Diane J. from the University of Maryland shared the following about her experience studying abroad in Paris with AIFS. She talks about gathering the pieces of a study abroad scrapbook to remember all of the lessons and experiences enjoyed along the way.
Over the past two months, I’ve been collecting tickets and brochures that I’ve nabbed from shows I’ve seen, museums I’ve explored and cities I’ve visited. It’s going to be fun when I go back to the States and put it all in my scrapbook. Not only have I been pack-ratting every single thing possible, I’ve been taking so many pictures. But frankly, photographs can never truly capture the experience. I’m so glad to be here.
I just got back from the AIFS office where I was able to get a hold of extra tickets to the shows this week. Every student is promised one play, one classical concert, and one ballet – provided they sign up and pick up their tickets. However, if you go to the office the day of the show, there is a chance that there will be tickets left over – and those are up for grabs. So far, I’ve seen Tartuffe and Le Malade imaginaire (both classic plays by Molière), a ballet called Jewels (which I saw at the Opéra Garnier) and a Mozart concert. Making the extra effort to nab every available opportunity is definitely worth the experience.
Thanks to AIFS, I’ve also seen the catacombs, the Père Lachaise Cemetery, the Rodin museum, Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte, and Fontainebleau. The program has been really great in terms of cultural events – I really like that they’ve helped in guiding the study abroad experience. Otherwise, most of my semester here would most likely be spent in class, shopping or visiting with friends – not bad things, but it’s good to have some French culture in there, too.
Just a few weekends ago, AIFS took us to Normandy. On Saturday, we got to see the Memorial de Caen which is a world famous World War II museum and then took a drive along the D-Day Beaches. It was such a moving experience. The day was pretty dreary, cloudy and drizzly, which fit, because that was the type of weather that the soldiers experienced sixty years ago. We saw the Mulberry Ports, which had parts of the man-made docks still floating in the water, Omaha Beach, by which sits the American cemetery (so many white crosses, so many unknown soldiers), and Point du Hoc (which was covered with the pits and ruins of German barracks left over from the battle). To think that I was standing where sixty years ago a great battle was being fought. To think that the towns by these beaches were completely flattened. At Point du Hoc, kids were laughing and playing as they ran up and down the pits. It’s such a strange juxtaposition – the solemnity of the knowledge of what went on, and the delight the kids had at the ‘playground’.
We stayed in this cute, walled town called Saint-Malo which sits on the Emerald Coast. It was rather cold, but the view, especially while walking around the ramparts, was spectacular. Then we traveled to Mont Saint-Michel, which is this abbey that was built on a small strip of land. When the tide is up, it’s almost completely surrounded by water. The tide was low when we went, but to see it rising up out of a whole lot of flatness was just gorgeous. The little village built around the base was crowded and awfully touristy, but the abbey itself was beautiful. Also, as a tip, they sell the best cookies ever thanks to some ingredient that is abundant there (some kind of special salt?). You would do well to buy yourself a box of these delicious treats. I wished I did after our cultural coordinator shared a box with us!
I’ve also been traveling with my roommate, Maritza, on our own. With class five days a week, it’s been a bit rough organizing it, but so far all our trips have gone very well. We went to Brussels, Belgium, one weekend. Oh man, the waffles! Grand Place, the central marketplace, was beautiful, especially at night, though the rest of Brussels was rather empty during the evenings – a stark contrast to Paris.
The trick is to make the most out of the time you do have. With just a couple of days, it’s difficult if you want to go see museums and monuments that require you to wait in line. But if you don’t mind a walk, you can see lesser known but just as breathtaking parts of the city. Churches are almost always amazing to see and free to enter. And street markets are fun to wander around. Just make sure that you are prepared for any type of weather, even if you are convinced it’ll be nice. When I went to Florence, Italy, I thought the weather would be nice. I was going south, after all, to sunny Italy. I didn’t bring an umbrella. I didn’t bring a sweater or a jacket. When Kyle, another AIFS student, and I arrived, it was pouring freezing rain. I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to!
Class is going well, but the days are passing quickly! It’s midterm time now, and I can hardly believe it. Everything is getting hectic – exams, papers, constant cultural events, and I’m going back to London this weekend for another visit. Next week is Thanksgiving and after that, it’s December! I was just thinking today about how hard it is going to be for me to say goodbye to this city. I miss everyone back home, but I don’t want to leave just yet! I can’t imagine how much I’m going to miss Paris, so I’m making some good memories while I still can!
If you are inspired by Diane’s story, take a moment to explore your options to study abroad in Paris, France with AIFS.