Tag Archives: paris study abroad experience

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Tips from My Scotland Study Abroad

(Featured photo by www.freepik.com; All post photos by Justine)

As a newly-minted Rutgers grad, one question I’ve fielded a surprising number of times concerned my “best memory of Rutgers”. Even more surprising is my answer: the time I studied abroad for a semester at the University of St Andrews.

If you’re not familiar with Rutgers, you should be: founded in 1766 as America’s eighth-oldest college, it is the public research university of New Jersey that’s a member of the Big 10 Conference with alums that include governors, senators, vice presidents, and even media figures like Mario Batali (we’re really proud of you, Mario!). It’s also one of the best universities in the world in terms of diversity, having a sizable chunk of its undergraduate population as the first in their families to attend college.

During my fall semester of junior year, however, I longed for a different experience–the grass is always greener, right? I wanted to experience an international life where I wouldn’t have a terribly difficult time assimilating, nor an unforgivable time difference, and an environment where I could hit the ground running, so to speak, especially if I were only to spend a semester there.

The University of St Andrews was the perfect choice. Situated in St Andrews, Scotland, it was picture-perfect, nestled in a sleepy “town-and-gown” area that 1. was English-speaking 2. had a doable time difference to keep in touch with family and 3. was centrally located enough to reach the touristy bits of London/Edinburgh/Europe but also was isolated and special. I mean, how many people do you know have been to Scotland, even though it’s so accessible? St Andrews is also famous for its golfing, hosting a myriad of golf tournaments that provide for some great celeb-spotting, and the student clubs even get in on it by having golf outings or just holding their special events at the line of hotels on the shore.

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From January to June 2013, I was in an amazing, bizarre, grandiose, and illuminating bubble that helped open my eyes to the workings of the world, and I’d already thought myself to be a pretty solid world traveler. First of all, the school itself will demand rigorous attention. I’m very happy that I chose to attend St Andrews over other study abroad programs where I could have floated through my academics. I really didn’t mind the fact that I was taking courses that factored into my GPA because I got to attend classes in halls like these:

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In fact, one of my favorite nooks for knocking out essays was in the Classics department, which was situated on prime real estate because you had views like this:

And yes, that’s the ocean you’re seeing!

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Since it was such a small university, student life can be quite inhibitive if you’re used to being on a huge campus, like I was. But it was the perfect opportunity to thoroughly explore the town, and if I ever got bored, I could always dip out for a weekend. Students usually busied themselves by indulging in the sophisticated foodie/bar scene thanks to the higher-end hotels in town, or with the societies (student orgs/clubs) that they joined. London was a six hour train ride away, and the nearest major airport (Edinburgh) could take you to a plethora of other European countries for jaw-dropping prices. I bought a ticket to Berlin at only £25 (around $40). I usually got started with a jog on the beach. Literally across the street from my dorm was water and sand in front of me! Fun fact: my friend told me that he was able to watch Rowan Atkinson film his Chariots of Fire skit for the London 2012 Olympics from his room–in the same exact spot where the movie was actually filmed.

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Now, making friends is something people fret over right before a big life change. A study abroad experience is no different. Before arriving, I hadn’t realized just how large the American population there was, in terms of study abroad students like myself, or others who named it as their home university. Regardless, if you wanted to fit in with the Brits, an American accent just won’t cut it unless you have an interesting background. Needless to say, I played up my schooling in New Zealand in order to add to my American study abroad friend group. Regardless of that, the town itself is comprised of posh students who fuel their club meetings with port and cheese instead of the old pizza standby, and any party you were invited to was usually implicitly black-tie…sometimes even white.

Studying abroad teaches you so many things that college in your home country doesn’t: how to take care of yourself in a foreign land, how to really pack your day, and how to make new connections with unfamiliar people. In my case, it also taught me a stronger self and to not be afraid to be alone. For spring break, I ended up traveling by myself for three weeks to Milan, Venice, Berlin and London. Believe me, nothing will tell you how independent and strong you actually are like ducking out of honeymooners’ photos near the Grand Canal in Venice or trying to find your hotel at 10pm in a deserted Milanese street!

  

Justine Yu

Justine is a recent graduate of Rutgers University looking to get started in the public relations, diplomacy, or entertainment industry. If you don't want to keep up with the Kardashians, you can join her journey in navigating the post-graduate world at justineyu.com.

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Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: A Day in the Life

(All photos by Alexa)

I ricochet between indulging in the life of a little old French lady (you know, the one that spends an hour strolling through the arrondissement’s marché en plein air on Sunday to meet their little old lady friends, just before strolling home to a three-course déjeuner, followed by coffee, laundry and some light reading) and hitting the high notes of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” at expat bars (you know, Chez Georges).

This afternoon, I selected the former. The temperature has hovered around seven degrees with a slight drizzle for a week. My French friend told me she wears dresses in the summer, and the same dresses with tights in the winter. Inspired, I donned my fleece-lined stockings and purple lipstick and struck out to the street.

I was aimless. I thought of some research I did for my Theories of the Photographic Image course, re: Guy Debord. Debord was a member of the Situationist International in the 1960s, which is a puffed up version of Dadaism and Surrealism. He and his philosopher pals developed the idea of dérive, or drift, which is an unplanned tour through an urban environment. They basically wandered around in Paris in order to find patterns of emotional and atmospheric forcefields. Psychogeography. Mumbo jumbo, maybe, but there’s something malleable about Paris that makes the idea seem plausible, like the city’s been trapped in a slow-cooker for the past few hundred years.

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(Detail on the Notre-Dame cathedral in Reims, taken on a day trip. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this church is where kings of France were crowned. The older church, destroyed by a fire in 1211, was the baptismal site of Clovis in 496. Before that, it was the site of Roman baths.)

 I ended up at the church next to metro Jourdain, the closest portal to transport me from my little mountain to the Seine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Paris is made of castles and churches. This one, deemed Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville, is almost medieval-looking, or maybe just a bit unloved. The right side always smells like piss, but rain helps.

I had my reuseables with me, so I decided to head in the general direction of the Monoprix and look for a gift for Alessandro’s family, in return for shelter and copious amounts of pasta this upcoming holiday season. I didn’t get far before someone clutching flyers spotted me. I prepared my “Non, merci” and delivered it gracefully to the man. He responded by laughing, insisting, “Je ne vous attaque pas!” He had friends, some playing music, so I smiled politely and repeated my refusal.

Once I ducked inside the closest thing Paris has to an American supermarket, I found a bag of Révillon chocolates. Last year, when I lived in an off-campus apartment in New Brunswick, my Lyonnais-native flatmate was overjoyed when her family mailed her the candies and informed me that these were the quintessential French treat for New Years. Moving on, I couldn’t decide if dried fruits sprinkled with sugar screamed holiday cheer or bizarre gift, so I bought them for myself instead. I also bought dates. At certain Monoprix, you need to weigh your fruits and vegetables (and dates, if fresh) on the scale before you get to the register. I always, always, always almost forget to do this, and it has caused so many awkward jogs around the store.

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(I really like candles. Especially in churches without an internal heating system.)

Back outside, I fished my receipt out of my bag and realized that the Christian-enthousiast had tucked his flyer inside as I passed. It was a home-made creation, featuring a drawing of the church on the front and wishing me “Joyeux Noël 2014”, followed by a quote from “Jn 3,16” about how God is everyone’s friend. On the back of the card, there was a program for upcoming weeks: confession, midnight mass, a weekend block party. I took not two more steps before reaching the front of the church.

A flock of Parisians congregated around the entrance, which is now dripping in white and blue lights. Nobody in France celebrates the religious aspect of Christmas (in fact, my host brother laughed out loud at the question) but Parisians really know how to deck out a city. I realize, now, the true origins of that infamous nickname.

A woman offered me fresh-baked chocolate cake, which melted in my mouth as I stood in a puddle between French chatter and costumed children caroling on the steps of the church, wondering how I’m going to study for my last final exam of the semester, pack my suitcase, and say goodbye to my friends who aren’t returning to Paris in January.

I finally feel like I’m settling in. Not in a total old-lady way. Only sometimes.

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Alexa Wybraniec

Alexa studies journalism, media and French at Rutgers University. She is abroad at Sciences Po for her third year of college. Check back every other Monday for a new post and connect on Twitter.

Dating-Etiquette

Study Abroad in Paris: Dating Etiquette 101

(photo by activekiddies.co.uk)

As many students get ready to study abroad, they start thinking about the new experiences they’ll have such as sight-seeing, travelling, and meeting new people, particularly a romantic interest. I’ve found quite a few forums where students ask what it’s like to date in France and if Paris is gay-friendly. These questions raise an interesting concern about dating expectations abroad that we’ll tackle here today so let’s take a look!

Why do we study abroad?

future(Answer: To gain skills for our career. Photo by: www.rickbillings.com)

All of these questions on dating while studying abroad in France made me realize that some students are forgetting the reason why we study abroad. Ask yourself this: did you go to online forums with dating questions if your university is in a different state than the one you grew up in? You probably didn’t. And why not? Because you chose the school based on its academic programs. A study abroad should be exactly the same. You should study abroad to further your academic studies and gain skill sets for your career; not to find Mr. (or Ms.) Right. Romance abroad should be a bonus, not a goal.

Love during a study abroad

love(Photo byegoround.ru)

Although I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t plan on having un petit copain/ une petite copine during your study abroad, it’s good to be prepared and familiar with French culture through its dating customs and expectations. You’re right to be curious about dating in France; it’s different than dating in the USA. How you can find out these differences is by learning more about the culture through your weekly language exchanges and reading French articles about dating. These native sources should answer all of your questions about French romance and will also give you more insight into French culture. To develop a romantic relationship during your study abroad, you must be hanging out with the natives all the time. Here’s one tip I can give you about French dating- it’s super slow. The French like to get to know each other petit à petit and don’t share much personal information in the beginning of a budding romance.

If you find yourself getting involved with a French person, here are a few tips to remember:

  • Don’t let this romance distract you from your studies (the main reason you’re in France)
  • Don’t speak English in your relationship. Use this unique opportunity to really understand and better your French language skills.
  • Think about the final outcome. A romance during a study abroad is founded in temporary conditions. It’s ok to tomber amoureux but remember that you have to return to your homeland in 10 months or less so don’t be super attached. I feel weird encouraging you to have feelings but to keep them in check at the same time but that’s what you should do. What I can tell you from personal experience is that having a long distance relationship with someone in another country is extremely difficult and stressful to maintain. Have your fling, be prepared to end it for your return back home and keep some great memories. Don’t have unrealistic expectations of marriage or maintaining this romance once you return home.
  • Respect your host family/ roommates rules. So you’ve found love during your study abroad and you’re gaga over him/her. Unless, you’re renting an apartment by yourself, you’ll want to respect your host family/roommates rules on bringing guests over, especially if your guest is staying the night.

Now that we’ve gone over some rules of etiquette for romantic relationships abroad, let’s check out rules of etiquette, health and safety for physical relationships.

Sex and Sexual Orientation During Your Study Abroad

signs(Photo by www.livingstylish.com)

Sex and sexual orientation are 2 different things that I’m going to tackle separately. First, let’s talk about sex. It’s important to remember that every time you have sex, even with protection (condom and birth control), there is always a risk for pregnancy and contracting an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection). Protection and testing are not 100% fool proof or a guarantee that you will not get an STI or pregnant; merely, they can significantly lower the risks when used consistently and properly. I never got the point of a random hook-up. Personally, I don’t see why anyone would risk their health (and safety!) for a non-guaranteed 20 minutes of pleasure with a complete stranger. I’d much rather stay home and me débrouiller for a guaranteed good and safe time for as long as I want. Anyhoo, if random hook-ups are your thing, you need to follow these basic rules of etiquette and safety. These tips also work for anywhere in the world at anytime during your life.

  • NEVER under any circumstances bring your date home for the evening to your host family’s house; I don’t care how close you are to the host family; I don’t care how accepting they are; I don’t care if they walk around in their underwear around you. You are NEVER to bring your evening romp to their home- EVER. This is inappropriate, weird and disrespectful.
  • If you’re staying with roommates of the same age, make sure that you talk in advance about the rules for bringing dates home. Some people may be uncomfortable with a stranger staying the night in their home or eating that left over baguette they didn’t pay for in the morning before they leave.
  • Go with your gut feeling. If you’re on a date and you’re feeling uncomfortable, leave immediately.
  • NEVER go home/ to a hotel with someone that you just met a few hours ago. You should always try to get to know the person a little bit before hooking-up. It’s not a guarantee of safety but it’s better than not knowing them at all and gives you time to get STI tested.
  • Always keep condoms or préservatifs with you. This goes for men and women of any sexual orientation. ALWAYS use protection against STIs.
  • Ladies, if you’re into the opposite gender you need to use a form of birth control in addition to condoms. No exceptions!

Now that we’ve gone over common sex health and safety tips. Let’s tackle sexuality abroad. It’s important to remember that no place is really “anyone friendly”. When you combine millions of people with different religious beliefs, criminal and general backgrounds, political views, sexual orientation, age, gender, and overall values you can’t ever be guaranteed that any place is truly gay friendly; punk friendly; female friendly; black friendly, so on and so on.  I guess you could consider France a gay friendly place as it legalized gay marriage a few years ago with no signs of it being overturned anytime soon. We could also assume that Paris is fairly gay friendly as the previous mayor was openly gay. However, just because the host city and country have accepting attitudes doesn’t mean that your host family feels the same way. This is a concern expressed by some students. They wonder if their host family will be accepting of their sexual orientation. There is no way to guarantee this and no reason why you should be declaring your sexual orientation to your host family. No matter what flavor you are, you need to keep this on the down-low with your host family. Remember, they are not your real family and do not have to accept you. Even studying abroad in France, I don’t recommend you to flaunt your sexuality or sexual orientation. Be discreet in your hook ups and think of your overall safety.

Dating during a study abroad can be exciting and a great way to really immerse into the local culture. However, it does come with its own set of responsibilities and distractions. Bonne chance!