The Capital of Christmas in Strasbourg, France

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Before moving to Strasbourg, France, I had no idea it was considered the “Capital of Christmas.” I always thought that title belonged to some city in Germany or maybe the Laplands in Finland, but surprise, it belongs to Strasbourg. 

Being a “newbie” to Strasbourg in autumn 2021, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this world-famous Christmas market, especially coming out of the pandemic. But I quickly learned that as the start of the Christmas season nears, you can feel the excitement and expectancy in the air, especially from locals. Although it’s cold outside, people are ready. They’re ready to awe in unison as the city lights up. Ready to hit the markets in search of Christmas goodies. Ready to be with loved ones, and ready to celebrate the holiday season. 

A Brief History 

Strasbourg is a small city in the heart of the Alsace region of France. It is known for its medieval half-timbered houses and gorgeous canals surrounding different parts of the city. It is also the formal seat of the European Parliament, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, and many European Institutions, making it an international hub. 

In addition to the different European Institutions, Strasbourg also has a renowned university with a large student population. There’s an eclectic mix of history and cosmopolitan, offering something for everyone whether you visit in the summer or during the most wonderful time of the year.

The Capital of Christmas

Strasbourg has been around for a long time, with records dating back to the twelfth century. According to historians, Christmas markets have been around just as long. Throughout its history, Strasbourg has changed hands between France and Germany numerous times. This has embedded German traditions (like Christmas!) in the Alsatian region. 

In the twelfth century, the Klausenmärik (Saint Nicolas market) started as a single day celebration on December 6. In 1570 it was renamed the Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) when the region switched from Catholicism to Protestantism. The celebration took place in the Place de la Cathédrale (Cathedral Square) for three days leading up to Christmas Eve. Based on this date, it is officially the oldest Christmas market in all of France. The market grew over the years, expanding to add more stalls in more city squares and more days to allow visitors to peruse all the kiosks. In 1992, the deputy mayor of Strasbourg officially named Strasbourg “The Capital of Christmas.” 

Christmas in Strasbourg

Strasbourg hosts the largest Christmas market and tree in the Alsace region. You can feel the Christmas spirit the second you step into the market, even if you are a Grinch! I remember standing in an extremely crowded Place Kléber waiting for the tallest decorated Christmas tree in Europe to light up, signaling the start of the Christmas season. People were buzzing, but they weren’t pushy or rude, just excited! Once the tree lit up, everyone “ooooohed and aweeeeeeed,” and I had a huge smile across my face as I saw all the gorgeous lights and decorations. 

You never really realize how many 300 stalls actually are until you start walking around the Capital of Christmas. It would take literally all day every day of the market period to see all the stalls. However, it really doesn’t matter which squares you go to. From what I experienced, there are very few stalls that sell unique gifts. If you don’t buy the beautiful glass ornament you saw at one kiosk, you will likely find the same one at another stall in another square, and usually with the same price tag. The decorations and lights on the other hand are completely unique to each building and street. Strasbourg is at its most #instagramworthy during the Christmas season. 

Tasty Treats

My favourite thing to do was walk around, sampling the different mulled wines to keep me warm and deciding which delicious treats I would be sampling that day. If you’re not a fan of cinnamony mulled wine, lots of stalls offer artisan Christmas beer and even hot crémant, hot orange juice, and hot apple cider. Most of the food stalls have typical Alsatian fare: baguette flamblée (a portable version of tarte flambée), spaetzle with bacon and munster cheese sauce, bretzels, crêpes with both sweet and salty fillings, and much more. You’ll find the special Christmas treats in bakeries: bredele cookies (a spicy sugar cookie), pain d’epices (spiced bread), mannele (brioche in the shape of a man), kugelhopf (a bundt-shaped raisin-filled pastry), and christolle (a Christmas day breakfast brioche). Thank goodness you’ll be walking all around the Capital of Christmas to wear off everything you eat! 

Christmas in Alsace

Colmar

Colmar is an easy 30-minute train ride from Strasbourg. It’s definitely worth a visit if you have time. Colmar is one of the most famous cities in Alsace, with a picturesque historic centre and venice-like canals in La Petite Venise. The Christmas market in Colmar has one major benefit: it runs until December 29, so there’s time even after Christmas to check it out. Furthermore, the Colmar Christmas market boasts a “gourmet market” with chefs preparing specialty foods, which I highly recommend checking out. 

Ribeauvillé

Every year Ribeauvillé hosts a wonderful medieval Christmas market. Along the streets you’ll find a range of entertainment from dancers to fire eaters. The kiosks are known for their traditional toys and decorations with the vendors dressed in medieval costumes. The squares are filled with musicians and performers, creating an inviting Christmas atmosphere. The most special parts of the medieval Christmas market are the traditional foods like wild boar on a spit, and the nighttime magic of mythical woodland creatures that grace the market with their presence. For me, Ribeauvillé is a must-see, but it only happens during the first two weekends of December so plan accordingly. If you have a car, it’s quite easy to get to from Strasbourg. If you don’t have a car, you can take the Christmas shuttle from the Colmar train station.

Kaysersberg

Kaysersberg is considered the “authentic” Christmas market, and it’s a true delight. The seventeenth century-style market takes place in the streets under the ruins of Kaysersberg Castle. This market is special because the vendors only sell artisanal handicrafts, showing off their unique skills and original gifts. In addition, this Christmas market boasts a farmers market where you can purchase a wide variety of local produce including liqueurs, cheeses, jams, and Alsatian wines…everything you need for a perfect Christmas Eve spread. Transportation to Kaysersberg also requires either a car or a trip on the Christmas shuttle. 

Let the Christmas Spirit In

After having been quite conservative with my Christmas spirit last year, this year I am ready to embrace the “Capital of Christmas” in all its shining, sparkling glory. I’m looking forward to wandering the streets, buying all the ornaments, “ohhhh-ing and awe-ing” with all the other bright-eyed Christmas market patrons, and drinking my fair share of Alsatian mulled wine. I am ready to let the Christmas spirit in!

by Kristen Gammage

Alice Mola Talks Studying in France

Alice Mola of Sincerely, Alice renown is a native New Yorker. A born linguist, she began teaching herself Japanese at age 15. Later majoring in Japanese for her undergraduate degree, Alice went on to study at Waseda University. She decided to teach herself French during the lockdown and fell in love with the language. We love connecting with inspiring individuals at Dreams Abroad, so we asked Alice about studying in France and other topics of interest.

Why are you studying in France?”

France offers the possibility of doing my master’s for a lower cost. Getting my master’s in the same subject in my home state of New York would have cost me double what I am paying now to study in France, living expenses included. I also thought my program had a lot of potential to make connections in Europe since most of my networking was done in Japan previously. Lastly, I had begun learning French during the pandemic, and it seemed like a way to improve my skills even further. Before moving to France, I had only had a conversation in French one or two times, so it seemed like a great launching point for my linguistic skills.

Alice in Japan in Kimono

According to your Goodreads profile, you have read over 150 books. Which one is your favorite and why?”

My favorite book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s truly a classic and can be read by anyone. The first time I read this book, I was in high school. The way it depicts childlike innocence and magic makes me really happy, though it can be a challenging read due to the Yorkshire dialect used in the text.

Dijon is famous for its mustard. How much does this permeate living there?”

dijon mustard

It’s actually everywhere! It’s sold at many shops all around Dijon, and there’s even a group that is called the Brotherhood of Mustard. I once met them at the Office of Tourism here! They were showing how mustard seeds were ground to make mustard, which was very interesting. However, I did hear a rumor that most Dijon mustard these days isn’t actually made in Dijon anymore. Dijon mustard just refers to the type of mustard rather than it coming from one place. 

What made you choose the apartment you rent?”

I chose the apartment I currently live in because they were the only ones who would give me a chance. As a foreign person who had not yet arrived in the country, many landlords were suspicious and did not want to rent to me. I applied to over 50 different apartments on the website Leboncoin, but many of them never replied or flat out said ‘No.’ 

In order to get a long-term-stay visa, one needs to already have an apartment contract secured for at least your first three months in France. This is currently the rule for Americans, although I’ve heard other countries don’t require this. However, this created a vicious cycle where I couldn’t apply for my visa without an apartment, but no one would rent to someone who didn’t even have a visa to live in the country yet. 

At the time my boyfriend, who I am now living with here in France, was transitioning his internship into a full-time job, which also didn’t reflect well on us. I only got cut a break because the woman renting to me had an American ex-husband. So, she understood my struggle and decided to give us a shot.

You recently turned 24. What do you hope to accomplish by the time you reach 25?”

Alice in fall

By the time I’m 25, I hope to be B2 level in French! I’m currently B1 level which means I can get around France with not too much difficulty. I really want to use French with more ease and grace, so I hope to have that one year from now. I also hope to be a bit more well-traveled now that I’m studying in France. This is my first time living in Europe, so I’d really like to make the most of it and see different countries that are only a train or bus ride away.

How did you meet your boyfriend, Guillaume?”

I met my boyfriend online via a platform called Discord. We were casual friends for two years, talking every few days, and then decided to meet in 2020 for a Discord meetup in Paris, right before the pandemic hit in February. When we first met, I was getting out of a breakup and not really looking, but we had instant chemistry due to our long friendship and had a wonderful time together. When I returned to the States, we spoke a bit more about where we’d like our relationship to go, and began dating. 

Alice and Guillaume

What new French food has been your most pleasant discovery while studying in France?”

Surprisingly, I fell in love with the lemon meringue tart sold in my local supermarket called Casino. It’s one of the best lemon pasties I’ve ever had, and I’ve gone to several bakeries since and eaten the same thing. I’m not sure what makes it the perfect culinary storm, but it’s consistent, delicious, and incredibly affordable. I know it might sound ridiculous that my favorite pasty comes from a supermarket, but trust me!

On a scale of one to 10, how easy is it to understand the Dijon accent?”

I have not had much experience with the Dijon accent, as my program is in English. All my French friends around me speak standard French. Perhaps the dialect is spoken by older people? As far as I’ve heard, even my good friends who were born and raised in Dijon do not have this accent.

They say Dijon doesn’t look like it has changed much since the Middle Ages. How much does its tradition affect the character of its residents?”

The history of Dijon lives on through its architecture and vineyards. Dijon feels like quite an old city, but it’s very welcoming and has an ancient beauty, especially in the massive churches. Dijon was a very wealthy place in medieval times, and when you visit any of the (free) art museums scattered around the center of Dijon, you get a natural feeling of luxury. 

So, what next for Alice after studying in France? Upon graduation, she hopes to work as a diversity and inclusion officer. Given her background, that could be in France, New York, or Japan! We would love to catch up with her again when she does.

by Dreams Abroad

What I Know Now as a New Mom Abroad

Never did I imagine that I would get pregnant and have a baby during a worldwide pandemic, while my husband was living and working in another country, with my parents unable to come to help, all while managing everything in a different language. But as they say in France: c’est la vie!  After nearly 41 weeks of pregnancy and seven months of being a new mom abroad, I have experienced a lot and am extremely grateful for these five lessons I’ve learned so far. 

1) Other Foreign Parents Are the Best Resource as a New Mom Abroad

Things are done differently from back home. Other foreign parents are your best resource if you have questions or concerns. I felt very lucky that one of my best friends in Madrid was on her third pregnancy while I was on my first. She explained to me everything I could expect with the public health care system, what all of my appointments were for, what I should be asking, what I needed to prepare for the hospital, all the paperwork that comes along with having a baby and so much more. 

Aside from my friend, I also joined English-speaking parents/moms Facebook groups in the cities I live in. Everyone in those groups is amazing and helpful. Someone is always willing to help and answer even the smallest question. It’s nice to know that you’re not going through the experience alone, especially as a new mom abroad. Being pregnant and having a baby is a learning experience in itself. Doing it in another country and often in a foreign language adds additional stress. Make it easier on yourself by speaking with other foreign parents to get the best idea of what to expect where you are. Also, foreign moms love coffee dates. This has been great for getting to know others in a similar circumstance and building a local friend group.

2) Support Systems Come in All Shapes and Sizes

As I previously mentioned, I was more or less living on my own throughout my pregnancy. My husband came to visit as often as he could and we talked daily. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the same as having him there. My support system during pregnancy included my wonderful mother-in-law and fantastic friends. I ate lunch with my mother-in-law every Sunday. She always sent me home with leftovers to ensure I ate well. My friends took it upon themselves to make sure I got out of the house, so we had a lunch date at a new restaurant every weekend.  

With my family on the other side of the Atlantic, my friends planned an amazing baby shower with traditional games. It became a fun experience for the Spaniards in attendance too. One friend and I even had an emergency plan in case I went into labour before my husband made it home (thank goodness we never needed that plan). During the first few months of my daughter’s life, our friends and family in Madrid took care of us, so that we could take care of her.  Now that I’m in Strasbourg, I don’t have a large friend and family network close by. I cherish the weekends that our friends and family visit us. It’s so important for me as a new mom abroad to feel that support again. I’m really lucky to have these people in my life.

3) Find What Works for You To Create Balance 

I am a typical Type A personality: I like structure, knowing what I’m doing, planning things, and am highly organized. Due to this, the first few months of being a new mom abroad were difficult for me. It’s impossible to predict what your newborn will be like! Therefore, I made a huge effort to go with the flow each day. I made sure not to over-exert myself with plans. It became difficult as I wanted to see everyone before our international move. For the first few months while my husband was on paternity leave and we were in Madrid, this worked for us. However, now that we’re in Strasbourg and he’s back at work, having a routine each day is what I need.  

During the day while my husband’s at work, I plan our day as I want, taking into account my baby’s needs as she is always with me.  For me, having structure helps the day go by smoother and faster. It also means that I know that when my husband gets home I will get some all-important “me time” and that we will do whatever in the evening as a family. Since I’ve created a daily routine, I feel more mentally and physically balanced, which hopefully makes me a better parent.

4) Socializing Is Important (And Good for Your Mental Health)

Let me start by saying I love my husband and baby, but spending ALL my time with them is not what I would call ideal! When we moved to Strasbourg, I made it my mission to create some sort of social life. This is where the mom/parent networks come in handy as many others are in exactly the same situation. Often, they are just waiting for someone to reach out. I look forward to my weekly coffee dates with the other moms in my area. It’s a great way to socialize knowing that it won’t bother anyone that I have to bring my baby along.  

I also found other activities that interested me and just asked if I could bring my baby. Not all activities said yes, but some did. This helps me to get out of the house, meet other people, and talk about non-baby-related things too! I am very social, so it’s important to me to interact with other adults on a daily basis. Even if you think you’re not a “social person”, having social contacts is so important so you don’t get totally lost in “being a mom”.

5) You Can Still Do All the Things You Want With a Baby in Tow

My friends and the salon owner just looked at me and laughed when I walked into the nail salon for my first postpartum pedicure with my one-month-old in tow. It didn’t surprise anyone. I’m not the type of person to let having a baby hold me back from doing the things I want, within reason of course. Because I bring my baby everywhere it means that she’s already had many great experiences. I haven’t had to miss out on things I wanted to do.  

During the summer we spent many evenings on local terraces, attended work and birthday parties, went shopping with friends, went to the beach, and took advantage of our last few months in Madrid before our big move. Since arriving in Strasbourg, we’ve gone hiking, visited various cities and towns in the region, and made multiple trips back to Madrid, one even on my own with the baby!  In order to take the baby everywhere, I make sure I’m always prepared. Her diaper bag is always packed for any situation. I leave the house with extra time just in case we need to stop for a feed or diaper change. If you make a habit out of bringing your baby with you, it becomes easier with time and makes for lots of great photo ops.

Wrap Up

It’s not always easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I knew that being a new mom wouldn’t be a walk in the park, and there have definitely been unexpected obstacles to overcome. Yet every day I learn something new that hopefully makes me a better person and a better mom.  

by Kristen Gammage

Meet Marcos González the Picture Perfect Traveler

Marcos, hospitality professional, at Gaviota State Park in CaliforniaMarcos González and I have a lot in common. We’ve made reverse journeys across the Pond. While away from our home countries, we have lost loved ones. I founded Dreams Abroad while teaching in Spain. In my latest interview, I speak with Marcos, a traveler who swapped the North Coast of Spain for the West Coast of the States.

“Come home to paradise, come to Asturias.” This is the slogan of the principality’s tourist board. A green and pleasant land, this is northwest Spain. A rugged coast and majestic mountain range crown Asturias. The fare is of the hearty variety, made to satisfy the appetites of those accustomed to working outdoors. It’s Marcos González’s native terrain and while pandemic-enforced absence makes the heart grow fonder, he has embraced a new life in California as a hospitality professional.

You come from Asturias, land of fabada asturiana and sidra. What dish or drink do you miss most from your home?”

I miss many, but mackerel is one of my favorite ones! Undeniably, I do love cabracho cake too. It’s like a paté made with rockfish and it’s delicious. I am lucky to be from a country and a location with a rich, delicious, and varied gastronomy.

If somebody is planning a Spanish road trip, what are the unmissable things to see and do in Asturias?”

First, they need to hire me as a guide… kidding! Asturias is small but you will be surprised by the number of beautiful places that we have. Definitely, Oviedo is a must. Covadonga, Llanes, Somiedo… everywhere there is something beautiful to visit, from waterfalls, lakes, castles, caves, and beaches.

How much does being based in California (where over a quarter of the population speaks Spanish as a primary language) help you with adjusting to your relocation?”

Well, it’s nice to be able to speak my language. Nonetheless, I am fluent in English, so I don’t mind speaking one or the other language. I have lived in the UK and even in Ireland before, so the language is not a problem for me. The problem is for the poor Californians who have to understand my accent!

On your Instagram page, you describe yourself as a traveler, explorer, adventurer. Where was the first place you traveled to both in and outside of Spain?”

Good question… the first time that I went out of Spain was to Ireland. I loved it. In Spain… I would say Barcelona, I think it was the first city out of Asturias that I visited as a traveler.

Which country have you enjoyed exploring the most?”

I must say that I have loved exploring all of them, but I think France is my number one! I love France. As I used to live in Andorra, I was in France all the time! 

What has been your favorite individual adventure?”

I would say my trip to Hawaii. It was somewhere that I went by myself as a traveler and I had so much fun! Visiting Hawaii was a beautiful experience full of adventure. Kauai conquered my heart!

You work in hospitality. How did your accommodation react to the pandemic?”

Now I am a food and beverage manager, but I was a hotel manager in the past. We have followed all the protocols and we have been open and busy all the time. I haven’t taken any vacations since March 2020 and it doesn’t seem that I am traveling any time soon. Despite there being a pandemic, I have been working more than ever. I just wished that certain guests could have been more understanding and easier with us. Some people have been extremely rude and aggressive toward us during all this time, forgetting that we are doing our job and putting our lives at risk.

An open road in the desert in California

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the hospitality industry?”

I love the industry. My advice is to be ambitious and enjoy what you do. You should take advantage of the industry to live in different countries as I did. 

Which one photo that you have taken do you like looking at and why?”

There is a photo with my dog in Asturias that I love. First, because I love my dog and Asturias. Second, I took it when I started getting interested in the photography world.

When will you return back to Asturias to see your family?”

I don’t have plans yet. I am vaccinated and they are too, but I think that it’s risky. With everything that has been going on, I won’t put my family at risk. I can wait until I feel it’s safe. Sometimes, deciding not to visit someone is the greatest proof of love, don’t you think so?

We want our interviews to be as comprehensive as possible. After reading them, we hope you have got to know our interviewees as well as if you were introduced to them in person. Dreams Abroad targets the aspiring globe-trotter. Working in education and hospitality are gateways to travel. You can follow in my footsteps and in Marcos’. If you want to move, we hope our articles give you a little push in the right direction.

While Marcos is committed to securing residency in the United States for work purposes, his heart remains in Spain. Marcos looks forward to the day he can fly back to Asturias to reunite with his family. In the meantime, Marcos is traveling locally around California. He particularly likes visiting beaches and national parks such as Big Sur and Bodie State Historic Park.

If this interview has sparked something deep inside, make your way over to the Resources section of Dreams Abroad. Here, you’ll be able to explore our VLOGS where a colorful collection of characters like Marcos the traveler showcase what is important to them. This is also where you will find Recommendations that reveal the sites we like to turn to and enjoy reading in our spare time.

by Leesa Truesdell

Getting a Master’s Degree Abroad

 

kenny obiora Getting a Master's DegreeKenny Obiora was born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Africa. He lived the majority of his formative years living with his uncle, aunt, and grandmother in Nigeria while attending school. He returned to the US during his school breaks before moving permanently to the United States for grades 8-12.

When we asked Kenny about his parents’ decision to send him “home,” he answered, “they wanted me to have a good upbringing.” He later explained that this meant that his parents wanted him to be culturally immersed in his day-to-day activities and life. They wanted him to be part of the Igbo tribe and learn the Igbo tribal language. Kenny speaks three languages: English (which is the dominant language in Nigeria), his tribal language, Igbo, and French, which he studied throughout his academic career. 

Kenny is currently living in Paris, France on an APS visa. This visa class means that Kenny will have to work in a field in which he studied. Kenny recently graduated, getting a master’s degree abroad in health economics and is pursuing a career in the field. 

What was it like growing up in Milwaukee, WI? For example, your education system. Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school? 

“I had a mixed childhood. Before I was fourteen, I lived in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. I attended a private boarding school. I returned to the United States officially to complete eighth grade and high school. When I arrived, I attended a public middle school in a suburb of Milwaukee, and then a private high school in Milwaukee. 

The education system in Milwaukee is very broken. Most of the public schools are lacking — whether in quality teachers or in funding. Due to this, students are negatively impacted. My parents enrolled me in a program in Milwaukee called “Open Enrollment” which allowed me to be bussed into another school district. This program was only by application and there were selective spots. I was only able to finish middle school through the program. Afterwards, my parents decided to place me in a private high school.”

Boston CollegeDid you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to the university for your undergraduate studies? 

“No, I went directly to the university. I was fortunate to attend a college-preparatory high school, which pushed us to apply to a wide range of universities. I was most looking forward to the exciting majors and clubs at Boston College.”

Where did you study after high school? How long did it take to get a diploma for your undergraduate studies?

“I attended Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, MA. It’s funny that BC is neither in Boston nor a college! It took me four years to receive my diploma. I received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in French. College changed me in many ways. I learned independence and what it meant to do things for myself. Laundry was no joke!”

Why did you decide on getting a master’s degree abroad at Sciences Po Paris ? 

“I decided to leave the United States and move to France for a few reasons. After I graduated from college, I spent a year working part-time in a lab in the Boston area doing clinical research and working part-time as a Resident Director and Diversity and Inclusion Assistant Director at Emmanuel College. My goal was to apply to medical school during this time. However, after I was accepted officially to Sciences Po Paris, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I hadn’t studied abroad during my college years, and I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad in Health Economics would be a complement to my bachelor’s studies. The price point of a university in France was also very attractive. With all these decisions I decided to pack up and head to France!”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

Getting a Master's Degree Abroad in france“I’ve always considered myself to be a wanderer. I spent many years of my childhood in Nigeria. When I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad as a university student, I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad was a priority. Studies in France are very attractive. For example, schools are much cheaper than they are in the United States and there are many opportunities to do dual programs in other countries.”

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the   location and what changed after having completed the program?

“I was an International Assistant at Boston College, which was a program that paired together international students and BC students to make the transition smoother. I was paired with a few French students. To be honest, they tended to stick with their friends from their country and thus, I thought the French would be exclusive. While this was somewhat true at the beginning, I did learn that the French value friendship a lot. While they can be closed-off at the beginning, once they opened up, they were very kind. 

I also didn’t expect the amount of bureaucracy in France. I was so used to the efficiency of the United States. You applied for something and you could receive that service in a short period. This doesn’t happen in France. Everything takes so much time to happen and is very difficult for foreigners. Getting an apartment, healthcare, a bank account, and visa are all long processes that took weeks to months.”

What did you not expect about living abroad and getting a master’s degree abroad in Paris? 

“I expected that university life would be similar to how it was in the states. You live and learn in the same environment. I was expecting that I would have classes right next to where I lived and wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation. In Paris, the school was just for studying. Clubs and student residences were far and many students lived on their own in the city. In my first year of working on my master’s degree, I lived in a flatshare thirty minutes from school.”

What have you done since you got your graduate degree?

“I am currently looking for a job in my field in Paris. Also, I have been keeping busy giving English lessons to families and companies in the Paris area. I have been applying to pharmaceutical companies in the Paris area in hopes of working in the healthcare field. Since graduation, I’ve been involved in acting classes in Paris. It’s a fun outlet to express myself and meet other expats and students with similar interests in Paris.” 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in Paris?

“I would tell them to go beyond a semester study abroad program. A full bachelor’s or master’s degree would not only be enriching, but it would save them a lot of money and really allow them to immerse themselves in the culture! Getting a master’s degree abroad really changed my life.”

kenny obiora paris france

Starting a Professional Career After Getting a Master’s Degree

Kenny is actively looking for a professional career in Paris in the healthcare field. While looking for this position, he has experienced firsthand how competitive it is in his field. He has also realized how being from a different cultural background has its disadvantages. In this field (Kenny can’t speak for other industries), he has noticed that Parisians tend to work amongst themselves and often exclude outsiders. This isn’t just because of the need for a visa. It’s also a cultural familiarity amongst workers. Parisians tend to prefer working with other Parisians in big pharmaceutical companies in the Paris metropolitan area. Kenny just started interviewing and is teaching private English lessons at his college for extra money. His life is thriving at the moment, and he hopes to break through the cultural barrier during an interview soon. 

by Dreams Abroad

A Day at Notre Dame and the Louvre

cassidy kearney travel tales

By Cassidy Kearney

We had woken up early to beat the crowds. We got onto the crowded subway, joining the Parisians in the rat race. The subway was particularly intimidating. It had one of the fastest closing doors I’d ever seen! Our whole group raced on and off the train in order to stick together. The night we arrived, one member of our group, Jenna, was separated after the doors closed. Luckily, she and her sister knew sign language. Jenna signed to her sister that she’d get off at the next stop and come back through the window of the train!

We definitely avoided a major situation thanks to their quick thinking. After that, however, the rest of us knew that we’d be flat out of luck if we were to be the next one who didn’t make the doors. We all took the subway extremely seriously. I’m sure those two have a travel tale they can tell all their friends about!

Excited to See Notre Dame

We walked a few blocks from the train station. I was incredibly excited to see Notre Dame. It was something that my dad had talked about from his time abroad, as well as something I’ve read about in fiction and nonfiction alike. As we approached Notre Dame, I craned my neck up to look at the gothic cathedral that rose in front of me. My blood raced through my veins as I cracked a smile. It was just as beautiful as I’d heard from my parents’ travels.

france cathedral travel tale abroad
Notre Dame

Expect the Unexpected 

france cathedral travel tales dream abroad

The crowds weren’t as bad as they could have been. Since we were there so early, the sun had enough time to peak through the Parisian clouds. It was warm, and the greens of the shrubberies popped. I saw people dressed as pale, white clowns roaming around, hassling the tourists.

The clowns seemed like an odd addition to the gothic church. When I got close to one, I could see the paint dripping from his face. He reminded me of the costumed people you can find in Times Square, New York: dirty, but more sinister because of the clown makeup. I think I saw more than one reach around into someone’s pocket, only to get pushed or slapped away. I avoided them at all costs. This was one tale I didn’t need to explain to my parents.

The Ultimate Gothic Cathedral

The line to get into the cathedral was not too long. Luckily, Mass wasn’t being held. However, there was an automated voice that spoke to the tourists in several different languages, telling them to be respectful. Unfortunately, pictures and videos were frowned upon (they were allowed). Regardless, it didn’t feel entirely right to me to whip my phone out to observe every detail. Some things are worth just placing into memory, so you can be just as inspired when you return.

inside cathedral travel tales abroad dreams abroad
The inside of Notre Dam

After we exited the church, Nikos took us on a brief tour around the building. When we had circled it, he showed us some lesser-known historical spots of Paris on our way to the Louvre. We also took a quick boat tour of the Seine. Unfortunately, the sun was, once again, clouded over by the dismal rain clouds that had seemed to haunt us since our arrival. As a Floridian, I’m used to heavy, intense, hot showers that are over within twenty minutes. Paris was the exact opposite! There was a constant light drizzle that seeped into my bones, no matter how many layers I was wearing. I couldn’t believe that this was what Parisians thought of summer!

Down into Culture

By the time we made it to the Louvre entrance, we were freezing. Nikos left us ambling around the park above the Louvre while he secured our tickets. Unfortunately, it was so cold and wet, none of us felt like ambling! As we waited for Nikos to return, Dounia and I huddled underneath an archway with street vendors that looked similar to the Arc de Triumph. After my last street vendor incident, I was a little wary of them, but luckily, they seemed to understand that we were simply avoiding the weather.

Louvre

 

Nikos returned, and we quickly began our excursion into the Louvre. We passed through a mall-like area that had stores that breathed wealth. Afterward, we took a pitstop in the Louvre’s cafeteria. It was ridiculously expensive! The bathroom cost upwards of four euros, not to mention the price of food! Finally, finally, I was going into the museum that my parents had visited on their own journeys so long ago. I purchased a map simply for the scrapbooking opportunity.

Arc de Triumph ravel tales abroad
Arc de triomphe du Carrousel next to the Louvre

Even Trips Abroad Need Down Time

Dounia and I saw as much of the Louvre as we possibly could have. It was absolutely incredible. There was so much artwork, it was honestly a little overwhelming. I raced past the Mona Lisa, catching a quick side glimpse because of the crowd that stood in the queue in front of it. I think I saw Monet’s Day at the Park, but I can’t be sure. It was not until we reached some of Van Gogh’s paintings on the fifth floor that I finally began to feel some ease.

The fifth floor was filled with famous impressionist and classical paintings that I had previously studied in my art classes. It was exciting to see things that I had learned about. After such a full day, it was nice to calmly meander around the fifth floor, where there were fewer crowds.

Once we had finished, we met the group again at the Louvre’s underground subway station. As we leapt through the subway doors, we talked about going to see the Eiffel Tower. Nikos offered to take us there and guide us back to our hotel room. I could feel exhaustion creeping its way into my bones. Dounia and I decided to spend the afternoon at the Eiffel Tower! Join me next time for my travel tale as I talk about all of our iconic adventures!

Touring the Palace of Versailles

by Cassidy Kearney

Catch up on my last article, Dinner in a Basement and Exploring Montmartre, to stay updated!

We were huddled on the far end of a large underground platform. The train to the Palace of Versailles was late. I paced around in circles, bored out of my mind. There was no wi-fi on the platform, which meant I couldn’t use my phone. You can only talk to a group of people you don’t know for so long before running out of things to say. Nikos bought everyone a small cake from a nearby vending machine to lift our spirits.

Palace Versailles France Kings France travel abroad paris Cassidy Kearney landmark

The Journey to the Palace

The train pulled in, almost an hour late. Almost nobody got off. As we shuffled on, I realized how large this train was. It wasn’t the ordinary subway. There were two floors, with a staircase near the doors. A few of our group members found seats, but the train was too full; there were no more seats. I wound up standing near the staircase along with Dounia and Nikos for the full 30-minute train ride.

I was bouncing my knees trying to keep them from going stiff when we finally pulled into our stop. As we emerged from the train station, I could tell we were a long way from Paris. The clustered apartment buildings and car-lined streets had suddenly vanished, replaced with wide, fenced greenways and grand government-looking buildings. The wide sidewalks were accentuated with young trees, and the street was nearly void of cars. As we rounded a corner, we saw the gates to the palace in the distance.

The Gardens of Versailles

Past the gate, we walked down the long, gravel driveway to the entrance. It was swarmed with visitors waiting in line for tour guides. Nikos told everyone to wait nearby while he went to check in with our pre-scheduled tour. After about 15 minutes, he returned and told us we had about an hour until the tour started. He passed out tickets to the Gardens of Versailles, so we could explore while we waited. I was simply happy to get out of the surging mass of people.

Versailles palace garden Palace Versailles France travel abroad paris Cassidy Kearney

Although I had heard about the Gardens of Versailles before, I’d never really thought about them. I didn’t know any details about it, like how big it was, what was in it, and what made them so beautiful. I was extremely surprised as I walked towards the balcony to look across the largest piece of manicured landscape I’d ever seen. My jaw hung ajar and then slowly curled into a smile. This place was awesome! There was so much to explore, they were renting out golf carts to the tourists. I immediately was disappointed that we only had an hour to see as much of this gorgeous garden as we could. There were several gold-encrusted fountains, a large reflection pond, mazes, pathways, topiary gardens, and probably much more.

Unfortunately, it was still cloudy and rainy. Even though the sun wasn’t out, the gardens were magnificent. I can only imagine what it looks like in the sun, with the gold reflecting off the pools and the shade of the trees stretching across the paths. I feel like I had barely scratched the surface of the gardens when it was time to return to the palace for the tour.

Crowded is an Understatement

Kings France paris

When we met up near the tour’s entrance, we were each given a small listening device. This way, the tour guide could speak into a microphone and all of us could easily hear what she was saying. This was especially important, and I quickly realized why once we got inside.

I’ve never quite felt exactly like a sardine until the tour of the Palace of Versailles. Everyone shuffled inches at a time. Both of my shoulders were touching three or four different strangers while I tried my best to reach my group. There were people everywhere. I felt like I couldn’t quite get a clean breath of air because there were so many bodies in such a small area. The room we were in was lined with beautiful paintings and had a large mural on the ceiling, but I couldn’t really enjoy it because of all the people in that first room.

As we continued the tour, the people began to thin out and I started to relax. There was gold everywhere we looked, it seemed like. Red was everywhere. Red walls, red curtains, red blankets on the bed, a red and gold bedazzled throne. There was a wood floor throughout the entirety of the palace that we toured. The tour guide took us from room to room, explaining what each was and what they had been used for. Then, we went into the Hall of Mirrors.

A Look into the Past

The Hall of Mirrors was, by far, my favorite room in the castle. The ceiling housed another gorgeously done mural, with golden ornamentation along the molding of the ceiling and walls. On one side of the hall, there was a long row of windows that looked out into the gardens. On the other, there were massive mirrors. They were old and slightly translucent. They weren’t the quality of mirror you’d typically see today. There were flaws and spots were age had gotten to it. My face was a little distorted when I looked into it.

Palace of Versailles

I was almost confused about the quality, as I assumed that people would have figured out mirrors by then. This, as I found out, was a very wrong assumption. As we roamed around the hall, the tour guide told us that peasants would come to visit the palace simply to look into the mirrors for the first time in their lives. They’d never seen themselves before! I was looking into the exact same mirrors as someone from centuries before had, where they saw themselves for the first time ever. I thought that was one of the coolest things I’d seen within the palace.

A Stamp in Time While at the Palace of Versailles

What was so bizarre to me about the Palace of Versailles is that there were places that were dripping with wealth: gold encasements, draperies, ceiling murals, extensive artwork, expensive furniture, and more. Then, there were places that seemed like any other old building. What was strange about the palace is that it was divided into public and private faces. The public saw the lavishly decorated side of the palace, while the family lived on the side that was almost plain. The walls were white and undecorated. The rooms were largely empty. It seemed like any other old house, not the Palace of Versailles. Learning about the history of the building and the almost double-life the family lived was fascinating.

After we finished the tour, we explored the area a bit, hoping to catch a bite to eat before heading back to Paris. We wound up in a tiny restaurant off of an alleyway, where our group was ushered to take up the entirety of the upstairs dining area. After a wonderful home-cooked French dinner, we made our way to the train, which was (thank god!) empty. I settled into the chair and napped the rest of the train ride.

Be sure to check out my next installment of our trip up the Eiffel Tower and exploring the Louvre.