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By paigebradford

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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By paigebradford

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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By paigebradford

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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By paigebradford

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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By paigebradford

Translated to English as “liberty, equality, fraternity,” is the national motto of France, and can be spotted on top of government buildings, national monuments, schools, and sometimes on the doors of local artisan stores. However, just recently I found the phrase in a new environment. When protestors took to the streets last week against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to make the country’s staunch labour laws more flexible for employers, there was a day of strikes and demonstrations where people were seen hoisting up banners and signs reading “liberté, égalité, fraternité”. Although the protests in Reims weren’t as tumultuous as the ones in Paris, bus lines stopped running, and a few Sciences Po professors commuting from Paris were unable to make it to class.

What I have learned so far during my time in France, is how this triangle of core values is able to summon emotions of pride and solidarity even in a society growing increasingly diverse both culturally and politically. It reminds people of how they have a right to demand that their voices be heard whether it be in favor or against the establishment. In class discussions and casual conversations with my classmates, I find that the general consensus towards Macrons new labour regulations are positive. Most argue the reforms will bring France’s labour model closer to the German and the UK model, and will help tackle France’s high unemployment rate which is currently around 9.5%. On the other end of the spectrum people believe the reforms will make it easier for businesses to fire employees for arbitrary reasons, and will overall reduce the rights of employees both individually and collectively.

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