January Spotlight: Traveling Abroad as a Young Adult

Hey readers, I'm back! Sorry for the couple weeks of no posts, as you may or may not know, I'm a full time college student, along with working AND keeping up my blog, but I took a small break to get into the groove of the newest semester....anyways, on the fun stuff!  
Well, this is officially the last day of January, and to bring an end to the first month of 2013 I would like to introduce you to Audrey. We went to high school together, and she sung first soprano (fricking amazingly I might add) in the Women's Choir while I was president my senior year. She is currently living overseas in France, and to anyone contemplating traveling or studying abroad, READ THIS! I traveled to France in high school, not knowing a single word of French, and it still captivated me. The food, the architecture, the attractions, and all the great photo opportunities. So take the 10 minutes to read Audrey's journey if Europe or anywhere else has ever caught your eye, and your heart.

Tell everyone a little bit about yourself.....
My name is Audrey Maney, and I am originally from Western Mass, but spent my high school years in Dayton, OH.  I go to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, where I am a double major in French and English.  I also adore singing and musical theater.  Right now, I am living in Montpellier, a dynamic, student-filled city in the South of France, only a few miles away from the Mediterranean Sea.  I have been in Montpellier since August, but I’ve been in France since June; I spent my summer in Chantilly, France, working as a tour guide at a stunning, fairytale-esque château about a 20-minute train ride north of Paris.  I am loving life in sunny Montpellier, and having a fantastic time traveling around the country and elsewhere in Europe.  I have a Nutella addiction I am ever trying to curb, and eat way too many baguettes for my own good, but c’est la vie….

So what made you decide to travel/study abroad? 
My principal motivation for deciding to study abroad was my desire to be fluent in French.  I have always loved the French language, ever since I went to my best friend in middle school’s house and heard her speaking it with her Parisian mother.  I think Americans tend to associate it with romance and elegance and beauty, and I wanted to be a part of that.  Although I certainly learn a lot in my French classes at Mount Holyoke, I knew that if I truly wanted to be fluent, the only way I could get there was to spend time in France.  I’m a firm believer that in order to learn a new language, you really just have to dive in.  You can’t get the same level of proficiency and fluidity through books, no matter how hard you try.  Because I’m a French and English double major, I was even more driven to study abroad because I believed that learning another language would give me significant insight on the English language.  This has definitely proved to be true, and now I have a whole new perspective on my mother tongue.  Bilingualism is just such a valuable asset, and I’m happy to be working toward it!

How long have you been over in France? and did you know French before you went over there?
I have been in France since June 25, 2012!  So it’s been over 7 months!  I did know French before I came over, but not fluently by any means.  I have been studying French since 7th grade, so it has been quite a while.  I could definitely hold conversations, and had a strong grasp on the grammar.  However, my college courses focused on written French, so I wasn’t as confident in my speaking abilities, and my oral comprehension wasn’t that great.

Where is your favorite place to visit over there?
My favorite place to visit has been, though it’s terribly cliché, Paris.  Paris is just spectacular.  I had an internship this summer in a small town called Chantilly (in a château, no less), just a 23-minute train ride north of Paris, so I spent a lot of time going in the city on my days off.  Most days I wouldn’t have any particular plans, but would just wander around, admiring the architecture and the monuments and even the people.  I have probably seen the Eiffel Tower around 15 times by now, and yet every time I round the corner on the Trocadéro Esplanade and see it sparkling across the river, I squeal.  Paris really just never loses its magic for me.  There’s so much to do and see, but it’s so quaint and charming that you hardly realize it’s the most visited city in the world.  Until you visit places like Versailles and the Louvre, and you can’t move amid the seas of tourists.

Would you suggest traveling or studying abroad to any student or young person who can afford to do so?
I would absolutely suggest traveling or studying abroad to anyone who has the means to do so.  These past 7 months have been the best of my life, and it has been so incredible for me to immerse myself in a culture wholly different from my own.  It’s just such a blast.  I have also been able to travel a lot during my time here, because it’s so easy to get from place to place in Europe.  I went to Austria in August, and in October I did a tour of Eastern France and went to a ton of beautiful places like Annecy, known as the Venice of France, and Strasbourg, an adorable city on the German border.  I am going to London and Dublin in a few weeks, and I’ll probably pop on over to Monaco and maybe Switzerland or Italy before the end of the semester.  So not only does studying abroad allow you to experience your host country and all it has to offer, but it gives you the time and accessibility to travel.  And this is really the time to do it.  I doubt that there will be another time in my life when I will have the time and money to see a different corner of the world.  From my Mediterranean city in Southern France, Montpellier, where I have been since August, Barcelona is a couple hours to the West, and Nice is a couple hours to the East.  It’s so cool.  Study abroad if you can!  This is the only time you can do it, and the worldly perspective you will gain will teach you so much and open you up as a person.

 How has it changed your outlook on...anything really?
Studying in France has changed my outlook on a lot of things.  Firstly, it has changed my outlook on the United States.  Before I came here, I highly disliked the US.  However, my time in France has taught me to appreciate things about my country that I took for granted, and it has definitely given me a sense of national pride I never had while living there.  I also now have an entirely new look on the American educational system, as well as economic and political systems, as they are so vastly different here in France.  Lastly, I have a new outlook on the English language!  You realize so much about your own language when speaking another.

I have also changed my outlook on travel.  Before coming abroad, I hadn’t traveled much, and frankly I was okay with that.  I was always a bit of a homebody, and had hardly seen most of the United States, let alone the world!  I was content with stagnation, and a bit fearful of change, and thus I didn’t think that traveling would ever be an important part of my life.  That has COMPLETELY changed.  I LOVE traveling now and want to see as much of this Earth as I possibly can!  There are so many things I want to experience and I will make it one of my main goals in life to travel as much as I can.   I am not afraid anymore to try new things and go out into the world on my own.  In August, I went to Austria for a week by myself, spending part of the time in Vienna and part of it in Salzburg.  I don’t speak the language whatsoever, and didn’t know anyone there, but I am so glad I did it.  Studying abroad really opens your mind and frees you as a person!

For all of our fashionistas reading this who are living vicariously through this interview, what are some trends you have noticed in France? or what are the most common street wear items you notice young women wearing?
 The most notable fashion trend in France is wearing dark colors.  When I think of typical French style, I absolutely think of black.  Black is definitely a French “thing,” if you will.  And colors in general are not big; apart from black, I see brown, navy, gray, army green, and maybe deep purple.  That’s about it.  It’s mainly neutral darks.  You would never catch anyone wearing neon, and usually not even bright reds or yellows – or bright anything for that matter!  Also, prints are not huge.  People like to keep it simple, and wear pieces that are classic and timeless, as well as versatile.  I left almost all of my bright clothing at home in the States, and I have definitely adapted a black-dominant wardrobe since I’ve been here!  Most days I wear black jeans, black military boots or flats, and some kind of neutral or pastel shirt, with a black cardigan and black sunglasses.  Sometimes I don’t wear color at all, besides some Dior red lipstick.  Très français.

Another huge trend in France is scarves.  French people LOVE their scarves.  That is definitely the most common item I see young women wearing.  Even men wear them sometimes.  Women wear them year round, with any kind of outfit.  I feel like most French people feel that an outfit isn’t complete without a scarf.  One of my friends says she has been demanded, “Pourquoi tu portes pas un foulard avec ça?!” by a French girl, which means “Why aren’t you wearing a scarf with that?!”  The scarves are usually a solid color, either knit during the winter or thin and billowy, or often with skulls, studs, or the American flag (the American flag is very much “in” with French clothing.  It’s everywhere!).  I was never into decorative scarves before, as I didn’t really see the point, but I have some now.  Scarves are just quite à la mode here!

The last trend I would mention is heels.  French women wear heels a lot more than American women.  Certainly some fashionistas in the States will wear heels just to go to class or the grocery store, but I definitely don’t, and if I saw someone rolling into a Laundromat in stilettos I’d probably roll my eyes.  In France it’s a completely regular thing, and many of them wear heels on a day-to-day basis, no matter how casual their plans are.  This is true for how French people dress in general, though; they are eons more put together than Americans.  They do NOT wear sweats, ever, and you would especially never see them staggering into class in pajama pants.  Gasp!  They do not wear flip-flops either, or sneakers, which are considered by them to be incredibly American.  They always look stylish, and they expect others to, as well.  I have had to change my habits to adapt to this, because you will absolutely stand out if you walk around in any of the aforementioned pieces of clothing, or with messy hair or a visibly disheveled face, etc.  You just don’t do that here.  Once, I went to the grocery store in yoga pants, a Mount Holyoke sweatshirt, and flip flops, because I wasn’t feeling well and was just running out to get bread.  It was the most awkward, embarrassing, self-aware 10 minutes of ever.  My friends belong to a gym, and they claim that the French men “show up to the gym looking like Kanye West,” and that the women wear makeup and pretty hairstyles.  Welcome to France!

What is the coolest thing you have done while over there?
The coolest thing I have done while over here is sing onstage at a MIKA concert!!!!  MIKA, if you don’t know of him, is an amazing artist, most famous for songs such as We Are Golden, Grace Kelly, and Love Today.  He is incredibly popular in France, because he spent his childhood here, and while almost all of his songs are in English, he is fluent in French and has a couple of French songs (notable, Elle Me Dit, which is played ALL THE TIME here).  MIKA has always been one of my favorite musicians and an inspiration to me.  I learned about a contest on his Facebook page, where I had to upload a video of me singing one of his songs to YouTube, and then email the link to his team, indicating which concert I was entering for.  He chose the best singers for each venue on his tour to be a part of his “Polkadot Choir,” a small group of people wearing ridiculous white choir robes with big green polka dots who stood beside him onstage and sang backup.  I was chosen to sing at the concert I had entered for (!!!!), which was Marseille, a city about an hour and a half east of Montpellier, right on the water.  Before the concert, I got to practice some songs with the band and with MIKA himself, participate in the soundcheck, jam out with MIKA in our dressing room for a while, practice some dance moves to do onstage, and then perform with him in front of a sold-out crowd!  MIKA even chose me to be the leader, and told the rest of the choir to follow me vocally and choreographically, as he wanted us to look like a unit.  It was totally the best night of my life.  I got to meet and perform with one of my idols, in a beautiful city on the Mediterranean. The best part of the night was when he sang Elle Me Dit, and the almost entirely French audience went wild.  I knew all the words, and rocked out while my roommate cheered me on and blew me kisses from the audience.  What a crazy experience!

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xoxo - Viktoria

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