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."