“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
I was planning to study abroad in Europe since I started college. I was able to go to France in the Fall 2017 through IPAG, an international school where I made friends from all over the world including Germany, Poland, Russia, Algeria, Sweden, Mexico, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Finland, India, and even New Jersey!It is hard to find the right words to explain my four-month adventure in France and other neighboring countries. It was more than just taking classes--it was about exploring a continent. I will give a glimpse of every trip I made.
I booked my flight to France two days prior to my departure. This is when I realized that I was going to spend the next 4 months in an unfamiliar environment. However, the moment I landed in Nice I have felt peace and happiness. This colorful place is full of life and positive vibes. Also, being a French speaker made me feel I was home. I spent the first few days in a hostel I shared the room with 3 other travelers. What I liked best in this hostel is that we all shared breakfast together in the morning, downstairs at the lobby. I met with a German girl that was going to the same school as me
and we were able to share a spacious apartment together, located on the 4th floor, with a big balcony 3 minutes away from school. We also had a nice TV in the living room that was never turned on. It was late August, the weather was so sunny and the water so warm. We spent so many days having lunch or night parties at the beach.
My first trip was to Paris; I took a flight with a Swedish friend of mine that I met on the first day during orientation. It was in September; the weather was so refreshing and at night the Eiffel Tower would turn pink since it was Breast Cancer month. We went to a food festival where they had food stands to try from all over the world. We also spent a few hours at the Louvres appreciating the beauty of art.
I also had the opportunity to visit Germany(Stuttgart) during Oktoberfest. I went with my roommate to her home where her family hosted me. Using an app, we have found someone driving from Monaco and we drove with them through Italy and Switzerland to get to Stuttgart. I went with my roommate and her mother to buy my “Dindl,” the German traditional costume dress. I felt like I was trying on my wedding dress; there was a tailor there and everyone was helping me pick the right one. I tried every traditional dish they had at the festival and different kind of beers. We had booked a flight to go back to France and make it to class on time but the flight was canceled due to a pilots' strike, so we made our way back overnight by bus. I am very glad things turned this way--I got to enjoy Switzerland’s nature at dusk and we stopped at Milano, Italy, for a couple of hours to have a delicious Italian ice cream and contemplate the Milan Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.
The journey became even better when my parents came to France to visit me and we booked a trip for 4 days to Venezzia, Italy. We walked all the little roads and bridges of Venezzia and we got lost so many times trying to make it back home. That was the best part. The way those islands are connected is amazing, different than any other. We had a gondola ride in the canals. We also visited Murano, Burano and Torcello islands in a boat ride. Murano is known for manufacturing Murano glass, they showed us how it is made. Burano is known for its sweets and it was yummy! Torcello was my favorite little island, so small and peaceful! It is known for its lace work. 4 days felt like 4 hours.
My last trip was to Amsterdam and Belgium. My New Jersey buddy and I took a flight to Amsterdam where we spent two nights. We just booked the flight, we had no idea where we were going to sleep. We arrived at 11 pm and started walking around asking hotels if there were any vacancies. We were so spontaneous and lucky during this trip. There was an international show they do in Amsterdam once a year called “Turn the lights on,” which is based on a Christmas story, where they light up the whole city that night. I felt that I was on a different planet.
Two days later, we took the bus to Belgium, where we had great beer, waffles and Belgium chocolate! We stayed one night at a stranger’s house. Yes, I actually said a stranger’s house. We met a girl at the train station and we told her if she recommended a place to stay and she recommended her house! We went out with her and her friends that night and went home where her mother made us tea and prepared the bed for us, even brought the family album and told us funny stories. She also gave us little gifts as souvenirs! After all, that stranger became a friend.
And of course I studied! I took 4 classes: (1) A level-four French language class taught by a French professor that didn’t speak any English throughout the course, which helped me practice my French properly. (2) A French culture and civilization class that taught me more about European cultures and history and we took a few trips around the city which was fun. (3) I also took an International Human Resource management class that focused on how to do business in a culture you are not familiar with. (4) The last class was International Economics, which covered basic economic theories; we discussed how Donald Trump's presidency fit into our conversations about the international economic policies.
My favorite part of this experience was that I never kept track of the time and didn’t plan ahead. My classes always started in the afternoon. I wouldn’t know if tomorrow I was going to start my day at the beach or in a different city. Overall, I visited 7 different countries (France, Itlay, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Monaco) and 18 French cities (Nice, Antibes, Juan les Pins, Cannes, Eze, Ville-Franche, Avignon, Lyon, Paris, Peymeinade, Grasse, Mougins, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Mouans-Sartoux, Cannes la Bocca, Valbonne, Menton and Cap-Ferrat). I also had so many adventures and funny stories in those cities.
I encourage all the students to study abroad--don’t worry about home it will be the same when you come back to it. However, you will grow, go out of your comfort zone and meet people from all over the world!