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. 

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 🙂