Why I Refuse the Refundable Ticket

My choice- Surrender or Victory?

I’ve been in France for a nearly three months now, and I feel comfortable enough to say that I have a relatively decent understanding of the effects France’s most recent tragedies have had on the population. For anybody who has been living in a reclusive wooden cabin in the middle of the forest, there have been numerous, devastating terrorist attacks in the last year that have resulted in high casualties and low self esteem when it comes to security in major cities.

France is not the only country to endure major acts of terrorism recently, but the scale of their two most deadly encounters with extremists, Paris (13 November 2015) and Nice (14 July 2016) have been highlighted in the media as some of the worst in the world. These sorts of attacks are heartbreaking and terrifying, but with time, the community has to return to some sort of normalcy and figure out how to go on with their lives.  

Moving on after tragedy is hard enough on its own, but when the time comes for another highly publicized event, all of the emotions of fear and trauma arise again to torment the minds of every citizen within a 20 mile radius. Terrorism inevitable succeeds in its goal to instil terror simply by attacking and causing grief, but the extent to which it can truly succeed in breaking our society depends on how much control we give that fear. It was not until my host family told me to pay extra for a refundable train ticket to Strasbourg for the annual Christmas Market that I realized just how strong the hold of terrorism is here in France. My host family warned me that they might cancel the Christmas Market, just like they had canceled a festival in Lille last weekend and an air show in Marseille last month.

For some reason, hearing them talk about this broke my heart and filled it with fire; I honestly don’t think I have ever felt as bitter and angry as I did at that moment. I hated it. I hated that the French people were giving in. I hated that they were ready to ignore tradition for the sake of security. I don’t have a very extensive French vocabulary, but I managed to make my feelings quite clear in a three word phrase. “Je deteste ça.” I hissed.

My host family then looked at me very surprised and almost looked offended. I went on to tell them that the entire point of terrorist attacks is to make us live in fear and to make us feel unsafe- like every city is a war zone and every crowd surrounded by hostile soldiers. If we adopt that mentality, then they win. We say that we are engaged in a war on terror but if that’s true, then each time we cancel an event or chose not to go to a concert or a soccer match because of safety concerns, we lose a battle.

We keep surrendering.

I couldn’t seem to get this across to my host family- they didn’t understand why I was so upset. After all, this was meant to protect me. But the thing is, I want to make my own choice whether or not I go to that Christmas market. I want to decide whether I think the war against terror is a cause worth risking my life for.

If I wanted to shelter myself completely from danger in the United States, then maybe I wouldn’t go to school or shopping malls because of all of the mass shootings. I would never go to concerts or walk down Newbury Street or go watch the start of the Boston Marathon. But I choose to do all of those things because I chose to have faith in law enforcement and faith that the more I demonstrate my endurance despite the constant reminders of danger, the more I prove to terrorists that terrorism doesn’t work. Why? Because I chose to ignore it. I will respect the ones who have died in this war and I will be more cautious when I attend high profile events, but I refuse to stop living my life.

I choose to adapt to my new reality, not hide from it, and I trust my fellow citizens and government officials to do the same. I will ignore the flood of emails I receive daily from the State Department reminding me to avoid crowds, areas of worship, concerts, demonstrations, and basically every else that I walk past every day. I live in a world terror that I cannot escape, so I chose to live in spite of fear to prove that we will win this war.

I am alive and I am not afraid; I have already won.

Mandy Signature

Plot Twist! I miss American schools?

I’m currently writing this blog post whilst sitting in the upstairs lounge of a Starbucks in Lille with a hoard of Americans on my left, and a group of french lycée students on my right. Although I’m drinking my typical winter holiday latte, I’m munching on a pain au chocolat that I picked up at the boulangerie down the street. No moment has encompassed the entirety of my French experience better than this Saturday afternoon snack.

There’s a certain art to finding a balance between indulging in comforts from home and daring to immerse yourself completely into another culture. I need my American staples, especially as the holidays come around, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t exchange the free wifi at Starbucks for reading a french book outside a café tomorrow.

In today’s blog post, I want to talk about one of the French things that has challenged my American instincts the most these last 3 months… School.

If your anything like me, then schools in the United States are not exactly your favorite places. Ironically, the longer I spend in the French school system, the more I miss our governmentally corrupted American schools (this may be the only time I praise our school system, so value this moment)

School Day length: This is one thing that the US has really gotten right. Back home, I’m done with school before 2, giving me plenty of time to delegate between sports, homework, and, yes, because I’m a procrastinator, a few episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Extra Curriculars: Any american student knows that without a hefty extra curricular resumé, top universities seem completely out of reach. On a normal day, I have at least one sport after school, oftentimes two, all the while trying to participate in clubs, peer tutor, and work/volunteer. *sigh* no wonder I need the extra after school time. The french aren’t too big on the extra curriculars, at least not those offered through the school system. If your looking for sports or clubs, they’ll probably be organized by your town.

Teacher/Student Relationships: I don’t know how I would have survived AP classes without my amazing teachers. Building connections with school staff is encouraged in the US, but in France there’s a level of formality that makes it hard to get to know your teachers. That’s not to say that French teachers are all scary and mean, but it definitely takes student initiative to form a relationship, teachers aren’t going to constantly check in.

Grading System: Everything in France is graded on a 20 point scale, and 10 is truly considered average. A 11.5 will get you a proficient marking, while a 16 will be marked “trés bien!” The French love their dates and specific details, so it’s easy to slip up and loose points if you only know the big picture. Not to mention that your note can easily drop from a 19 to a 15 if your handwriting is two messy, you mess up the “méthodologie” or the specific organization of a dissertation (God forbid you use pencil on a DM in maths!)

Classroom method: The French are no nonsense when in comes to classroom behavior. Teachers will call you out for bad grades, announce your notes in front of the whole class, and gladly tell you to “Taisez-vous!” if the volume gets too loud. Most likely teachers will lecture for the majority of the class pausing momentarily while your write down definitions word for word. Although the language barrier and my pitiful spelling habits make diction a little difficult, there’s a beauty to the crisp organization of my history notebook.

There are things that the french have going for them, and I it wouldn’t be fair to not acknowledge that which the french have figured out that we Americans have not.

Recreation breaks every two classes

Longer lunch times

More class specification: Starting in the second year of highschool, (Première) you can choose between a Literature (L), Economic Sciences (ES), and Science (S) specification which basically means the the majority of your classes will be centered around the theme of your area of specification and will determine which version of the BAC (the big end of highschool test) you’ll take at the end of “Terminale”.

At the end of the day, we are all accustomed to the system we grew up with and it can be hard to accept a different manner of education, especially if you’re a university obsessed Junior like me. But it’s those differences that make an exchange so important, right?Mandy Signature

He Is Not My President

Love Always Wins

“Love always…what does love always do, Bren?”

“Love always wins.”

When my mom first told me she was pregnant I was six. I was so excited to have a younger sibling that I punted my Dolly against the wall. Leading up to the due date I excitedly planned what I would teach my new sibling, how I would dress them, what games we would play together, what life lessons I would pass down. When he was born, I wasn’t even the slightest bit disappointed that it was a boy not a girl. The only time I was disappointed with his gender was when I pass by the baby girl clothes section in Target.

Growing up, we have always butted heads. I’m his least favorite sibling and he has never been on my good list. But he is still my best friend. I’m closest to his age. I can empathize with all of his sadness and jealousy when the older kids go off alone. In the middle of arguments we use sign language to tell each other “I love you” just to make sure we both remember.

That’s why last night, before my mom read to him, I laid with him on the bottom bunk of his bunk bed and cuddled with him. We sat there while I explained to him that despite Trump’s recent election, that we can’t let hate dictate us. He voiced the concerns he has for the safety of his Muslim, Black, and Latino classmates. I had to remind him that despite Donald Trump being the President-elect that Trump can’t spread hate unless we let him. I told him that he has to be an advocate for the rights of others if their voices are being silenced. He has to amplify the voices of others every chance he gets. It’s his duty to be loving, to be a kind and welcoming citizen. I had him promise that he won’t let hate define him.

That’s probably the only time I taught him something good. All of my plans of being a fantastic role model disappeared as soon as he could talk. But I knew that if I had to have him remember one thing, it would be this.

After the disheartening election results I couldn’t decide whether crying or throwing up was better. I did neither. The day after, I watched as people tweeted about a racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. encounter they had. Their attackers felt they had the right to discriminate and be hateful because our president was exactly that. Unfortunately Trump’s presidential campaign embodied hate. And every time a new story of disrespectful and unforgivable words or actions it was dismissed because that was Trump, a disrespectful, outspoken man. Last night I watched videos of people protesting his election. My sister sent me a snapchat of people protesting on her commute home in Boston.

I admire the protestors and the strong individuals who will have to face harassment for the next 4 years. I admire the girl at my school who wouldn’t stand for the pledge of allegiance. I respect all of those who are fighting against him.

Trump is the 45th president, that is fact. But the hate he spews can not define the American people. He is not my president, he does not reflect the identity of America. It is our responsibility to love. And in the end, love always wins. I won’t let my brother forget that. He must grow up loving.

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The Double Standard in Pop Culture

Sports Fans = Boyband Fans

There was a period of my life where one of my bedroom walls was completely covered in cutout One Direction photos. Yes, I was that kid who spent an entire weekend cutting up all my One Direction magazines and hanging my 5 posters on my Honolulu Blue wall. 40 Harry Styles saw my naked ass every night for six months.

My family loves to make fun of me for my juvenile obsession.  Constantly reminding me that my existence is unknown to the *four boys I’ve dedicated hours of my life to. Or mocking the tears shed over Zayn Malik quitting the band in 2015. Oh and let’s not forget that they take every chance to mention that One Direction is on an indefinite “break”.

But as my brother taunts me when I swoon over Harry’s magazine cover (#blessed), I remember that time he chased Patrice Bergeron, 1st line forward for the Boston Bruins, down Commonwealth Ave.. He couldn’t stop smiling as he looked over the paparazzi like pictures we took of Bergeron walking.

It’s easy to scorn teenage girls at a concert for screaming so loud and singing at the tops of their lungs, but for every teenage girl at a concert there is an adult male at a football game screaming just as loud. When was the last time a violent riot broke out over a boyband? How about a violent riot for a sports team? I don’t think there has been a violent riot over a teenage heartthrob; however in 2011 a large scale riot broke out in the streets of Vancouver, BC after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Why is there a double standard? It isn’t fair to shame boybands fans if we aren’t going to ridicule sports fans. Either way, neither should be ridiculed. If something like a concert or sports game can invoke so much positive and passionate emotion in someone it’s completely worthwhile .

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*Rip Zayn

Throwback to that time I flew to Peru just to recreate this photo with my friend……okay so maybe sports fans don’t take their dedication that far.

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I’m just kidding, this photo was an after thought.

Setting New Goals

Something I Gotta Do.

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog posts (which you probably are because you’re probably related to me or Jess) you’ll know that I’m currently studying abroad in France. Well, since arriving here, I’ve gained quite a bit of weight, and I’m really not comfortable with the way my body is looking and feeling right now. For the last year or so, I’ve put on more than 10 pounds, and it’s time for me to stop ignoring it.

Some of the reasons for this are personal, but my biggest spikes weight wise have come from being far from home and immersed in unhealthy food that I haven’t been able to resist. Believe it or not, I really love working out and eating healthy foods, more than I like cupcakes and potato chips, but I’m awful at controlling cravings, saying no when someone offers me food, and I eat/bake when I’m stressed or upset. Obviously, the combination of these things does nothing to help my physique.

So, tomorrow, October 23rd, 2016, is going to be the start of a new period of clean living- healthier eating habits, habitual exercise, water consumption, and relaxation. My two week long school vacation recently began, so I’ll have plenty of time to go for runs, head to the gym, get my work done for Nano and my school back at home, SLEEP, and I’ll get to be in charge of what I eat with full control over the kitchen.

I plan to use these two weeks as a sort of detox so that I can return to school in November with a clean slate. This means vegetables and fruits for snacks, cream-sauce-less protein, lots of water, a smaller intake of simple carbs (baguettes/pasta) and a ban on junk food/fast food. Although I recognize that this will be pretty difficult with my host family’s eating habits, I’m sure I can find ways to eat cleaner versions of their meals or cook my own. Fortunately, I have a gym membership and I’m already an avid Pinterest user, so I can get in my daily exercise and find plenty of healthy recipes online.

I’m ordering a veggie pasta maker online (because zucchini pasta is AMAZING) and I plan to stockpile on supplies this coming week to try my hand at cooking something that doesn’t contain sugar.

Basically, I’m deciding to use this blog as a source of accountability. I’ve never had much luck making myself stick to anything, but there’s something about having something written and posted where you know anyone can see it that makes you feel like you really have to follow through. Even if nobody sees this, at least I know that if I fail and cheat, I’ll have to delete this post or have it forever haunt me as yet another thing I said I’d do but didn’t.

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Autumn Antics

[I am but a Yellow Leaf on a Tree]

On October 13th, only 3 months remained of my semester abroad. Today, I have even less time, and I’m determined to make the most of these last few months and experience as much as I can before I’m shipped back home to Junior Year Stress-ville.
So, a quick recap of the last few weeks since I’ve been pretty absent blogging wise:

Je suis allée aux Bruxelles! walkin-in-bruxelles

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Où je me suis assis sur la chaise de Hagrid à l’Éxpo de Harry Potter et j’ai mangé vol-au-vent (aka French Chicken Pot Pie).

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J’ai voyagé à Canterbury, l’Angleterre

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Où on a erré les rues,

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Et j’ai appris quelques choses…

  1. I’m pretty used to French.

I constantly found myself saying “Pardon” as I bumped into people meandering the streets and accidentally asked my server at a restaurant if I could “avoir un peu plus d’eau, s’il vous plaît”. Not to mention that awkward moment at Yankee Candle when I couldn’t figure out the english equivalent to “C’est pas grâve” when the lady told me that they no longer carry my favorite holiday scent.  (Just in case your wondering… It’s called Home for the Holidays and it is basically a wax version of Christmas)

2. It’s better than okay to strut away and go your own way (I’m so sorry that rhymed)

For some reason, my host family was bound and determined to eat Burger King for lunch. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Burger King but A. it’s fast food, and B. I didn’t come all the way to England to eat something I could have any time in the US. I tried to subtly (or not so subtly) make it clear that I wanted something new and suggest other options for lunch, but my family had their hearts set on Burger King. After a bit of frustrated mumbling in English and a few dramatic sighs, I realized that this was my chance to experience Canterbury, and while my host family could come back anytime, I will probably never return to this town in autumn with a wallet full of pounds to spend. I told my host mom that I would meet her in an hour and I marched off to a little restaurant that can best be described as a fitness blogger’s Pinterest board where I ate this: 

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You are currently looking at chia seed pancakes with caramelized bananas and toasted coconut popcorn, and yes, it was as delicious as it was aesthetically pleasing. I sat alone at a high top table at this tiny little restaurant, “ The Skinny Breakfast”, journaling in my notebook, listening to coffee-house-acoustic music, and sipping water from a mason jar as I waited for my pancakes. I didn’t feel lonely nor did I feel bad about ditching my family at Burger King; I felt amazing.

Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to go off and explore on your own. Don’t get pulled into doing something that you don’t want to do or you’ll be regretting where you didn’t go for the rest of the day. 

3. God, I miss Fall in New England

Fall is by far my favorite season, with its cozy warm sweaters, beanies, colorful leaves, and seasonal beverages such as the ever famous pumpkin spice latte and my personal favorite, hot apple cider. Fall is the season of  Winter Holiday anticipation, Thanksgiving, and cross country, my favorite time of year to run through the woods as the leaves turn. Even though the leaves do change in France, there aren’t many trees which means no walks through the woods and no matter how hard I look, I can’t seem to find apple cider. Not gonna lie, all I wanted to do was ship myself back home to make Hug-Me-Hot Chocolates for me and my dad while we watch the Bruins game in our Jerseys and smell the roast chicken alive with herbs and the sweet scent of cinnamon as my mom pulls the roasted apples and bird out of the oven on a Saturday evening.

Sunset watching from the fare-way of the golf course behind my house, running across the dam at the State Park after school, Walking home from the bus stop in the afternoon crushing colorful leaves with my riding boots… I probably spent hours during class day dreaming about what I would be doing back home, and not gonna lie, I got a little teary eyed.

Because despite everything that I love about France, nothing makes me as warm and fuzzy-feeling than when I think about home. I treasure every chance I have to go to Lille and drink a latte and even started baking all my favorite sweets that remind me of Fall time in France. Banana bread, chai tea, apple cinnamon swirl coffee cake, cheesecake blondies, and candles make my house here in France smell like home. Nevertheless, I’m still heartbroken when I realize that I’m going to miss the entire fall season. No Thanksgiving, No Halloween, No birthday Bruins game.

I’ll get over it… It’s just the October Blues. I’ll focus on school and writing and I’ll dress myself in oversized sweaters and knee socks so my soul doesn’t fall through my toes, and I’ll keep falling in love with France with each Autumn Day.

Mandy Signature

November is Looming

Nanowrimo – An Excuse for Writers to Write

October… the time us crazy writer folk begin to panic because November is looming. We gather our coziest scented candles, pick out a special mug for our caffeinated beverages, stock up on stationary, and start compiling playlists full of classical music. November 1st marks the first day of Nanowrimo and the beginning of a month full of late night word sprints and constant day dreaming about the yet unknown fates of side characters and subplots.

There are two types of Nano writers… the Pantsers and the Planners. Last year, I fell into the former category, but then again I had already written various scenes and had been thinking about my story for six months. When November rolled around, I was pumped and ready to word vomit. This year, I didn’t expect to even try National Novel Writing Month; 1,667 words a day was a struggle last year, and that was back at home in the US when I was injured and had nothing better to do than procrastinate for four hours before sitting down to write.

However, as the Fall season approaches bearing its spiced lattes and holiday anticipation, I’ve been looking for an anchor to cling to to forget that the season will come and go and I won’t be home to see the leaves change or eat Turkey on Thanksgiving. As difficult as it was, nanowrimo was probably the highlight of my sophomore year, and I’ll never forget the feeling of self pride that I felt when my word count hit 50,001. I miss writing, falling in love with the characters in my head, and weaving story lines that even take me by surprise.

So, this year I will once again embark on this psychotic month long journey, but I have a slight problem- I have no project. I have a few ideas for setting and characters, but absolutely no plot. What does this mean? Pantsing is not an option. This means that I must now begin brainstorming, outlining, and organizing…. And mind you, I’m starting late.

If I were an intelligent human being, I would have started the outlining process weeks ago, but alas, I made a spontaneous decision yesterday to settle down for the long haul of Nano and now must come up with a story to tell.

*sigh*

Nevertheless, I’m starting to get excited and cannot wait to go candle shopping and ignoring all other responsibilities while I write. For that reason, I plan to draft the majority of next month’s blog posts now so that I don’t have to go completely dark for 30 days. I’ve also decided that to cut myself some slack, blogging about Nanowrimo will count as part of my daily word count. (Who needs to know 🙂 )

Wish me luck! I’m going to need it.

Mandy Signature

Do.

The Meaning of Life

Do More. That’s the answer, not 42.

Existing isn’t living. Existing is breathing and living is doing. Life is meaningless if you never do something more. That doesn’t mean travel to every country or find a cure for an incurable disease. It means don’t do less. Always work towards something, and don’t just work, work hard. Fit 30 hours into a 24 hour day. We can always do more.

People will tell you to wait. But what is the point of waiting? Your limited time will pass while you just sit by and wait. Life isn’t a given, we have no clue when or how we will die. It’s completely unavoidable. Life won’t wait with us.

Make it Count.

Make life worth it. It coincides with doing more. Make everything you do count. There is nothing more wasteful than living a life that has no purpose. Give it purpose. Push your limits and think beyond what you’ve been told to do. Don’t play it safe. By playing it safe, you do nothing and don’t live. Make the most of your time here.

Do what makes you happy. Following the beaten path is meaningless. If you die today wouldn’t you want to make sure everything you’ve done thus far was purposeful. That wasted hour spent worrying about how you’ll afford college could’ve been spent do something you love or meeting new people. Never waste what you have.

There is no meaning unless you create one.

Do more and make it count.

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A Windowsill Isn’t Quite A Tree

France Diary, Month One

Have you ever been woken up by someone and they asked you a question but you were still half asleep and couldn’t quite tell if it was a dream or reality? Welcome to my new permanent state of being.

After a month in France, I consider myself qualified to discuss what I consider to be “French Norms”, so I thought I would start this blog post by sharing a few of the strange little things I’ve noticed in France before I go and shower you with all my emotions and such.

1. French Hallways = Streets of Upper East Side New York

I honestly have so much fun getting dressed for school in the morning. In the US, there’s a sort of mutual understanding that you’ll dress nice one or two days during the week, but you won’t ever try too hard. Wearing a blazer, wedge boots, and nice jewelry would raise some eyebrows at my school back home, but here in France it’s 100% socially acceptable to look nice everyday simply because you want to.

2. Four way stops are for losers; roundabouts are the new Stan Smiths of traffic regulation

3. The fries at KFC are not potato wedges (I’ll wait a moment while that blows your mind)

4. School Sports aren’t a thing.

Exercising after school will probably be a logistical nightmare, but its worth looking up a gym or club to join online. I found a gym that offers a ton of classes and it’s really great!

5. Showers are not waterfalls

By this I mean that you have to manually maneuver the shower head to wash your hand and put it down while you put in shampoo or shave- Ugh, Life’s hard when you’re a lazy American that doesn’t enjoy the extra effort it takes to lift a shower head.

6. Nutella is the ultimate condiment

Baguettes, granola bars, rice cakes, waffles… if you need to jazz up a snack, Nutella is there in abundance

7. School is LONG

self explanatory

8. Tote Bags = Frenchie / Backpacks = Foreigner! Foreigner! RED ALERT!

9. Washing your hands isn’t so important here

You’ll be surprised how many toilette rooms don’t have a sink or don’t have soap. (Take advantage of Bath and Body Works and buy some hand sanitizer before coming to Europe, my friends.)

10. Yes, walking around a city or school yard means walking through clouds of cigarette smoke.

So, the question that only my friends and family really care about- How am I doing?

Well, I do really like France, and I find that it is both incredibly similar and extremely different from what I imagined. I’m beginning to fall into the rhythm of French life and I feel more and more comfortable every day.

I still may be terrible at navigating the bus system, but I can find my way across my school’s campus and have successfully ordered from a French Starbucks. They only messed up the names a little bit… 

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(btw… These are the cups of Lucie and Amanda)

I think that the one thing I miss the most about my home back in the States is the woods. This may sound strange to some people, but I spend a lot of time outdoors wandering through the woods or sitting on the golf course behind my house listening to music, and there just isn’t anywhere here for me to do that. I’ve recently discovered that sitting in my windowsill gives a similar effect, but it’s still not the same as being surrounded by trees and birds with nothing man-made visible in any direction.

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Here, there are a lot of fields and not so much forest.

Because of this, I’ve been forced to find beauty and serenity in other things here. Two weeks ago, my host family took me to Bruges, Belgium, a town known as the Venice of the North, and I finally felt the flutter in my chest that I get when I’m sitting outdoors with my headphones and the wind whips by.

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It was a cloudy, windy day, my favorite type of weather, and as I stood in front of the river looking at the willow trees drooping over the water, and looked at the old, beautiful buildings that lined the cobblestone streets, I realized that Europe’s charm is in its cities.

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History tells its story along the streets of cities like Bruges, just as the muffled whispers and chirps in New England Forests tell their own tales. I ate a Belgian Waffle instead of a granola bar, and listening to French conversations instead of Woodkid’s Run Boy Run, but the same shivers ran down my spine.

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I’ll find ways to enjoy the scenery, even if it looks a little different from home.

Mandy Signature

WARNING: There’s No Ice in the Water

France Diary; Week One 

Orientation, Boston MA –> Normandie, France

Before I left for France, I had been warned about this peculiar little sensation called “Culture Shock” that is seemingly unavoidable when traveling to another country. I was thinking that this “Culture Shock” was going to include things like weird meal times, school day differences and odd bathroom situations, but in truth, the biggest shock I felt my first few days in France was the lack of ice cold water.

In the US, we complain about too much ice in our beverages, and while it is true even I get frustrated when my iced coffee is really a cup of ice with a bit of coffee on the side, I never realized how accustomed I was to ice cold beverages until I got to France. That’s not to say that no restaurants will give you cold drinks, but the majority of water you’ll find at schools or public places is room temperature.

There are infinite differences between France and the United States, some I have already realized and some I have yet to notice, but for some reason, the ice water stuck with me, surprising since I didn’t even notice at first. It was one my fellow American exchange students who pointed out the difference. Afterwards, I just couldn’t get over it. That being said, there are so many things here that are so amazing and different and I couldn’t even begin to describe them all in a single blog post that isn’t 100 pages long. I will note however that the best thing about this trip so far has been the one thing that remains the same no matter where I travel: friendship.

Honfleur Pier

I don’t have the words to describe the amount of amazing people I met during the CIEE and STS program orientations, and it broke my heart to say goodbye to all my new friends as we headed off to our host families. You would think that a week is not a long enough time to form lasting bonds with anyone, but I’m here to tell you that there’s something about a mutual feeling of both absolute terror and extreme excitement that can really bring people together.

I experienced my first steps in Europe alongside these people, and there’s something about traveling with someone that gives you the perfect opportunity to open up and reminisce about home, which just so happens to be a great way to get to know someone.

All throughout this first week in France I’ve been waiting for it to sink in that I’m in France, and to be honest, it hasn’t yet. As I’m getting off the plane I think “This is it… I’m here!” And I wait for a whoosh of nervous jitters, but all I feel is a migraine because my poor brain is caffeine deprived. The bus rounds the corner into the heart of Paris, I see the Eiffel Tower, I walk up the staircases to Sacre Coeur… “Look around, Amanda, You’ve finally made it!” Again, I wait for the whoosh and end up squinting into the sun on a 97 degree day and really wanting a bottle of water.
I didn’t get it… Why wasn’t I feeling anything? I was in Paris! This was a city I had dreamed about for years, yet it didn’t feel magical, and I was disappointed. I thought maybe France wasn’t going to be that amazing city of my dreams, but then I arrived in Honfleur. 

Honfleur

This is Honfleur, a seaside town littered with cafés, soap shops and boulangeries with a slight salty scent that wafts up from the water. The minute our bus began to wind through the streets of this town I felt it – the whoosh of France.

Although Honfleur is definitely a tourist destination, the ambiance is a lot more like Cape Cod than a city like New York or Paris. I think that was my problem with Paris, everywhere I turned there was a sign in English or somebody trying to sell you cheap Eiffel Tower Keychains. That kind of stuff really can impede on your ability to immerse yourself in a city; that was my issue in Paris… why I didn’t believe I was even there.

It wasn’t until a group of friends and I decided to take a walk down a street in a slightly more remote part of the city of Honfleur that I really began to feel that pitter patter of thrill and truly realized I was in another country – a beautiful country. While walking down a street in some neighborhood, we arrived at a cemetery.

Cemetery, Honfleur

I don’t know if you know much about American cemeteries, but they certainly don’t look like this. Each grave was customized and constructed from marble or stone littered with flowers, photographs, messages and statues, and I can’t really explain why, but to me if seemed beautiful.

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I know what you’re thinking… “That girl’s traveled all around France and the thing she likes the most is a cemetery?” Well, yeah. Shockingly, I wasn’t the only one who thought this place was really cool; we spent quite a while meandering through the pathways and wondering who those people could possibly be, what their stories were, and marveling at the beauty that the French people had made from grief and sorrow.

I guess the point of this is to show you that a country is more than it’s greatest accomplishments. The Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, are so familiar to us that sometimes we see them in person and it can feel like just another photograph. It’s when you stumble across something unique and authentic that you begin to feel a countries true culture,  and that’s exactly what I plan to do with the rest of my time here in France.

We cannot live with our agenda’s glued to our hands and use a guide book to lead us towards nothing but a city’s best and brightest. I once heard that the best way to learn about a city is to get lost and find your way home. Well, I can inform you that I’ve already been lost once so far, and I loved what I found.

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