One More Chapter
A twenty two year-old's view on life, death,
and Taylor Swift conspiracy theories
and Taylor Swift conspiracy theories
As I type this blog post I am sitting on my plane back to Boston, Massachusetts. When I touch down in the United States it will be the first time that I see my country in almost four months. I have never been that long away from home – let alone out of the country. Actually, this was the first time that I’ve ever been out of the country (besides a cruise to the Virgin Isles, which I don’t really count). This trip was full of a lot of firsts in fact. First time out of the country, first time taking a taxi, first time arranging flights and travelling on my own (besides a small jump to LA, but I had help with everything except the actual boarding of the plane), first time living in a city, first time being in a place that didn’t speak my language, etc. You get the point.
Needless to say, all these experiences led to me learning a lot and gaining new skills. And here is just a taste of what this experience has given me.
The Ability To Read Maps:
My small map book of each arrondissement was my everything while living in Paris. I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t use that thing. After a few trips to the same areas you start to memorize the streets, but Paris is such an enormous place that it would be simply impossible to learn all the streets. Learning to read a map was a MUST when trying to go anywhere new. One time I got a bit lost and I hadn’t mastered the map yet, so I told myself to just keep taking right turns until I ended up back where I started. DO NOT DO THIS. It doesn’t work like that in European cities. It’s not New York. Most of the time the area you’re in looks like this:
So it’s safe to say that reading a map is a must. It reminded me of the days when we had to use the enormous atlas that we kept under the driver’s seat of my Dad’s car when we went on vacation. There was a huge map of each state and it how we found our way driving to New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, etc. Those were the days before GPS systems were a common staple in cars.
A Master’s Degree in Airport Procedures:
Counting the flight that I’m on now, I’ll have taken something like 17 flights since August. Most of which took place during my stay in Europe. When taking a plane is cheaper that most train tickets and more practical that the 16+ hour bus rides, you tend to choose it as your main means of transportation.
Because of this, I have had to go through airport security more times than I care to think about. By now it’s become simply second nature to me. And, naturally, the people in front of me who forget to put their liquids in a bag or to take out their laptops or don’t take their shoes off in advance tend to drive me crazy. SORRY.
But even though it seems like I’ve been in the air more than I’ve been on the ground, the idea of flying still scares me beyond all comprehension. I understand that there is some kind of science behind all of it, but to me it just doesn’t make sense. Nothing that heave should be able to fly. Especially when it’s wings don’t even flap like a bird! I don’t have anxiety when flying, but that’s because I’ve become a professional in pushing all question as to how this is happening and all the thoughts about how we could plummet to our death at any moment far, far away from my mind.
A New Coffee Addiction: COSTA
Anyone that has spent any time in the UK will know what I’m talking about. Costa Coffee is like a much better version of Starbucks. In the UK a Costa can be seen on every corner (it originated somewhere there) and, much to my delight, there are four or five locations throughout Paris as well. It was my haven during this past semester. I could order a coffee and maybe a snack then sit and work for three hours or even more on papers, projects, stories, etc. and not be rushed to leave. If you’ve never been there, it set up much like a Starbucks with hip, comfortable chairs and table to sit and work at while you drink your coffee, except they have better food, better coffee and it’s all much cheaper (Starbucks in Paris is much more expensive than in the States, and even then it’s not cheap!) Costa, you’re the best, but Dunk’s: I’m coming for you.
Must this be said? Travelling is like getting tattoos; once you get started you just can’t get enough. It’s also like Cheeze-Its in this way.
At first, I was terrified. I landed in Paris and went through hell to get to my host mother’s house, was exhausted and overwhelmed and miss my friends and family so much. I thought to myself for the first few days that it was a mistake and that all I wanted was to go home and never travel again. But soon, these feelings start to fade and you grow more accustomed to being in a place that it so vastly different from home.
Then I started travelling. We went to La Loire, Champagne, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Brighton, London, Dublin, St Andrews, Cannes, The Highlands and more and the more I did it the more I fell completely and utterly in love. All I wanted was more. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to hike the amazing mountains that there were to hike. I wanted to meet people of different walks of life. It’s such an amazing feeling and I really encourage everyone to spend at least part of their life doing some travelling. It may be frightening at first, but trust me, you’ll love it.
A New Perspective on Things:
Getting to see and experience so many different ways of life really does give you a new perspective on things, as cliché as it sounds, and primarily on the United States and my home university, Umass Amherst. I’ve decided to make a separate post on this matter since I think that it deserves a more in depth explanation.
A New Appreciation for my Friends and Family:
I never knew I could miss anyone so much. It would actually hurt at times. Enough said.
Approximately 15 pounds:
I kid to my friends about this. But I really did gain a substantial amount of extra pounds while away. Primarily this was due to not only eating lots and lots of not-so-healthy foods (primarily bread-based food) but also because I basically didn’t exercise my entire time abroad besides lots of walking and the occasional run. Going from at least 1.5 – 3 hours of exercise most days of the week to this was probably my downfall.
An Empty Wallet:
Yepp. Having no income for the first time in five years while also spending more money than I ever have due to travel expenses, hostels, food and other such things, really does some damage. Sorry Mom and Dad.
An Experience to Last a Lifetime:
While this is actually the tag-line for Camp Harrington I feel like it was a perfect time to borrow it because it really will stick with me for a lifetime and I will be forever grateful for it.
Thank you for reading,
Song of the Day
"Thank God For Home Towns" by Carrie Underwood
I have been neglecting this blog a bit and while I do feel a tad guilty, I feel like it's justifiable because I'm busy doing some pretty amazing things. For instance, right now I am in Cannes, France where I am interning at the Cannes Film Festival. This experience itself warrants multiple blog posts, but I figured while I'm sitting at the desk at work, with nothing to do (the festival is coming to a close so most clients/buyers are heading home) I could start to play a little catch-up.
So, that brings me to the topic of this entry: AMSTERDAM
I went to Amsterdam back at the end of March with one of the other students in my program, Eric. It was a short weekend-long trip, but definitely plenty long enough to get to know and experience the city.
If I were to describe the city in four words it would be: TULIPS, CHEESE, SEX and MARIJUANA.
During the day in Amsterdam you may not notice the way in which it differs from most other cities you might visit in Europe. The only hints towards it's legendary liberalness might be the many Hemp-flavored souvenirs in the small gifts shops on every corner or the occasional scent of marijuana smoke if you walk by a "coffee shop" as the door is being opened. Other than that, walking around in the day you will see bikers, canal boats, lots of flowers being sold at large markets and, of course, tons and tons of amazing cheese shops. If you go for a stroll through the red light district during the day, yes, you will see prostitutes and sex shops, but they seem so mild compared to what you might see at night.
The entirety of our time in Amsterdam was spent dodging the rain that was constantly coming and going. Yes, it was annoying, not there is not positive side it to. It sucked. It's hard to really get a feel for how cool of a city it is when you're cold and wet. Many a time we thought about going to the Anne Frank House but then changed our mind because the line was just so long. After a few days we said, "screw it, if we don't do it now when will we get another chance?"
So we got in line and prepared to face the elements for about an hour. That one hour in line easily faded into an hour and a half and then two hours. By the time we had inched our way into the tiniest museum I've ever been to, I couldn't feel my fingers and I was shaking from the cold. My hair was wet (the wind kept blowing off my hood) and I was close to insane. But, nevertheless, we went in. It was quite a moving experience, and I'm glad I did it, but I'm not sure that it's worth waiting in like for two hours and almost dying of hypothermia - so keep that in mind people!
We checked out some other museums, like the Van Gough Museum, which, while not the cheapest thing out there, is an awesome place to go. It's quite a trip to see so many priceless paintings that we've seen replicated thousands of times on posters, t-shirts and on television. It's a great place to go, but one thing to remember, Amsterdam doesn't cater to students the way that some other European cities, like Paris, do. We had to pay for everything that we did. Which is a bummer since we are poor college students.
We spent one of the nights walking around in the Red Light District and I must say it's quite a trip. First of all, do not go here on a cute little family vacation. You will be scarred for life and will never be able to look at your parents the same way. Plus, you wouldn't be able to really appreciate how cool it is. I mean, you walk through the streets and there are doors lit up with girls on display acting way to casual. They are drinking coffee, texting people, and just chatting with each other through the doors. ummm...what?! Yes. There are sex shops, sex shows and sex for sale everywhere. Lights are glowing, people are bustling through the tiny streets and man do you smell the weed. But I think the strangest part of it all is that as you walk in and out of the small streets that are lined with the girls, you walk by every sort of person. I saw elderly woman, small children and everything in between as they too wanted to get a peek at just what the buzz is all about.
In the end, though, my favorite part was the hostel that we stayed in: LUCKY LAKE HOSTEL
The place was by far the coolest place that I've ever been. I kept saying every time we'd wake up in that beautiful place that I wished I could simply leave everything behind and move there forever. I'd love to spend a few months living and working at that hostel. Perhaps in the future that dream will become a reality. Who knows.
Basically, instead of a building with a bunch of rooms, the hostel is completely outdoors. It's like a campground in a way. Instead of a "room" you stay inside small campers (unless you want the slightly less expensive bed in a small cabin, which is what we did, and it was really really nice still). These campers are painted all different bright colors and one was even converted into a small theater! Then, in the mornings you get up and eat the breakfast that they provide in the breakfast bus. It's literally a school bus that has been converted into a kitchen and dining area, with a few picnic tables outside under an overhang that you can sit at as well. The place was a dream and I was, to say the least, obsessed. I recommend that everyone go there. Just do it. And the would shuttle us back and forth to the Metro every day for free.
Song of the Day
"Scotland" by The Lumineers
I am writing this blog post as I sit on a train that is taking me from Paris to Nice where I will be meeting with my program directors to take me to Cannes for the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. This journey marks the end of my time in Paris. I will not be returning to my homestay before returning to Boston, and there is a great possibility that I may never return in my lifetime. This fact is terrifying. How is it that I am done with my semester abroad already?
After my two week program in Cannes, I will be boarding a train once again to take me back to Paris where I will enjoy one last day in what has been the city of my dreams for the past five or ten years and then board my plane back to Boston to begin the next adventure: New York City.
I have to say that living in Paris has been one of the hardest and scariest things I have ever done. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have never felt so at peace with myself as I have living in and exploring Europe. Never have I been immersed in such rich culture and history. Most places that I stayed or studied in were older than my country. It’s hard to wrap your head around most of the time, but undeniably amazing.
I’m sorry that I didn’t do many blog posts throughout my stay, but I often found it difficult to summarize my adventures into a short post. As it was, I had a hard time skyping with my parents because I would be asked “so, how’s it going over there?” and I would simply not know what to say. Yes, it was going fine, but there was so many things that I was seeing, feeling and experiencing that I just couldn’t express to someone who wasn’t also experiencing it with me.
In these next few blog posts I am going to try and put some of these feelings into words as best as I can. I apologize in advance for the length of this particular blog, but I hope you find in interesting/helpful if you’re planning to study abroad as well.
This post is going to focus on the hardest part of studying abroad that I’ve encountered this semester that I’m not sure everyone has to deal with, but was certainly an issue with me:
And, don’t feel bad for me. As my mother often says, it’s all a learning experience. And, don’t worry, it sounds worse than it really was.
But, yes, loneliness was one of the biggest obstacles for me to overcome. You see, there is a short window of time when you begin studying abroad when you establish which group of friends you will have. I pride myself in my ability to make friends fairly easily. While I can (and often prefer to) be shy and introverted, I understand that there are situations that call for me to be outgoing and open to meeting new people. For my program, this was during the first week of orientation.
During this time, I found a good group of maybe five or six people that I really seemed to vibe with and whom I went out to dinner with a few times. Most of us had Wednesdays off so we would go on a different touristy adventure on these days, always mentioning in the group chat that anyone was open to join us. These trips were consistent and fun and were a great way for us to get to know the city. Often I would do things on Thursday and Friday afternoons as well with those who ended classes early like I did. It seemed like all was going great. But then our gatherings became smaller and smaller. People were dropping off like flies.
One of the people in our group would always have something else to do, which was a mystery to the rest of us. Then another lost their internet at their homestay and started spending all of his free time at the study abroad office to use their internet while they were open. Another one just stopped answering in the group chat altogether and we didn’t see her for the rest of our time in the country. To this day I have only seen her once and it was when I was walking to the grocery store to grab something for dinner and I saw her sitting on the ground outside of a boulangerie, smoking a cigarette with another girl from our program who hadn’t been in class in weeks.
After maybe two months, our weekly outings slowly dwindled into nothingness. I found myself posting in the group chat, hoping to get people to go out or do something, but hardly ever got a response. And, just like that, I was alone.
My mother came to visit the first week this started happening and, so I didn’t really notice it too much. I was glad to have her there with me, but it was a week of unfortunate weather and I kept feel terrible that she wasn’t getting to see Paris for what is really was; a truly beautiful city. Sadly, when it’s rainy, windy and cold you tend to not was to spend a lot of time outside and, therefore, we didn’t get to stroll through the beautiful gardens and lay out in the sun at the top of the Parc de Belleville or anything like that. The day she left it was beautiful out, and every day since then. Seeing the gorgeous weather made me oddly sad because I was wishing the whole time that my mother had been there to see it.
The Wednesday after she had left I put out a message in the group chat with my fellow study-abroaders. No one replied. It was like my week away had been all they needed to finally and fully fall apart. Our core group was no longer. I would continue to see posts from other friend groups in my program and people who were going on weekend trips together and that week I felt terrible. It was towards middle of April (a little over halfway through my time in France) and I was wishing with everything inside me that I could just go home. I missed my friends and family and I felt more alone than I ever had. It was awful. I called my mom and cried on the phone to her about how I felt and how I also kept breaking everything in my host family’s house (to be expanded upon in another blog). Being able to call and skype home is essential when you are living 3,000 miles away.
It seemed that I had picked the wrong friend group. And it was too late to change that. I was stuck on my own for most of the time remaining in France. I relished in going to class at times because it meant interacting with people. While I hadn’t become a part of the other friend groups in the program, I was certainly very friendly with the others and we all knew each other by name, often eating lunch together or going and getting ice cream between classes together. I always made a point to eat at my University so that I would get to talk to the others. Sometimes it was even the people in my original friend group. During lunch we might talk about doing another Wednesday out, but the plans would always dissolve in the end.
I made good friends with one girl, Natalie, who I sat next to in French class. She also was a sophomore at Umass and we bonded over this strange coincidence. She was in my program, but we hadn’t gotten to know each other in the first week and therefore we didn’t go out together or go on trip together. Weird how that works, right? We were always grateful to have each other in class and when I left the other day we hugged and promised to meet up if and when I visited the Umass campus next semester (I’m studying off campus in New York next semester). I often wished that I’d ended up with her friend group, but no need to spend time regretting the past.
I, luckily, had a few friends who were also studying Europe this semester. I took a trip to England to visit a friend, Michaela, who I will be sharing an apartment with when I return to Umass next Spring. We spent a day in London and the rest of the time in a small, coastal town called Brighton and stayed (for free!) at her dorm in the University of Sussex.
I also spent a weekend at St. Andrews University in Scotland with a friend whom I met during my trip to Los Angeles this past summer, Kittsie. She is also the person I will be rooming with at Cannes for the next two weeks. We had a great weekend and I was so glad to be with friends again and to meet some great people.
One trip to Edinburgh, much earlier in the trip, I even met up with one of my best friends in the entire world, with whom I’ve been friends for twenty years. It was one of my favorite memories of this entire experience. And, just a few weeks ago, my aunt, uncle and four cousins spend a few days in Paris and I got to spend a weekend with them.
The other trips that I went on (Dublin, some of my Edinburgh trip, and a tour of the Scottish Highlands) were solo trips (though, I did go to Amsterdam with one of my friends from the program). It was during these trips that I realized I really do enjoy travelling alone. I get to do exactly what I want and I don’t need to worry about making small talk the whole time or making sure that my travel companion and I got the same tickets or find hostels that have more than one bed open etc. It’s much easier to plan and I have come to really like it. I realized one day in Dublin that on these trips I don’t say anything. The only time that I speak the entire trip is when talking to a server at a restaurant or coffee shop. Other than that, there is no need to talk. For someone who could talk non-stop for hours at a time, it was surprisingly peaceful and almost freeing in a way.
After a while, the loneliness factor became obsolete. I got used to being alone, and started to use it to my adventure. I got lost in thoughts, created stories in my head, truly reveled in the experiences that I was having. It was great. I didn’t feel like calling home and crying anymore, which is always a good thing.
I think that what made it so hard at first was the expectation I had of making these amazing and lifelong friends while studying abroad like everyone had always said that I would. But, while I did make some great friends that I enjoy spending time with and loved getting to know, the truth is, they won’t be lifelong friends. You know when it will be within a few days of meeting someone. When I went to L.A. I made life-long friends, one of which I am heading to see right now. But, while I’m sure that most people do make these friends during their time abroad, for some reason it just wasn’t in the cards for me and I’ve come to accept this.
During that terrible week after my mother left, I saw everyone posting pictures with captions about how much they loved the city and loved studying abroad, and all I could think was why am I not feeling like that? I didn’t understand why my experience seemed to be so different from everyone else’s. I wanted what they had. I wanted to go out drinking with friends, to go on trips with other people. But, I needed to accept that we all have different experiences. And, once I did, things seemed to change. I started enjoying my days again and Paris once more was the city of my dreams.
But, even though I want, with all my heart, to stay here in Europe and continue exploring, there are factors that will see me home: I am flat broke…and I can’t wait to see my friends back home once again. I miss them so much is hurts.
About This Blog:
I started this blog as a way to challenge myself to write more over the 2014 year, but it has blossomed into so much more than that. I use it to let people in on what's happening in my life, talk about things I find important and to spread the news about amazing people, places and art.