Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Politics and Weekends in Paris


It's Day 99 abroad and I have a mere 48 days to go before my feet touch down on american soil once more. It's strange to think that I have finished two-thirds of my time here. Rewatching my old video journals, I recall the doubt and isolation I felt in my first few weeks here. Now, as I look ahead at my quickly approaching journey home, I predict that I might cry to leave this place. Caen has become a second home to me. What I once thought was a huge unknown city has become familiar and even homely.

I left the U.S. as the fire of politics flamed on every news channel and flooded my Facebook news feed, and now, I see a similar situation as
France undergoes its own political power struggle. France held its first election this past Sunday. There were eleven total candidates. The two candidates with the highest percent of support moved on. These candidates were Emmanuel Macron (24% support) and Marine Le Pen (21.3% support). Though I do not know much about politics in general, I see quite clearly a division of support. Many refer to Le Pen as the French Donald Trump, which is a negative comparison (in case you weren't aware that many French people detest Trump). The next and final election will be May 7th. No matter the outcome, history will inevitably be made considering the political party each candidate belongs to.

I share this information because living abroad has taught me, above all else, that I am woefully ignorant. Living in my little corner of the world in East Tennessee, I was blind to the world outside of what directly affected me. Ignorance is not something to be embarrassed of if one is willing to acknowledge its existence and work against it. I have fallen in love with France, every part of it. It is not only the crepes, detailed architecture, and public pianos that I will miss when I return to the U.S. The people, their beautiful language, and their cultural design continues to intrigue me. I know I will miss it all.

Despite my inevitable sadness to leave, I am excited as well. I am curious to see what my fresh perspective from living abroad will change concerning my home in Tennessee. I know it will allow me to see things with new eyes. It will be an adventure on its own to return. Today I video-chatted with my sweet two-year-old nephew and talked about the list of activities we were looking forward to doing together upon my arrival such as jumping on his new trampoline, blowing bubbles, going for ice cream, building a pillow fort, and swimming in the pool.

Before my fort-loving, bubble-appreciating self gets too homesick, I'd like to stop and reassure you that my remaining days will be well-spent. Aside from studying for the exams (beaucoup d'etudes), I am also planning my last bits of adventuring here in Europe for a while. Though no train or plane tickets have been purchased and no hostel beds have been reserved, it is my new goal to make it to Italy! Until our summer "vacances" and my free time to travel such a distance, I have a weekend trip to Paris planned in a mere three days! Aside from this, I have also signed up for an excursion to Disneyland here in a few weeks.

It's safe to say that I have plenty to keep me occupied for the remaining 48 days, but I look forward to what lays on the other side of that 9-hour international flight back home. A bientot! -Albrianna

Monday, April 24, 2017

Life at Maryville College

One of my favorite memories is Maryville College is Intramural games. It’s the best place to show off sportsmanship and sportswoman-ship. You could team up with your friends or join as a free agent, which is a good way to meet some new friends. They host a variety of sports--soccer, indoor and sand volleyball, dodgeball, basketball and softball... Soccer is by far one of my most favorite games because I played growing up in Jamaica. Volleyball is another favorite game, too, but it’s not as popular as soccer back home. Through wins and losses, you strengthen relationships with friends.
A picture with my sand volley ball team: Dinner is Served
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to future Maryville College International students is to make friends! Leaving home might be difficult and being in a different environment and culture, socialization is the best method to get acclimated to the culture in the US.  I have met a lot of friends from other countries that said if I ever visit their home country, I can come and visit them!
Friends at the Spring Fling

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Be Still, My Travel-Loving Heart

(Photo Credits to Becca)

I've just returned from a week-long trip to Dublin and London. This past week allowed me to complete one of my three goals I set for studying abroad, which was to visit at least two other countries aside from France. Completing such a goal has been extremely rewarding! I saw the sites that both London and Dublin had to offer. I tried the food, I bought the postcards, but most importantly, I met other people as in love with life as me.

In Dublin, the two-day trip made schedules a bit rushed, and so, I wasn't able to befriend any Irish or non-Irish travelers. After returning to London, I found my way into the airport Costa coffee-shop for a much-needed coffee. It was there, in London, that I found the most friendly and outgoing Irish guy I'd ever met. We talked for over an hour of the differences between the U.S. and Ireland. He shared with me his plans for the future and told entertaining stories (one involving a large mattress and a rooftop window).

On two other separate occasions in London, I befriended groups of friends that welcomed me warmly and allowed me to tag along for the day. Seth and Becca, Boston natives, were in London and had been apart of a tour group discovering the city alongside me. When the tour ended around lunchtime, they invited myself and my traveling partner to join them for lunch. For the remainder of the day and for the whole of the next, I explored the city with them. We bonded over our love of learning and traveling. Seth, who never seems to meet a stranger, befriended others as well, and quickly, the group grew into a happy mix of student travelers.

With them, I traversed the cobbled London streets, I posed in front of world-famous landmarks, and I exposed my poor hand-eye coordination skill in a dimly-lit local ping-pong bar. Despite our identical nationalities, Seth and Becca taught me a lot. From them, I realized that even within the borders of the U.S., I have so much traveling to do. There is so much I still do not know regarding music, religion, and even Boston stereotypes!

After Seth and Becca left London, I had only one more full day to discover the hidden gems of London. While eating breakfast at the hostel, my ears prickled with the familiarity of the still-foreign language that I love so dearly: French. I turned to the two girls sitting at the table beside me and began to speak with them about my poor French-speaking skills and my current studies in Caen. We approached the topic of traveling, and it turned out that Sandrine and Marina were celebrating Marina's recent birthday only a few days before.

After hearing that I had no plans for the day, they promptly invited me to join them on an adventure to a local market where we feasted on the various products offered to us by the food stands. The smell of frying seasoned beef mixed with the strong aroma of an exotic coffee bean. Vendors called from all around us, advertising and giving samples. In awe, we took it all in. The sites, the smells, the crowds. This was London, and it was so incredibly amazing.

We took pictures of the street art as we made our way to Chinatown to try a famous new dessert from a restaurant called Bubblewrap. Though the store had only been open for one month, the popularity of the sweet treat was well-known. A line of eager customers waited outside the store. This line extended quite a distance away, but Sandrine, Marina, and I braved the crowds and withstood the test of time. Needless to say, we came out triumphant. The bubblewrap treats were Instagram-worthy, and the experience solidified our friendship.

This past week has taught me a lot. It taught me that though I prefer the structure of a schedule when in the U.S., when traveling, I yearn for the unplanned adventures and the spontaneous decisions. I relish in the idea of walking without a true destination, only keeping in mind the importance of happiness and, of course, insatiable curiosity.

I learned about others as well. Seth, with his relentless jokes, showed me that one shouldn't take themselves too seriously. Becca, always a reliable photographer, taught me to live in the moment, but make the moment so precious it's worth the picture. Sandrine, with her go-pro, made me realize that much of the beauty of a culture is in the candidness of it all: The aimless walking which gave way to lively market booths. And Marina, with her sarcastic humor, allowed me to find entertainment in the events around me, if only I pay enough attention.

This may be the longest blog I have ever written, and so, I leave you with this simple quote to sum up my entire traveling experience:
 As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than your destination.

A bientot! -Albrianna

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Break Reunion

There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about my year in Sweden. When I say that I created a new life that was my very own there, I mean it with every fiber in my being. I have an endless supply of stories, whether they be happy stories, fun stories, sad stories, and even a life lesson or two (or ten).

The sign reads "What is your next step?"
And that's honestly a pretty valid question.
Coming back to the United States was really hard for me, but I was comforted by the fact that I had made lifelong friends and, when (not if) I began to travel the world again, I had a place to stay on practically every continent. But it turns out it's not that easy. Within a month or two of returning from Sweden, I lost contact with a lot of people I thought I'd be lifelong friends with. Now that I've been back around nine months, the number of people I've lost contact with has grown even more. Sometimes when Facebook reminds me what I was up to a year ago today, I feel a bit of resentment. I was happy and free when I was Sweden, and now I feel trapped.

Obviously, it's really hard to return to life as usual after studying abroad, but I think it might be even harder for an American that studied abroad in Europe. Almost all of the friends I made are European. Travel is quick and cheap in Europe, so they're able to have reunions practically whenever they want, and I'm stuck in Tennessee feeling incredibly sad and jealous while I watch these reunions occur through Facebook posts and Snapchat stories. I studied abroad with a few Americans, but we're
scattered across a nation that's larger than Europe itself, so it's not as easy for us. Every time I've made a plan to meet up with someone I studied abroad with, the plans ended up falling through for some reason or another.

But finally.... FINALLY I got to have a study abroad reunion of my own. My best friend in the entire world, Ida, came to Tennessee for spring break. I was ecstatic. For those who don't remember, Ida is from Finland, and I went to her high school graduation last year. She arrived late Friday night and quickly passed out, but the next day, I gave her a brief tour of Maryville (brief because there's not much to see), we took my dog for a walk, then had dinner with my boyfriend and his friends. And on Sunday, we headed out to Nashville!

Spring break in Nashville!

When we arrived, I parked in LP Field Nissan Stadium. If you've been here, you know that it's a great place to catch the Nashville skyline. Nissan Stadium and downtown Nashville are separated by
Cumberland River, with a pedestrian bridge going over the river to connect the two. We stood by the river as Ida took in the skyline. After a few minutes of silence, I asked her how she felt about it. There was another long moment of silence before she replied, "Honestly... This is the happiest I've felt in a really long time."

Five minutes into spring break, and my mission has already been accomplished.

Found this tourist in downtown Nashville.
Anyone recognise her?
We spent the week doing whatever Ida wanted. I gave suggestions, but at the end of the day, I let her do the deciding (usually) because she'd come from such a long way away that I figured it was only fair to let her call the shots. We went shopping and to hockey games. We meandered around downtown for no particular reason. We walked miles upon miles to check out murals and the state capitol. I introduced her to southern cuisine, Tex-Mex food I'd grown up on, and even gave her her first experience with every college kid's favourite place, Cookout. Before we went to sleep at night, we joked around and reminded each other of fun and embarrassing stories from my days in Sweden. I didn't care what we did, I was just happy to finally have my best friend by my side again.
Can't wait to see this dime
and all my other friends again.

Spring break is long gone now, and Ida is back in Finland. But I won't forget the amazing reunion we had together in Nashville. It not only reminded me why Ida is my absolute best friend in the entire world but also ignited a spark in me to start travelling again, once it's financially feasible to do so. Which I suppose will require me getting a job... :p Even though I feel stuck, I realised it doesn't have to be that way forever. I'm young, only 22, with my whole life ahead of me. I have friends across the world that I love and will do anything to see again, all thanks to the fact that I studied abroad in the first place. So I will travel again someday. There's too much of the world left to be seen for me to give up now.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

La Carnaval des Etudiants à Caen


I leave for London in a mere four hours and have yet to fall asleep! My sleep schedule has been completely destroyed (though by what, I am not sure). I wanted to share my experience participating in the largest student-led carnival in all of Europe that happens here in my second home (the city of Caen!). This past Thursday, thousands of students came from all around to take part in it. To be exact, there were around 30,000 people in attendance!

It is a tradition that dates back to 1996, I believe. It's been a success each year, and the crowds have only increased in number. The carnival serves at a gathering point for students across the continent to gather and celebrate the stage of their lives in which they study and live freely and happily. They do this by dressing up in costumes and parading throughout the streets all together.

Because I did not want to spend too much money on a costume, I used a spare sheet that was provided to me by the housing at Caen and made a toga. I went to Claire's and purchased accessories and looked something like a Greek Goddess (if I do say so myself.) I decided to bring a little current fashion to the wardrobe by donning on my trusty Chacos, which are sandals that I feel might never become a style here in France like they are in East Tennessee.

The energy of the parade was contagious and it made me feel so timeless as we marched throughout the city as a unit. One way to sum up my emotions is to use a quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower which is to say "We are infinite". That is how I felt, so very full of life and love and unity. I normally hate large crowds, but the opportunity was too good to miss and I am so glad I did not hold back.

Now, I must go because I leave soon for London and then Dublin. I will update about my adventure upon my return next week! A bientot!                                                                                                                      -Albrianna

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Answering the Call of Adventure


This past weekend, I had the most memorable time with a new friend I met as a result of the local French school visit. She is French and very familiar with the area around Caen. She generously invited me to stay at her "simple home" for the weekend which I found to be an adorable French farmhouse (the kind I've only ever seen in movies).

I was able to try raclette for the first time. This was one of the recommendations suggested to me by the students I visited. Raclette is a traditional French dish. It being French, can you guess the main ingredient? CHEESE!! Raclette is the cheese that is melted with a particular machine that sits on the table. Then, it is poured over various types of food. I tried it on boiled potatoes and a baguette. Along with this cheese are various types of meat. During the meal, my friend taught me how to ask for the dishes by saying "Tu veux me donne le pain/la viande/la fromage/les pommes de terre?"

She also took me to a local site for thrill-seekers. The place was called "Viaduc de la Souleuvre". It was once a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel (builder of the Eiffel Tower) that supported rail-way travel, but the bridge was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War. AJ Hackett, a man from New Zealand, decided to use the abandoned area. Here, one can bungee jump, ride the "top swing" or "swing", zip-line, or ride the "luge". My friend and I went zip-lining together, which was pretty intense considering we started from the top of a bridge! We also rode the "luge", something like the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster.
After this fun-filled day, we went hiking at "Le Nez de Jobourg", a place named for the nose ("nez") shape of the land that juts out to the sea. It was one of the very few times that I can say I wasn't cold here in France! The weather was absolutely perfect for our hike and picnic (or "pique-nique", in French).

This past weekend renewed my burning passion for France, but also gave me an intense desire to travel to other places and meet other people as well. With the 2-week break approaching, I have been planning my trip to London and Dublin (a mere week away). At the end of this month, I will also be spending a weekend in Paris. I am excited for the upcoming events and am willing and ready to answer the call of adventure.

It's strange to consider that this is real life, and that opportunities this enchanting are happening to me! I've been incredibly blessed to have been able to study abroad, and although this trip is my first time abroad, I know for certain that it cannot be my last. For anyone with a curiosity for studying abroad or those who might be hesitant, I say GO FOR IT!
A bientot! -Albrianna