Spring Break – London

As promised, I have finished up finals and begun my month-long spring break trip. The trip is still ongoing, and I’m writing to you from the airport now! However, I began in London to visit some familiar faces. My high school friends, Micaela Levesque and Phoebe Whittington are studying in England, so we met up to explore the U.K.

The visit began with a rocky start, as Phoebe got pretty sick on the first day which lasted throughout the duration of our stay in London. The long day walks and hostel living did not provide for the most restful environment, but she powered through, and we were able to make some great memories in between doses of cold medicine.

Micaela played tour guide and showed us many of her favorite haunts, including her campus in central London, Camden Town, and the British Museum. They keep Cleopatra in there! We also became proficient in “tube” travel, a necessity when navigating such a major city.

Micaela Levesque (left) and Phoebe Whittington (right) strolling through Camden Town.
Micaela Levesque (left) and Phoebe Whittington (right) strolling through Camden Town, London.

We hit many of the famous London tourist destinations to get to know the city and take advantage of photo opportunities. We followed Micaela’s favorite jogging route which takes her across the iconic London Bridge. Not everyone can say that!

London Bridge
London Bridge

A pair of guys set up typewriters near the bridge and offered to compose a poem on the subject of our choice for a donation. After careful deliberation, we decided to ask one of them to write a poem about a “spiky sisterhood of seagulls.” In moments, the man was typing away, and he did not pause until the poem was finished. I don’t think his composition skills were half bad!

A poem composed for us near London Bridge
A poem composed for us near London Bridge

We went on several additional excursions, including to Westminister Abbey (although it was closed, so we couldn’t go inside) and an ice skating rink.

Westminister Abbey, London
Westminister Abbey, London
Jordan Keller skating at the Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, London
Jordan Keller skating at the Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, London. Photo credit: Micaela Levesque

One of my favorite excursions in London, however, was to see Toast by Nigel Slater. The performance is somewhat autobiographical, and tells the story of an English boy in the 50’s, navigating the challenges and grief of his life through food. The interactive performance included a dynamic set, musical numbers, and most importantly, treats for the audience based on scenes from the play. We truly had a taste of English culture, as we tried what for many audience members were classic childhood sweets.

Preparing to see "Toast" at The Other Palace Theater, London
Preparing to see “Toast” at The Other Palace Theater, London

Our stay in London concluded with no shortage of memorable times. Despite having to balance lingering homework assignments and illness amongst our group, we were able to learn about the city Micaela has called home during her study abroad experience and have a great time! And the tourists that we are, we managed to take some London aesthetic photos to capture the experience in the meantime.

Jordan Keller posing with a telephone booth for the "London aesthetic" outside St. Paul's Cathedral
Jordan Keller posing with a telephone booth for the “London aesthetic” outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Photo credit: Micaela Levesque

Jordan Keller

A Day in the Life in the South of France

The beauty of studying abroad is that every day is a new day and you learn something unique by the end of it. Even if it is just a regular school day, being in a new culture means you will see and experience something interesting or novel in your routine.

I want to walk you through an average day in a typical week for me. I hope this allows future students studying abroad in France to have realistic expectations of what their life abroad will look like.

From Monday to Friday I wake up between 8:30 and 9 am (I love getting the opportunity to sleep in a little). Each morning I like to get a jumpstart on my chores that my host mother requests of me. Those are to make my bed and open my window to air out room. We usually air out the apartment for 30 minutes to an hour in the morning.

Host families have to provide us with typical French breakfast materials every morning. Every morning I have hot lemon or mint tea, fruit and toast with Nutella available for me to prepare for breakfast.

After that I review my homework and study in preparation for class. I usually have a reading quiz each class, sometimes three in a row. If it’s nice out, and it usually is, I go for a run in the nearby park.

Then it is lunch with friends in a cafe or taken to the park if it is sunny. As you might be able to tell, park life is the best life.

Wednesdays I meet with my conversation partner and practice conversational French for about two hours. It is easy to connect with a conversation partner if you are interested. Many IAU professors also teach at University Aix Marseille, and they often connect their French students with their American ones.

I have class all afternoon into the evening. Classes are taught in a fairly similar manner as they are at Linfield. You might find, though, that they are more lecture based, and less focused on seminar. Typically on Wednesday nights, there are lectures put on by professors or professor fellows.

After class I come home for a traditional French dinner made by my host mother at about 7:30. This is later than many American meals, and some students here even have it later.

I’ve covered some of my weekend adventures in earlier posts, but will reiterate them a little here. Like many IAU students, I do not have any classes on Friday (lucky us). This means that as soon as homework is complete, it’s time to hit the train station. I’ve really enjoyed the ability to visit other cities in the French Riviera and exploring the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. In my opinion this is one of the best regions in France because it really has it all: cultural hubs, beaches and the alps. Closer to home, climbing Mt. St. Victoire can easily be done in an afternoon with the bus stopping right at the base of the trail. Class excursions can also take up most of the weekend. In the past I have attended field trips to Marseille, Brussels, art exhibits and the local mosque.

Until next time,

Elin

wine glasses with white and red wine
Wine tastings are a frequent event at IAU.
cheese on slice of bread with wine in the background
Learning what regional cheese pairs best with which wine.
Cheese, fruit and bread spread out.
Our French class got to taste local cheeses and breads.
picnic on the grass in front of a lake
Did you know that Lac de Sainte Croix is where La Croix comes from? The water naturally tastes like hints of fruit. (kidding)

 

The people of Patagonia

Eight hours, over 15 miles and one slip in the mud later and I had conquered a world class hike in one of the Earth’s most stunning and remote natural landscapes.

The pier in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile
The pier in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile

Beach in Punta Arenas, city in Chile.

Patagonia’s rolling green hills, light blue lakes and random flocks of sheep, ostriches and horses attract over 100,000 tourists every year to this relatively unpopulated piece of land. The Chilean side includes iconic landmarks such as the Tierra del Fuego, the strait of Magellan and the famous Torres del Paine national park. We hiked to the base of the natural mountain towers and back down in just a day, while some others did longer five or ten day hiking and camping circuits in the park.

Torres del Paine national park
Torres del Paine national park

Although the scenery in the park was breathtakingly beautiful, the people I met on the trail and in the hostels really embellished my experience in Patagonia.

Torres del Paine national park
Torres del Paine national park

First we met Tom and Gina in the Puerto Natales hostel kitchen, recent university graduates traveling through South America to procrastinate starting their careers in England. She had blonde hair that fell mid way down her back and kind blue eyes, wore oversized “boyfriend” t-shirts with leggings, and offered to make us dinner after our hike to the towers. He stood tall and wore a backwards “Chilean Patagonia” ball cap atop his shoulder-length, flowy hair. He was both gregarious when speaking but also attentive when others were. They told us they were kind of “stuck” in Chile for longer than expected after getting their phones and passports stolen at the beach one day, but they were still laughing and taking advantage of their time in the Patagonia region.

Reading by the stove sat 18-year-old Thad, one of the keepers of the hostel. He only has three months until his high school graduation in Flagstaff, and since he’s already completed all his required credits he decided to travel in the meantime. At first he came to Patagonia to travel and then planned on going home soon after, but asked if he could stay at the hostel to work for a few more months and the owners let him. Both days we were there he wore his brown cargo shorts, beige wool sweater, black anklet and his wispy hair disheveled. He had an innocent and curious smile, and showed a lot of interest in everybody’s backgrounds and reasons for finding themselves here in Chile.

Then there was Gabriella, whose black hair matched her black eyeliner and hoop nose ring. She spent her first 21 years growing up in Mexico but has now been in Los Angeles for six. She was on a solo trip through South America with loose plans and an open mind toward new cultures. We met in the hostel and then ran into each other at the top of the Torres del Paine, where her slight figure seemed to almost blow away in the wind. We ate dinner together that night when we returned to our hostel, and I realized that with a group she spoke softly but when we got to talking our conversation topics were endless and her voice more firm.

The base of the torres
The base of the torres

Perhaps it was because I knew it was my last big adventure before going back home, but this time I seemed to notice the people almost more than the landscape. That’s also one thing I’ve learned about my time here and my travels: more than every new place I’ve been and every new sight I’ve seen, the people I’ve met have determined the outcome of my trips. And the people of Patagonia were a different kind of precious.

Nos vemos a la vuelta,

Camille

A few of my favorite things!

Aix en Provence is a small town that feels like it is much bigger. Many people live outside of the city in nearby villages and commute in to go to work or attend school. It is a wealthier town, many older people retire here from Paris, so it is a little on the expensive side. City center is completely walkable and there are a ton of parks. It is a university town with several schools in the area (Bradley Cooper also studied abroad here). This means there are lots of young people, a youthful energy, and businesses aimed at young people. The town is filled with restaurants and cafes. You will never be out of options for a place to eat. Cours Mirabeau is the main drag just south of the city center. Walking along this wide open street you will pass many nice restaurants.

I have begun to pick some of my favorite places I have been to this semester. I hope if you study abroad in Aix you can put these places to good use.

Some of my favorite restaurants include the Mew Cat Cafe (for your furry friend fix, and a good pastry), Book in a Bar (the best bookstore in Aix, also serves coffee, scones and tea), La Table du Maroc (easily my favorite restaurant here. Delicious and authentic Moroccan food (try their mint tea!), SNF (Senegalese restaurant off the beaten path), Pizza Capri (late night slice of pizza to go).

On one of the many sunny days here you can grab a picnic and take it to the IAU art school campus, Marchutz, for a view of the city and some time in nature. Set yourself a scavenger hunt to find all the fountains in Aix, a city known for its many fountains. Parc de la Torse is another great spot for an afternoon lounge, or use their free gym equipment for a workout after a run along the trails. If you’re looking for a more challenging day, you must climb Mt. St. Victoire. Features a gorgeous view at the top and the public bus takes you right to the trail head. Of course with your student ID you get access to all sorts of events and free entrance into most museums.

If you’re looking for an easy day trip hop on a bus or train to a nearby day trip. Nice is great if you’re looking for a larger city with a great beach (perfect for a sunset promenade). Marseille is only a 30 minute bus ride away and is one of the coolest cities in France. It feels more urban and melting pot than other cities. Great museums and a port city. Known from the movie The French Connection. Cassis is one of my favorite coastal cities. Take a boat tour of the calanques, hike from one beach to another, and maybe take a dip in the Mediterranean sea. Going north if you’re looking for a historical trip, try Nimes or Avignon for that Roman feel. When you’re going to all these smaller French towns look out for some local festivals. Some festivals I enjoyed included the Citron, Mimosa and the Carnival de Nice.

Doing all this travel can be stressful. Downloading some of the following apps can help you plan your journeys and find good deals: Go Euro, Skyscanner, Flixbus, Ryanair, Hopper, and Rome2Rio.

Elin

Packing for the trip of a lifetime!

By now you probably know if and when you are studying abroad. Before you go abroad you  have to deal with figuring out what classes you will take, your visa application, and what to bring with you when you go. In fact, packing can seem like the most daunting part. How can you pack your entire life into one suitcase? How do you know what exactly you’ll need when you’re abroad? My goal with this post is to help provide some advice on this aspect so that the process goes smoothly for you all.

Hike overlooking village in Cinque Terre.
Hiking Cinque Terre in Italy. One example of an accessible trip from the south of France.

Before you leave, I advise meeting with the Registrars Office and your advisor(s) to figure out what classes you should take while abroad and how to ensure that those classes transfer back to Linfield in the way you want them to. Get your schedule approved prior to going abroad. This will lead to a lot less headaches later and keep you on the right track for graduation (which is the goal, right?). Make and bring copies of everything when you go. This includes your passport, travel insurance, course approvals and similar documents. This will help in case any issues arise while you’re abroad.

Cinque Terre Italy, national park on the coast.
Colorful houses fill many European cities.

The biggest thing to do before studying abroad is to save your money. This seems obvious but it is important to be candid with yourself and family about how much you plan on spending. Establishing a budget is key. Generously speaking I advise saving for 100 Euros a week excluding travel costs, or at least 2,000 for the semester. I got a second / third job to help save for this. Tell your credit and debit cards you will be leaving the country and what dates you will be gone. Other prep that should be done is with the language. Some of the easiest ways to do this outside of the classroom is by watching Netflix in the language you’re studying with subtitles in that language, listening to popular music from the country, or downloading a language learning app.

When it comes to packing your actual things, minimalism and essentialism is key. Don’t over pack because you’re going to inevitably buy stuff while over there. Try to stick to one checked bag and one carry on backpack, this will make your voyage through various airports much easier. Buy things like school supplies and toiletries abroad to save space and travel light. However, keep in mind that the notebooks and lined paper in other countries might be a little different from what you are used to. I found that having the city you will be moving to listed in a weather app a year in advance is helpful, so that you know the weather patterns. You can also look up the average weather at your time of being there. All of this will prepare you for what is to come, and help you know what to pack.

Now to be more specific to my experience in France. When packing, remember that Europeans dress differently than Americans, they’re typically more conservative in dress. It’s also warmer here in the south of France. Before I left, I asked some of the returning students two questions that helped me determine what to bring: what did you bring that you didn’t need, and what did you not bring that you wished that you did. The most important things I brought were sunscreen, my convertor/adapter, rain coat, and a good pair of walking shoes.

Train station under the blue sky.
Train station in Klosters, Switzerland.

Some classes (especially at IAU) take field trips or class excursions, be sure to plan your extracurricular trips around then. When it comes to travel, the earlier you make reservations or plans the cheaper and better. Travel by train and bus is very easy in the south of France. A perk of the Marseille airport is that it has one of the closest Starbucks,  as there is not one in Aix. This is surprisingly touching even if you don’t drink coffee, like a taste of home (or Riley Hall).

Starbucks cup with Lime written on it.
The closest Starbucks to Aix is in the Marseille airport for those of you looking for a taste of home.

Bon voyage!

Elin

The Celtic Experience

March has been packed with travel and cultural experiences, kicking off with a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Another group of international students from NUIG took the same flight and happened to be staying in the same hostel, so it was fun to run in to some familiar faces. Kristen, Paige, and I stayed in Castle Rock Hostel which was super cute and right across the street from Edinburgh Castle, the first castle I’ve toured. We saved some money by making dinner in the hostel kitchen Saturday night, and it was bustling with other travelers. We bonded over shared cooking ingredients and a broken stove top, making us feel right at home.

Charming Castle Rock Hostel, Edinburgh, Scotland
A charming lounge in Castle Rock Hostel, Edinburgh, Scotland

The castle itself was also magnificent. We did pay to go inside which wasn’t my favorite part of the trip given that it largely felt like a war museum (not my thing), however, the chapel was beautiful, there were plenty of city views, and we watched the firing of a canon, so I suppose it was an explosive experience at the very least.

Edinburgh Castle, night
Edinburgh Castle, night
Outside the Edinburgh Castle Cathedral
Outside the Edinburgh Castle Cathedral

A museum experience that I thoroughly enjoyed was at the National Museum of Scotland. The museum is free, massive, and has a plethora of interactive exhibits. Not to mention, it is aesthetically stunning.

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

We also spent a good amount of time wandering, as we are prone to do. This led to several little adventures including an exploration of the University of Edinburgh, and my personal favorite, The Boy Wizard Harry Potter store. I will admit to exhibiting a little too much childlike enthusiasm and purchasing a cauldron mug (it’s so cool!). The employees were kind enough to let us borrow a few wands for a photo op too!

A rare shot with the Boy Wizard himself! From the left, Jordan Keller, Kristen Burke, Harry Potter, and Paige Phillipson
A rare shot with the Boy Wizard himself! From the left, Jordan Keller, Kristen Burke, Harry Potter, and Paige Phillipson

Amidst all of the sightseeing, the highlight was the ghost tour. We took a late night ghost tour down the Royal Mile, through Greyfriars Kirkyard cemetary and down into the vaults beneath the city streets. Our tour guide was absolutely hilarious and dressed in a ghostly period costume, adding to the immersive experience. The tour was a fantastic way to learn a little more about the city’s history and legendary characters, such as little Annie, who is said to appear in the corners of the very vaults we stood in…

A statue of Adam Smith and a street cone, passed on the ghost tour.
A statue of Adam Smith and a street cone, passed on the ghost tour.

The following weekend, we continued to get to know the modern Celtic world through the much beloved holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. This time, Paige, Kristen, and I ventured into Dublin to spend the day and see the parade. Luckily, Dubliners aren’t quite as inclined to camp out for parade spots, so we were able to get a front row view. A quick hop into a tourist shop, and we were decked out and ready to celebrate.

From the left, Kristen Burke, Paige Phillipson, and Jordan Keller, ready for the Dublin St. Patrick's Day parade
From the left, Kristen Burke, Paige Phillipson, and Jordan Keller, ready for the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parade

The parade itself was a colorful collage of dancers, floats, and a surprising number of U.S. marching bands. We made friends with a group of international students beside us who were studying in Dublin, taking photos and sharing trivia answers.

Adorable parade performers stealing the show
Adorable parade performers stealing the show

Following the parade, we faced the madness that is the Temple Bar area and met up with Kristen’s friend who is also studying abroad and wanted to visit Ireland for the holiday. The rest of the trip was spent exploring the pub scene, enjoying the revelry, and taking a spin on a nearby Ferris wheel in a truly memorable celebration.

Paige Phillipson and Kristen Burke atop a Ferris wheel, Dublin, Ireland
Paige Phillipson and Kristen Burke atop a Ferris wheel, Dublin, Ireland

I hope you enjoyed the latest update, and the larger photos! I’ll try to go back and modify the size of the ones in my older posts for your viewing pleasure. Stay tuned!

Jordan Keller

Parents in Town: A Culinary Tour

I’m not suggesting I eat better when my parents visit, but let’s just say their pocketbook is a smidge bigger than mine. At least, that’s how it felt during the week they spent visiting me in Ireland and traveling to Paris. But between bites of baguette and macaroon, we made time to see some famous sites as well.

It is difficult to balance family travel time and school when it’s only a vacation for some of us (not me), but it was so worth the extra effort despite the WiFi hunting tours and desperate essay writing attempts made over the course of the week. Traveling with family is a completely different experience than traveling with friends, even though neither I nor my parents had visited Europe prior to this trip.  My parents, being the culinary enthusiasts they are, naturally began their travels in Galway with dinner.

One of our main culinary adventures took place right here in Galway at Aniar. Aniar is one of those small portion, big price tag places you go to once every ten years, but they specialize in local ingredients–they harvest and source all of their ingredients in Ireland and modify their menu based on the day’s harvest. It was great to be able to connect with the landscape of Ireland in a new and delicious way!

A taste of the ocean at Aniar
A taste of the ocean at Aniar

After introducing my parents to the sites and sounds of Galway, we ventured into a new domain, Paris, France. After a bit of a steep learning curve, we figured out the metro system which is so handy! We were able to get everywhere we needed to go via public transportation. Our first stop took us to the Palace of Versailles which is an almost impossibly lavish destination. I felt like a real princess walking past the golden gates into halls decorated with elaborate paintings and chandeliers. The immaculate gardens follow a clear waterway into the distance as though they go on forever. I was ready to move in.

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles
Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles

Of course, what first timer’s trip to Paris would be complete without world famous tourist destinations like the Eiffel Tower? It is strange to imagine such a culturally ingrained landmark for so long and finally see it in person. It was quite grand!

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

We also toured the Notre Dame, my personal favorite landmark of the trip. I was quite surprised to find, upon entering, that a service was taking place. The contrast between the vast number of tourists and the actual service was a bit unsettling for me at first, but I’m grateful I got to hear a pair of boys sing for the crowd, and the experience on the whole was indeed heavenly.

Notre Dame, Paris, France
Notre Dame, Paris, France

As someone who is unfortunately not a museum person, I have to admit that the expansive collection at the Lourve is quite impressive. I also have to admit that I entertained myself by (internally and respectfully) making fun of paintings and statues. But in all seriousness, it is a truly remarkable collection of work and artifacts, and I envy the skill and patience it must have taken to create the world renowned works.

Classic art or a sassy family photo?
Classic art or a sassy family photo?

Last, but certainly not least, we took a break from the sightseeing and crowds of tourists to enjoy a picnic in the Paris sunshine at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. The park was a breath of fresh air situated just outside the bustle of Paris, and features a temple atop a re-purposed quarry with a lovely view.

Picnic goodies
Picnic goodies
First steps into the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
First steps into the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

As all things do, our trip came to an end, and my parents flew back to Oregon. But with one week of classes left, I’ll soon be off on my final and longest journey yet. I’m looking forward to meeting up with familiar faces in some spectacular new locations. Send good vibes my way, as I attempt to complete my finals in spite of the upcoming Spanish sunshine.

Jordan Keller