The Best Part

I’ve officially been living in France for an entire month. In that time so much has happened, and I can really start to feel all of those endless opportunities everyone (including myself) is always talking about. Although I have been very busy, I have also had a lot of ‘me’ time to enjoy the quiet, go wandering, and start to rediscover who I am. A big part of this entire experience are things like the short stories I will be able to tell about the interesting person I met on the train, the day trip that turned into a weekend get-a-way, a group of my friends in the corner of a cafe laughing until we’re all crying, and the joy of a simple conversation with a frenchman practicing his english. Well… here comes a few of those stories!

A few weekends ago a group of international students went to Tours (about an hour away from Poitiers). While exploring the town, we noticed one of the big cathedrals was under construction and looked to be closed completely. As the 5 of us stood, taking pictures and contemplating whether we should try and go in, a man approached me and said “Excuse me, do you know if we can go inside?” Although the man’s stature was intimidating, what surprised me the most was the perfect english he spoke… definitely his first language, and a very welcoming sound for my ears! As the group of us ventured around the cathedral looking for unlocked doors, the man, whom was in his 60s, followed along. After some short conversation I learned he was from Florida, and came to France simply because he ‘wanted to learn how to make a good macaroon’! He was an analytical chemist who was tired of the complexity of his job, so he retired and took up french baking. He came straight to France in order to learn properly! How cool is that?! He was such a nice gentleman, all by himself, doing what he wanted to do! It was one of those feel-good moments of seeing someone light-up about living their dream, and getting to see the world at the same time! Definitely one of the biggest highlights of the day for me!

One day last week, I ventured out into this great town I’m living in, simply to wander around and take a few photos. While setting up my tripod at the Notre Dame Cathedral here in Poitiers, a man approached me and started saying something in French which I think was “I can take your picture if you’d like” since his body language was referring to my camera. (It was either that, or “you have a really nice tripod”. We’ll go with the first.) I apologized to the man and told him I didn’t speak French, but that I was ok and thanked him for his offer. I’m sure he could hear my english accent through my horrible French conversation skills, and he became almost animated. He asked where I was from and I told him USA, Michigan. He told me his daughter was living in Los Angeles and was going to school to “be like Steven Spielberg”. I realized the man didn’t speak much english, but he was excited to have someone to practice with. We stood there and talked for about 20 minutes, mostly about American music. He is a big fan of Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys, and he got really excited when I mentioned Johnny Cash. He was such a cool guy who was just happy to make some conversation with an American. He was planning on painting by the river that day (because that was how Monet painted), but the weather was very overcast and called for rain. Instead he went to a record store and purchased “The Adventures of TinTin”. Although I got caught in the rain before I could take my photos, it was worth it to talk to this man who was just filled with joy because he could practice his english with an interesting American.

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This past Saturday I took a trip to the city of Angoulême, which is known for their comic strips. On this particular weekend, the town was hosting their International Comics Festival. It is the largest in Europe,and second largest in the world (next to Comiket). The train tickets were not expensive, and although I’m not really into comics, it sounded like a fun time (I mean, come on, have you ever been to a festival and not had a good time?). For a 7€ train ticket and a 10€ festival entrance pass, I had a blast! I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did, but I really had a great time! Most of the comics they had were from Europe and did not look familiar, but they also had a few things I wasn’t expecting (like 8′ figures of the Avengers – so cool!). The  entire city was dedicated to this festival, and there were tons of expos all around the town. 

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Sing-A-Long Time!

At one point, we were walking from one expo to the next, just window shopping and people watching, when we heard music. There was a group of people who had formed a circle and a few guys on accordions just having a concert in the street. Okay, it was more of a sing-a-long than a concert, but it was still cool. They were handing out song books to people who stopped to watch, and were getting the out-of-towners involved! I, of course, grabbed a book and was ready to join in when I realized I had no idea how to pronounce the words in the book (that darn language barrier again!- it is getting better though!). I managed to get the chorus down pretty good before the song was over. Although all my international friends thought I was completely crazy, I think they secretly had fun as well!

The whole day was a lot of fun and I’m glad I was able to see and experience everything with good company. You can visit https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/ to see more pictures from my day trip to Angoluême!

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Seeing that I have been here for a month and things are settling down, everyone from home is starting to ask me what my favorite/the best part is. Since the first week, it has been the same answer: the people (if you couldn’t already tell from the stories above). Specifically all the other international students I’ve met.

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I came to France on my own, by myself, with no family, friends or other UofM students. When I told this to people back home, the reactions I got were priceless! “You’re going where?! For how long?! BY YOURSELF?!” Many people thought I was crazy! But I didn’t find it to be that big of a deal. Yes, I was going to a foreign country where I knew no one, and didn’t speak the language, but I knew it was going to be such an amazing experience I really didn’t care that I was going alone. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I am ridiculously independent and have no problem doing things by myself. This situation was no different than any other.

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After arriving in France and meeting other students, I realized a lot of people were in the same position as myself. Because of that, everyone is very open, and friendly, and talkative. To make friends here, you really don’t have any other choice. I can honestly say that I have met some of the nicest, funniest, and most genuine people since being here. Everyone has a story, a different way of doing things, a ‘weird’ eating habit, a family tradition, etc. Learning about these different ways of life, and meeting these people has been one of the best experiences of all. Everyone else left their family to step out into the world and embark on this adventure in life, so all of our attitudes are the same: we’re doing it, we are living the dream! A few of us have already started having ‘family dinners’ with each other, which leads to a few glasses of wine (duh, we’re in France!), and some amazing heart-to-heart conversations about life, family, love, ambitions, etc. To think that just one month ago I didn’t know any of these people is almost impossible to believe. I love the fact that I can walk down the street and usually see someone I know and stop to chat, or walk into a cafe and see a few friends having an espresso. The idea that I know I have friends all over the world now is amazing to me. I now know people from the US, Canada, Columbia, Mexico, Sweden, Lithuania, Slovakia, Scotland, Greece, Taiwan, China, Japan, Turkey, the list goes on.

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When I moved to Alaska in 2010, everyone I knew there was in the Air Force. One of the first people I met, who is still my best friend to this day, is someone who grew up about 20 minutes away from my home in Michigan. Our high schools were rivals and yet we meet each other 4,000 miles away from all of that! (One of life’s jokes I suppose!) She told me, when I first arrived, that the military lifestyle will introduce you to some of the best people you’ll meet in life, that you’ll never see again. Although this is harsh, unfortunately I found it to be true. Because everyone is so far away from home, and everything they know and love, you immediately become close with those friends around you. They become your family. Then once the time is over, life completely changes. Despite plans and promises, you may never see these people again. Although I will do my best to keep in contact with everyone… should we lose touch, I am just honored and blessed that I was able to share this experience with the people who are here. I can’t wait to see where the next 4 months takes us!

♥Your life is your message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring ♥

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What is ‘Travel’ anyway?!

“Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10%, and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white t-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is accented sex after good wine and too many unfiltered cigarettes. Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is ‘maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.'” -Nick Miller

I came upon this quote a few weeks before I left for France. I was looking for something to represent my excitement for my future time abroad, and stumbled upon this quote by Nick Miller. Because of it’s length, I didn’t originally stop to read it, but something drew me back in. I immediately fell in love with the idea of travel that he portrayed. Even though I hadn’t left yet, I had some type of understanding that this is how my life in Europe would be. It’s been sitting on a digital sticky note on my desktop for about 2 months now, and I’ve fallen more and more in love with it every time I read it. I’ve had a few of my fellow international students also read it, and it’s unanimously favored as a perfect description of what we expect out of our time abroad.

The ‘slow internet connection’ couldn’t be more true. I do have pretty decent wifi in my apartment that I can’t complain about, but once I leave, that’s it. There is no wifi in stores, malls, restaurants, coffee shops, anything. Even in the biggest airport in Paris, I was only allotted 15 minutes of internet before I had to start paying… internet is just not a priority here. It really is a great way of life… until you’re lost and need google maps :-/. My advisor from UofM commented on how amazed all the French students are at the abundance of wifi hotspots in America. I can honestly say I completely understand their enthusiasm!

After a very busy couple of weeks, things have started to settle down. Orientation is over and I’m onto my schedule of classes I’ll be taking while I’m here. Not knowing exactly how heavy the schedule & work-load was going to be, was a big worry of mine. In America, you really have to prioritize your time, and set aside time in your schedule to study, do online homework, research, etc. I was very concerned at how much of my ‘free time’ would actually be spent doing things I wanted to do. Turns out…. a LOT! I had to enroll in 5 classes here to get my Certificate. After viewing my schedule (and talking about it with numerous students and faculty to make sure I understood correctly), each class only has 5 meeting sessions of actual class time. And these 5 days of class are spread out over several weeks. For example, I started a class called ‘Advertising in Europe’ this week. I had class Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:30am-12:30pm, then lunch, then again from 2:00pm-5:00pm (a total of 6 hours a day). I will have this class again February 13th & 14th, then that’s it! I will take an exam on the 14th and the class is over! All of my classes are scheduled the same way so I will have class 2-3 days in a row, then a break for a few weeks, then finish with another 2-3 days. With the exception of a French class I have every Monday and Wednesday night for an hour and a half, I’m pretty much a free woman! For someone like me who works full time and goes to school full time…. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with all this ‘me’ time! Yes, I’m in Europe, and you can bet I will travel immensely, however, I am on a budget so flying to a different country every 4 days isn’t exactly realistic. I’ve already come up with a few things I’ve always wanted to ‘get around to when I had time’, well now is that time! Reading that book that’s been downloaded on my nook account since last April, and sharpening my photography skills are among a few of the things I am looking forward to working on. When I first got here, I was talking with another student and we were sharing some of our life goals and ambitions. He stated that someone once told him, “you will really discover your passion for life as you travel because it gives you time to think without all the commotion of life’s stressors in the background”. I can already see how this statement can be true and am excited to see where the next few months lead me!

The "Hotel DeVille"

The “Hotel DeVille”

Now that I’ve had a few days to ‘play around’, I’ve gotten to discover the town of Poitiers. It’s so immensely beautiful I still find myself blinking repeatedly to ensure that I am not, in fact, dreaming. Walking down the streets, and window shopping as you pass by the boutiques has become a daily occurrence. Just as you turn the corner, and round yet another bakery, a giant cathedral stands before you holding so much history it’s overwhelming to try and comprehend. These amazing masses of architecture are literally in my backyard, and although it makes me an obvious out-of-towner, I can’t help but stand and gaze at them constantly. I made it a goal this weekend (now that I have some free time, and grocery shopping & laundry isn’t as much of a priority as it was last weekend), to get out and take some pictures of this gorgeous town I live in. To see all the pictures of my adventures, go to http://www.thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten to experience so much that I was never previously exposed to. In the same respect, I also have missed many of the ‘luxuries’ I’ve selfishly taken for granted throughout my life. A few of them being a good cheeseburger, a dryer, peanut butter, ranch dressing, and hair serum. As this all comes out, I mean no offense to anyone and I hope everyone can understand that there’s nothing wrong with the way of life here, it’s just different than what I’m used to and that is one of the best parts of this whole experience. 

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The food here has been absolutely amazing. Being a huge sandwich fan has definitely had it’s advantages. You can literally walk anywhere, and within 5 minutes come across a sandwich shop with the most delicious bread you’ve ever tasted. I’ve also become a croissant connoisseur and am doing a fairly decent job of trying all the different croissants around town! With that all being said, the comforts of home like a PB&J or greasy cheeseburger, are hard to find around here! There is no peanut butter in the stores which comes to a huge shock to all the Americans, seeing as how we put peanut butter in everything from cereal to brownies! Here, Nutella is life! I’m not complaining :-), but my family was awesome enough to send me some JIF and Hidden Valley!

The quote above really is true, you do start to respect walking everywhere, and McDonald’s does sound like a luxury right now. When you put the two together… you see a “walk-thru” at Mickey D’s!

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Can’t have a drive-thru when everyone walks!

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Grocery shopping here has also been quite an experience! There are a lot of familiar brands, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the food is familiar. I thought Pringles might be a good comfort food to have when that craving came along, then I realized the flavors included “Paprika” and “Prawn Cocktail”! They do have most things we have in America, you might just have to look a little harder for it. Would you like a little “American Sauce” (1000 Island) on your salad/burger?

IMG_3982Also, look closely at the vending machines in airports and train stations. They don’t all necessarily have food in them. On one of my first trips, I had to be to the train station around 7:15am. Not knowing when I would eat next, I ventured toward the vending machines before our train arrived, only to find complete necessities… guitar strings! I’ve seen beauty products, iPods, phones, etc. in vending machines, but never musical instrument accessories. Not only was this machine loaded with strings, but it also had a variety of tuners and picks. It was one of those moments that you couldn’t help but laugh and take a picture 🙂

I’ve already had such a great time here, and now that I know my schedule, I will be planning trips soon! As of now, I will be in Bordeaux on February 8th for a wine tasting class with a few great friends. I am looking forward to being able to start planning some trips around Europe very soon! Until next time… Merci, et Bonne Soir!

Ma Belle Vie! (My Beautiful Life!)

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.

All packed up!

All packed up!

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”! Packing Clothes

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!)

Packing Detroit

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!

Kristina Letters

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!

Cathedral in Tours
Cathedral in Tours

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! 🙂

Organs in the Cathedral

Organs in the Cathedral

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. 

"Rapunzel's" tower

“Rapunzel’s” tower

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!

We spent our Sunday in La Rochelle much like our Saturday in Tours; walking around and exploring the town. We had nothing planned, we just started walking and ended up finding a lot of amazing architecture and made a lot of fun memories.

 

 

On the west coast of France in La Rochelle

On the west coast of France in La Rochelle

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!

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!)