I assume that if you're reading this you are either interested in studying abroad, curious about a life in Paris, or one of my beloved friends or family members. What I have to say this week, for my very first post on how I have been affected by living in another country, will hopefully provide enough insight to make my loved ones understand the cultural changes I have experienced, or will help the wondering and excited students to fully comprehend the meaning of study abroad. I will begin with this: I am no expert, and I don't intend to be one after my three and a half months in Paris. All I know right now is that study abroad is a whirlwind of an experience, one filled with childlike exploration in addition to independent navigation in a world unfamiliar to yours.
My story begins almost three weeks ago when I scurried off the plane in Paris, fatigued and unsure of what I was supposed to do. I had mixed feelings about touching the ground after my six hour flight, something that not everyone necessarily feels but what people even rarely talk about. I was so nervous. Of course there are people that mentally prepare for an experience such as the one I had just thrown myself into, but I didn't give much thought to the fact that I would be living rather than visiting a foreign country for the next few months of my life. This means grocery shopping, completing homework, and using transportation all in a country that I had only seen for ten days prior in a high school class trip.
For me, Paris was always the destination. I have been an admirer of French culture and a dreamer of life abroad since the first day of French class in sixth grade, when my teacher relayed to us his experiences of living in Paris. Having never known this was an option, I dreamed of historic cobblestone streets and the iconic monuments for years. There's something very special about a dream that becomes reality, but it is also a little scary. With a dream this large comes years and years of buildups of expectations, and there is enough social pressure to live out your dream to the absolute fullest to be able to suffocate you. What I have learned these past few weeks is that it is essential to separate what others want for you and what you personally want to get out of your experiences. People seem to think they know what is going on because of the outlet that social media gives to our outer circles, but the truth about apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook is that they don't show study abroad. Study abroad is everything that happens between the uploaded pictures.
...continue reading "Explore More Than You Study"
Bonjour à tous!!!
As you know I am currently in the city of lights with the GW Paris program. I knew I wanted to be in this program because for me, the chance to study at Sciencespo was always a dream of mine. It is truly an amazing experience to be able to learn alongside my French peers and really immerse myself within the French culture and…education system. This means that I don’t have the typical “light” course work load that is synonymous with studying abroad, but it does challenge me and gives me a new way of looking at not only my world but the world around me.
...continue reading "Paris? Mais Oui!"
The very first Christmas markets in France were held in Strasbourg in 1570. Historically a German tradition, the Christmas markets in Strasbourg include many German characteristics such as German food and drinks. On a day trip to the city two weeks ago I had the opportunity to stroll through the Christmas chalets dotted about the city. When I first arrived, I was immediately impressed with the city’s architectural beauty.
Walking through Strasbourg was like walking in the past, for the narrow streets and rainbow colored houses had designs like the ones often seen in Germany giving the city a vintage persona. The city was also filled with Christmas lights and decorations, making it was hard not to look around in awe.
One of the major must-sees of the city is the so called Petite France, or ‘Little France’. It is an area in the southern part of the city located on the Grand Ile, which a UNESCO world heritage site. The Petite France is made up of narrow and cobbled streets, with houses of old constructions.
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Cramming. But not the type of cramming one would think of around finals time, rather the type that involves fitting in as many activities and trips into their final weeks abroad. Attempting to do all the things one said they would do throughout the semester in two weeks. In my defense, I visited most of the sites I hoped I would while abroad, however I've realized all the small things I wanted to do but never got around to because I was more focused on planning big trips to other countries.
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Week 12 was written in bold text on the projector screen of my Why France Matters Seminar. Objectively thinking of the number 12, it doesn’t seem that large, but when I began to think about all the unforgettable memories and inspiring people I encountered within those 12 weeks my sense of time grew exponentially. To think back to the first day of my arrival in France, and considering all the time in-between then and now, 12 weeks feels like a life time.
I understand the dialogue surrounding the transformative nature of travel is overlooked as a cliché, however travel has the remarkable ability to inspire us, challenge us, and teach us about the world around us in ways no classroom ever could. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in this new, unfamiliar location has come with many experiences which were often jolting, rewarding and difficult.
One of the major difficult aspects of adapting to this new life style was figuring out the public transport system in Reims. What I have learned is that unlike like Paris or Shanghai, the transport system in Reims is not as reliable and runs far less frequently than one would hope. From getting to the train station or to an event on time there is a lot of time preparation that goes into figuring out which form of transportation one ought to take and at what time. Maybe this is just from a foreigner’s perspective; however, the number of conflicts I have run into regarding transportation has been plentiful. In Reims, there are three main forms of transportation: The tramline, the bus, and a local bike share company. The main problems surrounding the tram system that there are only two lines (red and blue) which run in the same direction (east to west) stopping at almost the same stops.
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Art de vivre à la Française translates to the “French art of living” and is somewhat seen as a celebration of living in the present moment in French society. The expression was coined by the French and refers to a unique set of characteristics which surround the French way of living. The French desire for fine living has touched almost every aspect of human life, whether its fashion, sport, gastronomy, conversation, and leisure the French have their ways.
One major aspect I have learned in my studies of French society is how the quality of life in France is equal to, and arguable better than that of any other country in the world. The housing, food, health care, educational system and their general state of well-being are evident for the great majority of the French. Sure, there are undeniable challenges and flaws France must face as it moves ahead in the world, but that’s not what this post is about, this post is about how the art of living in France is unique and has a difficult time being replicated elsewhere in the world.
One of my main preconceptions before arriving in France was how French people are known for having a laid-back attitude towards daily life. The 35-hour work week, five weeks of paid vacation and another two weeks of paid holidays may add to the French’s easy going life style, but whatever the cause I particularly saw this trait in the way French people eat meals and dine out. There is convivial nature surrounding meal times in France, for most workers get long lunch breaks giving them enough time to come home and have a sit-down meal with their family. From the sit down meals I have had with my host family the average amount of time spend sitting at the table just eating and talking is around an hour and a half.
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“Why not Paris?” is the response I get from pretty much everyone when I tell them I study in Reims, a small town 130km northeast of Paris. Peoples bewilderment towards my decision to study in Reims over Paris is mixed. On one hand, Paris is the most popular city for students to study abroad in, attracting hundreds of thousands of international students each semester or year. Besides its rich history and culture, Paris boasts a dense transportation network.
To travel in and around France, Paris is the hub to access such transportation networks making it easier for students, who wish to travel during their semester abroad, to get around quicker and more cost efficiently. While on the other hand people must cope with the high costs of living, overcrowding, and be aware of the higher levels of crime. Despite Paris’s diverse array of characteristics, I could never put together a clear answer to the question, because my decision was never based on the negative aspects of Paris, rather it was geared towards the newness and uncertainty of living in a smaller town away from anyone I knew or am familiar with. Therefore, instead of focusing on all the aspect of why one should not choose Paris, I thought of all the reasons why one should choose Reims.
For one of my assignments within the GW Global Bachelors program, of which I am a part of, we had to brainstorm and outline a set of goals of which we hoped to achieve during our second time going abroad. Two of my main goals were to form a strong relationship with my host family and secondly to form friendships with international students. My first goal was accomplished quickly. Having grown up with 3 other siblings myself, living with a host family with 4 kids was familiar to me. The conversations and the time I have spent with my host family has been culturally informative and fulfilling.
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The French educational system is very precise and challenging. Their methodology is characterized by a lack of teacher to student relationships and a commitment to traditional teaching methods, like pen and paper notes instead of laptops and strictly outlined dissertations. As an exchange student, it doesn’t take long to notice the differences in another country’s educational system, which perhaps allows me to make a clearer evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses.
When it comes to dissertations and presentations there is a specific guideline students must follow to receive full credit for their work. For Sciences Po, they advise us to follow a two-by-two outline for our dissertations, where in the introduction we state a problematique, or the problem we find in the research question, then respond to it with our thesis statement. Then each body paragraph must be a direct answer to the problem and supported with arguments in favor of the thesis. Then each of the sub-parts in the paragraph are supporting arguments for the answer to the thesis we offer in the main part it belongs to.
Finally, the conclusion must provide a summary of all the key supporting arguments in the essay and we must make rise of our opinion from these arguments. Presentations follow the same format, where the slides must state what the problem is in the research question followed by a thesis statement and so on.
...continue reading "France's Teaching Methodology"
The first time I encountered the bronze statue of Jean Baptiste Colbert, situated in the center of the roundabout facing the Reims train station, was on the first day of my arrival. A day before orientation began I met up with GW Paris study abroad director Florence, a warm-hearted French national who was visiting Reims to meet me and take me out for lunch. The restaurant we were heading to was just past the 20-foot bronze statue of Colbert dressed in royal garments. At the time, I didn't think much of the statue when Florence casually pointed out how he was the economic mister to Louis the 16th and how he was born in Reims, to me he was just another French historical figure.
My following encounters with the statue occurred whenever I would walk to the train station to catch a train into Paris or to another city in France. The circular path encapsulating the statue is unavoidable on my walk to the Reims train station, however I still did not pay any attention to the statue. It wasn’t until my Why France Matters professor pointed out the significance of his work and legacy. His array duties under the King gives evidence that his interests and influenced were not just limited to France’s financial objectives, for he was also the secretary of state in charge of the Navy.
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On the list of Reims tourist attractions, next to the plethora of famously acclaimed champagne distilleries, is the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims. The Gothic masterpiece is known as the traditional coronation site of the kings of France, and is hailed for its rich body of sculpture. My first encounter with the Cathedral was on my first day of arrival, when my host mother family generously offered to give me a short driving tour of the city. The Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims was our first stop, where I was instantly stunned by the sheer size of structure. Julliette, my host sister, told me how most people are often surprised to hear how the Reims Cathedral is bigger than the one in Paris.
The exterior of the Cathedral is the epitome of royalty. Along the front façade and on the sides, are beautifully decorated sculpted figures ranging from French royalty to biblical figures. In the center is a colorful rose window framed by an arch, which draws the viewer in. I also couldn’t help but notice the buttresses flanked on either side of the Cathedral, for they are also beautifully decorative and representative of the Cathedrals grandeur. One interesting detail my host mother pointed out to me was the Smiling Angel statue, which looked as though it was looking down at us as we walked into the Cathedral. The Smiling Angel is the most beloved of the Cathedral’s statues, and has become a symbol of the place
When I first stepped inside the Cathedral the gaping space from the floor to the ceiling was unlike any architectural formation I have witnessed. The first thing which caught my eye were the stained-glass windows which line the Cathedrals walls and apse. The windows are made up of a mix of 13th and 20th century styles, for after the First World War most of the windows were destroyed. Therefore, the more modern styled windows were a part of a restoration project which is still underway today. As I walked down the side of the aisles I read about the history of the Cathedral and how it was originally the seat of the Archbishop of Reims, and was the coronation site of Frances first King, Clovis.
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