How I Know I’m Settled In

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A few weeks ago, I shared my experience with culture shock. Since then I’ve gotten much more comfortable here, and I want to share some happier thoughts!

It took just over a week for me to memorize the digital code for my apartment in Paris, but it made a huge difference when I finally did. Not having to pull out that sheet of paper to punch in the code made me feel like it was actually becoming my home. Another thing that makes me feel more local is cooking for myself. It’s made me familiar with markets, grocery stores, and my neighborhood, plus it’s a lot easier on my budget than eating at restaurants all the time.

I’ve also been spending more time talking with my host family, getting braver with longer statements and ideas. They tell me I’m doing really well, and the encouragement of native speakers is pretty high praise when you’re working on a foreign language. Plus it’s a sign that the improvement I’m noticing in myself is not just an illusion!

A city transportation experience also boosted my confidence. Recently I was hanging out with some friends, and was on the other side of Paris later than I meant to be, but I managed to get on the very last metro on my line for the night. What made it a victory, for me, was the fact that I wasn’t stressed out by the experience. If you know me, you know I generally like to have a plan and stay on schedule, especially when traveling. Proof: I made a spreadsheet when my friends and I went to Disney in high school (I’m not proud…well, maybe a little). My lack of anxiety made me realize that at this point, I’m beyond traveling; I’m living here, albeit temporarily. I’ve taken a taxi before and I know that if I needed to do it I absolutely could. I’m still glad I caught that train, though. Taxis are expensive.

Circles and triangles and one-way streets... No way I'd want to drive here!

Circles and triangles and one-way streets… No way I’d want to drive here!

In fact, the metro of Paris was one of the things that worried me the most before my arrival. There was no order, no pattern. But I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it since I’m staying in a very residential neighborhood. I don’t even have to map out my journeys ahead of time anymore; as long as I know what line my destination is on, I can get there without preparing.

The metro is also full of strangely amusing advertisements. Like Claude, here, who found the djembe of his dreams at a moderate price. Nice one, Claude.

The metro is also full of strangely amusing advertisements. Like Claude, here, who found the djembe of his dreams at a moderate price. Nice one, Claude.

Another achievement was speaking in class. For my first week, I think the only thing I said in class was “Yes, I’m cold,” because the air conditioning in that building is always set for freezing. But more recently we were discussing media and the quality of today’s journalism. Incase you missed it, I’m a journalism major. So I had some thoughts to share and I figured if I was ever meant to speak in class, that was the day. I wound up talking for several minutes about my ideas and experiences. My professor understood me in spite of a few errors, and it improved my confidence immensely.

I’m now at a point where I can say that despite occasional discomforts I’m really happy in Paris. I’m meeting incredible people and doing things that I find fun and interesting. That, for me, is definitely a success.

I’m finished with 3 of my 6 weeks of class now, and I’ve already started to wish I was staying for a semester instead of a summer. On the one hand, that makes me feel great about the prospect of studying for a semester in the future, but on the other I’m already dreading the day I have to leave this incredible city. I don’t think there’s a single other place in the world where I could see rodents in the metro station and be totally charmed by it. If only I could be a tiny mouse, and live in one of the world’s most beautiful cities without paying rent…

À bientôt!

It’s Not Always Sunny as an International Student

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Kia ora! I have been at University of Canterbury (UC) for approximately two weeks, and am learning a lot about the challenges of being an international student. Although I’ve had plenty of interactions with exchange students studying at Temple, I’ve never been one myself, but I purposely chose to study at a foreign university rather than through a less-immersive type of study abroad program. I’m happy I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone, but man, adapting can be harsh (and, in New Zealand, often heatless). Since I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to have an informed grasp on the culture yet, I figured I’d dedicate this post to some of the challenges I’ve come across as an international student so far.

Stereotypes

During my past two experiences abroad, I encountered a lot of positive stereotypes about Americans (apparently a lot of Europeans think we “smell like flowers” — I guess they’ve never met a male college student, but I’ll take it). In New Zealand, however, some of my experiences have not been so pleasant. Kiwis associate Americans with money, a stereotype influenced by New Zealand’s economic reliance on tourism, the exchange rate (currently 67 U.S. cents to every NZ dollar), and the broadcasting of extravagant American reality shows and political news on New Zealand television. American culture really does pervade a lot of the media here, and it’s not making us look good. In the words of one of my flatmates while we were discussing the differences between the NZ and U.S. political systems, “It’s like a game. If you have money you can shout and say, ‘I want to play!'” **cough cough Donald Trump**

Last week I set up a New Zealand bank account to avoid ATM fees in the long run. As I was transferring money from my U.S. bank, the teller said, “Got to put that American money in so you can spend it!” Or, maybe I just need to buy groceries…

Making Friends

I came to New Zealand knowing absolutely no one. This is what I wanted — total immersion. I am here with a group of seven other Americans who are also studying abroad through the Arcadia University program, and we have all grown very close. Rebecca, McKenzie, Nathan, Andrew, Charleene, Brendan, and Lee are my New Zealand family, and we stick together. All of us had a bit of trouble making friends with Kiwis and other local students in the beginning though. It’s not so easy to spark up conversation and make friends in classes, and I’m used to being at Temple where I know 80 people right off the bat from high school (yay Abington)/have a tight-knit group of friends in the Honors Program/am just always running into people I know. In the words of one of my very best friends, “You’ve never left everyone behind before.” I’ve never had to start from scratch. Making friends in classes is not as easy as I thought, and back at Temple I’ll be much more aware of how well I’m getting to know international students and whether I am being welcoming. But this week looks promising, now that clubs have started, more people are around campus, I’ve met a few people at parties and events, and I’ve gotten to know my flatmates better. My list of numbers in my New Zealand brick phone is growing!

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Bribing new friends with cookies always works, right?

Diversity Differences

Honestly, my culture shock in New Zealand hasn’t been that bad. At first, the Kiwi accent was a bit hard to decipher, but at this point Kiwi accents sound normal and American accents sound weird. One difference I did not expect, however, is the complete lack of Jews in New Zealand, and the complete lack of knowledge about Judaism. People are obsessed with my curly hair, ask me constantly if I “like bagels,” and are very worried they will offend me when they ask me questions like, “Judaism is a monotheistic religion, right?” I’m not offended, just glad I can explain. But coming from the Philadelphia area, it’s quite a shock! And I know I will miss Shabbat dinners at Hillel and all the other things about being involved in the Jewish community that I took for granted. There is a lack of diversity overall in New Zealand, which is strange to adapt to coming from not only the “Melting Pot” of America but also a large, diverse school in a large, diverse city.

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My very different home for the next 5 months.

Overall, I’m adapting to the challenges that come with being an international student at a foreign university, and it’s all part of the adventure. My time here so far is definitely making me more aware of my role in my community at home and forcing me outside of my comfort zone, so I’m excited to see what the rest of my time in NZ brings. (Also, stay tuned to find out how many more times I’ll hear, “It’s always sunny there, right?” when I say I’m from Philadelphia…).

Settling Into My Home for the Next 5 Months

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Kia ora everyone! I have been in New Zealand for five days and Christchurch for two, and am just starting to get my bearings and figure things out. With a loose grasp on how my life will look for the next five months, I figure now is an opportune moment to bombard this blog with an update about life in New Zealand that’s almost as long as my flight.

Flight/Orientation

Speaking of my flight, this study abroad experience began with a missed connection —  unfortunately, not the romantic kind. After flying from Philly to Chicago, I was supposed to catch a 4:00 PM flight to LA that would have gotten me to California at 6:30 and given me a glorious four hours to navigate international security checkpoints. Instead, my flight out of Chicago was delayed by four and a half hours and I arrived in LA at 10:20 PM, just in time to miss my 10:30 flight to Auckland. Desperately sprinting through the California summer to an international airport terminal while wearing two sweatshirts and a rain jacket (gotta love Air New Zealand luggage weight restrictions) is always a fun time.

Luckily for me, there just happened to be three flights going to New Zealand that night, and there was exactly one seat left on the last plane out of America. Despite my earlier ordeal, Air New Zealand is actually a very good airline, and calmly placed my panicking self on the final flight, served real fruit (!!!) on the plane, and managed not to lose my luggage even after transferring planes at 10:29 PM. I arrived in Auckland ready for Arcadia’a orientation, if a bit late and disheveled.

Arcadia’s orientation was a nice introduction to New Zealand, and I got to meet other students studying abroad though Arcadia. The orientation group included the 8 students at Canterbury, 3 from Lincoln University (also on the South Island), 11 from University of Auckland, and 19 from Victoria University in Wellington (the capital city of NZ). We explored Auckland and then headed to Rotorua, where we were introduced to traditional Maori culture (I will definitely have a blog post on this in the future), attended a “farm show,” tried zorbing (an adventure sport invented in New Zealand that’s a big part of their identity), and tramped through some beautiful geothermal areas. After a few days, I could barely even notice the pervading smell of sulfur in the air from Rotorua’s famous hot springs.

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Sometimes it’s okay to be a tourist.

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In New Zealand, “Kiwi” can refer to the kiwi fruit, the kiwi bird, or the kiwi human.

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Lake Rotorua by sunrise.

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“Lady Knox,” one of the few remaining active geysers. 10:15 sharp every morning!

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Fun fact: Peter Jackson recorded the sounds from this crater to use as the background noise for Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies.

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Sheep shearing demonstration at the farm show. In New Zealand, there are four sheep for every person.

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Guess I chose the perfect color rain jacket for NZ.

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Tramping through the geothermal park.

At orientation, I also had a chance to get to know Jane, who coordinates the Arcadia NZ programs, and Pragnya, who is a grad student at Canterbury and here as a resource as well. I really like the 7 other American Canty students. We’ve hung out a lot because there aren’t a lot of people on campus yet (classes start Monday) though we all want to branch out and truly immerse ourselves. But it’s also nice to have a support group; we are like a little family. Yesterday was International Student Orientation and we were all able to meet some new people. There are only 150 exchange students at UC this semester, which is an incredibly small number considering the school is roughly the size of Temple. But also good, and why I chose UC — less competition to meet/eat the kiwis, depending on which kiwis you’re referring to. A smaller group of international kids will make immersion that much more complete.

Although I haven’t had a chance to explore Christchurch yet, I did “have a look” at campus. UC has a very quaint, charming, New England-esque feel. Much different from Temple! Although I know that I will miss living in a city (as opposed to a bus ride away from one that was destroyed by an earthquake — more on that later) I also think that my semester at UC will be a nice change of pace.

Flatmates and Friends

I’ve also met 4 out of 5 of my flatmates. I am living in Ilam Apartments, which are off-campus apartments sponsored by the university. Nearly all study abroad students live here. I am living with Erin, a Kiwi woman who already graduated and works as a lawyer (in NZ, law is an undergraduate degree), Ching, an older woman from Hong Kong who is doing her PhD, Jae, another graduate student from Korea, Celine, a third-year undergrad from China (uni is three years, not four), and Olivia, a Kiwi from Wellington who is also in her third year. Olivia is coming back to campus on Friday, but the others are nice. They’ve invited me to go to “high tea” on Sunday, and introduced me to a few of their Kiwi friends. People in New Zealand are really nice — you don’t have to ask for help, they just notice if you need it and provide. After hearing about my night sleeping in fleece-lined leggings, fleece pants, two pairs of socks, a long sleeve shirt, and a sweater, they gave me warmer pajama pants and a space heater, all unsolicited. (Last summer, I thought the lack of air conditioning  in Paris was bad, but it’s got nothing on the apparent lack of any heating systems during the South Island winter. What do these people have against being warm? They have some very thick skin, unlike my central heating-dependent American self). Celine and Erin also helped me set up my Internet and gave me a free adapter for my laptop, and Erin is going to put me in contact with a friend of hers who likes “tramping.” I also get lots of free food and we watch Kiwi cooking shows together. Although I didn’t expect it, I think it will be nice to come home to a nurturing, home-y environment like this while I’m in another country.

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My single bedroom in my flat. Not too shabby! (Although freezing). We each have our own room and share a common space, kitchen, and bathroom.

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Throwing it back to the glory days of 6th grade with my cheap New Zealand phone. Texting is hard when you actually have to click the buttons!

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Waiting for me on our fridge.

Classes start Monday, and I’ll spend the next few days orienting myself a little more and meeting more people. Today I set up a bank account (or at least attempted to set up a bank account) and managed to find a thrift shop to get some much needed clothing. Although UC seemed a little unpromising at first, this semester is shaping up! I’m really looking forward to my experience here. Cheers!

Homestay Pros and Cons

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Today I realized that I’ve yet to address my living situation while in France!

I’m living in an apartment with a lovely retired woman named Béatrix who grew up in northern France. Often her son will join us for dinner, and sometimes so will her nephew or other family members. She hosts as many as 3 international students at once, so I’m also living with a student from Taiwan and another from China. I have my own bedroom and I use the kitchen as I please.

Ah, how neat it looked in here before I unpacked...

Ah, how neat it looked in here before I unpacked…

My own desk and a big sunny window.

My own desk and a big sunny window.

I want to start out by saying that I really love my homestay, but that I wouldn’t recommend the option for everyone. First I’ll explain some challenges, and then some rewards.

Homestays are challenging because…

We only speak French in the house (unless there is desperate confusion). I never knew true mental exhaustion before this experience! Often I get back to the apartment after listening to my professors speak French rapidly for three hours, and Béatrix wants to hear about my morning, and what my plans are for the afternoon, and would I like some coffee? And it’s hard for me to say “I’m sorry, I just need ten minutes to lay down and absorb some things.”

Then there’s the commute. For my counterparts in the Foyer, which is somewhat like a dorm, I’m told that the walk to class takes around 15 minutes. My commute involves 2 metro lines and takes around 25 minutes, and of the 3 Temple students living with host families I believe I have the shortest commute. It’s not easy getting to the metro for the journey to my 8am class.

My biggest challenge by far has been communication with other students. With everybody’s varied phone plans, Wi-Fi accessibility, etc., it can be really hard for me to make plans with others. Since I’m not at the Foyer constantly running into other students, often we just don’t see each other. It’s normal for me to go out on my own and explore Paris independently. I’d definitely emphasize to students choosing their residence that a homestay requires self-reliance.

The last negative I can think of is that there’s a little more responsibility and accountability required to live together with locals. If I decide I’m not coming back for dinner, or if I’m going away for the weekend, I have to let my family know so they don’t worry about me.

I love my homestay because…

Typically your family will have hosted students before, and will know how to help you get the most out of your experience. My family includes me in conversations and will often stop to make sure I understand a word or phrase before I can even ask about it. The best way to learn conversational French is to talk to native speakers, which is much easier when you’re under their roof!

On top of that, Béatrix is a wonderful cook. I have heard of host families where this is not the case, but at any rate you’ll become accustomed to whatever meals are typical in your host country. My agreement specifies that my host family makes dinner for me 3 times per week, which I feel is just enough to take away some of the stress of planning while still allowing me to try restaurants, have picnics, and cook for myself when I want to.

And last: I love having a host mom. She tells me when it’s too beautiful out to do homework. She makes sure I’m learning but I’m not terribly stressed. She even does my laundry. Basically, she’s the greatest. But she doesn’t baby me, get me out of bed, or get on my case for anything. It’s perfect for me because I’m not afraid of exploring on my own, but I don’t always have ideas for what to do. Who better to advise me than a real live Parisian?

So in conclusion: If you’re adventurous, independent, and outgoing, and if you’re not afraid to really dive into the language and culture of your study abroad destination, do a homestay. You’ll learn a ton and have an amazing and unique experience that will truly force you to embrace your host country’s culture!

The Balancing Act

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I think that, for me, the hardest thing about studying abroad, is by far, the studying part. Okay, I know that’s what I signed up for when I chose to travel through this program, but there simply is not enough time to do everything I’d like to do and complete two whole three-credit courses in just six weeks. Still, I really cannot complain. My courses are actually quite enthralling and I get to live in London for heaven’s sake! Settling in, it was very hard to balance everything, but there is a way to do this—I’m just still figuring that out. I do have a little bit of a better idea at this point though, and I’ll share that with you now.

Here are some tips to stay on top of your work while you’re away:

1) Bring a laptop:

I brought my tablet and I curse the day that I made that ingenious decision. Oh, it’s so much lighter, I thought! Who needs a big, bulky laptop when I can use my Microsoft Surface RT to do practically the same thing? ME! I need my bulky laptop! I’m so sorry I ever left you behind my big, beautiful Macbook! If you ever plan on studying abroad, don’t skimp on the technology you’re bringing. It is essential for the work you will inevitably have to do, and you should feel comfortable using it for whatever you might need. While I do love my tablet for taking notes and other, simple things, I am not really familiar with many of its features, and certain things have been extremely hard to figure out when I’m already scrambling to get my work done.

This thing has caused me so much trouble.

This thing has caused me so much trouble.

2) Plan ahead and keep a to-do list:

If you know you have plans later in the week, do not wait to do your work. I have fallen victim to this mistake many-a-time, and I can tell you first hand, it is not worth the stress. Personally, I think it helps to keep a to-do list. If time management is not your thing, like ‘tis not mine, then give yourself a deadline before the actual due date and stick to it. It is so easy to get distracted here, but you just have to make these things happen. It’s still a university program and you’re getting credit for it. One thing that you could do to make the most out of your time, while still being productive, is just find a park or a nice, peaceful, scenic area around where you’re staying, and do your reading there.

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A fresh list–it’s a little less overbearing when I have it all down on paper.

3) Stay in touch with your professors:

I obviously cannot speak for all the professors that teach in every study abroad program, but for the most part, they know that while you’re abroad, you have a ton of things you want to do other than homework. In fact, they want to do their own thing, too! Remember that you can always ask them for help, and if you end up falling behind for whatever reason, let them know. My professors here are so great and knowledgeable. They really just want to help make this experience as productive and meaningful for you as possible. If you need a little extra time on a paper or project because you’re going away for the weekend or because of some other extenuating circumstance, just ask. They’ll probably be very understanding. Just don’t make a habit of it.

4) Try your best to sleep and wake up at a reasonable hour:

Jet lag is not fun. Since I’ve been here, I still haven’t quite gotten used to the time difference and my sleeping schedule is all out of whack. On top of that, I have a terrible, terrible case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and sleeping just seems like a waste of my precious time here. Sleeping is obviously essential though and therein lies my problem. Plain and simple—if you don’t sleep, you are not going to feel your best while exploring your study abroad destination. Don’t ruin your trip staying up all night—especially if it’s to watch Netflix or utilize your Wi-Fi the limited times you have it. It’s hard, I know, but just force yourself to go to sleep before midnight and wake up early. If you can get out and about early on, you’ll most likely get to see more anyway, and then you’ll get tired by the time you should be going to bed. It will also probably make you more productive than you would be on no sleep.

I tend to wake up especially early for the 8AM yoga class at this great little studio called Yoga Place, around the corner.

I tend to wake up especially early for the 8AM yoga class at this great little studio called Yoga Place, around the corner.

5) Realize how much the material you are learning is connected to the space around you:

For instance, I’m taking a Shakespeare course here. I would have taken the same course for the same amount of credits at home, but here I get to visit Shakespeare’s actual grave and see performances of his plays in the Globe Theater! I mean, how cool is that?! My other class is loaded with relevant history and literature as well, and it is definitely so much more exciting to take here, where we are able to incorporate amazing field trips into the curriculum. Studying and doing the assignments becomes much easier when you can relate it back to all you are observing while abroad.

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Day Trips & Day Dreams

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What’s the meaning of Stonehenge?! A few classmates and I wanted to know, so we decided to make the pilgrimage to Stonehenge and Bath in the form of a bus tour. We woke up early on a Friday and caught our bus before many of us fell right back asleep—although this proved somewhat difficult since the bus was freezing! My friend and I speculated that, since most places in London don’t have air-conditioning, they were boasting theirs by turning it up full blast. I mean, after all, we are experiencing a “heat-wave” over here. The worst, hottest wave of heat in London for almost a decade. It felt an awful lot like a Philly summer to me. It’s actually kind of cute, in the tube (which is pretty hot, I can’t deny that) they will announce on the loudspeaker that it is a very hot day and that everyone should bring water along with them through their commutes. I could never imagine Septa asking its riders to stay hydrated! Then again, Septa is pretty well air-conditioned…

But back to our day trip! As many of us slept, Tom, our tour guide, spoke bitterly throughout the bus ride about the politics and finances of different areas in London. His classic, sarcastic, London humor—or should I say “humour”—made us all laugh (if not somewhat uncomfortably) until we finally arrived at Stonehenge. Appropriately, we listed to the semi-popular Ylvis song, “What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge?” before proceeding to our ultimate destination. If you haven’t heard the song, you must listen before reading the rest of this post. Here is the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbyzgeee2mg

It was definitely the soundtrack to our day trip. We still break out in the chorus here and there while in London. It’s so catchy, like, how can you not? The actual henge though, was not quite as impressive as we thought it would be. It was awesome and mystical, but really, it was much smaller than it looks in pictures.

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stonehenge

As we walked around, we took an endless number of pictures including selfies and group pictures self-titled, “brohenge” and “it’s the girl’s henge” along with many others.

Brohenge

Brohenge

It's the girl's henge

It’s the girl’s henge

When we got back to the bus and settled in, we were astonished that Tom decided to leave behind one of the other passengers. “This is what happens when you’re late,” he said (something along those lines at least). Okay, Tom. We kept this in mind. Don’t be late.

Next stop: Bath. I really didn’t know what to expect in Bath. I knew about the Roman baths—which is not where the town name comes from by the way—but not much else. It was absolutely enchanting. Beautiful, old buildings lining every street, live music playing at every corner. It’s hard to quite capture the town’s magnificence.

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Some kind of street performer in Bath--it must have taken forever to make that costume, but I'm not quite sure what she's supposed to be.

Some kind of street performer in Bath–it must have taken forever to make that costume, but I’m not quite sure what she’s supposed to be.

Visiting the Roman baths was a particularly awe-inspiring experience as it was so easy to imagine people of ancient times bathing and playing in the water. I’m not even a huge history buff really, but being in the places where so much has taken place can deeply captivate a person. I just kept thinking about how amazing it would have been to be there then—when it was actually in use and not just a crowded tourist destination, when I wouldn’t be just a tourist. I’m sure that’s how a lot of tourists think about it, and that’s why we put up with the rest of the tourists. It’s always been funny to me how a tourist can get annoyed with other tourists. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do the same thing, but it really is a ridiculous concept to ponder.

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Yeah, I was creeping, but these guys just looked so cool admiring the baths!

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Group picture at the Roman baths

Group picture at the Roman baths (sorry the lighting is not so great)

We continued to explore and everything was beautiful, but unfortunately my phone had died by then so I have no more pictures. I learned on that trip that you can see a whole lot in a day, so I hope to go on more day trips soon.

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Day at the Museum

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How can one visit Paris and NOT go to a museum? If you’re in Paris for even just a day and don’t get to at least one musée, I question your priorities.

So many culturally enriching options and you choose to ride an elevator up an old radio tower? Quelle honte.

So many culturally enriching options and you choose to ride an elevator up an old radio tower? Quelle honte.

All jokes aside, there is so much more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower. In my first two weeks, I’ve already spent a fair amount of time staring at paintings and I’d encourage anyone in Paris to spend at least a full day doing the same! While you’re there, you might as well try to be a professional about it. Here are a few ways to make the museum as enjoyable as you can, for yourself and everyone around you.

1. Freebies and Discounts

Many of Paris’s museums and historic buildings are free to students, so always ask for the tarif étudiant, a student discount, and present ID. Your student ID is good, but often not enough on its own. Carry some form of ID showing your age, like your passport. Other places have special days where admission is free to the general public. On that day it will be packed. Lines move quickly though, so don’t get discouraged!

2. Worthwhile Expenses

If you’re able to get in for free, or even if you’re not, I HIGHLY recommend paying the extra 5 or so euros for the audio guide, a little gadget that’s usually rented for the day from a desk right up front. If you’re making the effort to go and stare at art in person, take advantage and learn the stories behind the paintings and sculptures for much less than the cost of an art history course. On your way out, drop it off. Easy!

3. The Stance

Please consider some basic manners when stopping to look closer at a painting.

Make sure that when you stop, you’re not blocking the view of anyone that was there first. Allow space to pass in front and behind you if you can, and heed any markers that distance you from the works. They can range from raised platforms to tape markers on the floor. Much like a zoo, I feel it’s best to observe while maintaining a safe distance; I cannot afford to replace or restore a Renoir if I breathe on it too hard. This also allows others to see!

4. Attire

Practical beats cute while walking around a museum. Wear comfy shoes. Museums also tend to be cold or at least cool, to preserve the artwork, so a light jacket is a wise choice even in the summer. Finally, many museums will ask you to check a book bag or anything larger at the door, since you could potentially swing it into a priceless work of art. If you must bring anything inside with you, bring it in a small purse or camera bag and be ready to show its contents to the guard at the door.

5. SHHHH!

Ah, the universal word for “quiet.” If you must speak, please whisper. Otherwise, be respectful to the space and let there be silence. A museum is a very intellectual place and noise, particularly any loud noise, is just not conducive to that environment. As my RA during my freshman year often said: Never be “that person.”

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Bonus: Photography

In most places photography is perfectly fine, but flash photography is absolutely forbidden. Be totally certain your flash is turned off! Also, please refrain from being that person who takes photos of every painting, and doesn’t actually stop to appreciate any of them. Recently at Paris’s museum of modern art, I watched a man walking quickly from one work to the next, stopping just long enough to take a single photograph and then running around the room to the next one, and the next one… I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish, but to everyone else it was clear he didn’t really care about the art.

Conclusion

Pick a museum with exhibits that interest you, and you’ll end up doing more than just passing time. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll have a wonderful day at any museum you choose!

My stack of tickets, maps and info...so far!

My stack of tickets, maps and info…so far!

Bonne journée!

My Crib: Living Arrangements in London

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I feel like I am falling for this city too hard and too fast. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Philadelphia, and I think it has a lot to offer, but London just gets me. I feel like there is always something going on here—like around every corner is a new adventure. Perhaps this is just my excitement in its absolute newness to me, but the culture shock has been overwhelmingly positive. I mean, I’ve barely even begun to explore, and I still feel this way already.

One thing I do really want to do before I leave is get myself more oriented with where I am by foot. While taking the tube, I tend to become quite disoriented. It is an alarming sensation to step out from the underground and have no idea which direction you went or how far. In Philly, public transportation seems much more straight-forward. Maybe that’s just because of my familiarity with it, but I really enjoy knowing where I am in relation to places I’ve been or to places I’m going. Mentally mapping the city as a pedestrian would make me feel much more comfortable in this space. I will keep you updated on how that goes for me in the following few weeks.

On another note, I have to say, I was extremely pleasantly surprised with the living arrangements we received through study abroad. I mean, I didn’t think it would be awful or anything, but I definitely was not expecting all this. Blithehale Court is a student living apartment complex located in Bethnal Green. It isn’t necessarily in the heart of the city, but anywhere you’d want to go is only a short tube ride away. Plus, I feel like we are getting a more authentic feel for London here since it is not really an area flooded with tourists. We live just a minute or two from the nearest Sainsbury’s Local and I was quick to locate the nearest yoga studio—which is about five minutes away, just around the corner. There is a local park across from our flats and others, like Victoria Park, only a few minutes away, as well. We are surrounded by culture and hidden treasures in any and every direction.

Not to mention the actual flat! We got the real, V.I.P. hookup here. This is actually my first time ever having a bed larger than a twin and my very own bathroom with a shower and everything! I don’t ever want to go home! When I saw the rooms, I just thought, “this is the height of luxury!” We also have a kitchen/living area and were supplied with basic kitchen and cleaning supplies. All in all, the living space is quite a success, and I am lucky to share it with some of the nicest girls I have ever met.

I have been so absorbed with actually exploring and looking around that I haven’t really remembered to take pictures of it all, but I will be sure to provide those soon. For now, here are some lovely pictures of my wonderful flat and my adorable roommates.

The wall in my bedroom matches my hair, so I couldn't resist taking a few selfies.

The wall in my bedroom matches my hair, so I couldn’t resist taking a few selfies.

Yes, we have two fridges/freezers.

Yes, we have two fridges/freezers.

My room before I unpacked, and made it my own.

My room before I unpacked, and made it my own.

These are not all my roommates, but all the girls are absolutely lovely. There are five of us in my flat.

Not all of these women are my roommates, but all the girls are absolutely lovely. There are five of us in my flat.

Me and two of my roommates. I'm pretty sure I've already made life-long friends here, and I hope they feel the same way.

Me and two of my roommates. I’m pretty sure I’ve already made life-long friends here, and I hope they feel the same way.

Culture shock is real… even in Paris

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Alright, I admit it: culture shock was not as small a problem as I thought it would be.

If you’re planning on studying abroad, you’ve likely already heard about culture shock and how you need to anticipate all these stages and feelings…Yeah, let’s be honest: that stuff is boring when you’re counting down the days to your flight.

So please know I’m serious when I tell you that culture shock is real and there is no easy solution.

Having previously visited Paris, I thought I was ready. I already knew I loved the city! But as I realized I was walking the wrong direction to get to a meeting, I did not love the city. Not at all. I eventually got to my destination (very, very late), but my frustrations lingered. Why was one side of the street going up in number while the other side went down? Why do they put the street signs on the buildings? Those frustrations continued when I got on a bus going the wrong direction, and again as I tried to locate granola bars at Monoprix (it’s kind of like Target).

Days later in a grocery store, I opened a refrigerator to pick out a prepackaged salad. I held the door open for the person behind me, and he closed it. I don’t know why, but that just put me over the edge. I paid for my salad as quickly as I could and hurried outside where it was less crowded, where I could breathe. I had so many questions, and the lack of answers made me feel angry, sad, and lost.

All day long, for my entire first week, I was surprised constantly by all these little nuances of French behavior that I didn’t understand. It felt like even when I tried my very best to adjust to the new norms, people still spotted me and knew I was faking it. Faking it really, really hard. That kind of stress and effort is exhausting, and the stress finally built up to a point that I couldn’t contain it.

I was eating dinner with some other Temple students the night of the refrigerator incident when out of nowhere I just started to cry, in the middle of the gardens, while eating a bag of cheeseburger flavored potato chips and drinking from a massive bottle of water.

It was crazy: that morning I had visited Monet’s garden, one of my absolute must-do’s for the trip. But as the little frustrations had stacked up, my day had gone from euphoric happiness to uncontrollable sadness. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I admitted to feeling culture shock, the phenomenon I had neglected to actually prepare for because it wasn’t the most fun or exciting.

Monet's impossibly beautiful gardens were a high point in my first week!

Monet’s impossibly beautiful gardens at Giverny are a must-see outside of the city.

Thank goodness I was surrounded by other students who felt the same way and were willing to talk about it. I’ve since realized that because Paris is so full of weary travelers and confused international explorers, I have no reason to be so obsessed with fitting in. Of course I haven’t mastered every little nuance of French behavior; even if I moved here permanently, I likely never would. But the more time I spend here, the more I will learn. Each time I go walking in the city, Paris unfolds like a map in my brain. That’s a really rewarding and incredible feeling.

The phrase is so common that people often leave it unfinished: “When in Rome…Do as the Romans do.” Well when in Paris, I’m learning, sometimes the best you can do is essayer: to try  (not to be confused with essuyer, to wipe).

Now that my class has started I’m forming a routine and starting to really settle in. I’m moving forward with positivity and curiosity, and I think that’s all anyone can ask of me. Other than, maybe, keeping the refrigerator closed.

Until next time!

10 Things I Have Already Learned in London

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1) Everything is more expensive:

It may not seem like it at first, but once you realize the severe difference in currency, you start watching your budget like never before.

On the upside, at least you can say you lost a few pounds!

2) Everything has history:

Just ask Steve, our professor and group coordinator. Practically every single building or landmark can be tracked back ages ago. It is actually pretty impressive–even the historical districts in the U.S. seem very modern and new in comparison.

 

I don't even know what this is, but it looks super old, right?

I don’t even know what this is, but it looks super old, right?

3) Generally, people are more polite and understanding:

Our second day here, some friends and I set out to buy our oyster cards (trans-passes for the public transportation here) and not only were the tube (London’s subway) attendants very attentive and helpful, but they even allowed us to take a free ride to a station that accepts swipe cards (that’s another thing—they use chip credit cards here, so many swipe cards won’t read). Also, everyone on the street is usually willing to help out if you need directions or any help getting somewhere.

 

4) Everyone is in a hurry:

This one is honestly so shocking at first. I have never seen so many people in such a huge rush. They are actually a little frightening (especially in the tube/underground), but extremely efficient. Everyone seems to have somewhere to be and knows exactly where he or she is going. There is no shame in running to catch a bus. That may be why so many people are in such great shape too.

 

5) Public transportation is extremely efficient and everyone uses it:

Waiting is a rarity here. There is almost always a train/bus/sub/what-have-you ready for your arrival. Rather than waiting 10+ minutes for any type of transportation (like in Philly) there is a train maybe every two minutes. This is an impressive and exciting experience. The only downside to the tube is that it is usually crowded. I mean, you’re practically hugging the people near you at times. Transitioning back to Septa after this trip may be difficult.

 underground

6) The food is healthier:

This was so exciting for me! Practically every street has some cute, organic place to eat out and the grocery stores—here they are little corner stores (God bless Sainsbury)—are filled with all kinds of healthy, fresh, GMO-free options. Needless to say, I am not afraid of the food here like I tend to be at home. Like I said, the stores are usually smaller, but here, it is quality over quantity. *Disclaimer: I think many of my fellow students would not agree with my sentiments about the food. For one—fast food restaurants (at least the ones that sell fried, greasy American food) are few and far between. Also, I am a vegetarian, so I have not been eating many of the same things that others have been.

 sainsburys_local

7) Flip-flops are a NO-GO:

Keep your slippers at home! This is so important! As an avid flip-flop wearer, I was pretty devastated to learn that my favorite summer shoe was a no-go, but it does make sense. Since it is not as hot here, they are not really appropriate. They get pretty serious about unspoken dress codes, and I have been turned away from some places simply because of my shoes.

 noflipflops

8) Everyone’s got their swag on 24/7:

I actually really liked my wardrobe before I came to London—now, not so much. When I say it really is quality of quantity here, I mean it. The stagnant, predictable weather definitely plays a role in this. It seems that here, rather than buy a bunch of cheap, trending clothes (like I tend to do), people invest in a few, fabulous, quality staple pieces. The must haves: a pair of black boots, a leather jacket, a scarf and a fabulous strut. I’m, of course, speaking mainly of the female fashion here, but men are also dressed to the nines all of the time.

9) British people believe that Americans eat nothing but burgers:

It is apparently a running joke here. I just like to laugh it off and prove them wrong by ordering the most British sounding item on the menu. I don’t eat burgers anyway.

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Okay, this isn’t very British, but it was from this great Vietnamese place called Pho. The best part though, was that it was only 10 pence for all this! That’s the equivalent of 15 cents!

10) You should always check the weather:

The weather fluctuates a lot around here in the summer. It is all pretty subtle, but it can really save you the trouble of being very cold or very warm all day if you just check ahead of time. If I were to pack all over again, I would definitely bring a wider variety of clothes for different temperatures. My biggest regret is not bringing jeans. I actually had to buy some in my first week here.