May 11, 2014: First Impressions
It feels very surreal to be writing this from my London hotel room after dreaming of visiting the city for so long. Although we’ve spent the semester discussing and preparing for the trip, it doesn’t actually feel real until you are on European soil! Like quite a few of my other classmates, this is my first time abroad and a completely new and exciting experience.
Although I have been running on about my 29th hour without sleep (give or take an hour or two of napping on the plane), I somehow still feel energized. Although I may just be going a bit crazy, a large part of it is being in a city filled with new and fascinating things that you cannot really comprehend until you’re here.
After arriving in London in late morning, we met with our wonderful tour guide, Vincent, and stepped right onto a bus for a guided tour of the city. It was great to view a bit of the suburbs by way of west London before eventually traveling into the central part of the city with all of the iconic landmarks and views that most people only get to see in pictures. From the city block-long Harrod’s, London’s oldest store, to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, it was a bit overwhelming to take in all of the famous sights within just a few miles of each other.
Our first stop in the city was the Tower of London, which sits right on the River Thames by the fantastic Tower Bridge. The castle was built in the early 11th century and in its time has served as both a royal residence and a torturous prison. It was upon arrival here that everything began to feel real as I stood in the midst of so much history. That is the biggest thing that I have recognized thus far: London is filled with such a past dating back from centuries before America was even discovered. This was especially relevant upon viewing the Crown Jewels, which featured the diadems, scepters and crowns used at the coronations and ceremonies of British royalty. It is amazing to see these pieces right in front of you, as these priceless items seem almost fictional when reading about them at home.
We spent the evening having a welcome dinner at Bloomsbury Kitchen and Bar and taking in a bit more of the city around us on the walk there. Although we were all exhausted from the previous 24 hours, it was nice to have a bit of a break. From cars driving on the opposite sides of the road to the architecture that decorates the buildings, there is no doubt that England has a very unique and historic culture that is so different from what I have experienced in the U.S. I am looking forward to seeing more and more of what London has to offer through our media visits and all of the other exciting things we have planned before heading off on the chunnel to Paris!
May 12, 2014: Disconnecting
I’d like to think that I am the type of person who can easily turn off their phone and forget about who may be trying to text me, post on my Facebook, or tag me in their Instagram photo. When preparing for Europe, I thought that it would be no problem to go without an international phone plan and rely on a bit of our hotel Internet for connecting with family and friends. However, it turns out that completely disconnecting is not the easiest thing to do.
During our first group dinner in London, the average person might think that the room would be filled with chatter and excitement to finally be in the city and experience it for the first time. Think again! The excitement upon arriving at dinner had much more to do with the restaurant having free Wi-Fi that anything else. Everyone (not excluding myself) could be seen burying themselves in their phones to check up on what they had missed in the less than 24 hours away they had been away from social media. While some of this communication may have had to do with updating loved ones on their safe arrival, much of it was not. This desperation for Internet access has only increased over the past couple of days as we have been having trouble accessing our hotel Wi-Fi.
What is it that makes us so keen to endure constant contact with our friends and keep up to date on everything that they are doing, saying, and even eating? Although I am not one to post a lot on social media, I still felt the urge to share many of the things we were doing throughout the actual experiences. It is quite sad to think of how difficult it is for people of the smart phone generation to live in the moment and not worry about everyone else’s lives. We are distracting ourselves from not only the sights and sounds of the world around us, but also all of the people we could be meeting, talking to, and learning from.
As we continue on during this trip, I hope to grow better at distancing myself from my phone and being connected. I think that this is one of the most important lessons of travelling (especially abroad): to be independent and think things out on your own without the help of Google Maps or iMessage. Whether you are travelling alone or in a group, it is important to figure out simple things such as how to route a trip on the Tube or converting American dollars to pounds without apps doing all of the work for you. People have been problem solving without the help of this technology for all of time leading up to the current decade, so why can’t we?
This trip abroad has already been flying by and with our time left in London being less than two days, I think that being disconnected will grow to be a bit easier and lot more enjoyable as I try to soak in all of my time here!
May 14, 2014: Wembley & Our Last Day in London
As one of 4 SAEM (Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management) majors on this international trip, we had the chance to do a few extra things in London geared towards our own career interests. Tuesday morning, we took the Tube to Wembley Stadium for a tour and to learn a bit about how the venue operates in comparison to its American counterparts.
Wembley is host to many large music and sporting events such as the FA World Cup and home to the England national football team. Football (or as we Americans like to call it, soccer) is a very big deal in England, as it is in most European countries. Wembley welcomes 90,000 roaring fans to every match they host, while in America soccer is almost an afterthought of a sport. It was very interesting to view a stadium of this scale while the only stadiums I have ever been in are much smaller and focused on American football. We had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions concerning the events, operations, and media access related to the venue. While the sport itself may be different, the passion for the teams and event experience are very comparable. I am so glad that we were allowed to have this opportunity to experience a bit of this type of industry across the pond!
Last evening and much of today after a great visit to the Bloomberg offices, we had a lot of free time to choose what else we wanted to see of the city before leaving bright and early tomorrow morning. Although I enjoyed our media visits and scheduled plans immensely, it was great to be able to take my time exploring some new parts of London and all of the quirky and interesting things it has to offer. This afternoon, a friend and I visited Camden Town, which is a district in Inner London with the biggest marketplace I have ever seen. Camden has the biggest alternative scene in London and is filled with a musical culture from punk rock to reggae. For blocks and blocks, there is nothing but vendors selling everything from international foods to punk clothing to handmade glassware. It was a completely different side to London that we had seen thus far and made me love the city even more.
Although we have only been in London for less than 4 days, I have already grown comfortable in the city. Not only is it much easier to navigate than I imagined it would be, but the people are warm and friendly despite it being such a large city. It is very similar to America in a lot of ways and even the little things that seemed weird and different when we arrived here on Sunday feel quite normal now. While speaking of this today with some of my classmates, we all agreed that we felt very welcomed and relaxed in the city despite the short amount of time that we have been here. Even though I’ll be sad to leave London tomorrow, I am excited to arrive in Paris and experience a new foreign city all over again!
May 15, 2014: Anniversaire in Paris
Most Americans celebrate their 21st birthday by hitting the bars at midnight and staying up all night long. I must say that I was wide-awake at 4 am as well, except it was to take the Chunnel from London to Paris! We arrived in the city of lights around 10 am local time and as soon as we left the train station, it was clear that we weren’t in London anymore. The first thing on our itinerary was a bus tour on the way to the Eiffel Tower. The sights of the city are even more beautiful and astounding than what you see in pictures and movies.
After a photo op at the Tower, we continued on to visit Notre Dame and have lunch at the Latin Quarter. While I have always thought Pittsburgh to be a beautiful city, it really can’t even compare to Paris. The French are known to be very proud people, and now I completely understand why! Our tour guide Vincent, who lives in Paris, has been talking up the city since we met him and he in no way let us down.
But to be completely honest, the city could have looked like a run down mess and I would still want to spend every day here simply because of the food. From lunchtime onion soup, crepes, and ice cream to a dinner of goat cheese salad and salmon, everything individually was honestly the best I’ve ever had. After such a lovely day, I almost forgot that it was even my birthday until I was surprised with a beautiful raspberry cake and French champagne at dinner at Le Bistro de Montmartre. It is definitely something I will never forget and merci to everyone who helped make it so special!
After dinner, our group went for a moonlit cruise on the River Seine. The ride takes you right through the heart of the city and passes the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Musée d’Orsay, and more other landmarks that I can name. It truly felt like going back in time and makes it completely understandable that Parisians are so proud and keen on preserving their city of stunning architecture and art. It also makes more sense now that the French people are much more relaxed with their time than Americans because who would want to rush around all day when there are sights like these to embrace? It is something that I think I would never tire of.
Looking back on this trip, we will have countless memories of the things we saw, the people we met, and the culture that surrounded us. However, I’m lucky enough to say I spent a birthday in Paris that I will always remember.
In the next week, we will be visiting more sights of the city and media centers that I am really looking forward to including Ketchum Paris and Agence France-Presse. As a huge center of education in the world, it will be interesting to see the country’s take on communication and their thoughts on America’s media as well.
May 17, 2014: Montmarte et la Louvre
After seeing many of the world famous sights of Paris, I was really looking forward to visiting the district of Montmartre on Saturday. Montmartre is located on a hill in the north of the city, not far from our hotel, where many Parisians spend their weekends at the many cafes and shops. The area is filled with a lot less tourists than other parts of the city and is known for its artistic background.
It was a perfect morning for a walking tour of the district, and we got to see many sights that the typical tourist in Paris would not get to see. Passing through the cobblestone streets, we saw Vincent Van Gogh’s apartment, Pablo Picasso’s studio, vineyards, markets, and the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Despite many better-known locations in the city, this area seemed more likely to me to be the city’s heart where the history and culture of Paris and its people is evident.
For the rest of the day, we were given a few different options on what to do. It was an easy choice for me to visit the Louvre, a place I have heard of so many times but didn’t know much about. I knew it to be the home of legendary works such as the Mona Lisa and Virgin on the Rocks, and the location of many key pieces of The Da Vinci Code. However, it’s the past of the building that was themost eye opening and interesting to me personally. Originally the Louvre Palace, it was home to French royalty beginning in the 12th century and eventually became a display place for artistic works owned by the monarchy. Upon first sight, it was unbelievable to comprehend the Louvre as one of the biggest museums in the world, let alone that it could ever be someone’s home. From its vast gardens that are a regular hang out for many Parisians to the Grand Louvre Pyramids, il est magnifique!
One of the biggest difficulties I have had on this trip so far has been trying to get let the significance of some of the things we have been seeing sink in. Standing in front of the Mona Lisa or beside the walls of a medieval castle was very hard to comprehend. It didn’t feel much different than if I’d seen the painting on the Internet or an old brick at the side of the road, and I don’t know why. It may have been because I knew what to expect, that I was too tired, or I may just be overwhelmed by everything that I’ve been experiencing. No matter what, it is something that I can definitely cross of my bucket list!
Although it seems as if I’ve been abroad for months, the trip is passing by much more quickly than I’d hope. Before long we’ll be heading off to Normandy, which gives me great excitement and also a lot of dread as I don’t want to be heading back home so soon! Until then, there is a lot ahead of us to look forward to.
May 19, 2014: Language Barrier
When it became official that I was going to London and France for this trip, I had big plans. I was going to learn as much French as possible, schedule my free time so I could fit in everything I wanted to experience, and choose the perfect European outfits that fit into a small, easy to carry suitcase. Anyone who has seen my suitcase knows that I failed at the latter goal, but it was not learning a lot of French that I am most disappointed about.
Every time a new semester begins, I like to set some goals that usually fall apart after a few weeks. Although this past semester was spent at an internship I loved, some travel, and a lot of other great experiences, I spent a lot of it stressed about how I would possibly get everything I needed to done. Needless to say, there was no time for learning a new language except for the phrases we learned in our International Media class. I wasn’t worried about it because everyone was telling me that “everyone” in Paris spoke English and if I could greet him or her with a few words, I would be fine. This was completely true, but it didn’t occur to me how dumb I would feel in a city filled with not only bilinguals but also many people who spoke three or more languages.
Beginning in kindergarten, my class had a teacher visit us at least once a week to teach us Spanish. I continued to take Spanish classes up to my third year of high school (a total of 11 years) and I’m sad to say that I don’t have much to show for it. As Americans, I think that we really take for granted the opportunities we have to learn new languages and the limited amount of truly bilingual people we do have shows how internally focusedwe are. The French are fluent in multiple languages by the time they graduate high school, while I can barely speak a sentence after studying for years. Our tour guide Vincent, for example, can jump from English to French to Portuguese to multiple other languages without missing a beat. While I don’t know much about the education systems in Europe, it is clear that they are doing one thing right by enforcing the learning of a new language.
While I have made it through a few experiences so far speaking only French, I couldn’t imagine what I would do if no one here spoke English. This has helped me gain a lot of respect for international people travelling in the U.S., which would be very difficult if you didn’t speak English. Even if you do know the language, the cultural differences and accents would be enough to get used to. This experience has definitely helped me gain more respect for foreigners travelling in our country just as I hope we are respected when going abroad. And although I haven’t experienced it yet so far, I can understand the stereotype about how the French feel about Americans travelling into their country.
May 20, 2014: They Speak French in France
With so many Parisians and tourists speaking English, it doesn’t always feel like I’m travelling in a foreign country. For every one person who speaks only French, there are five others who speak French, English and two other languages. With that reasoning, it felt good to be immersed in the language when a group of us went to see a musical production of La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) at Théâtre Mogador in Paris.
Although I knew that I would not understand much of what was being said in the play, the opening scene was a bit of a shock, as I couldn’t decipher a single word. The stage and production aspects of the show were just as fantastic as any Broadway musical would be, but I still found myself falling asleep a bit during the first act. A lot of this probably had to do with the fact that I’ve been averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night, but I also wasn’t seeing past the words that were being said. However, after I had the chance to wake up a bit during intermission, my experience became much better. Rather than focusing on everyone’s speech, I paid attention to the body language and emphasis of the actors, which helped me understand and enjoy the show much more. I may not have understood exactly what was being laughed at and cheered by the audience, but I learned that music and entertainment are universal no matter what language you speak. It helped that I remembered a bit of the storyline from watching the Disney movie repeatedly as a kid, but by curtain close I had really enjoyed the show.
This experience carried through when we attended mass on Sunday morning at Notre Dame. Although it was an international service, the entirety of the mass was spoken in French. We were given programs beforehand with the prayers and readings in various languages, so it made it easy to follow along in English if you knew what was being said. The mass was interesting to me as a Catholic because although I did not understand the language, the ritual of the mass was just the same as any other that I have attended. It was difficult to stay focused on the liturgy though when inside of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world!
My French language immersion continued with our trip to Disneyland Paris. After a wonderful presentation (my favorite of the trip) by some of the staff members of the park, we were given free access to spend the rest of the day in the park. Though I have only spent a day in Florida’s Disney World, it was interesting to see the many differences between the two. There is nothing quite like having Buzz Lightyear say “bonjour!” to you or hearing the characters of Pirates of the Carribbean tease you in a language you don’t understand. Once again, it really helped that I had a background on the storylines of these characters or it would have been quite confusing!
I hope to have a few more of these experiences during our time in France!
May 22, 2014: What’s the rush?
Walking down the cobblestone streets or through a crowded metro station in Paris, the typical American might be shocked to see people’s actual faces. Rather than being buried in their phones or focusing on not spilling their Starbucks, everyone pays attention to what is in front of them and don’t seem to care who is on their Facebook news feed. Even sitting alone in a coffee shop, you don’t see people messing with their smartphones because they are too “busy” taking the time to enjoy their espresso.
On one of our first days in London, I was told that I looked American because I was carrying my coffee to the Tube with me. It’s no secret that I drink coffee like it’s my job, but I had to stop and think of why I did it. The reason why no one else was carrying theirs because even in a chain like Starbucks, it’s not the norm to take your coffee to go because people choose to take a few minutes to relax and drink it in the shop. Although I wondered at first “how do people have time for that?” it then occurred to me that these people are probably just as busy as Americans are but chose to separate their work time from their leisure.
Today, we left Paris and visited the beautiful beaches of Normandy. After being in the city for so long, the views seemed even more breathtaking and humbling. So close to Memorial Day and the anniversary of D-Day, walking through the American cemetery and memorial was even more resonating as we passed 9,000 white crosses and stars of fallen soldiers. Although incredibly sad, I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place for them to lay to rest.
After the beaches, we headed to the little town of Bayeux to stay the night. Getting into town so late, we had a bit of time to explore before going to a wonderful buffet-style dinner. We went to dinner around 7:30 and about an hour later, we had gotten through most of the six-course meal. Vincent explained to us that had this been a room full of French people, the meal would have still been going on around midnight. Our entire group was together on our second to last night in France with absolutely nowhere to be in this little town, and yet we were still rushing to get through the meal. The group of us that were sitting near Vincent all tried to follow his lead in slowing down a bit and it ended up being a great night with delicious food, good conversation, and the infamous Calvados.
After all I have learned on this trip, whether it be from the media visits or experiencing other cultures, one of the biggest things I am going to take with me is taking my time and enjoying my meals and the people I spend them with. No matter how busy I may be, it would be more beneficial to take a little bit of time to enjoy myself rather than spend hours rushing without a break to reflect on why I am rushing after all!
May 24, 2014: Reflecting
These past two weeks have been a whirlwind and although I’m sore, jet-lagged, and out of clean clothes, I am missing Europe already. We travelled all day on Friday after spending the previous day in St. Malo visiting the medieval town and Mont St. Michel. Despite the poor weather, I think we saved some of the best sights for last. Mont St. Michel is essentially located on a rock about one kilometer off the coast of northern France and the abbey that sits at its peak dates back to around 700 AD. When high tide comes in, it is completely surrounded by water and is absolutely gorgeous! That night, we stayed inside the stonewalls of the ancient city of St. Malo after touring the beautiful sights and enjoyed a delicious farewell dinner.
Everyone says that traveling abroad for the first time is a life-changing experience, and I can honestly say that I agree with that. Although I love the United States, it was very eye opening to experience life in London and France. I not only enjoyed all of our sightseeing and media visits but felt truly immersed in the cultures of both countries despite the small amounts of time that we spent there. I feel that I have learned so much besides the communication aspects of this trip from how to order a drink at a London pub to proper dinner etiquette according to Parisian culture. Although many of the things I learned may not work well overseas, I hope to keep most of it intact even though I am back home.
At the start of this trip, I knew only a few of my other classmates but now can consider many of them friends. Despite spending a semester in the same class together, it took going overseas for many of us to get to know each other. However, sharing these memories and experiences grew us close than I think any time in a Point Park classroom ever could. Our farewell dinner got a bit emotional as I think many of us weren’t ready to leave just yet! I’m really grateful to have had the chance to share this trip with so many great people who helped make it as amazing as it was.
Being surrounded by so many new things every day, I’ve come back with an appetite for learning unlike any I have had before. Coincidentally, this summer will hopefully be bringing me some new found free time to learn more French and read, read, read! Like all I have experienced on this trip, I just hope that it will stay with me as I try not to get completely caught up in school, work and everything else that comes along.
Although I am so grateful for having this single experience, I hope that it is the first of many for me. Visiting these beautiful countries has only made me want to go back and see them again along with so many other places I have yet to go to. These past weeks will always hold a special place in my heart and I’m grateful to be able to look back on it not just through pictures, but also through my blog posts and with the people I spent those days with. Now onto the next adventure!