an austinite abroad

The Revolution Abroad (or, How I Found My Inner Strength in France)

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I’ve talked a lot about where I went during my semester abroad, what I saw, what I fell in love with. But what I haven’t touched on at all is how my semester transformed who I am. Partly because it’s easier to just talk about the where, the why, and the experience. Partly because it means admitting — in the digital world, in front of all of you beautiful souls— some things I learned about myself the hard way. Not all of them are bad things, mind you, but saying publicly “I was so wrapped up in my own pity party for a year for no good reason” is just not an easy thing to do.

But.. I was so wrapped up in my own pity party for a year for no good reason, and it took living in a country where I could barely speak the language, with twenty other students I didn’t know, to make me realize that. And to make me realize what a waste of time it was to hold onto things I was letting control my life long after they had passed. 

I started my college career at a community college, and it was amazing. I was there for a year getting general education credits out of the way before I transferred into the university I’m at now. When I transferred in two years ago, I was assigned a roommate (more or less — this is a story in and of itself) and we got along amazingly. She and her boyfriend adopted me into their group of friends, so I only made a handful of friends on my own that first semester. It wasn’t until the spring semester that things got bad. She was having trouble with her boyfriend and after they broke up our relationship got so tense and eventually it was such a bad situation that I ended up moving into a room on the other side of our hall in the dorm. 

Since then, I’d isolated myself from people at school, I didn’t work in a very social environment, and I was waiting for the summer. Which came and went in its own time. Last fall I lived in a single room in a different residence hall, because I was so wary of living with someone after what had happened the year before. It was great because I love living in my own space, having a sacred area that’s just mine. But it was incredibly detrimental because it was all too easy to just go to class, go to the library to study, and eat dinner alone in my room and not emerge until the next day to do it all over. I was blogging, I did go out and study with some friends semi-regularly at one of the 24 hour coffee shops in Austin, and I was going home nearly every weekend to see my parents.

I isolated myself, on purpose, because I’d been burned by one person.

It was terrible. And quite lonely.

My grades suffered that semester, as did my mental health. I was working erratic hours as an on-call nanny. I felt drained and like I was struggling to go through the motions of everything.

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Then I found out I had been accepted to study abroad in Angers, France for the next spring semester. I was terrified and ecstatic!! I had fought so hard to be able to even apply, but never in a million years did I truly think I would be selected to go. I’d never been outside of America before that, but already had a love for travel from my journeys across America over the years. 

But being away from my family for four months? From my friends? In a country where I only knew how to say “yes, no, please, excuse me, thank you,”? With people I didn’t know at all?

I was scared beyond anything I’d ever felt. Especially since I still believed not connecting with anyone was the best choice I could make.

But I got on the plane, tried not to cry when I hugged my parents goodbye in the airport, flew from Austin to New York to Paris. From the first instant I met the people in my program, I realized they were as scared and clueless as I was. And that together, we’d be okay.

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In Angers we each had our own little efficiency apartments, so I was still living on my own, but I was never alone in the same sense that I was in Austin. Our university was 30 minutes away by foot, and everyone walked together depending on what time our morning classes were because we didn’t want to get lost. The first forays into the supermarkets were made together, bonding over being the token loud, obnoxious, “what the hell is this?” Americans in such a small city in France. I had my first crêpe with three girls I barely knew, went drinking in pubs with other students, visited the local museums with them, and did so much more. 

At the beginning everyone was each other’s best friend, but over the course of the semester true bonds of friendship were created and I spent time with the people who I wanted to be around. Not to say that it was all sunshine and roses, because some friendships didn’t work out and everyone handled the transition in their own way. But for the most part? I’m pretty damn confident in saying that I’ve made some friends for life who I shared an unforgettable part of mine with.

Over the course of the four months I realized just how much I was limiting myself back in America. Why was I shutting myself off from anyone who could get close when I could make new friends so easily and have such an amazing time with them? Why did I treat myself like I was a fragile creature when I was strong enough to survive in a foreign country with a clumsy tongue? Why did I let one bad experience sour my life for so long after the fact?

I’m still quiet, still a bit introverted (off the web, anyways), and I still need time to recharge after a certain amount of social interaction. But that girl who was too scared to even talk to anyone new because she’d been hurt? That’s not who I am anymore.

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And I honestly don’t think I would’ve grown in this way, that I would have recognized all of my own self-limiting beliefs, if I hadn’t spent last semester in France. For that I’m eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to study abroad during my undergraduate career.

So now, I try to implement a philosophy I acquired while in France — just say yes. Trust that the universe will take care of you. For me it means saying yes to meeting friends for impromptu ramen dates at 9 P.M., to taking on new projects and challenges at work, to putting myself first and doing what I need to take care of my well-being. It means embracing new experiences, whether they are good or they hurt and offer a lesson. It means forgiving and moving on. It means I get to spend more time with the people who matter, and forging new relationships with people I vibrate on the same frequency with at a soul level.

It means being scared and using that fear to push myself further than I’ve gone before.

And it means knowing that I’m strong enough to do so and support myself.

How about you, darling? Have you had an experience that made you realize the inner strength you carry inside your soul? I'd love to hear all about it in the comments below!

P.S. -- The year before I went to Angers, there was origami art all over the city! It's super awesome (+ makes me homesick for that beautiful city)

Photo Diary: Paris

DSCN1471 Paris in spring was truly a magical thing to experience it and I miss it (& France) like a limb since I've been thrust into the Texas summer. One of my favorite things about Paris was how many different types of flowers and greenery grew everywhere there was space in the city. DSCN1495 My parents and I stayed in an Airbnb that was in the First Arrondissement, so after getting all of our luggage up four floors we set out to explore our new neighborhood. Of course we experienced the 30-minutes-of-rain-and-30-minutes-of-sun rule for the first couple of days, so it was always a struggle of having just the right number of layers to stay warm when it rained but to not be drenched in sweat when the sun came out. DSCN1477DSCN1478DSCN1479 The next morning we set out hoping to find a patisserie to grab coffee and pain au chocolats at, but ended up finding a street market instead. We wandered around, picked up some meats and cheeses and a couple baguettes for dinner that night, and got galettes for breakfast. DSCN1491DSCN1487 Naturally, we had to spend a good number of hours in the Louvre! I had gone before when I visited Paris, but it was nice to go with my parents and explore different parts of the museum that I hadn't seen before. DSCN1512 DSCN1517 DSCN1519 DSCN1521 DSCN1523 Probably my favorite exhibit in the entire museum is the Napoleon Apartments. They are just so beautiful and immaculately designed, and it's fascinating to see how people used to live and utilize their space. DSCN1532 DSCN1538 DSCN1543 DSCN1553 DSCN1557 DSCN1562DSCN1572 DSCN1573 DSCN1578 DSCN1581 DSCN1594 DSCN1600DSCN1606 DSCN1607DSCN1613DSCN1616DSCN1618 DSCN1621DSCN1622DSCN1626 DSCN1628 Another stop we had to make was to the Tour Eiffel. I had gone during the night over Valentine's Day weekend but had yet to see it in person during the day. We took a good amount of time taking photographs in front of it and of it from the ground before buying our tickets to go all the way up to the top.DSCN1667DSCN1670DSCN1671DSCN1675 DSCN1676 After we descended we saw a crane just hanging out in the pond by the Tour Eiffel!DSCN1690 For lunch we went to Café Constant, a very nice (yet tiny) café owned by Christian Constant.  DSCN1705DSCN1709 One of my absolute favorite places we went to in Paris was the Centre de Pompidou -- the center for modern and contemporary art. My parents and I ended up going in about an hour or so before they closed the main exhibit we wanted to see (which we didn't know until we were ushered out) but I can't wait to go back and spend days there seeing absolutely everything. DSCN1993DSCN2030DSCN2039 DSCN2044

The Palace of Versailles

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One of my favorite places that I went to while in Europe was definitely the Palace of Versailles. While there were many misadventures trying to get there, my parents and I eventually did and the breathtaking chateau more than made up for getting lost on the RER trains. We bought our tickets at a tourism office across the street from the metro, which included a tour through the grand palace and a bus that took us to the Petite Trianon to begin our journey. Starting at the rear ended up being the best decision because we had all the time we needed at the Petite Trianon and the Grand Trianon before walking through the gardens and finding our group for the tour. Our feet were so worn out by the end of the day that it would've been a very unhappy day if we had to start at the grand palace and then circle back before a two hour tour.Each room has its own color scheme. There was no real continuation of a single color scheme throughout, each room instead being a capsule for it's own colors. This is Marie Antoinette's bed in the Petite Trianon, where she spent most of her time.Marie Antoinette also had her own billiards room in the Petite Trianon. Our tour guide told us that not very many women were allowed to play games with the men before Marie Antoinette came into power.

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One of my favorite things in Versailles was how every room was immaculately and precisely laid out. Every chair, table, sofa, etc. had a very specific place. I can only imagine that these are the places they must have had when Marie Antoinette lived in Versailles. The weather was temperamental while we were there (of course) and so it was rainy and chilly, but with a few moments of blue skies and sun. I felt that it added a bit of drama to the palace and was a joy to photograph. I had to wait TEN MINUTES to get the next photo because people kept walking through. I had approximately 0.0000002 seconds to get a shot with nobody in it. Thank you high school journalism for letting me get quick on the shutter! After the Petite Trianon we walked to the Grand Trianon. Both of the Trianons were much more simplistic in their interiors than the grand palace was -- a lot more white walls, a lot less coming at you visually a

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The yellow room is deceiving -- in photographs it looks like a darker yellow, but in person it was incredibly bright and neon.

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The long road to the main palace...

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All throughout the gardens were statues of Greek gods from when Louis the Fourteenth reigned in Versailles. 

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And the one room EVERYONE wants to see: Marie Antoinette's bedroom. It was the definition of luxury.

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The Hall of Mirrors was ah-mazing. I have photos of the whole thing, but it was so crowded when we were there that the photos aren't ones I want to necessarily share. Instead, I have a few detail shots for y'all.

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This installation was a gift from Swarovski in the past few years -- a chandelier made entirely from their crystals to remember the jewelry of Marie Antoinette.

Have you ever been to Versailles? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments!

Photo Diary: London

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My last stop during spring break was London. I'd been in love with the city from afar for years, but it was quite a different experience to actually be in London. I stayed in a hostel in Hyde Park until my parents arrived and thus my first experience of the city (besides an hour plus on the tube to get to Hyde Park from Heathrow) was Oxford Street. It's safe to say that I was a tiny bit overwhelmed. No, a lot overwhelmed. Compared to my experiences in America -- and even abroad before -- people in London just move at a quicker pace. They are constantly going, going, going and don't really care if you're standing in their way on the sidewalk. I was very glad I had booked a day trip to Manchester the day after I arrived because I needed some time to adjust to life in Britain.

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I actually forgot to take any photos while I was in Manchester, but I loved it so much. It was much more manageable for me than London was on the first day and the city seemed to be much more what I had encountered in my travels previously -- smaller, more of a working / student town, and the ability to walk anywhere you needed or wanted to go (although I did still take buses around different parts.)

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My time in London before my parents arrived was mostly spent shoe shopping, as I needed a new pair of black boots for walking. I ended up finding a pair at Selfridges, which I love dearly.

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Once my parents did arrive, the first thing we did was make our way over to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. Unfortunately it was cancelled the day we went due to "extreme wet weather" which was... interesting as it had only rained a little bit that morning.

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One of the places I enjoyed visiting the most was the Victoria and Albert Museum. My parents and I saw the exhibit on the history of Italian fashion, which was really fascinating and intriguing. I loved seeing the evolution of the styles.

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One of my favorite things I ate in London was this tartine: it had goat cheese, prosciutto, asparagus, jam, and arugula.

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I will say that -- without a doubt -- my favorite thing that we did in London was going to the last home game of Arsenal's season. The stadium is AMAZING and while the game itself wasn't fantastic, it was so wonderful just to be there in person instead of watching the game on a TV in Austin.

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It was also a really special experience to share with my dad, as the only reason I support Arsenal is because he does and I've grown to love them so much over the years.

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(Obviously we found the Thierry Henry statue!!!)

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We did a whole lot more than I've talked about here, but I'm struck again by how I felt while we were in London. I love the experiences I had and the ability to see so many amazing cultural and historical places and landmarks, but I don't love London the way I've fallen in love with nearly every other city I visited in Europe. London and I are just on different wavelengths, we move at different speeds and have different modes of operation. I would go back to see more of the history and the culture in a heartbeat, as I know that in a week or so I barely scratched the surface, but I wouldn't go back for the city itself. Which makes me sad, as I've always had a special place for the city in my heart before I was actually there. I'm not sure if I would fall in love with it if I go again, now that I know more of what to expect and how the city works.

Maybe I'll give it another go someday.

Until next time, London.

Around London: Harry Potter Studio Tour

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One of the only things I knew that I HAD to do while in London was visit the Harry Potter studio and set. I bought my ticket a month and a half in advance and impatiently counted down the days until I would be there. The world of Harry Potter has been a part of my life since I can remember -- I had a tradition of going to the book releases at midnight with my parents and getting home, not sleeping until I had finished the entire thing. So many of the spines on my copies are broken, the corners well-worn and the inside covers stamped with my name so everyone would know whose books they are. I went to every midnight release of every film and I could probably cite events, characters, etc down to the page and paragraph numbers. To say that what J.K. Rowling created was important to my life would be inaccurate -- what she created is a part of my life. So it meant nothing to me to travel two hours outside of central London by bus to take the set tour, not when it was something so dear to my heart. There were multiple times while I was there that I wanted to cry with joy at being there and I know I'll be back as soon as I can. For this post I want to let the photographs do most of the talking, not adding a lot of commentary. I hope that you enjoy this homage to the journey as much as I enjoyed taking it. (Oh yeah, and I suppose I should mention that I'm a Hufflepuff through and through. House pride, y'all!) The butterbeer was nonalcoholic so that everyone who came could enjoy it. A word to the wise -- it's incredibly sweet, and could be too much for some people. But it was delicious nonetheless!