Friday, November 15, 2013

Abroad Advice

Here is a really long list of items regarding what to bring abroad, how to travel, etc. Things I wish I had known before coming! Enjoy:

-bring a raincoat, or at least a coat with a hood. It rained basically the entire month of March. Don’t bring rainboots. They’re too heavy and take up too much space but bring shoes you can get wet (I have combat boots I wear in the rain).
-bring business-casual sized heels (which I consider about 2 inches). I really wished I had brought some here to wear out because you’re on your feet for so long some nights and my 5 inch heels get the best of me.
-don’t bring yoga pants. It’s a waste of space. Don’t bring Uggs because you’ll stick out like a sore thumb even though I miss them a lot.
-bring lots and lots and lots of scarves.
-bring a small backpack (like something leather). Its perfect for day trips or if you’re going grocery shopping. Make sure it has a lot of pockets and isn’t easy to open (I have ones that snap and zipper, that way no one can take anything from you. It also has a pocket on the back, which lies against my back when its on, which is great for cash). When you’re on the bus or tram, take your backpack off if you’re not sitting in a seat or standing against a wall. You don’t want it behind you where you can’t see it.
-bring Tide detergent packets. They’re heavy, but the detergent here smells weird.
-if you’re having visitors from home, send some clothes back with them so you have more room in your suitcase going back
-for jackets, I brought a leather coat which I wore every day and my north face which is a little puffier and good for London/Dublin. If you think you’re going to go places like Prague bring a heavy jacket otherwise it’s a waste.

-bring notebooks. The notebooks here are all grid paper which is inconvenient and annoying to write on.
-bring all your own medicines- Nyquil, advil, allergy medecine etc. Sometimes you need a prescription for that kind of stuff
-also make sure to fill all prescriptions far in advance (enough to last you until you come home). You may also want to ask your doctor if they can write you a prescription for antibiotics in case you get sick. My doctor had no problem doing that.
-I brought my own pillow case but I’m crazy about that kind of stuff so it just depends on the type of person you are
-invest in a nice camera. I was lucky enough that my boyfriend bought me one right before I left, but its worth it to buy a very nice camera to take pictures. Don’t bring it out with you.
-bring peanut butter if you have room!
-bring enough make up to last you as long as your trip. Makeup here is expensive and often you have to buy it from a sephora and not a drug store 
-obviously bring like two million satchels
-bring a journal or a planner. My friend alanna who was in Barcelona both wrote down what we did every single day. Just quick things that you won’t remember. Sometimes we’ll say “pick a date” and read them and its really fun to look back on (also, I blogged which was awesome for my family and friends at home and I like looking back and reading it)

-get a Capital One card for a credit card because there is no exchange rate (I used this only to book things online-planes, hostels, etc.) A lot of places don’t take cards, so you need another card you can use to withdraw money. For this, get a Bank of America debit card. There are related banks in Europe that won’t charge you fees for withdrawing money (you can online chat or go to a Bank of America to see which bank will be compatible, for example Barclays in London or BNP Parisbas in France). Remember the exchange rate- if you withdraw 100 euro, it’ll show up as more in dollars on your online account.
-don’t carry more than 20 euro on you. This isn’t a lot, but I rarely carry more than 30 euro. I never ever brought my entire wallet with me either. I brought a crossover bag with on a ton of pockets so I never had to bring everything with me (just the essentials, like a little cash, keys, phone. Never my bank cards unless I needed to withdraw money). This way, if you get pick-pocketed, you only lose 20 euro, not 100 euro, all your bank cards, your license, passport, etc.
-I withdraw 100 euro a time because I don’t get charged any withdraw fees with Bank of America. Its unnecessary to take out more than that and dangerous. Also be aware of what is going on around you when you withdraw money. Try to go inside if that is an option, and always make sure to enter your PIN discreetly. A lot of time homeless men sleep outside the banks or even in the lobbies. Obviously just come back another time if that’s the case.
-Buy a card with a chip- its much easier to use around here for places that do accept cards. They take swipe cards most places, but machines (ATM, kiosk etc.) only take cards with chips. You probably don’t know what that is but you’ll see.
-If you have an American Express card or anything else that isn’t international- bring it abroad but leave it in your apartment. I kept mine in my passport holder because I really only wanted it for emergencies.

-Bring your iPhone!!! You can use this to connect to WiFi and iMessage/FaceTime home.
-Don’t get an international phone plan through American companies. Its extremely expensive and doesn’t last long. Not worth it.
-There are a few different options for getting a European cell. Most people will tell you to buy a go phone (just a little flip phone you can add minutes to whenever you want) which is definitely a viable option. My advice is to look into SIM cards you can put into your iPhone. I was able to get Free Mobile, a French company. It cost 10 euro and took two days to get a SIM, then 20 euro a month for unlimited calls and texts in France, three gigabites of 3G a month (more than what an American phone company gives you. This allows you to text anyone with an iPhone), and unlimited calls to the US. I can’t say what other European countries do, but I know Free Mobile has “sister” cell phone companies in different countries. Its worth looking into. Make sure if you have AT&T you unlock your phone at home. With Verizon, my dad (the account holder) was able to call and have my phone unlocked, but other phone companies need your phone there in person.

- copy and scan every important card you have (I scanned my Bank of America card, Capital One card, American Express card, license, insurance, passport, and Visa). Make copies to bring with you (I brought two), give copies to your parents, email the scans to your parents, and save it in a file on a computer.
- The copies of your passport are good to have for emergencies but are also convenient for going out. I always have one in my satchel in case of emergency, and if I get ID-ed at a club or bar.
-You can “make” your own birth control if you run out but going to a pharmacy. If you show them the kind that you take, they can make it for you (most likely)

-sometimes it is better to pay extra for a flight. If you use sky scanner (a website, or a really awesome app on iPad), it gives you access to the cheapest flights available, which sometimes is great; however, do your research. If you have the option to fly out at 6am for 40 euro, or 10am for 60 euro, absolutely choose the later time. You will end up paying much more for your transportation to/from a hostel/hotel than your flight (example: 6am flight from London, had to pay 130 pounds to get to the airport at that time in the morning - 260 USD)
-absolutely bring a duffle bag rather than a small rolling suitcase. Most cheap airlines are terrible about carry on baggage and they only allow one item (no personal item like US flights). The great thing about duffles is that you can shove a purse or small backpack in them, unlike rolling suitcases (which isn't worth it just to roll around the airport). The airlines often make you fit your bag into a box that they say is the size of an overhead compartment (although it is much smaller) and it is easier to squish a duffle than a hard rolling bag. 
-if you choose to fly RyanAir, you need to print your boarding passes ahead of time otherwise they charge a ridiculous fee (like 70 euro). Even though you are already checked in and your boarding passes are printed, if you don't have a European passport you need to get it stamped at checkin. Be sure to make sure you get this stamp (my advice would be to avoid flying Ryanair. Their flights are at ridiculous times to get to the airport, they make it difficult to get the stamps, they are unfriendly, they charge 50 euro for having to check your bag. If you can avoid it, don't take RyanAir. If you have no other option, be prepared. Check out
-do a lot of research on how to get around a city. Taking a cab from the airport is always the worst and most expensive option. Most airports have buses that take you to and from the airport for no more than 6 euro one way. If you ask someone at the tourism desk, they will tell you which stop to get off at for your hostel. 
-be sure to know your hostel address before you get to the city. If the hostel isn't well known and you cannot access wifi, you won't be able to get there. 
-download a map of the city onto your phone to get you around until you get to the hostel where you will most likely get a free map
-if you are staying in a hostel, bring a minimum of important items. I don’t bring my iPad or computer when I stayed in hostels because I didn't want to leave it in the room and I didn't want to carry it around with me
-make sure to bring carry-on size shampoo and conditioner (I brought small travel size bottles with nothing in them when I came abroad) because hostels don’t have them. Bring shower shoes. Bring tooth paste. They don’t provide this.
-get a passport holder that has a section for cards and boarding passes. I have one that has 5 different card slots and also allows me to keep my boarding passes in one area. It's organized and easy to know where everything is. I keep my AmEx card in there because its only for emergencies.
-put the scan of your passport into your suitcase and your backpack incase you lose your passport.
-if you know you want to go to certain places, "map" it on your phone. Take screen shots of the route you're going to take so you know where you need go. 
-sometimes, iPhone maps still works even if you're out of wifi. You can't search a place, but you may be able to see where you are (this worked for me in London and Dublin but not in Venice).
-buy a water bottle or bring an empty Brita bottle. It's good for traveling and not having to pay for overpriced water. Luckily in France the water is free but most countries it isn’t.
-your hostels will have the answers to almost everything. They also often provide free (walking) tours and other options (like a pub crawl). Make sure you find out all about this stuff when you first check in! You're paying to stay there so you might as well take advantage of it. 
-some hostels will have towels, some don't. You can bring one if you think you have the room, otherwise some might charge 1 euro. (More worth it to pay for a towel then bring one.). 
-if you're crazy like me, I sometimes bring bed bug spray. I brought it with me from the US here and have used it at most places I stay. It smells like cinnamon
-leave room in your bag for souvenirs!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The End

“A visitor cries twice in France: once on his arrival, and once at his departure.”

If you had told me on January 27 that I would be crying as I left Nice, I would have laughed in your face.

Despite my posts about all the happiness that comes with abroad, there have also been some hardships. I won’t deny that I was homesick a lot of the time, or when I first got to France that thought I would be on my way back to the US within a matter of days.

Yet here I am, more than four months later. I just got back from a dinner with friends here, some who I knew before, others who were just strangers. My roommate was one of those strangers- we cried together on the first night about wanting to be home. Now, she’s one of my best friends. We’ve grown so close that I forget that we only met on our flight here.

This post is difficult to write because there are so many emotions. I’m beyond thrilled to return to see everyone, but I’m so sad that I have to go. I’m ready to be home, but I’m not ready for this to be over.

Today, my roommate and I ventured through Nice to the markets, down the promenade, and back to our practically empty apartment. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day. The weather was gorgeous and everything about it was amazing.

Afterwards, we went to a café down the street that we eat at all the time for lunch. We always get a quinoa salad to go. So today we walked in and the man who works there already knew our order. I told him that it was our last day in Nice, and we talked about our stay and how sad it was that we were leaving.

When we left, we found two surprise desserts in the bottom of our bag. I went back and thanked him, and he just gave me a wink and a smile. And that was exactly how I was picturing my last day in Nice.

I guess it hasn’t quite hit me yet, and I don’t know if it will until I’m back in the US for a week and realize I won’t be coming back here. My experience here has been unbelievable. I traveled to eight different countries, dozens of cities and have been on 22 flights these past four months. As cliché as it is, I know I’ve grown up so much here.

The weirdest thing for me is that “studying abroad” is over. This is something that I’ve known I was going to do for so long, and all of a sudden it has ended. People always say that the best four years of your life are in college, and the best semester is when you study abroad. It’s weird to think that it is over.

I knew I would fall in love with France. I knew I would start to find my place and figure things out eventually. I knew I’d meet a people who would share this experience with me forever. I didn’t know that I would consider Nice my home.

Next time I’m back in France, it will be for only a visit. When I’m older, I’ll tell people that I lived in France for half a year of college. And despite all the hardships, the tears, the homesickness and the struggles, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

For those of you who have stuck with me since the beginning, thanks for keeping up with this little blog of mine. I’ve loved sharing all of my experiences with you and I hope you enjoyed reading.

Well, I’m homeward bound now, so I guess this is it! I have a list of “Abroad Advice” that I’ll post sometime soon for those of you studying abroad in the future!

I love you, France.

Until we meet again,

Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Amazing Ten Days...

When mid-May hit, I started to countdown the days until my return to the U.S. I’ve been anxious to get home to what I’m used to, see family, friends and the boyfriend, get back to the world of customer service and efficiency and have good weather. After a talk with my dad, I had a different mindset about taking advantage of the next few weeks abroad. He said to look at things and appreciate how I live in Nice now versus how I struggled before when I got here. He said to take advantage of all the things I can do on the Cote d’Azur and all over Europe that I can’t do anywhere else.

So then it began.

On May 15, the Cannes Film Festival kicked off its 66th year with the premier of the Great Gatsby. My roommate and I decided to go to Cannes to check out the scene and we were hoping we would catch a glimpse of Leonardo! Cannes was not the Cannes I’ve grown to know- it was crazy and there were people with Press Passes running around with giant cameras everywhere. And it was awesome.

We had to leave early to meet our friends in Monaco, so we didn’t get to see Leo (but my friends did!) We did get to see Cindy Crawford though, which was pretty cool anyway. Plus just the excitement of knowing that every black car could have some celebrity in it was just an incredible experience.

That weekend, a couple of my friends were hanging out in my apartment talking about how my roommate and our friend Melissa were headed to Amsterdam on Sunday. So that Saturday, me, Irina and Maya all booked our tickets and hostel and flew to Holland about 12 hours later.

There really is not way to describe Amsterdam. I’ve been saying it’s the most interesting city I’ve ever been to. The people are beyond friendly, they bike everywhere, plus the canals with Dutch houses … its an awesome city.

We didn’t have too much time there, but we did a lot of walking around and exploring the city. We ate a lot of cheese (they have these awesome cheese shops there where they just have a billion samples and mustards to try it with…yum). We went to the Heineken Factory, Vondelpark, the I Amsterdam sign, and the Van Gogh museum. We really wanted to see the tulips but it was 45 minutes away and we just didn’t have the time since we really only had one full day there.

And then three days after Amsterdam, we were off to Monaco for our first day of the Grand Prix. Our amazing friends who live in Monaco have an apartment overlooking the port, and they were generous enough to invite us to the Grand Prix because they could see 70% of the track from their balcony.

It was one of the best experiences ever. I’m not into car racing, but this was the GRAND PRIX!! On Friday, it was only F2 races but Saturday was the qualifying day for Formula One and Sunday was the big day.

The starting grid was right in front of the apartment, and there was a restart so we got to see them twice! (I don’t know much, but I was told that Red Flags at the Grand Prix are pretty rare…) I had my money on a guy who won at the Australian Grand Prix and came in second at a few other races, but he let me down and finished 5th. Regardless, it was awesome.

Apparently, it is better to have rainy weather for the Grand Prix because it makes the races a lot more unpredictable. The drivers actually have to “make weight” a lot like wrestlers do because the cars are so tiny (three-four people can easily lift them). And even though they’re tiny, they have to be super strong because they’re getting thrown around the track. Also, they can hardly see anything! They can really only see the walls around them. Just a few tidbits that I learned.

My ears are still ringing from that weekend.

And that was all within 10 days. So, I think I did a pretty decent job of taking advantage of my last few weeks in Europe. I just finished finals, I have three friends visiting from the U.S. and packing starts tonight in preparation for heading home on Sunday.

Its weird how fast time flies.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013


On our first day in Nice, we had our first meeting as a program with our director. Some of us knew each other, but for the most part, we were strangers living in a foreign country. We talked about everything, from our classes the next day to the big finale at the end of our program- our week long trip to Brittany. Back then, it seemed really far away (I mean, it was January…) but suddenly May 7 rolled around and the 26 of us were boarding a plane from Nice to Paris to Rennes, and our four months together made us no longer strangers.

I don’t want to say I was dreading this trip, because that’s not true. I was excited to see a different part of France other than Nice and Paris, and I was REALLY excited to see Normandy, but there were a lot of things I was apprehensive about. I was worried about staying in a homestay since a few the homestays have been a little rough for a lot of the students in Nice.  Plus, in the time between the first week of April and the first week of May, I had been to England, Ireland, Paris, Cyprus, and now Bretagne, and I was really not looking forward to traveling.

Like I said, we took two planes to Rennes (one of which was a propeller plane) and then met our homestay families for the week. There were some students living in the actual city of Rennes, but a lot of us, including myself, were staying in a small town called Saint. Malo. It was a 45 minute car/train ride from Rennes and was probably the cutest place I’ve ever seen.

When we got to our homestay, I was in shock. We were staying in a gorgeous house on a really large lot of land. There was the bigger house, where we stayed and ate dinner. There were five bedrooms, a living room, the main kitchen, but the rest of the house has yet to be renovated. The other house was where our “parents” lived- it was smaller and had their bedroom, a small living room and small kitchen and also where we ate breakfast.

This family was PERFECT. I felt silly for being so nervous about the family. Our Madame and Monsieur were probably in their 60’s. They had three kids who were grown up and moved out, but because the week we were there was a French holiday, we got to meet their daughter, her husband, and their three kids who were visiting for the week.

The first night we ate dinner and got to know the family and their adorable kids. Our Madame was constantly making sure we were all settled in and feeling comfortable. And we ate a lot of bread and cheese.

The next morning we took the train into Rennes to tour. A couple of my friends and I got real Bretagne galettes and crepes and cider. We walked around the city for a while and it was straight out of a fairytale then headed back to our house for dinner.

The next day was hands down my absolute favorite day abroad. We took a very long bus ride up to the coast and made our first stop on a beach near Juno Beach where the British Troops stormed on D-Day. Our next stop was in a town called Arromanches-les-Bains. We got lunch and strolled around the shops and the beach. The thing I loved most about this part of France is how much they love Americans (because as much as I’d like to stand up for the French, they really just don’t like us). Up in Bretagne, there are American flags everywhere and even a restaurant named “6 Juin” (June 6th).

Afterwards, we went to these amazing Canola fields in Longues sur Mer. They were the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen and absolutely gorgeous. There were a ton of German bunkers there as part of their defense along the coast.

Our next stop was Omaha beach, where the Americans stormed Normandy. It was really interesting because its just a normal sand beach. It doesn’t look any different than any beach in the US, I’m not sure if I expected it to, but it brought me to tears. It was amazing just to walk the beaches where so many Americans fought, where some succeeded and some did not.

We then went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which is a 172-acre piece of land that the French gave us as a thank you. There were 9,387 military personnel buried here from World War II, most of whom from the D-Day landings. We walked and read some of the names, but some of the saddest were those that read “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.”

The final stop was Pointe du Hoc, which is between Omaha and Utah beach. This was where the US bombed the Germans and scaled the Pointe using rope ladders. The entire land still has probably over 50 bomb craters all over. Again, one of the coolest things I’ve seen.

We went back to our host family after a long, emotional but awesome day.

The next day we took a trip to Mont Saint Michel which is a monastery from the 8th century. It looked like Hogwarts and was so big that we could see it from St. Malo! We took a tour of the monastery, the garden and the little town around it to get lunch.

That night, because we got home early, our Madame took us around to a bunch of places surrounding Saint Malo. We saw the Pointe du Grouin, Cancale and the church where all of her children got married.

Our final day in Bretagne was spent in a town called Dinon and in downtown Saint Malo. Where we were staying was very far from anything, it was on back roads and took 15 minutes to get to any sort of civilization. In Dinon we walked the streets which again, looked like a fairytale and got crepes thanks to our program After, we had free time to walk around Saint Malo and do some shopping before heading back for a final night with our homestays.

That night, we helped our Madame make homemade pizza and gave her a Mother’s Day gift (since the American Mother’s day was the next day) that we got that day. We ate a lot of cheese and bread and finished with some homemade desserts. The next day, she gave us homemade jelly, salted caramel (a Bretagne specialty) and sandwiches to bring on the plane. This woman was too cute- one night we ran out of salad so she literally went outside to her garden to get some more lettuce. They had 5 day old ducklings and were some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. As cliché as it is, I really will never forget them.

This trip was hands down my favorite place I’ve been to. Between the things we saw, the American history, the charming towns and the people, I fell in love. If I were to ever come back to France to teach English, I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Rennes. I absolutely loved it.

Sorry about the long post, but it was just so amazing I had to share!

See you in eleven days!

Je suis tellement heureux que je suis allé à Bretange. J'ai eu un séjour parfait. Nous avons pu voir des choses que la plupart des Américains ne verront jamais, mais il est une partie importante de notre histoire. Je suis tellement chanceuse que je l’ai vu. Même si mon grand-père n'était pas dans la marine, il était à Bruxelles lorsque D-Day s'est passé et il me touche. J'espère que je pourrai y retourner un jour, mais sinon, je vais y réfléchir ce voyage pour toute ma vie. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cyprus and Friends

The second week of my spring break was simply a trip to Cyprus and laying out by the villa me and four of my friends rented for the week! I also got a visit from my friend Rachael, who studies in Seville, and my friend Alanna, who studies in Barcelona. Here's a quick picture blog of all of that!

Our Villa
Behind our Villa
My friend Maya and I watching the sunset
Sunsetting over our private beach
Swimming around Aphrodite's rock to get eternal beauty!
Aphrodite's rock behind us!
Rach came all the way to Nice from Seville- she spent a night sleeping in the Barcelona airport, one night in Nice and another night in the Barcelona airport. She's the best.
Showing her the Nice markets where she got totally ripped off for a couple bars of soap

Monaco! (Keeling's first time- I think I've been well over 10 times now!!)
So happy Alanna got the chance to visit Nice after her program ended! She came from Barcelona to Nice, then to Paris, London, Amsterdam.
Alanna and I hiked for over an hour to Eze Village!
View from the gardens in Eze
Restaurant in Eze- actually the first place I spoke French in France three years ago!
Hanging out on the rocky Nice beaches

Got to show her Monaco! She won gambling in the Monte Carlo Casino!

Perfect week in Cyprus, followed by two amazing weekends with my best friends. I'm one lucky girl! 

My program took a trip to Bretagne last week- post to come!