Entry 1: In Flight Thoughts/Arrival to London:
As I sit in my seat 37,000 feet above the ocean and roughly 3 and 1/2 hours into my flight, it has finally hit me. I’m on my way to Europe.
Just one week ago I was in CONSOL Energy Center graduating from Point Park University with a degree in Sport, Arts, and Entertainment Management (SAEM), and now this? It doesn’t get much more exciting then this, and I haven’t even made it to Europe yet. I have pretty high expectations for this trip partially because this is my first trip out of North America, but also because this is a chance for me to really dive into and interact with different cultures. It may sound strange, but I’m excited at the thought of walking into a store in Paris and struggling my way through buying something as simple as food. My French is sub-par to say the least, so it’s challenges like this that I’m looking forward to. I’m also excited at the opportunity to get to know my fellow students and professors that I’m traveling with as well. It’s not fair to say that I don’t know anyone, but prior to our international media class this semester, I hadn’t really spoken to 90% of the group I’m traveling with. The fact that I am on the plane now en route to London with this group of people is a big step out of my comfort zone, but definitely not a bad one. I think that’s what this trip is going to be about for me – stepping out of my comfort zone while learning as much as I can overseas, and I’m okay with that.
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Roughly 12 hours later, we’ve finally made it to London after our connecting flight from Paris. We were graciously greeted by our tour guide named Janet, and our host for the trip Vincent. Both were extremely inviting, as we kicked off our day with a tour of London which included a stop at the Tower of London, which featured some pretty cool architecture and historical artwork. After our brief one hour stop there, we headed back to the hotel to rest up before dinner later that night, which took place at a restaurant called Thistle at Bloomsbury Park. Dinner featured a three course meal which included a fish/crab cake style salad as the appetizer, chicken and mashed potatoes as the entree, and then creme brulee for dessert. Although it doesn’t sound like a very taxing day, I have been up for a little over 30 hours with the exception of about 2-3 hours of sleep scattered in 45 minute increments, so it’s safe to say that I’ll be calling it a night early tonight.
Entry 2: Getting Familiar with ‘The Tube’
It only took me a few hours in London to come to the conclusion that the best way to get around town is through the use of London’s public underground subway system ‘The Tube’.
As a class, we have used the Tube to get to and from our various media visits and other activities. This system is far more efficient then driving a car, taking a bus, or taking a taxi around the city and on top of that, it’s really easy! The map itself of all the routes can look very confusing, but it seems like they have the system figured out to a tee. Everything is differentiated by color, and in order to find out what direction you want to go you need to look at the end destination. My guess is there are probably 100 different Tube stations scattered around London so you always end up pretty close to your end destination.
In general, I feel like the Tube is everything that the Pittsburgh’s ‘T’ wishes it was. The issue with the T in Pittsburgh is that it doesn’t go to many destinations, it’s slow, it’s dirty, and it’s just not all that convenient.
Another thing that I wanted to mention about the Tube is that it is remarkably clean and organized. As far as organization goes, we were given a ticket that is good for all zones. Before entering the station, you need to put your ticket through a machine that will open the gate to let you in. This keeps people from sneaking in for free and causing jams that would happen if people had to pay upon boarding a subway car. Although it’s hard to explain, I promise that it is a great system…
As for cleanliness, I’m just really impressed in general about how clean the Tube and the city is. There are very few trash cans in London because of the fear of them being a good place to put bombs, but despite this there is almost no trash anywhere. It seems like people in London take more pride in their city and its upkeep.
Entry 3: Wembley Stadium
Let me preface this entry with a quick fact about myself: I’m not a big soccer fan.
Despite my feelings towards the sport itself, I was excited to have the chance to tour Wembley Stadium just outside of London. Wembley is one of the most iconic sports venues in the world, and it hosts some of the most famous matches and concerts in all of Europe.
The tube ride to Wembley Park took about 45 minutes with a couple of transfers, and upon exiting the station you can see Wembley Stadium off in the distance with ‘Olympic Way’ as the only barrier between you and the stadium. This walkway is roughly a quarter mile but is filled with pictures and advertisements for the upcoming matches. Looking at it from the outside, I could instantly tell that Wembley was the largest venue I have ever seen, and even this explanation doesn’t do it justice. Wembley is literally massive, and the arch that supports the roof stretches 436 feet above the stadium.
Once our tour began we were greeted by our tour guide who led us down to the press conference room. The room was massive, and actually included theater style seating for almost 200 press members to watch the players and coaches post game press conferences. At this point we played a trivia game with the host who informed us that Michael Jackson has performed 15 times at Wembley which is more than any other artist ever. This included a stop in London where he sold out Wembley 7 consecutive nights.
After we finished up in there he took us to the event level and showed us in the home and visiting locker rooms. Each stall had a different jersey from a team that played in Wembley at one point. This included many local and national soccer teams, but also included a few NFL teams who played over here – one of them being the Pittsburgh Steelers!
After parading through the locker room we headed out onto the field, which I thought was a really cool experience.
We were told about Wembley’s 90,000 seat capacity for sports and 110,000 for concerts. We also were told about the unique designs of the venue, which included glass tiles up by the roof and on the doors to the suites that were designed to reflect sound, which explains why Wembley is one of the loudest stadiums in the world. The tour concluded with a visit in the Royal Suite, which is where the queen or any royalty will sit when attending games. The tickets to this suite are by invite only.
All in all I would say I was extremely satisfied with the tour. This is right up my alley because I want to work in sports and I currently work for the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center so it was cool for me to make comparisons.
Entry 4: London Media Visits
Our stay in London was a little more brief than Paris, but nonetheless eventful. In total I visited four media outlets which included a lecture from a City University of London professor, BBC Sports, a tour of Wembley Stadium, and Bloomberg. The rest of the group did not see Wembley and instead went to a social media roundtable, and visited the Guardian.
Our first visit was with Barbara Schofield who is a senior lecturer at the City University of London. Although her title might be confusing to Americans, the term “lecturer” simply equates to a professor in America. She informed us about the recent history of the British media, and all of the scandals surrounding it. It almost seems like the British media creates as much news about themselves as there is regular news to cover which as an American confuses me a little bit. As I’m thinking about it, I can’t really remember the last time a large American media outlet created news about themselves, which to me seems like the key difference between American and British media.
The second speaker James Probert was a Sports Researcher for BBC Sports. He gave a great talk about what he does at BBC, which includes reaching out to talent, filming, and editing projects. He has an extremely unique skill set that helped to get him to where he is today. For example he is one of the few cameramen that can ski, so he is always sent out to film action shots while skiing for BBC. He also explained how he got started as a production runner and worked his way up to where he is now. He, like almost every other speaker we have heard from, did not study anything remotely close to what he does now. From what I gathered from his talk, James is well on his way up the BBC ladder.
Instead of attending the Social Media Roundtable and The Guardian, I went with the SAEM girls (Liz, Sam, and Sam) to Wembley Stadium for a tour of the venue. I went a little more in depth about this visit in a previous post, so I won’t explain this trip as much but in short, it was amazing. The facility was the largest I have ever seen, and our tour guide did a tremendous job of educating us on the space. The thing that I found most interesting about Wembley Stadium was that they are only permitted to hold 39 events a year. This is due to an agreement with the local suburb because when Wembley holds and event the whole town pretty much shuts down because of the vast amounts of traffic. This rule contradicts everything I learned in some of my classes because we were always taught to book as many events as physically possible, which is not the case with Wembley.
Our final visit brought us to Bloomberg’s offices in London where we had the opportunity to meet with three Bloomberg employees who told us all about what Bloomsberg does and how they run their day to day operations. The lecture itself was both interesting and educational, but their office space is what really blew me away. They had a lounge area with countless amounts of food and drinks, all of which was complementary, and many employees were seen congregating here either discussing ideas or just watching the news on the televisions. Additionally, all of the walls were glass which provided for a very high-tech/futuristic feel. One of our speakers, Toni, explained that the glass played into their company vision which is all about transparency. My immediate thought when seeing their space was that they are trying to replicate how Google operates. Google has a philosophy in which they want their employees to want to be at work more then at home. Their offices are filled with non-traditional things, and that is the impression I got from Bloomberg.
Entry 5: An Introduction to Paris
- Tower of London
- Big Ben
- Regents Park
- Buckingham Palace – The Changing of the Guards
- The London Eye
- Wembley Stadium
- Abbey Road
I’m sure there are more things that I’m forgetting, but it’s hard to remember because we’ve seen so much in such a small amount of time. Anyways, our trip from London to Paris was a relatively quick one. It took just over two hours for our train to travel under the English Channel and into northern France.
Upon our arrival to Paris, we were given a bus tour of the city just like in London. Vincent took us around and showed us some of the best sights Paris has to offer. The tour concluded at the Eiffel Tower, and we were allowed to get out and take pictures. Seeing the tower in person was absolutely mesmerizing. I really feel like there are no pictures in the world that do it justice, which makes me sad because I know there is no way that I will be able to explain just how great it is to my friends and family. After our tour we stopped back at the hotel and then headed to dinner. This was finally my chance to speak French and it went….well….just about as good as you would expect.
After dinner we went on a moon-lit Bateau Mouche boat cruise that went up and down the Seine river. It was a really great way to see Paris, and the perfect way to cap off our first night in France. The highlight of the cruise though was once again the Eiffel Tower. When the sun goes down, golden lights illuminate it and it is just incredible. It’s one of those sights that I’ll never forget.
While touring the districts of Paris, it became apparent pretty quickly that Paris and London are two very different cities. The architecture in Paris is much different in the sense that 95% of the buildings are not more than 5 stories high. The citizens and government have done their very best to preserve the image of Paris, while London looks much more modern and vast. The other thing I noticed right off the bat was that the drivers in Paris are the most aggressive drivers I have ever seen…Motorcycles drive on the sidewalk and cut in front of cars and everyone seems to be in a hurry. Maybe the next few days will change my opinion…
Entry 6: Paris Media Visits
Just like in London, our group would be heading out to meet with various French professionals in the journalism/broadcast industry. This time we met with five different groups which included a lecture on the French media, presentations from Ketchum Paris, AFP, France 24, and the public relations department of Disneyland Paris.
Prior to visiting any of these, I was excited to see what similarities and differences I could find between the French media and our own back home. It was immediately apparent that they did things different in France culturally wise and I was curious to see if that transitioned and held true in the business environment.
Our lecture on the French media landscape was informative and a good way to introduce us to what we were getting into. We visited Sorbonne College and were instructed by Juliette Charbonneaux who after presenting showed us around the campus. Going from room to room I noticed that French students act very similarly to American students. Some were diligently working while others congregated in groups more casually. After concluding our tour we headed over to the public relations firm Ketchum.
From the outside of Ketchum you would have no idea what lies inside. The firm, which consists of about 30 employees, operates on two floors of a small complex. Our host for the day Mr. Philippe Beteille gave us a brief presentation on what Ketchum does and what he does at the president of Ketchum’s Paris branch. He explained that they focus mostly on brand management and company appearance in the European area. He also explained that many of their clients have been with Ketchum for many years, some even 30 years or more! One thing that I found pretty interesting was that Mr. Beteille often collaborates with the other Ketchum offices around the world. He told us that he reports to the headquarters in New York, which I found interesting because of the cultural differences between the countries.
Our next media visit brought us to the business district of Paris where we met with a group from Agence France Presse (AFP). We had a good session with them that consisted mostly of Q&A where we had the chance to find out more about their business model and how they thrive in a market that has been on the decline (at least in the U.S.). Essentially they provide content which ranges from news articles, photos, video, and audio to various media outlets in exchange for a subscription fee. The closest comparison that I could think of in the U.S. is Getty Images, which offers photos from every major event (sports, political, ect.) to clients in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.
After visiting AFP we went to France 24, which is a television station that broadcasts world news in English, French, and Arabic. I found France 24 to be particularly unique because I have never been to a TV station in which they are broadcasting in three separate languages all with different programming. It is a massive undertaking that frankly I was blown away by. We had an opportunity to sit in their French control room while they were broadcasting and in my brief 5-minute stay there I was already beginning to feel overwhelmed. The speed and precision that they perform with is just mesmerizing, especially considering if they make one mistake the broadcast is ruined.
Our final media visit for the trip took us to where dreams are made – Disneyland Paris. We had the opportunity to hear from their public relations team before they let us loose in the park to enjoy the rest of our day. The PR teams’ presentation was both entertaining and informative. I was extremely caught off guard when they told us that when Disneyland first came to Paris in 1992 there was a ton of negative press surrounding them. People were very turned off my Disney as an American company, but fortunately they were able to mend their reputation with the local Parisians and emerge as one of the leading tourist destinations in Europe.
With the last of our media visits concluded and time for reflection, it’s safe to say that each had their own educational bit to offer. It was great to see the differences between the English, British, and French media, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will be able to take the things that I learned and apply it to the work that I do in the states.
Entry 7: A Personal Change for the Better
If there’s one thing I have really come to appreciate on this trip it is definitely all of the great art and history that London and Paris has to offer. Prior to my visit to Europe, I wasn’t really that into the arts or even my surroundings in the Pittsburgh area.
This newfound appreciation began in London with some of our non-educational trips to the various parks and monuments that London has. For example, I had always known about the Buckingham Palace and the pride that the British people took in it, but had never really understood until I witnessed the changing of the guards ceremony. The residence itself is absolutely stunning, and has a beautiful garden to compliment it. The Palace also features a giant golden statue called the Victoria Memorial which was erected in 1911 and dedicated to Queen Victoria. The changing of the guards ceremony which featured a small parade lasted about an hour as different guards marched in and out of the palace with instruments just because it was time for the royal guards shift change. Despite how meaningless the ceremony was, hundreds of people came out to see it just because of the reputation surrounding it.
While in London I also had the chance to ride the London Eye which is London’s iconic giant Ferris wheel. Riding this allowed me to truly see just how massive London is. While at the top of the Eye I could also see just how many parks London has, which is pretty unique compared to most of the cities I have travelled to. One of the largest parks I saw, Regents Park is by far the most beautiful park I have ever been to. I could have spent an entire day exploring the park it is so massive. In one section you find perfectly kept gardens with fountains everywhere while in another section you find the queens garden and a small lake to sit by. In addition, the park has upwards of 10 soccer fields where various sports were being played.
Another piece of architecture that I vastly underestimated was the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Prior to visiting it in person I had seen pictures of it and thought, “What’s the big deal?”. Boy was I wrong…The Eiffel Tower is much much bigger and more impressive in person. The same goes for the Notre Dame Cathedral. I’m not a very religious person, but I was just in awe of the structure itself, and going inside for the first time was a unique experience I will never forget.
I’ve also found that I now really enjoy just walking around, or hanging out in parks just to take in the nice weather. Three weeks ago if someone would have asked me if I wanted to just go for a walk and sit in Schenley Park in Oakland I probably would have passed. Now I feel like I’m wasting the day away if I’m not spending it outside which is a change to my life that I’ve come to really enjoy.
Entry 8: A Visit to the French Countryside
The final leg of our journey brought us northwest of Paris to Normandy and Saint-Malo. Our first stop was at a small town on the English Channel called Arromanches which lies just a few miles from one of Normandy’s most famous beaches, Omaha. Arromanches is a small charming town that was highly contested during World War II. Many relics still exist in the area including cannons and even the remains of Mulbury Harbor can be found on the beach. After a quick lunch, we departed and headed west towards the ever-famous Omaha Beach.
Our quarter-mile trek down to Omaha beach from the memorial was a surprisingly beautiful one as the space had been very well kept by the American government, which was granted the land tax free by the French. When we got down to the beach we were given a quick rundown from our tour guide Vincent about exactly how the D-Day invasion went down. I had learned multiple times in school growing up about World War II and D-Day, but I don’t think I ever really understood the severity of it and the impact it had on so many American families until I actually saw the beaches with my own eyes. I could envision the troops storming the beaches under heavy gunfire and their treacherous quarter mile journey up the hill to where the Germans were occupying the area. Over 9,000 American troops died on D-Day alone, and the memorial that was erected at the top of the hill honoring them was just absolutely stunning. The cemetery where the soldier were buried went on for what seemed like miles, and a large wall was covered in named of the fallen soldiers that were never found. As I walked around I was overcome with a mix of emotions, and found myself at a loss for words most of the time. I’ve never seen Saving Private Ryan or any movies that depict what went down on June 6, 1944, but I’m sure that they don’t do it justice.
Our final destination in France before heading back to the United States was Saint-Malo, a small walled-port city on the coast. This visit was much more casual as we had the opportunity to take an optional tour of the city with Vincent, but almost all of our time was on our own to do as we wish. I found the town itself to actually be quite charming. It had a mid evil type feel to it as most of the buildings and structures were made of stone. Our night concluded with a farewell dinner with the group, and I honestly couldn’t envision a better group to travel with. This was the end of our two week journey together, and although I’ve said it a few times, I really have met some amazing people that I’ll never forget. I feel like this group will always hold a special place in my heart, especially because I’ll never have the opportunity to experience a trip like this again.
Entry 9: Reflections
This is it. It’s actually over. Our 13(ish) day journey has come to an end. I’m back home now and it feels…strange. I have found myself on my first day back in America overcome with a variety of emotions that I didn’t think I would feel. I miss Europe – but not in a way that that I can easily explain. I miss being engulfed in the English and French culture. I miss not being able to just go on a walk and find some of the most breath-taking architecture and parks I have ever seen. Mostly I just miss the people I was with. I find this so interesting because that was my biggest fear for the trip – would I make any friends? It’s safe to say that I did. In fact, I met and learned (whether they knew it or not) from some of the most down to earth and interesting people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I can’t thank them enough for that.
There’s a lot that I will take away from this trip educationally, but in a sense this was a trip where I learned more about myself than anything. I’ve learned to trust myself and not be afraid to take a leap of faith on something I’m half-in about. I’ve also learned that I’m still young and that I need to take advantage of that whether it’s traveling the world or just having more fun in my life.
I also feel like there are a few people I need to thank (even if they never get the chance to read this):
Aimee– Thank you for instructing the class and being such a great leader for our trip. I’m sure that there is way more that goes into planning something like this than I’ll ever realize.
Dave- Thanks for your guidance on the trip as well. I really really wish I would have gotten to know you better over my four years at Point Park. Your insight on the trip was greatly appreciated, and I certainly learned a lot from you.
Helen- Thank you for allowing me to take the course and attend the trip. I know that I’m not in the school of communication and I know that I’m not (technically) in the honors program, so I really appreciate you letting me experience this.
Vincent- I find it hard to believe that I will ever come across a tour guide as passionate about their job as you. The amount of things that you know, and have done in your life is absolutely astounding. There is no doubt the next time I visit Europe I will be in touch.
My fellow classmates- You all are seriously the best. I could not have asked for a better group to travel overseas with and you all hold a very special place in my heart. Special thanks to Ty, Nathan, and Alex – you all were really great to have around for the trip, as the majority of my time was spent with you three whether it be as roommates or just exploring London/France together.
If given the opportunity, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.