A Different Travel Experience

Bonjour à tous! Last weekend I went on one of my final trips of the year,  to Amsterdam. This trip in particular, was one of the most anticipated since my friends and I planned it during our time in Tours this summer. Amsterdam was yet another city that I heard great reviews of, so I was expecting it to be just like most other places I have traveled to this year, but boy was I wrong.

The trip started off like any other, with early morning wake up call to catch a cheap flight and get into the city by midi (mid-day).  As I have done in in every city that I’ve visited, I ate at restaurants, visited churches, and lounged in coffee shops. Yes, the canals and the architecture were manifiques (gorgeous), but the culture of Amsterdam was surprisingly not my favorite. Contrary to what I was expecting, the relaxed lois (laws) in the city did not make me feel the most comfortable, and it did not help that my hostel was on the edge of the red light district. Don’t get me wrong, Amsterdam is an amazingly unique city, but it’s definitely not a city that I could ever see myself living in.

Although I felt uneasy about a few things during the trip, what I did enjoy was spending a day doing a canal and brewery tour with my friends Ava, Dan, and Nate. In no other city had I paid for anything other than musées (museums) or bouffe (food), so pretending to be an actual tourist with disposable money instead of a broke college kid for a day was fun. It definitely made me excited to explore more of Europe later on in life, when I don’t have a negative balance in my bank account.

Overall, I can see how Amsterdam could be the favorite European destination for many, but it just did not resonate with me as well as some of the other great cities that I’ve been to have. But hey, maybe I’ll be back one day and my mind will be changed. As for now, I’d rather be walking the comfortable streets of Dijon than the red light district in Amsterdam.

Leçon du jour:  “L’opinion a causé plus de problèmes que des pestes ou des tremblements sur cette petite terre.”

“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes“- Voltaire

À bientôt!

-Sean

Photos from Week 34

did you really go to Amsterdam if you don’t have a canal picture??

Last abroad trip with Jason, we will def miss Munich the most

Nate trying incredibly hard to be as cool as effortless Ava

Lad’s Holiday

Anne Frank’s House (thanks for the recommendation Abi)

The Venice of the North

Doing some touristy things for once Dan, a beer connoisseur

 Ava holding on to me for dear life as we walk across a canal

Me an some pigeons eating a loaf of bread

Collège Saint-Joseph

Salut à tous!  Since my last update, I have made my final trip to Paris, accompanied by my friends from Dijon. It was an overall amazing weekend and I enjoyed making a trip with the people who have made my experience in France so enjoyable. Apart from last weekend, I’ve been spending a lot of time focused on my ICIP (Independent Cultural Immersion Project). The ICIP is a 10 page reflection required of each Holy Cross student abroad, written completely in their language of immersion. My topic of choice has been my work at Collège Saint-Joseph. Though I briefly touched upon the subject in a previous blogpost, I figured that I would go greater in depth about mon travail (my work) due to the fact that it is one of the most interesting parts of my life in Dijon.

In October, I made it clear to my coordinators that I needed a way to both make a few extra euros and keep myself moderately busy during the week. Within no time, I was given the contact of a local middle school where I had an interview to be a Foreign Language Assistant. After going through the hiring process, I was assigned around 100 students separated into four different classes with whom I would hold English conversation lessons with each week. It wasn’t long until I was spending almost as much time at Collège Saint-Joseph as I was at l’Université de Bourgogne.

At the middle school, I have at least one class from each year: sixième (5th graders), cinquième (6th graders), and quatrième (7th graders). All of whom know an incredible amount of English already, the quatrième a considerable amount more than the sixième of course. In the beginning, I was surprised by the level at which even the 10 year old sixième students were able to understand. Although they are not comfortable enough with the language to hold a conversation, I would say that French 10 year olds know as much English as I did French during my junior year of high school. Having a variation of age groups is also interesting because I am able to see the difference a year makes to a middle schooler’s knowledge and maturity level and how easy or difficult collégiens (middle schoolers) can make teaching a class be, depending on their cooperation.

Each week I teach a different lesson on American culture, which range from the topics of holidays to celebrities, regional differences to eating habits, and I have yet to run out of subjects to talk about. Usually, the classes are less student-teacher oriented but rather are groups of French children asking me to deny or validate their established ideas of American culture. My time at the middle school has really shown me the great amount of knowledge which other countries have of les États-Unis (United States), even if it is sometimes misconstrued. I oftentimes have mes élèves (my students) asking me about random facts such as the meaning behind Groundhog’s day or why Americans in movies always eat pizza with their hands instead of a fork and knife. It would be extremely hard to find an American middle schooler that knows more about a foreign culture than foreign middle schoolers know about American culture without ever visiting the country.

The level of knowledge my middle schoolers have about the English language and American culture really attests to how influential America and other anglophone countries are in the world. It also shows how little Americans know and are taught about the world outside of our borders in comparison, which is a grave problem that definitely needs fixing.

Leçon du jour:  “L’éducation est l’arme la plus puissante qu’on puisse utiliser pour changer le monde.” -Nelson Mendella

“Education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world”

À bientôt!

-Sean

Photos from Weeks 32 & 33

The middle school that I work at

Quasimoto’s view of Paris

Me and Fabes 

I have visited the Arc FOUR TIMES and still YET to get to the top

le Beverly gang (sans Aislinn)

me in my safe space (Paris)

Ameilie Cafe w Aisling

Des amis

SO thankful for all the friends I have made in Dijon

A Trip to the East

Salut à tous! One thing that j’adore (I love) about France is how committed the French people are to their vacation time. Unlike any other abroad location, the HC students in France can always count on at least three full weeks off during a semester, which is parfait (perfect) for exploring Europe. So, with my first full week of break this semester, I made plans with a few friends to visit three countries that I never dreamed of visiting in my lifetime : Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

The first stop on our tour was Budapest, Hungary.  The city was charming and had a culture clearly distinct from all the other countries I had previously visited this year. It was clear that I was no longer in western Europe when I couldn’t even piece together what the language read. One distinct characteristic of Eastern Europe that I grew accustomed to very quickly was the cleanliness. Their value for order was especially apparent early in the morning when I saw shop keepers sweep their sidewalks and throw away the sweepings not into the street, but into their OWN TRASH BINS, something you would never see in a city like Paris, Rome, or even New York. Budapest had some amazing sights to see and the famous thermal baths are definitely a must-do for anyone looking for unique experiences while studying abroad. Overall, my exploration of the city was great, however one situation sticks out in my mind that does not match all the others. While leaving the city Abby, Ava, and I thought it would be cheaper to take public transportation instead of ubering to the bus station. So we bought three tickets for the tram and then transferred into the metro, where the same tickets were ACCEPTED by the machines. Upon leaving the metro we were stopped by security who checked our tickets and told us that we had to pay a “tourist fine” of 6000 forints (20 dollars) for not buying two separate tickets for the tram and the metro, even though this law wasn’t posted ANYWHERE. Because we didn’t happen to have 18,000 forints in CASH, the security had to walk us to an ATM where there was an EXTRA 3000 FORINT CONVERSION CHARGE (10 DOLLARS). I was fuming to say the least. In the end, the Budapest Metro basically robbed Abby, Ava, and I a combined total of 90 DOLLARS and left a horrible taste of the city in our mouths. But I digress…

In Vienna, Austria, our luck improved. After seeing all the beautiful buildings and Habsbourg Palaces we were able to meet up with our international friend from Tours, Zelie! It’s honestly super chouette (cool) having friends who travel the world like Zelie because you never know where or when you will run into one another. Together, we had a typical Viennese afternoon chatting in a fancy café, where I almost accidentally tipped our waiter 50 EUROS (luckily Zelie stopped me before I pressed enter on the card reading machine). That night Abby, Ava, and I were exhausted and were so close to bailing on our plans of going to the 3 euro Viennese opera which was recommended by all of our friends who had already visited. After a few minutes of rationalizing our decision with a, quand à Vienne (when in Vienna), we decided to tough it through and hopefully get to the opera house before the tickets were sold out. After arriving to the ticket booth we were dumbfounded when we saw that the show that was being performed that night was none other than SWAN LAKE. Luckily, we were able to secure three of the last tickets and enjoy the show in the nosebleeds.

The next city on our tour was Prague, in the Czech Republic, where we met up with our friend Nate! It was great catching up with Nate because I hadn’t seen him since Oktoberfest in September and it was refreshing to add a new member to our travel group dynamic. In Prague, we spent four days sight-seeing, eating, and “fika-ing” (sweedish term for having a coffee break and chatting with friends). Although Prague was not my favorite city of the three, I had the best time there just relaxing and enjoying myself in a foreign city with three friends.

Then, after Prague I returned back to France to have my 1 night in Paris with one of my best friends, Caroline, who is currently studying abroad in Paris Rome for the semester. It was a dream come true walking the Seine and visiting the Princess Diana Memorial with her before she jetted off to Dublin.

This trip was truly amazing. It was great seeing three cities that I never thought I would have the desire to visit in my life, and it really opened my eyes to the fact that Europe isn’t just the few west-most countries like France, Spain, and Italy. It also reminded me that I still have so much more to see before the year comes to an end, so hopefully I will be able to cross a few more countries off my list before my time here is up! Wish me luck!

Leçon du jour: Pour changer la mentalité d’un individu, il faut juste changer son environnement -inconnu

“to change the mentality of an individual, you have to change his environment”

A bientôt!

-Sean

 

Photos from Week 31 (Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Paris )

 

“A white boy wears a black turtleneck ONCE and thinks he belongs at Paris fashion week”- Ancient proverb

1 Night in Paris

THREE LONG YEARS IN THE MAKING

We love gnocchi, Marist College, Dimitris, and the World Bank

My guy Nate makes a reappearance!

PrHAHA

The Vienna Opera House

TOURS squad conquered MUNICH and now VIENNA

Vienna is a beauty

I’m Baroque after this trip

Hundertwasser house

Best picture of the semester!

Keeping up with the Habsburgs

Typical Budapest Picture

Fisherman’s Castle

Matthias Church

It took us a half hour to find the outdoor bath

Found my movie poster in a cafe

Abby, Ava, and I at St Stephan’s Basilica (they LOVE visiting churches with me)

Me sleeping soundly knowing I just got a Insta worthy picture to post

 

 

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Studying Abroad

Bonjour à tous! These past few weeks in Dijon have been nothing more than a constant repetition of school work, teaching au collège Saint-Joseph (at my middle school), and preparing for my trip to Eastern Europe. Tonight, as I sit struggling to think of something worthy to write about, I remember that it was around this time last year that I was approved to study abroad! With this in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder : what would I want to know as a student faced with the decision of committing to étudier à l’étranger (studying abroad) or staying at home? So, I’ve compiled a list to help those seeking some guidance with their decision!

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Studying Abroad

1.The French taught in class is not the same French that is spoken by natives *This probably works for any country that speaks a language other than English*

When I arrived in France, I thought that my seven years of French class had taught me all that I needed to know to get by. However, getting off the plane and immediately hearing new versions of French words like “chais pas” instead of “je ne sais pas” as the translation of ” I don’t know,” or the use of “on” in place of “nous” as the translation of “we” really threw me for a spin during my first few weeks in France. It’s difficult to speak and understand a language that you have been taught, let alone a language that you have NOT been taught.  Luckily, being surrounded by native speakers who want to help you learn their language creates a environment where it is easy to ask for explanations of a new words like these without feeling dumb.

2. Studying abroad is definitely not cheap

When promoting study abroad, Holy Cross heavily focuses on how much money studying abroad will “save” you in your tuition and airfare stipend. What HC doesn’t tell you, however, is how much it will cost to do all the traveling that you will inevitably want to do while outside of the US. I talk on my blog about all the trips that I take, but never really the costs. I would suggest to anyone wanting to travel while abroad to have at least $5,000/$6,000 saved up . With this, a student can live comfortably with a host family, travel occasionally, and have a little extra money left over as long as they are conscious about their spending and cut corners where they can.  

3. The fear of missing out is almost non-existent while abroad

One of my biggest fears about studying abroad for the whole year was that I would be missing two entire semesters back at home. The reality is that you will be way too occupied to be worrying about what you are missing back home. While I was running around exploring the streets of Florence and Rome I nearly forgot that it was Halloweekend back home. I have also been told by many sources that Holy Cross is not the same during Junior Year because of the amount of people who are not on campus. I’d gladly take a weekend in Paris with my friends over Catalina any day.

4.  It’s super easy to keep in contact with friends and family

One thing I could not live without during my time in Europe is my phone. Having the ability to facetime my friends and family back home is essential, and is honestly a main factor of how I manage to live in a foreign city by myself. This leisure of talking face to face with someone thousands of miles away is an easy cure for any traces homesickness instantly. It’s also very useful for keeping up with happenings at home, and to see who makes the effort to keep in contact during my long year away. I don’t know how anyone could move out of the country before video chatting.

5. Studying abroad comes with the highest highs and the lowest lows

Never in my life have I experienced such drastic mood swings as I have here. I can go from being on cloud nine while exploring a new city with friends, to being in the depths of despair while waiting for a train in Charles De Gaulle. But yet the highs always outshine the lows. I can be simply walking through the streets of Dijon looking at the ancient buildings and the strange tiny cars and be flooded with a sense of accomplishment just for acknowledging the fact that I am where I am, something that would never happen to me while walking through the suburbs of New York.

6. This year is not just for external discovery, but of internal discovery as well

Yes, I’ve traveled to more places this year than I ever have in my life. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to experience new cultures and meet new kinds of people that I had never before been exposed to.  While these discoveries have truly changed my outlook on the world, my biggest breakthroughs have been my newfound independence and confidence. Through my time in Dijon, I have been forced to rely on myself and to fine tune my instincts and intuition, all qualities that have proven to be invaluable during my day to day life. And I can’t wait to see what these skills will bring me back at home.

7. The U.S. is weird, and Europeans have very strong opinions of Americans

It did not occur to me how strange America is until I left the country. Why we have unnecessarily big cars, how we drink iced coffee in the winter, or how we don’t include sales tax in our prices are all questions that I have found myself also questioning when others asked me. American culture is bizarre once you see how the rest of the world lives. We are a very interesting people, and the reactions of Europeans when they hear that I’m from the States shows that. One thing is for certain, when a professor outs me to a lecture hall of a hundred students as being “un étudiant américan,” dozens of heads are bound to turn, and people are sure to come up to me after class and ask me more about who I am/what my thoughts on Trump are.(It has happened to me quite a few times.) The same thing goes for when people hear me speaking English on public transportation, but the excited students are usually replaced by angry old drunk men who yell at me for allowing Trump to get elected.

8. The amount of walking is unbearable at first, but you get used to it

This one is more of a cautionary tip. The amount of walking while in Europe is insane,  especially during trips. Public transportation here is pretty good, but not always reliable. Walking 15 miles in a day has been standard during my trips, so bring some good walking shoes!

9. Awkward interactions are inevitable

A true abroad experience is not complete with out the many cringeworthy interactions that are exchanged. Whether it is due to the language barrier, missed cultural cues, or just Europeans being weird, these uncomfortable exchanges are bound to happen and you kinda just have to laugh them off.

10. Remember that your experience will not last forever

I seriously cannot believe that I am only in France for three more months. I try to savor every moment whether while I’m eating dinner with my host family, hanging out with all the English/Irish/Scottish friends that I’ve made here, or even when I am sitting in my bed scrolling through photos on my phone. I am loving every second of my experience and am trying to make it last as long as I can, because I know that the end is slowly creeping closer.

To those sophomores who just found out that they are going to study abroad: congratulations and I hope this list was utile (useful)!

Leçon du jour

 Emploie bien ton temps, ne perd pas un moment, le présent passe en un instant. –Proverbe de Maxalexis

“Use your times wisely, don’t loose a moment, the present passes in an instant”

A bientôt!

-Sean

Solo Travel

Bonjour à tous! Aside from the weekly manifestations involving tens of thousands of gilet jaunes across the country, life in France has been pretty uneventful since my last upload. My classes have yet to start up again, and I have been spending most of my time relaxing and preparing myself for next semester. While lying around in ma chambre (my room) for the third consecutive day in a row, I made the rash decision to buy two bus tickets for Paris, prompted by a one euro sale that a bus company was offering. I had previously read on countless travel blogs that solo travel is the best way to explore a city, so I was excited to see how this solo day trip was going to compare to my other travel experiences. Then the next morning, I was up and ready for a four hour bus ride directly from Dijon to Paris. Although I had already seen so much of the city during my visit last semester, I knew that I did not even scratch the surface of what Paris has to offer, and was extremely excited to see what new parts I would explore.

The first stop of my trip was le Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris’s famous giant cemetery, where legends such as Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison are buried. Being in the cemetery alone was honestly the perfect way to explore (as weird as that sounds).  I was able to move at my own speed and see des tombes (the tombs) that only I wanted to see, which I loved. Père Lachaise is special to me because it was the one place in Paris that I promised myself I would visit this year, after researching the cemetery for dozens of hours as part of my final assignment in my French 306 class. Visiting a place where I had done so much painstaking research and knew the extensive history behind it really made me appreciate the gloomy cemetery a whole lot more than a regular visitor.

After Père Lachaise, I headed to Sacre Coeur, the famous basilica on top of Monmartre which overlooks the entire city. The view of the city from on top of la colline (hill) was breathtaking, I could stare at the maze of thousands of beige buildings with their purple roofs for hours. I couldn’t help but just to sit on a step and stare at the sprawling city in amazement for a few minutes. After visitting inside the church, I walked down to Moulin Rouge and le Palais Garnier opera house, both of which I was content with looking at for a minute or two and then just kept moving. Once back at the Seine, I visited le musée d’Orsay, a museum of impressionist/post-impressionist art inside a renovated train station.  At this point of mon voyage (my trip), I was utterly exhausted from walking almost 20 miles around the city and my feet were killing me because of it. I then chose to just sit down on a bench in the museum’s main hall and enjoy my surroundings until the museum closed an hour later, right before my bus’s departure time.

While traveling back to Dijon, I reflected on whether or not the idea of solo travel was all it had been hyped up to be. By the end of my ride home, I came to the conclusion that traveling alone has its pros and cons:  I enjoyed being able to make all the decisions of what I saw and what I did without compromising with other people, but I also hated the fact that I did not have anyone to share my experiences with. For my second trip to Paris, I think that traveling solo was the right choice, because I was able to do exactly what I wanted to, but I definitely prefer traveling with friends when it comes to discovering entirely new places and experiences foreign cultures .

Leçon du jour: L’homme qui y voyage seul peut commencer aujourd’hui; mais celui qui voyage avec un autre doit attendre que cet autre soit prêt.- Henry Thoreau

The man who travels alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.

À bientôt

-Sean

 

Photos from Weeks 21 & 22

le Cimètiere du Père Lachaise

some more tombes

Grave of French singer Edith Piaf (she sings La vie en rose)

Holocaust monuments

Montmartre

Sacré-Cœur 

The view from Sacré-Cœur

the Abside

Moulin Rouge

Le Palais Garnier

the giant altar in la Madeleine 

Every street in Paris is picture worthy        

Musée d’Orsay, a former train station

Street art in the 20eme arrondissement

Spot the American

la saison de Noël en France, and Home for the Holidays

Salut à tous! It has been exactly one month since my last blog post, la saison de Noël (the Christmas season) has come and gone, and a lot has happened since I last updated you all, so let’s just jump right in.

Shortly after posting my last blogpost I went to revisit la Capitale de Noël (Strasbourg) to see its famous Christmas markets and catch up with some of the Holy Cross kids. The name, “Capital of Christmas,” does not lie. The sights and sounds of Strasbourg’s Grande Île (big island) were as Christmas-y as you can get. Little wooden houses crowded every open area on the island, selling delicious crêpes, aromatic vin chaud(  hot wine), and various types of Christmas decorations. Dozens of nativity scenes and giant illuminated christmas trees were also scattered around the city. Having the opportunity to catch up with friends as well as being able to reflect on how incredibly fast our  past five months in France flew by was also a highlight of my trip. Then, after my short one night stay, I headed back to Dijon to find a smaller scale version of les marchés de Noël( Christmas markets) waiting for me in my own city. That following Monday, I finally received my exam schedule, only to find out that I coincidentally had one of my only three exams the day after I was scheduled to leave for the US. So, in place of this two hour long written exam, I had to take a separate hour long one-on-one oral exam with my professor. To be completely honest, the “exam” did not go over so well.  Even though I studied day in and day out for this exam, even going over questions with my host mom, nothing could have prepared me for that hour long FRENCH interrogation of the economics of the European Union.

After that fiasco, the next day I headed back to Charles De Gaulle Airport to fly back home to New York for Christmas. I can’t even describe la joie (the joy) it brought me to be back communicating in English and understanding all that was being said to me so clearly. However, I oddly found myself speaking much slower, as I am used to in order for foreigners to better understand me. Although I was only in the States for nine short days, I jam packed all that I could in the time I was allotted. My trip was filled with runs to Dunkin’ Dounuts, trips to Manhattan and Queens, and chances to see so many friends and family that I have missed. Having everyone ask me questions about my experiences during le dîner du Réveillon (Christmas Eve dinner), and being able to tell stories of my own experiences felt amazing. I did not truly see the extent of my personal growth as a result of my time abroad, until almost everyone at home brought something new about me to my attention. To be fair, I do feel like I have been through more in the past five months than I have in any other period of my life, so there is a reason for so much change.

After spending quality time with my family, and eating as much home-cooked holiday food as possible, it was time to start the second leg of my year abroad. Although my trip was bref (brief), it was just what I needed to mentally and physically prepare myself for round two of my study abroad experience. Right now, I am currently in the process of studying for my other two finals (French Universities usually have their finals in January), as well as applying for summer internships. And at the same time, I am also planning more great trips for next semester, which I’m excited to share with you all! I’m so glad that my time abroad isn’t finished yet, because there is still so much more to see and do! I can’t wait to see what this next part of my year has in store for me!

À bientôt!

-Sean

Leçon du jour: On est vraiment bien que chez soi pour les fêtes. 

There’s no place like home for the holidays.