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By mcbitter

It seems like just yesterday that I was writing my very first blog post - it's hard to believe that this is my last! My classes are wrapping up this week, as are my final exams, so soon I'll be leaving this wonderful city and heading back to the States. In a way, I'm ready to go home, but it's really bittersweet because I'm not sure when I'll be back. (I know I will at some point, though!) Before I leave, I'm making sure to check off a few last things that I didn't get around to visiting, like the Catacombs (which I hear are AMAZING) and an exhibition of American photographer Garry Winogrand. Overall though, while I didn't have the chance to visit every corner of the city (it is definitely too big for that), I think I've gained a thorough understanding of Paris, which became my primary goal throughout this trip.

What am I going to do once I'm back in the States? First thing on the list - after getting over my jet lag, that is - is to visit my friends and family. They've been a huge source of support right from the beginning, especially when I was homesick. Speaking from experience, homesickness abroad was a real issue for me, and it was a different animal than the kind I experienced when I first got to GW because of the time difference and not seeing family midway through at Thanksgiving or parent's weekend. All I can say is that I am eternally grateful for Skype! Also, speaking of homesickness, I will most definitely be paying a visit to two very important parts of my heart: Chipotle and Target. (Yes, I went there.) It might sound silly, but those are definitely the American things I've missed the most while I've been here. No Mexican restaurant or French store could replace either of them!

I've realized that I'm really glad that I decided to study abroad in the fall because I get to come home to the holiday season in full swing. Christmas and New Year's are bound to be amazing in Paris, but being with my friends and family is what's most important to me. Overall though, coming here for study abroad has given me incredible opportunities, and I won't soon forget that. I traveled to numerous places, including Ireland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and different regions within France. I got to improve my French and see how French people live on a daily basis, especially when I began babysitting a little Parisian girl on some weeknights. I've made a lot of new friends from all over the world, most importantly the GW and Sciences Po students with whom I've spent the last few months. Most important, though, is that I really and truly learned a lot about myself. I know that everyone says something along those lines, but it really is true. Studying abroad has been probably the biggest challenge I've ever faced; some days were really hard, to be completely honest, but others were simply amazing. Looking back, I'm really proud of myself for taking advantage of this incredible opportunity and will definitely carry it with me for the rest of my life. So, yes, it's been a crazy ride - thanks for coming along with me!

By mcbitter

One great thing about doing a semester abroad is that you're there long enough to get a true feeling for the city and its neighborhoods, not just the tourist attractions. (Don't get me wrong, I love the Eiffel Tower, but there's only so many times you can go!) While I've been here, I've found a few small businesses to which I'm a loyal customer. When you're living in a new place, they can really make you feel like you've made it your home!

  1. My local boulangerie, or bakery. There's at least four boulangeries within three minutes of walking from my apartment. I've made a point to try all of their baguettes though, and I have to say, the one right down the street is perfect. I've never been disappointed by their pastries either (helloooo, pain au chocolat) so I'm sticking with that one!
  2. Proxi. Oh, Proxi. So this is basically the 7/11 of France. Why am I writing about a convenience store, you might ask? Well, this is the ONE store that is open on Sundays, meaning that it's been a lifesaver for my roommates and I! (Most grocery stores in France are closed on Sundays, so if you don't have something like a Proxi near you, you're simply out of luck.) Proxi has also been the go-to place when we're craving something spontaneously like ice cream, chocolate, or any other junk food you can think of. We go there so often that the cashiers recognize us...yeah, we probably go there a bit too often.
  3. Stratto. This is the go-to for lunch between classes. They have a million baguettes sandwiches, paninis, pizza, you name it. They even have this thing called an Italian cheeseburger, which is ridiculously huge (not sure what makes it Italian, but that's okay). They also have student pricing that combines a drink with your sandwich for a discount, which is nice because food in Paris adds up quick. Stratto is also good for a quick espresso before class in the morning.

I'm going to miss these places when I head back to the States. When my family visits (they're coming in two weeks!), I'm definitely going to take them by these places - except maybe Proxi. Yeah, probably not...!

By mcbitter

10805259_10205383992308083_416554692_nI know it's only mid-November, but that doesn't mean I can't get excited for Christmas! This weekend, my friends and I went to the Christmas markets on the Champs-Elysees, and let me tell you, they know how to do a market! On each side of the avenue were little shops full of handmade crafts, jewelry, ornaments, you name it. I found one particular shop that was different kinds of tea, all of which were named for various cities in France. Besides the shops, there were also tons of food booths set up - you could get crepes, waffles, German sausages, even cotton candy! It was absolutely wonderful and a great way to spend an afternoon. After walking through the shops (we only did half of them so that we can go back again!), we went for a ride on on the "grand roue de Paris" - the ferris wheel! It gave spectacular views of the city and was well worth the ten euros. Next time, I also want to check out the ice rink that was nearby.

Speaking of holidays, Thanksgiving is coming up, right? As sad as it is, you can't find this gem of a holiday outside of the United States, so that's probably why France is already focusing so heavily on Christmas. (Or that might just be the norm now.) We have a Thanksgiving dinner planned with our program though, so I'll definitely get my turkey! As for all the other traditional favorites, there are quite a few specialty food stores around the city that offer them - stuffing, cranberry sauce, the works. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from home, but everyone here has become my family too, so I have no doubt that it'll be wonderful!

By mcbitter

One of my favorite things about Paris is simply how beautiful it is. The French love their city's detailing, like cast iron balconies, tree-lined streets, and green space. Basically, anywhere you look is a perfect photo for Instagram, even if it's just a random apartment building.

Arguably, one of the most important influences making Paris what it is today was a man named Georges-Eugène Haussmann. In the 1850's, Haussmann was hired by Napoleon III to reorganize the layout of Paris. Prior to his involvement, it was an incredibly crowded, dangerous, and unhealthy place to live. Streets were narrow and dark, there was no waste removal system, and population density only added to the problems. So, Haussmann started by creating large boulevards throughout the city, the most well-known of which is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. My school here in Paris, Sciences Po, is actually located on one of these large boulevards right next to the Seine, the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Haussmann also put lights on these streets (they don't call it the City of Lights for nothing!) to make it safer, and built new sewer tunnels to combat the rampant disease.

All of these contributions are very important, but when I think of Haussmann, I think of the "Haussmann building." This building, which is usually apartments, is easy to recognize because of its uniform exterior. They were usually built with cream colored stone, with a mansard-style roof, and had balconies on the second and fifth floors. (Keep in mind that the French have a ground floor and then a first floor, so second and fifth is really third and sixth for us!) Although Paris is really expensive now, these buildings were meant to house families of different economic backgrounds under one roof. For example, wealthy families would live on the second floor, or the "étage noble," because it wasn't on the street level but didn't involve too many stairs, either (there were no elevators back then!). On the other hand, the very top floor had individual rooms ("chambres des bonnes") and was occupied by servants of these wealthy families who lived below them.

Overall, Haussmann changed the face of Paris for centuries to come. Unfortunately, he had a number of critics as well, many of whom complained that his architecture was too uniform and that he was overtaking the city with construction. This resulted in his dismissal in 1870, though his work continued for many years after.

By mcbitter

It's pretty much a crime to live in Paris and not love their food, right? Good thing I am all about the French cuisine! Here are a few of my favorite things to eat in Paris.

  • Pain au chocolat. This little treat is flakey like a croissant but has little bits of chocolate inside. It's usually for breakfast, though it makes a good snack, too. I am a huge chocolate lover, so I'm glad that no one can judge me here for having chocolate for breakfast!
  • Baguette sandwiches. On campus, there are a few dining areas with student prices for lunch. They offer an array of different sandwiches, and the majority of them are on baguettes (obviously!). The Parisienne is the simplest, with just ham and butter; they also have poulet crudites (chicken pieces and veggies), jambon crudites (ham and veggies or salad), a caprese, and then a few veggie-only options.
  • Mousse au chocolat. Back to the chocolate! This is probably my favorite dessert of all time, not just in France, so it's good that I'm in the place that makes it best! Mousse au chocolat is very rich so you can't have it all the time, but when you do, it's a perfect way to end a meal. I had a friend visiting Paris last weekend, and we got mousse at the restaurant we went to for dinner.

I'm currently on break and am visiting Prague with some other students from my program, so we've been enjoying a lot of traditional Czech dishes too - sausage, roast beef, goulash, bread dumplings - but I'm looking forward to getting back to my French food soon!

By mcbitter

IMG_5368Paris is well known for its numerous art museums, including the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou. Even in this small handful you can find different kinds of art - the Musee d’Orsay is known for its impressionism, the Centre Pompidou all about modern art, and the Louvre is home to many famous and historical pieces. Of course you should spend a good amount of time at these sites, but Paris is also home to other forms of creativity as well - and not just the kind in museums.

This weekend, I got off at the Belleville metro stop with a friend in search of a new area to explore. We ended up finding the Rue Denoyez, which is lined with tons of incredible street art! Graffiti is something that has always intrigued me, especially when there is so much of it in one place, like on Denoyez. It was all varied in purpose - some had a social message, others were portraits, some I didn’t understand at all - but they were all really intriguing. IMG_5386

Paris isn’t as well known for its street art as cities like Berlin or London, but it has a fair amount to share! Here’s a link to where you can find street art in Paris:

By mcbitter

During my time here in Paris, I’ve been able to check out academics at not only Sciences Po but also at my friend’s university in Lille, France (I visited the campus and sat through her constitutional law class). Experiencing both these schools has made me realize that there are some things people back at home might wonder about school in France!

Do Sciences Po students have an equivalent to dreaded all-nighters at Gelman?

  • Yes and no. The library on campus (which is full ALL the time) is only open until about 9:30 pm on weeknights, which we were all stunned to discover! The French students have told me that when they have a ton of work, they just go home at the end of the day to finish it (and yes, they do have those late nights too).

What are French classes like?

  • What I’ve heard is that the typical French style of teaching is a professor lecturing at you for two hours. This was exactly what happened during my friend’s constitutional law class in Lille. I’m not sure if I would be able to stand that - thankfully there’s a lot of interaction in all of my classes!
  • Another important part of classes at Sciences Po is the exposé. Here’s how I understand it. In about a half hour’s presentation, you’re working off a discussion question (the “problematique”) given to you by a professor. You have to give your opinion, frame your argument, and provide evidence to back it up. You can also engage the class in discussion after you’re finished. I have an exposé slotted for mid-November, so we’ll see how it goes!

What are professor-student relationships like in France?

  • The French students in my program are absolutely amazed at how personal American students are with their professors! French students don’t really know much about their professors aside from the material that their teaching. My GW marketing professor (hi Professor Maddox!) demonstrated the exact opposite of this, as she would give examples from her daily or personal life to add to whatever we were talking about in class. Professors still provide letters of recommendation and such for their students, but overall, the two groups are very distanced.

Overall, it’s been really cool to see the differences between colleges in the States and in France. I’ve still got a month and a half to go though, so I’m bound to discover more!

Cathedral in Lille

This weekend was the first of several that I'm anticipating this semester. Although I could have traveled to another country (which is absolutely mind boggling, still), I was very fortunate to be able to visit my friend, who lives in Lille (in the north of France). I can't wait to tell you about it!

Upon arrival, I explored downtown by myself for a bit. At the heart of the city is Le Grand Place, a huge, bustling square with restaurants, hotels, and shops lining its edges. There, you'll find the Opera, the Vieille Bourse (or the Old Stock Exchange), and the city's bell tower. Just a few minutes' walking will take you to their cathedral, which is called Notre Dame de la Treille, or to their arm museum, Le Palais des Beaux Arts. I also fell in love with a bookstore there called Le Furet du Nord - basically eight floors of any book you'll ever need!

After exploring, I met up with my friend for lunch at a place near her campus. She studies at Lille 2, a university specifically for law. I also got to attend one of her law classes, which was basically two hours of the professor lecturing at 300 students... with zero interaction from the class. This teaching style is typical of French university classes, and I'm very glad that I don't have to deal with it at GW!

Palais des Beaux Arts

To get around Lille, we either walked or used the metro system. In contrast with the Parisian metro (or even the one in DC), this one only had two lines! Furthermore, each metro only had two cars for passengers. Despite being France's 5th largest city, this kind of illustrates how small the city actually is by American standards (of a large city, that is). There are a large number of students who live there, and my friend described it as the best French city for students. In fact, the university I'm at in Paris - SciencesPo - has a campus in Lille, as well.

Overall, Lille was a wonderful break from the fast city life in Paris. Tomorrow it's back to classes though, so we'll see where this next week goes!

By mcbitter

With Paris being a major European city, not to mention the capital of France, there are plenty of issues to talk about in the news. One that's been affecting us (by "us" I mean the Americans in my program) is the recent Air France strike. Two weeks ago on September 15th, the union representing 75% of Air France pilots began picketing because they didn't want their paychecks to decrease or positions to be affected as a result of the airline investing more money into Transavia, its budget-friendly subsidiary. Overall, the strike - which was the longest in Air France's history - resulted in many canceled flights and a daily loss of 20 million euros, or about $25.4 million USD. Thankfully, the strike ended today (Sunday, September 28th), a couple days before many of my friends will be leaving for Amsterdam or Berlin on Thursday. (As for me, I'm taking the train north to Lille, France for the weekend, so I didn't have to worry much!)

It seems that competitors like RyanAir and EasyJet (which have rock-bottom prices - seriously, it can be as low as 25 euros for a flight!) are really throwing the airline industry for a loop. I haven't flown either of these airlines personally, but plenty of people I know have and would do so again. With such cheap tickets, they make money on pretty much any other service (like printing out your boarding pass, extra bags, etc.), but as long as you plan everything out, you can avoid these fees. So, overall, it makes sense that Air France would want to toughen up their own economical line of flights, but needs to avoid doing so at the expense of existing pilots.

Air France Ad
Air France Ad

Lastly - the timing of this event is rather interesting, because just last week - while the strike was still going on - I went to the Air France Expo at the Grand Palais downtown. It showcased Air France's new marketing campaign, especially all of the technological improvements they're installing. (For example, in first class, your seat - which is closed off from other passengers - actually folds down into a bed!) I wonder what the flight attendants working the expo must have been thinking at the time...

By mcbitter

Over the past three weeks, I can honestly say that I've never been bored in Paris! There's an abundance of things to do here - in fact, I already know that this semester is going to be really short. (As I'm writing this, it's already September 21st!) I just hope that I'll have enough time to feel like I've made the city my own. That said, here are a few things I like to do with my free time in the City of Lights.

1. Grocery shopping. As mundane as it may sound, shopping for food is actually really fun here! It's interesting to see what kind of products they have in France that are different than the ones at home. (Admittedly, I did eat Oreos today... whoops.) I've shopped at a few different places, including Monoprix (kind of like Target - they have everything!), Franprix (smaller selection but tons of locations), and little produce-only stores. Monoprix is perfect for when you're doing a lot of shopping but you don't know exactly what you need. In particular, I found really good gnocchi and pizza there (I'm buying Italian food in Paris, go figure). Franprix is where I go when I realize I didn't buy something I needed, as it's only a block from my apartment. As for the produce stores, they're all tiny! And yes, the one on my block sells only fruit and veggies. I make sure to buy my bananas and salad ingredients from there because they seem to have a better selection than the larger stores.

2. Bus rides. Overall, Paris has a great public transportation system. Buses, trams, metro, trains, they've got it all. If I'm not in a hurry, I always try to take the bus because it lets you see and appreciate the city. For example, the other day, some friends and I went to the Champs-Elysées after class. The bus ride home showed us many Parisian landmarks as well as low-key places I'd like to check out. Unfortunately, it's impossible to take the bus to class in the mornings because traffic is usually too unpredictable to always make it on time.

3. Museums. There's too many to count! This weekend, my program offered an optional day trip to Giverny, France, where we visited Claude Monet's House and Gardens as well as an Impressionist Museum nearby. On Monday of last week, I stopped by the Louvre for a few hours, the highlight of which was seeing Napoleon's private apartments. (No, I did not brave the crowds to check out the Mona Lisa. Not this time, at least.) Other museums that are on my list are the Musée Rodin (dedicated to the works of sculptor Auguste Rodin) and the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (the biggest science museum in Europe).

4. Talking with locals. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with all of the GW students on my program, but I'm happy to say that I've made French friends, too! Last week, I went to an event called "Franglish," and I can't wait to go to another one. Held Sunday through Wednesday nights at bars around the city, each night accepts 25 English speakers and 25 French speakers, and is aimed at improving your foreign language skills. It's set up like speed-dating (it's not for dating, but that's the best way to describe it!), and with each person, you spend seven minutes speaking in each language. Basically, it's an awesome way to meet locals and exchange a little bit about your lives.