Author Archives: Tammie in France

About Tammie in France

~mixed feelings abroad~ my parents christened me 'tammie' i'm 22, a sagittarius, and i live off of ice cream and savagery i'm a mixed black american with lots of feelings and opinions about everything i am a new yorker, but i travel a lot i can't speak french but here i am for almost 6 months because i study politics and got accepted to study sciencespo in reims proud "social justice warrior," all i want is true justice and equality worldwide this is my blog to document my hot mess existence and this phenomenal experience

The Return and Reverse Culture Shock

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

I surprised myself in so many ways when studying abroad in France, I experienced culture shock and homesickness like I never have before. While everyone told me to expect it, I figured that as a seasoned traveler and someone who’s lived abroad before, I would not miss New York so severely that I’d want my fun experience to end. However, between clashing with some aspects of the culture, finding myself lost at my host school, and balancing my U.S. life with my French life by keeping up with friends, family, and my involvements at school and work, I wished more and more each day that I could just give up the experience and go home. I remember crying to a friend, telling her how much I missed the Bronx.

 

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When I got home, I went out and took so many pointless pictures of the streets and things around NYC because I had missed them so much. This picture was taken on a particularly beautiful day in the Bronx.

 

This is why I am surprised to be going through some common symptoms of reverse culture shock. I was excited to return home for so long, and my return was truly phenomenal. Meeting friends and family, giving out gifts, telling stories, and even reuniting with my good friend A at our school’s graduation kept me from feeling the burn. But with every adventure I spoke about, with every story I told, and with every song I played that made me nostalgic for Paris, I felt more sadness to not know when next I will return to these wonderful places.

 

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I left behind my wonderful papa Victor, who I know I won’t see for at least another year. I also left behind many other family members who I won’t know when I’ll see next. Finding pictures like these all over my family’s home in Germany really got me nostalgic for a return.

 

As time goes on, it gets increasingly difficult to explain my experiences as thoroughly as I wish I could – experiences that I feel genuinely shaped the course of my life. While in Paris, I couldn’t amply describe what it felt like to have no one from my culture to relate to around me. I realized the stages of culture shock were hitting me hard. I definitely felt excitement to return home, which was even more amplified when I got home.

 

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My first weeks home have been wonderful! I am so excited to be in New York to carry out a fun summer ’17 in my favorite place in the world!

 

I felt a bit of frustration and sadness at the inability to buy 3 euro bottles of wine and fancy cheese three minutes from my apartment. I missed the welfare state, where a doctor’s appointment without insurance cost me 23 euros; here in the US, now that my insurance hadn’t been renewed since my leaving, an appointment at my local clinic would cost $125 starting. I felt real sadness at the impossibility of traveling 4 hours to Germany to see my family, and a little bit of material frustration at the added shipping costs of some of my new favorite European vendors like Asos and Yves Rocher.

 

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While I no longer have access to delicious, fresh German spargel (asparagus) which had just come into season while I was there, I could make do with what I found in supermarkets and still eat my nostalgia’s fill. Didn’t taste like Germany, but definitely satisfied my cravings for German food. (Baked potato with quark, spargel, and meat.)

 

Now, I genuinely feel as though I’m beginning to fit back into my old world, but with a new me. My new experiences, the knowledge I’ve gained, new tastes, all have turned me into a different person. Sure, my friends and family still love me and see me the same, but even without my repetitive stories of the good times and wonderful experiences I had abroad, as well as the shocking stories of bad experiences and weird adjustments, they know that I am different.

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Then and Now

Before traveling abroad, many people take on an overly confident tone that they can handle anything that life throws at them. After all, this is nature’s fight or flight mode kicking in. When faced with a challenge, you can either decline it and run away, or face it head on and do your best. Of course, when faced with the challenge of study abroad, I decided to tackle it headfirst through applications, purchasing a plane ticket, and researching the culture I hoped to become immersed in. It wasn’t until now, the end of my experience, that I can take note of my hubris in my abilities to bear certain stressful situations. It is not simply “fight or flight,” but a long process of determining what you can and can’t do and how to enjoy the process along the way. Additionally, no one likes to see themselves as a villain, so it was difficult to admit that I’d struggled with prejudice against those who didn’t share similar moral and/or political beliefs – something that is all too clear to me after my experience at a school where I seemingly held most of the population in contempt.

 

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Taken four days before departure, this photo shows how excited I was for the season and for my upcoming adventure!

 

Before departure, I considered myself someone who could lead, handle difficult situations, and was as tolerant as anyone could be. I was a confident beacon of multi-culturalism among friends and my community members back home, so I thought an exchange in a developed country I’ve already been to would be easy. I found afterward that I was overly confident – I was not as prone to adaptations or functioning under high ambiguity as I thought. I’ve discovered in myself a person more rigid than I thought I was, adamant in my own personal beliefs and politics, unwilling to bend. However I did also find that I am not nearly as disheveled as I thought I was. I am someone who truly can live independently – managing my time well, conducting research, managing small crises, and resolving problems efficiently.

A lot of the things I thought would be a breeze, like meeting new people and working with different kinds of folks turned out to be my biggest challenge. Affluence made me uncomfortable in this elite environment, and I felt myself as an outsider among organizers and communities in need, like the refugees I got the chance to meet and work with. Having come from a community of need myself, I felt in an awkward position that I belonged to neither group – something I realize might be social culture shock. I was not able to look past certain viewpoints in people I met. In these ways, I disappointed myself. But for me, study abroad represented a prime opportunity to confront some of these weaknesses and move past them in my character. Through this work, I’ve discovered that I can handle mediating arguments and I’ve learned when to walk away from certain topics. I use my time wisely in accordance to what I need and I’ve grown stronger as an independent woman.

I feel as though I’ve improved in several ways that I wanted to before I left – I’ve become more patient, a better listener and observer, and challenged my survival skills. I’ve become even better at asking for and receiving help, and am more willing to confront my problems and look for alternative solutions.

Overall, I see major improvements in my way of living and my personality. This experience has really taught me the need to enjoy situations in which I do not have control and may not necessarily feel constantly comfortable.

 

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Taken on the last day of class I had in Reims, even my friends noticed that my smile is a bit strained, as I was anxious to be done with the semester and return to Germany to see my family before returning home to NY.

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The Sickness

It starts off as a slight pang
A post, by a friend, of a food you miss or a person you’ve not seen in a while
Your heart twitches
And your brain sighs, closing the laptop.
Go outside and do something fun, you tell yourself
The group chat is blowing up, people want to see you
People want to travel
Everyone’s making plans and if you don’t, you’ll be lonely, and stuck with your thoughts this weekend
But you? You don’t really want… any of that…
You want, to get snacks at your bodega
One you know is thousands of miles a way
And you want to meet up with your partner, and your best friends,
Even though you know you’re six hours ahead and you can’t even Skype them, because they’re still sleeping…
You want to wake up to the smell of bacon, which people don’t eat here, especially not in the morning.
You look outside and the French “skyline,” with the gorgeous view of the Cathedral you could not stop talking about months ago,
The tiny houses with gorgeous balconies and windows,
Cloud your memories,
The fond ones you have of the foggy, starless New York skyline,
One which blinds you and wakes you up,
Thrills you.
It starts to dawn on you,
I really miss home.
Ah, there it goes. The realization.
You should’ve never let that thought in your head because now that it’s there, it will plague you
Over the next few weeks, you try your best to keep enjoying the things
That are no longer novel to you
The cheese, the rich flavor of which, you are now used to
The fancy wine that is beginning to taste the same as Barefoot,
Even though you swear you can tell the difference
Now that it has sunk in,
The sickness has you obsessed with what’s better and so wonderful about your home.
You find yourself discussing what to eat,
Realizing, that Chinese takeout a la New York City is not on the menu
And French people don’t make collard greens
And roti, curry goat, oxtail, bake and sardines, and aloo is nowhere to be found,
And your family is light-years away, so you can’t have it.
You miss the sound of your culture’s accent.
That sing-song Trinidadian accent,
It’s so beautiful
But it’s difficult to find any Caribbean people that you can befriend here
No one who knows the joys of being Caribbean
You flashback, to a night you hosted friends,
One guys asks you,
“Is that the Confederate flag?!”
He’s Austrian, he doesn’t know you
But still, you’re shocked
It’s TRINIDAD. It’s not the Confederate flag! How does he not know that???
Relax
You can barely recognize any flags or capital cities or languages,
So you aren’t entitled to your anger
But still, it hurts
You are somewhere where your culture is unknown
Yet you feel it missing in your bones, and it boils in your blood
Thank God I have family across the border in Germany
Seeing them will soothe me, but there’s weeks to go
So thank God I grabbed that hot sauce from my Oma
If I can’t have Caribbean food, or really, good ethnic food,
I’ll make it myself. And I’ll burn my mouth with Trini-style hot sauce
And I’ll act like it’s the spices when tears roll down my face
Because I don’t just miss the cuisine or the cultural smorgasbord that is my group of friends and family back in the States
But, I miss… feeling at home
Sometimes,
The adventures can be too much
Too much fun? Maybe
Too much novelty? Maybe
Too many memories? Maybe
But maybe it’s just, not enough similarity
Maybe being homesick is what I get for pushing myself to the edge of my comfort zone
Maybe this is
The small price to pay
For experiencing the wonders of world travel, exploration of culture, and new experiences
It hurts
Every day
And it’s getting worse,
Especially as my course load piles up and the time approaches for me to make homecoming plans
But instead of being depressed
Instead of responding to the pang in my heart
And the emotional breakdown
I will embrace it
I will live with the ache in my heart,
Longing for my friends, my family, and my home
But,
I will continue to enjoy my time here
Until this place makes me feel as comforted as the thoughts of home do.
This homesickness is just another simple ailment
With clear symptoms which are treatable:
A few doses of newfound friendship,
A steaming cup of French culture,
And a teaspoon of fond memories before bed,
And I’ll be cured.

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The Champagne Lifestyle: A Regional Privilege

In my last post, I wrote about how food is a major part of French culture, and how exploring food has pushed me to explore the culture and the meaning of French life. One important aspect I thought I should’ve included in that post is wine. While it’s included in the spectrum of food and drink, I realized that wine as an entity deserves a whole separate post to celebrate its meaning, varieties, and traditions in French culture. Then I thought, if the goal of my blogging is to educate, enlighten, and encourage intercultural learning and studying abroad, I thought it might be nice to showcase an important part of my own personal exploration of this aspect of French culture. And for me, this isn’t wine, which is huge all over the world and not always specific to France… this is champagne.

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I live in Reims, a small city at the epicenter of the Champagne-Ardenne region. While wine is native to all parts of France, with wine vineyards and wine makers spanning all over the country and even the world, true champagne has a unique history and is a product and luxury based solely in the Champagne-Ardenne region. Now I know what some of you might be thinking. Some of you might want to refute my statement. After all, prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, is basically the same thing and (obviously) isn’t from France… and what about sec, Germany and Austria’s own sparkling wine product? And again, what about the sparkling wine products in the USA, some of which are marked as “champagne” but made in the US? Well, champagne’s exclusivity to the region has everything to do with its history in France, and the creation of a luxury market solely for marketing purposes that has given France an immense spotlight in culture and celebration. As a matter of fact, in 2006 the champagne industry successfully protected its name by outlawing the use of the word “champagne” on any other product’s marketing or labeling – unless it was grandfathered in (as are certain products in the US). Products like perfume and yogurt have been sued and taken off the market for advertising its products to have the smell or even taste of champagne, so one can imagine how important the image is to those keeping the champagne traditional alive and well today.

 

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On a champagne tour with a friend… I’ll never turn down the offer to try fancy champagne!

 

Since the 17th century, the Champagne region has been home to producers of fine-quality champagne. Its international status as a fine, high-level celebration drink didn’t take off until the 1950s, so how did champagne managed to thrive in French culture for almost 300 years before that, stemming only from this regional area of France? Well, champagne’s taste, its essence, and its distinction from the tastes of the only once-fermented wine products has allowed it to hold a defined position on the French palette and in its culture. Additionally, the business associations formed by the grandes maisons (the large houses) of champagne and the vignerons (growers) has allowed the mass production of champagne to sustain throughout history, despite battling epidemics including phylloxera of the 1860s (which nearly destroyed France’s grape industry), economic recessions, agriculture depressions, and many more.

 

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One of the larger champagne houses in the region, the Taittinger house, is continuously putting wonderful works of art on its bottles, ad campaigns, and sometimes its caves.

 

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Another grande maison, Pommery, is well-known for having modern art installments updated yearly in its ancient caves. This is one way the current owner & president showcases their diverse interests in cultures other than that revolving around champagne.

 

What makes champagne unique are the interesting terroirs of the French land (its soil, distinctive flavor, and minerals), and the rich history of the product which lies specifically within the region. My exploration of the culture so far has come from visits to champagne houses (so far Pommery and Taittinger), and a marketing course I’m taking, Luxe Marketing: Champagne & Wine. Through examining its making processes (which includes ancient techniques that to this day requires manual labor and emphasizes traditional methodology) to the way it is marketed (to whom, by whom, how much is allowed by export, what people are targeted to drink champagne and for what purpose) we can see that champagne has made a name for itself that isn’t soon to shift.

 

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Descending into the caves of Pommery, we got a chance to see where and how their famous Brut champagne is made. Judging from the popularity of the champagne tours I’ve been on, this industry certainly isn’t dying… international visitors consistently show up to learn about this fascinating product and its wonderful traditions.

 

A significant part of my experience in Reims has been based around champagne. My friends and I have gathered to sip champagne, and I was introduced to the city by visiting the Pommery champagne house (a few days after my first lovely meal at Le Gaulois). Now my friends and I sip cheap (but still delicious) champagne in the spring air, as we all talk and laugh about our classes and tell stories about home. I bring bottles to friends as a thank you for hosting me, and have already sent some home as presents for friends and family. Before, I had never really drank champagne other than trying it once or twice on New Years. But now, drinking champagne makes me feel like I’m truly experiencing the region I live in, and getting to know an intimate and historical part of this area. While I love Paris and sometimes pine for the big city life I left behind in NYC, my experience in the Champagne region has allowed me to experience the beauty and impact of nature in the things we consume. It has given me a reason to delve deeper into France’s rich culinary history, and for that, I’ll say cheers!

 

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Sipping champagne at the end of a tour with some close friends. Cheers!

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French Food and Adapting to Culture: A Rollercoaster Experience

 “The meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” (PBS, The Meaning of Food, 2005)

One of the first blog posts I wrote during this experience shared that I had many preconceptions about France, its people, and its culture. I feared an ability to relate to my host country and wondered whether I’d ever assimilate. Turns out, a major foundation of French culture includes food, one of my favorite topics and parts of exploring different cultures! After all, “the meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food.”  While I had heard a lot about popular French foods like escargot (snails), des cuisses de grenouille (frog legs), and foie gras (fattened goose liver), these seemed to repulse me. I was quite excited to come and explore the wide variety of French wine and cheese, two of its most famed cultural staples. Before studying abroad, French food seemed to be just alright – not perfect, but not horrible, so I have to say how surprised I am that I feel much differently now.

 

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One of my favorite things in France is café culture. I stopped in Paris during my sightseeing to enjoy this beautiful lunch of a chevre chaud (warm goat cheese) salad.

 

My first night in Reims, I went out for the meal that would set up my obsession with exploring French cuisine. I ate at a café called Le Gaulois, located in the city center. My first meal was a linguine pasta with duck, in a rich creamy peanut sauce. My friend Nick insisted I indulge in a glass of champagne from the region, its dryness perfectly complementing the rich sauce of the duck. For dessert, we shared chocolate mousse and ice cream with traditional cookies, and I made it my goal then and there to try as much French cuisine as I could. Nick and his mother ordered foie gras and chevre, two specialties they had me try then and there. Although foie gras wasn’t a big deal to me, it wasn’t gross like I expected. The chevre (goat cheese, this time prepared warm with honey) was immaculate. I began to understand why UNESCO protects French food under world heritage – it is an experience of sorts that everyone should have if they travel to France.

 

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Amazing appetizers from Le Café Gaulois in Place d’Erlon. On the left, we have cooked foie gras on a bed of toast and lettuce, drenched in sweet and salty honey-balsamic sauce. On the right, we have snails (!) in an herb sauce with a regional name.

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Magret canard, which is a style of duck, in a very delicious savory sauce with cooked black peppercorns and pasta on the side. (Le Café Gaulois)

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One of my favorite meals: a salad with chevre chaud (warm goat cheese). I love this particular restaurant because of its elaborate salads. This one includes jambon pays (the country’s shredded ham) and potatoes lightly fried. (Le Café Gaulois)

 

It’s been exactly two months and 11 days since that first meal, and since then I’ve propelled myself into French food culture. Despite my homesickness for New York City and all the available cuisines there, I’ve found it comforting to adapt to French culture via food. Bakeries are a huge deal here, and the freshness of the bread and pastries makes my mornings and/or lunches. Even the “fast food” options here (which consist of Arab kebabs and European pizza among other things) have special tastes that I feel I will remember when I go back home.

 

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From Hanny Kebab, a staple in my life here since my first week. Kebabs traditionally include meat, red onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and sauces of your choice. My favorite is sauce blanche (white sauce).

 

On the nights where I decide to splurge and explore the city as well as some restaurants, I like to eat lavish meals complete with dessert and drinks to try new things. Through this exploration, I’ve developed a serious affinity towards stinky cheeses, weirdly prepared meats like tartare (completely raw meat!), and large salads with French lardon and chevre.

 

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Beef tartare served with dried fungus (mushrooms) and a savory cream and pepper sauce.

 

The majority of my new friends here are fellow exchange students, and many of them share similar sentiments as me. Most of us terribly miss our lives back home, and for us, we remember our foods back home as staples of our culture. However, all of us have been rather excited to explore French cuisine and make a steady effort to both cook dishes that mean something to us back home as well as participate in French food culture. In order to do so, some of my close friends and I have formed a dinner group, something I would sincerely recommend to other students studying abroad. In our group of friends, we have a variety of nationalities present. We are American (Northern, Midwest, and Southern), Mexican, German, New Zealanders, and Lebanese, just to name a few. Every week we dine together at someone’s home, and one of us makes a cuisine of their culture to share with the others. Besides this, we’ve held “French” nights where we gather to eat baguettes and cheese, or go out to explore the local food. These meetings have become quintessential.

 

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Photo taken in my apartment, when my friends and I gathered after our morning classes to make an elaborate brunch. We combined yummy French foods like baguettes and comte with and avocado spread and lightly fried eggs.

 

 

To give some more insight on the positives and negatives of adapting to a culture through food and drink, I’ve asked some of my friends to describe their experiences with French food and its culture. My friend Anna, like me, loves the bakeries. She says, “their pastries and baguettes are the best. No comparison to what I have had in New York.” Very often, Anna and I go grocery shopping together. She’s discovered that “the groceries (except for meat) are much cheaper.” When asked to comment on specifics, she said that meat here is super expensive but I am content with this because I would much rather have responsibly grown expensive meat than what we have in the United States.” Additionally, “most of the groceries here are also more fresh than the U.S.” Because Anna and I have a Caribbean background, there are some things that we can agree on that the French could do better to adapt to. Maybe this is because we are from NYC, one of the most diverse places in the world, but Anna noted that “the French have no sense of diverse food. What they believe to be diverse are cultural stereotypes,” something that we’ve seen a bit in even our own friends group. We made a joke that on the night our friend from Mexico City was to host dinner, everyone expected tacos for ‘Taco Tuesday,’ even though what she (and our other Mexican friends) made was impressive and delicious, to say the least. Anna went on to discuss seasoning, expressing sincere happiness that her mother remembered to pack her Dominican sázon, which she could not find here. On the overall experience, she writes that it is “difficult being accustomed to having different cultural experiences with food.” Anna and I are very similar as New Yorkers having to adapt to French tastes and culture, but the respect for the food system in France is immense from both of us.

 

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Some of my and Anna’s favorite pastries from a bakery near our school. The cake pictured above is a lovely creamy and flaky cake, served with almonds and powdered sugar on top. The two little tarlettes are lemon meringue and fruit (left to right). We hope to continue spoiling ourselves like this as much as we can while here!

 

Our friend Rea, unlike Anna, was not too shocked with French food or quality. “French food was not much of a cultural shock for me because I am Lebanese and French food and culture is embedded in Beirut. I learned, ate, and read French which still living in a conventional Lebanese cultural setting. I think the French influence is a big positive add-on to the life of the Lebanese.” Rea recommends to try cultural mixing, by dipping a French baguette in traditional Lebanese hummus.

One student here from Australia, Claudia, is living with a homestay family, something not common in our group of friends. In fact, she is the only one (that I know of) in my program who took the homestay option. Most of us have our own apartments with or without roommates, or live in student housing. Claudia’s experience with French food and culture have thus been a bit more intimate. She says that “from my point of view, the meals I share with my host family are as close as I will ever get to French culture.” She enlightens me on the true meaning of French food in culture by saying that “it’s more than just the classic baguette with cheese and good wine…in fact, it doesn’t really have a lot to do with what you’re eating, as long as you can talk about how good it is.”

I absolutely agree with Claudia in the fact that the French take immense pride in the small pleasures of life, including food. A well-prepared shared meal is an excuse to hang out and have good experiences. This is something I notice especially when I go out to eat, and unlike in NYC, staff do not seem to rush your dining experience at all. You are asked whether you want more time in between courses, and waitstaff do not come to your table repeatedly to ask if you need anything, are finished, or need the check. This is something to note – it is not rude to not be hyper-attentive to a table… rather, it is seen as a sign of respect that the people dining want to take their time and enjoy their experience.

Coming back to Claudia’s family, she tells me that “they are a very traditional Catholic family, who eat a big Sunday lunch every week. It’s often roasts with veggies, or something similar, and last for hours… it always involves more than one course.” Although Claudia says she doesn’t go out to eat much, I feel her experience with a traditional French family perfectly showcases the importance of intimate meals with those you care about.

Coming back to the quote that inspired this blog post: “what we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” Everything that I’ve learned about French cuisine and its preparation – a focus on sustainability, the international protection of its culinary customs through UNESCO, the different means of preparation for the thousands of varieties of cheese, wines, breads, and meats they have – has proven to me that the French have a deep connection with what they consume, and only enjoy the finest things. Even simple foods, like bread and cheese, have such rich flavors and come in a variety of options, that you can’t help but think the French are very deliberate with what and how they eat. In this culture, especially with the affordability of good cuisine and its wide availability with pastries and specialty food shops on nearly every corner, it is reasonable to say that everyone deserves to eat well. And any culture that has food so deeply embedded, and considers the pleasure of eating a necessity to life, is a culture that I would consider myself enamored with.

 

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Yummy Italian pizza from a restaurant I visited over spring break… my friend’s sister is a regular there, and I guess the chef adores them as much as I adore food!

 

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Tips and Tricks for Studying Abroad

One thing that’s amazing about coming from the U.S. to Europe to study is the immense difference in spatial recognition you recognize almost immediately after entering Europe. You’ll notice that the little map on the screen in front of your seat on the plane flies from one country to the next in what seems like 30-60 minutes (yes, that short) and the lines that you see on that map don’t recognize state or provincial borders but rather whole nations. It blows me away that nations can be so tightly packed together and yet so vastly different.

 

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Regions of the U.S. certainly have their own gross differences – the busy pace of the coasts versus the slow lifestyles of the Midwest and South, the drastic differences of English accents across regions (Southern drawl, New England accent, Cali slang, Midwestern accent, etc.), and even the hospitality of the states bathed in sunshine (the South and the West) versus the more distant demeanor of those of us in the North/East. (New Yorkers aren’t mean! We’re just cold and busy!) But ultimately, traveling the U.S. is still exploring American turf. You’re under the same federal jurisdictions, you share the language, and most likely you’ll be at least somewhat familiar with the culture.

Not in Europe. It’s fascinating to live on a continent where driving an hour and a half to the Northeast, I’d be met with Belgian German. An hour after, we encounter Germany. Driving east would lead you to the romantic world of Italy, and even further east and you’re in Eastern Europe, a very different place pretty separated from Western Europe in terms of culture and inclusion in the international realm.

Recently I spent spring break traveling with a bunch of people including my friend from New York, friends from my study abroad program, and some of their friends. We went to Cologne, made a little stop in my hometown in Germany, and then flew to Rome.

 

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Maybe it was just the gritty vibe I got from Cologne (Germany), but this cathedral looks much better filthy, on a snowy day.

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I promise, Rome’s Coliseum is much more impressive in person. Out of maybe 500 pictures, only two of them really dented the vast and magnificent beauty of these ruins.

 

It’s fair to say one of the things all of us international students studying abroad in Europe look forward to is traveling. I mean, why wouldn’t we? We were all bold enough to leave our homes, probably for a place with a new language, and a very different culture… so why not take it further? This blog post is based solely on my personal travel experiences, and I hope the advice in it is helpful to those of you who are already travelers or look forward to studying abroad. Of all the traveling I’ve done, traveling as a student abroad has been some of the most enlightening and interesting experiences I’ve had, and along the way I’ve picked up many tips and tricks that I hope will make traveling a breeze.

10 Do’s and Don’ts of Studying Abroad:

  1. Do plan ahead. See what your cheapest travel options are, and compare prices between companies. Goeuro.com is great for comparisons, but make sure to also look into local car-sharing services (like BlaBlaCar here in France) as well as cheap bus options (like Flixbus, a personal favorite) and airlines (Ryanair is amazing in Europe).
  2. Don’t go crazy trying to plan all the details ahead of time. Give yourself extra wiggle room while traveling. You’ll never know when you (and maybe your friends) want to stop for something to eat. You also don’t want to try to buy tickets for everything you’d like to see in advance because it could be that you all decide to wander around instead of sticking to a schedule, and you don’t want to be anyone’s mom pressing them for time.
  3. Do spend some time alone. I know you’ll be excited to travel with old or new friends, and you might feel safer in a group or with friends, but trust me – this will be necessary to balance your moods and process all the new things you’ll be encountering. I find that most people who travel together (especially new friends) sometimes squabble over small details with people they really like, even over really small things! Most people can get over that, but I find that spending time alone like having breakfast by yourself at the hostel or taking a safe walk in the middle of a large public park in the afternoon can clear your mind tremendously and take the edge off being surrounded by people with their own ideas and agendas the entire time you’re abroad. Make sure to remember to prioritize some self-love and self-care.
  4. DON’T PACK EXCESSIVELY. I cannot stress this point enough, and it really should be the first point. For cheap flights in Europe, you pay for everything, including checked luggage. That means as a financially-strained student, your best bet is a carry-on full of re-wearable (and comfortable) clothing, one pair of shoes, only the essential toiletries, and 100 mL bottles of any liquids you may need. Save room in your luggage for souvenirs and things to bring back. You’ll definitely thank yourself later! Over-packing isn’t just impractical and annoying, but can actually hurt your experience. For example, in Rome, we found ourselves walking for hours every day because there happened to be a taxi strike! Now, please don’t let this happen to you. Me and my good friend were miserable walking around Rome, trying to find a cab, holding our huge carry-ons. Just remember, anything you might find yourself needing you can buy when you get there. Anything you can’t is probably not a part of this society and you won’t need it to survive. Take the leap of faith and enjoy the raw experience for what it is.
  5. Do try and befriend locals! The best way to get to a know a place is through its people. Not only will they be able to help you with the practicalities of their home but they will have the best insight on what to see, do, and eat. Plus, you may end up with a new life-long friend.
  6. Don’t eat at super touristy places, at least not all the time. I get it, you’re hungry. You’ve been walking all day and you see a gimmick food place really near to the last tourist destination you went to. If you can, try to look up places with good ratings or get recommendations ahead of time. I know this is a little bit more work, but it’s always worth it. Those of us coming from big cities know very well that tourist areas are over-priced, and often offer the worst quality of foods that the city has to offer. At first, I thought Rome’s food was waaaay overrated. I was disappointed with the Italian culinary experience I had been fantasizing about for years. It wasn’t until my Roman friends reached out to me on Facebook and gave me recommendations, or when I started looking up popular restaurants on Google, that I found myself in food wonderland. However, keep in mind that if you need something quick and small to keep you going, you don’t have to avoid all the tourist spots forever. Just try not to eat there for all three meals, all the days you’re there!

 

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Pizzeria Bonci in Roma. We made friends with William, pictured behind the counter, a local from Astoria, Queens now living in Italy. He told us that he plans to open restaurants in Chicago this upcoming year and New York the next!

 

  1. Do something every day. There’s no point in wasting time, money, and energy traveling to a new spot just to hang out in the Airbnb, hostel, or hotel. If your friends are feeling lazy, suggest finding a new eatery or a park where you all can lounge. If no one wants to leave, go do something yourself. Being somewhere new is exciting, but if you haven’t been anywhere, what is exciting except for the actual transit?
  2. Don’t carry tons of cash at once. You might think that cash is practical, in case of an emergency and when you’re going out. You’re not wrong. In this case, I support carrying some cash on you at all times (I myself like to keep 30 euros on hand at all times – enough for a taxi ride home in an emergency). But some folks carry too much, and there are a couple of reasons I advise you all not to do this. The first is that if something happens (which I doubt it will!), you don’t want to lose all the money you have. The second is that carrying cash encourages you to spend more (at least according to most people), and if you’re traveling on a student’s budget you might not necessarily want to do that. As a bonus, most places will accept international bank cards. Stay safe, stay practical, stay financially responsible.
  3. Do try to supplement your education with some outside learning. I know, I know. I can practically hear the nerd jokes now. But think about it. Schools and classrooms prepare you practically all of your life to learn about the world in practical ways. For me, my high school Greek, Roman, and world history lessons flooded back as I explored ancient sites in Rome we used to discuss. Seeing these places brought real perspective to some of these lessons, and let me imagine history in a deeper context. Learning about different peoples’ culture allows you to critique the world of politics, pop culture, and social norms from broad viewpoints. Understanding what is happening in places you visit and what they’ve overcome as a state or a city or province is critical to your experience there, and the world we live in that is constantly changing around us. Hearing the German perspective on American politics, after beginning to understand the French perspective, helps me understand our own impact around the world as well as how to embrace the differences in our cultures. Some folks in the world never get to experience the intensity of formal education that we as college students get to, and learning practically is how they become informed adults. Even when we finish our education, we never stop learning, so start learning practically now. You will become a better, well-rounded person, and no one can ever fault you for your openness to learn and your expanding depth of knowledge.
  4. Don’t forget to LIVE YOUR LIFE. Breathe, and take it all in. Try new things, especially things you wouldn’t back home. Eat something your friends stare at you slack-jawed for trying. Attempt to speak the languages in the first words or sentences you might’ve picked up. Learn the culture by embracing it. Prepare yourself to be changed by your experiences. Try to leave all your preconceptions at the door. If you open up to the world, it’ll open up for you and you might just find many new things that shape who you’ll become.

 

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The Trevi Fountain in Rome gave me such good memories and high hopes for the rest of my adventures. Sitting and thinking in front of those gorgeous multi-hued blue waters underneath incredible and ancient art really brought me back to how lucky I am to have this opportunity.

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Studying Abroad as a First-Generation College Student at an Elite Establishment

I refuse to let the pressure get to me. Walking around the hallways of this elite French school, I refuse to be intimidated. I refuse to let everyone’s ease and comfort, (their only worries the readings they didn’t complete last night or the impending presentation they haven’t started), make me feel like I’m a burden. I refuse to feel that I deserve this less, or even, that I deserve this more, which is a thought that bubbles up to the surface when I am overly-confident, partially bitter at how little everyone else has had to do to succeed as I scaled my very anxieties to get here. I refuse to bow.

 

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I’m at the Louvre so I’m smiling but deep inside I’m panicking: Will my scholarship come in time? Will I pass my classes? Will they be challenging enough to be interesting? Are there professors I’ll meet on Monday familiar with students like me in the classroom? Whatever Tammie, smile, we’re getting crepes later.

 

I have a few friends who go to my host school (or are alumni). A good friend of mine, who for the sake of this blog we can call “Nick,” attended this school and graduated, with high honors of course, and told me everything I’d need to know before attending. I know it’s wrong to come to a new place with worries and assumptions but, I’m human, and I cannot keep myself calm in almost any situation so why should this be different? Before I came here Nick told me that this school was built as a place where the French elite could educate their children; politicians and diplomats sent their kids here to follow in their footsteps, and it’s become world-renowned as a place to get your foot in the door to a successful life as a part of high-brow academic society. Many of the previous French presidents have attended this school. Almost all of the people who go here are part of the wealthy elite in whatever nation they come from; all of their family is usually college-educated. Well, crap.

 

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Pictured in the Jardin des Tuileries, one of the largest and historically most important parks in Paris. Nick took me on a bike tour, and we stopped for a moment to admire how many things there were to do right in front of us.

 

Knowing that I have quite the snappy attitude towards those who think they’re better than anyone else because of their academic or economic privilege, I prepared myself for the worst. I pictured myself living in an academic battlefield, constantly having to prove that the self-sufficient girl from New York (the Bronx, to be specific) was good enough, smart enough, and could handle what this school brought for me. Every time I thought about it, I got sick. What if I couldn’t afford to take all the same fancy trips everyone had planned? How would they feel about me going to a state school, one of the most affordable educations in the nation, coming from a CUNY rather than Columbia University, or NYU?

Fast forward some months, and voila! Here I am. Refusing. Refusing to let my own mental insecurities about my abilities affect how I present myself and how I perform at this elite institution that I absolutely deserve to attend. Refusing to disappoint my parents, who I don’t see as inferior for not having attended college, but as visionaries and angels, who sacrificed everything they’ve ever had to make my life better and more privileged than theirs ever will be. I refuse to view myself in competition with others with whom I might not relate; but rather I will let myself get to know others, and see the similarities we share in the world of academia, global travel, and professional experience.

 

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My fears were quickly relieved when I made great new friends who taught me that it’s dangerous to over-think and stereotype institutions, no matter how right I think I am. It’s important to focus on making good friendships and fostering connections, and the rest comes easy. And by the way, no one cares about your circumstances!! This is something our brains will tell us to worry about, but it’s your heart that counts, every single time.

 

To be honest, I think all first-generation college students share some of the same trials and tribulations. There is a girl here with me from my school who has become one of my closest friends in the time we’ve been here together. Let’s call her… Amara. Along with her, I’ve made good friends with an Afro-Brazilian woman (let’s call her Dascha) studying abroad in Paris, and she has struggled just like me to make it to this great university. They both understand, as fellow first-generation college students and low-income women of color, how nerve-wracking it is to be here among all of this wealth, prestige, and honor. We’ve had days, hours, and moments, when we’ve needed to confide in each other about comments made in our classes, observations we’ve seen among social groups, and implications of this institute which were shocking to us. (For example, everyone here can afford textbooks. At our home university, many professors omit them, or give much more time for students to purchase them, because working class colleges contain multitudes of people who can’t afford hundreds of dollars at once for reading material.) I am extremely grateful to you, Amara, for being a friend I confide in about these issues, who understands my anxieties, and gives me hope that we can for sure fulfill this experience without losing our self-esteem, or feeling any type of inadequate.

 

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They don’t have to understand the struggle, it’s okay. If they’re good friends, they’ll care enough to hear you out: your fears, concerns, and everything that comes with it. As long as they’re open to understanding the world, they’re alright with me. Never be ashamed of where you come from.

 

For all the first-gen students who are reading this, feeling some type of way, looking for inspiration or courage to study abroad or head off to college: look inside yourself. It will be difficult to get rid of the assumptions that society has put on us, and we will always feel slightly resentful at how much harder we’ve had to work to get here but please understand that it’s worth it. You deserve the opportunities you’ve fought for, and there’s no sense in worrying so much that you lose the ability to soak in all of the wonderful experiences, moments, and friends you will make here. Refuse to let yourself be a statistic, but make yourself a living example. Refuse to feel self-conscious, but let your different background propel you. Refuse to let the pressure get to you, use it to succeed.

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