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.

 

Photos from Weeks 17, 18, 19, & 20

Strasbourg again!

Not Rockefeller Center, but it’ll do

Extra festive

Les marchés

Michael’s Craft Store is SHOOK

Italy Squad reunited

Le Palais des Ducs with Christmas rides

Had to get some churros and Nutella

Went back home for a minute

Some much needed family time

Paris, ENFIN!!!

Bonjour à tous! After living in France for the past five months, this weekend I finally made mon premier voyage (my first trip) to Paris! Although it was not the most ideal time to visit the City of Lights, (I’ll touch upon that later), it was a very cliché French weekend that allowed me to put my many years of studying the French language/history/and culture to good use. I saw this trip, not only as another fun adventure with my friends, but as a chance to see all that I have read and heard about Parisian culture come to life in this one city.

I arrived in Paris on Friday evening and met up with my friends Carley and Jason(yet again) to start our busy weekend filled with sightseeing and food tasting. After catching up with one another, we decided to have a little goût (taste) of home at a restaurant that was located only a short seven minute walk from our hotel, Chipotle. The burrito that I had made me very excited to be back in the States eating Mexican food and sipping iced coffee during the rapidly approaching Christmas break. After notre repas (our meal) we made the decision to actually start enjoying actaul Parisian life by visiting la tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower). I had yet to see the Tower at this point of our trip and was anxiously awaiting the first moment that I would lay eyes on it. Then, while walking towards the 7th arrondissement (part of Paris where the Tower is), I saw a glimpse of the lit up wrought-iron figure and was instantly flooded with emotions. I found myself on the verge of tears just from seeing the symbol of the French people and their culture while simultaneously thinking about all the work that I have put into being apart of what it represents. After standing with Carley and Jason utterly stupefied at the base of the structure for about an hour, we were able to get our pictures and leave feeling extremely accomplished and proud for being where we were.

The next morning the three of us woke up bright and early to get a head start on the day. We first went to a classic boulangerie (bakery), where I forced everyone to have a typical French breakfast of pastries and coffee. Ensuite, we headed to the Louvre where we were able to see la Jaconde (Mona Lisa), Le Sacre de Napoléon (the Coronation of Napoleon) , and Les Noces de Cana (the Wedding of Cana). After that, the three of us visited Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame on île-de-la-Cité, where I was able to forcibly relay dozens of boring history lessons about Paris to Carley and Jason. After visiting the churches, we met up with some other Holy Cross kids who were also in Paris at the same time we were. It seems like whenever you’re traveling while abroad, you will always be in the same city as other friends who you did not plan to see.

We decided as a group to make our way from the Louvre to go see the Eiffel Tower while there was still some sun out. Unfortunately, the weekend that we visited was also the weekend of some of the most violent manifestations (protests) that Paris has seen in a decade. The protesters, also known as the gilet jaunes (yellow vests), were protesting throughout Paris about taxes on gas. From the Louvre, we were able to see clouds of  black smoke coming from the Champs-Élysées, which is more than two miles away. On our route to the Eiffel Tower, dozens of rues (roads) were closed as well as some crucial ponts (bridges), adding at least 30 minutes to our walk. Even though this scared the non-french Holy Cross kids, it was funny how normal it seemed to me due to the fact that the chants of various riots have been a constant background noise throughout my stay in France. My time in Dijon has taught me how much la manifestation is a part of authentic French culture.

Once back at the Eiffel Tower, we were still starstruck. I have seen my fair share of monuments and large buildings, but the Eiffel Tower is incredibly special. And when it twinkles during the first five minutes of every hour, the only word that to describe it is “magical”. After seeing what we could see on account of the massive protests, Jason, Carley and I split off from the rest of the HC kids and went back to our hotel to eat some wine and cheese, which we hyped up almost as much as the Chipotle we ate the night before.

Although it was a short weekend and we only saw fraction of what Paris has to offer, I was incredibly happy with my first time in France’s capital. Being able to show Carley and Jason around the city and giving them history lessons, without ever having been to the city myself, was truly a great feeling. It really confirmed all the work that I had done up to this point in my French studies. I know that I will be back to Paris very soon (Hi Carol and Caroline), and I am exited to explore different parts of the city during my next visit.

À bientôt!

-Sean

Leçon du jour: « Ajoutez deux lettres à Paris : c’est le paradis »- Jules Renard

Add two (three) letters to Paris, and its Paradise

Photos from Week 16

First stop on our tour of Paris!

The Seine, the famous river that runs through Paris

Wherever you are in the city, seeing a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower is magical

Memorial of the late Princess Diana RIP

Carley and I shortly after crying tears of JOY from seeing la tour Eiffel

Selfie King Jason??

Early morning boulangerie stops w the bestie!

The Louvre

“Monsieur! Levez-vous si vous plaît!!” – the security guard yelling at me to stop imitating a Beyonce music video

The Wedding at Cana

Us and Mona

Me absorbing all the culture of Paris

Yet another leg kick flic

Can you hear the bells?

Carley, Jason, and their AMAZING Parisian tourguide

Photos from Weeks 13, 14, 15

Some of my students at Collège Saint Joseph Middle School

Another class

Tried to get a picture of the theater before watching a ballet

Me, thinking of a scheme to become Duc de Bourgogne

Updates from Dijon

Bonjour à tous. As my first semester in France begins to wind down, I have been spending more and more time in Dijon, appreciating the city and des gens (the people) that I have come to know in the past couple of months. After all of my crazy trips, and oftentimes misfortunate traveling scenarios, I am always relieved to come back to the one city in Europe where I know that I belong. Since my last blogpost about Dijon in September, I have met so many new people and discovered much more of what Dijon has to offer and I cant wait to share about it all with you!

For starters, I am pretty engrossed in my classes à la Fac (at the university) now. Now don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of blunders à la Fac: sitting for 10 minutes in a German class that wasn’t mine, waiting outside of classrooms for courses that either hadn’t started yet or were canceled without notification, or simply not having an answer when asked about my opinion on America’s latest des impôts agricoles (farm taxes) in my Econ class. Yet overall, classes have been going surprisingly well, considering the fact that not a single word of English is spoken in any of them.

Since my last post about Dijon, I have also started mon boulot (my job) as an English Foreign Language Assistant at a local collège (middle school). Between Thursday and Friday, I have four conversation classes with 15 students each ranging from ten to thirteen years old. For a majority of mes élèves (my students), I am the first American that they have ever met. So, naturally I was bombarded with questions about common American stereotypes  on my first day. Its funny how foreign the American way of life is to the French people. My students were repulsed by the ideas of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and taking a bright yellow bus to school every day. I am excited to keep sharing my culture with mes élèves so that when they visit America they will be able to make connections as I did when I came to France, thanks to my French FLAs at Holy Cross.

Although I have deeply enjoyed my time in Dijon so far, the most difficult part is la solitude (the loneliness) that I have encountered when faced with the fact that I am the only Holy Cross student in my city. Not having HC friends to eat lunch or explore the city with is tough, and it’s difficult to find the motivation to be social when none of the faces around you are remotely familiar, but luckily my solitude has forced me to go out and meet new people in Dijon. While there are a few other American students who are also in Dijon, its very rare to come across one, due to the fact that they all take similar classes outside of the university and don’t interact with anyone but each other. Heureusement  (fortunately), I have met few British and Irish students through various ERASMUS events (ERASMUS is Europe’s version of study abroad) that I really enjoy being around. And while we all speak the same language, it is clearly evident that their cultures are similar to each others’ and quite different from my own. One minute I’ll be fully engaged in a conversation with a group of them, but as soon as slang is used like “ey-up” or “quid,” and references from shows like “Coronation Street” and “the Inbetweeners” are made, it’s like I’m listening to another foreign language.  If I have learned anything while abroad, it’s that smiling and nodding with a simple “ouais” or “yeah” thrown in there can get you through most conversations in most circumstances, but not all. 

À bientôt!

-Sean

Maxime du jour: c’est du chinois pour moi ” its all Chinese for me”- the French version of “it’s all Greek to me”

 

 

Living a lifelong dream en Italie

If you know me, then you know that I have dreamed of traveling to Italy my entire life. Hearing my grandparents’ stories of their times abroad in Italy is what sparked my interest in des cultures étrangères (foreign cultures) in the first place. With this in mind, when I realized that I would have a week long break from classes for Toussaints (All Saints Day), booking an extended trip to la mère patrie (the mother country) with a few friends was a no brainer. Once booked, it finally dawned on me that I would finally be completing one of the top goals of my study abroad experience, and of my life in general, which caused major excitement to commence.

The first stop on our tour was Venice, a city that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. There is no other place in the world that I can compare it to. Its one thing to see pictures of des ponts (the bridges) and the gondolas, but to actually walk along the pavements of the city with water next to me instead of paved roads was truly a captivating experience. Although we went during tourist low season, the small city pathways were still crowded with people. I couldn’t imagine visiting during the peak summer months when its even more jam packed. Néanmoins (nonetheless), Venice’s  unique way of living and scenic views truly lived up to my expectations, which causes me to firmly attest the fact that Venice is a city that every person must see in their lifetime.

Next on the list was Florence. Florence was the quintessential Italian experience that I had always dreamed of. The pasta was to die for, the people talked with les mains (their hands), and there were old men playing accordions on the streets. The first thing on our to do list while in the Tuscan region was to travel to Pisa for obvious reasons. After somewhat of an underwhelming trip, the leaning tower of Pisa is much smaller and not as tilted as you would expect, we went back to the birthplace of the Renaissance to be cultured by des musées d’art (some art museums). Walking into Academia and seeing the statue of David was actually breathtaking. I have never had a real reaction from seeing art before, but the statue of David actually took my breath away. In this singular masterpiece of a sculpture, I came to understand the rebirth of culture that came about during the Renaissance and gained a much deeper respect for artists of the day, especially after our great tourguide (Stasie) told us that David was meant to represent Florence battling the Goliath, who represented Rome. After soaking up as much culture as humanly possible, my friends and I met up with some of the Holy Cross kids who are currently studying in Florence. I was beyond jealous of them for being able to live in such an amazing city, but it was clear that their lives in such a famous city had some cons as well. English could be heard almost as much as Italian in the city due to the immense American study abroad population. After a few amazing nights in Florence, my friends and I had to trek across the city to the bus station in the pouring rain in order to catch our bus at 5am, which turned out to be an hour late.

After finally reaching Rome, we headed straight to the Vatican where we were able to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis celebrating All Saints Day Mass. The Vatican was yet another place that I’ve always wanted to visit, and the grandiose church that is St. Peters Basilica definitely did not disappoint. Then, after une longe sieste ( a long nap), the group and I did some sight seeing of the rest of the city. Seeing the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon all lit up at night was magical to say the least. Being able to put a face to the name of what was the capital city of one of the most dominant empires in history was incredible to say the least. Its crazy to think how rich in culture and history just one country is. By the last few days of the trip I was épuisé (exhausted), and I sadly found myself not appreciating as much of Rome as I should have. Luckily, I have another semester to go back and revisit!

Au total (All in all), I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Italy. It was amazing to experience all the sights and sounds that I have dreamed about for so long. In the past, when asked for my life long ambitions, my answer would always be “to travel to Italy,” and I am so grateful that studying abroad has given me the opportunity to achieve this goal. The only problem is, now I need to find new  goal in life to set. So, I’ll let you know as soon as I think of one.

À plus tard!

-Sean

Leçon du jour: faites ce que les romains font “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”- a saying that I find myself repeating a lot while trying to assimilate to life in Europe