Kim Roberts

profile-robertsKimRoberts-Headshot

Hello, and welcome to my blog! Soon I’ll be leaving for the adventure of a lifetime, and I couldn’t be more excited! Below you’ll find stories from what I’m doing on a daily basis in Europe, along with some observations and thoughts on what I’m seeing and learning in these new and different cultures. Thank you for visiting, and enjoy!!

Day #1 – {5/10/14-5/11/14}

My European Adventure: The First (and Longest) Day

I’ve always loved traveling, ever since I was a little girl. Nothing made me happier than that rolling-suitcases-on-the-airport-floor sound I heard every time I went to Pittsburgh International Airport. That sound meant an adventure was about to begin. While I’m not that little girl anymore (actually, I just finished my junior year of college!), I got just as excited as I heard that oh-so-exciting sound at the airport once again yesterday afternoon. This time, the adventure I was about to have was something like I’d never experienced before: for the next two weeks, I have the amazing opportunity to travel to London and Paris as part of my International Media class at Point Park University.

Tower Bridge across the River Thames, located near the Tower of London
Tower Bridge across the River Thames, located near the Tower of London

While this is the adventure of a lifetime, the only foreign country I’ve ever been to is Canada. I’ve never flown overseas, I’ve never been to another continent, and I’ve never had the opportunity to meet and learn from professionals working in Europe in the field I hope to pursue after graduation. The thought of this adventure was both incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking. Of course, I was sick during the week leading up to my departure, which didn’t help me in feeling prepared and on top of things before leaving. But thankfully I got better and made it to the airport, ready to begin my adventure!

The last two days have been a total whirlwind. The overnight flight from Pittsburgh to Paris was eight long hours, during which my body chose to get no sleep whatsoever…none. So, along with my first eight-hour, overseas, international flight, I also experienced my first 30-odd hours straight with no sleep.

But do you know what I found out? When you’re crazy excited about something and absolutely love what you’re doing, you can handle a lot. Despite no sleep and hardly any food, I was thrilled to see a gorgeous, colorful sunrise from above a sheet of fluffy clouds thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean, and then to step off that plane in Paris. It was completely surreal, even though I didn’t leave the airport before boarding my next flight for my group’s final destination of London.

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Tower of London

An hour or so later, we landed in London. What a rush of adrenaline! My group met our tour guide, Vincent, and we hopped on a bus to enjoy a restful bus tour of London. Just when I started to get a little too comfortable in my seat on the bus, we hopped off for an hour to spend wandering around the Tower of London, which has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. Its history is incredible — it houses items from the diamond-encrusted crown jewels, to England’s past kings’ armor, to instruments of torture used on prisoners. This introduction to London was perfect because it showed me how different this country is from my own. Centuries-old buildings and royalty are a far cry from my everyday life as a Pittsburgher, but for the British, this long and colorful history has a huge influence on the nation’s culture, pride, and spirit.

Once we returned to our bus, checked into our hotel, walked around the neighborhood where we’re staying, and had a filling dinner, we’re finally ready to call this traveling marathon a day and turn in. Already, in the day-and-a-half since I sat down on that airplane in Pittsburgh, I’ve experienced so many new and exciting things. The next two weeks are sure to bring a wealth of irreplaceable experiences that I know will last a lifetime. It’s only two weeks, so I want to make every single minute count. And right now, that means turning in and finally getting some sleep so I’ll be ready to join the hustle and bustle of a Monday morning in London!

Until next time, cheers!

 

Day #2 – {5/12/14}

My European Adventure: My First Day as a Brit

So, it’s official. Depriving yourself of sleep for nearly 30 hours straight and then finally going to sleep in a foreign country will leave you feeling rested and refreshed your first morning abroad. Trust me, I know! After a great night’s sleep in our hotel in London, I was ready for a great first day as a Brit. My deep love and appreciation for British accents means I’ve pretty much been in heaven all day…British accents are everywhere! We lucked out with an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day with bright blue skies. Just walking around London gave me an incredible feeling, and I was thrilled to get started on my European adventure.

Here I am at Buckingham Palace on a beautiful morning!
Here I am at Buckingham Palace on a beautiful morning!

The day started with my first-ever ride on the tube, or the London Underground. It was pretty easy to navigate (just pay attention to colors and locations!) and similar to what I’ve experienced with New York City’s subway system. Our group got out and took a nice walk through the city, stopping to see and learn about the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, and St. James Park, finally ending up at Buckingham Palace in time for the changing of the guards ceremony. The palace was absolutely beautiful! Although the British flag was flying above the palace — meaning that the queen wasn’t there — I could still feel the royalty in the air. The changing of the guards was so formal and elaborate — unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was an amazing experience to get to watch the palace guards dressed in their traditional red uniforms with tall, black, fuzzy hats in real life. I’ve seen them on TV and in movies, but seeing the real thing was really cool!

After the ceremony was complete, we took a walk toward Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and grabbed lunch in a café. The next stop was our first professional visit of the trip. We took the tube to Bakery Square/The Hangout, which is this really cool tech space for college-aged entrepreneurs, who can use the space to work on ideas and develop working relationships with British businesses and companies looking for help with their problems. In this space, we had a lecture on “An Introduction to British Media” by Barbara Schofield, a senior lecturer in the School of Journalism at City University London. She gave us a wealth of information about the British media, which is very different than the United States’ media outlets. I knew the British tabloids were famous for their outrageous stories, but I didn’t realize that all of British print media is like that as well. It’s as dramatic as one big soap opera! Right now, for example, one of Britain’s major newspapers, The Sun, is in the midst of an eight-month-long court case regarding the paper’s use of wire-tapping to get inside information for its stories. The case has brought about 650 witnesses and 6,000 pages of evidence. Scandals such as this aren’t uncommon in the British media, but something like this would be a major scandal in the U.S.

One thing that really made me realize the major difference between U.S. and U.K. print media was that London newspapers make the majority of their money through news stand sales, unlike the U.S.’s subscription-based sales. Because of this difference, England’s newspapers have had to convince people to buy their paper through attention-grabbing headlines that make customers want to pick up that paper on the spot. I think this difference is key as to why British newspapers are as dramatic as they are. Barbara’s lecture was really interesting and gave me good insight into what is currently happening within the British media landscape from the perspective of a British citizen.

Our next lecture was from James Probert, who works for BBC Sports. I really enjoyed listening to him talk because he’s really relatable for a college student graduating soon and starting in the professional world of communication. He didn’t major in anything media-related, showing that it’s ok to explore and find what you’re interested in after college, even if it’s not directly related to your major. The skills you learn through your studies will carry through to a lot of different fields, making you valuable to a wide variety of companies or businesses. James stressed the importance of giving 110% in your job, no matter how trivial you might find the task. We’ll be starting from the bottom no matter where we end up, and the professional skill set is just part of what you need to succeed. A positive attitude, a readiness to learn, and good communication skills are essential to making an impact on the company and people you work for. I really enjoyed this lecture and took away a lot from it!

View of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey from the London Eye
View of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey at dusk from the London Eye

After a British dinner of fish and chips at a restaurant on London’s South Bank overlooking the Thames River, we took a ride on the famous London Eye. The huge ferris wheel takes you high above London in pods that hold about 10-15 people. In half an hour, we saw magnificent views of the city, featuring Big Ben just lighting up at dusk. It was beautiful, and the absolute perfect way to end this busy first full day in London. I’m looking forward to getting to experience more of London in the days to come!

 

Good night from jolly old England, and cheers!

 

Day #3 – {5/13/14}

My European Adventure: Jolly Old England

On Tuesday, we spent the day doing professional media visits. First was a roundtable discussion on social media, moderated by Kathleen Donnelly (a former Point Park professor and current professor at Birmingham City University in England) and panelists including a student currently doing an internship with a major company’s London office, an recent university graduate working at a small, start-up tech-based PR firm, and a guest university lecturer with experience in international PR. This visit was the most relevant to my major so far, so I really enjoyed listening to what the panelists had to say. I found it particularly interesting that in Britain, it seems that brands and companies aren’t yet taking advantage of the many different social media networks that are available. They seem to be sticking solely to Facebook and Twitter. While these networks are necessary, I think British companies should look into expanding to sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and other niche social networks. Selecting just one or two more social networks and putting effort into them would expand the company’s reach, and these additional sites are great for industries or fields that are more visual. I enjoyed listening to the panelists because one works for a PR agency and another spoke about PR within a company. I’m still trying to decide which PR route I’d like to pursue, so it was really helpful to hear people’s experiences from both sides of the field.

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel near King's Cross Station, which we passed on our way to The Guardian
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel near King’s Cross Station, which we passed on our way to The Guardian

Next, we visited The Guardian, one of England’s most respected national newspapers. We heard from one of the photo editors and another staff member there, and it was really interesting to get to see the building and learn about what they do and the decisions they make on a daily basis. For example, the photo editor showed us a collection of thousands of photos that get submitted to the paper every day through various photographers and wire services. He has to go through and find what he thinks is the best photo to go with each different story. Similarly to the U.S., the print media industry is declining in the UK as well. In recent years, staff members have been reduced and more attention is given to online content. The Guardian has offices in New York, London, and in Australia, so the website is constantly being updated.

Something I’ve noticed in London is that many more people in London read actual newspapers than in the States. A free evening paper is handed out at tube stops, and many Londoners read it on their way home from work. News stands are popular here as well, something that has gone out of style at home in the U.S. I actually think it’s refreshing to see that people are still interested in reading newspapers instead of staring at their phones all the time. There is much less of that cell phone-obsessed culture that I’m used to at home here, and I’m really enjoying it! Since I don’t have international phone service, I’ve been able to turn my phone off and not think about it during the day. Instead, I can just live in the moment and enjoy what’s happening right now. It’s refreshing!

After our media visits came our first bit of free time. On Tuesday evening, a small group of us headed out to enjoy the city. We took the tube (by ourselves for the first time — no problems!) to Leceister Square (where most of London’s movie premieres take place) and walked through London’s Chinatown (smaller and slightly less crazy than New York’s!). We headed to Oxford Street to do some shopping and finished our night with dinner on the second floor of a really nice London pub.

Today was a great mix of media visits and some free time, and I’m looking forward to getting the chance to explore some more tomorrow!

Cheers!

 

Day #4 – {5/14/14}

My European Adventure: Bucket Lists & British Accents

As I sit on the Eurostar train on my way from London to Paris via the chunnel, I’m able to reflect on how amazing the last few days in London have been. It’s a fact: I’ve fallen in love with London. I absolutely loved every minute I spent there, and I wish we could’ve had a day or two more to enjoy it!

Bloomberg London Office Media Visit
Bloomberg London Office Media Visit

Yesterday morning, we had our last professional visit in London to Bloomberg. I knew the name, but I really didn’t know much about what they did before going there. This visit ended up being one of my favorites! Bloomberg is a company that reports on international finance and business news. With offices all around the world, it’s an enormous company started by former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. The London office was really cool, with really modern architecture, bright colors, huge fish tanks, and an amazing (and free!) café with any food and drink you could think of. It definitely wasn’t what I expected for a huge, international finance company’s offices. We even got to see a bit of a TV segment being filmed. I really enjoyed listening to some of the employees and touring the offices to get a feel for the open environment there.

With the visit concluded by noon, we had the rest of our last day in London free! I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the city. My friends and I made a list the night before of all the places we wanted to make sure to hit, so we were anxious to get started. The day was completely incredible, and I loved every second. I’ve checked so many things off my bucket list in the last couple of days it’s ridiculous!! We headed straight from Bloomberg to Kensington Palace, where we walked through the gardens and had lunch and ice cream outside. Then a few of us headed to the British Museum for about an hour. This museum is one of the top museums in the entire world, and it’s free! What more could you ask for? Some of the highlights for me were seeing the Rosetta Stone, an Easter Island Statue, and pieces of the Parthenon.

Stone Lion outside the British Museum
Stone Lion outside the British Museum

After that, we met up with a few people who had gone to the National Gallery instead and headed to King’s Cross Station. There, my dreams came true! I stood in line and got my picture taken “going through” the wall to Platform 9 3/4, as done in the Harry Potter novels and movies. Since those books are my all-time favorites, the chance to actually go to King’s Cross Station, do this free activity they have set up for fans, and visit the Harry Potter shop was a wish come true! I was thrilled and have the picture to prove it!

Next, we headed to the British Library to look around, then took the tube to Baker Street, where we walked past the Sherlock Holmes museum. Then we headed to Regent’s Park, which was absolutely gorgeous! We walked through it, and then a few of us split off and walked up to Abbey Road. We went to the famous crossing where John, Paul, George, and Ringo famously crossed the street in their Abbey Road album cover. We had a blast there — since it’s a fairly busy street (and it was rush hour), we had to wait for traffic to clear enough for us to not only walk across, but to get pictures too! It was totally worth it, and I love the photos we ended up with! We also got to see Abbey Road Studios and sign our names on the wall in front of it. Wednesday was such a great day! We fit in so many things I wanted to do in London, and I don’t regret powering through the soreness in my feet to do it all!

Walking across the famous Abbey Road!
Walking across the famous Abbey Road!

I’ve enjoyed my time in London so much, and I wasn’t ready for it to end. I would love to come back to this city; there is so much more I’d love to do but didn’t have enough time for during this trip! A few things on my list for my next trip to London are going to Stonehenge, Oxford, the Downton Abbey estate, and the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour, as well as seeing a show in the West End! I wasn’t ready to leave London (very) early this morning, but the only reason it’s ok is because we’re headed to Paris now!

 

For the last time, cheers from jolly old England!

 

Day #5 – {5/15/14}

My European Adventure: London Notes & Bonjour Paris

{Part 1}

I’ve been using this train ride to Paris to think about the culture of London I’ve observed during the last four days. So here are a couple of lists documenting some observations I’ve made. I want to be sure to remember them before I’m caught up in the culture of France!

First, I’ve made a list of five of my favorite British terms that I plan on incorporating into my daily life back at home (prepare yourselves, friends and family!):

  1. “Love” – As in, “Go on through the gate, love” said a guy working at the tube station to me. It’s just great and I think we should use it more often.
  2. “Cheers” – Good, thoroughly British phrase to use instead of “goodbye” or “see you.” It works for “thank you” too, so how multifunctional is that?

    Classic London Red Telephone Booth
    Classic London Red Telephone Booth
  3. “Brilliant” – Why use “cool,” “awesome,” or “great” when you can say this instead?
  4. “A bit” – Obviously this is something we use in the States, but not the way the Brits do. Saying something is “a bit chilly,” “a bit early,” etc. makes you sound so much more proper.
  5. “Mind the Gap” – Riding the Underground as often as we did, this phrase was repeated almost constantly as we got on and off the tube. Instead of just saying “caution” or “danger,” the British just politely remind you to watch your step with this fantastic phrase.

(Also, there is nothing better than all of the above being spoken in a British accent. I will truly miss hearing British accents everywhere, but I think my own British accent has improved a bit since going to London!)

Here’s another short list of some random observations I’ve made about British people versus Americans:

  • The British are much quieter and more reserved than Americans. Their voices are softer, they tend to wear more muted colors, and they are calmer and more polite. The Americans visiting London definitely stand out because they are excited to be there and they show it! We are definitely louder and more boisterous than the natives (but maybe it’s just that we’re super excited about everything we’re doing in London!).
  • London is incredibly diverse. Since we spent so much time in tourist-y places, we saw people from all over the world also visiting London and speaking a ton of different languages. There are a lot of tourists all the time, and the residents of London are diverse as well. There are so many more cultures in one place than I’m used to at home! The only similar place I’ve been to in these terms is New York City.
  • British people seem less glued to their phones than Americans. You’re much more likely to see people chatting or reading a newspaper or magazine than talking/texting/tweeting on their phones. Since most of our group is without international phone plans, we’ve been able to put the phones away and enjoy our time here. It’s refreshing, and I think we’re all benefiting from the technology break! I think it’s made a big difference in helping us all socialize with each other and grow closer as we get to know each other.
  • The traffic in London is crazy! British people drive fast and don’t necessarily yield to pedestrians. Between the double-decker buses, taxis, cars, and bicycles, the roads are pretty insane places! I was perfectly happy to walk or take the tube everywhere. I had enough trouble figuring out which way traffic was coming from when I crossed streets, so I can’t even imagine driving on them!
  • I like using pounds for money, but there are so many coins! I’ve come across different coins for 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, and 2 pounds…that’s a lot to keep track of, and it gets pretty heavy in your wallet!

These were just some uniquely British things I noticed as compared to my life at home in Pittsburgh.

For now, cheers London, it’s been fab, and bonjour to Paris in just a couple of hours!

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
 {Part 2}

We got to Paris today after a three-hour train ride, and it is absolutely beautiful! The best word I can use to describe it is magnificent. We took a bus tour of the city and got to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral. Then we took a walking tour of the Latin Quarter (near Notre Dame), where we got lunch before checking into our hotel. This city is incredible. Every single building looks like it could be a museum. Such attention to detail and artistry is evident everywhere you look, and the result is stunning!!

I got my first view of the Eiffel Tower, and it’s even more amazing than I’d imagined. I’m just completely in awe that I’m even here right now! An exciting adventure today was eating in a French restaurant for the very first time. It’s a little overwhelming to suddenly be in a place where I don’t speak the language, which has never happened to me before. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, but it’s so exciting to learn about this culture and to interact with people who are different than me. For now, my French is limited, but I’ve been able to eat out and make purchases without any issues so far, so it’s a good start! This experience is really making me want to learn the language.

We finished our first day in Paris with a dinner out (which included my first taste of duck!) and a moonlit cruise on the River Seine, where we enjoyed seeing the City of Light at night. I can’t wait for what’s to come in Paris!

Bonne nuit!

 

Day #6

 My European Adventure: An American in Paris

Paris Opera House (inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera)
Paris Opera House (inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera)

Today was our first full day in Paris, and it already feels like we’ve been here for much, much longer! I started my day with a delicious chocolate croissant at the hotel and then headed to our first professional visit in France. We took the metro and attended a lecture at the Celsa school of the famous Sorbonne in a building just outside the city limits. It was really interesting to learn about France’s media after having gotten an idea of what the British media is like. France’s media outlets seem to be much more focused on news and politics rather than the drama of the British news media. The print media of France, while also in decline as it is in the UK and US, is considered to be a symbol of French history and culture. The French do not want the paper to die, as it would be like a part of their history dying. There are six national newspapers currently in print, and they also rely on kiosk sales as opposed to the subscriptions typically found in the US. Our lecturer, a teaching assistant at the Sorbonne, was really interesting to listen to. Her experiences in journalism and in the Sorbonne’s communication school made her a great resource for learning about French media.

La Fayette Department Store in Paris
La Fayette Department Store in Paris

We had a break between media visits, so a group of us took a walk to see the Paris Opera House, which isn’t too far from our hotel. It was the inspiration behind The Phantom of the Opera, and it is truly magnificent. The building is enormous and so elaborate! We also took a quick walk through the La Fayette department store, which was beautiful and as big as most malls at home. After a lunch at a little Parisian brasserie, we headed to our next media visit at Ketchum Paris.

Ketchum is an international PR firm, and we had the amazing opportunity to talk with the Paris office’s president. Since it is a small office, our group was split into two. We got to hear from the president about what the company does, and then there was time for questions. He was so relaxed and friendly, and I found out all I wanted to know about PR in Paris. I’d love to apply for their internship program, but I think I need to improve my French first!

La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) at the Mogador Theater
La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) at the Mogador Theater

After another break, a group of us decided to spend our free evening attending Beauty and the Beast, or La Belle et la Bête, at the Theatre Mogador. I absolutely adore musicals, so I was thrilled to get the chance to see one of my favorite Disney stories onstage in France — where the story actually takes place! The show was incredible. It was completely in French, but I knew the story so well that I was able to understand what was happening. This is something that a lot of tourists probably don’t do, so it was a really cool experience! I got the chance to just listen and enjoy the language and pick out a few words here and there that I recognized. It also helped me to see that certain things like body language and tone are universal. Even though I had no idea what the characters were saying, I could pick up on the mood and tone of the scene just by listening and observing. Plus, the singing was incredible! I got chills even though I didn’t understand the words. Also, since I have a dance background, I particularly enjoyed the dancing in this show. Dance is something that transcends language barriers. I was able to get just as much enjoyment out of the dance performances during big musical numbers as the French people sitting around me. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to go see this show! It was an experience I won’t forget.

We are arriving at our first weekend of the trip, and we get to spend it enjoying Paris! Now it’s time for bed so I’m ready to go in the morning.

Bonne nuit!

 

Days #7 & 8 {5/17/14-5/18/14}

My European Adventure: A Parisian Weekend

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre

Despite having a break from media visits, this weekend was packed and my feet haven’t ached so much since Rockettes camp…but it has totally been worth it! The weather in Paris has been absolutely beautiful, and this weekend we took full advantage of it. On Saturday morning, we took a walking tour of Montmartre, which is the neighborhood we are staying in. We walked through the neighborhood that led us up a huge hill. On the way, we saw where Vincent Van Gogh lived, where Pablo Picasso painted, and even the Google Maps car! It was really cool to see this calmer, quieter, more residential section of Paris. At the top of the hill, we saw the Basilica du Sacré-Cœur (Church of the Sacred Heart). It is beautiful and has an incredible view of Paris. This area is popular for artists, so we had a chance to walk around an artist market and watch them paint. I bought a small painting of the Eiffel Tower from a really nice woman who gave me a student discount; I can’t wait to hang it up at home! After a lunch of chocolate and banana crepes, a group of us hopped on the metro and headed to the Louvre for the afternoon.

Napoleon's Apartments in the Louvre
Napoleon’s Apartments in the Louvre

The first word that comes to mind to describe the Louvre is “overwhelming.” I had no idea how enormous it is! We walked through the Tuileries Gardens, which is a large park leading up to the entrance of the Louvre. Inside the museum, there was so much to see! It was hard to know which way to go first. A couple of hours was plenty of time for me to get the chance to get an idea of what the museum had to offer (which is a lot!). The highlights for me were seeing the Mona Lisa (very cool to see in person and smaller than I expected!) and Napoleon’s rooms, which were absolutely exquisite! (He and I have the same taste in chandeliers.)

After we left the Louvre, we decided to rest our feet and spent some time relaxing in the gardens. This seems to be a popular thing for Parisians to do — just hang out and relax outside. The weather was beautiful, so the gardens were packed! We relaxed for awhile then did some window shopping in the area. For dinner, some of us ate in an outdoor bistro in the Tuileries Gardens, then took a walk up the famous Champs Élysées to theArc de Triomphe, which is unfortunately undergoing some renovations, but still very cool to see in person!

Today (Sunday) was a big walking day as well! I started the day by attending mass at Notre Dame. Since I’m not Catholic and I don’t speak French, I didn’t know what was going on. But it was still a really cool experience, and I’m so glad I went! It was nice to have some quiet reflection time in the midst of this crazy, nonstop adventure. The building has such a powerful, uplifting quality to it. After mass, I did some shopping in the Latin Quarter, where I bought a couple of Parisian scarves that I’ve been eyeing since we first got to Paris. For the rest of the afternoon, we walked around a couple nearby neighborhoods of Paris. We tried going to the catacombs, but the line was way too long for us! On our walk, we saw a famous café where people including Ernest Hemingway liked to visit. This city is so full of history that it’s really hard for me to fathom sometimes! So many great things and terrible things have happened right in the places I’m standing, and I have trouble just wrapping my mind around that fact. It’s surreal to be here and to get to be a part of this city for a little bit.

The beautiful, sparkling Eiffel Tower!
The beautiful, sparkling Eiffel Tower!

This evening, the entire group went to dinner and then headed to the Arc de Triomphe, where we were booked to climb to the top at 10 p.m. Unfortunately, we came across a sign on the door saying that the arch had closed at 5 p.m. that day — no explanation as to why or what we should do since we were booked to visit the top. I was really disappointed because I had really been looking forward to seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle from the arch, which it only does for a few minutes each night at 10, 11, and midnight. But lucky for us, our tour guide is Vincent, and Vincent can fix anything. He led us to the metro at high speed and took us to the Eiffel Tower. We just missed the sparkling at 10 p.m., but we headed down to the lawns below the tower and got a good spot on the grass. We waited until 11 p.m., and it was SO worth the wait! The sparkling Eiffel Tower was breathtaking! Anyone who knows me know that I love anything that sparkles, so seeing this was a dream come true!

After a weekend of essentially nonstop walking, I was ready to head back to the hotel. I’m off to bed now to rest up for our last two days of professional visits. In some ways, it seems like we’ve been in Europe for so much longer than just a week. (I think I’ve done more in the last week than I have the past year at home!) But in other ways, it seems like we just arrived and the time is going way too fast! I just want to enjoy every moment I have here.

For now, au revoir!

 

Day #9 {5/19/14}

My European Adventure: Ooh La La — A Morning in Montmartre

View of Paris from the steps of the Sacré-Cœur
View of Paris from the steps of the Sacré-Cœur

This morning was our first morning off, and a group of us spent it enjoying the neighborhood of Montmartre. Montmartre has ended up being one of my absolute favorite areas of Paris. It’s beautiful and much calmer than the bustling center of the city, and the morning is the perfect time to walk around enjoying the sights and the shopping. We walked all the way up the hill again and spent some time lounging on the steps in front of the Sacré-Cœur, which is a popular activity among Parisians and tourists alike. The view of Paris is spectacular! We ate a takeaway lunch outside and people-watched for a while, then I treated myself to a delicious chocolat macaroon for dessert.

One thing that I don’t like very much about Paris is that whenever you are anywhere even slightly tourist-y, you are almost constantly harassed by people looking to sell you something, or in the case of Montmartre, paint your portrait. These people are everywhere, and we all have spent a lot of time saying “non” to person after person. This is an issue that never even came up in London, but it’s a constant problem in Paris. We’ve all learned just to say non and keep walking until they give up on trying to get your money. This leads me to another major problem in Paris — pickpockets. We’ve been warned to keep our pockets empty and hold onto our bags, and on the metro over the weekend, we had our first experience with a pickpocket. While people were getting off the metro, a pickpocket searched two people in our group. He was so quick that no one had time to react, but our wonderful tour guide Vincent noticed him right away and got our attention. No one in our group lost anything, but we noticed a couple people from our train who apparently got their wallets stolen. Luckily we were all fine, but this was a reminder to keep a careful eye on all our belongings because of how bad this issue is in Paris.

In the afternoon, the whole communications group met up for two media visits. First, we took the metro and visited AFP (Agence France Presse), which is the Associated Press of France. I really enjoyed the visit! This international wire agency covers major events and issues around the world and then provides a mix of articles, photos, and video to its clients, which are all news outlets around the world. It’s interesting to learn about the AFP because the agency is dealing with the decline of print media just as newspapers are. Many newspapers are AFP clients, so the collapse of newspapers around the world means a loss of customers for AFP. The agency is working to adjust to a more digital format that reaches the public directly as well as the AFP customers.

After AFP, we took the metro and an RER train outside the city to get to France 24, which is an international television channel that is broadcast around the world in French, English, and Arabic. Although it’s a young television station, it has been very successful. The people we met with have been involved in the station since its start. We got a tour of the station, and it was a very intense (and slightly intimidating) experience. We got to go behind-the-scenes during a live broadcast in French, where we watched the people in charge of talking to the anchor through an earpiece, running the technology, adding chyrons (subtitles), and more. I could tell that this is a very fast-paced and competitive field to work in. The people who work at France 24 are bilingual, or in some cases, trilingual. The woman giving my group a tour told us about an anchor who works for France 24; she is able to read a French script on the teleprompter and translate it into perfect English on the spot!

This has been something that has been extremely noticeable during our time in France: virtually everyone we speak to is not only fluent in French, but they are also able to speak to us in our language without hesitation. It has really made me think about how we are so self-contained back at home. I hardly ever come across a situation where I don’t know what language someone is speaking, and those people would absolutely have to speak English to get around at home. Here, though, I know very little French and have been able to get along very well. This experience has made me want to make an effort to learn another language (French in particular!) so that in the future I would be able to interact more successfully with the French in their language instead of my own.

Media Visit to AFP
Media Visit to AFP

Another interesting thing I’ve observed on the media visits during this trip is that many of the professionals we talk to did not go to university to study  communications/journalism/media studies. They all had different backgrounds and unique paths that led them to the communications field. I think this is interesting to learn because it’s a reminder that you’re not ever stuck in something. The skills you learn in school can be useful in a lot of different areas. What’s most important is to find something that you are truly passionate about and go after it. That’s some of the best advice we’ve gotten on this trip, and I’m taking that to heart as I look to life after graduation next year.

After these media visits, I went with a couple friends to grab dinner at a pizzeria near the hotel. The group is buzzing with excitement about tomorrow’s trip to Disneyland Paris! I can’t wait to go behind the scenes there and then to spend the rest of the day enjoying the park. It’s like all the magical things in the world have been packed into this one trip, and I’m loving every minute of it!

Au revoir!

 

Day #10 {5/20/14}

My European Adventure: We’re Going to Disneyland!

Today was a day I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time — we got to visit Disneyland Paris! It took about an hour to get from our hotel in Paris to Marne-la-Vallee, where the park is located, via the metro and an RER train. This visit was the last professional visit — and my favorite — of the trip. The group we met with included the PR director, members of the relations departments, a senior publicist, and a representative from the event and media relations department. It was really interesting to hear from all of these people because this was the first company we’ve visited that I’ve been familiar with already. I’ve been to Disneyworld in Orlando quite a few times, so I’m pretty familiar with Disney and its parks. Since Disney is such a huge company and it’s American, I really enjoyed hearing about how they’ve made an American park work in Europe.

Main Street USA in Disneyland Paris
Main Street USA in Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris was met with resistance from the European media since it first opened in 1992 (we share the same birth year!), but through some really great PR, it has become a very successful park and is the number one tourist destination in France today. We learned about some interesting PR campaigns, and Disneyland Paris is taking full advantage of social media through the use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts in a variety of languages. This is the first European company we’ve visited that has done more than use just Facebook and Twitter. My favorite PR campaign used by Disney since its opening in Paris was the “My Mickey Ears” campaign. This included many celebrities participating in the campaign by creating their own Mickey Mouse ears and being photographed, with those photos ending up in the media. It was extremely successful and gave them a lot of great publicity. I also found it interesting that one of the ways that Disneyland Paris worked to change public perception was by noting the European inspiration for this American company. For example, the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliette inspired a similar balcony scene in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and the talking mice in Cinderella were inspired by European folklore as well. I thought this was a great way to get Europeans to take an interest in Disney even if they were at first against the idea of an American powerhouse company coming to Europe.

Disneyland Paris differs from the American Disney parks in several ways. The biggest difference I noticed is that Disneyland Paris is a tourist attraction for people from all over the world, as opposed to the U.S. Disney parks where Americans are the primary visitors. The park has six official languages: French, English, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and German. Its workers and cast members have to speak multiple languages, and the park needs to be able to meet the needs of the thousands of visitors every day who come from all over the world. This is very different than in America. At home, everything is in English, and that’s that. In Paris, however, catering to international visitors is a must. International media outlets have to be catered to as well in order to get global coverage to attract visitors. While the core messages are universal, things like press releases, media kits, and press events are tailored to fit the language, lifestyle, and culture of many different countries. This shows how much care and effort Disney puts into making people feel happy and comfortable whenever they have any sort of interaction with the company to maintain its positive public image.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

The people at Disney were so incredibly warm and welcoming to us. Not only did they comp us our tickets to the park for the afternoon, but they also gave us all a gift of a Disneyland Paris travel mug that you can’t buy in the stores! They were so very nice to us. When they walked us over to the park and it started to rain pretty hard, they ran and got us all ponchos. I could tell just from a few hours spent with these people that they truly love and are passionate about working for Disney and that they believe in making dreams come true, just as Walt Disney did. I could absolutely see myself working for Disney. I truly think it’s a great company, and I love that they’re in the business of making wishes and dreams come true. Working in the PR department for Disney in Florida or California is definitely something I would do if the opportunity ever came my way! (And if I need to start as a dancer in the parades or a princess, so be it!)

We spent the afternoon enjoying the park, which was slightly hampered by rain, but we still made the best of it! At the center of the park is Sleeping Beauty’s pink castle, as opposed to Cinderella’s giant castle in Disneyworld Orlando. We went on rides throughout the entire park, and my favorites were definitely Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the classic spinning teacups. I noticed that, compared to Disneyworld in Florida, Disneyland Paris is very much geared toward little kids. Since it doesn’t have a lot of additional parks like Animal Kingdom and Epcot, it is much smaller and more limited. Disneyland Paris does have a Walt Disney Studios park, but unfortunately it closed earlier than we realized and we missed it. Another difference I noticed between Disney in the U.S. and in Europe is that in Disneyland Paris, Mickey Mouse is everywhere. He is the symbol of Disney to Europeans. While this is also true in the States, our most popular characters are the Disney princesses, like Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Snow White, and Jasmine. This difference was clear when I was browsing through the gift shops in Disneyland Paris. Clearly different characters have become the most identifiable symbols of Disney in different parts of the world.

Mad Hatter's Teacups in Fantasyland
Mad Hatter’s Teacups in Fantasyland

It was really nice to get out of the busy city for a while to visit Disney, but it was also another day of walking! I’m enjoying the chance to relax this evening before my final night in Paris. The time has gone by so quickly; I can’t believe we’re done with all of our media visits already! I want to enjoy these last few days to the fullest, even though our lucky beautiful weather streak has come to an end. Tomorrow we head to Normandy for the day, so I want to rest up for another busy day!

Au revoir et bonne nuit!

 

Day #11 {5/21/14}

My European Adventure: North to Normandy

This morning we boarded our coach bus and said au revoir to Paris as we headed out of the city to France’s northern shores. While I loved Paris, I was excited to get out of the city for a little while and see what else the country has to offer. After a relaxing, four-hour bus ride, we arrived in the small town of Arromanches, which is located in Normandy, right on the beach of the English Channel (or as our tour guide Vincent likes to call it, the French Channel!). We had an hour to grab lunch, shop for souvenirs, and explore the town. The weather was a little dreary and rainy, but the small town was still charming. I really liked getting my first chance to see what it’s like in France somewhere besides Paris. Everything was just so much calmer, quieter, and more relaxed. I’m definitely a city person, but it’s nice to get away from the craziness of the big city for a day or two!

The town and beach of Arromanches on the Northern shore of France
The town and beaches of Arromanches on the Northern shore of France

One thing I noticed in Arromanches is that even though it’s a popular tourist spot, the locals did not seem to speak much English (if any at all). Clearly Paris has so many tourists that many of the locals need to speak more than one language, but here that’s not the case. With my limited French and some pointing at the menu on both sides, I was able to order what I wanted for lunch, but this was a reminder not to get to confident in my ability to get around in France! If I was on my own in France, I would absolutely need to have a much better grasp on the language. Luckily for our group, we have Vincent to guide us through France for the first time!

After our lunch break, we continued to Omaha Beach, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, and Pointe du Hoc. I’m not a big history person, so I was just familiar with the basics of the invasion in Normandy that ultimately ended World War II. But actually being on Omaha Beach, where thousands and thousands of Americans died fighting the Germans, really brought history to life for me. I just had so much difficulty grasping that I was actually standing in the place where such important and terrible things happened. So many U.S. soldiers were killed on that beach that the water of the English Channel was red, and I was able to stand on that sand and feel the water on my hands and feet; it really became real to me in that moment. The beach was absolutely beautiful, and it’s incredible to me that such violence happened there, not even that long ago.

Normandy American Cemetery
Normandy American Cemetery

After the beach, I went up to the American Cemetery. There are 9,387 white marble headstones arranged in precise lines, each with names, home states, rank, and death dates. It was really moving to be there. I was able to spend time wandering through the crosses and reading the names, noticing men from my state of Pennsylvania or soldiers who were brothers buried next to each other. It made me sad to think about how all of these lives were lost and that they would all have children and grandchildren today if they had lived. But it also made me think about how if those soldiers hadn’t sacrificed their lives, our world today wouldn’t be the same. These soldiers died fighting for what they believed in and so I could live in a better world, and they achieved that. I’m just so grateful for the sacrifices that were made on the beaches of Normandy, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to visit it and have it really come to life for me.

Church in the town of Bayeux in Northern France
Church in the town of Bayeux in Northern France

After a brief visit to Pointe du Hoc, where many remains of bunkers from World War II still exist, we headed to our final destination for the day, the medieval town of Bayeux. This is a beautiful little town that makes me feel like I’ve gone back in time. The buildings are beautiful, particularly the church that I think looks like a fairy tale castle (or maybe it’s just that yesterday’s trip to Disneyland Paris is still on my mind!). We had a nice dinner and are staying in a cute little family-owned hotel for one night only, then we’re off again in the morning for our final day in Europe.

I really can’t believe that we only have one day left. It seems like we’ve been in Europe for weeks and weeks, but it’s also been flying by! Our last day should be a good one in the beautiful towns of Mont-Saint-Michel and Saint Malo.

Until next time, au revoir!

 

Day #12 {5/22/14}

My European Adventure: Last Day in Europe

Mont-Saint-Michel
Mont-Saint-Michel

Today was a great, but bittersweet, day because it was our final full day in Europe. We left our bed and breakfast in Bayeux this morning and headed to Mont-Saint-Michel. It was magnificent! This tiny town is built completely on a rock that turns into an island each day during high tide. We took a shuttle to the foot of the rock during low tide and walked up into the town, where only about 40 people live today. We hiked up and up through the rain until we reached the monastery, where about 40 monks used to live hundreds of years ago. Vincent took us around the many rooms and told us about its Romanesque and Gothic architecture, as well as its history and how the monks used to live there. This little town seemed like something out of a fairy tale — it was so beautiful and unlike any place I’d ever been before! After our tour, we had time to shop and eat lunch. The weather suddenly cleared up, and it was bright and sunny with blue skies while we ate lunch. However, when it was time to meet up and walk back to the shuttle, it started pouring. We all looked like we’d jumped into a river by the time we got back to our bus, but it was funny and just part of our adventure!

Saint Malo
Saint Malo

Next, we headed to the town of Saint Malo, which is about an hour away. We are staying in what’s called the “old town,” where our bus was too big to fit on the roads. We got off the bus outside the town’s old-fashioned city walls and walked to our hotel. Once we had time to settle in, Vincent took some of us on a walking tour of Saint Malo. It’s absolutely beautiful here; I love it! It’s about 400 years old and looks like a castle. When teaching us about the historical significance of the places we visit, Vincent likes to use some of our group members to help reenact the stories he is telling. So in today’s final reenactment, I got chosen to be a duchess involved in a soap opera-esque tale involving the area’s history. We walked on the ramparts, where we had beautiful views of the English Channel. After our tour, a group of us took Vincent’s recommendation of the best place to get crepes in Northern France, and he was 100% right! I ordered crepes chocolat, buerre (chocolate and butter crepes), which were absolutely delicious and definitely the best crepes I’ve had in France!

The beach at Saint Malo
The beach at Saint Malo

Next, we headed to our group’s farewell dinner at a really nice restaurant in town, just a few minutes away from the hotel. It was a sad dinner — we’ve all gotten really close, and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend this amazing time in Europe with. I’m so grateful for everyone here, and I think we’ve all gotten close. We have this really cool bond now because of how many amazing things we’ve all done together, and I know I’m really going to miss my group. We also got to give our thank-you card and gifts to Vincent, who will be a father soon! We all love Vincene so much; he’s the best tour guide ever and has had a huge part in making this trip so great! After dinner, a group of us decided to go down to walk on the beach. It felt so nice to put our feet in the sand. Some of us even put our feet in the freezing cold English Channel; it was icy cold but totally worth it!

Tonight is my final night in Europe. It’s been such a great trip, and it was even better than I had hoped it would be! I’m really sad to be leaving, but it will be so good to see my family and sleep in my own bed. Just a couple of plane rides tomorrow stand between us and the States, but I love to fly so I’m happy to do it!

So, au revoir from France for the final time.

 

Day #13 {5/23/14}

My European Adventure: Au Revoir, Europe

Just like that, here I am back in the States and safe at home. After an early morning, an hour-long flight from Rennes to Paris and then an eight-hour, transatlantic flight from Paris to Pittsburgh, our trip is over. It’s unbelievable how many amazing things I’ve done in the past two weeks. I can honestly say that I just had the adventure of a lifetime and that I loved every minute of it. I’m so incredibly grateful to have gotten the chance to go to England and France, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or a better group of people to enjoy it with! I made so many memories that I’ll never forget!

So to end my blog, I’ve put together some lists below reflecting on France in particular and this trip has a whole. Enjoy!

Mopeds are a popular mode of transportation in Paris. They're particularly good for weaving through traffic (or pedestrians, as I found out)!
Mopeds are a popular mode of transportation in Paris. They’re particularly good for weaving through traffic (or pedestrians on sidewalks, as I found out)!

First, some notes on what I observed in France…

  • Our tour guide told us that the French don’t really like rules, and this was more than evident in the traffic in Paris! The cars, buses, mopeds, motorcycles, and bicyclists all drove with the intent to be the first and the fastest, and the result was pretty scary to be around — especially as a pedestrian! I was very happy to not have to drive while we were in Paris.
  • Contrary to what the drivers are like in Paris, the French actually prefer to take their time and relax, which is most evident in how their restaurants work. When going out to eat in Paris, you have to allow at least 21/2 hours to enjoy your meal. Unlike in the States, where we are always rushing around at a really fast pace, the French waiters and waitresses don’t bother you. They give you a lot of time to sit, talk, and relax while you are there. It might take half an hour before you get your starter, another half hour to get your meal, and then another 45 minutes to get your dessert. Then you usually need to ask for the check specifically when you are finished. This mentality is so different than what I’m used to at home, but I liked it! It was nice to see that people in France aren’t as obsessed with being busy all the time. They take the time to sit down and socialize or just people watch, which was a refreshing thing to get to do! When I was in a rush, there were places where you could get a takeaway order, but the vast majority of French restaurants were sit-down places where you went to spend a few hours eating and socializing.
  • From my experience, the stereotype that the French don’t like Americans and are rude to tourists is completely false. We made an effort to use the French we knew when at a store or restaurant and were friendly, and almost all the French people we encountered were extremely nice to us! One particularly nice girl working at a little shop in the Latin Quarter of Paris was so sweet to me and even taught me how to wear my new scarf Parisian-style. As long as tourists make an effort to use the language a little bit and are nice, they can expect the same in return. (And honestly, this goes for everywhere, not just in Paris!)
  • So many people in France speak more than one language. I was so impressed, and even a little intimidated, but these people had no trouble speaking to me in English and to others in French, just like that. It made me realize how different the culture is there. At home, we may learn another language in school, but we never use it in real life. But in countries like France, they need to be able to speak more than one language just to interact with all the different people from all over the world who visit France. The experience of being in France with a very limited knowledge of France made me want to spend a lot more time learning the language when I get home!

While I don’t speak much French, I did grow up with ballet training. I was interested to see how many of the French ballet terms I knew would actually help me in everyday life in Paris. I was surprised to find out that quite a few terms popped up during my visit to France! Below is a list of some of the ballet terms that helped me in Paris…

  • Ouvert/Ferme (open/closed): These terms (used in ballet for things like open and closed positions of the feet) were on almost every storefront when listing the hours each place was open. It was so helpful to already know these words and be able to decipher the rest of the signs from there!
  • Un, Deux, Trois, Quatre, Cinq; Premiere, Seconde, Troisieme, Quatrieme, Cinqieme (1-5; 1st-5th): The numbers one through five are typical in ballet, most commonly used for the positions of the arms and feet, which are also called first through fifth. We learn these numbers and positions when we are really young in ballet class, and it was so helpful to already know them by heart! For example, when going in a bistro, I was able to tell the waiter that we had quatre (4) people in our group when getting a table. Also, I could understand when something was on the troisieme étage, or third floor, without a problem.
  • Street sign in Saint Malo
    Street sign in Saint Malo

    Croix (cross): At the ballet barre, we often do steps en croix, or in the pattern of a cross. We did a lot of visits to churches in France, and I saw the word croix come up a lot! This helped me figure out what some signs were explaining.

  • Chat (cat): In ballet, a pas de chat is a cat-like step. I actually came across this word much more than I had expected! The Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) is a famous old cabaret in the Montmartre district of Paris, and there were black cat souvenirs all over the city. Also, in the town of Saint Malo in Northern France, we came across a street called Rue du Chat Qui Danse, or street of the dancing cat. Little words like these jumped out at me because they are so ingrained in my mind from many years of ballet class!

Finally, this trip taught me a lot about myself and really helped me grow. Below are some notes about what I’ve learned about myself through this whirlwind two weeks of European travel…

  • This trip really took me out of my comfort zone, and I think that was a really good thing for me. I had never been to a foreign country before (besides Canada, which doesn’t really count as foreign), and I had no idea what to expect, but I absolutely loved it. I’m so glad I was able to do this, and I think this experience really helped me become more independent and confident in myself to be able to try new things. I never got homesick; I was too excited about where I was and everything I was doing to even think about home! This experience definitely helped me become more independent.
  • I went on this trip knowing my classmates as acquaintances but without having any good friends. I think it was really good for me to do this because it gave me the opportunity to meet people and make new friends. I got to know a lot of people really well, and now we all have the bond of having gone on this amazing trip together. I couldn’t have asked for a better group, and we all got along so well together. Not only did I get amazing memories from this trip, but I also made a lot of new friends who I will definitely be keeping in touch with in the future!
  • It was fantastic to basically have a technology vacation on this trip. With no international cell phone service and limited Wifi access, I felt so free. It was so nice to not have to be connected and reachable 24/7 like I am at home. There was no texting or social media browsing during the day, and I usually only had time to post a photo to Facebook and let me parents know I was ok before going to bed at night. I honestly didn’t miss it, and I’d like to try and keep up with a more limited use of social media in my personal life at home. The Europeans I encountered weren’t anywhere near as connected to their phones and devices as we are in America, and I think it’s so good to have that balance where technology is just a part of your life instead of what your life revolves around. I feel refreshed after having a two-week technology break!
  • I’ve always known that I wanted to travel, and this trip confirmed that I LOVE it! There are so many places to visit in this world, and I love that there is always somewhere new you can go to explore. This experience has made me really want to make travel a priority in my future, whether it’s part of my job or just for fun! It was definitely intimidating at first, but it was so worth it!

I hope this blog as given you an idea of what my very first European adventure was like! I really enjoyed documenting my travels and my thoughts for you and for me so I can look back on all my experiences later on. This has certainly been a life-changing experience, and I’m so thankful for it. Hopefully there will be many more adventures like this one to come in the future!

So until my next adventure, safe travels, thank you, and goodbye!

Kim

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