Tales from Abroad – Lauren Casey

Thirteen cities, 13 days, 37 soccer players, one gymnast, and an infinite amount of memories. This’s what my time studying abroad in France for J-term looked like big picture.

The program was called “French Sport and Culture,” focusing primarily on the importance of soccer to France.

So many sights were packed into 13 days that it would take hours to explain how amazing this experience was, so I’ll highlight my favorites.

Being the only non-soccer player on this trip was intimidating, but in the end I wouldn’t change a thing because I learned so much about French culture, travel, and myself.

Our journey started and ended in Paris with so much sandwiched in between. The first day there we met our unforgettable guide, Dorothy, who stayed with us for the remainder of the trip.

While in Paris, we became typical tourists as we hopped on the tour bus, taking us to see the Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Montmartre, The Louvre, and of course the Eiffel Tower.

We were lucky enough to go to the second level of the tower, allowing us to see the full view of the city.

Despite the jet lag, and constant rain while we were there, it didn’t put a ‘damper’ on the experience.

While Paris was the main city I wanted to see, I had no idea how spectacular the cities that I’d see in the days to come would be.

The next destination the bus brought us to was Bordeaux, the wine city. Here, my favorite memory was the tallest sand dune in France, Dune du Pilat.

We got a couple hours to climb the dune and see the staggering view from the top. It doubled as leg day, but was so worth it. We got to venture down to the other side and walk the beach for a while.

I will never forget the faceplants taken from several while attempting to run down the steep dune, and trying to identify the “squishy things” wedged into the sand (turned out to be jellyfish).

Bordeaux was one of my favorite places to visit on this trip because of the unique little town, and all there was to do. A big change from the city life of Paris.

Bayonne and Toulouse took up the next three days. In Toulouse, we walked over to their small “college town.”

While there was no Patty’s, there definitely was a lot more going on than St. Peter (big shock there, right?) Later, some players played a soccer match against a local team, and we also got to do a little shopping downtown.

Let’s pause and talk about French cuisine. At this point in the trip, I learned the French have one main food group: bread.

Lauren was the only gymnast on the trip to France this January.

Their bakeries put all U.S. bakeries to shame. That’s the reason I loaded my backpack full of croissants to bring home, causing my bag to be sniffed down by the TSA dogs.

French cuisine is more rich and artsy than American food, focusing on quality rather than quantity. Even the cafeteria food at the mall was fancier.

While it’s assumed French toast or French fries may be their specialty, they are famous for their beef stew which we had three times while there…but their French fries and toast are still better than ours.

The trip pushed me to branch out and try some new foods, and I’m glad I did!

On our way to the next destination, Nimes, we stopped at the tallest bridge in France. It was great to get out and adventure, I felt like I was frolicking through the hills of “The Princess Bride.”

Once in Nimes, aka the Rome of France, we got to see the Roman Amphitheater, the Cathedral, and the first public park in Europe.

A lot of history was learned on this tour. It truly felt like visiting Italy for a day! The next few days blended together, as we traveled to so many cities in a short time.

There were times I forgot what city we were in. We passed through the ancient town, Carcassonne, and stopped to explore around Pont du Gard before settling in Marseille.

Out of the whole trip, Marseille was my favorite. It had beautiful views, places to shop, eat, and lively night scenes.

One day wasn’t enough time, and I concluded that it is my ideal honeymoon destination (take note, guys).

Our last two destinations were Nice and Monaco. We got to see more scenic Mediterranean Sea views, as well as dive into French culture even more.

The guys especially enjoyed teasing the pigeons. I highly recommend going to southern France, I hope to go back someday.

The outdoor market in Nice was adorable; full of flowers, fruits, and more. Lastly, in Monaco we walked around the tiny country seeing the Prince’s palace, and all of Monte Carlo.

I can’t put into words how incredible it was to stand at the highest point overlooking literally everything.

We ended the night with the privilege of playing AS Monaco (I didn’t play, doing both myself and the team a favor). A memorable way to end the trip before heading home.

They say studying abroad is the “experience of a lifetime,” and that’s true. I learned to adapt to living in different environments, and try Spanish when locals don’t know English and I don’t know French. I learned that dogs and pigeons are everywhere including stores and restaurants, and how to properly drag suitcases up seven flights of stairs.

I also learned how valuable changing my routine and emersing myself into another culture can be.

I enjoyed living without social media for a while because it allowed me to live in the moment, and not behind a Snapchat filter.

It was my first time leaving the United States, and I’m grateful to have experienced it with people that I came to know so well. Most importantly, it opened my eyes to how beautiful the world beyond the U.S. is.