Blog #1: First Time Flying
Taking part with the international media trip gave me the first opportunity I have ever had to fly. I have not done much traveling and whenever I had the chance prior, I have only driven or taken buses to my destinations. Taking this trip would force me to step outside my comfort zone on land and travel across the ocean by air. Needless to say in this post-9/11 world we live in, I have heard many horror stories about how air travel could be a very stressful situation. The international media trip has so far broadened my horizons when it comes to travel.
Several things we all needed to know before coming to the airport was what we should pack. Due to the formality of our visiting destinations I have packed many formal clothes. Along with clothing in my checked bag, I had a carry on consisting of my food and electronics and a personal item being a zoom audio recorder provided from the university to document the journey. I was advised to pack light and I hoped that is what I ended up doing because I had no real way to figure out how heavy my luggage was until we arrived at the airport. I figured since the weight limit was 50 pounds until they charge extra, that I should be fine with my packing.
Our flight was scheduled to board around 6 PM, and I was getting nervous because I heard there was a possible rain storm coming through the area. I had no idea how exactly the weather effects the flight. I met up with several other students and we took a shuttle over to the airport at 2:30 PM. Once arrived, we got our tickets through the automated Delta kiosks and checked our bags. My checked bag weighed in at 48 pounds, just making the cut. I had no idea what was to be expected at the security checks other than those full body scanners the TSA has that seemed to create a craze a few years back.
At security we were put into a massive line that took about 15 minutes to go through, where we were forced to take our shoes off and place our carry on into bins to get scanned. We went through as a group without a problem. The flight was delayed for about 45 minutes before we boarded.
Our seats were relatively in the back of the plane and I was located next to the window. I did not expect the takeoff of the plane to feel as intense as it was. It just seemed to accelerate greatly all at once and rushed my head into my seat cushion and then we were in the sky. There was mild turbulence for the first 30 minutes and that made my heart race faster than I wanted it to. I just tried to relax and get some sleep so I would not fall victim to jet lag. I was only awake for a few hours on the flight, mostly to eat and watch a part of a film on a touch screen located on the back of each seat.
We landed in France and I felt a lot better after experiencing my first flight. The landing was relatively smooth and made the connecting flight to London go by a lot smoother.
Blog #2 Major Differences in Major Cities
So far during my time within London I have been comparing the city to the other major cities in the United States I have visited. Other than Pittsburgh the only other noteworthy city I have visited is New York City and I find myself making constant comparisons to it. I understand everything is situational and cities change depending on the time and seasons, but my experience in New York City is the best comparison I can make at this time.
I was in New York City this past May and spent the same amount of time there as I am spending in London. I instantly fell in love with New York City. It just had a feel to it that I have never experienced before. All the busy people around trying to be successful really got to me. I very much assumed that London would be like a New York. However, I was pleasantly surprised, and I have new thoughts and expectations on major cities.
The thing I find great about London that I was super surprised about was just how quiet it can be. I was in many different places in New York and constantly the city was noisy. London does have its loud moments around the pubs, but you can be walking down the major city streets populated with other people around and only hear the taps of your shoes on the concrete. The mindset around just seems to be a little different. It feels as if things just move at a different pace.
Even during times of heavy traffic or moments of confusion at cross walks, not many people honk their horns unless it is necessary. Looking back on New York City, the noise of the traffic is something that I definitely remember. Since public transportation is used in the majority of London residence, it seems like there is a different mindset of traveling through the city that our major hubs lack. Even with the Tube travel seems a lot more organized. There are many helpful workers within the tube and they all are relatively friendly and help people out. The workers in the subway in New York City just give off a different vibe.
Something I also wanted to mention was how clean the city was. Very rarely would you find littler on the street. There were litter bins frequently and they would have their own purpose. Recycling bins are seen more often than bins for litter and you could even find a bin that was just for gum and cigarette butts. You would also see a lot of sanitation workers constantly through the city. I feel like they have done an effective job on keeping the city clean unlike I have ever seen before in any other city. Something surprising as well was the lack of graffiti. If something was tagged by graffiti, it seemed liked it was then painted over. You could notice in certain spots.
Blog #3 Connecting Cultures by Train
When I heard that we would have to catch the train to Paris by waking up at 3:30 in the morning I was unsure on what to expect. I figured that it would more than likely be a major struggle for several of us fighting through the exhaustion. Several of us have experienced jetlag and that took time to get over and effected our sleep patterns and now the early rise was sure to throw a curve ball into our sleep cycles.
On the evening before departure, I stayed up until midnight packing and finishing some work and feel asleep by 12:45. That night of sleep was the best one I have felt so far on the trip; however, it was cut short by the barking of my 3:30AM alarm. I have had issues sleeping every night so far with not being able to fall asleep fast and if I wake up, it takes a long time for me to fall back asleep. This sleep I was in was the best one because it was the first time the entire trip where I was dreaming. Hopefully I can become adjusted in France.
Once awake I got my things together and headed down to lobby to meet the group only to be the second one there. We got a packed lunch and headed by bus to the Eurostar station to take the train that would run all the way into Paris. The time on the Eurostar was an experience of its own.
After passing through customs, we boarded the train shortly after 5 AM. If you were to look at our group you could tell several of us were getting tired. Our seats faced the opposite direction of the moving train. This disoriented several of us for a few minutes. Another odd sensation we experienced was when the train went through tunnels, which happened frequently, the pressure change of the fast moving train would force your ears to pop. After about fifteen minutes these sensations affected us less and less. Some of us decided to use the time to attempt to catch up on the sleep we lost. I decided to stay up and look at the English country side for a while.
The countryside was very beautiful, I’m sure we only brushed the surface but there was much greenery at times. There were wide open fields, dense foliage of trees and even foggy marshes. It was nice to get to see these wonderful landscapes, I wish I could have gotten to explore some of these lands. I also navigated the bumpy train cab trying not to fall on a seated person to go to the café on the train.
The ride was just around 2 hours long. I was surprised when we arrived at the amount of graffiti at the station. There really was a different feel and experience within the two different countries and their stations. Overall it was an effective way of travel that connects these two nations that have had centuries of history with one another.
Blog #4 What I Learned from London Media
So far the media visits have given us a great look into the way the British handle their media. The organizations and groups gave us great insights to the future of how their media is shaping and how it differs from ours in the United States. The media visits we have had in London were a presentation from The Hangout at the City University of London, A Social Media round table, The Guardian, and Bloomberg.
The Hangout provided us with a great introduction into the way British media operates. We had two speakers, one from the University and the other worked for BBC sports over in Manchester where their headquarters is located. They both spoke of the trends in their media and what tools it took to be successful in the business. The man from BBC sports name was James Probert, only 26 years old. He gave us a great look into how far hard work can get you. This was a valuable moment that encouraged myself to want to reach his level of success by his age. One thing I found surprising that I found from James’s story was his schooling. I spoke with him after the event about this and he took a year off before going to school to travel, which is common in Britain, and once in school it only takes three years for a degree with it only costing him about two-thousand British Pounds to attend school a year. That in US Dollars is a little over three thousand dollars. I wish school was that cheap back home.
The social media round table was great, I personally learnt a lot from this experience. We sat in an intimate setting with three speakers that gave us a brief presentation of their work and then opened themselves for questions. One speaker was Anton Perreau, he was named one of 30 under 30 by PR Week. As an Account manager for Battenhall, he showed us what innovative ideas that helped his company stand out with the use of social media.
Later that day we attended the newspaper office of The Guardian. The Guardian recently won a Pulitzer Prize for the Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. We had a meeting that mostly covered the history of their company and how photo journalism plays within their paper.
On the last day we attended Bloomberg. Bloomberg is a TV & Web financial organization. Their office reminded me of what Google was like when I toured their office in Pittsburgh just a few months ago. I was very creative in design but the best way I could describe it was that it was more professional looking than structure that is Google offices. They met with us and let us have some coffee or tea and what other food they have in their massive kitchen/lounge area. We spoke to individuals about the daily operations of Bloomberg and how it changed after the former mayor of New York City returned to his office here. One person that we spoke with worked formally in the New York City office and now resides in London. There are not any solid walls between workers, only glass to symbolize the level of unity between the workers.
Blog Post #5 Initial Impression of Paris
We arrived in Paris around the noon hour. As I mentioned in the previous blog that there is a substantial amount of graffiti leading into the station that the Eurostar that connects London and Pairs, I found this to be very surprising. London was neat and orderly, their litter disposal and control was on point. Instantly transitioning to a place with graffiti everywhere changed my impression on what I thought Paris would be like.
Paris is just as populated as London but is about 10 times smaller. With all of these people within a smaller area I could understand that it would be difficult to keep an eye on smaller crimes like vandalism. We boarded a bus from the train station that took us on a brief tour around the city. What I noticed instantly was that the streets were a lot narrower. Something else that was interesting that you could notice was the age of the buildings, along with the height of the city streets. What I found out later is that skyscrapers are forbidden in Paris to keep the original architecture in mind and preserved. We took a brief stop at a famous scenic location to view the Eiffel Tower.
Stepping off the bus was the first look into what our time among the Parisian people would be like. Constantly there would be people approaching you trying to get you to buy some of their products such as miniature Eiffel Towers or some other object a tourist might want. Something that I noticed was the amount of sunlight. I thought it was just my eyes but each day there seemed to be a large amount of bright sun. That night the sun did not set until around 9:30-9:45, and this trend continued each night. It seems that the sun might be in the sky for about 18 hours a day. Sunglasses came in handy if you had them.
One thing that I noticed fast was the number of monuments or sculptures that were around the city. It seemed that on every street there had to be at least one around, sometimes a street had several. These monuments of these important or religious individuals seemed to be the only protected space from the amount of graffiti around. I am not sure if the areas are just heavily policed or the French collectively decide that these monuments are important and vandals decide to stay away.
We arrived next at the famous Notre Dame, I was very impressed with the detail in this massive building. The area around was heavily populated with people and has become very tourist like, but the cathedral itself was massive and beautiful.
That night I was impressed with my first taste of French food. We had three courses that would soon become a trend in our dining. First I had a goat cheese salad, followed by a choice of salmon or duck with an apple tart for dessert.
We took a scenic boat cruise as the sun went down that night. The boat went along the river and had an audio tape in about 4 languages that would describe the importance of buildings or areas. Once I let myself fall into the cultural history of the city, I started to really enjoy being in Paris.
Blog Post 6: Ice Cream Sunglasses
For this blog I have decided to talk about my various dining experiences in Paris, because I feel as if almost half of my time has been spent in cafes because since the dining experience is so much different here than what I have experienced in American restaurants. Coming to France I assumed a lot of my time here would be a struggle because I know hardly any of the language, but I soon found out that the majority of the people within the city are multi-lingual with the majority knowing French and English. However, I took the mindset that I am a guest in their country, and the majority of my interactions with the French I attempted to speak in their language.
The first restaurant I stepped in was in the Latin Quarter with a small group. This area seemed to be heavy with cafes and restaurants for a reasonable price. The workers of the restaurants would often be on the outer side of their establishments trying to lure you in. There were a lot of restaurants like that and the abrasive nature of approaching me actually made me want to turn away from their business. When we were seated we had a time deadline to get back to our bus, I believe it was about 45 minutes. As we found out that is not nearly enough times to eat a French meal. I had some of the most delicious French onion soup (well I guess it’s just onion soup here) followed by a small beef steak. This was supposed to be a three course meal followed by desert, but since everything comes out separately we had to leave before we could eat it to catch the bus.
Something we soon notice was the just how different the overall dining experience is when you are in a French restaurant. The serving staff does not introduce themselves and they stay away from the table mostly. Drink refills are not free, even water, so there is no need for them to come back to constantly take care of us. Really the only thing they do is bring you the food and often replenish the basket of sliced baguette that is at every restaurant. Something to add is that not once was there butter ever served with baguette, not that I am complaining I am just pointing out a cultural difference. The dining experience in France seems to be about spending the time with the people you come with rather than you spending time with the food and serving staff.
Language differences did become a problem though most of the menus will also often list their items in English or have a separate menu for different languages. If I ever ran into a problem with understanding something I was not far from a student who could help me understand. One moment of not understanding was during a warm visit to the Sacred Heart cathedral in northern Paris. After my group stopped for lunch I went to a crepe stand that also had ice cream bars. I could not understand the menu nor did it seem like the worker knew another language other than French. I figured it would be simple and a friend and I both picked up an ice cream bar and approached the counter. After we paid our Euros he starts yelling for our attention as we walked away. And to our surprise he handing us a pair of sunglasses of the brand of ice cream. They are nice looking sunglasses in the wayfarer style that just have the symbol of the brand on them, a brand you can get in the United States I will add. These ice cream shades are my new favorite pair of sunglasses I own.
Blog Post 6: Historical Locations of Paris
Paris is an area rich in culture and history, and the Parisians are proud of it too. As I mentioned in a previous blog the number of monuments around the city, what I did not mention was the locations around where historical figures lived or the specific paintings that call Paris their home. I had the opportunity to visit and view many marvelous sights while I was there.
Whenever we had a media visit or group meeting, rather than just taking the metro to get there, our tour guide would often escort us by having us walk around the city to see important sights. One day we walked from our hotel in the 18th district to see the Sacred Heart cathedral that resides in the same district. We walked past one of the few cemeteries with the risen graves within Paris. This was quite a sight; there were miniature tombs for individual people, a sight we are not use to seeing in traditional American graveyards.
As we continued about 5 minutes away from our hotel we started to walk up a street that a residency where Vincent Van Gogh lived for several years. The building was surprisingly not that impressive looking and just matched the look of the other buildings in the area. There was a place outside the entry way to the apartment to commemorate Van-Gogh’s time there. Also we walked a little while longer and found the former studio of another famous artist, Pablo Picasso. Picasso’s studio was located in a small park area with the buildings circling around several trees. There was a window there showcasing copies of his work and stories of his life. It gave you an idea of what the place might of looked like when he as trying to see his paintings all those years ago.
On the Saturday we spent in Paris we had the opportunity to visit either the The Louvre, The Musee D’Orsay, or go up the Eiffel Tower. I chose The Louvre which was the former place of Napoleon turned into an art museum. Also later that night Musee D’Orsay would be open to the public free of charge so I figured I could attended both. I was blown away by the impressive size of The Louvre, I traveled with a group and we sat in the lawn in the middle of the structure to take it all in. The Louvre is shaped into a rectangle area with missing one of the smaller sides, the area in the middle is well kept garden and lawn with many fountains and sculptures. It seemed like a popular destination for many people to picnic. To enter you go into a massive glass pyramid that goes down to enter a hub of the different areas of The Louvre. I was impressed by the massive size, unfortunately there was not enough time to travel throughout the entire building. One sight I was joyed to see was Leonardo Di Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The Musee D’Orsay was massive train station turned into museum that has two massive clocks on the outside. D’Orsay is the impressionist museum housing that style of artwork. I was very pleased to view many of the works by Van Gogh.
Blog Post 8: Disneyland
It was an exciting moment when we found out that we were going to be attending Disneyland Paris on the trip. It made me really happy to be given this opportunity, especially since I have never been to any form of Disney Park prior. We would be attending the new Disney University that discusses their park management and operation and then we were free to spend the rest of the day within their park. Disney is a very iconic brand and means a lot to so many people, I did not know what would be in store when we arrived at the park but I was pleased to find out.
We arrived by taking the express RER train and we were greeted by a friendly employee of Disneyland Paris that showed us to their shuttle bus that took us to their area for Disney University. The area was decorated with iconic moments in Disney history as well as moments for the brand overall such sponsored sporting events. We were taken into a lecture hall were we showed a presentation by several employees. They spoke of the initial struggle when they came to Paris and how they were negatively covered by the media at first and how their Public Relations Department and to turn the brand image around. Disneyland Paris opened in 1992 with the name Euro Disney originally. They also discussed the planning and the execution of their 20th anniversary celebration. It was a great opportunity to see how hard work and successful planning can work to pull a brand into the positive light and making it successful.
We were free to enter the park around 1 P.M. or 13:00 in French time. Our lunch was unfortunately not covered and we all spent some money on overpriced park food. The first thing the group I was with did was ride Spcae Mountain. I found out during the lecture that the Space Mountain opening was the event that started the beginning of the positive turn around for Disneyland Paris back in 1994. We spent a lot of time going around the different rides such as the teacups and a Buzz-Lighyear ride. I was a little disappointed that the iconic Dumbo ride was closed for maintenance. Unfortunately it became a rainy day in Disneyland. It was drizzling for the majority of the day, then it started pouring.
Something interesting about the employees at this park is that they are all multi-lingual to my knowledge. Disneyland Paris caters to countries that all speak different languages and focuses mostly on French, English, German, Spanish, and Russian. The announcements go off in a loop of several of the languages as well as the attractions. For an example the Haunted Mansion ride speaks mostly in French than would occasionally switch over to English. This created an odd cultural mix up that became quite fun. I can imagine that difficulty within the planning and management just to cater to all the different cultures within one area. Disneyland Paris is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Europe right now so they must be doing the management effectively.
Blog 9: A full look at the overall experience
Preparing for the trip I had many ideas and expectations for what the trip would consist of. I was very excited to learn about these foreign media and then get the opportunity to visit them. Not only would this trip be a learning experience academically, I would use this chance to learn and experience different culture. To put things into retrospect, I have never been on an airplane before this trip and I had to get my passport just for the occasion. I was very excited to have this opportunity and make the most of it.
Something that leaned me in the direction of taking the class was that this was the first time it would be two different countries. It has always been a personal dream of mine to visit Great Britain for some of my family descends from there, and I was really excited to experience the proud culture and history of the French.
After surviving my first flight and having a brief layover in Paris I arrived happily in London. When I look back about my time there I feel as if I enjoyed this part of the trip the most even though it was the most brief. Even though it was four days at London it felt like so much less. The whole first day was fighting off jetlag and on the last evening there was not much time to do things in the evening because of the 4AM train ride out of country. All of the things we experienced were some of the most enjoyable times including the ins and outs of the media visits. My favorite media visit in London was the social media roundtable and the trip to Bloomberg. I felt like those were the most rewarding visits we had while we were in London. I also really enjoyed the atmosphere as well. The city was clean, the people were friendly, and the sights were beautiful. It is a new life goal to return to Great Britain because of this experience.
Paris was interesting and I did not expect to feel the way I felt about it. I was in shock where I saw the graffiti around the city as my first impression. London was spotless and coming to this had me take a step back because I did not think they would be that different. The time in Paris felt like it went on so much longer than the time in London. I do not know why but I felt like I was in this city twice as long as the previous one. The city is beautiful and I fell in love with French culture while I was there.
Visiting Normandy beaches was such a moving experience. I am glad to have had that chance to visit and I am proud to say so as well. It is such a moving sight, seeing all the crosses in the American grave site.
The last few days were my favorite times in France. Staying at Saint Malo was perfect to finish the trip, I just wish we could have had more than a day there. The sights around this town were some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever witnessed.
I am so happy for my experiences on the international media trip and would not trade a single memory.