Discovering the 1920’s in Modern Paris

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In the words of Ernest Hemingway, Paris is “a moveable feast”—a feast of emotions and sensations that, once you’ve lived here, you carry with you wherever you go. I’ve only been living here for one month, but I already understand what Hemingway meant. His posthumously-published memoir about his expatriate years in Paris with the likes of Fitzgerald, Stein, Joyce, Pound, Picasso, Modigliani, and others, A Moveable Feast, is a phenomenal read; I have a copy with me and it is such a surreal experience to read it in the very places it was drawn from.

Part of the reason why Paris aways seemed so appealing to me was because of the city’s ties to the 1920’s and the Lost Generation—to those of you who know me, this post comes as no surprise. It was only a matter of time before I blogged about Paris’ roaring years hosting the best literary movement in history (and the copy of A Moveable Feast and three copies of The Great Gatsby I have already accumulated since coming here). In a wonderful twist of fate, I have class in Montparnasse, the very once-inexpensive neighborhood where Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and their fellow expatriates wrote and lived, and I live a mere fifteen minute walk from the bookstores, cafés, and residences they frequented. My inner English nerd is definitely showing through in this post, but I’ll detail a few of the Lost Generation haunts I have discovered so far.

1. Harry’s New York Bar

Okay, so it’s not very French. But Harry’s was always meant to be an American hangout, founded in 1911 when Harry MacElhone relocated his bar in New York City to Paris. It was a refuge for English speakers in a foreign country, and is famous today for inventing classic cocktails like the Bloody Mary, the Sidecar, and the White Lady and for hosting the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sartre, and Gershwin. Starting at 10 pm, the downstairs room turns into a live piano bar, in the very space where Gershwin composed “An American in Paris.” The piano lounge features red velvet lounge chairs, a mahogany bar, a beautiful piano, and small tables that really create a Roaring Twenties atmosphere.

The outside of Harry's located right near the Paris Opéra.

The outside of Harry’s located right near the Paris Opéra.

The downstairs piano lounge. (Photo courtesy of Harry's website.)

The downstairs piano lounge. (Photo courtesy of Harry’s website.)

2. Le Café de Flore

One of the many haunts frequented by Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Le Café de Flore is now a very expensive tourist attraction. Still, I made the trip and sat in the very restaurant where Fitzgerald once wrote (me getting excited over places where Fitzgerald sat or ate or wrote is a common theme throughout this post—you’ve been warned). It was a very unique dining experience I will always remember, and I even got a complimentary placemat that is going on my wall the minute I return to Temple!

3. Le Select, La Rotonde, La Dome, La Closerie des Lilas

These cafés line the street right by the Sorbonne, where my classes are held. Once cheap hangouts for struggling writers and artists, these restaurants now cater to tourists and the well-to-do—Le Select features 6-euro coffee (about 9 or 10 dollars) and La Closerie des Lilas offers very high-end dinners. However, each has really held its original charm and decor, and I love walking past La Closerie des Lilas (the site where Fitzgerald first showed Gatsby to Hemingway!!!) on my morning walk to school.

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Le Select, La Rotonde, et La Closeries des Lilas

Le Select, La Rotonde, et La Closeries des Lilas

4. Lost Generation Residences

Even more personal and interesting are the residences of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Oscar Wilde (although Wilde’s not associated with the Lost Generation, he’s still a phenomenal writer and fun to check out). Although I haven’t yet visited Gertrude Stein’s residence, I definitely plan to make the trip, since her home was such a popular gathering spot for her peers (Midnight in Paris is pretty accurate). Paris also offers walking tours of the city based around Hemingway and Stein’s hangouts and major locations, which is an affordable and neat way to discover the 1920’s in modern Paris.

5. Shakespeare and Company

I saved the best for last, as Shakespeare and Company is my favorite place in Paris. It is frequently featured on “Best Bookstores in the World” or “Top 10 Bookstores” lists, and for good reason—there is so much history and culture and literary beauty behind it. I like to go after school and read for an hour two in the upstairs reading room, which features a unique library and cool events that I’ll detail in a future post about interesting stumble-upons in Paris.

The front facade of the bookstore.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway devotes an entire chapter to this bookstore (which I read in the very bookstore) and details his friendship with Sylvia Beach, the owner, and her generosity to struggling writers (she allowed Hemingway to take books from the store or library and read them even though he could not afford a membership). Beach’s store closed during the German occupation of Paris during WWII and never re-opened, but Englishman George Whitman opened a new Shakespeare and Co., modeled after Beach’s, in the 1950’s, and let struggling visitors sleep in the upstairs library (named after Beach). Today, Shakespeare and Co. is geared toward tourists, but the lesser-known aspects of it— the free Shakespeare performances, the visiting writers, the writers’ groups, the antiquarian bookseller, the weekly tea parties with an old British woman who also knew George Whitman, etc.—are uniquely Parisian, and especially for modern expatriates looking for an English-speaking refuge. Seriously, I’m considering applying for a job and not getting on the plane back home.

There are of course many more sites where one can discover the 1920’s in modern-day Paris, but I’ll sign off for now. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Bastille Day in Paris

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When it comes to traveling to Paris, July is one of the best months to go—there are tons of outdoor festivals, museum exhibitions, and small performances and events to stumble upon. And although it rains a bit more often than during the rest of the year, July also features major national events like Bastille Day and the Tour de France, the final stage of which ends in Paris down the Champs-Elysées.

This past Monday marked Bastille Day 2014, an event I had been looking forward to ever since I registered for my study abroad program. “Bastille Day,” which commemorates the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution and celebrates French independence, is actually a very American name—here, the holiday is called “La Fête Nationale,” or more colloquially “le 14 juillet” (literally meaning “July 14th”). I wasn’t sure what to expect of the holiday, and kept comparing it to the Fourth of July in my mind: Barbecues, parades, fireworks, and red, white, and blue, right?

There are tons of events throughout Paris to celebrate le 14 juillet, so I’ll focus this post on the events I attended and experienced firsthand. My experience was pretty typical and represents the holiday well.

As on the Fourth of July, many businesses are closed for le 14 juillet, but the celebration begins the night before. A few other Temple students and I traveled to Versailles (an easy train ride) for fireworks and a giant Bastille Day ball. The fireworks over the chatêau were absolutely breathtaking, choreographed perfectly to a variety of songs, among them the French national anthem and, of all things, “Walking on Sunshine” (French taste in music can be strange—they absolutely love old American pop songs. It’s like stepping back in time). Following the fireworks, we headed over to the city around Versailles, where a huge dance party was held. The soundtrack included French pop songs, the “YMCA,” “Summer Lovin'” from Grease, and, in another bizarre twist, “Cotton-eye Joe.” It was a blast to alternate between dancing with the French (this event was not touristy at all), who were super welcoming and would just grab you into a dance circle, and watching the World Cup final in the numerous bars on the street.

A poorly taken picture at the dance festival at Versailles for le 14 juillet.

A poorly taken picture at the dance festival at Versailles for le 14 juillet.

Carly, Sasha, Caroline, and I and some French teenagers we met.

Carly, Sasha, Caroline, and I and some French teenagers we met at Versailles.

The morning of le 14 juillet begins with a military parade. Paris’ parade features all military branches and President Holland, although this year there was some tension with Algerian soldiers marching in the parade (France and Algeria have a bloody past). Helicopters circled to keep order, and the president did not participate in the parade. The parts of the parade I did see were very similar to American Independence Day parades, but substituted tanks for fire engines.

Following the parade, my fellow Temple students and I picnicked in les jardins de Luxembourg, the gardens right across the street from the student hostel where most of us live. In France, le 14 juillet picnics are very common, with the main luncheon held at Versailles. It is traditional to wear all white at these picnics, and so we bought ourselves some bread, cheese, and wine, got dressed up, and picnicked with Parisians.

After the picnic, some of the group went home to rest, but my roommate and I decided to explore the festivities a little more. We headed down to the Champs-Elysées, where a large strip was partitioned off for people to stroll along, and French flags lined the avenue leading up to the Arc de Triomphe. We wandered past soldiers showing the insides of the tanks to French children, tourists taking pictures, and, unexpectedly, the normal hustle of Parisian life (I was very surprised at the fact that many Parisians acted no differently on le 14 juillet, since the Fourth of July is such a huge event). We also stumbled upon a flea market along the Seine and the preparations for an outdoor concert later in the evening.

French flags line the Champs-Elysées for le 14 juillet.

French flags line the Champs-Elysées for le 14 juillet.

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The festivities for La Fête Nationale do not end until late until the night. Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower began at 11pm, and 2014 marked the first time since the millenium that the fireworks were actually launched from the Eiffel Tower rather than just near it. The show’s theme was “War and Peace,” and featured segments about the French Revolution and both world wars. Again, this fireworks display was one of the most impressive I have ever seen, made only better by the incorporation of the Eiffel Tower, lit up different colors and absolutely breathtaking. Pictures can’t possible do it justice.

A last unique Paris tradition is the “fireman’s balls,” thrown by the six firehouses in the city. The balls start at 9 pm and continue until 4 am. They raise money for the fire companies and honor French soldiers, firemen, and police officers. Again, my fellow travelers and I weren’t sure what to expect, but the balls featured live dj’s, smoke, colored fog, strobe lights, dancing, and of course champagne. We stayed until 4 am, dancing the night away with the French (who again played a lot of old American pop hits).

Overall, Bastille Day/La Fête Nationale/le 14 juillet 2014 was a very fun, unique experience and a cool look into another culture. I had a blast and was swept up in the unity everyone was feeling. Vive la France!

Merci for reading, and stay tuned for my next post!

Wiedersehen, Leipzig!

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The view of Leipzig from the roof of its tallest building, the Panorama Tower.

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One of the many DDR-era buildings in Leipzig. This is in the “Alte Messe” section of the city, where exhibitions were held in the past.

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Bicycles are more popular than cars in Leipzig. Here, a row of bikes sit outside of a bike shop on Karl-Liebknecht Straße.

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The view of the city from high up on a large monument called the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. I took this photo at 5 am with some German friends. The “Völki” was built in 1913 for the 100th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat in Leipzig at the Battle of the Nations.

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The view from my window of a double rainbow that appeared after a quick but intense thunderstorm.

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“Graffiti Society.” We saw this being painted during the day, as we rode the train to school.

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Clarissa, David, and Webb sit in Augustusplatz before our Gewandhaus Orchester concert on Thursday night.

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Veronica waits at Augustusplatz before the concert. The Gewandhaus Orchester is one of the best orchestras in the world, and as a music theory major, it was amazing for me to be able to see them perform.

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The market at Augustusplatz occurs two or three times per week. You can buy fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, and other food items there.

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Here’s Veronica on the steps of one of the dormitory buildings.

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About French Food

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Bonjour! 

Now that I’ve tried my fair share of French cafés, bars, boulangeries, patisseries, and restaurants, I think it’s high time for a post about the most delicious aspect of any country—the cuisine. Food is so central to the identity of a culture—it brings people together, represents local traditions and history, fuels the lifestyle. For this post, I decided to ask some of my friends back in the States (yes, I have started referring to America as “the States”) for any questions they had about French or Parisian food. I got some very interesting responses about aspects of France I had never even thought about, and I’m excited to answer them as best I can here.

1. The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue: Are baguettes really that popular?

Yes, baguettes are really that popular. The majority of Parisians buy a fresh baguette every morning, and use the leftovers for breakfast the next day. (The student hostel where I am staying provides us with day-old baguettes and butter (beurre), jam (confiture), and Nutella every morning.) Baguettes are also cheap (about 1 to 2 euros each) and available nearly everywhere. Nearly all sandwiches in boulangeries (bread shops) are on baguettes as well, and with dinner restaurants always provide baskets filled with pieces of—you guessed it—baguettes.

2. Do people in Paris drink as much coffee as Americans?

Americans drink A LOT of coffee. I was never fully aware of this until I came to a country where a “large” is equivalent to an American “small.” When it comes to eating and drinking, the French are leisurely—they drink coffee not for the energy and the caffeine but to savor the taste. Here, there is no “on-the-go” lifestyle—drinks are meant to be enjoyed, to be relaxing, rather than downed during the morning commute. The only place with sizes similar to American ones is Starbucks—everywhere else, a cup of coffee is no more than seven or eight sips. Parisians like to have a small coffee or latte in the morning and typically end lunch and dinner with an espresso—a very, very tiny espresso.

A "large" coffee in a typical French café.

A “large” coffee in a typical French café.

3. Are there any unique eating or serving traditions in France?

Like any country, France has its fair share of customs when it comes to food. I’ll outline a few of the interesting traditions I’ve noticed. First off, in terms of buying groceries, it is a very different experience from food shopping in the U.S. Here, no one store sells all food items—there are no Giants or Acmes or Shop Rites. Instead, each store specializes—I buy baguettes and sandwiches at boulangeries (bread bakeries,) pastries at patisseries (pastry bakeries), fruit at outdoor fruit markets or small independently owned fruit shops, non-perishable items like cereal, pasta, and canned goods at grocery stores that remind me more of supermarkets at home. I don’t do this because it’s charming or I want to—frankly it’s sometimes a hassle. I do it because the fruit stand doesn’t sell bread, the grocery store doesn’t sell fruit, and the bread shop doesn’t sell cereal. It took some getting used to, but the quality of the food is much fresher because of the personal connections between the shop owners and their local customers, which is a really nice atmosphere.

The front window of a patisserie in St. Michel, my neighborhood.

The front window of a patisserie in St. Michel, my     neighborhood.

An outdoor fruit stand selling fresh produce.

An outdoor fruit stand selling fresh produce.

In terms of restaurant dining, the service is always very good—as a former waitress, I am always impressed. Also, in addition to bread baskets, many restaurants give customers small bowls of olives and peanuts to munch on. Tips are usually included with the price of the food, and many places offer fixed price menus—one price for an entrée (appetizer,) plat (entrée,) and usually a drink or dessert. Doggy bags and take out boxes do not exist here—food should be savored, eaten leisurely, and finished. The French are in no hurry to get the check. This is a little tricky to adjust to since I’m not used to blocking out time in my schedule to eat time-consuming meals—I’m a typical eat-on-the-go American—but it is also refreshing.

4. What does a typical French lunch look like?

In France, lunch is a much larger meal than dinner. Usually, diners have a small appetizer and a sandwich. I love crudités, cheese and vegetables or meat or fish on crunchy bread, but croque monsieurs (hot ham and cheese) and croque madames (hot ham and cheese with a fried egg on top) are also popular). Sandwiches often come with a small salad (usually just lettuce, which is also strange to get used to) with dijon dressing or frites (French fries). Of course, lunch contains at least one glass of wine (here, soda is often more expensive than wine!) and ends with an espresso. A few interesting side notes: French fries here come with chicken or steak dinners often and are considered a proper side to nice meals. They also have much less salt than American fries. Also, the French love cream sauce, which is fresh and delicious but also probably cancels out the health benefits gained from low sodium content…

5. How often do Parisians drink wine?

Parisians drink wine like Americans drink coffee. Here, coffee can be pricey, but wine is incredibly cheap (The opposite of American prices). Coca-Cola (which here comes in a charming glass bottle and actually contains REAL SUGAR) is more expensive than a verre du vin. The French love to have a glass of wine or two with lunch and dinner, but they drink the wine, like they eat their food, to savor it. They drink leisurely, for the taste rather than the effects, and French wine also contains a lower alcohol content than American wine.

6. And finally, a question I found very interesting: Are there other ethnic cuisines that are popular in France, similar to how “Chinese food” is popular in America?

Sushi and Japanese food are very popular here. Not many restaurants serve any types of food that aren’t French or sometimes Italian, but there are tons of Japanese places throughout Paris. And contrary to ethnic cuisines in America, the food isn’t molded to French standards; it is relatively authentic. Another popular dish is, of all things, the hot dog, which is a little dressier than typical American hot dogs but still an interesting choice for the French. Overall, however, France is definitely not as much of a melting pot as the U.S.

Thanks for reading this post, and make sure to check back for my next report!

À tout à l’heure!

 

 

Culture Shock

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Salut!

I’ve been in Paris for almost a week now and had some time to adapt to the different lifestyle and atmosphere in France after an initial culture shock. Thinking about Europe and especially France in my mind before coming here, I pictured everything as very similar to the way things are in America. Everybody running around frantically, carrying an abnormally-sized coffee in one hand, smiling to strangers on the street, driving bright cars, dressed casually. I guess that says something about my ethnocentric view!

While France and America do have a lot of similarities (they’re both Western first-world countries, and the U.S. stemmed from Europe), I have noticed many interesting differences that at first made me feel unsure and homesick, but now only add to the charm of Paris. I’ve also heard about a lot of stereotypes about Americans that don’t just classify us as an overweight nation that runs on instant gratification, which is always refreshing. In this post, I’ll begin by detailing some differences between French and American culture, and then explore some interesting American stereotypes!

Premier, everything here is so efficient. (In the words of Dr. Roget, the Temple professor on the trip, “I am always impressed with the French combination of efficiency and total inefficiency.”) I was immediately impressed at the airport by the smoothness of it all: every sign was written in French, English, Spanish, and German, and sometimes Japanese as well; a train that ran on electricity whisked me and my flight companions off to baggage claim, which was so simple to navigate; and even the restrooms were efficient—faucets empty into one long, horizontal basin, and the French use loops of cloth towels or air hand dryers (that actually work, and work really well) instead of disposable paper towels. Automatic doors here are thinner and more sensitive, and are cut in half, each half of the door swinging outward, which allows more people to get through faster than a door that slides to the side when opening (You’re probably all terribly bored as I gush over automatic doors, but I promise they were cool). Transportation here is also efficient — I’ve never seen so many energy efficient cars in one city, and there are charging stations throughout the streets. Cars even look sleek; all are boxy and square, and seem to come exclusively in black, gray, white, and silver. Once in a while I’ll see a dark blue car and do a double take. This is one aspect of France that I do not find completely charming — I miss cars in bright colors that have a little personality.

A French license plate on a white car, one of approximately four available colors for cars here.

A French license plate on a white car, one of approximately four available colors for cars here.

The city is also very clean. Rare is the piece of litter or the smell of urine in a Metro stop. (A big contrast compared to Philly!) This is all relative, however—my roommate and I befriended a girl named Lovisa from Sweden in one of our classes, and have been hanging out with her a bit. Lovisa claims that Paris is incredibly dirty compared to her native Stockholm, so I can’t even comprehend how wonderfully clean Stockholm must be.

Lovisa and I (and my roommate) enjoying a delicious homecooked meal at her Parisian apartment!

Lovisa and I (and my roommate) enjoying a delicious homecooked meal at her Parisian apartment!

The French are also very chique themselves. They dress a little nicer than Americans do (and especially nicer than the average American college student). Sweatpants, leggings, and even sneakers are deeply frowned upon. The French also never wear shorts, and it’s a dead giveaway that someone is a tourist if they’re dressed in them. (I’ve gotten very good at guessing people’s nationalities based on their outfits.)

Manners and measures of politeness are also different here. In America, a simple, “Excuse me,” will do as an opening to a question, but in France, you’d better engage in a few minutes of small talk if you want to ask anyone for directions, help in a store, or other inquiries. Sometimes a simple, “Bonjour monsieur/madame. Ca va?” will be enough; other times the person will want to chat for longer (a great way to practice your French). Also, in the U.S., it’s considered polite to smile at a stranger on the street or in an elevator if you make the dreaded eye contact. It took a few taken aback French strangers for me to realize that this is not the case in Paris!

Another aspect of French culture that I really appreciate is the luxury associated with eating or drinking. Back home, everything is “on-the-go.” Here, a meal takes at least an hour and a half, and usually longer. The French take time to savor their food, and the concept of a “doggy bag” does not exist. Shopping is also quaint and charming, but took some adjusting, because no one store sells everything. Fruit must be bought at a separate store from bread, which is sold at a separate store from non-perishable groceries. In France, there is no such thing as a Target or even a Giant; everything is specialized.

There are many more differences between French and American culture, but I digress—it’s time to discuss American stereotypes.The first thing Lovisa, my Swedish friend, ever said to me was, “Are you American?” Apparently we’re easy to spot, and there are a lot of us in Paris. I always thought that the rest of the world did not really like Americans, but Lovisa says in Sweden and other parts of Europe (she’s traveled a lot) we’re considered very friendly and welcoming and that we “smell like flowers.” I was very pleasantly surprised! There are definitely negative aspects to being pegged as American however. Many French shopkeepers or locals will automatically speak in English if they think you’re from the U.S., or take on a patronizing attitude, although I haven’t encountered too many rude Parisians. I’ll sign off for now, but stay tuned for my next post about my time in Paris!

À tout à l’heure!

 

Reverse Culture Shock

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I have officially been back in Philly for 2 weeks now and I would have never thought I would experience reverse culture shock. I remember before leaving I did read some articles about it, but gave it no thought because I said to myself, “Experiencing reverse culture shock? No way!”

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The Hong Kong flag that was raised everyday from my dorm. My building was right next to the police/fire department for the Kowloon District.

Some of it is minor, but there are some major differences after coming back. My biggest one is becoming part of the majority population back to the minority population. The moment I stepped off the plane in JFK, this realization hit me in the face really quickly. But even though I looked like majority population in Hong Kong I always felt like I was in the middle because I was not able to communicate with locals properly. And when they realized that I was an “ABC” (American-born Chinese) the response was always, “Ohhhh! So how did learn how to speak Chinese?” or “Ohhh! Your Chinese is really good!” I knew these questions and compliments were genuine, but it felt like it was a barrier that made me feel different from others.

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Saturday afternoon in Mongkok at the Fa Yuen Street.

Another major reverse culture shock was readjusting myself back to the everyday pace here. Because Hong Kong is a fast moving city, everyone always seems like they are in a rush to go somewhere, even though they might not be. Now being back in Philly, the daily pace is a lot slower, so I find myself having a hard time readjusting. When I was walking with friends, I would be at least 3-4 feet ahead of them because I got so used to walking fast. When I did slow down, it felt really awkward to walk at a slower pace because it felt like I needed to be somewhere, when I obviously did not.

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This was right next to the Hysan Place in Causeway Bay. One of the expensive shopping centers on Hong Kong Island.

I do miss Hong Kong, but coming back has made me appreciate some of the things Philly offers—one of them is space. No more small apartment complexes, no more having to walk through dense crowds on the street, regaining my personal space, etc. I have mentioned before that Hong Kong lacks land so space is very sparse and because space is sparse, housing spaces are lot tinier than what we are used to in the States. The moment I came back home, I looked at my family’s house and said, “Wow, our house is huge,” and I never thought that before I left for Hong Kong. So coming back made me appreciate the amount of space available for us to use here.

On the other hand, the thing I miss most about Hong Kong is their transportation system. Sorry SEPTA, but the MTR wins hands down. I have been spoiled by the MTR with trains coming every minute and the longest wait I have had to experience was 10 minutes in Hong Kong, while here, 10 minutes is considered the shortest. I understand why the MTR runs so fast, because everyone in Hong Kong relies on the MTR to get to where they need to go, while in Philly that is not the case because the majority of people drive.

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The view out my dorm at night. This was one of the clearer nights in Kowloon! I was able to see Tsim Tsa Tsui and Mongkok from here. Aside from the police/fire station next door, across was a high school.

One of the most common questions that I get since coming back from Hong Kong is if I would like to go there again, and my answer is yes. Hong Kong is really a mix of East and West, and that is what makes it different. My cousins there always make a joke saying that, if you visit Hong Kong, you practically visit the rest of Asia because there are so many different ethnicities that settle here, you really do get a taste of every culture on the eastern hemisphere.

Bienvenue a Paris!

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Bonjour everyone!

Let me start with an introduction. My name is Halana Dash and I’m a Temple sophomore from Abington, PA. My study abroad trip to Paris this summer marks my first time outside of the U.S. (except for a disastrous family trip to the Canadian half of Niagara Falls involving carsickness, a 3 am fire alarm, a lost wallet, and an expulsion from a museum…but I try to forget about that.)

I’ve studied French since seventh grade, and I think every serious French student dreams about visiting France—it’s a pilgrimage, an essential experience. At least I did, but maybe that’s just because I grew up on Madeline and The Aristocats and am obsessed with The Lost Generation. Paris has always been in the back of my mind.

In high school I pictured myself traveling to France much later than the summer after freshman year (!!!) and it still feels a little surreal. Just eighteen hours ago I was on a plane to Paris, my dream destination, gushing about my excitement for the trip to my very patient seat mate. My fear of planes and heights and horrible traveling accidents did not even surface!

I had grand perceptions of Paris, mostly over-romanticized things from books and movies. In Paris, I would walk along the Seine in the rain, sit in cafes where Stein and Fitzgerald and Dali used to talk, eat fresh baguettes every waking minute (I wasn’t 100% wrong about the baguettes). As an undeclared sophomore, I also had this naïve and cliché vision that Paris would strike me with inspiration, and suddenly I would know exactly what to do with my life (and my liberal arts degree). We’ll see if this comes true—since I’ve never left the Philly area for a long period of time, a change of scenery, in one of the most inspirational and cultural cities in the world, might be just what I need to finally find a major.

On a more practical level, my trip lasts four weeks and consists of taking classes at the Sorbonne, a famous French university, exploring the city with my fellow Temple travelers, and taking lots of touristy pictures (although a tourist did think I was a native Parisian today, so I must be doing something right). I am living at the Foyer des International Etudiantes (a hostel for female students during the year, and for international travelers in the summer months), which is right down the street from the Sorbonne in Paris’ Latin Quarter, on the Boulevard St.-Michel ( a very pricey area hotel-wise, but a very cheap option for student housing). The Foyer was founded in 1906 and rebuilt in 1928, and has a lovely rustic, vintage, and quaint Parisian feel. Each room is slightly different and everything is made out of old wood. It also features a single communal toilet for each floor, showers with lovely see-through doors, and extremely thin walls, but unbelievably these only add to the charm. The library and rooftop terrace also offer stunning views of the city.

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My charming double room in the Foyer, stunning rooftop view of Paris, and one of many small cafés lining the streets.

 

Classes don’t begin until tomorrow, July 3rd, so I’ve had a few days to get used to my jetlag and, more importantly, my neighborhood, which features les Jardins du Luxembourg (the famous Luxembourg Gardens), the Sorbonne, the River Seine and Notre Dame, and many other landmarks and is lined with charming cafes that can be described only as Parisian. In my next post, I will detail more of my everyday observances, especially the differences between American and French culture—merci for reading!

À tout a l’heure!

 

 

Dresden and Week 3 in Leipzig

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Steve and Webb read up on Dresden on the train ride there.

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We spent a day in Dresden, mainly in the beautiful Altstadt. There were street performers of all sorts everywhere.

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Steve and David joke around as we pause our tour in the Markt area of the Altstadt.

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Dr. Waskie showed the group through the city, stopping at each important building to tell us a little about its history.

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The ceiling of the Frauenkirche, which is actually a reconstruction. The Frauenkirche was almost reduced to rubble after World War II, but now stands tall in the middle of the Altstadt.

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Steve and Dan climbed to the top of the Frauenkirche.

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Back in Leipzig: Last week there was a protest at the university against the cutting of some programs, such as archeology. The protest ended up including about 7,500 students. It was really inspiring, but also a little sad for me; we have been dealing with similar problems here at Temple (namely the attempts to cut the African American Studies program) and protests against our program cuts are not nearly as large. It seems that civil unrest is more widespread here, and people aren’t afraid to protest against what they believe is wrong. I feel like in the US, we often just take what we are handed with the mindset of “oh, we’ll never be able to change it.” It’s really a shame.

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Johann Sebastian Bach’s grave in the Thomaskirche. As a music theory major, I’m a huge admirer of Bach, who spent the last 27 years of his life here in Leipzig. The day I took this picture I also visited the Bach Museum across the street from the church.

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This guy was spotted in the Connewitz neighborhood, laying in the middle of the sidewalk on a sunny day.

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Dan, Webb, Steve, and Alex in the hallway after classes ended for the day. Tonight the US is playing against Belgium in the WM, and Dan is already prepared for the game!

 

A Different School of Thought

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Now in the last portion of our trip, we have been visiting a school a few days a week to give them lessons in health promotion and to do a photo voice project. The children in this school have been selected for a variety of reasons to attend this somewhat smaller primary school, with about 300 students who attend in the mornings and afternoons. Parents often prefer for their children to attend this school, which we were told gives preference to students from a disadvantaged background. This preference is often for the individual attention that students are given; many primary schools in the area have over 1000 students, who attend in morning and afternoon sessions. Here, the director knows all students by name.

This sort of attention can be critical for children, especially since school is only compulsory until the 6th grade in Costa Rica, and primary school may be the only formal education that many citizens complete. Additionally, since this school serves a border town between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, they receive many complicated trans-border issues like undocumented families, and health problems that are not covered by the Costa Rican healthcare system which is considered by most people to be the best in Central America.

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A few laps around the school probably makes for better concentration. The teachers occasionally stopped them from playing too rough, but probably just because we were there trying to work in the school yard with a few of the students.

When we arrive right before the afternoon students begin classes, the school is absolute chaos; I have noticed that in schools in the US, they get much less time to run around and play sports. These students, on the other hand, have about an hour of play before classes even start, and have breaks between classes to blow steam. Students are lightly supervised, and often dirty their uniforms before school even begins, but I believe very strongly that exercising outside is important to a child’s development.

We are working with a few students that the teachers selected to do a photo voice project. Each student was given a disposable camera to take photos of the important things in their life, and in the life around them. Later, we printed the photos, and brought them back to the students to talk about the significance behind each photo. These images came out great and the students seemed to have enjoyed the process. The maturity and ability to execute this project surprised me, although I think that the process should change in the future to take advantage of the familiarity that this new generation of youth have with digital photography. Some of them were so accustomed to taking photos with their own cellphones that they were simultaneously telling us about photos they had taken with our disposable cameras and pulling out their own devices to show us other special experiences in their lives.

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Students gathering around while we discussed captions and experiences taking photos.

While we were working with the students, others crowded around to make comments on their work and were interested in the hard copies of photos that we have around. Luckily, we were able to follow through as planned and present the students with their hard copies of the photos at the end as a keepsake. In the digital age, few children knew what negatives were! It was fun to explain to eager children how they worked and how they were the old way that people made copies of photos. Few places in the area we are now are able to use them, which was an unforeseen complication!

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A lesson in using negatives, which I hadn’t seen in a very long time!

Many took photos of people working around the region and demonstrated their respect for a good work ethic. Another student took mostly photos of the environment around him: trees, flowers, sloths, and agricultural workers all made their way into the set of photos. He talked later about the importance of conservation, which is a common sentiment in Costa Rica that is often hard to encounter in the United States. Many of them took photos of their pets, which are plentiful in the area. Although it is only in middle class homes that pets are allowed into the home, many families have dogs and cats that wander around and are taken care of by various neighbors. I surprisingly do not find myself afraid of dogs wandering around here, because most are so friendly. Over the course of our visit many families were recipients of new puppies and kittens!

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Ready to watch Costa Rica in their second match in the World Cup.

On the last day that we went to the school, Costa Rica had a match in the world cup. Since it’s impossible to get children to concentrate while they are so excited, and the sport is so important to the country that the president actually announced that all workers are to be given off two hours to watch every match with Costa Rica in the world cup, they had set up a projector so that the whole school could watch the game together. An important sentiment that struck me is the ability to pause the normal schedule for something so important to the unity of the community and country. I’m sure that these create amazing memories for children as they socialize in school—plus, Costa Rica won!

To hear more about the Costa Rica public health study abroad program through Temple University, visit our blog!

 

We are all different yet exactly the same

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Our fourth weekend here marked our first free Saturday! We stayed around our host families because we knew we couldn’t do anything while Costa Rica had their first match in the World Cup. Since soccer is so popular here, everyone flocks to the nearest television to support their team. When they finally won, there was a motorcycle parade through the town and people came back to the streets, which were absolutely lifeless during the game.

On Saturday night, I went to a baby shower with my host mother, and was surprised (though maybe considering the size of the area I shouldn’t have been) to find two of my Temple classmates, Annie and Natalee already there! Although at first it felt a little awkward to intrude on very personal affairs like a baby shower among very close friends and family, I felt welcomed by everyone and ended up having a great time. We went home to work on some crafts for the church to distribute on Father’s Day, and then went to bed basically for a short nap, because we had to get up at 4:45 in the morning!

Although Costa Rica is a relatively small country, and we don’t appear to be very far from the beach on the map, it actually can amount to a 4 hour trip. Luckily, our trip only took about 2.5 hours to get to Playa del Coco. This beach trip was very special for us because we were able to take all of our family members and some other collaborators with us for a whole day at the beach. It was great to get to know my classmates families, which we did not have the opportunity to do in San José. Since in our new homestays they are such a tight knit community that already knows each other, we are getting to know everyone on a new level.

Luckily, it didn’t rain while we were on the beach! We brought tons of food that we had prepared the night before and early in the morning, and ate casually with the other families. We explored, wandering down the beach and swam in the warm Pacific water. Many of us tried to describe just how frigid swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey is, to no avail.

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An interesting find on the beach! Too bad we brought lunch.

A surprising concern that came up during the beach trip was modesty, because of the way that most people chose to dress to go to the beach. On many beaches so far in Costa Rica, all beach-goers wore traditional bathing suits or bikinis. However, many of our family members dressed in shorts and a t-shirt to go in the water, which is a much more conservative way to dress than we are used to. This came as somewhat of a surprise on the morning of our trip and was an interesting cultural difference that we noticed, but while talking to my friend’s host mom, I noticed she had a very laid-back take on the situation. She thought that since we are used to one custom, and they are used to another, we should just do what we are comfortable with and let it be. In the end, none of this mattered, although we all spoke about it quite a bit to come to terms with this unexpected difference.

Often, when in a strange situation, especially as a guest that wants to make a good impression, little slip-ups or differences in dress and behavior can make you feel like you made a huge, noticeable mistake. The truth is that most people are wrapped up in their own concerns. Perhaps they are thinking that they are in the wrong when it comes to the cultural difference and are worried about how you perceive them, as we noticed at the beach. Another instance of this on my trip was recognizing my nerves before meeting my host in San José, who, I found out later, had cleaned the house for hours before I arrived. Unsurprisingly, when I got to the house I was far too tired to pass judgment about dust-bunnies or a dirty patio, and we were off to a great start. While studying abroad, there are mistakes in language, social cues, and personal decisions that are inevitable. It will all be okay!

To learn more about our activities in Costa Rica, visit our blog, put together by all of the Temple students abroad in the public health program!