I’m here! It has been a while since I’ve written so we have a lot to catch up on! I’m so sorry for the delay but I’m sure you can all imagine how busy things have been. I will try to start from the beginning… I have so much to share!
Shortly after my last post, I started the “Beecher” page of my website. I was honored to be asked to mentor a few French classes in a local Flint high school while I’m abroad. I will be sharing my experiences with them as well, and hope to show them all how important studying abroad is. Now that I am here, I am appalled at the lack of students that get to study abroad. Although I am only 2 weeks into my journey, it has already been such an amazing experience I can’t imagine not doing it. Although it’s not realistic, it should be a degree requirement! I am very excited to be helping these classes and sharing my journey with them as well!
Packing my life into a suitcase was an adventure in itself! I ended up with a 54lbs checked bag, (thank goodness the lady at the check-in counter was nice and let the 4lbs slide;-)). I also had a 40lbs carry on, and a 35lbs backpack.
As I started packing, I really thought I was in great shape. I had even closed my suitcase and weighted it with no problems. It wasn’t until the last minute that I started remembering cruicial items that ended up putting me over my weight. I packed a lot of plain, solid colored shirts that I would be able to mix & match easily, and dress up with scarves and jewelry. Since I will be here from January until June, I had to consider packing for different seasons as well. It was quite fun packing my shorts and tank tops during the recent Michigan “snowpocalypse”!
While I was passing through all the clothes in my closet, I made a “must take” pile, and a “wish” pile. I wanted to see how much room and weight I had left after I packed everything I must take, to see how much room was left for the things I wanted to take but didn’t necessarily “need”. Knowing that I was the only student coming from Michigan, I wanted to bring something to represent where I’m from, and deciding which pile those clothes fell into was a tough decision. Luckily I had enough room to bring almost everything I wanted and didn’t have to eliminate my Detroit sports attire! 🙂 (Anyone who knows me well, knows how important that is to me!)
Saying goodbye to family is the hardest part about leaving home. Sure you will miss sleeping in your own bed and having your own shower, but the lack of time spent with the people you care most about is the hardest part about being separated from home. My dad, mom, and sister drove me to the airport with lots of time to spare due to the large snowstorm that hit Michigan the previous day. We ate lunch at Leonardo’s near Detroit Metro Airport (and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a bite to eat before grabbing a flight!). Although the goodbye at the gate was extremely difficult and hard to even write about, I am mentioning it because it is what will help me get through my 5 months abroad. While saying goodbye, my sister handed me a bundle of stationary wrapped with a bowstring. She had written letters for me to have while I was gone and in different situations: “Open on the plane ride to Paris!”, “Open before your first “French” adventure”, “Open when you’re tired of being a grown-up”, “Open when you need motivation”, etc. This gift came as such a surprise to me. The effort and time my sister put into this generous gift was so unexpected and thoughtful. I have only opened two so far, but her words of support and encouragement are also accompanied by a picture she included. Not only will I have these letters to remind me of home and help me through hard times, but the pictures are just as special and will be placed all over my room. This is truly one of the best gift’s I’ve ever received and is one of my most prized possessions while I am here. I can’t wait to open them all!
Thankfully, I made it to Poitiers with no problems. I had a direct flight from Detroit to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. From Paris, I took the train an hour and a half to Poitiers and was picked up by a member of the school who drove me to my apartment. Simple enough right?! Well nothing that has this much potential for complication can be done flawlessly… The day before I departed, Michigan received 14 inches of snow in what would soon be called the “snowpocalypse” or “snowmageddon”. I was lucky enough to be one of few planes that flew out of Detroit that day. As the door to the plane closed, and the engines started up, they just as quickly were turned off. Michigan had a wind chill that day of -22°, and the water lines in the plane froze. All of the restrooms on the plane were now out-of-order! On an 8 hour flight, with 200+ passengers, repairing this problem was pretty high on the priority list! 2 hours and many announcements later, we left Detroit and were headed for Paris! The flight itself was perfect, there was low turbulence and since it was an overnight flight, most passengers slept the whole way. I was concerned I would miss my train from Paris to Poitiers due to the delay but we actually made pretty great time and only landed in Paris 40 minutes late despite our 110 minute departure delay. I was relieved and had confidence that I would be able to get off the plane, get through customs, find my baggage, direct myself to the train station, and find my train before it left. That was, until, the pilot warned us that since our flight had left so late, our gate was no longer available and we would be unloaded on the tarmac and bussed to the terminal. Okay… so that left me with 40 minutes to get through customs, get my baggage, and get to the train. Since there were many other travelers in the same predicament as myself, things were moving at quite a rapid pace and surprisingly I made it to the train with 10 minutes to spare! Who knew things moved so fast in Paris?!
I’ve been settling into Poitiers and my apartment quite nicely. The town itself it gorgeous and I can’t wait to explore it more! I’ve been so busy with orientation and classes, that I haven’t had much time to really see the town. My first weekend here, a trip was planned by a student who has been here since September. He found a deal on train tickets and for 7 euros (about $10), we got a 2-day train pass to use anywhere within the Poitou-Charentes region. On Saturday we went to Tours, and Sunday we went to La Rochelle. They were both extremely beautiful towns and we had a great time both days! I was so excited to be traveling so quickly!
Tours was my first french exploration and it was everything I thought it would be and more! We arrived in Tours around 8:30am after the 45 minute train ride from Poitiers. There were 35 new students that came, so the excitement of new towns and traveling filled the train cars!
35 students is a large number of people to try and keep together, so 5 of us ventured off on our own. We walked along the River Loire, exploring and taking pictures while the morning turned to early afternoon. We grabbed a sandwich for lunch at one of the many ‘boulangerie’s’ (because we’re in France and that’s what you do here!). Although I did miss being with all my other friends, it was nice to have a smaller group where we could each be part of the same conversation. It allowed us to get to know one another better throughout the day and gave us a nice bond early on! 🙂
We then visited a photography exhibit in a nearby museum and then made our way to Saint Gatien’s Cathedral. As we approached, we could hear the organs playing through the open doors. It truly set the mood of the entire experience. After taking multiple pictures of the breath-taking architecture on the outside, we entered the Cathedral and I was immediately overwhelmed. The combination of the loud organ playing, and the size and beauty of what the inside of the Cathedral held, is more intense than I am able to describe. I remember looking at my friend Michael and both of us, with our jaws dropped, being completely consumed with the phenomenal magnificence that we had just walked into. It was honestly a life changing experience. Knowing how historical the building was and the meaning it held was a lot to take in. It was one of the biggest high’s in life I’ve ever experienced and I can only hope to achieve something comparable again. Having this feeling on my first weekend, on my first trip, gives me a very optimistic view of what the next 5 months will hold.
We visited La Rochelle on Sunday, January 12th. Being right on the west coast, there were many marina’s, so we were able to walk around and see the different boats, as well as towers in the area. Having never seen anything architectural like this before, a few of the other students and I laughed about how it looked like it could be Rapunzel’s tower! Since it was Sunday, most things were closed. This was one of the first french lessons I learned… everything closes at 7:00pm daily and nothing is open on Sundays! There is nothing 24-hours, and I have yet to find a store open past 7:00pm any day of the week!
In search of the beach, we got a map and started heading towards the water. Although the temperature was in the 40s, the scenery was beautiful and the beach itself was quite busy! We then walked to a nearby animal farm where there were all types of birds and farmyard animals such as goat, chickens, etc.
It was such a fun day and even though we were only there for a few hours, I felt like we really saw a lot and we will be sure to go back to the beach once the weather gets warmer!
I’ve created a ‘share site’ through Shutterfly where I will post albums of all my trips and adventures! To see more pictures, please visit: https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/
I’ve been in France for 12 days now and have already experienced so much! The past two weeks have held a lot of traveling, meetings, and classes, along with adjusting to life in a foreign country! Now that I am somewhat ‘grounded’, I will be able to share things more often and can’t wait to tell you all about life in Europe! Until next time… à bientôt!