Author Archives: cgrourke

Reflection on Studying Abroad at Sciences Po

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Reflection on Studying Abroad at Sciences Po

Since being back for a month, I have had multiple dreams about being back in Lyon. Dreams of eating dinner with my host family, in class with friends, watching the sunset on the Berges du Rhone…it still follows me now. I feel as if my life has been put on hold, as if the whole experience was a dream.

Every time I see someone, they will naturally bring up my trip. Once I get started talking about the experience, I can’t stop. It’s all that’s on my mind. And to think I was so nervous about heading over there, of feeling lonely in a new country, but no one told me how hard it would be coming back. I mean, I’m fine, but I feel like my life has been put on pause. I went from living throughout Europe in a new city each week to living at my parents house, constantly asked what time I’d be home.

I left the experience feeling fully content and excited for new experiences, but it feels like a part of me is still there, like I am still living there in my dreams. And I think that is how it goes for anyone who loves to travel, you come back a new and changed person, but there is a part of you that is still there and a part of that place that always has a place in your heart.

Now I pass the baton to other Temple students to go for yourselves, to wander through the trabules of the Croix-Rousse, to have international picnics in Parc de la Tete d’Or, to enjoy conversations on the Berges du Rhone. For others to go to Rome to walk along the river Tiber, to go to Tokyo and enjoy the best sushi you can find, to Oviedo to work on the Spanish you’ve spoken for years, and for one day to returned a changed and nostalgic Temple student.

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Ireland

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Ireland

That Wednesday after Easter, Caitlin, Anna, and I took a midday flight to Dublin. We all booked our flights at different times and sat separate from each other. I fell asleep immediately before we even took off. The flight was less than an hour and I woke up just before we landed. The mist was so thick I couldn’t see the Irish Sea or see any parts of Ireland, and then all of a sudden we ended up on the runway. Just waking up, this was very confusing. After we got all of our stuff together, we went straight to our hostel near the Abby Theatre. We stayed there for a while to rest and prepare for our day. Caitlin had been to Ireland many times before, so she was our tour guide again. She took us to Trinity College, where we saw the Book of Kells and the Library of Trinity College. From there we took a short walk to Saint Stephen’s Green, where beautiful red and yellow flowers were in bloom. We got a traditional Irish dinner and on our walk to the Temple Bar, we saw an Irish dancer dancing on the street. I was overjoyed to see this. I have been Irish dancing for 15 years now and to see this in Dublin just made me overjoyed.

The next morning we got up early. Cait and I went to Dublin Castle, as Anna would be back in Dublin less than two weeks later. We bought our tickets and had about half an hour, so we decided to have a quick look at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. It costs money to enter and we only had about five minutes, so we asked the guards if we could just have a quick look. It was a large cathedral built in the 1100s, with beautiful ornate floors and wooden roofs. After less than five minutes we ran right back to Dublin Castle for our tour. We saw the fortifications of the Castle and its original cornerstone, and traveled through history to the the chapel, and the State Apartments modeled after Versailles. The most inspiring part of the tour was when we went to the hall where Ireland was granted its independence from the United Kingdom in 1919. I felt very proud to be of Irish heritage standing there.

We then went to the hostel and checked out, heading to the car rental place by the airport. I was suppose to drive, but it turned out that I needed to have my license for at least five years, while I only had mine for three and a half. Anna needed to drive since she was almost at five years. I felt really bad, but what were we going to do at that point. It took us about two hours to drive to Galway. We arrived in the early evening and checked into our hostel. We then got a traditional Irish meal and went to a bar for some drinks. We met some locals there and talked to them about their work in academia. They invited us to go to another bar, where there were three stories each offering different kinds of music. We particularly liked the jazz level on top and decided to stay there.

The next morning, we got up early because we had a lot to do in one day. We first made our way to the Cliffs of Moher and on the way saw Dunguaire Castle on the ocean. It took about an hour and a half to get there. The views were absolutely breathtaking. I was in amazement. It was definitely my favorite part of being in Ireland. A man was playing Irish music there and I decided to start dancing. Some people starting taking videos and pictures. I thought it was hilarious! I’m no professional. After taking in the view, we left in the late afternoon to go to Swinford in County Mayo north of Galway where my family is originally from. We got dinner on the way. When we got to Swinford, I saw a sign that had my family’s last name on it “Groarke”. I got some pictures of it. We then decided to go into Campbell’s bar to ask about my family. When I asked if there were any Groarke’s in the town, they asked which one. Apparently there were over a dozen of my family members still living in the town. I wish we had more time, but it was late at night at that point. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Galway late that night.

That next morning, we woke up early to head back to Dublin. When we returned to Dublin, we saw the statue of their former mayor and walked around a little bit more. That night we went to “The Church” which was an old church where Jonathan Swift worshiped, Georges Frederick Handel played the organ, and where Arthur Guinness was married. I loved the ambiance here. We ate amazing food and had some Irish coffee at the end. After taking a little walk along the river Leffey, we decided to Uber back to our hostel. It was the perfect ending to our trip in Ireland and our spring break.

Paris (encore une fois)

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Paris (encore une fois)

To begin my spring break, I decided to spend the first weekend in Paris. My dad and youngest brother came to visit Lyon that week. They left very early on the Thursday before break, but I had to stay until my classes were finished. I dropped them off at the train station when I knew they were settled with their correct platform. I then went to my morning class, Sociologie historique de l’Etat (Historical sociology of the State), and then got sandwiches with friends and we ate on the berges du Rhone right at the river. It was a beautiful day and I was so glad to be with great friends just in the beginning of our week long break. My afternoon course was cancelled, so I had some time to go home and pack for my trip and clean my room. I took a 6:05 TGV from Lyon-Gare Part-Dieu. I was so late to arrive that I had to get onto whatever car was available. I ended up in the wrong car and had to stand until we got to the next stop to find my car and correct seat. I spoke to two women about the election, because in a little over a week the results would be announced. At the next stop I got off, found my car, and then found my seat. The TGV (train a grande vitesse) is a blessing, getting me to Paris in two hours. The TGV from Lyon goes to Paris-Gare de Lyon (which gets a little confusing). From there I took two metros to meet my dad and my brother Shea at our hotel. The metros go so fast I fell with all my luggage on top of Parisian teenagers (embarrassing to say the least). When I got there, I was exhausted from my travels so we stayed for a little. We ate at the Cafe de Paris, located in the Saint-Germain quartier (the best for nightlife). There were people playing music and bands everywhere. I of course got duck, my new found favorite food. I wanted to show them more of Paris, but they had conquered a lot of it and also I was really tired. Shea was really disappointed he didn’t get to see the Arc de Triomphe, which I was really sad about, but I didn’t have any energy left. We went in for an early night.

That next morning they left very early in the morning for their flight at Aeroport Charles de Gaulle. They said goodbye while I was half asleep. I woke up a couple hours after they left and slowly got my things ready for my day. I had to check out by 11AM, but left my bags in the luggage room. I got breakfast right outside the Sorbonne in the square right in front of it. Afterwards I realized there was security near another cafe right next to the fountain at the Sorbonne for a movie shooting. I snuck in security and sat near the fountain, hoping to get in their movie shot. From there I made my way to Saint-Chapelle, but then I saw another museum on the way, the Museum of the Middle Ages. It was free for students in the EU under 26, and since I have my Universite de Lyon student card, I could get in for free. This is common for most French museums. As I was walking through the museum, I was overcome with emotion when I thought about my first trip to Paris 8 years ago in 2009 when I was just 13 years old. I imagined all the changes that happened in my life and how much better my life turned out to be. I was mostly pleased that I returned to France and was studying abroad. In the museum, I saw the ‘Woman with the unicorn’ tapestries, which I was always fascinated by. I didn’t even realize that this museum existed, let alone that this work of art was located there. I would recommend this museum to anyone going to Paris. It is less touristy, less known, and has some of the best works of arts from the Middle Ages. I continued to walk to Saint-Chapelle, as I walked past the fountain Saint-Michel in the Latin Quarter. The line for Saint-Chapelle was long, but I waited and got in for free as a student. I met a group of Canadians and a Portuguese guy who were interning in Brussels. There were two floors and on the top floor there were over 16,000 pieces of stain glass to make beautiful and fascinating blue-violet color throughout the room. I couldn’t stay long, as I had much more to see for the day. I walked through Ile de la Cite (the island in the center of Paris where Notre-Dame-de-Paris is located) and then along the Seine to le Musee d’Orsay. The line was surprisingly not too long. When I got in, I went straight to the top floor to see the Impressionist paintings and I also saw the original work of ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin on my way out. After this, I wanted to see an area of Paris I never really visited before. I went to Le Marais, an artsy area popular with young people. I ate outside the Centre Georges Pompidou, which I thought was kind of ugly, but nonetheless finally got to see it. After that I took the metro to our hostel and met up with Anna. We walked to Sacre-Coeur and down to a restaurant. We talked to a group of French and Americans in their late 20s and it got me thinking about how much I want to be an Expat in France. As the evening turned to night, we went back to our hostel because that next day we would travel to Versailles.

That next morning we took a morning train to Versailles. After seeing if we should go into the Chateau right away, we decided the line was too long so we went straight to the gardens. I finally got to see the gardens, in all its beauty with fountains and music playing. We had a snack near a water channel in the gardens and then went into the chateau during the mid-afternoon. We had dinner in the town and had to miss the night fountain show which I was really disappointed about. We took the last train to Paris, and beforehand we worried that we missed the last one to Paris. After that we went right to bed after a long day in Louis XIV’s paradise.

Sunday, our last day in Paris, we decided to split up since I’ve been to Paris before and Anna did not see all the major attractions yet. I went to mass at Sacre-Coeur. There was a long line to get in and then a separate entrance if you wanted to stay for mass. The music and the ceremony of Easter mass was a beautiful experience and it was something I will treasure. After mass I went to the top of the basilica to get a stunning view of Paris. I went back and took a nap at the hostel, and then in the afternoon I spent mostly in the 1st arrondissement near the Louvre. I went by the Opera Garnier, le Grand Palais which the exterior is entirely made of glass, and I saw the Galleries Lafayette along the way. Le Grand Palais was having an exhibition of Rodin’s sculptures, but after waiting in line for a half hour I realized that I would have to wait another half hour. I decided it wasn’t worth it, so I went next door to le Petit Palais to see a free exhibition. I was only there for half an hour and then took my time getting back, buying some clothes at the Galleries Lafayette (because of course its from the best place in France!) and having some pizza at a restaurant. I came home late and decided to pack, because the next day it was time to leave ‘the Continent’ to go to Scotland.

 

Academics at Sciences Po

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Academics at Sciences Po

As I am thinking about what I have shared with my readers, I realize that I’ve left out a major part of the study abroad experience! Your classes and finals take up a large majority of the time abroad. I want to let readers know about my course load, professors, and what it’s like to take classes in a foreign language.

When I first arrived in France in early January, I was set to follow the Certificate of French and European Studies, but after two weeks of orientation and realizing I came to France to improve my French most importantly, I decided to change this plan. Sciences Po Lyon offers three options for international studies on exchange. The first is the Certificate of French and European Studies, which is comprised of at least nine classes, or 30 ECTS (credit points, based on the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, or ECTS). Eight of these courses are offered by invited professors in their specialties and are taught in English. The ninth course is an intensive French language course. The second option is the Attestation d’Etudes Politiques, which is comprised of 30 ECTS at minimum of nine classes. In this certificate program, three courses must be fundamental courses (cours fondamentaux), one methodology course (cours de methodologie), four specialized courses (cours d’oeuvre), and one French and culture class. The third choice is the choix des cours, basically meaning you can take as many credits as you would like, though there would be no specific course available for you as an international student in the French language.

After some deliberation, I decided to choose the Attestation d’Etudes Politiques to advance my French skills. There was one cours fondamental taught in English and three cours d’oeuvres that were offered in the certificate, so I decided to take four courses taught in English and five courses taught in French. I thought this was a nice balance because I could become more fluent in French, but not be as overwhelmed when it came to the finals. My cours fondamentaux were The Supreme Court, Vie politique francaise (French political life), and Sociologie historique de l’Etat (The historical sociology of the state). My cours de methodologie (CDM) was Institutions politiques et administratives (Political and administrative institutions). My cours d’oeuvres were Federalism, Brexit, Geopolitique contemporaine (Contemporary geopolitics), and the British Contribution to the Defence of Europe. And then my ninth course was my French language and culture course. I had to take a placement test for this course. There were three levels: A, B, and C. I got placed in B, the intermediate group.

Seven of these courses met once a week for two hours. My Brexit course met for only one month (the month of February), three times a week, for two hours. My Vie politique francaise course met once a week for three hours. As you can see two hours is the minimum in France. Some upperclassmen courses and law courses could last up to four hours. Most professors gave a five minute break at the halfway point to get coffee and have a small pause. For some courses taught in French, some French students volunteer to write notes on an online web platform called Unipad, which are available to be downloaded up to twenty-four hours after they are uploaded. This helped me tremendously when I had problems following for two hours straight. Only two of my courses did not have final exams: Federalism and Institutions politiques et administratives. For my Federalism course, we had a final paper and presentation. For Institutions politiques et administratives, we had two people present on a political and administrative institution of France. This, along with participation were put into our final grade. But for most courses in France, the only thing that you are graded on is the final exam. This was a bit stressful to me to think of, but in the end I enjoyed the process better. It is also much more conducive to travel.

I would advise an international student to give themselves at least a week to study and probably a week and a half at most. French students were packed in the library during our week of preparation, arriving when it opened, taking a one to two hour lunch break, and coming back around 2pm until close.

In the end, I learned the best thing to do is not to stress, to talk to your professor and let them know you are an international student, and to write that you are an international student on your exam. The professors will realize to disregard minor grammatical or lexical errors. The real purpose for these exams are that you understand material.

I do not want anyone to shy away from this great learning experience! It should be nothing to be afraid of, but something to be excited about! When else will you be able to take courses in such specialized political science and international relations subjects in a foreign language!? Go for it!

Edinburgh

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Edinburgh

On Easter Monday, Anna and I left our hostel in Paris early in the morning. We had to take two metros to get to Charles de Gaulle airport. We were going to Edinburgh to meet my friend Caitlin McGrory who studied a whole year at the University of Edinburgh. We had a 7:10AM flight and made it on time. The flight was smooth and fast, though surprisingly I slept for almost the entire flight. My mistake, I did not tell Cait when we were to arrive until boarding and then she realized how little time she had until we came. She arrived to meet us at the airport, taking a double decker bus to the airport. I thought it was so cool that the city uses these buses throughout the whole city. We took one of these buses and of course I had to sit on the top floor. She took us for a walk and brunch in Old City. We saw Old College, made of beautiful and dark limestone in Georgian style. She took us to the Royal Museum of Scotland, which is free to all visitors. I particularly liked the fashion section that chronologized haute couture fashion of the time from the 18th century to the present. We walked through an old cemetery  and heard bagpipes – it felt so Scottish! I had to go and see the bagpipers up close. I really enjoyed seeing the joy these people had playing the bagpipes and the immense effort and skill needed. After that, we saw the Edinburgh Castle, where we saw panoramic views of the city, including the bay of the North Sea called the Firth of Forth. On our way back, Cait saw a woman with an owl and she told me how much she loved owls. I agreed to take pictures of her with a small female owl. She was in heaven holding and petting this owl. She then took us to Saint Giles’ Cathedral, which was a former Anglican church turned Presbyterian during the time of John Calvin. It reminded me of Anglican churches I saw in the past, but also resembled la Cathedrale Saint-Pierre in Geneva, Switzerland. Inside the cathedral is the meeting space for the Order of the Thistle, a Scottish order of chivalry whose members include the queen, other members of the royal family, and descendants of nobility. In the late afternoon, we took a walk in the Meadows, a large open park comprised of a large green with paths and benches. That night we had dinner and went to a bar to hear live Celtic music.

Our second day in Edinburgh was focused on conquering Arthur’s Seat, the peak of the mountains overlooking Edinburgh. We walked by Hollyrood Palace on the way where the queen stays on our trips to Scotland. The hike was very exhausting, but the views from the top of Arthur’s Seat were stunning. We could see the entire city and surrounding areas, including the Firth of Forth and the seaside towns like Portobello which we would visit later that afternoon. On our descent we stopped by Duddingston Loch where birds of all kinds dominated the area: geese, ducks, swans, and seagulls. We then took a quick stop at Scotland’s Parliament building. The parliament was in session so we weren’t able to see the chamber where they meet, but nonetheless it was neat to see where Nicola Sturgeon and other MPs meet day in and day out. For lunch, we ate at the Canon’s Gate Restaurant, where I ate fish and chips and Elderflower Liquer, which is particular to Scotland. From there, my goal was fulfilled when we took a bus to Portobello. I told my friend Caitlin that my special request for this trip was to see a beach in Scotland. As I fulfilled her request to see the French Alps when she visited me in Lyon just two weeks before. Portobello is just a twenty minute bus ride. It is a small Victorian seaside town. Seeing the ocean had such a calming effect on me and put me in a joyous mood. We took a walk near the water and down the beach, until we found a restaurant where we wanted to get some drinks and appetizers. It was such a great experience to sit there and see the beach while eating nachos and talking about our experiences. We took the bus back to Edinburgh and saw the city at night from Calton Hill. Our trip to Scotland was almost over and I commend Caitlin for being such a great host. The next day would be our flight to Dublin.

Ireland

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Ireland

That Wednesday after Easter, Caitlin, Anna, and I took a midday flight to Dublin. We all booked our flights at different times and sat separate from each other. I fell asleep immediately before we even took off. The flight was less than an hour and I woke up just before we landed. The mist was so thick I couldn’t see the Irish Sea or see any parts of Ireland, and then all of a sudden we ended up on the runway. Just waking up, this was very confusing. After we got all of our stuff together, we went straight to our hostel near the Abby Theatre. We stayed there for a while to rest and prepare for our day. Caitlin had been to Ireland many times before, so she was our tour guide again. She took us to Trinity College, where we saw the Book of Kells and the Library of Trinity College. From there we took a short walk to Saint Stephen’s Green, where beautiful red and yellow flowers were in bloom. We got a traditional Irish dinner and on our walk to the Temple Bar, we saw an Irish dancer dancing on the street. I was overjoyed to see this. I have been Irish dancing for 15 years now and to see this in Dublin just made me overjoyed.

The next morning we got up early. Cait and I went to Dublin Castle, as Anna would be back in Dublin less than two weeks later. We bought our tickets and had about half an hour, so we decided to have a quick look at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. It costs money to enter and we only had about five minutes, so we asked the guards if we could just have a quick look. It was a large cathedral built in the 1100s, with beautiful ornate floors and wooden roofs. After less than five minutes we ran right back to Dublin Castle for our tour. We saw the fortifications of the Castle and its original cornerstone, and traveled through history to the the chapel, and the State Apartments modeled after Versailles. The most inspiring part of the tour was when we went to the hall where Ireland was granted its independence from the United Kingdom in 1919. I felt very proud to be of Irish heritage standing there.

We then went to the hostel and checked out, heading to the car rental place by the airport. I was suppose to drive, but it turned out that I needed to have my license for at least five years, while I only had mine for three and a half. Anna needed to drive since she was almost at five years. I felt really bad, but what were we going to do at that point. It took us about two hours to drive to Galway. We arrived in the early evening and checked into our hostel. We then got a traditional Irish meal and went to a bar for some drinks. We met some local residents there and talked to them about their work in academia. They invited us to go to another bar, where there were three stories each offering different kinds of music. We particularly liked the jazz level on top and decided to stay there.

The next morning, we got up early because we had a lot to do in one day. We first made our way to the Cliffs of Moher and on the way saw Dunguaire Castle on the ocean. It took about an hour and a half to get there. The views were absolutely breathtaking. I was in amazement. It was definitely my favorite part of being in Ireland. A man was playing Irish music there and I decided to start dancing. Some people starting taking videos and pictures. I thought it was hilarious! I’m no professional. After taking in the view, we left in the late afternoon to go to Swinford in County Mayo north of Galway where my family is originally from. We got dinner on the way. When we got to Swinford, I saw a sign that had my family’s last name on it “Groarke”. I got some pictures of it. We then decided to go into Campbell’s bar to ask about my family. When I asked if there were any Groarke’s in the town, they asked which one. Apparently there were over a dozen of my family members still living in the town. I wish we had more time, but it was late at night at that point. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Galway late that night.

That next morning, we woke up early to head back to Dublin. When we returned to Dublin, we saw the statue of their former mayor and walked around a little bit more. That night we went to “The Church” which was an old church where Jonathan Swift worshiped, Georges Frederick Handel played the organ, and where Arthur Guinness was married. I loved the ambiance here. We ate amazing food and had some Irish coffee at the end. After taking a little walk along the river Leffey, we decided to Uber back to our hostel. It was the perfect ending to our trip in Ireland and our spring break.

Deutschland und Österreich

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Deutschland und Österreich

This past weekend I went to Munich to visit my aunt who finished a business trip. I arrived very late on Friday night to her hotel. We had a couple drinks and chatted. It was so nice to see someone from my family again. We got to sleep early, because the next morning we were going to Salzburg, Austria for the day.

We had to be at the train station by 9AM. We made it on time, surprisingly. My aunt and I are known to be late all the time. But we made it! The train ride lasted about an hour and twenty minutes. We didn’t get to see the Alps because it was so cloudy and raining.

Most of the day it rained, but that didn’t stop us! We followed our tour-guide through the city and saw Mozart’s house, some scenes from the Sound of Music, and later ate Kraze-Kramer’s! They’re frankfurter’s with cheese on the inside in a sandwich with mustard. It was soooooo good! I bit into it, and it splattered all over my aunt’s jacket. I pretended I didn’t notice for a couple minutes until I pointed it out.

We saw cathedrals, walked around beautiful open-air markets, and stores. My favorite part was taking a lift to the mountain overlooking the city. We could see the entire city from there. Here is a picture:

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We walked around up there for a while and saw that there were even more views to be seen. That night I went to the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus (The Royal Brewery) a pint of beer and some frankfurters with potato salad. They played traditional Bavarian music and saw some people dancing in the central hall.

The next day we went to the Schloss Nymphenburg (The Palace of the Nymphs), which is modeled partially after Versailles. I am a sucker for Rococo architecture, so I was in heaven when I saw nymphs flying on the paintings on the ceiling. My aunt and I took a tour of the palace and then walked outside in the gardens. There were ducks and wild animals around, and it was very nice to catch up with my aunt.

After that, we decided to go back to the city center to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, which is a big clock on a cathedral in the center square (Marienplatz) at 5pm, when it rings and marionettes dance. After this finished, we walked to the English gardens and saw the sunset. We walked to the beer gardens, despite my aunt’s hesitations, and in fact the beer gardens were opened! We each had a beer, bread, and an artichoke heart. On on walk back home I got a McFlurry and we went back early because my flight Monday morning was very early the next morning. I caught a train at 4:40AM and got to my 7AM flight on time.

When I got on the plane I had a smile on my face with memories to remember for the rest of my life, as a turned my thoughts to my life back in Lyon.

Birthday Surprise!

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Birthday Surprise!

I’m so sorry I have not posted in a while, but so much has happened that I must share!

Roughly a month ago was my 21st birthday, and I know I shouldn’t share too much, but I’ll let you in on some details. My actually birthday was the morning I arrived in Lyon from Lisbon. Our flight was delayed over three hours, and instead of arriving at 11:30 PM 26 February, we arrived at 2:45AM 27 February. Needless to say we were exhausted. We split an uber from the airport to the train station, because it was equal for us and some other Sciences Po students we knew. From there at 4AM, I decided to take a quick bike ride home. It was a bit scary that early in the morning, but I got home safe at 4:20AM and went right to bed. The next morning, my first thought waking up at noon was to take a run…maybe it’s best not to listen to intuition, but I did it anyway. And hey who needs a phone!? so I didn’t bring it with me and somehow ended up in Caluire-et-Cuire, a suburb roughly a 10 minute ride from Lyon. Well then my intuition kicked in and aided me and I came home about a half hour before my class. After a quick shower, I was only 10 minutes late to class. I was quite proud of myself.

Okay I know this sounds crazy, but my life works in strange ways and I like it better that way.

That night after class, a lot of my friends either weren’t in Lyon, or were too tired or ill to go out after a week of traveling. Just three friends and I went to one of our favorite places, Ho36, which is a hostel that has a bar and restaurant. We had some nice drinks and enjoyed each other’s company, while we told stories of our trip. They went to Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, and Milan. I was quite jealous when I heard of their trips, but then again I had an amazing time in Paris, Barcelona, and Lisbon!

That night my host family decided we’d order Chinese food. We got it from my favorite Chinese restaurant in Lyon, which is just right by our apartment. Afterwards my host mom and sister went into the other room and I heard them start to sing happy birthday. They came in with cupcakes and sang happy birthday in French and English. I was overcome with emotion and got choked up. I feel as if I have another family in France. They gave me gifts as well – a Swiss army knife with my name inscribed on it, Spanish chocolates (they spent the week in Sevilla), and a keychain that read “I’m in the mood for a fiesta”.

That weekend I celebrated my birthday three nights in a row: the first two going out and the second, which I’ll describe, staying at a friend’s. So after two nights of celebrating, I just really wanted to stay at home but my friends were insistent that I go to my friend Staci’s house. I decided to go and when I knocked on the door, there was immediate silence and accidentally Staci stepped on a balloon. I walked in and everyone yelled…you guessed it:

surprise!

At that point I was so overwhelmed I teared up a bit. I have the best friends and the best adopted family anyone could ask for. Certainly a birthday to remember for a lifetime.

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Lisboa, um fim de semana de celebração de carnaval

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Lisboa, um fim de semana de celebração de carnaval

We escaped the rain of Catalonia, to arrive to bright and sunny days ahead in Lisbon (fr. Lisbonne, portugese Lisboa)! We arrived at our hostel four hours early (Anna was not too happy with me). In the meantime we stayed at the lounge of the hostel and had breakfast with the people that were getting up from the night before. It was a really chill atmosphere and everyone was really friendly.

After waiting until our 2pm check in time, we came to our room with an amazing view! Three steps from my bed, and we stepped out onto a terrace overlooking the Rio Tejo.

 

We then met up with our friend Chloe, an other Temple student and walked throughout the city. There were beautiful beaches on the river, grand monuments, large white cathedrals, and my favorite, the colorful buildings. We made our way to a small public area overlooking the city that offered amazing views and photo ops.

That night we had dinner at our hostel. It was an ABC party for Carnaval. I picked out the finest costumes from the hostel’s dress-up chest and decided to wear a cape and a green curly wig. I sat next to a guy that dressed up like Julius Caesar and had a great meal.

The next morning we decided to walk all the way to the other side of the city in Belem. We walked through what seemed a deserted town, until we reached Belem, where we saw the Belem Tower, the Praça do Império, and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery). The area seemed to be a small jewel far away from the bustling area of the city we were in.

We had to take an Uber back after that long walk, but when we almost reached our final destination, the traffic was bumper to bumper because of a Carnaval parade on the Avenida da Liberdade (the main boulevard). We got out and Anna headed back to the hostel, but Chloe and I stayed to see the large public park called Marquis of Pombal Square. It had panoramic views of the city and a lovely ambiance of relaxation. After that, I got lost trying to find the hostel. I saw the city better that way, but it was a little nerve wracking when my phone died. I made it back and we had dinner again. We were so tired we just stayed in and talked with the people at the hostel.

The next morning we took the train to Sintra, a beautiful suburb and hour northwest of the city. Round trip cost me 4.04 euros. When we got off the train, we saw massive castles tucked in forests and as we continued to walk, we realized we were on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. But as life goes, we only had an hour and a half to spend there. We had a flight to catch. We had to take the train back, pick up our stuff at the hostel, and then take the subway to the airport. When we arrived at the aeroporto, we had to then take a bus to our terminal, only to find out our flight had been delayed 1 hour and 50 minutes. Needless to say, I was pissed.

Well we boarded at 9:50PM and did not arrive to Lyon until 2:45 in the morning. We took an Uber with two other Sciences Po exchange students to the city. I took my velo (bike) from the station to my apartment and did not arrive at home until 3:30AM and didn’t fall asleep until 4:40AM.

The rest of my week was filled with relaxation and celebrations for my 21st, which was the day I arrived so early in the morning from the holidays.

 

Barcelona, la capital de la Cataluña

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Barcelona, la capital de la Cataluña

In continuing my previous blog post, I left the readers at a cliff hanger. Here’s the resolution. After my mom and Riley left, I packed my bags and took a shower. It was nice to have some serenity before traveling. Then I had to pick up a bus from the Eiffel Tower that drove me to Orly Airport. When I arrived, I was a bit nervous because this was my first international flight alone. As I passed through security, I worried my bags would be too heavy. After I passed through the metal detector and my bag went through the check, a security man asked to look through my bag. Suddenly a pang of uneasiness washed over me. He took out everything from my bag and put it back through the security check. He couldn’t find anything, but we talked for a while as he searched my items. It was relieving to know that even when you do international travel alone, there are still people so kind and helpful.

And my flight was great on the way there. I would highly recommend Vueling (Spanish budget airlines). They played some cool music on the flight, I got my first hearing of a language I wasn’t familiar with (and man could these Spanish speakers speak fast!).

I arrived in Barcelona on time and took a bus into the city. As I walked down the Rambla, there were cool restaurants and ice cream shops all around. I of course had to get an ice cream cone with mystery flavor electric blue coloring (I had no idea what I was ordering at that point). I met Anna down the Rambla near our hostel (Kabul Party Hostel) at the Placa Reial. We dropped our stuff off and then got dinner on the Rambla. It was so cool! The food was amazing, not to mention our massive Sangria glasses. We were so tired by the end, that we didn’t go out. But our hostel had other ideas. We were on the second floor and it was so loud and congested in our room (I would not recommend staying there).

The second day we went on a walking tour. There were two options, a Gaudi walking tour or a Gothic walking tour. Since we were staying in the Gothic quarter, we decided to venture out to see the works of the famous Catalonian artist Antoni Gaudi. What we saw was astounding. This man was absolutely crazy in his designs and artistic conceptions. A dark beauty, a colorful extraordinaire, a quirky design all in one.

But of course the creme de la creme was La Sagrada Familia, an imposing cathedral in its 135th year of construction. When completed it will be the largest and most elaborate cathedral in Europe, possibly the world. Here are some pictures:

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La Sangrada Familia

From there, Anna and I decided to walk all the way up to the top of Barcelona to get a better view of the city. We came upon the Park Guell, an expansive public park overlooking Barcelona. There are small houses there, massive and beautiful gardens, and also a large centerpiece of Gaudi’s Catalan modernism architecture style. We bought tickets to see his tile work, but were told by a friend who we randomly ran into that if we waited until 6:30 it was free. Anyway, it was going toward the city and for refurbishment of Gaudi’s architecture, so it was a good cause. The views from this park were simply breathtaking.

 

That night we had dinner at another restaurant and I ate seafood, which was quite good and very filling. We took a walk near the Mediterranean port area, which was beautiful at night. We couldn’t go out that night because the next morning we had a 7AM flight. We packed and went to sleep. We only had four hours of sleep when we woke up at 4AM. We checked out and then made our bus at 5AM when it began to rain. We made it on time and everything from there was smooth sailing (flying).

The flight was loud again (wow the Catalans can talk!), but I was too excited for what lied ahead…