14 Things I Learned, My 14 Days Abroad

My one year anniversary of traveling to England and France is coming up, and as my heart aches reflecting upon one of the greatest times in my young life, I realize I learned some great lessons.

14 Things I Learned, My 14 Days Abroad

1. Knowing the currency in the country you are visiting is important.
2. Walking tours. Do them. They really are the best way to experience the city, and you have more freedom to spend your time where you’d like, as opposed to bus tours.
3. Stereotypes aren’t always true. The French helped us hopelessly lost Americans more than the English.
4. Pack your bags. Then repack them with half the things you originally packed. The less luggage you have, the better. And the smaller luggage you have, the better.
5. Your best memories won’t come from the itinerary.
6. You will forever be bonded to the friends you traveled with – no matter when or where you meet up later in life, you share a piece of each others’ lives that you both consider one of the most precious. Staying out at a club until 4 a.m. then falling asleep in mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral the next day? Our little secret.
7. Traveling solo is empowering. Knowing you can get by on your own, in a foreign country, without knowing the number in your bank account, makes the rest of life seem pretty easy.
8. You have to roll with whatever you are dealt. Flight delays happen. You will survive.
9. Not every memory can be captured by a photo. Don’t spend all your time charging your camera, or you’ll miss out on so much. See #5.
10. America is not everyone’s cup of tea. Don’t ever feel entitled because of your nationality.
11. You will meet so many more interesting and well traveled people abroad – take advantage of talking and learning from them.
12. Don’t worry about money. You may never get the chance to travel to this city again. Don’t sit back and wish you could have the extra dessert or go to a play. Just do it, and worry about making up the difference later.
13. You will regret spending time in your hotel room. The best decision I made abroad was refusing to take naps. Get out and go see.
14. You don’t know how great it is, until you leave. Take advantage of everything you possibly can while exploring a new place. The only regrets you’ll have are not seeing or doing what you now wish you did.

Exploring the World Around Me

There is a running joke in Lubbock, Texas (thanks to Texas Tech students) that the city has absolutely nothing to offer but four (or five..or six) years of parties and drinking–while being a studious college student, of course. You get your degree and you move out as soon as possible-or at least you talk about moving out.
I admit, I have fallen into this group of Negative Nancy’s a time or two, but what a difference an internship outside the limits of campus has been for me.

My former boss alerted me to an internship opportunity with an organization known as Texas Plains Trail Region. Before, I had never heard of the TPTR and was unsure of what sort of work they did. I researched it a bit before applying for the internship and was pleasantly surprised to find out they were involved with the travel and tourism industry, in connection historic societies. I thought, “what?! This exists in Lubbock?” I was very excited about the opportunity to practice my writing and communication skills in the tourism industry and was ecstatic when the opportunity was offered to me.

In the six weeks I’ve worked with the TPTR, I have learned so much about Texas and the land around me. I am quick to think, “I can’t wait to travel the world!” And I am still very anxious to do so. But it’s amazing what you will find traveling “the world” closer to your home- the places in your city or just outside. There are adventures, art, culture and history all around us. The greatest lesson I’ve learned so far is to take every new place and experience with an open mind. What may look like a simple museum showcasing farming equipment, could hold the history to the apparel or nutrition industries that I encounter daily.
Each day I work on TPTR work, I learn something new about a place I have hardly heard of or have driven though quickly, without stopping to see what it has to offer. I think it’s about time I take advantage of living in such a large state and state exploring the world I currently live in, while saving to explore the world a little further away.

The City of Love

After spending two full weeks in London, England, I opted into the optional two-day trip to Paris, France. For someone that has never been outside the country, the opportunity to go to two countries in a two week span was incredible.
As a former architecture student, the anticipation of traveling to a famed architecture capital built with each passing day.

My first day in Paris was spent as a tourist. While I would argue you don’t fly eight hours to Paris just to skip visiting the Eiffel Tower, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The experience is exactly what you’ve always thought it would be – taking hundreds of photos millions have already taken, standing in long lines, and pushing through other tourists who are crowding around you trying to get the perfect photo. It is something I’m very glad I did, and can cross off my bucket list.

The second day was my real favorite.
We had a tour guide help navigate us around the Parisian streets, as no one in the group spoke French. In tourist-y parts of Paris, English is widely spoken and recognized. Not all natives are happy about it, but the simple use of bonjour or merci (the only French words I know) can go a long way in warming up a native, exhausted from the pouring in of tourists.
We spent the day on a walking tour of the city. I highly recommend walking tours in any new city. You are able to better photograph sites, especially in comparison to bus tours, spend as much time as you want at one stop, and ask lots of questions. The city was absolutely beautiful. Every street I looked down held another breathtaking view. I felt as if I was getting a VIP tour of the hidden treasures of Paris. It is days like these that make people want to move to The City of Love.

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The day really was one out of a storybook. We passed open markets, vineyards, churches, and local shops. As I ate my lunch (and dessert, it was Paris after all), artists surrounded me painting and selling their work. I went shopping for scarves, jewelry, macarons, and other small treasures that I couldn’t live without but could still fit into my already overstuffed suitcase. When I was tired, I sat atop the stairs that lead to the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, the highest point in Paris. The view left me speechless, and as the wind blew through my hair, I knew this was a place I would need to come back and explore a second time.

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The day ended quickly, and with it, my trip abroad. I boarded a train back to London for the night before catching my flight back to the U.S., but the two weeks packed in so many memories and experiences.

I can only hope my life holds many more chances to travel the world.

God Save the Queen..and my laptop

I spent two weeks in London, England and probably lost about 20 pounds (of weight, that is). Thank goodness I am in some sort of shape! Deciding to take the stairs in the tube station just to look up half way and see you still have four flights to go? Well, I just had to laugh.

Two flights and two delays later, I finally made it! But my computer did not…
Because this was a study abroad trip, we had a few assignments to complete. The majority of work was done the semester leading up to the summer trip, but daily journals were to be completed on the trip, and two papers were to be written after returning.

With the lack of a strong wiki signal, I can tell you writing daily journals on my phone and holding it up as I walked around 1998-style was not the highlight of my trip. Nor was spending four hours in Heathrow trying to fill out forms they told me I had to fill out over the phone, but had no idea what I was talking about an hour tube ride from my hotel.

But, what would a trip be without a hiccup or two? After day two, I packed up my broken laptop, never to be thought about again until it was taken to a repair shop upon my return to the U.S.

We packed our days, eight – 12 hours or more, seeing everything there is to see in London. After two weeks, I feel like I actually got to see the majority of what’s in London. If an outsider named something they knew was in the city, I’ve probably been there. But my favorite thing about the trip was running into things I knew about, but had forgotten were in the London.

This happened to me in the British Museum. I studied architecture for three semesters before switching my major to journalism. That third semester, I took an architectural history class that ended up being one of the few positives about the whole semester and something I looked forward to each week.

When you see a 2″ x 3″ picture of magnificent ruins in one of your textbooks, and without realizing it, step into a museum and come face-to-face with a 25′ part of the actual ruin, you have to catch your breath. Tears literally came to my eyes when I saw a part of the Acropolis of Athens. Moments like that are what drive me to travel.

Feel free to take a look at my day to day in London.  It took quite an effort to publish those journals each night!
http://www.mcabroad.net/london13/author/empellegrini/

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God Save the Queen

The day finally arrived; May 22, the day I was leaving the country for the first time, fulfilling my dreams!

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I have never traveled outside the country, but I have traveled in the U.S. quite a bit; both by car and by plane; both with family and friends, and on my own. I am attuned to almost all travel problems and pretty much expect them ever time I do travel, so I was not surprised when I ran into flight delays, but I was a bit worried because I couldn’t just catch another flight to London at any time. Not only were we required to be in London by a certain time, international flights are not as prevalent as flights connecting to U.S. cities. What saved me? My connecting flight also had a delay (go figure).

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Last site of America for two weeks!

I was too excited to sleep much (or was it all the space I had…) but time still went by pretty quickly. I will never forget when I first set eyes on the city of London, from a few hundred feet in the air as my plane turned sharply in preparation for landing. It was out of a book. Look up pictures of London, and it was the most picturesque version of all of them combined. I studied architecture for 1 1/2 years before I started studying journalism, and when I saw the Gherkin building, I lost my breath. It was so surreal to me.

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The Gherkin Building

Before I even set foot on English soil, I feel in love with it. After two weeks, I was sold. Stay tuned for a quick update of the best summer trip I’ve ever taken.

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[One of my biggest travel tips if you are flying is to get a long connection, if you can. Think waiting three hours for your connecting flight is boring? How fun is sleeping in the airport all night because you missed your connection by 10 minutes when your first flight was late and you scheduled a connecting flight only 45 minutes from your first flight landing? I always shoot for two to three hour connections.]

I’ll be needing a passport

My university puts on so many different career fairs, major fairs, and job fairs to remember each individual one, but I do remember working one particular major fair in the Fall 2012 semester last year when I learned about an opportunity to study abroad for two weeks in London, England. I instantly lost interest in the fair and helping promote my college to shy high school students (oops) and instantly became interested in everything this study-abroad-experienced student had to say.

I have been interested in travel for quite some time now, but I have never traveled outside of the U.S. Going to London sounded like a dream to me, and something I needed to act upon fast, as my college career is flying by.

I schedule a meeting with the professor leading the trip (brownie points). Turns out, over 100 kids are interested in this 25 maximum student study abroad trip. Cool. And I learn the trip will cost approximately $6,000 – not quite a deal for two college classes, but it does include two weeks in London, England, don’t forget (Ahhem, Mom and Dad).

So I apply, I have to. When will I get this opportunity again? I get an interview, which I have to reschedule due to a lovely airline not being able to handle a measly 1/4″ of snow as the Dallas/Fort Worth airport (says this Cincinnati native).  But have no fear, I was able to fit in an interview the following week. Later the same afternoon I have been accepted into the program! The experience of a lifetime will follow.

The Hmong Culture of Laos

I am reading the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman for my nonfiction English class and it really has opened my eyes to other cultures.

I love learning about all cultures: what language they speak, what food they eat, where they live, what they wear etc., but I always focus on the good, positive aspects of their lives. I don’t think about the misfortunes and heartbreaks they go through: the wars, the governments, all the bad things. It’s not that I try to ignore them; it’s just that I focus on other things, blindly.

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The country of Laos is inbetween Vietnam and Thailand. When the Vietnam War was being fought, America recruited Hmong soldiers to fight in place of many American soldiers, but left the Hmong to fend for themselves when the war was over. The Hmong crossed the Mekong River to Thailand and into refugee camps, until 2009 when Thailand sent the Hmong back to Laos on their own.

In Fadiman’s book, a Hmong family from Laos experiences American culture. The family moved to America and immediately was thrown into the medical system when their daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy-except they don’t know it because they didn’t speak the language. The book delves into the battle between listening to the American doctors who tolerate the Hmong family and the Hmong family struggling to know what to do for their daughter, who they believe is spiritually sick.
Each day the class debates what they think is the right thing for Lia, the young girl who is sick. It is sometimes hard to sit there because even though I love experiencing cultures and new things, I disagree with most of the class who sides with the Hmong family.

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The Hmong people.

I believe strongly in the American culture-maybe because it is such a mix of cultures, maybe because it’s just the easy, comfortable thing to do. I don’t know. I feel for the family, but I don’t think they are doing what they should. It is hard for me to respect them when I think they are wrong, but isn’t that the definition of tolerance; Respecting someone who is different than you.
It was an eye opener, acknowledging the fact that I have trouble understanding and empathizing with others, but now that I do acknowledge the shameful fact, I want to try to change it. Whether you agree with someone or not is not important. But you should at least respect a person for their beliefs.