Touched by a French God

 (photo by: monsieurromeo.com)

It’s been a crazy week for me and I’m traveling today so I thought I would post something fun and French. On Tuesday evening, I had the divine pleasure to be touched by a French god known as Monsieur Romeo. If you don’t know who he is, please Google immediately- just not at work or school ! In a nutshell, Monsieur Romeo is a French male burlesque dancer who is one of the most gorgeous men I have ever seen. At the House of Blues in Dallas, TX, Dita Von Teese came to town with her Strip, Strip Hooray  show and this Gaulic deity was part of her show. I arrived real early so I got a spot right at the stage. He comes sauntering over to me (after I yelled some things in French- see you never know when those French skills come in handy) and lightly caresses my chin for .02 seconds but it was the best .02 seconds for me.  All I know is that I didn’t see any French men like that when I was in Paris but hopefully you will. And in case you don’t see a dreamy Frenchman in class, try looking at the local Parisian burlesque scene- you never know…

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  Thinking of living with a host family or becoming an au pair? Staying with a native can be rewarding but sometimes difficult. See how your new ‘family’ will not be your BFF due to generation gap, cultural differences and language barrier but how to make the most of this living arrangement with new book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored - out April 11, 2014 on Amazon Kindle

Thank you in different languages

How good is your French*?

(featured photo by: carolsteele.net)

*Or Spanish, Italian, etc.

Before going abroad to France for the first time in August 2012, I had taken eight years worth of French courses from middle school through college and I believed that even though I wasn’t super comfortable speaking, that I would pick up the language easily within a few weeks. News flash… it’s not quite that simple. You would think that eight years equates to relative fluency, but that’s only a dream without the practical application to go along with it.

My most intense French classes were in my high school years, but then I moved on to easy-pace French classes during alternating semesters in college. While I felt I could read fairly well, every other skill was quickly dissipating- which meant that my move abroad was a huge slap in the face.

Ok, yes, I was able to hold conversations on the first day abroad, but “conversation” was a fairly loose term at that point. I could get across basic needs in present tense and passé composé, but everything else was lost to me in my on-the-spot anxiety. I’m one of those people that freezes up in a group of more than 5 people and forgets absolutely everything planned, so my language skills worked the same way.


(photo by Chelsea of her Swiss town just outside of Geneva)

Luckily for my French skills, I was forced to improve immediately. I was taking care of two young children who didn’t speak a word of English, and my initial tasks were taught to me by the maid/Wednesday nanny who also only spoke French. While I hesitated constantly, my listening comprehension increased dramatically and eventually my speaking caught up. Of course, it helped that I had four hours of French class each week that brought back everything I had learned in my previous classes.


Over the course of the year, I was able to communicate pretty effectively and my writing skills were starting to return, too. But my bestie and I continually professed our “I don’t speak French” inside joke every time we misunderstood something with our bosses: “She told me to do this, but I’m actually not sure because I don’t speak French.” It was at times like these that I heartily agreed with Benny the Irish Polyglot’s assertions that living in another country isn’t the key to learning their language- hard work is.


The main reason for my vast improvement in French has been my current participation in a French program here in Geneva. I have a normal load of college level courses in French, which forces me to not only listen to French constantly, but to reproduce it for the unending homework. Honestly, these classes have been some of the most intellectually challenging courses I’ve had, not only because the content can be challenging with several classes in linguistics and teaching theory, but also because it’s all… in French! ;) I even have to speak French with almost every student because while most people know a few words or have a basic understanding of English, not many in my program (students and teachers) actually speak it.


(photo by Chelsea of her Swiss town just outside of Geneva)

What it comes down to is the fact that you’re probably going to be in for a bit of a shock when you go abroad, no matter what your level of skill is. However, it’s really as easy as practicing and spending lots of time on the language. And one truly invaluable skill I’ve learned is how vital it is to get out there and speak with natives. Nothing builds language skills like speaking the language, constantly and with focus. You shouldn’t be scared, but you also need to be realistic. Think about your own studying needs and make sure to push yourself. Il va venir!

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Prepare yourself for the study abroad experience by seeing it first hand through another student’s eyes with new study abroad book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored – out April 11, 2014 on Amazon Kindle


Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.


Debunking the Host family as your 2nd family myth

(Featured photo by: pinkcollarclub.wordpress.com)

There are many important choices to make when deciding to study abroad: the location, type of program, length of program, and where to stay to name a few. When it comes to finding a place to live for your study abroad program, many students choose the host family option. Staying with a host family, a native person (s), is a great way to discover the new culture and/or language hands-on. However, just like the study abroad experience, going with unrealistic expectations will set you up for disappointment.

In the past few months, I have heard many students voice the unrealistic expectation that their host family is going to be their new BFFs whom they will love and whom will love them. This fantasy is very disturbing to me as I have never met or read another student’s host family story where they had June Cleaver as their host mom, baking them fresh cookies and the sorts, who is always happy or even shows any amount of affection toward the student.

june-cleaver(photo by: thepaleomomma.com)

Host families are people too. They are not going to be picture perfect and it’s important to understand that many people who participate in host family exchanges work full time; being a host family is a second job for supplemental income. This does not mean to say that they do not care about your well being- they do. It just means that they are not going to treat you as a son / daughter. It is important to understand that your host family is not going to let you in on family workings and gossip or invite you on family vacations. The relationship between the host family and you will probably err on the side of formal. If you are studying in France, I would use “vous” with your host family unless you are told to use “tu”. Your host family is not going to be your friend but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be friendly towards each other. It is important to understand that your host family’s job is to provide comfortable and safe housing for you as well as a few meals per week. That’s it. If you develop a personable rapport with your host family where you confide in them and do things together that’s great! But that would be a rare case.

Staying with a host family is a great and safe housing option. But just like any new living arrangement with other people, there are house rules and expectations to respect and sometimes you’ll butt heads. This is completely normal especially when you factor in cultural differences, generation gap and language barrier. Here are some quick tips about staying with a host family to help you create realistic expectations of this living arrangement.

r710kz01(photo by: flowtv.org)

• (If going to non-English speaking country) Your foreign language skills will improve as you will interact with people of the native language

• Your understanding of the host culture will deepen as you interact with and observe your host family

• You will get to eat the native cuisine

• If you have questions about the host city (how to get to something, things to see, what to do…) you can ask your host family

• Typically, you will not be allowed to use any appliances (for example- land line phones or washer machines) or have certain times/days when you are told you can use certain ones (for example- the stove). Make sure to find out this information your first day in the host family house

• Remember that even if the host family has had numerous students before, they have never had you before. It is important to establish and talk about expectations and habits (especially ones for going out) asap!

• If you do / say /wear anything that could be deemed offensive by the host culture, leave it at home! If you don’t think you have anything that needs to be changed but find that upon your arrival your host family finds something offensive about you, change it for your time abroad. Remember, even though you are paying the host family it is still their home and you need to respect them.

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For more about the experience of studying abroad in Paris, check out The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored out

April 11, 2014 on Amazon Kindle


Studying abroad for wrong reasons – A response

Two weeks ago, I read Andrea’s post on 3 signs you’re studying abroad for the wrong reasons. This article immediately caught my eye, especially the content. As a former study abroad student and current study abroad counselor, I wanted to add to this conversation. I really do think Andrea is on the right path with the Twenty in Paris blog, but this article seemed to dissuade more than help students interested in studying abroad. I reached out to Andrea regarding a chance to voice my response to her article. Here it is!

Studying abroad can be the best experience of your life.  With proper planning and consideration, you can study or intern abroad and still graduate on time, not break the bank, and have fun!

1. I studied abroad in New Zealand during my junior year and took 3 electives and 1 course for my minor, and I have to say that was the best thing I could’ve done.  I was able to explore topics that I just didn’t have at my school and courses that allowed me to learn more about the local culture that I was living in for 4.5 months.  With proper planning, students can afford to take classes overseas that don’t pertain to their major as long as they begin the process early and figure out which classes they can take overseas and which ones they can’t.  I have friends that studied abroad 2, 3, and even 4 times abroad and STILL managed to graduate on time.


(photo by: ccsf.edu)

2. Many students choose to go overseas because they want to travel; studying abroad is often the first step to greater cultural understanding and breaking down their own ethnocentric feelings.  As long as students are aware of the financial costs, they should not be discouraged from traveling while studying overseas.  They are always learning about different cultures and different ways of life whether they’re travel to a different country or just a different city within their host location.

There are definitely ways to cut costs – make friends with local classmates and stay at their houses, live in hostels, rent a car or take public transportation, sign up for discounts with airlines or hotels/hostels and look for deals.  I met a wonderful Kiwi girl when I studied abroad and she took me and a group of friends with her to her beach house.  I also had the chance to stay with a Kiwi family for Mother’s Day, an awesome cultural experience in itself even though I was an hour outside of Auckland where I was living.  My friends and I probably only spent about 4 or 5 weekends in Auckland throughout the entire 4.5 months and I still only spent about $1,000 a month (on food and travel) because we created a budget and actually stuck to it.  In addition, the majority of a student’s time may not be spent in the classroom – depends on where you study and the luck of the draw with classes.  I had friends who only had classes on Thursdays, and some friends that had 3 or 4 day weekends because of their class schedule.


(photo by: postgradproblems.com)

3. Students should be making the most of their 20s!!  This is the time to think about finances but not be tied down by them.  They have the rest of their lives to worry about saving for retirement, and a good job, etc.  And since such a small number of U.S. college students actually manage to study or intern abroad during their college years (only about 9% according to IIE’s Open Doors 2013 Report), traveling overseas can actually help them get a job after they graduate and they are getting more life skills by seeing the world at such a relatively young age – I’ve met employers who have stated they will only hire grads if they’ve spent time abroad (and not just in the study abroad field, but other job areas as well).  There are countries around the world that promote travel and their citizens are more well-rounded and culturally aware because of it.


(photo by: elitedaily.com)

Regarding saving up for a month-long vacation or summer abroad – realistically, when are students going to have a job where their boss lets them take off for a month, and summers abroad can be more expensive in the long run.  With semester abroad, students can use financial aid and some schools pay for flights over to the country (as mine did and some providers do) so students really only need to worry about meals and personal expenses while studying abroad, and if you had travel on breaks, they still won’t necessarily be spending as much out of pocket for a semester with some extracurricular travel than they would for a summer or vacation where they are paying for everything out of pocket.

And for foreign language skills, students are going to get more skills by living abroad during a semester than they will by traveling for a month – as long as they are traveling to a place where English isn’t as prevalent.  Any place they go to for vacation is most likely going to have English as a popular if not preferred language option.

In conclusion, studying abroad is possible for student regardless of finances and major – you just need to plan ahead and be motivated enough!

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Do you dream of studying abroad? Paris is a beautiful, dreamy city but only going abroad with dreams will set you up for disappointment. Don’t have study abroad regrets. See the real beauty of Paris along with the ups and downs of the study abroad experience to create realistic expectations with new book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored – Out April 11th on Amazon Kindle


Meaghan Murphy

Meaghan found her passion for travel after a high school trip to Italy and Greece; since then she’s studied abroad in New Zealand for a semester, has worked abroad in Scotland for 3 months, and has visited Australia, England, and Canada. After graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Meaghan completed her Master’s Degree in International education from SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT. She currently works at University of Hartford in the International Programs Office and really enjoys speaking with students interested in traveling abroad.