home many expats in Paris I’ve met who have said, “You’re American, why do you need to learn French?” Or “Why are you traveling in Europe? I thought Americans only stayed in the U.S.” I have chosen to listen to their questions respectfully and respond with my genuine interests and goals about learning French. I realized that according to this stereotype about Americans, I might be rare for having the travel bug, eager to learn new languages, and explore new cultures. Rather than judging their assumptions, I am working to be an American ambassador, demonstrating that many Americans do in fact enjoy learning about other languages and cultures.

On a separate but similar note, traveling often forces us to take the role of listener. Particularly when we are learning a new language,  we are still learning how to formulate words to contribute (confidently) to a conversation. This intensive listening is a good exercise particularly for those of us who often voice our opinions. Without having to (or being able to) speak, we become more understanding and less apt to make quick judgments in a conversation.

  • Speak to communicate, not to fight. The world is full of hateful words, and it is easy for us to engage in a fight. We can be more effective by having the objective to communicate and foster understanding in a conversation. This became more apparent to me when I visited the Place Republique in Paris, which has a monument with a memorial for the terrorist attacks in January and November 2015. The memorial speaks volumes about the pain the French felt when attacked over the past year. Hundreds of candles, photos, poems, and letters surround the monument, voicing the Parisian’s sadness, values, and dreams for the future. The memorial has a way of communicating powerful words that inspire the world, rather than engaging in a fight. If we truly want to end the war on terrorism, we need to disengage from the “dirty fight,” respect each other, and not fall victim to the endless fear that terrorists are hoping to provoke. I have faith that goodness will prevail, especially if we can effectively communicate with eachother throughout the world.
  • Live to experience, not to achieve. Every year, I have come closer to the realization that life is a series of experiences, and not necessarily achievement milestones. With the expectation that we will have a series of experiences (and not just accomplishments), we will no longer fear failure. One of my favorite quotes that I recently read was by Nikola Tesla: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We will go through ups and downs, all of which combine to create the experience of life. My time in Paris has been a great example of this “experience” mindset. My first weekend in Paris I went the wrong way on the metro a few times, but it made me learn the “ins and outs” of the metro before beginning school. My phone died a few times and I didn’t have a charger, but it reminded me to pause and look with my own eyes rather than the eyes of my iPhone camera and social media pages. Despite all the changes and new beginnings in 2016, I have a sense of calm within me, solely because I am enjoying considering both positive and negative moments as life experiences.

I hope these inspirNational lessons I have learned while living in Paris can inspire you too. What other enlightenment have you experienced while living abroad?