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The impact the 2016 EuroCup had on my summer

This summer’s EuroCup attracted worldwide fan frenzy and fascination— even before it began. As I updated my friends about my summer plans via Facebook and Instagram, so many responded with, “You’re so lucky to be in one of the host cities of the Euro!” I’m someone who brings a book to every one of my little sister’s soccer games, and who can count the number of sporting events I’ve been to on two hands (hey, I guess that’s more impressive than one). Needless to say, these comments went unanswered, and if Facebook had a “confused” or “overrated” reaction button, that’s what I would have clicked.
However, being in one of the host cities of the EuroCup did prove to be just as exciting, enthralling, and— shockingly— as inspiring as everyone but me predicted. I discovered that this summer-long event represented more than just athleticism: as different teams challenged each other on the field, their respective cultures came together at bars, restaurants, clubs, and stadiums throughout various countries. During my weekend trip to Marseilles, I was taught a Hungarian football chant. At a train station, I raced to my platform along with singing Portugal fans. On just an ordinary night on the metro, I met Welsh people on their way to a match being hosted in Lyon.
Furthermore, the Euro granted me the opportunity to not only discover cultures of cities I have never been to, but also to delve deeper into the customs, unity, and pride of France. After France won the semifinals, my friend and I had our cheeks painted with French flags by random passersby, received dozens of high fives out of taxi windows, and watched an impromptu celebratory firework show in the city square. Through the experience of the Euro, I felt like far more than a tourist or exchange student, but instead like a part of something larger than any one label.Capture

What I Saw in Normandy, France, Beyond the Surface

When you think of typical study abroad weekend trip, you might think swim beaches, nightlife, or shopping. I typically would, too. However, my friend and I countered this expectation by spending last weekend in Normandy, France: a charming, historical city, yet nevertheless a city mostly known for and immersed in violent, WWII history. I’m the one in my family and friend group to rapidly change the TV channel if I even see a gun appear in a show or movie, so I surprised even myself as I walked through the famous Caen Memorial Museum, pausing at artifacts like vintage rifles, bomb casing, and haunting, faded newspaper headings.

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This surreal experience served as an excellent reminder and testament of the fact that studying abroad shouldn’t be just “fun”— though it is important, and every exchange student obviously needs enough smiling photos to become their most-liked profile pictures— but also challenging and shocking. When I’m swimming in French beaches, eating at French restaurants, and shopping in adorable French boutiques, I’m having the enjoyable but passive trip of a tourist. Yet when I shuffled among French people and was confronted with both some of the best and worst events in the country’s history, I quickly considered it one of my most authentic, intentional experiences so far this summer.

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In addition to the Caen Memorial Museum, my friend and I visited a museum dedicated to the role that French beaches played in WWII, visited one of the stormed beaches and discovered the artificial ports, and stopped at the church where Charles De Gaulle, former President of the French Republic, officially declared that France would stand with the Allies for the remainder of WWII. The clear water and statuesque cliffs of the beaches, along with the ornate detailing of the church, revealed that even the most painful parts of history can be extraordinarily beautiful.

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Overall, what I saw in Normandy taught me that a divided history can lead to a united future, if only everyone is committed to an education in and an awareness of their pasts. At many of the places I visited, I met people from many different countries— and both sides of the war— approach monuments of their countries’ pasts as lessons not to repeat actions that incited such violence.

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I also learned not to shy away from an experience just because it’s not simple and “fun”— instead, search for the complexities and conflicts in a culture, because they will be much more interesting.

It Was the Best of Weekend Trips, It Was the Worst of Weekend Trips…

It Was the Best of Weekend Trips, It Was the Worst of Weekend Trips…

So one of the main pieces of advice in my last post was to take full advantage of weekend travel. I wouldn’t be truly sharing my authentic study abroad experience if I didn’t provide examples and a little insight on how rewarding, fascinating, and okay, yes, sometimes frustrating, the wild rush of weekend traveling can be. Just like many aspects of studying abroad— from living and fitting in with a family you’ve never met, to both messing up and then eventually mastering the complex art of public transport— weekend trips are an ambitious, make-it-up-as-you-go situation where the good and the bad often coincide.
Unless one weekend turns out perfect and one weekend turns out catastrophic, as it unfolded in my case. Dear readers and future students abroad, I hope your experiences mirror the first weekend and that you laugh at, but never relive, the second.

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First weekend trip: Marseilles. Out of all the places I’ve been to in France— and that number is up to quite a few— this beautiful seaside city might be my favorite. My friend Allysson and I strolled around the Vieux Port— the iconic center of Marseilles just ten minutes walking distance from our hotel— and ate dinner on the docks with a stunning view of clear Mediterranean water and sailboats. The next day, we went on a boat tour of Marseilles’s rocky island region. One tip that this experience definitely instilled in me is to book tours, guides, and day trip packages— the kind of activities with a preplanned, built-in agenda. This takes the stress of planning and transportation off of the traveler, allowing them to enjoy their short but special stay.
Another walking distance sight was Palais Longchamp, the architecturally breathtaking and well-known Marseilles castle. Another tip: if you see full, decked out wedding parties walking to the same place as you, professional photographers in tow, you can safely assume that it’s just as gorgeous as every travel blog promised.
Lastly, we ended our weekend trip with a full, peaceful— and cheap!— day at the beach. Rather than going to a large, tourist-heavy beach, we opted for a smaller, more local beach, a good idea for anyone wanting to interact more deeply and personally with the culture. A two hour train ride back to Lyon, and our best (thus far) weekend trip had concluded, ensuring our Instagram popularity for at least the next month.
Second weekend trip: Maçon. Have you ever left a place wishing you could give a negative review not just to an individual business, but a whole entire city? Yeah, that’s how this day trip went for me and Allysson. After having emailed back and forth with a countryside winery housed in an actual castle, we arrived at the train station at 9am for our 10am departure, feeling prepared with taxi numbers saved in our phones and complicated French addresses written out in our notebooks. First, the train was thirty minutes late. Still, we remained optimistic as we finally boarded. However, when the train screeched to its first stop— which our tickets ensued was supposed to be Maçon, our day trip destination— a sign advertising an unknown village greeted us. “Uh, excuse me—” I timidly addressed a train station employee in French— “when is the stop at Maçon?”
It turned out that because of a storm that had partially destroyed the Maçon train station, there would be no stops in Maçon. Instead, my friend and I were advised to take a shuttle… a shuttle that wouldn’t arrive for another two hours.
We tried to fill the two hours with pastries from one of the only nearby businesses, but were still bored and restless when the shuttle arrived. After a one hour, quite bumpy ride, we finally saw Maçon signs greeting us. Then, it was time to call the taxi.
Multiple taxis responded that it just wasn’t possible for them to drive on a Saturday (which made no sense… even when they attempted to explain in English), and other taxis just hung up! After an hour of desperate phone calls and thirty minutes before the winery was supposed to close, we pleaded with a train station manager to let us take an early train back to Lyon.
When we returned, we drowned the day’s disappointments in traditional Lyonnais food: creamy, steaming macaroni, expertly seasoned Gezpacho, sausage brioche for my meat-eating friend, and, of course, a bottle of Rosé (it felt like some kind of cruel joke that many of the wines on the menu had been produced in Maçon). The next day, my seemingly impossible story served as dark hilarity for my host family and many of my classmates.

I hope the juxtaposition of these two weekend trips illustrates that not every day spent abroad will be perfect… instead, some will be far from it. When the trains are delayed and the taxis don’t come, dust off your suitcase, eat your feelings, and plan for the next weekend— it has to be better, right?!

Five Rules I Follow While Studying Abroad

Some people may think of studying abroad as complete lawless rebellion. Students arrive alone in a foreign country, are often placed in easy classes like “Restaurant” and “Gardening” (borrowing course titles from last summer’s syllabus… to be fair, these courses are taught completely in French), and then take advantage of the early drinking age, stumbling home every night on cobblestone streets. Or at least that’s how the various memes and headlines depict it.
To be fair, I love going out in Lyon and find it to be unique way to experience another side of the culture. However, I also like to make sure that I am creating the most diverse and valuable experience for myself as possible.That’s why I throw the whole “lawless” thing under the bus— or, since I’m in Europe under the Vespa— by setting flexible rules for myself that I feel are totally worth it…and that I would recommend for anyone studying abroad.
1. Do Something Everyday
Even when you’re jet lagged, even when you have a lot of homework, even when you have to pack for your flight or train ride the next day. Filling every day with at least one activity, excursion or sight is a way to ensure you’re having the experiences you should without being overwhelmed.
Examples of some of my daily “somethings”: Going to the cinema museum, the fine arts museum, the Lyon botanical gardens, and the rose gardens.
2. Don’t Decide Not to Do Something Because It’s Not What You’re Usually Into
For example, i am not a film buff. However, Lyon is famous for being very influential in inventing cinema. So, when I saw a cinema museum on a list of “Top 5 Things to Do in Lyon,” I went for it. Surprisingly, what awaited me was a unique and fascinating experience.

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3. Don’t Count Calories
This isn’t something I do while at home in KC, either, but I’ve realized it’s a trap that many of my friends on the program fall into. While studying abroad, you will encounter some of the most amazing food you’ve ever tasted, so don’t hold back. Think of all the deliciousness as a limited and totally worth it opportunity, and know that most programs (and travel, in general) incorporate plenty of walking. I’ve been showcasing my commitment to this rule with the hashtag #eatingmywaythroughlyon, under which I have curated the following beautiful images:

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4. Take Advantage of Weekend Travel Opportunities
This weekend, I’m going to Marseilles, a seaside port city and the second largest city in France, and th e next weekend I’m going to Macon, a charming village known for its vineyards. Both of these trips are less than two hours by train. I also bought a “Carte Jeune” discount card (available for travelers ages 12-25) which ensures savings of 25 percent on every train ticket I buy. Yes, side travel can be expensive, but if you’re willing to devote time to searching for cheap tickets and hostels, you can make it work on your budget— even if that means day trips to hidden gem locations (which in my opinion, can actually be better than their well-known counterparts).
5. Find Time for Reflection
Travelling can be crazy. Dedicating a short time each day to contextualizing your experiences can be extremely valuable. Allow yourself to feel all the complex emotions that come with the study abroad journey, from extreme joy and gratitude to isolating culture shock. Reflecting can take many forms, but some of my favorite are journaling, blogging (shoutout to UMKC International Programs for giving me this opportunity!), and spending alone time immersed in nature.
Of course, one of the most important components of travel is to be flexible. Following these rules— or others that you set for yourself— won’t always be possible. Instead of thinking of them as rigid, think of them as guidelines and goals to aspire towards. Ultimately, find a way to make your experience individual and intentional.

A Second Once in a Lifetime Experience

I’m currently writing this in a floral-print journal— representing the roos with my trusty UMKC Women’s Center pen— while in the company of about one hundred strangers: some snoozing, some picking at the remnants of what could charitably be called airplane “food,” listening to music, or swiping pages on glowing e-readers. I’m some hundreds of thousands of feet in the air, and keep having flashbacks to that Bridesmaids scene where a frantic Kristen Wiig swears that a colonial woman is churning butter on the airplane wing. It’s five hours until I arrive in Paris at 6:56 AM ready to board a train to Lyon, France, where I will study for the next weeks, and armed with a strong French coffee (très grand, s’il vous plaît) to fight off the jet lag. But until then, hundreds of thousands of feet in the air is a pretty good place to reflect.

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The memories of last summer, when I traveled to Lyon for the first time, still cling vibrantly to every corner of my mind. I remember the fabulous art museums, the breath-taking ruins, the weekend excursions— from the top of the Eiffel Tower to the bottom of a lake in which I kayaked— to the flaky croissants (although I’m against most cultural stereotypes, please, please, preserve this one), and all the while, the knowledge that my French— the language I’ve been studying since sixth grade— was rapidly improving. With every picture I posted and blog post I wrote and shared, people echoed the sentiment “What a once and a lifetime opportunity!”

I doubt they were surprised that I couldn’t get Lyon— and the overall, beautifully unique French culture— out of my head. I doubt they were surprised that my Facebook statue, a shot of me in front of the iconic “Only Lyon,” statue, stayed unchanged for months. However, I surprised a lot of people, and maybe even myself, when I became unfalteringly determined to make a second summer in Lyon a reality.

The truth is, this “once in a lifetime” experience taught me many valuable lessons, ones that bare repeating and reliving. Going to France and living with a host family for six weeks endowed me with much needed confidence and independence. Yes, that sounds vague and cliché. Yet perhaps this confidence and independence reaffirmed itself today when I confidently boarded an international flight on my own, when the crowded airport and bustling security lines seemed just as clear and easy to navigate as any weathered map. Despite my roles as an Honors student and writing tutor, as well as my yearning to be a professor— translation: I love traditional, classroom instruction— as long as I urgently desire to keep learning, I’ll continue to believe that travel remains the best means through which to do it.

One Week Later…

It has officially been over a week since my first day back from France. Throughout this week, I’ve been continually thinking about and reflecting on the quote, “I don’t realize how much I like being home until I’ve been somewhere really different for a while,” from the film Juno. Since my arrival in the states, I’ve been indulging in all the things that I missed the most. Yes, a lot of these include food. On my first night back I devoured strawberry shortcake and Sour Patch kids (although I stumbled upon the French version one weekend, they were no competition). Since then, I’ve gone to many of my favorite restaurants with many of my favorite people, who all say, “Oh, I’m so glad that you’re back! We should get coffee/truffle fries/pizza/Mexican food!” I now feel that I somewhat understand the perceptions of French people regarding American cuisine. Mostly, I’m more aware than ever that Americans eat a lot and eat often… but my only complaint is the suddenly startling lack of bread! One baguette per meal has begun to seem necessary.

I have also visited all of my favorite places, like downtown Kansas City, the library, Books a Million, Mass Street in Lawrence, and Shawnee Mission Park. Even after recently seeing much more acclaimed sights like the Eiffel Tower and Versailles, these familiar spots haven’t seemed any less exquisite.

One lesson my time abroad taught me is to live in the moment. Although I probably have that quote emblazoned on several notebooks and maybe scrawled artily on a T-shirt, it’s one of the hardest lessons and one that I really needed to learn. So often in France, it wasn’t the major monuments or the highest, breathtaking views that were the best experiences, but the small, unexpectedly perfect moments. For example, on my last day in Lyon, I banished all packing worries from my mind and enjoyed a delicious coffee and croissant at a cute outdoor cafe. This was similar to my mindset throughout the whole summer adventure. Although I had many papers and assignments, I often procrastinated without stress or guilt— letting responsibilities drift to the back of my mind as I basked in the joy of such a wonderful opportunity. So now when I visit my old hangouts, like Starbucks, I try to silence the clacking laptop keys and pinging iPhone notifications of the busy people around me, adopting a lifestyle that is distinctly not American and perhaps one of my best, most long-lasting souvenirs.

Je Me Débrouille

Right now I am camped out in the Lyon Saint-Exupéry airport waiting for my 7 A.M. flight. It is currently 12:21 A.M. as I type this. I am armed with Netflix, pain au chocolat, an E-reader stocked with new books, and a blanket… though these are just a few of the things in my overflowing suitcase and carryon.

A chain of interesting and unexpected events has led to this experience. The host family that I lived with for the first five weeks of the program planned a last minute vacation to the south of France; and I moved in with my friend Jacqueline and her host mom for the last week of the program. This meant packing my suitcase a week earlier than expected, memorizing different metro and bus routes, and adapting to a different house rules and routines. Then came the most surprising game-changer of all:

“I don’t have a car,” my new host mom told me a few days after I had moved in. “And the metro doesn’t start early enough for you to get there on time.”

At first, this news seemed earth-shattering, as it threatened to ruin the careful, precise travel plans I had made months in advance. Yet now, I have made it safely to the airport after taking a midnight express bus. I even have one of my closest friends from the program, Taylor, with me! In the next six hours, we plan to binge-watch TV shows, visit many vending machines, and take the most uncrowded selfies that have ever been achieved in France (seriously, other tourists should think of this). I have taken all of my former anxiety about being unprepared and found an opportunity to have spontaneous, weird, definitely memorable fun.

During the first week of class, Dr. Levy told us that a phrase the French heavily associate themselves with is “débrouiller,” a verb that roughly translates to “I get by,” or “I’ll figure it out.” I thought this would make me feel completely isolated from French culture, as the United States is known worldwide as the busy, over-scheduled, perpetually in a rush nation. Instead, it has been one of my favorite aspects of the culture to explore, and one that I have embraced and now appreciate. Often times during the program, my friends and I wouldn’t know where we wanted to go out that night, only to walk around and find amazingly fun, unique experiences (recently, a French karaoke bar!). I would worry about being lost, only to ask and end up meeting a kind, helpful French person and having a great conversation.

With all travel, unplanned moments arise. Next time you encounter a delayed flight, get lost in a new place, or mess up a word in a foreign language, I hope you take the French approach. Vous doivent débrouiller!

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My Very First Bastille Day

I missed the American festivities while spending July fourth in France, but this past few days have definitely allowed me to experience an amazing, eye-opening alternative. Bastille Day— July 14, or “le quatorze de juillet,” as the French say— is celebrated every year in France to remember July 14, 1789, a historic day in French history when Parisians stormed the medieval prison called Bastille. The prison served as a symbol of the oppressive monarchy led by Louis VXI, who would imprison people with little reason and without the later opportunity to appeal. One of the key differences between Bastille Day and the Fourth of July is that while America gained its independence, France was already an independent nation. However, both holidays represent national progression, liberation, and unity.

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Another similarity between the Fourth of July and Bastille day is the fireworks. On both the night before Bastille Day and the night of, my friends and I went to watch a fireworks show. These shows were dramatically striking— the first had classical music playing in the background and in the second the fireworks unfolded behind Lyon’s beautiful Notre Dame Basilica. We got to hear the French national athem Just like in the United States, many clubs, bars, and other businesses have super fun specials for the holiday. We danced the night before Bastille Day away at a club with a free entrance— yes, they played French songs, but we were also shocked and excited to hear “Crazy in Love,” by Beyonce! I’m sure our group of eleven Americans jamming out to that song was nothing short of an inspiring sight for the French.

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Unlike on the Fourth of July, French people rarely wear their national colors to celebrate Bastille Day. Yes, their colors are also red, white, and blue, but Madi, Jacqueline, and I were the only ones sporting them! Although this set us apart slightly, we were nevertheless included in France’s craziest celebration and we definitely took advantage of this opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in a vibrant, proud nation.

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Fangirling in Avignon

Both theatre and French have had hugely impactful roles in my life. They have both fascinated me, challenged me, and given me opportunities to explore a different side of myself and my abilities— either through portraying a completely new character or expressing myself with a new vocabulary and French accent. This weekend, these two interests converged in the most exciting, best possible way.

I signed up for the overnight stay in Avignon offered by my university at the beginning of the program, not fully knowing what to expect but knowing that Avignon is full of gorgeous Roman ruins, ancient churches and castles, and incredible gardens. Even just walking around the compact, bustling village offers plenty of entertainment and breathtaking views at every turn.

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However, this weekend was also part of the Festival d’Avignon, an unbelievable theatre event that completely takes over the village in a frenzy of colorful posters and actors in costume dancing and shouting in the streets. Throughout the month, there are over 1,500 shows, including musicals, plays, dance, and concerts.

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Arriving in Avignon and watching all of this unique event unfold was thrilling and overwhelming— there was so much activity and only two days to become immersed in it all! Luckily, my friend Taylor is as just as much of a theatre geek as I am. We quickly decided that in addition to the two shows the whole group from our university was seeing— a comedy called Les Fourberies de Scapin and a concert for a band called Boys Band— we would also watch an award-winning, modernized version of Hamlet, the Haitian version of The Vagina Monologues, and King Lear.

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It was especially interesting to see The Vagina Monologues, because Taylor and I both acted in the UMKC version. Though a few of the monologues were changed to better reflect Haitian culture, they were largely similar. It was a super cool experience to observe how the powerful emotions and humor expressed in The Vagina Monologues translate across language barriers and different backgrounds.

Though theatre was my favorite part of the trip, it’s far from all that Avignon has to offer. The group also went on a tour of Chartreuse, a small medieval village with a cave, garden, and castle to get wondrously lost in. Whether you go to Avignon during, before, or after the theatre festival, you’ll have a fantastic time— but the “spectacles” (what the French call all of the shows at the festival) are truly spectacular!

 

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The Art of the Day Trip

For the last two weekends, I have left my house early in the morning on Sunday to meet my classmates at the university, take a two and a half hour bus ride, and end up in a new, always beautiful region of France. We only spend about six hours in our destination once we finally reach it, but I still find these trips incredibly worth the money, the drive, and yes— even worth the motion sickness.

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The first day trip we took was to Annecy. Annecy is a small lake region in France, with intricate, historical buildings, narrow, winding streets, and an abundance of unique charm. In Annecy, my classmates and I spent about an hour touring the village, including stops at a farmer’s market and a gorgeous, ancient church. However, of course the biggest and most well-known attraction in Annecy is its lake. Due to the lake, Annecy is one of the most popular places for French people to retire. My friends and I laid in the sun, swam, and enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing afternoon. We finished the trip with a visit to a crêperie (my crêpe of choice? Nutella and banana!) and at six pm it was time to begin the long, sleepy journey back to Lyon.

The second day trip was to Ardèche, another lake region in France— this one located in the mountains, and specifically known for kayaking. In the nearly 100 degree heat, my group sat on the rocks, put our feet in the lake, and ate a picnic style lunch. Afterwards, we rented out our kayaks, life jackets, and paddles. I had never been kayaking before in my life, making the experience intriguing, exciting, and terrifying, all at once. I was surprised by how much effort it took just to push the kayak into the water, and how easily my partner, Madi, and I got stuck on the lake’s huge rocks. A funny anecdote is that my group was being trained by a hippie/surfer kind of guy, who would kayak past us and say things like, “doucement” (French for “slowly”) or “you must feel your boat.” I did not exactly “feel” my boat… if anything, the experience clued me in that kayaking is not one of my talents! However, I was glad that I participated in something challenging and different.

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Overall, I think day trips encompass and emphasize some of the key aspects of travel that are often forgotten during longer stays. With such short amounts of time in such incredible places, I was reminded to live every moment and pack in as many fun, crazy, memorable moments as possible— which is definitely what I’ll be striving to do every day now that I have less than two weeks left in Lyon!