In Retrospect

Well.

It has been quite a while since I visited this blog. My life is completely different now, and I have accomplished so many things since my study abroad experience two years ago. So, why now? Why have I spent my entire night revisiting every blog post, and have even been persuaded to create a post such as this at nearly 2 in the morning?

To recap in extreme brevity, I am now a graduate student studying art history at the University of Kansas. I am in my first semester, and I am taking a seminar about Paris! In the process of procrastinating some homework on a Sunday night, I decided to revisit this blog, as I was feeling a bit nostalgic. Down the rabbit hole I fell. So that brings me here.

I am absolutely astounded to see that this blog is visited regularly, by people from all over the world. I had no idea people were still visiting this blog, since I had forgotten about it myself. Well, after a night of reminiscence and re-discovery, I would like to share a few thoughts.

I would like to first state that I never finished this blog, and I deeply regret that. Obviously, I was incredibly busy in the last half of my semester in Paris. However, I included so much detail that I would otherwise never have remembered. I really can relive my semester through those posts, although it also seems like another life lived by another person. In some ways, it is. However, by not taking the time to create posts about the end of my semester, I am missing out on some great memories. Sure I still have the photographs, and I could potentially try and re-create image-filled posts with the few details I have left in my memory, but it would not be the same as the rest of this blog. I am conflicted as to whether that would benefit me, or anyone else, to do that two years after the fact.

Some of the things that this blog is missing from that time include a visit from my German friend, Sophia, and her sister. My grandmother and mother also visited me for a week in November, during Thanksgiving, and I got to play tour guide. We took day trips to Bruges and to Chartres. Also, I wish I had written about Paris around Christmastime, which is magical. I spent more time in Montmartre and went to the Dali museum. I crossed more things off of my list, including Sainte-Chapelle, Garnier’s Opera (twice!), the Paris Catacombs, and Disneyland. I made a super cute video with my friend Anna for my film class. I went to the Louvre a few more times and finally found the Code of Hammurabi. During my last weekend in Paris, Nelson Mandela died. The Eiffel Tower was lit in tribute to him. I visited the Abbey Church of Saint Denis, and my life was forever changed. My friend Miranda’s then-boyfriend came to visit her, and we went to Père Lachaise. The next day, they went to Saint Denis, and he proposed to her. I am still great friends with both of them, and was delighted to attend their wedding. There were many, many other things, too.

After returning to the US, I did end up getting a car, and I have been on many road trips across the US since! I still have not been back to Paris. I have, however, returned to Europe. This past summer, after graduating from KCAI with my BFA in photography and art history, I spent 3 weeks backpacking in Europe. I went to Istanbul, Prague, Salzburg, and spent a week in Spain. I planned all of this myself, along with my best friend from high school, Amelija, who joined me after Istanbul. All of that would not have happened if it weren’t for everything I learned during my semester abroad.

I mentioned that Saint Denis changed my life. It is evident throughout small bits of my posts here, but I fell in love with Gothic cathedrals during my Paris semester. I initially chose to study in Paris due to what I believed was my art historical passion; 19th-20th century French art. By the end of the trip, I was a Medievalist. I spent the rest of my junior year writing what would equate to an undergraduate thesis on the Abbey Church of Saint Denis. I used this to apply to graduate schools, and I presented it last spring at the Midwest Art Historical Society (MAHS) Annual Conference in Minneapolis, as well as KCAI’s annual Art History Symposium. Another change occurred in my interests during this time. My love of Medieval architecture expanded to Islamic Art, hence my desire to travel to Istanbul and Andalusia this past summer. I am now working toward my Masters in Art History, and I feel that anything is possible!

I have considered updating this blog with the aforementioned backpacking travels. I did dutifully keep a hand-written journal throughout the trip, as I did not bring a computer with me. The journal was, of course, a result of this blog, and the regret I still hold from not finishing it. I wonder if posting my more recent travel experiences would be helpful to anyone else, and considering the clicks I see this blog getting, I think they may be. Endless free time is not something I have as a graduate student, but here I am, writing this post.

I hope this blog inspires and informs anyone who is interested. I hope this post in particular is useful to someone other than myself, though it could also be only useful to me, and I guess that’s okay. Maybe not, it’s after 2AM now. I have to TA a class in the morning and I really should be sleeping. Who knows, I may not be finished with this blog yet!

My Ultimate Tourist’s Guide to Paris!

Note: This post was never completed as intended. I had originally planned to add more. I have discovered this unpublished post nearly 2 years after I started it! I think this information is great as-is, though I do very much wish I had finished this post. I may think of something every now and then and add on to this. If you ever have questions or seek advice about Paris, study abroad, or traveling in general, please feel free to ask!

Packing

If you need to buy another suitcase while you’re in Paris, there are several places you could look. I would recommend Rayon D’Or, because they have a wide selection and price range. I went to their location at Republique.

If you need any type of travel accessories (bottles and containers that fit the 100ml carry on requirement, for instance) there is an amazing store called Muji which can fulfill all of your needs and more. They have several locations across Paris. I went to the one in Forum des Halles.

As for the type of clothing you should bring, obviously it first depends on the season. As a general rule, a monochromatic wardrobe will be classic and versatile, with a few statement pieces for pops of color. Bring comfortable walking shoes, but not “sneakers.” I have noticed a sort of “sporty” fashion that is popular, including jogger pants and brand name running shoes, like Nikes. So, perhaps you can make that work for you. If you are only in Paris for a short amount of time, I would not worry about looking your most fashionable. I know it may seem like a big deal beforehand, especially if it’s your first time in Paris, but unless you’re going for fashion week, just be practical and comfortable above all else.

Measurements

Most people are familiar with some of the measurement differences between the US and Europe, such as how Europeans use the metric system and Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. However, I was unaware of just how many different ways there are to measure everything you can think of, and they’re all different in France! Here is a run-down of what you can expect to encounter that might catch you off guard:

Distance/Height/Weight/Volume: kilometers, centimeters, kilograms, liters.

Temperature: Celsius. So I still haven’t gotten used to this, but if you keep in mind freezing is 0 in Celsius and 32 in Fahrenheit, it can be somewhat helpful. I just use my phone to check the temperature in Fahrenheit.

Time: 24 hour clock. I recommend changing your phone to a 24 hour clock before coming to Paris to get used to it. Now I keep it this way all of the time!

Dates: Written as day/month/year

Names: Written as Last Name/First Name

Floors of Buildings: The ground floor of a building is 0. The first floor above that is 1, and so on. The first floor below the ground floor is -1, and so on. This takes a while to get used to.

Money

I’ve never exchanged money before, and honestly I don’t think it’s worth it. You absolutely need cash while you’re in Paris, however, because many places don’t accept cards (or require a chip card), or if they do accept cards, they have a price limit that you must spend in order to use a card. In any case, I think the best way to get cash is to take it out in large sums from ATMs. This limits bank fees, and you don’t have to pay exchange fees either.

Transportation

The two best ways to get around Paris are your feet and Paris’ amazing public transportation system. This includes buses, the RER trains (which go outside of the city to places like Versailles and Disneyland) and the metro. The Paris metro is really easy to use and is probably one of your best resources. You can get a map of the Paris metro pretty much anywhere (for free) and they are posted at least two times in every metro stop. Now depending on how long you will be in Paris, you have several options regarding tickets. If you’re only going to be there for a few days, then just get a booklet of tickets. If you’re going to be there for a week, a good option would be a Paris Pass, which gets you into pretty much all of the major museums/tours and acts as a public transportation pass. If you’re going to be there for several weeks, I recommend getting a Navigo. You can get these in weekly or monthly passes. I’ve been using it ever since September 1st and I haven’t looked back. It is seriously the most useful, easy little card ever. To get one, you have to have your picture taken in any of the photo booths that are in nearly every metro station (it costs 5 euros). Then, take this photo to the desk in the metro station and ask for a weekly/monthly Navigo pass. You can buy tickets and recharge your Navigo at any of the automatic ticket machines in the metro, which all have an English language option.

Eating Out

Rule number one of eating out in Paris: never sit down to eat unless you have at least 1-2 hours.

The food service industry is very different from what Americans are accustomed to. You will either take your own seat or wait to be seated, and then your drink and food orders are taken. Once your food is delivered to you, you will probably not see your waiter again for much of the meal.

If you would like to order water, the best method is to ask for “une carafe d’eau” (a carafe of water). The glasses are fairly small, but at least you can refill them yourself instead of trying to track down a waiter!

As in many European countries, tipping is unnecessary unless you feel that you received extraordinary service.

Sometimes, you may eat at a restaurant that seats you at a table with complete strangers. I’ve had this happen to me a few times in various European countries. You can either completely ignore them, or make some new friends!

Pickpockets & Beggars

Everywhere you go in Paris, you will constantly be warned against pickpockets. These are warnings you should seriously heed. Pickpockets aren’t out to hurt you physically, they just want to take your stuff, and they’re good at it. Since coming to Paris in August, I am literally the only one of my friends that still has their phone. It is not difficult to avoid being pickpocketed, you just always have to be aware of your bag. If you have a purse, make sure it is always closed and in front of you. Make sure that it closes in a secure manner, such as with a zipper. If you have a backpack, whenever you are in a crowded area or on the metro, swing in over one should so that it’s in front of you. If you are just keeping things in your pockets, do so at your own risk. As long as you are aware, you should have nothing to worry about. I’ve caught people sticking their hands in my bag twice since coming to Paris, but I’ve never had anything stolen yet (probably because I’m really paranoid). Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Aside from pickpockets, there are people all over Paris who want to take your money. They have many tricks to try and get you to give it to them, but the best thing to do is to ignore them. Homeless people have the cutest puppies you will ever see in your life. Women will sit crying and holding small infants. Groups of men will try and get you to play this finger game with them, and then while you’re distracted they’ll take your wallet. The worst are the clipboard girls. These are usually young women who walk around popular tourist areas (Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe) asking if you speak English. If you say yes, they will start telling you about some charity they are raising money for and ask you to sign their clipboard and donate some money. Seriously, ignore these people. They are everywhere and are very persistent, so the best thing to do is keep walking very determinedly in one direction. Don’t even try to be polite or talk to them. Just ignore them.

Apps

During my semester in Paris, I had an international data plan. However, during previous, shorter trips, I just used my phone in airplane mode and used WiFi, which is becoming more and more accessible anywhere you go! I usually don’t travel with my computer, and I do not have a tablet, so my phone is the main way I access information while traveling. As a result, I have discovered certain apps that I love to have while traveling. In some cases, apps will allow you to download information onto your phone, which is great because then you don’t need data or WiFi to access it, just a full battery! Also, these are all FREE apps, and I have an Android but I’m sure they’re all available on iPhone as well.

Google Translate: This is one such app that will allow you to download certain languages on your phone. That way, you can always translate on the go. There is also a camera mode which is useful for reading things like signs and menus, though it is admittedly not perfect. Still, Google is my favorite translation app!

Duolingo: If you want to have some semblance of the local language before you go (which I highly recommend), download this app and practice the language 10-15 minutes each day. It’s really fun and kind of addicting!

TripAdvisor: This app is a must-have! You can download entire maps and travel itineraries for cities to reference on your phone without any kind of connection. There are countless reviews and rankings for activities, restaurants, sites, you name it!

Google Maps: Granted, you really need a good data or WiFi connection for this to be helpful. Regardless, I do not know what I would do without it! Physical maps are not always easily available, and if you are planning on the fly, this app is a necessity.

Airbnb: If you are like me and use Airbnb to book most of your lodging while traveling, you need to have the app on your phone. Yes, you will need some kind of connection to access it, but you will be glad you can directly message your host when you get lost on the way to the residence!

Viber/WhatsApp: These are free messaging services that I have used to communicate with my family and international friends while abroad! It’s basically an app that allows you to text via WiFi or data, so you do not need a phone signal. I prefer to use these for texting, though I have made calls with Viber before. Sometimes you get the “ocean” sound and you need to have a strong connection, but it works for the most part.

XE Currency: An easy currency conversion app to calculate costs.

Unit Converter: This is non-specific, but it can be very helpful to have a measurement converter when traveling in countries that use the metric system.

Au Revoir, Paris

I realize I am over a month behind on this blog. What can I say, all that traveling and the end of the semester really caught up with me. I still have a bunch of photos to edit and I will fill in the past month and half with about three posts, but right now my last day in Paris is ending and I couldn’t leave without making this post.The past semester has been many things, and I know the full impact of it is impossible for me to grasp at this point.

First of all, this has been the most stressful semester of my life. And I say that having taken full-credit hour semesters at KCAI. This stress was a result from many factors: school, my living situation, food, my internship, money, adapting to living in a new country, constantly traveling, my peers, missing out on life back in the States, and so many other things. I really do not like the school I attended this semester. I won’t go on a rant bashing it or anything, but I grew to appreciate KCAI even more and I can’t wait to go back and be an over-enthusiastic tour guide again.

Another major issue is that choosing a homestay as my living situation did not have any of the benefits for which I chose it in the first place. Sure, Anne and her grandson were perfectly nice and did everything they were supposed to, but we hardly ever interacted. The two main reasons I chose a homestay were to improve my French and experience homemade French food and lifestyle. Anne is very old (I’d guess in her mid-late eighties, but maybe even older). She hardly leaves the apartment and spends most of her days sitting in her room watching TV. She has people come over all the time to do things for her. She doesn’t really cook, so the 3 meals I had a week were reheated frozen vegetables. The bread she gets is sliced, white American bread (which is not the kind of bread I eat, even in America!) The milk she gets is this weird phenomena in France that I don’t understand or trust: milk that you don’t have to refrigerate until after you open it. I know this may sound petty, but it was not the experience I was hoping for. Also, the area I lived in was really nice but incredibly boring. It was far from school, where my friends lived, and any form of interesting thing to do in Paris.

Despite these things, which definitely had a cumulative impact on my past semester, there were still so many other reasons I came to Paris which were fulfilled. In all, I visited five countries, four of which I had never been to before. Within those five countries, I visited 13 cities/towns, none of which I’d been to before. I also stopped in the Olso airport on the way to Paris, and tomorrow I’ll be stopping in the Copenhagen airport, but those don’t really count. In all of these places, I’ve seen some of the most amazing art and architecture ever created. I tried local specialties in each country. I made new friends and visited old ones. I have learned so much since that frightening first day where I had to go on the Paris Metro. I now know the Metro system instinctively, and it has become one of my favorite parts of Paris. Thanks to the ease of transportation here, I am actually more familiar with Paris after only four months than I am with Kansas City after having lived there for two years.

The one way in which I am absolutely sure this past semester has changed me as a person is that I have such an incredibly heightened sense of independence and self-confidence. All of the traveling I did this past semester was a result of personal research and planning. I can now honestly say that at any time, I could plan a trip around Europe very easily. I don’t know when I will get back to Europe again (though it better not be another five years), but in the meantime I can use these skills just as easily in the US. Sure, our public transportation systems are lacking, but there are 24 states I’ve never been to! Despite the monetary damage of living on the Euro for four months, I am determined that in the next year I will get my driver’s license and a car. After that, I only see an open horizon.

I cold go on and on, but right now my thoughts aren’t very organized. There were moments I hated Paris and couldn’t wait to go home, but ultimately I don’t think I ever had an issue with Paris itself. Paris is amazing. There are still so many things I didn’t get a chance to do while I was here, and even more that I hope to do again. But even if for some reason I never made it back to Paris, I would be satisfied. I spent my last day saying goodbye to all of my favorite paintings at the Musee d’Orsay, then walked along the Seine to Notre Dame where I had my last gelato at my favorite place. I then walked all the way back along the other side of the river to the Louvre, where I saw a few last things I hadn’t gotten to yet. The weather was beautiful, and honestly I couldn’t have asked for a better last day. I can’t wait to get home and see my family, cats, and friends, but Paris: I will miss you. Thanks for an incredible semester abroad.

2 Months in Paris: Halfway There

It’s pretty crazy that I’ve been living in Paris for two months now! Which also means I have two months left to go. Each week goes by faster and faster, so I think this last half will go by much quicker than the first.

As far as school goes, this past week was mid-semester. I’m now working on final projects/papers for all of my classes. I think maybe towards the end of the semester I’ll make a post dedicated to how school is here, so I don’t go off on a tangent. Basically, it has been kind of difficult adjusting to a new school, particularly one so much smaller than what I’m used to. I definitely appreciate KCAI even more now that I’ve been away from it and I’m so excited to go back next semester.

My French has definitely improved in the past two months, though not in the way I expected it to. I am really comfortable with practical French and do all of my  daily “transactions” in French. This past week I even got a haircut without using any English! I am still not very good at conversational French, and I am not happy with where my vocabulary is at. I know this will improve over the next two months, and once I leave France I will continue to work on it! I also think I have a pretty good French comprehension, as long as whoever is talking speaks slowly and uses enough words that I know. I was pleased to find that while waiting in the hair salon, I could read the celebrity magazines and understand almost all of it. I didn’t expect to become fluent within only four months, but living here has definitely given me a great start to understanding the language. In Amsterdam last weekend, I had to resist the now-impulse to speak French to everyone, which I guess is a good thing! I still have off-days where I can’t seem to understand what anyone is saying to me and I feel really stupid, but then there are equally triumphant moments where I completely understand someone and am really proud of myself. It has, like most things in this experience, its ups and downs.

I think in my one month post I described the stereotypical outfit for a Parisian woman, but it’s taken me a little longer to figure out men. In some ways, they’re almost exactly the same as women. The working men all wear business suits, but your average everyday outfit for the Parisian male consists of jeans or pants, shoes (meaning not sneakers or sandals), and a blazer. Under the blazer could be a plain t-shirt, light sweater, or a button-up shirt. Chambray button-ups are also big with men. And it is perfectly normal to wear scarves and have a murse.

Paris is every man’s urinal. I think this is because of the lack of public toilets, as well as the fact that most of the homeless seem to be men. I’ve seen men peeing along the sides of all types of buildings; one down the street from me to the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries! The metro is basically the unofficial sewer system of Paris. There are little gutters along where the floor meets the walls that I’m sure were made with the homeless and drunk in mind, but I’ve seen plenty of people clearly neither of those things use them as well. Once I saw a man along with his two small children, a boy and a girl, all peeing in the metro. I also saw a woman having a conversation with someone while her dog peed right there on the floor. So, beware of puddles!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the American chains that also exist here in Paris. Obviously there is McDonalds, which I haven’t gotten anything from because it’s not somewhere I go even in America, but I might just for the experience. You order on these touch screens and they have croissants and macrons there as well as everything else. I wonder if cheeseburgers are really called Royale with Cheese? A chain that surprised me here is Subway. For some reason it’s really, really popular. I don’t know why, considering all boulangeries sell sandwiches, but I guess in a way hoagies (or subs, or whatever you call them) are the closest thing in America to French sandwiches. They also have Pizza Hut here which again I don’t understand because you can get pizza almost anywhere and it’s probably a million times better than an American chain. There is the one Chipotle which I have gone to. It’s super expensive though, so unless you’re dying for it, it’s not really necessary to go there. Another surprise to me was Office Depot. It’s such a random chain to have here in Paris, but there’s one that I pass every day on the way to the metro so I’ve become used to it.

This second month has been fairly difficult, emotionally. I have tried to be honest on this blog about my experience studying abroad to make this as real and accurate as possible. However, there are a lot of things I haven’t shared on here yet simply because I didn’t feel ready to, or that they didn’t fit in with my previous posts. Mostly these have been very mixed feelings about living in Paris. I even felt guilty for a while, because I honestly do not like living in Paris, which is a dream come true for so many people! However, after talking with many other semester-long exchange students from America at my school, we all seem to be going through the same things and are on the same page, which is so relieving. Basically, none of us are that crazy about actually living in Paris. We think it’s beautiful and we love being able to see things in person that are not possible in the US, but none of us find Parisians to be accessible. This is heightened especially for me, because I specifically chose to live with a Parisian family and I had so many expectations, none of which have happened. Parisians are very prideful and private people. Whenever I see couples ogling all over each other (every day) I am more and more amazed that they somehow had an opportunity to speak to each other and get to know each other enough to be in a relationship. I don’t actually know any French people and I’ve been in France for two months! This is a pretty frustrating realization, but it’s one I’ve mostly come to terms with over the past month. This is the way it is here, which is something that I wanted to find out. It’s not what I expected, but I think I’m okay with that. Also, the main reason I chose Paris was because of all the history that the city holds, and regardless of who lives here, that is all still intact and has been well worth the trip. Still, I definitely think Paris is one of those cities that is much better suited for being a naive tourist for a week or two, seeing all the sites, eating the food, and then moving on. You will have a much more enjoyable time than trying to assimilate with people that are indifferent.

Another huge source of stress for me here has continued to be food. Every time I feel like I’ve finally found some stability, it doesn’t last very long. I honestly think that it is not possible for me to eat the way I want to in Paris. I’ve already decided to stop stressing so much about it and have since finally started eating baguettes every once in a while. Still, I dread every weekday at school when lunch time comes around and I have to struggle to find something in the area to eat that is somewhat decently healthy and not entirely composed of bread and cheese. The worst are cheese paninis. A lot of times this is my only option, and it is literally a bunch of cheese melted on some bread. I always regret ordering this, but sometimes I’m so hungry and frustrated I do it anyway. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to just take out half of the cheese and add in some vegetables, considering most places at least have lettuce and tomato, but it is not always an option. Why not get salads, you may ask. Well, salads are usually much more expensive than sandwiches and are also less filling. So I usually opt for the cheaper, more filling, but less expensive option, because being full longer means potentially not having to spend money on food later. Not being able to eat healthily would also not be nearly as stressful for me if I could work out the way I want to, but that is not an option either. I have no weights, no yoga mat, and there is no running trail near me. I have been making do with doing Youtube pilates videos on a towel, but if you’ve ever tried working out on a towel on tile floor, it is awful and extremely difficult. It’s better than nothing, though, and there have been a few days where I felt like I had a decent workout. I’m pretty sure I have gained some weight here, but that seems to be pretty normal and I’m trying not to worry about it because I can lose it when I get back to the US (after Christmas of course!)

I’d like to end this post on a more positive note, so here’s an update on my internship! At times it has felt very overwhelming and potentially impossible, but overall I am really happy that I decided to do this. My main job so far has been taking quotes that Annie used in the French version of her book and finding the English translations of them. This is an incredibly difficult task, especially in the cases where she did not have a source for the quote, so all I had to go off of was the person who said it and the translated French version. We are really close to (finally!) having all of the quotes translated, which I will be so happy about. I’ve been able to complete this mostly thanks to Google Books and the American Library in Paris. Annie always lets me know how grateful she is for my help, and I am learning a lot in the process, so despite my few moments of doubt this has been a really wonderful experience.

This coming week is going to be a very full work week for me because on Friday I leave for Krakow, Poland to visit my friend from high school, Janka! I’m really excited to visit somewhere so different from Paris, and I’ve heard great things about it from people who have been there. Before then, I’ll update on this past weekend, but other than that I have a ton of work to do!

One Month in Paris: Slowing Down

Today marks one month since I arrived in Paris! In some ways I still can’t believe it, but I have also already settled comfortably into new routines.

After one month, I still haven’t gone up the Eiffel Tower, stepped into a clothing store, or eaten a whole baguette. I have, however, gone to several art museums, become super confident using the metro system, and eaten many pain au chocolates.

I have already learned so much since coming here. There are many cultural differences between America and France, and I still have much to figure out, but I think in the past month I have gained a pretty good sense of how things work here. Maybe one of the biggest differences is the pace of life. The French love to take their time. You hardly ever see people rushing, especially when it comes to food. The waiters don’t come around to refill your drink every minute and there’s no such thing as take-home boxes at restaurants. I also hardly ever see people eating and walking, except baguettes. Every type of person can be seen at any time of day walking down the street eating a baguette.

There is also definitely a greater emphasis on quality over quantity. I think this is partially why things are so expensive here, or at least compared to in America. The French generally have less, but what they do have is very good quality and they take pride in it. The things that people get every day are still inexpensive, like fresh baked goods in the morning and bottles wine at night. Everything is savored, enjoyed, and spent time on because it worth spending time on.

I still have yet to experience a stereotypically rude French person, but I think I understand where it originates from. The French have a different standard of manners from Americans, and if you come to the country completely ignorant to them, I can see how it would be really offensive (as would be true anywhere else). They are actually very polite in a lot of ways, but you have to know the proper context to use this politeness. In shops, or with people you encounter in more personal spaces (an apartment building, school, restaurant, etc.) everyone says “Bonjour/Bonsoir” to each other. If you are on the street but do something that leads to a direct interaction with someone (i.e., holding a door open) They will thank you and also greet you. However, when you are on the metro, the unspoken goal is to have a little interaction with others and attract as little attention to yourself as possible. The metro has its own set of etiquette entirely, but that’s a lot to get into!

Of course, there are a lot of things that are socially acceptable in France that would be looked down upon in America. There is more blatant nudity in advertisements and on magazine covers. There is also an abundance of PDA between couples of all ages, especially on the metro. I never even realized how relatively tame Americans are when it comes to PDA until I experienced the French version.

The French also are very laid-back when it comes to work (or at least from what I’ve experienced at PCA). They never seem to be in their offices when I want to find someone and they take incredibly long lunch breaks, so between 1-2PM I can never find a teacher or administrator. However, in contrast to that, if a teacher has to cancel class because they are sick or even for a national holiday, they reschedule the class to make it up, which usually happens on a Saturday. I find this bizarre, but I guess the French assume you’re always going to be flexible so you can just go to class on Saturday if you have to? I know this would never work in America because we kind of have the general assumption that people are busy and constantly have plans.

There is a very “French” way of dressing, which I don’t really fit into at all. For women, it involves flats, heels, booties, or boots. Usually black, or another darker color. They some how always are in very good condition despite all the walking they are put through. Then black pants, dark jeans, or a professional-looking skirt. A simple top with a blazer, or maybe a light sweater. A scarf, and probably a trench coat. Natural or no make up. Long hair, usually down. I’d say this is a typical uniform for a French woman. There are of course exceptions and the norm varies between age groups. Denim shirts and jackets are also really big here. All the women have huge, fashionable bags as well.

A weird phenomena here is chocolate cereal. I don’t think cereal is a popular breakfast option here (baguettes and croissants, always) but if you were to have cereal in France, it will be hard to find one without chocolate in it, This doesn’t mean sugary, unhealthy chocolate cereal like we have in America. It’s just the way cereal is here for some reason.

All the chocolate cereal...

All the chocolate cereal…

One of my favorite parts of using the metro are street musicians. Very often there will be a person playing the violin, accordion, or saxophone either in a metro stop or even on the train. My absolute favorite are the full bands that play in the bigger metro stops. There’s nothing like racing between stops to super-Parisian band music!

An interesting part of life here are the billboards. There are advertisements everywhere, and I find them fascinating. I especially like the gigantic ones in the metro stations. It’s also a fun way to practice my French while I’m waiting for a train.

Well this became a ramble of some more observations I’ve had regarding life in France, but a lot of people liked my first one so I hope you enjoyed it! This weekend will consist of lots of homework, and I hope to go into Notre Dame providing the weather is nice. I also am having brunch on Sunday with Francesca, Dov, and their kids. Ah, la vie Parisien c’est bon!

Week 4: Sick Days & Travel Plans

This past week was pretty uneventful, mostly because I spent the weekend not doing school-related things and then I remembered I was a student. I’m very good at time management and don’t put things off, but I am going to have to figure out how to balance sight-seeing on the weekends and doing homework. Luckily, my teacher gave us another week on our first photo assignment which saved me from being super stressed out.

Also, this week it officially became fall in Paris. After Sunday, leaves were on the ground and it has rained every day. I can even wear boots, a scarf, and my jacket and not look crazy. The rain isn’t too bad since it’s more of a constantly drizzle/mist, but I hope there are at least a few clear days in the future.

Tuesday I met with Francesca and her children for the first time. They are family friends who live here in Paris. I actually had one of her daughters pose in a photograph for my assignment! They have a really charming apartment and a very friendly cat that sheds everywhere. Also, I am now their babysitter for this semester! This was an unexpected but welcome surprise. Tuesday night my friends and I went back to Saint Michel to eat in front of Notre Dame because it’s the best. Of course I got more gelato!

Thursday I felt myself getting sick all day, which was exactly what I didn’t want to happen while I was here, especially this early on. After class I went to a pharmacie to get throat medicine and vitamin C, and then oranges and nectarines at the market. I have been OD’ing on vitamin C ever since and I think it is working! I spent Thursday night vegging out and finally watched Monsters University, which was great.

Friday morning I met with some friends to shoot another photo for my project, then spent the rest of the day editing my Versailles photos and consuming tons of vitamin C. By the end of the day I was tired of sitting in the same spot, so I went out to Le Bar a Soupes, a place recommended to me by my art history teacher and fellow vegetarian (thanks Madeline!!). All of the soups looked delicious but I chose a mixed vegetable soup. It was perfect for my throat and very filling. I spent the night watching In Bruges to get myself pumped to go to Bruges at some point while I’m here. Speaking of which…

One of the more exciting things that developed this week was that I started making travel plans for while I am here! I already have tickets to go to Poland for a short trip the last weekend of October to visit a friend from high school, and a weekend in Florence during November is in the works. I also want to take day trips to Bruges, Aachen, and possibly Amsterdam. I had a really big “duh” moment when I realized that I could go to Munich for Oktoberfest this year! I wish I had thought of it sooner because now everything is pretty booked or expensive. I’m going to try and find a way to get there, though. It would fulfill all my little middle school dreams when I first started to study German and celebrated Oktoberfest in school every year. Sorry France, but Germany is still my favorite country! If I had the money, I would travel somewhere every weekend. There’s so much to see and I have such easy access while I’m in Europe. I want to take advantage of that as much as possible while I’m here. Of course, there is plenty to see and do in Paris as well! I mean, I haven’t even been up the Eiffel Tower yet. Woops.

Week 3: School Begins!

This past week was my first week of class! I was excited, but also as I mentioned before, I was reluctant about some of my classes. Much of that changed during the week.

Here is my schedule for this semester:

Junior Seminar I: Monday 2-7:00 PM, 3 credit hours
French I: Tuesday & Thursday 9-10:15 AM, 3 credit hours
Fashion Films II: Wednesday 10:30 AM-1:00 PM, 2 credit hours
Motion Graphics I: Wednesday 2-7:00 PM, 2 credit hours
Digital Photo Lab I: Thursday 10:30 AM-1:00 PM, 3 credit hours
Introduction to Visual Culture: Thursday 2-4:30 PM, 3 credit hours
For those of you familiar with KCAI, you can see the classes work kind of differently. Some electives are 2 credit hours, and all classes are once a week with the exception of French I. I still need to figure out what the difference is between 2 and 3 credit hour classes, because they meet for the same amount of time each week. Overall, I really like my schedule. I have a nice, long weekend starting after my last class Thursday at 4:30 until my first class Monday at 2:00. I also only have one class Tuesday morning and then I’m free the rest of the day. This gives me plenty of time to work considering I am taking 4 studio classes (a record for me) and I want to do some traveling on the weekends.
Monday: Junior Seminar I
I was able to have a relaxing morning and get to school an hour and a half early. Once class started we did the basic introductory go-around and syllabus review. This class seems to be my most intensive, but being my main photography studio class that makes sense. I am really looking forward to it, as I was surprised to learn we will be working mostly in film this semester. Luckily I brought my Mamiya 645 (a medium format camera) instead of a 35mm camera, because our assignments require either large or medium format. I’m also excited to be able to use a 4×5 camera in Paris, since I wasn’t sure if this was going to be an option here. Of course the cost factor is incredibly high here in France, but I just keep telling myself using large format in Paris will be worth it. I am already  super inspired and have tons of ideas for our first assignment, as well as the following assignments. Other than taking photos, a part of the class is going to exhibitions around the city and writing reviews of them. I am so excited for this as it gives me another reason to visit some smaller, not as hyped-up touristy museums and see what they have to offer.
Tuesday: French I
French is going to be very interesting. The teacher does not speak much English and teaches the class entirely in French. This makes me incredibly glad to have some basic knowledge of the language’s spelling, grammar, and introductory vocabulary. I feel like I have a good grasp of how the language works grammatically, I just don’t have a large vocabulary or confidence in speaking it. Since this was only the first class, I’m not sure at this point how things will go.
Wednesday: Fashion Films II
Okay, the title of this class is really misleading. This is the class that the head of the department recommended I take, and I grudgingly obliged because it had “fashion” in the title. Little did I know this was really just a film class! We are going to spend the entire semester watching and analyzing films while learning how to write scripts, storyboard, and everything that goes into making a short film. I love films and have always wanted to learn how to make them, but I also found it extremely intimidating and scary. There is so much work that goes into making a film, even one only a few minutes long. The part that has always really scared me was not the planning or shooting process, but editing. However, with this class I get to learn Adobe Premiere Pro, which I already have thanks to KCAI giving each student the Adobe Creative Suite. So now I get to learn how to make a film, edit it, and watch a ton of great movies in the process! This class is definitely a pleasant surprise and I can’t wait to start learning more!
Wednesday: Motion Graphics I
This is not a class I was initially registered for because it conflicted with a photography elective that the head of the department wanted me to take. However, my desire to learn Adobe Affect Effects was greater than my need for another photography class, so I switched. I am also really excited for this class because AE is a program I have been wanting to learn for some time now. Considering all of my friends are animation majors and I spend a lot of time in their studio, I’ve seen how it works but I’ve never actually used it. Now I get to join in the fun and learn a little animation myself. This class is in a 5 hour block, but it only meets every other week. We spend most of the time doing tutorials and independently working on assignments, so we get to work on our own time at our own level of expertise. I hope by the end of this semester I can say I’m confident in my AE abilities and maybe have some cool animations, too.
Thursday: French I (again)
This class gave me a much better feel for what it will be like this semester. It was actually pretty fun. We’re still just going over basics, but I think it will be really helpful. On a completely random note, as I was looking through my workbook I noticed in a section talking about professions and one of the examples was “Il est avocat.” (He is an avocado) I have no idea how someone can be a professional avocado, so I looked up “avocat“. Turns out it means lawyer and  avocado. If you wanted to say someone was an avocado, you would have to say “un avocat“. French is weird.
Thursday: Digital Photo Lab I
I think this class is going to be super helpful. It’s a purely technical class about Photoshop, Bridge, and digital printing methods. While these are all things I have a good amount of experience in, taking an entire class dedicated to them will greatly improve my workflow and make sure I’m not doing anything wrong. Plus, I want to get better at printing. We don’t have to shoot any work specifically for this class, so I can use it as a chance to improve either the photos for my other class assignments or the photos I take for fun while I’m here.
Thursday: Introduction to Visual Culture
I was not entirely sure what to expect with this class, but I think it will be very interesting. It will be partially conducted through social media: Facebook, tumblr, Instagram, etc. which we will use to create a visual dialogue of things we see or find interesting. We will then connect them on a historical timeline. I am most interested to see the connections between artists across time and how they create a chain reaction of influence upon one another.
So there you have it! I am really excited for this semester. I am so glad I get to learn so many new things, particularly programs in the Adobe Creative Suite. I want to eventually learn how to use as many of the programs as possible since I have them and they can only help me. I also get to further my experience with medium and large format film photography, in Paris of all places! I am still waiting to hear about the internship but I am hopeful. It will take up a lot of the free time I have in my schedule right now, but I think it would be worth it. My next update will be on this weekend!

Week 1: Reflections & Observations

I can’t believe I’ve already been in France for a week! I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some random thoughts I’ve had that don’t really fit into any of my previous posts. I hope this gives more of an insight into what it’s like here!

-Anne is a very sweet old woman who reminds me of my great-grandmother, Nanny. Whenever she is explaining something to me, she says “Viola!” a lot. She also said it when I returned from Provence. She says “Bon Apetit!” whenever she catches me making food or eating.

-The microwaves here say “Bon Apetit!” when your food is done heating up.

-Anne’s grandson also lives with her. I’ve only talked to him once and seen him three times. He is either away at work or in his room. I think he must be shy, because the only reason I talked to him in the first place was that Anne cornered him after he got home from work and introduced us. I can’t imagine why someone spends all day in their room when they live in Paris! The only other things I know about him are that he is 23 and is going to a university in Paris called Sciences Po. I have no idea what this means, but sometimes I hear clinking glass noises from his room, so I imagine he has a chemistry set and is doing experiments. This is probably very inaccurate.

-The weather in Provence reminded me of the Western US. It was very dry and cloudless with lots of direct sunlight. The temperature was pretty consistently in the early-mid 80’s though, so it never got too hot. In Paris it is much cooler, with the temperature being mostly in the 60’s-70’s so far.

-Like in Germany, the light switches are large buttons rather than the little guys we have in the US. Also like in Germany, they have super metal blinds that go down over the outside of your window at night to block all the light from coming in. Why the US has not picked up on this yet amazes me. However, unlike in Germany where I just pressed a button, the blinds in my room have to be manually controlled with a metal rod that I turn. It is very squeaky and gets stuck a lot, so I usually just keep them down.

-When you order water while out to eat, they give you small glasses and a large glass bottle of cold water (a carafe). When you use up the water in that bottle, they give you a different glass bottle filled with cold water, and the cycle continues. I like this method because I usually drink a ton of water at restaurants and I don’t like all the ice they put in your glass in the US. Also, the napkins here are incredibly huge.

-The French love their coffee and tea. They always start out their day with some of either, or even both. One of the first things Anne asked me was if I drink coffee or tea in the morning. Honestly, I don’t regularly drink either, but if I had to pick one it would be tea. I like coffee, but it stains my teeth, and I try to avoid caffeine in general unless I really need it.

-Grocery shopping is quite difficult for me, though I’ve only tried it once and it was at a small city store. I don’t eat like a French person, let alone like most Americans. Being a vegetarian, I am very conscious of my protein intake, and I mostly try to only eat things high in protein along with fruits and vegetables. This includes Greek yogurt, peanut butter, nuts, veggie burgers, and 10-20g protein bars. I found none of these things, except for nuts, but they were in really small packages and not worth the price.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

-French people can generally be described as being really tan and really skinny. The tan I can understand after being in Provence for several days (as Anne said when I returned, “You bring the sun with you.”) However, their skinniness is amazing to me considering how much bread they eat. Like, their breakfast consists of bread and croissants, and then they have bread with every meal. However, they do walk everywhere and their food comes from much more natural sources than ours in the US, so maybe it evens out?

-The metro system in Paris is awesome! Since transportation is always a huge issue for me in the US, I think I will use the metro as much as possible here and I will really miss it when I leave. The trains are nice, too. I’ve always loved trains and the ease of just hopping on one and taking it into Philly or Doylestown, and the ability to go to New York City/anywhere else on the East coast.  It’s something I’ve really missed going to school in the Midwest.

-There seems to be no point getting to a train station (or the Oslo airport) early, because they don’t post your track/gate until it is time to board (15-20 minutes before departure). This caught me really off-guard, as I am used to thinking in terms of the Philadelphia airport.

-At the touristy sights, most of the tourists are French-speaking. I don’t know why this surprised me. I mean, Americans visit the Grand Canyon, right? Other than that, the languages I have heard the most are German, Italian, British English, and Spanish. I have only heard a few Americans so far.

-Whenever I approach someone, they assume I’m French. I suppose this is a good thing, but it sometimes confuses me because they speak very quickly.

-I have tried to speak as much French as possible while I am here. Mostly I have only had to say “Bonjour” and “Merci beaucoup” but on the occasions I have had to speak more, usually whoever I am talking to will reply to me in English. I have been persistent though, and in some cases the person will start speaking to me again in French.

-I have not yet encountered the “rude” French stereotype. Everyone has been very kind and helpful. As you walk down the street or use the metro, you will often hear people saying “Pardon” if they accidentally bump into each other or need to get by. So they’re actually more polite than most Americans.

-I have seen some very stereotypically dressed Frenchmen. As in, young men with large noses wearing horizontally striped shirts. Also, I have noticed that French men seem to have no shame in picking their noses in public. Otherwise, they are also a hygienic people, ruling out that stereotype as well.

-I did have one strange encounter with a French person so far. As I was approaching the Pont Alexandre III, I noticed a woman standing still and looking very confused at a man. I kept walking forward, wondering if they were having a fight. As I got closer, I noticed the man walking towards me. Suddenly, he started walk full-speed directly at me. I freaked out and tried to move to the side, but at the last second he swerved around me. I kept walking forward trying to hold it together, past the woman who was still standing in confusion. She said something to me in French and I shrugged. By the time I got to the other end of the bridge, I saw the same man crossing from the other side. This time he started doing the same thing to others on the bridge. This made me feel better that he didn’t single me out. I suppose he was either crazy, or had something against tourists. Or maybe he was doing a social experiment. In any case, if you’re ever on the Pont Alexadre III, watch out!

-I went to see Elysium because I was curious how French movie theaters were. They have a lot of ice cream commercials before the trailers, and then just as many trailers as we have in the US.

-The first night I was here, I found out that Netflix does not work outside of the 50 United States. This has since lead me to consider getting a US IP address while I’m here in Paris. I mean, I haven’t even watched the most recent season of Mad Men. But, there are advertisements all over the city for House of Cards, and on the plane over here the person next to me was reading a Norwegian newspaper with a big spread about Orange is the New Black. So, they get Netflix shows over here somehow. Still, it’s really annoying having every website I go to automatically redirect to the “.fr” version of that site. This may be a worthy investment.

Well, I know this was a long, wordy post, but I hope you found it interesting! I may do more of these in the future to help me document my experience.

Day 1: Culture Shock

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My first day in Paris was, well, I guess what you would expect it to be for someone who spent from 3:00PM Eastern US time to 3:00PM Paris time traveling to get there. I had a flight from Newark to Oslo on which I slept maybe two hours. I then spent a lot of time wandering around the Oslo airport (which looks like it was designed by IKEA) being really confused because they don’t post the gate to your flight until the plane arrives. Once I finally boarded the flight to Paris, my brain was melting from all the Norwegian/German/French/Swedish?/Everything I’d been hearing since I left Newark, and I began to realize what it must feel like for someone who doesn’t speak English to come to America (it’s not fun). Once I finally got to the CDG airport in Paris, I spent almost another hour trying to find my shuttle bus and avoiding the creepy fake taxi drivers that hang around the exit area. The combination of my exhaustion, thirst, lack of food other than airplane food, and culture shock got a little bit intense by the time I actually entered the city of Paris. On the way to my new Parisian home, I passed the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and then it really hit me. I still can’t really fathom how I got here in the first place.

I spent the rest of my first day getting acquainted with my new home and the woman to whom it belongs; Madame Anne Zeller. She speaks about as much English as I do French, but we’ve managed to communicate pretty well so far. She showed me how everything works and I tried to explain to her what I do and don’t eat. So far, I’ve learned that she lived in Madagascar for 17 years and because of that she eats a lot of rice. I’m looking forward to learning more about her as my French gets better.

Now I’m going to sleep since I have definitely been awake for over 24 hours. My future posts will be more photos and less words!

Bienvenue!

I hope to maintain this blog during my semester abroad in Paris while studying at the Paris College of Art. My past history with blogging has not been great (as in, I usually forget about it after a week) but I think this semester will motivate me to keep everyone updated this way, as it is easiest for me and will be awesome to look back on in the future. The main audience intended for this blog are my friends and family, along with some teachers and others who have expressed interest in following my journey. If you have any suggestions for things that I should do while I am in Paris, please let me know!