Tag Archives: France

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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Relating to the Globalized World

My name is Tammie, and since as far back as I can remember, I’ve been an adventurous spirit. In every aspect, I enjoy the new, the foreign, and the unrelatable. I’m always down to try something novel, whether it’s food, places, or ideas. I enjoy people, because they allow me to experience things I might not always have access to like different cultures, ways of thinking, and lifestyles. This year I decided to study abroad so that I could experience an intense immersion into a different culture as an adult with responsibilities, expanding my horizon and my worldview.

I was accepted into a world renowned school for the social sciences, SciencesPo, located in seven cities across France, locations as diverse as the program content and its academic community. Before leaving the U.S., I don’t think I had a very good perception of France or its people. To be honest with you all, I admit that I had extremely limited knowledge of France and weighed heavily the opinion of others regarding French culture and attitude. 

 

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When I got to France, my fears melted into the void like a popsicle in the summer sun. I felt enchanted driving through the Northern French countryside, mesmerized at the number of vineyards and villages whose charming and old-fashioned aesthetic transported me into what felt like a romance novel. The city of Reims in particular dazzled me with its French classic architecture and symmetrical set-up.

 

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The basilique (church)

 

Any fear, any assumption, and any bias I may have had completed rescinded, and I fell in love with France. There has been really no culture shock, because I’ve lived in Europe before and sort of understand the dynamic of life on this continent, even within the different European nations. I believe coming to France with a biased perspective helped to ease my culture shock (usually the opposite happens), because I was so pleasantly surprised with what I’ve gotten to know, and how I’ve been received in this small, fairytale town. The grand cathedral in the center of town, visible from all around the city center and even beyond, is a source of comfort in my new home, and I am happy that my homesickness is minimal.

 

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Me and my friend’s mom in front of the cathedral

 

So far, I’ve been here (in Reims) for 22 days. Twenty-two days of gorging on French food, 22 days of struggling to speak French with my American accent, and 22 days of discussing my role as an American in global politics. 22 days of learning new things, 22 days of missing New York, and 22 days of self-improvement. In this era of new presidential leadership, we (as Americans) are trying to make sense of political change. I came here looking to get politically involved, understand more about my role in global politics, and expand my education to be a better advocate for the underrepresented and oppressed. Since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed many stark cultural differences between France and New York. I feel uncomfortable comparing my experiences here to that of the entire U.S. because many of these differences apply only to New York City as I know it and many regions of the U.S. are so starkly different from the Northeast. Some of the biggest differences I’ve seen are an emphasis on politeness in the French language (even if you don’t want to be!), a difference in embracing the “melting pot” culture (the French can’t stand to be separated by race or religion; even if this isn’t apparent – the oppressed groups will tell you that the French can be very racist, even if it isn’t bluntly so), and finally, a globalized understanding of the world and its politics.

The last point I mentioned is the difference that I came to embrace, something that can be argued for really most European countries, but particularly France because of its history. The French are incredibly aware of their imperialist history, and my school in particular celebrates the scholarly pursuit of understanding many global cultures and nations as they play a role in international politics. Although it has always been my dream to work in international politics, it wasn’t until leaving the U.S. for my education 22 days ago that I realized that this was feasible, though a long way away. The U.S. tends to be selfish in its political studies; though we embrace world studies and different cultures, the focus on American culture particularly is important and our geography allows us to be relatively ignorant to what’s happening in other countries, continents, and cultures. France is a hotbed of ideology from all around the world, with African, Middle Eastern, European, American (North and Latin) people milling around, interacting in the French sphere. The French just seem to pay attention to what’s going on, while Americans seem to have to go out of their way to be involved in global politics. In my opinion, this difference in the French attitude regarding global politics is critical to both my studies, and my experience here; globalization has never seemed more vital to my personal and professional life as it is here. This semester in France, I hope to delve into the French language and political culture, soaking up knowledge about global politics that will allow me to become a better advocate when I return to the States, and as I continue my education.

 

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Me with lights in Reims.

 

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From Paris to Macedon!

This past week has been incredible. As much as I enjoy the classes at my study abroad program, College Year in Athens (CYA), and feeling at home in Pangrati, there’s nothing like being able to travel to other areas and experience the utterly unfamiliar. Last weekend myself and a friend of mine were able to go to Paris to visit another friend studying abroad there. It’s easy to think that a city so celebrated in film, books, and more could be over-hyped and as a result, disappointing in reality. However, Paris instead turned out to be one of the most amazing cities I have ever seen. The architecture on every street had something miraculous to offer; a truly beautiful city. As a suburban girl used to living closer to forests than cities, that’s saying quite a lot. Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower were far more incredible in person than I had ever imagined them to be. We were also able to see the Louvre Museum, and it was gigantic. In the four hours we stared incredulously at the art before us, we were only able to see a little over one of the four floors of artwork. To see the entire museum in a day would be absolutely impossible. The perfection of Parisian food rivaled the beauty of the city itself. Each and every dish I ordered over our three day stay–from French onion soup to macaroons, meat and cheese platters, and cheese fondue– was exceptional. In short, I’m already looking forward to the day I can return!

 

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Notre Dame.

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Parisian dining (French onion soup!!)

 

Once back in Athens, we were only home for one day of classes before CYA began our next school-wide trip to Thessaloniki, the area of northern Greece that was previously Macedon. The city is famous for its university, one of the best in Greece, and the students who make up 20% of the city population. As a port city, ships can be seen passing by day and night, and people are constantly gathered outside reading, playing music, and talking to friends. The atmosphere of Thessaloniki is far more young, vibrant, and calming than Athens thus far. I have to say I still love Athens just a little more; it’s home, and nothing beats home.

 

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Living out my philosophy major dreams with Aristotle.

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Graffiti art in Thessaloniki.

 

We’ve spent the past few days learning about the importance of how the town of Thessaloniki was planned and talking about the numerous Byzantine structures still standing sporadically throughout the town from the period of Roman Christian rule. The detail in many of the Christian churches constructed from that period has miraculously survived, and is still used in a modern sense. Between this learning experience in Thessaloniki, and my long weekend in Paris, the past week has undoubtedly made me realize the degree of appreciation I have for learning in an experiential manner, and solidified my gratitude for the way CYA runs our program.

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Filed under Destiny in Greece, Western Europe

Farewell and Reflection

Saying goodbye to all of the friends that I made in Paris was very hard for me. They were the people who I had grown close to throughout my time abroad, so there were lots of tears. We all promised to keep in touch and that this would not be the last time we would see each other. It was hard to say goodbye to Paris as well. I had the best experience of my life. On my last day, I decided to walk around the neighborhood and listen to music. I wanted to absorb the beauty of Paris for the last time.

My friend Sofia from my program, AIFS

My friend Sofia from my program, AIFS

Upon arriving back in the United States, I found myself still speaking French. For example, at the airport I would say “merci” and “pardon” instead of “thank you” and “excuse me.” I remember my mother asking me a question and I replied “ouais,” which means “yeah.” It felt surreal being at home. Just yesterday I was walking around Paris and eating at a café with friends. I love my hometown, Chicago, but I miss the architecture of Paris so much. I miss being able to step outside and be less than five minutes away from a boulangerie. However, I was so excited to eat Chicago pizza again. It’s what we’re famous for. I was happy to be able to find exactly what I was looking for at the grocery store. And of course, I was happy to see my friends and family again.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Studying abroad has been such a life changing experience for me. At first, I planned on going to graduate school and earning my Ph.D. in Chicago. Now, I think I want to earn a degree abroad or at least in another city. There’s so much to see around the world and I want to try to experience it all. I want to be a global citizen. For now, I will continue my study of the French language so that I can become fluent and plan for my summer visit to Paris!

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Christina’s Final Study Abroad Reflections

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Christina in France Introductory Video

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