COME SO FAR (Got so far to go)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

This Saturday morning, I went on a short two mile run to get my day rolling. The moment I started to jog, four beautiful white doves flew above me. It was definitely a sign of peace and being content in my life.

After my workout, it dawned on me that we do not give ourselves enough credit for how far we've come. Think about it: In middle school we dreamed of the future and imagined our successes in the years to come. In high school we were extremely stressed about getting into college, getting good grades, performing well on sports teams, and being as involved as we could to make a good impression for admissions offices. Once in college, we had already achieved so much yet we still found countless ways to be stressed about the future. We are now worried about finding an internship, figuring out our strengths & passions and what we want to do, and eventually landing a job. It seems to me that we're always striving for more without ever looking back and noticing how far we've come, what we've already achieved, and how much we've grown as an individual. We may have a lot ahead of us - there's no denying that - but it's important to remember that you have come a long way and you deserve FAR more credit than you give yourself. We should give ourselves a break more often and enjoy the present with satisfaction. When you don't feel like you're enough, just remember where you started and where you are now.

Today, I let myself look back in awe of what I've already overcome, perservered through, and accomplished. ~When I think back to middle school I remember a time where I had copious amounts of free time to pursue whatever I desired. I had so many different phases going from one activity to the next. One week it could be painting, another gardening, then scrapbooking, baking, experimenting with makeup, nail art, writing, watching a TV show, etc. I also played travel soccer, spent time with friends, went to school, and biked around my neighborhood. I kept busy that's for sure but I also dreamed of going back to California, visiting a foreign country, and wondered where life would take me. In high school, I worked hard for an unknown future but realized my goal was to get to California for college. I had no clue how I would make it happen but I was determined to get there and had faith. Senior year I applied for the Horatio Alger National Scholarship and to my astonishment, received the award. I attended their annual conference in Washington DC and met some extremely influential people, a few who changed my life. This award meant so much to me and is the reason attending college was possible. Then going to Chapman was a dream come true and I knew I had finally reached my goal. I started taking business classes, got involved on campus, and worked hard once more. Most recently I embarked on my year abroad which fulfilled many of my dreams and was life changing. Furthermore I started my first professional internship this summer. Eleven year old me woudn't be able to fathom how much I've accomplished.

That's my story in short, but now I encourage you to reflect on your own life, all that has happened - the good and the bad - and realize how far you've come! The good means you've conquered so much and the bad shows you've overstepped barriers. Despite what you may think about yourself and all your doubts and insecurities, you should know you're already an accomplished person just by all the things you've done. Think back to when you thought you'd never get through a time-consuming group project, a huge presentation, an ACT test, an interview, getting into your college - these are all major things we should be PROUD of now. Not many people take the time and energy to feel good about what they've already succeeded in, and just get caught up in the next project or commitment. Next time you're worried about all the craziness that lies ahead - since we are told it just gets harder - remember just how far you've come. Even if it means literally writing it down, looking at old pictures, or whatever it takes, just glance at the proof of your amazing, inspirational, noteworthy accomplishments! You should feel fulfilled and gratified. Look back with CONTENTEDNESS and PEACE OF MIND.

Nostalgic for Santa Barbara

Thursday, August 10, 2017

This past weekend I went to one of my favorite places in the entire world. We are all tied to certain places for many reasons. To wherever has brought us happiness that's become imprinted and embedded in our minds forever. For me it goes back to my childhood, and this is often the case as many of our deepest attachments form when we're young. We tend to glamorize the nostalgic feelings that consume us or exaggerate on the bliss we experienced back then. This many be the case, however I can't deny that I have the most beautiful memories from summer vacations spent in Santa Barbara, CA. 

My parents fell in love with Santa Barbara and found it to be the perfect getaway only four hours from our home in the Bay. Once there, we would spend long days at the beach where I would happily build sand castles, boogie board in the ocean, or dig giant holes in the sand. I could stay at the beach forever and never once get sick of it. I guess my parents felt the same way. Other days for instance we'd visit the Santa Barbara Zoo where the beloved crooked neck giraffe lived. I loved watching the otters play, since they were the most lively animal and at the end of the day I'd take home a pressed penny as a souvenir. For the 4th of July a whole day of festivities would be planned: dressed in red, white, and blue, attend the parade, and watch the fireworks on Butterfly Beach at night. I'll never forget sitting on a blanket in the sand with my family, gazing at the fireworks dazzling and popping above us over the dark and vast ocean. The warmth and love I felt for my family in those moments was so real and precious. Some memories are still so vivid I can practically relive them - and many times it was the simplest thing. Like how I'd feel once we'd just arrived... I'd normally fall asleep during the car ride, along with my brother and sister, and would be woken from my slumber by a nudge proclaiming our arrival. I'd be exhausted and sleepy-eyed, but held such an excruciating excitement because I knew in the morning we'd do all the amazing things I loved. My parents were the ones who made it exciting, and ultimately gave me the invaluable memories that are worth more to me than all the money I'd ever want. I could go on and on about our summers here, but all in all roots were placed here and they are latched on so strong. They keep tugging me back and I can't help but follow. As is quite clear, I'm very connected to Santa Barbara and whenever it's even mentioned my eyes light up and memories of the past reappear. It's bittersweet but I yearn for it.

Anyways, I was extremely excited to drive up to Santa Barbara to see old friends from my hometown. One of them attends UCSB and we stayed at her house in Isla Vista. It's a little town almost completely occupied by students making it a lively party scene yet equally quaint and charming. It's minutes from the ocean and just the thought of that gave me adrenaline like a firecracker. Somehow both mornings of the one weekend trip here I jogged the short distance to the beach and ended up jumping in the waves with my running clothes still on. How could I not jump in when it was that close and attainable? The water was the most perfect temperature and it was so rejeuvenating; I'd say it's the best medicine to cure anything. I could seriously do the exact same thing every morning and be completely satisfied with life. Followed by an acai bowl and some avocado toast, there's practically nothing better. Definitely considering my future in Santa Barbara...

I could tell you exactly what my friends and I did over the course of the short weekend, but as exciting as it all was, what matters most was just being present with them. These are friends that go way back to elementary school, which is still one of the highlights of my life thus far. I connect with their personalities and we share similar customs and values. We grew up together and in the same town. Our journey's in life may have taken different paths, but we were molded and shaped in the same way, by the same things, and around the same lifestyle and environment. I'll always find it easy to bond with this group of people and I seem to always find myself again when I'm with them. Again, I'm taken a hold of deep roots that are purposeful and meaningful. Knowing where you come from is so important and if you ever find yourself to be lost, it's a good place to start. You're bound to find your way again and remember all you are and what you stand for.

10 year reunion since Elementary school! (2007-2017)
That Sunday afternoon before heading back to SoCal, I spent time with my friend from college who lives there. We got gelato at my favorite place, sat on the yellow & sandy rocks I used to play on, and watched the ocean and people pass by. We walked by familiar places to me including the Biltmore Hotel, the Coral Casino, and the condominium complex where my family resided during our summers. It's still as real as ever and precisely what I remember it to be. Time has gone by and I'm older, but it's merely the same Santa Barbara that drives my soul. My friend also showed me a viewing area up on the hills that I'd never seen before which gave me a new perspective of the town I love so much. That car ride back home, I was extremely content with a full and happy heart. I felt so in tune with myself and overwhelmed by true friendship and good vibes. I feel blessed to have had such a nurturing upbringing that's provided me with everything that makes me who I am today. I'm grateful for my generous and selfless parents for giving me what I believe is the greatest treasure in the world. Something not of gold that shines and sparkles, but a contempt deep within for people I love and a place that is my eternal home.

1st Time in VEGAS

Friday, June 16, 2017

I love spontaneity. It produces the best memories - the ones that count. Anything that disrupts a routine is healthy for the soul in my opinion. When my friend asked me Friday afternoon if I'd like to accompany her to Las Vegas for a show the following day, I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation. It wasn't just that it was a free ticket, but the fact I love last minute getaways; I'd rather my weekend be exhilirating and spontaneous than boring and dull. I've learned to always have a toiletry bag handy and I can whip together an overnight tote in a few minutes. I'm pretty much always game for a new adventure.

People told me the ride from SoCal to Las Vegas was boring. I had an entirely different outlook. I thought the desert was beautiful with the massive hills and expansive prairies full of Joshua trees and cacti. I love open nature that isn't disturbed by industrial life. Maybe it's because I'm bored of seeing cornfields in the Midwest but I loved the drive to Nevada. Time also flies by when you're catching up with an old friend!

My first impression of Las Vegas was that it is a very small city. I had to remind myself that it was created for people's leisure and not a place for business or work. It's comprised of hotels, restaurants, and of course casinos. We had found a cheap hotel room on "the strip" so we would be right in the middle of everything. It was an excellent desicion and totally worth it to be in a central location. Plus our "cheap" hotel room happened to be enormous and more like a suite! We only wished we could have stayed longer.

The main purpose of our visit was to see the Cirque de Soleil show at the Bellagio Hotel. It was the most spectacular performance I've ever seen. The acrobats were doing unfathomable stunts and I was awestruck at how impossibly easy they made it all look. Such talent I witnessed! The coolest part of the show was that it used a stage with a pool in it. They called it the "O" theatre as in "eau" or water in French. Very clever. Between each act the pool would disappear and reappear and I couldn't believe the technology behind it all. Looking back, I'm still speechless as to how the acrobats were so fearless in every move they made but nonetheless it was pleasing to watch and enjoy.

After the show we watched the water fountain "show" outside the Bellagio. As the sun went down it was beautiful to see the waterworks display at night with the "Paris" of Las Vegas in the backdrop. Just having gotten back from France, I was in my Parisien heaven with the faux Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.

The rest of the evening was spent walking up and down the strip. It was a Saturday night so it was very busy. One of my favorite parts about Las Vegas is the weather. It's always the most perfect tempurature to walk around in without even needing a light sweater - and I get cold easily! My friend and I visited the M&M and Hershey's worlds where everything was overpriced but fancy to the eye. Walking along the strip was fun in its most simplest form. The lights at night were mesmerizing and wonderful. I loved the vibe of Las Vegas and how everyone was happy to be there. It definitely is a world of its own since there's no place quite like it. To compare it to Monaco seems unfitting but the fact it was so small and for an elite group of people made me think of the comparison. In Monaco it's all about the fancy cars or yachts, the casino, and the wealthy and in Las Vegas it's similar with the mentality of living (or vacationing) in luxury. Monaco is of a higher caliber and holds more class but in some ways Vegas reminded me of it. 

My mini getaway was over before I knew it but the drive home wasn't entirely uneventful. About 30 minutes outside of Vegas in the middle of the desert is the famous landmark the "Seven Magic Mountains." I'd seen lots of Instagram posts about it and was excited to experience it for myself. From what I know, a European artist created it and it was installed a year or so ago. It will only be up a little longer so I'm glad I could witness the large art piece. What stood out to me about the sculptures were the bright colors contrasted against the brown hues of the desert. It was a bold flash of color in the middle of nowhere. I love color and it was a happy place for me. There was a steady stream of toursits that kept coming in and out. Thanks to social media, it has become a top place to see and take pictures at. It's amazing how the Internet brings people together and drives common interest among individuals.

Well, my very first trip to Vegas may not be the stereotypical one where "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" (especially since I've basically noted everything I did there on this blog), but I'm happy I got to see what it was like! Sometime soon I'd like to go again! Cheers! <3

Nouvelle Fenêtre

Monday, June 12, 2017

I'm not going to lie, I miss being abroad. On the daily I daydream about past memories and incessantly scroll through my camera roll. France stole my heart away, and Grenoble still feels like home. I loved my life there and was perfectly content and happy. I didn't know my strong feelings would linger around this long, however I can't expect such a big part of my life to just slip away and be forgotten. I wouldn't want that, and I'm glad my experiences affected me so deeply. That journey is always going to be there with me as time moves forward. That being said, I've just begun a beautiful new chapter in my life that has already surprised me in more ways than one. After such an incredible year behind me, it's exciting to watch new opportunities unfold. 

I intended to be home with my family all summer, but it turned out to be only for a month. I was excessively determined and eager to find an internship, and I could find nothing in the Chicago area. At my last breaking point before giving up entirely, I finally got a window of opportunity. This particular fenêtra, was in California. This happened on a wim near the end of my search when I started applying to internships out by my school. I had no expectation of actually getting something, yet taking one! Moving out to CA for the summer at first seemed like a bold decision, but the extremeity of the situation decipated. I still can't believe sometimes how quickly my summer changed, but I could not be happier with my decision. It took a lot of work planning and making it possible, but I wanted this summer to be different where I could learn something new and grow in a different way. There were so many times I could have given up as many frustrating barriers got in the way, but I would not let them defeat me. I finally got blessed with an opportunity and I grasped it not letting go. The moment I arrived in California, I knew it was the right move. 

From that point on, it definitely felt like the real deal. I knew it was going to be a busy summer but I prefer it that way. I've taken on a summer class and I commute by train to my internship. On the bright side though I have views of the coast during my long ride and am thoroughly satisfied. My stop leaves me practically on the beach itself! My marketing internship has turned out to be even better than I imagined. I basically took over a women's job as she left for maternity leave for the summer. Everyone in the office is so friendly and the company has an open door, relaxed policy. I'm learning what it's like to work a 9-5 full-time job and the rigors of a daily workload. I even get my own cubicle and computer! It's so cool observing a new company culture and adapting to the norms and expectations of a professional environment. So far I seem to be striving in it, but I still have the rest of the summer to explore the benefits and challenges of an office based work dynamic. The best part of my internship is I actually get to help create some of the marketing material and use my creativity, love for writing, and other skills! 

Another huge perk of being in CA over the summer is catching up with friends that I haven't seen in a whole year. It turns out many of my close friends are here this summer making the whole idea even more rewarding. We may have limited time during the week and usually just the weekend to hang out, but as I learned to do abroad: take full advantage of every moment you have! I plan on going on some fun adventures and using my free time to the fullest. 

I've essentially learned to design a life for myself. One day you realize the whole world is at your fingertips and you can do anything you set your mind to. The moment you figure this "superpower" out, you discover it's been there all along. It takes strength, confidence, positivity, and an openness to take advantage of everything this world has to offer. Studying abroad helped me see this and there's no turning back. The way I see it, there's no reason to be unhappy with where your life is at and let the tide turn things for you. You're the one in control and the momentum is exhilirating and addictive. Once you get going, nobody can stop you. So far, the superwoman in me has managed to study abroad for an extra semester and move to California to start an internship. I completely paved this path for myself because it was what I wanted, and I've been blessed with the outcomes. I wouldn't lead my life any other way and I hope everyone finds this mentality in themselves to reach their goals and chase their dreams. 

"Be the girl who decided to go for it."
"Don't wait for opportunity. Create it."
"It always seems impossible until it is done."
"Take the risk or lose the chance." 
"Don't put off your happy life."
"Remember, it's up to you, and only YOU, to design the life you want..." 

Post Abroad

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sometimes I still can't believe that I studied abroad in France for almost 8 months. That's a long time, but at the same time it really did fly by. I'm amazed over the fact that I traveled to 13 different countries, 26 cities, and that every day felt like an adventure. Every corner you turned unraveled a new discovery. Europe has so much ancient history, is way older than America, and fasinated me more and more every day. I'll miss the exquisite luxuries of being in a foreign country and all it had to offer me. How do I come back home after all this? How will my experiences affect me? I've been home almost 2 weeks now and this is how post abroad is going so far...

Before departing Grenoble, it was defnitely sad to be leaving even though I had come to terms with it. It was super hard saying goodbye to all my good friends but I hadn't let out any super expressive emotion yet. As I got on the bus to leave for the airport, it still hadn't hit me. And even through the entire blasted travel I put myself through, which I want to say was almost 30 hours of travel between 3 countries, it still hadn't. But as my plane landed from Zurich to Chicago, I finally let out the tears. I knew it would happen eventually and it was exactly the closure I needed. It was so bittersweet to leave my sweet friends and abroad life behind me, but at the same time I was also seeing my family who I hadn't seen in months and I could call America home again. I just let myself feel what I really felt, and then I put 1 foot in front of the other, and closed a chapter in my life. Of course, an end always means a new beginning.

My 2 brothers picked me up at the airport and I saw the rest of my family later at home. It was wonderful to be with my family again and I felt happy to be home. Meanwhile, I was utterly exhausted and after I settled in a bit and took a shower, I ended up going to sleep at 7pm. The jetlag really hit me and I slept until 10am the next day. That following afternoon was a lot of fun showering my family with gifts and treats from France. I brought home fresh croissants and pain au chocolats, Prince chocolate biscuit cookies, and macaroons. They all loved the goodies and I'm glad they got to have at least a taste of what I had experienced in the pastry capital of the world.

I would say it took almost a whole week for me to fully adjust back to being home. The jetlag lasted a few days and I was consistently pretty tired. My body felt weak, I felt pains from carrying so much luggage around, and I needed to just recoup and recover! I could barely run for exercise and just did leisurely activities. I completely enjoyed doing nothing that first week and had no desire to travel whatsoever (shocker!) I guess it has became my time to live in normalcy again after traveling the world (I'll get over it, don't worry).

Now as much as I love French, its been nice to hear English around me once again. It's funny that I can actually understand people's side conversations again without meaning to. In France if I wanted to interact with someone, I'd have to be face to face with them and listen very intently because say if I was in a store, I could never just understand people talking around me. It's been neat noticing all these little things, as I had before when I had come back home for Christmas. Additionally, I'm obviously back to the American dollar again, where my favorite golden Euro coins are completely useless now. Plus, I actually see 24 hour signs and can shop whenever I want to. France --> America is definitely a radical change.

It's also interesting to see how my habits have changed! I was so used to getting up and walking around to stores and what not and back in the states it's so different. People rely on cars in America, period, and that's just how you get around even if you're close to something. Out of habit a couple days after I got home, I felt the need to walk to the library to keep my feet moving! I am however grateful to drive again after many months of not being able to and love getting in the car and listening to the radio. Americans also don't tend to use public transporation daily like I used the tram system in Grenoble.

The biggest adjustment however is that I'm no longer around people who share similar experiences to me. I was always surrounded by people who studied abroad and we'd share our travel experiences and the like. Now I find myself going on rants about living in France, my travels, etc. I could low key talk about it nonstop! I really appreciate when people want to listen and hear my stories but after awhile they've heard enough. My sister at this point sarcastically says, "We get it, you were in France!" as she laughs after I refer something back to being abroad. Which happens a lot... Needless to say it'll be nice to reconnect with my abroad buddies and other people who have had similar experiences. We can relate about similar things and relive our times abroad that only we can truly comprehend after being there and living it. It's a cool concept that I'll always share an indescribable experience with other fellow study abroaders anytime and anywhere.

Overall, post abroad makes you realize you've essentailly gained a new home that is very far away, but will always be there for you. In my case, I can now say I feel at home in well, 4 different places: The bay area where I grew up, Chicago where my family is, southern California where I go to school, and Grenoble, France. It's pretty neat to have connections and a homey atmosphere in multiple locations. I've decided I don't want to lose the habits that became part of my life now that I'm home, so they'll just be conjoined, the old and the new. A little French, a little American, it's a whole new me. Please bear with me if my mind is still lingering abroad, if I constantly relate things back to my European life, or how I did this and that in this place, and oh that one time,... etc., because my journey abroad is still very much a part of me and left a permanent mark. ~Always American and always will be, but Europe and especially France will always be engrained in my heart.~

Fairytale Castles

Thursday, May 11, 2017

NEWS FLASH: Real fairytale castles DO exist! 

My fascination for castles began when I got the Playmobile Fairytale Princess Castle for Christmas when I was a child. It was beautiful, grand, and elegant in every way. I loved the pink windows, the purple floors, and the fancy dresses for the royalty. The splendor fit my girly personality and the toy ultimately let my imagination run wild. 

In Europe throughout my travels I came across numerous castles that brought my child fantasy to life. My dreams came true feasting my eyes on actual towers, chandeliers, and drawbridges. I imagined the lives of legitimate royal families that used to live in the palaces hundreds of years ago. It was almost too much for the child inside of me to handle! As my friends know, I loved going to see castles and palaces anytime I could in Europe, so here's all the one's I visited!

Chateau de Vizille - Vizille, France

In the heart of France lies this stunning castle. Inside is a free musuem with artifacts from the French Revolution and the grounds outside spread for acres. I first visited in early fall when the grass and trees were a lush, rich green and it was warm enough to wear a dress and sandals. My friends and I walked for miles on the trails where we found a farm of goats, sheep, and deer. I was entranced by the views of the castle, lake, and white swans. I got to visit a second time for my birthday where my friends and I had a leisurely picnic on the lawn.

Chateau de Versailles - Paris, France

The famous Versailles... I've now been twice here in my lifetime and I'm still in awe at how MASSIVE and luxurious it all is! The palace itself is huge adorned with lavish decor and expansive rooms one after the other. Then there's the gorgeous gardens where you can walk for miles on end. In addition there's three more palaces on the property including my favorite: the Grand Trianon which has pink marble and is every bit girly as me! It's truly an unbeatable, remarkable landmark.

Sintra Castle - Lisbon, Portugal

Sintra is a town in Portugal an hour train ride away from the popular tourist destination of Lisbon where my friends and I stayed on vacation. It is home to the most magestic and colorful castle I've ever seen. Approaching this gradeur was something I'll never forget. The rich yellows, reds, and purples of the castle were brilliant and lit up the childish sparkle in my eyes. I was in awe of every detail and tried to capture pictures that I knew would never do it justice. I walked around in fascination of the colorful patterned tiles on the walls, the medieval towers, and the royal charm encrypted everywhere. We took a tour inside learning about the Portuguese royal family that used to rule here and saw many original pieces of furniture, china, and other elegant tokens. The views outside the castle were breathtaking where I stared out into the depths of the ocean, hilly mountains, and the Portuguese countryside. Before our departure in the afternoon, a thick fog emerged blocking our view of the surrounding land and creating a mysterious mood.

Neuschwanstein Castle - Munich, Germany

One of the top day trips in Munich is to visit this breathtaking castle. I've always dreamed of seeing it and I'm so glad that my wish came true. Neuschwanstein Castle is known to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty film. It was also home to a crazy king named King Ludvick who built the castle just for himself to live in with his servant staff. He led a lonely life and died in the river next to the castle where there are still multiple unproved theories of his death. When I went it was a winter wonderland! It was snowing and it was quite magical. I didn't get the postcard picture view of the castle that I wanted, but I hope someday to be back to see it in the summertime. 

The best view I got from afar!

Hohenschwangau Castle: The childhood castle of King Ludwig

Prague Castle - Prague, Czech Republic

The castle in Prague is not your typical castle. It is made up of a large combination of buildings and a huge cathedral situated on a hill. The city of Prague was built around the castle and is the oldest in Eastern Europe. A man named Charles lived there and a women named Maria Theresa who adapted parts of the castle to her taste and liking. My tour guide described the castle as "architectural lasagna" because it's a mixture of all different styles throughout the years: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Neogothic. It really was beautiful and interesting. I also got to see the changing of the guards ceremony which was really neat. The guards held very stern faces and didn't dare muster a smile or faint movement.

Schonbrunn and Hofburg Imperial Palace - Vienna, Austria

Vienna was probably the most royal and elegant place I've ever been! All you hear about there is the Hofburg royal family who lived in the Imperial Palace in the winter and the Schonbrunn Palace in the summer. The summer palace was the most beautiful and it's considered the "Versailles of Vienna" for a reason! I loved touring inside the grand rooms and walking the grounds outside (although in the summer it would have been much more breathtaking!) In the Hofburg palace they had gorgeous displays of fancy china, silver, and gold. It was the best musuem I've ever been to.

Prince's Palace of Monaco - Monaco

Ever since high school I'd dreamed of visiting Monaco after doing a presentation on it in French class. It's the second smallest country in the world that's French speaking and has a royal family (the Rainier's!) It wasn't difficult to find this palace since the country is only 3 miles long and it's placed on a hilltop. The cream colored palace was lovely to look at and the guards did their motions near the entrance. The flag being all the way up meant the prince is away, so no chances of seeing the royals themselves, but I still had a magnificent time. The views surrounding the palace were unreal. There was a gorgeous panorama of the entire city, harbor, and open sea. I felt so lucky to be here!

Fallen for France

Friday, May 5, 2017

Funnily enough, my very first exposure to anything French was probably the Madeline movies and books. She was the small little French girl that lived in Paris with the nun Miss Clavel and all her orphan friends. She was mischieveious, funny, and went on countless adventures with her dog Genevieve and her friend Pepito. I loved the stories and still love the cute little phrase that began every show:

"In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines,
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines,
They left the house at half past nine,
In two straight lines in rain or shine-
The smallest one was Madeline."

My first experience in France was the summer before starting high school when I visited for the first time. It was my very first trip abroad and it was the most exciting time in my life yet. Absolutely everything caught my attention and fascinated me. A whole new, foreign world had been opened up to me and I couldn't fathom that it was all real. I experienced what life was like in the small town of Annecy and in the big city of Paris during my 2 week stay with my close friends. Our parents had set the trip up and they had planned many fun activities for us. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the memories still mean so much to me. Little did I know, next time I'd be back would be for much longer!

Annecy 2009
Annecy 2017

If my high school self had known I'd be living in France for 8 months years later, I wouldn't have believed it! Freshman year of high school was when I took my very first French class and learned all the basics of the language, about French culture, and did a presentation on the French speaking country Monaco. I built a solid skillset and thought maybe I'd study abroad in college. 

Once I started college, I knew without a doubt I would study abroad. When looking for programs through my school, I quickly came across a place called Grenoble in France where there was a business school I could get credit at. After doing some research on it, I realized that was the program for me. It felt right from the very beginning, with the gorgeous mountains and scenic location. I felt ready to jump on a plane at any moment! I waited so long to finally go and each day I became more and more excited for the journey ahead. 

From there, it's all history. Grenoble became my home and I ended up staying a whole academic year because I'd fallen for France. I fell in love with the French way of life, their culture, and my host city. I was captivated by the French Alps and wondered how I'd ended up so lucky. Grenoble provided me everything I'd ever wanted in life and I have book shelves full of memories now. I'm so glad I got to experience being a local in a different country and for the opportunity to stay as long as I did. 

My life truly became a reflection of what I'd seen in the Madeline movies. I even ended up living in a house covered in vines! It may not have been in Paris but it was in the best city I'd ever known. Grenoble is charming, just the right size, and perfect for students. I wouldn't have had it any other way. 

The people are what make a place so special and I made friends for life. We had so much fun together, making the city ours, and living to the fullest every day. This past year has become the best in my life and I can't wait to return someday. I'd love for my family and friends to see the place that is so dear to me. I wonder how much will have changed in the future. Living in Europe became normal for me, but I'm sure the next time I go it will be like the very first time. When you first arrive in a new country, you're in a honeymoon state where every little thing makes you feel grateful and thrilled. Soon you adjust, but I still made sure to appreciate what was before me every day. I realized it's so important to live in the present and stay humble. 

As much as it saddened me to leave my beloved France, I knew the time had to come eventually. I got everything I wanted to out of Grenoble because I stayed longer and I feel content in that. All in all, I got the experience of living with a host family, to attend a top business school, the unforgettable chance to ski in the French Alps, the opportunity to tutor a young French boy English, and to travel all throughout Europe. I made it to 13 countries (my lucky number!) and 26 cities! All good things must come to an end, and that just opens a door to a new beginning. Only the best things in life give us a reason to be sad when we must say goodbye. I'm happy I have the memories, the lifelong friendships, and the pictures to relive every cherished moment. 

None of this could have happened without many benefactors... A BIG thank you to everyone who contributed in making my study abroad journey possible and to the people who joined me in the adventures every step of the way. For those who live far from me, you won't be forgotten and I'll keep in touch. You all make my heart full and I'm grateful to have crossed paths with every one of you. I'm indebted to my amazing study abroad program CEA who made living in France so easy and of course my parents who prayed for my safety and lived vicariously through me. And to the G-Crew (my best of friends) who are crazy and nutty like me. Our wild shenanigans will go down in history. I thank God for everything, from protecting me from harms way and for all I've become because of this special journey. I now feel more worldly, more confident, and more competent, giving me the strength I need for the next chapter of my life: the exhilarating decade of my 20's. 

French was a hard language to learn, and I wasn't as exposed to it as much as you'd think with my English school and friends, but I did learn a lot and improved. Through daily life and reading, I built a vocabulary and learned how to listen and understand, but speaking never came easy. As in English, I feel like I best express mysely in writing than speaking so it makes sense to me. With that, I'll leave you with a little poem I recreated that described my past semester in France...

"In an old convent in Grenoble, that was covered in vines,
lived two students, who drank French wine,
they left the house at half-past nine,
together they went in rain or shine,
I'm lucky that this life is mine."