Run Run Rudolph…. I mean Jessee

Wow, it’s been a hectic 3 weeks! Our vacation to the Caribbean and Florida was great! It was the perfect mixture of fun, adventure, and relaxation. We were able to come home with a tank top, a tan, a few awesome pictures, a handful of new friends, and a lot of really great memories.

We stayed one night in Miami prior to boarding our cruise, and booked a room at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami. This hotel was amazing and not a bad rate at all for South Beach! Definitely recommend this place to anyone staying in the Miami area! The next day we left for a 7-day Carnival cruise through the Eastern Caribbean. My travel partner, Keith, and I took a Carnival cruise in 2009 and loved it. Carnival is known as the “Fun Ship” and has a reputation for being the most laid-back, entertaining, and enjoyable cruise line. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone on a budget, looking to have lots of fun! 

Once aboard the ship, we immediately got into vacation mode and had a burger and beer while watching Sunday football by the pool. Due to rough seas, our first stop in Nassau, Bahamas was cancelled but we gained another day at sea to explore the ship! St. Thomas is one of my favorite islands and Coki Beach is gorgeous! Since my last trip to St. Thomas, a few surf shops, scuba/snorkel rentals, and beach food vendors have taken residence which brings more tourism, but also more people watching-which is always fun! Our day in San Juan fell on Thanksgiving so unfortunately a lot of the stores were closed. We took a cab to beautiful Coral beach, which was lined with gorgeous hotels, and spent a few hours soaking up the sun. We had our Thanksgiving dinner at Senor Frogs before getting back on the ship (although quesadillas aren’t the same as turkey and stuffing!). Senor Frogs is a fun environment known for their crowd interaction. Definitely a fun spot to visit at any location! Grand Turk is the most beautiful island ever! Our window was facing the island as we docked which made us immediately realize it was going to be an amazing day! (See photo below.) After doing some shopping, we found Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville which had a shop, restaurant, bar, and pool right next to the ocean. We spotted some friends and spent the day in the pool and loved every minute on the island (we even discussed doing a whole week there instead of a cruise for our next vacation!).

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View of Grand Turk from our stateroom

After 7 days on the ship, we disembarked back in Miami and picked up our rental car. I had rented a house in Islamorada (Florida Keys), through friends of my parents that we would stay at for 3 days before heading back to the cold (Michigan for me, Alaska for Keith). This was the perfect relaxing environment we needed before facing reality. The house was serene and tranquil and absolutely gorgeous! (The photo below of the outdoor landscaping and pool area do not do it justice, but you get the idea!) Throughout our entire trip, we had only planned the bare minimum (cruise, hotel, car rental, & flight), and were completely spontaneous the rest of the trip. It was absolutely great! 

“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You become a tourist.” – Guillermo del Toro

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Our paradise for 3 days

After returning home on December 4th, I did a load or two of laundry and worked a few hours before leaving again, this time headed for Chicago to apply for my visa. My sister Kristina, and best friend Laura tagged along to make it a girls weekend (just what I needed after spending 10 days with a man!). This weekend, Laura and I also turned another year older so we were able to celebrate our birthday’s as well! We took the train from Pontiac, MI to Chicago, IL. Parking in Chicago is horrendous and expensive! I highly recommend taking the train or parking outside the city and getting other transportation if staying within the city a while. 

Aside from applying for my visa, Kristina, Laura and I kept very busy while in Chicago. We arrived Saturday afternoon and, after checking into our hotel, headed to Giordano’s for dinner (best pizza in Chicago!), before checking out Chicago’s nightlife. Sunday was our full day in the windy city so we made the most of it. Many hours of shopping, a few good sales, a lot of good food, an empty wallet, and about 4″ of snow later, we were exhausted, and relaxed in the hotel for a few hour before heading out to spend one more night out on the town (remember: we are celebrating two birthdays)! We had such a blast in the 48 hours we were there and I’m so happy Kristina and Laura were able to join me on my trip to Chicago and make it into a fun birthday weekend!

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Now onto the real reason for the trip to Chicago: My Visa! I had no idea what to expect going into the French Consulate. First off, the building was not marked at all so I had to search for a street address. Also, security is very tight in these buildings so be sure to have all of your paperwork in order and your identification handy to be able to even get on the elevator! After checking in at the correct office, I waited about 20 minutes (granted I was 10 minutes early), for my name to be called. During that time, there were multiple other people waiting and two clerks assisting travelers. There were a lot of people there getting their work visas who were being asked all kinds of questions; “How long do you plan to work?”, “Where will you be living while in France?”, “How long do you plan on staying in France once you’re finished working?”. The questions went on-and-on and I was getting more nervous as time went by. Although I had nothing to be nervous about, this is a huge deal and I didn’t want anything to get in my way! They called my name and I approached the window and provided all 16 pieces of documentation, applications, and identification required. The man viewed all my paperwork then asked for the $68 fee and collected my money. He asked me to see his colleague so I could have my picture taken and after that was completed, I approached his window again and saw a puzzled look on his face. “Did you have a question?” was his reply. That was it! I was done! I was not interrogated like the other applicants, not even one question! I felt relieved and proud, knowing that my organized and prepared paperwork had a lot to do with it!

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Chicago 2013

During the application process, you must surrender your passport. Once they review your file and approve or deny your visa application, your passport will be mailed back to you in the prepaid, express mail envelope you must provide as part of the application requirement. The envelope comes with free tracking, so I’ve been looking online constantly to see whether my passport is in the mail or not. As of now, it has not been mailed out yet. It takes 7-10 days to process so I’m not worried, just anxious! It will be a nice Christmas gift to open when the mail comes! 🙂

I figured out that in 17 days, I was home for a total of 70 hours. So for the past week, I’ve been catching up at work, finishing up my semester at U of M, spending time with family and also playing catch-up on laundry. Let’s not forget that’s it’s Christmas season so I’ve been shopping, attending holiday work parties, and helping my family get ready for a few holiday parties we are hosting at our house. 

People keep saying “Wow Jess, you leave in less than 3 weeks!”. I nod my head and say “yes, I know isn’t it crazy!”, when really I’m thinking, “Holy cow I have a lot to do!”. In efforts to minimize that feeling of panic, I purchased my plane ticket tonight and will officially be leaving the states on January 6th. My mom was nice enough to let me use her credit card points to buy the ticket (the most bang for your buck!). By purchasing my ticket using points, I was able to get a Delta, round-trip, direct flight from Detroit to Paris. I was also able to upgrade to Exit Row seats for free (my knees are so thankful!), as well as check one 50 pound bag for no additional charge (this is in addition to the carry-on bag, and personal item I will carry with me)! Needless to say, I am one very happy traveler! 

I think the past 3 weeks have demonstrated how I really am “The Twenty Something Traveler”. These next few weeks are going to fly by and I am taking in as much of the holidays and family I can before I leave. Although I’m looking so forward to my next big adventure, sometimes it’s just as nice to embrace the moment you’re in right now and the amazing people who surround you. 

Know Your Limits!

I’ve been working all week to get ready for my Thanksgiving vacation to the Caribbean that’s been planned for months, but also working on the acquiring all of the things I’ll need for my visa once I return. I’ll get back to Detroit on December 4th and will be leaving the 7th to go to the French Embassy in Chicago, so wanted to make sure I had most everything in order before I left. Nothing like a little chaos of trips and planning to add to the holiday season!

For those of you obtaining a student visa, let me warn you that it is not just $65 like I was told. After sending in a $100 money order to get approval from CampusFrance, you will then need to have the $65 ready for your actual visa application, along with the $20 pre-paid express mail envelope they require to return your passport. Let’s not forget about all of the small fees like getting passport pictures for your visa, obtaining official copies of your academic transcripts (some schools charge $5-10 for this), postage, and the time spent getting everything together. Lastly, and most importantly, your travel cost. I am reporting to the French Embassy in Chicago which is about a 4 1/2 hour drive from my home. I will be actually be taking the train and going with my sister and friend (why not turn this mandatory trip to Chicago into a girls weekend?!). I got a hotel on HotWire for $80 just off Michigan Ave. and with food and entertainment, I am thinking this weekend will cost a little more than earlier predicted. Granted, you can just drive there and drive back, but you should still consider the cost for fuel, parking, and the time you’ll have to take off work/school to do this. It all adds up! This isn’t a huge deal since it’s obviously mandatory for the program, but just be prepared for the added cost! And if you have to travel to another city for this anyway, you should just take advantage and enjoy some time to see the town!

I opened my suitcase earlier this week and have been tossing in tank tops and flip flops here and there in efforts to be ready for my vacation. (To eliminate confusion, this vacation is completely separate from France and studying abroad, and was planned before Studying Abroad was even in the works). With my flight scheduled to leave at 5:45pm, I started really packing and getting things together at midnight the night before- like I almost always do. While checking-in online, I learned my flight was delayed about 2 hours and it ended up being a blessing in disguise. As I was carrying my luggage down the stairs (about 10 minutes before I was going to leave my house), my mother helped me and asked how heavy my bag was, stating I was surely exceeding the 40 lbs limit! 40 LBS?! When did that happen? For once in my life I don’t have to sacrifice anything from my suitcase due to weight restrictions and now you’re telling me I’m actually 7 lbs overweight?! What a buzzkill! I thought I was in great shape when it weighed in at 47! More room for souvenirs I thought…. well I was wrong!

I decided my shampoo and conditioner could stay home. I will stop at a pharmacy and pick some up once we land (seeing as how I forgot half my makeup at home, it will be a necessary stop anyway!). 10 days is too long to get by with a small travel bottle and it’s cheap enough that I’m not worried if I have to leave it in Florida when I fly home. I ditched a pair of heavy denim pants and also a few shirts that I probably wouldn’t have ended up wearing anyway. Coming in at 40.5 lbs, I made the cut 🙂 The point is: Know Your Limits! Make sure to check all baggage policies when you book your flight. You never know when rules will be changed or updated. I couldn’t believe the differences in baggage policies between airlines. I had no idea that the weight policy was so different on each airline. If you’re thinking “10 lbs really isn’t that big of a difference” you must be a guy! Not to be sexist but between the jewelry, shoes, and hair styling tools, women should be allotted another bag or at least a few more pounds. It’s never a problem with room, it’s always the weight limit that kills me! I will be very interested to know what the policies are on AirFrance when I book my flight in the next few weeks. (Packing for 6 months should be interesting if I can’t stay under the limits for a 10 day trip! More on that to come in future posts!)

I’ve always flown Delta. I’ve found their rates aren’t any better or worse in comparison to other airlines, and the planes are as best can be expected. I’ve never had any issues with delays or cancellations, I’ve always been happy. Well this vacation there was a significant price difference and I ended up flying Spirit, and I now remember why I love Delta so much… Although the flight itself was less expensive, I had to pay more for my bags each way ($30 instead of Delta’s $25), and was also charged to pick my seat. If you’re flying alone, this isn’t a necessity, but when flying with someone else, it’s nice to be able to sit next to each other. Round trip, this added another $100 to my cost. I also learned today that had I not pre-paid for my bag online, I would’ve had to pay $100 at the check-in desk! (Man, Spirit really likes to add in extra charges anywhere they can.)

I will be leaving reality for the next 10 days and wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving! This year, I am especially thankful for all of the educational blessings that have come my way. The University of Michigan was always a dream I had growing up and wanting to be more like my cousin whose room was decorated with a huge Michigan comforter. It has become a reality along with the generous scholarships and grants I’ve received from various foundations. Studying Abroad was really something I never thought I would have the chance to experience and now that I do, I am so incredibly grateful and embracing every aspect of this opportunity. I would also love to thank my friends and family for all their loving support through all of my education and career decisions. Without their encouragement and support I would definitely not be in the position I am in now.

Happy Thanksgiving from a very thankful Twenty Something Traveler!

8 Weeks and Counting!

This week has been full of exciting news! I received my official letter of acceptance from the France Business School! It is assumed that I am accepted since this is an exchange program, but getting the actual letter is very exciting! I am hoping to get the full welcome package in the mail this week. It will include all of my housing and transport information as well as a guide to the school and city and lots of fun stuff like that! Since FBS doesn’t have dorms or student housing, they have agreements with local landlords that work with international students like myself. I will know more about what type of apartment I’ll be renting once I get my package this week.

Acceptance Letter

I also receive a letter from “SNCF” and being that it was in a plain envelope with no return address, thought it was junk mail. I opened it and had no idea what it said because it was in French! My first piece of French mail! I immediately remembered that SNCF is a high-speed rail that provides travel through Europe. After translating, I realized I had been awarded 50% off all of my fairs through France with the train company SNCF! How cool is that?! About 4 weeks ago I found out that I might be eligible for discounted train fares in Europe. Being a rail-pass holder for Amtrak here in the US, I requested my pass be converted into a Europass for the 6 months I’m abroad. Since Amtrak reciprocates services with  SNCF, it was approved and I received the discount! This will definitely be put to good use!

Train Ticket

Time is flying by… I can’t believe it’s already mid-November! I only have about 8 weeks left to get ready for this life-changing experience. Although I haven’t booked my flight yet, I know I will be leaving the first week in January. Orientation at FBS is January 8th so I plan to arrive the 6th or 7th. I know these next 2 months are going to fly by (especially with the holidays!) and I have a lot to do! I made an appointment with the French Embassy in Chicago on December 9th to formally apply for my visa. During this appointment, I will be surrendering my passport for approval and it will be mailed back to me after it’s processed (about a week). I need my passport for a trip that was previously planned over Thanksgiving so I have to wait until I get back to make the trip to Chicago. CampusFrance (the ‘prerequisite’ to applying for your student visa) has received all of my paperwork and it is currently being processed. I am confident that everything I need will be processed, accepted, and returned to me before I have to go to Chicago in December. Knowing that I will have everything I need to apply for my visa in plenty of time if definitely a huge weight off my shoulders! 

It has been a great week and I know the weeks to come will only get better! Loving life, embracing experience, and smiling the whole time 🙂

The Next Step

Now that all the deadlines have passed and all of my paperwork is in, I get to sit and wait. Well, not really. There are a million things I have to do, but most of the official things are done (‘most’ being the key word!). The task on the top of my list is getting my visa. As a school requirement, I have to obtain a student visa to be able to study abroad. I figured it was just like getting a passport; go get a picture taken, pay a huge fee, receive it in the mail in a few weeks…. wrong! Getting a student visa is not that simple! I found out that before I can apply for my actual visa, I have to be accepted through CampusFrance, which is a France organization that deals with incoming international students. It verifies your status with the college in France, how long you’ll be there, what you’re studying, etc. I also need an acceptance letter from the school in France before I can do any of this. Since this is an exchange program, my acceptance into the school is assumed, but I still need the letter for CampusFrance and my visa. This puts me in a bit of a time crunch seeing as how CampusFrance takes up to 3 weeks and then the actual visa application takes 3-4 weeks. I leave in 8 weeks, so getting this done ASAP is a huge understatement! I actually had to pull some strings and my study abroad advisor at UofM was able to write me a letter instead of waiting for the acceptance letter from the France School to arrive. Once I get approval from CampusFrance, I’ll have to make a trip to the French Embassy in Chicago where it’s mandatory that you apply for the visa in person. The other option to avoid the waiting and trip to Chicago, is to do a phone interview with the French Embassy. As I’m told, it is a 20 minute phone interview to see what my intentions are while in France (kind of like the questioning you go through while crossing the border). Oh yeah… and the interview, would be in FRENCH! Seeing as how I only speak Spanch (see prior post), I have low hopes that the phone interview would be successful. Looks like I’ll be making a trip to Chicago!

After doing some research, you only need to obtain a visa if you’re travel exceeds six months. Since I am participating in an exchange program between universities, it is mandatory through my program that I get a student visa. If you ever have to get a visa for any traveling you do, don’t wait until the last minute. Get it done as soon as you can so you won’t be rushed or worried.

This blog is not only a way for my friends and family to see what I’m up to, but it’s also a great source for future study abroad students (and all-around travelers) to see what studying abroad has to offer. With that being said, I will be posting a lot of college related material to show importance.

I would like to thank Asinda G., Dr. Cavusgil, Dr. Kandogan and the Graduate Dean Study Abroad Scholarship Committee as well as the Matthew Hilton Watson Study Abroad Scholarship Committee and School of Management at UM-Flint. I have just received news that I was awarded these scholarships and could not have done it without the help of Asinda and Dr. Cavusgil. This money will make my trip much more enjoyable and allow me to do much more while abroad. Thank you everyone!

For anyone studying abroad or in college, apply for as many scholarships as you can! My advisor, Asinda, was very helpful in letting me know which scholarships I was eligible for and encouraging me to complete them. Out of the four I applied for, I just received three of them. I will find out about the fourth in December. You will never get scholarship money if you don’t take the time to complete the application so JUST DO IT! It’s definitely paid off for me! I also emailed my financial aid advisor when starting at UofM to let her know I needed as many scholarships as possible (don’t we all?!). About six weeks later, she was kind enough for forward me a link letting me know I was eligible for the Osher Scholarship which had very specific requirements- and I met all of them. The call I received informing me that I was awarded the Osher Scholarship was also the phone call that set my study abroad dream into reality. The staff at UofM has been great in helping me with my education, financial aid, and so many more things. Definitely talk to all of your advisors about scholarships, it will absolutely pay off!

To all my new followers… Merci Beaucoup! (Thank you very much)

À Bientôt! (Bye for now!)

It’s Official!

Well, it’s official! I am going to be studying abroad this Winter in FRANCE! I will be leaving the first week in January and living in Western France in the town of Poitiers until June! I cannot describe how excited I am for this amazing opportunity for my education, future career, and just the personal experience itself. I will be attending the France Business School (ESCEM as it’s called in France), and will obtain my Advanced Certificate in International Marketing while I am there. As excited as I am for the educational aspect, I am even more enthused about the fact that I’ll be living in France for six months! I can’t wait to experience the culture, food, language, and the million other things that makes living in Europe simply amazing.

I spent my first two years of college at Macomb Community College and am now studying at the University of Michigan-Flint. I receive a few academic scholarships through UM-Flint that paid for my classes. Then, in mid-August, I received a call from the Osher Foundation saying I had be awarded a $5,000 scholarship through their program. Being that all of my classes were already paid for, the $5,000 can be applied to anything school related, so I decided to use it to study abroad!

Poitiers itself is a huge college town and has a large international program. Knowing I will be surrounded by other students in my position makes this entire process much more comforting. There is a school in Georgia and California that also has an exchange program with France Business School (FBS), so I know they’ll be other Americans there too! My classes will all be taught in English and at the end of my semester there I get to participate in a “company project” as part of the course requirements. Basically, I’ll take everything they taught me and get to help a French Company with a Marketing project. It will almost be like an internship, so when I get back to the states I can say that not only did I get a unique education, I also applied what I learned with a European company!

I’ve studied Spanish for years and now I’m learning French. Although Spain and France are geographically next to each other, their languages sound nothing alike (I was hoping for a US/Canada scenario… not the case)! You’ve heard of “Spanglish”… I’ve created a new language called “Spanch” – a twist on Spanish/French. All joking aside, I’m confident I’ll know enough French to get me from the airport in Paris, to the town of Poitiers. Once in Poitiers, I’ll start school, and immediately start taking French as a requirement of my program.  I’ve been listening to “Learn French in 10 days” in my car, and watching YouTube videos, but the best tool that’s helped me is an app on my phone called DuoLingo. It’s amazing. I highly recommend it for anyone trying to learn any language!

I’m so excited for this experience and will be sharing a lot along the way! If you’d like, you can sign up to receive emails anytime something is posted so you can keep tabs on me while in Europe (see tab on the right). Just make sure to confirm the link you receive in your email box to be officially signed up. I’d love to hear from you too! Click the “Contact Me” tab at the top of the page to send me an email. I would love to answer any/all questions and am always looking for new topics to write about! Most of all, thanks for the continuing support I’ve received from everyone- it means the world to me.  Au Revoir!