My Truth on Solo Traveling

“If I cry the whole flight home, don’t mind me,” I said to my middle-seat partner during takeoff from Paris to Dallas.

It was finally time to return home to the land of big trucks and country music, and I was feeling bittersweet. My seatmate, Nancy, continued the conversation and we began to trade stories; hers about living the life of a flight attendant for 30 years and mine about the lessons, successes and failures of five months abroad in France. Ten hours later as we deplaned, we exchanged emails, promised to stay in touch, and wished each other luck in making our layover flights.

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Welcome to France! (Except During the Lunch Break)

I’m reading on a bench in the sun, as tourists around me wait in anticipation to enter a museum; a museum that was supposed to open at 2 p.m. It’s now 2:30 p.m.

Living in France has been filled with delays like this along with strikes, holidays and erratic business hours. Every task here seems to take five more steps than the equivalent back in the U.S. Even with the ostensibly simple task of doing laundry, I have to go to reception (which is only open six hours a day) hope that the one lady who controls 300 student rooms is actually there, buy my fake money laundry coins with real money coins, then wait for one of two washers to become empty (which they never are).

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The Best Art is Outside of the Louvre

Graffiti or street art? Defacement or activism? The big cities I’ve visited in France, Spain, and Hungary boast lively (and sometimes provocative) messages in their public spaces. Personally, looking at street art is an essential part of wandering streets because it provides a chance to tap into the vibe of a city.

While the argument continues over street art’s/activism’s place on historical buildings, here’s a collection of some of the best street art I’ve discovered studying abroad.

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La Vie Quotidienne (The Daily Life)

Studying abroad has been an amazing experience so far; there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice to come to France. While in Europe, I have gotten the opportunity to bike ride in Spain, take a thermal bath in Budapest, and walk up the 700-step stairs of the Eiffel Tower.

However, studying abroad is not just traveling all the time, no matter how much it may seem that way from social media.

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SciencesPo and Reims: A Reversal of Expectations

At 7:30 a.m. the day before my flight to France, I registered for six classes that I was ecstatic about. My host university, SciencesPo, boasts prestigious alumni and small class sizes, which make it one of the most well-known universities in France. I was so excited to have been accepted into the program and looked forward to studying “the French way.”

On the other hand, the university was in Reims (pronounced rahnz), which is a smaller city about forty-five minutes outside of Paris by train. I had heard rumors of cold weather, unwelcoming people, and lack of things to do. But weighing the pros and cons, I decided that the school was worth the lackluster location. Now, halfway through the semester, reality has shown the reverse of my expectations.

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Supermarché 101

CLINK! I stare at the carts at the supermarché, or French supermarket, reusable bag in hand perplexed as to why the cart I’m grabbing won’t move. It’s only when a French man sidesteps me and grabs a rolling cart that I see the coin slot to unlock the American-sized chariot I’m used to. Following his lead, I take a rolling cart and marvel at the rows ahead, as I ready myself to experience the cultural feast.

While I can only speak to the French experience, I am sure that grocery shopping is the fastest way to find the art de vivre, or art of life, of your study abroad host city. For my first week, I went to our supermarché almost every day, each time learning more about the local customs and finding new tips I wish I would have had to start off. So, here are some cultural differences and tips for surviving the French supermarket.

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On Being Alone

At SciencesPo, my university here in France, we’ve just finished our orientation week; a week filled with non-stop socialization from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. After each long day, I’ve taken the elevator up to my floor and walked inside my room to find the deafening silence of my apartment.

The gentle hum of my mini fridge coupled with the rhythmic chugging of the fast train outside my window are the only sounds here. I live in an 18-square meter flat in a student residency about a minute’s walk from the central train station and a three minutes’ walk to the closet bar.

But surprisingly, human voices are few and far in between.

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