Embrace You

Autumn is here! From colorful leaves, to bonfires, to pumpkin patches and corn mazes, how could you not fall in love with fall? It’s a beautiful season that marks the beginning of many celebrations until late December, including an unofficial but enthusiastic celebration of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Even though it has been around for years, I had never tried one. I don’t usually like pumpkin flavor and I cannot drink coffee without feeling sick for the rest of the day. For the longest time, I had been wanting to know what the hype around this popular drink was. Would it live up to that hype? I recently tried a Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino. The worker who took my order at Starbucks was kind enough to make me one without coffee. Despite the fact that I’ll never get the full Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino experience, due to the fact that I can’t have coffee, I at least got a taste of what most Americans really enjoy.

However, I’ve noticed that as pumpkin spice becomes more popular (there are cheerios and other cereals, oatmeal, and even more products), it has become more controversial. Every time I hear the drink mentioned, or even the flavor, it is usually tied to a stereotype, namely the adjective “basic.” Some people that I know won’t try pumpkin spice because they’re “not that basic”, others drink it because that’s what people do around this time of the year. I’ve come to wonder how many people order the drink because they actually like it and how many people won’t order it out of fear of being labeled. Pumpkin spice is not the only trend that people will shy away from or embrace because others are into whatever the latest cool thing is. I have seen it with coffee in general, different fashions, different hobbies, and more.

Why can’t we just be ourselves? Why do we have to try so hard to be different from others for the sake of being different or avoiding a label (which makes you like many others who try to be different)? Why do we try so hard to fit in? I say, if you like Pumpkin Spice Lattes, then order one! If you don’t, then don’t, but don’t give people a hard time that do. If you are into mainstream music, great! If you are into a genre no one has ever heard of, that’s also great! Don’t force yourself to be into something you don’t like just because other people are into it or you want to be viewed as different.

Embrace you!

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Can You Have Fun Without Partying Abroad?

What ingredients are needed to have a good time? Some might say good food, others may say good friends, and still others, a good atmosphere. However, the stereotype of a college student going abroad often includes going out and partying. Can you have a good study abroad experience without partying?

Most people will respect your decision to stay sober if you so choose. You can still go out with them and have a great time. However, I have also had people pressure me to do things I felt uncomfortable doing. Stand up for yourself. This is your abroad experience and you get to mold it into the kind of experience you want.

Go to language meetups. I’ve gone to a few. They were all in bars but they were very relaxed. I never ordered an alcoholic drink and no one judged me for it. We were there to exchange languages and get to know each other. I always had fun and felt great after going to a language meetup because I knew that I was using my language skills, as I intended to when I came to the country.

Get plugged into a church. If you are religious, this can help a lot. If you are not religious but you are open to religion, I would encourage you to try this. I have met some of the nicest and most welcoming people in my church community abroad. Not only did I get to have fun and speak other languages but I formed some great friendships.

See if other people in your program are not into partying. When I first went abroad to Spain, I did not know anyone who was not really into partying. This made things harder for me when it came to wanting to hang out with my friends. When I was in France, I met some friends who were not into the party scene and was able to have lots of fun with them in cafés, the movie theater, free events, exercise classes, and spending time at each other’s houses.

I thoroughly enjoyed my study abroad experience, none of which included alcohol or partying. Don’t worry about what others may think or say. Just enjoy yourself and know you can have a great time without partying.

6 Things You Should Know Before Going Abroad

You will grow up. You will have to become independent in more ways than you would have thought when you went away to college for the first time. It means learning the life skills you were never taught in school such as reading a map, learning how to interact with people who live a culture completely different from yours, and handling stressful last-minute situations like when you almost miss your bus back home or your flight to a weekend trip.

You are in someone else’s territory, literally. Think of being invited on vacation with someone and their family or staying over someone else’s house. Adjustments will have to be made when you change up your routine. The programs I did in Spain and France were only with American students. Some students had a harder time adjusting to being in a different country than others. You are not in the United States. Some places do have a Starbucks on every corner. Some places don’t have a Starbucks at all. It may not sound like a big problem, but I have met people who had a hard time adjusting to Spain and France because they compared it to the United States. They would get frustrated over the small coffee cup sizes or the fact the waiters didn’t constantly check up on you. They said they missed the United States and wished they were home. You will be with many people who are used to living a life that is different from yours. You can’t change them. You will have to adjust to how they are living. Knowing that and applying that will help you truly enjoy yourself.

Consider saving an old smartphone and bringing it. Some people will recommend to buy a pay-as-you-go phone abroad. I brought my current phone with me and bought a SIM card because I knew I was going to be careful with it. If you don’t want to run the risk of losing your phone or having it stolen, you should save your old smartphone and bring it with you. That way, you will be able to have the luxury of having a smartphone without buying a phone. You will also become a master at finding wifi.

You may not always get along with your host family. I already wrote a post on my homestay experiences, so I won’t go into detail on this one. However, before going abroad I had read about many people who got along with their family so much that they are continuing to stay in contact with them even after returning home. As much as you may hear that, that will not always be the case. Even so, it is still a great experience that I believe anyone who is studying abroad should look into.

Not all stereotypes are true. Do not pay attention to everything you read online. I like to be as best prepared as I can be before getting myself into a situation. Before going overseas, I researched everything from students’ experiences to what they packed to how safe Spain and France are. Even though every student’s experiences will be unique, I heard many of the same stereotypes: Europeans only wear dark colors, they don’t wear shorts, they don’t wear sneakers, the French are cold, etc. Not all of this is true. If you would like to see a different perspective based on my personal experiences, you can read my other posts.

It may not be what you think; it may be more. You hear everyone say that you will see new places, meet new people, and better your language skills, but you do not really hear about the person’s expectations. I have met Americans who were disappointed by their abroad experience because it wasn’t all they thought it would be. Other American students were thrilled because it exceeded their expectations. The best thing you can do is try not to go somewhere new with expectations of the place or the people. People will tell you their thoughts on the place or the people based on their experiences. You won’t have the same experiences. Ultimately, study abroad is what you make it, so make it count.

French People are NOT Cold

Sometimes I like to think of myself as a cultural mythbuster. Whenever I hear about a stereotype, I like to see if there is some truth to it or if it is completely wrong. One thing I have heard since before going abroad was that Europeans, especially the French, are cold. They will not smile at you when you walk down the street and they are rude, especially Parisians. While I agree that there are probably some, because there are rude people everywhere you go, I have had an overall positive experience. My experience may be different from others but here is what I have encountered:

Nantes

I think I can give a pretty accurate picture of what Nantes is like because I have been here since January. The people here are generally pleasant. I feel comfortable going up to anyone to ask them a question whether it is in French or occasionally in English. Of course I have met moody people, but you will encounter that anywhere.

Marseille

I was not in Marseille for a long time. I spent about four days there during my winter break. I do not know of any stereotypes about people from Marseille but I did hear that people in southern France will be rude to you if you do not speak French or if you cannot speak it well. Everyone in Marseille was nice to my friends and I. We stayed on the outskirts of town but also spent a lot of time in the center of the city. Everybody we talked to was very pleasant and, to my surprise, people would say, “Bonjour,” in passing.

Paris

This is where people usually refer to when I hear about the French being rude. I hear that waiters are especially rude. I was only in Paris for a weekend, so I cannot say much. However, as a tourist, my stay was pleasant. Everyone was nice whether it was the servers we had or someone we met. I met a Parisian woman in Nantes right before this trip and she was the most pleasant French person I have met. She was very outgoing and talkative, not to mention she lit up even more when we told her we were going to Paris for the weekend. Of course, this was my experience as a tourist who can somewhat speak French. I have heard other people from France who say that Parisians are rude, so it very well could be true, but I did not experience that.

Speaking of my experience in Paris, I was there a week ago to celebrate a friend’s birthday with her and some of our other friends. Check out my video (with English subtitles included) to see what we did while we were there! Feel free to also check out my other videos of my travels on my channel that goes by the same name as this blog: PassionForDreaming.

Myths About What Europeans Wear

“What do people in Nantes wear?” I asked one of my friends from there over Skype.

He looked at me as if I asked what the answer to 2+2 was. “The same things you guys wear,” he responded.

Before studying in Spain and France, I spent time researching what people wear since I didn’t want to stick out as a foreigner. I had heard that Europeans, especially in Paris, were generally more fashionable than Americans. After looking at different students’ recommendations, people’s blog posts, and travel websites, I found some pretty interesting things. I figured if many people said the same thing that it must have been true. It wasn’t until I went to Europe and traveled around that I realized that some of the advice I had read was a little bit off.

Myth #1: Europeans don’t wear shorts
Europeans don’t wear Bermuda shorts. That’s something that will make you stick out as a tourist. However, they do wear shorts in general. I went to Spain and had only brought jeans with me, which I ended up wearing in 80 degree weather for the first month or so. If you bring the shorts you normally would wear with you, you’re fine.

Myth #2: Europeans only wear sneakers when working out
As far as I’ve seen in Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal, people do actually wear sneakers when they aren’t working out. It’s more common amongst young people like college students and kids. They’re typically Nike or any dressier kind of sneaker that would look good with skinny jeans. If you’re about to study in Europe, bring a pair of sneakers. It was crazy for me to think people walked around all the time in nice sandals, flats, etc. I brought three pairs of shoes with me to Madrid. They were all destroyed by the end of the semester. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so be smart about it.

Myth #3: No one wears shirts with English on them
When I was in Madrid, I saw shirts with English on them in many stores. I saw people walking around wearing these shirts and didn’t know if they were Spanish or not until I heard them talk. You know how some people in the U.S. wear shirts with French on them because it looks cool? The same thing goes for English shirts. And yes, some of them don’t make sense. I also want to add that I’ve heard of Europeans wearing U.S. shirts that were touristy, but I have yet to see someone do that.

Myth #4: Europeans only wear dark colors
They do wear dark colors a lot of the time. However, I have seen some colorful pastel pants that I’d see on my campus back home. I think it is safe to bring clothes that are plain and darker in color, especially black, but you can get away with a bright top or pants one day.

I have been in Europe for about four months and these were the things I have observed. Of course my experience could be different from anyone else’s and I could be completely wrong. Do Europeans dress nicer than Americans? Generally, yes. You won’t see them walking around in an Uggs and sweatpants combo, something that was a reverse culture shock for me when I was back in the States for a couple weeks. Leave the pajama pants at home. Leave the yoga pants in your room unless you’re going to exercise.

In my personal experience and my friends’, people don’t seem to know that we aren’t European until we open our mouth to speak with an American accent. After a while, I couldn’t tell who was European or not. I saw older people with pink and purple hair, young people with sneakers, people wearing crossbody purses, etc. As long as you don’t sling a camera around your neck and put the Hawaiian shirt away, you’ll be golden.

Note: This post mostly relates to girls. Guys do typically dress nicer but I can’t say for sure what they wear.