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Gap Year Abroad

5 posts from September 2015


First Weekend


I have officially been in France for over a week, but in reality it feels like I have only just arrived. Despite being a newbie, I don’t feel like a complete outsider. Yes, when my friends and I ride the metro we are noticeably louder (take note, Americans...the metro is not a place to discuss last night's game or talk about funny jokes or smile or breath. All jokes aside, the metro tends to be somber unless you are riding line 1 or 4 through the center at three in the morning) and when I go to the supermarket and they ask me anything besides “voulez-vous un sac” I make quizzical faces. However, I also feel like I can go outside and walk around (at a parisian pace, of course) without looking like I just flew in from America. The RER scares me, but the Metro and bus are my two best friends. I know how to order water and make sure they give me tap water for free instead of a teeny bottle of Perrier for 5€. It’s coming slowly but surely because there is no other option when you live in a city. Sure, I could rely on my friends for language barriers and metro guidance, but working it out myself challenges me and helps me work on the obstacles I came for. That being said, I conquered my first weekend in Paris...just not actually IN Paris.

 Friday I stayed in the city with my friends. We (the 6 American CIEE students) got together and had a jolly good time. This sums up how I enjoyed my night...sitting on my friends floor in jeans and a sweatshirt eating popcorn:


 That’s all I’ll say about that. Around 11 PM, Catie (aka controversial boyfriend) and I parted ways and went (safely, hi to all the moms and dads reading this) on an adventure. We started all the way on the right side of line 1 and rode until the Champs-Élysées stop. Along the way, we met a giddy group of Venezuelan and French students who insisted we join them in attending a club. So, we went! There was a rad DJ (Oliver Koletzki for those who care) and fun to be had by all. Sure, there were drunk people around us, but European culture differs from American in that drinking until you’re piss-drunk isn’t seen as a fun time. There are plenty of ways to have fun without seeing stars the next day.

Here’s what the club looks like:

Saturday and Sunday were the real highlight of the weekend. I went with my host sisters to meet their father and his family. Turns out I have host-step-siblings! From back to front it is: Aubertin, Luna, Alba and Lillian! Aubertin and Lillion are just as cool as Luna and Alba and we bonded right away. Aubertin is a pastry chef and made a delicious cake for our first night all together. Lillion and Luna are the same age and she’s so sweet.  

 Here is the house that the father (Pascal) and his wife Laurence/Lou) are renovating in the countryside:

 The picture does no justice to how incredible it is there. The views are stunning and the area is breathtaking. Saturday night we ate a big dinner of pasta with fresh vegetables from the garden and drank homemade peach wine. How much better can it get, right? Well, we went to bed right away because Sunday was reserved for two activities: visiting Le Mont-St-Michel annnnddd SKYDIVING! While I personally didn’t skydive (another time), Luna and Aubertin took the leap...literally….bad joke, je sais. Here they are before:

 And during (I don’t have an after photo, but just know that they were thrilled):

Also, I don’t know this man, but he just looked very French with his scarf neatly tucked into his sky-diving suit, so I sneakily snapped a photo:

 After sky-diving, we all piled into the car and headed towards St. Michel. It’s a castle surrounded by quicksand on the west coast of France. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone to do a little trip to visit. Plus, there is a restaurant where you can drink the “St. Michel beer” if you really want to commit to your visit.

Here is it from the front:

The interior has teeny little passages that wind up to the top. I’m warning you now that it is touristy beyond the initial walls, but the views are worth every France license plate and overpriced crêpe you will encounter.

 We returned to the unbelievable country home and had one last meal together before Alba, Lillian and I returned into the city. I would have stayed longer, but I am working as an english teaching assistant in a school every Monday and Tuesday at 8 AM and needed to show up with at least a few hours of sleep under my belt (more on that later!)

 This week is just as jam packed as the last, but I’ll be sure to find time to write again! I'm a little bit sick at the moment, but it seems to just be that time of year...cold and wet :/ Oh well, as I've been saying non-stop since I arrived, "C'est d'accord parce que c'est Paris!" 

C’est tout pour le moment!


**This is another way of saying hey. It’s informal, so you probably shouldn’t use it when you meet François Hollande. I just think it is adorable! 


Meet the Fam


I have been here almost one week! I would write tomorrow when it is officially a week, but I will actually be traveling for my first weekend living in Paris. I’m going with my host sisters to Normandy to meet the rest of the family and watch them go sky diving!

Speaking of my family, let me do some introductions.

First, my host family. In total it is my mom, Anne:

Anne (In this photo she is holding a dish she made. It's a hamburger, but WAY better here. Even the French make better American food than Americans!) She is wonderful. She is the graphic artist for a famous french magazine, Paris Match. She loves cooking (as you can see from the photo) and watching black and white films. The other night we sat with her neighbor/best friend, Valerie (who is pretty much family) and looked at pictures of movie starts from the 1940’s.

From left to right: Nina, Luna, Alba, Terry! Luna and Alba are my host sister, but Nina and Terry are a big part of our house.

Luna is 17 which means she’s a senior in high school and is getting ready to take the BAC. She has so much makes me even more grateful that I’m finished with high school. She’s really big on art and is always drawing something. Her smile is one the best things about her and she makes you feel like you’re old friends even if you’ve just met.

Alba, my other sister, is 21. She’s studying psychology in college and also works pretty hard. Like Luna, she is so sweet and immediately makes me feel at home. Her sense of humor is sharp and she makes sassy little comments. While Luna emits a lot of energy, Alba has an air of coolness around her.

Nina (far left) is Luna’s best friend. She is so. funny. She reminds me a lot of my best friend from home. The first story my host family told me about her was one night when she stayed over, she woke up at midnight, went into the kitchen and finished all of the Nutella in the house. She’s clearly very comfortable and is also like extended family :)

Terry is Alba’s boyfriend. They are both studying physcology together and they’re so adorable together and he is such a nice guy (and if he weren’t, there are three women living here besides Alba who would kick him to the curb so quickly). I don’t know him that well yet, but he seems great.

Here are the cats, Cashmere and Almond. I’m not sure if they’re boys or girls, so we’ll say girls to make it an all-female household!

Don’t mind my face, we were taking a serious photo. Cashmere is cheeky and likes to sit with us at the dinner table and lean her head as close to your plate as possible before we push her back. She really just likes to hang out with humans, so we get along.

Almond, on the other hand, is sassy. She runs away from everything and doesn’t like hanging with humans...we’ll work on it.

Cashmere and me bonding.


Now, my other family! My gap group!

I say my other family, because we are already so bonded in five days that we have fake family dynamics: From left to right: Caroline, Me, Nick, Robert, Susan and that’s Catie kneeling down.

Caroline is from just outside of Atlanta (Marietta...GA represent), Nick is from Portland, Maine, Robert is from Cambridge, Mass., Susan is from Portsmouth, NH and Catie is from Chicago.

Nick and Susan are mom and dad, I am their child, Catie is my controversial boyfriend, Caroline is Susan’s mistress and Robert is the family pet. It might be weird, but the point is that we all get along and it’s great!

Here are some more pics of the gap fam:

Getting ice cream even though it was freezing.


Getting breakfast with Lucie, our AMAZING director. She calls herself our French mom/friend all in one.

Most awkward selfie as we cruised down the Seine. We took a tour and saw La Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, Le Louvre and more!  

That’s all for now! I’m having a blast and can’t even imagine returning to the US anytime soon (sorry, mom and dad)!







DISCLAIMER: I'll publish a "first few days" post soon, but first I want to write about packing. This is just for the people like me who spent way too much time looking for the “perfect” packing list. At the end of both semesters I will do updates on what I wished I had brought, what wasn’t neccessary, etc.

Packing was one of the most daunting tasks during the entire process of preparing for France. It was worse than any application, Visa appointment, and hours of stressing over how to navigate the Metro (which I rode alone for the first time today!). I spent countless nights watching videos and reading blog posts called "The ultimate gap year packing list" or "How to pack for a year abroad". While everyone mentioned different clothes, shoes and accessories, there was one common theme:




This could not have been more helpful. It is so much easier to create 10 different outfits with one black shirts, a pair of jeans and different accessories than it is to have one scarf, 3 patterned shirts, brightly colored dresses, shoes that only match that one pair of get the point.

The other reason to have basics and neutrals besides creating endless options for outfits is because Paris is très froid (very cold)!!! It's only September and I'm already starting to bundle up in. If you have neutrals, you can layer every single shirt you own and still look decent (Paris is all about looking good, no?)


Here is what I would consider the basics that anyone would need in Paris plus examples of what I specifically packed:

-One black long-sleeve shirt

-One white long-sleeve shirt

-One gray or neutral long-sleeve shirt

-One striped shirt (It IS France. Everyone needs one striped shirt)

-One thermal shirt (This is optional, but I get cold easily)

-One casual shirt for layering under sweaters

-One nice blouse

-One pair of blue jeans

-One pair of black jeans

-One pair of other versatile pants (I brought some olive colored jeans from ZARA)

-Some thin sweaters for layering (I brought one gray and one blood orange. They're both thin, but they'll keep me warm)

-A chunky sweater (I brought an olive green cable knit, a black and white knit and a big white sweater that fits over lots of layers)

-Jackets/Outerlayers. I may have overdone it on this one, but I couldn't decide. I brought:

--Large chunky cardigan (Black and olive green..neutral)

--Oversized jean jacket

--Leather jacket

--Olive Army jacket

--Reversible red wrap. This is the only red in my wardrobe besides my scarves. It's good for a pop of color over all black.

--Rain coat!!! So important! It rains a lot in Paris so you’ll need rain protection. I got mine in Spain and I love it a little more that one should love a raincoat. It’s mustard yellow and has a striped jersey lining. I’m a strong believer in brightening up a dull day with a pop of color. Try it!

-Dresses. This isn't for everyone, but I have a few staple dresses that I wear a lot. We'll see how well I hold up wearing them in the winter with fleece tights:

--Gray sweater dress

--ONE patterned shift dress. Even though it is patterned, it is simple enough that it goes with most of my scarves, sweaters and jackets.

--A simple black dress for layering

--A nice dress...It's always good to have one nice dress or outfit just in case ;)

Shoes! This was the hardest for me because I wanted to bring all of my shoes, but they weigh down your bag and make it impossible to stay under 50lbs! Bring whatever you want, but my advice is that they’re all 1. Comfortable. Parisians do a LOT of walking. Comfortable shoes is a must. 2. Have tread on them. Yes, shoes without tread are fine for the fall and spring, but I’ve only been here two days and I’ve already slipped on some surfaces that got rained on. Tread is good. 3. Warm. Warm. Warm. Don’t even try to bring sandals. Just don’t do it. These are the shoes I brought:

--Duck boots. I don't think I would ever consider going without them in the winter. I got shearling insoles to adapt to Paris weather and the rubber makes it a cuter rainboot!

--Converse. Stan Smith’s are the most popular fashion sneaker for girls my age, but I didn’t feel like buying a new pair of sneakers when my converse work just as well.

--Gold fashion sneakers from ZARA. I got these in Cyprus over the summer love wearing them on rainy days (Which there are a lot of in Paris) to brighten up an outfit. They’re also comfortable for walking which is must.

--Tall black boots. Mine go past my kness. Block the wind, block the rain. Black. Great.

--Short putty colored lace-up booties. I had to choose between these, brown and black. I could have all three here and love it, but again...putty is just such a neutral color that it goes well with a lot. They also have the tread of a hiking boot (not in an ugly way). They are what saved me from falling flat on my face in the metro today!

-Scarves. Arguably the most important item on your list. I love scarves at home, but in Paris they’re an everyday essential. I brought the following:

--Simple gray jersey scarf. Good for layering or days that aren’t too cold. Also good for the plane.

--VERY chunky purple infinity scarf that my good friend, Ilana, knit for me one year.

--Blanket scarf in camel colored Burberry plaid print.

--Blanket scarf in Black and white

--Extremely fluffy infinity scarf for the coldest days

--Knit, chunky, gray tube scarf

--Light blue normal scarf for another pop of color

-Underwear, bras, socks (At least two pair of warm wool socks for winter)

-Pajamas. I just brought a pair of sweatpants, a pair of shorts, one short sleeve, one long sleeve and a hoodie. It works for me.

Last but DEFINITELY not least: A COAT!!!

I live in Georgia therefore I don’t know a real winter. With the help of those who live/have lived in the north, I got my first real winter coat. It is so puffy with down feathers that I look like the Michelin Man’s larger twin. I haven’t warn it yet because it’s not too cold, but wearing in for a few minutes in the comfort of my air-conditionned home made me sweat.


Overall, it’s whatever you want to bring. Besides clothes I tried to bring as little as possible. You can get all of your toiletries here (just bring enough for the plane and the first day or two) and if you really need something that you’s Paris, not a random island in the middle of nowhere.


Bon chance!




Makeup and Memories



Today I spent four hours sorting makeup. Why?

1. I truly do have more makeup than anyone needs

2. As I swiped on a new lip shade or opened another eyeshadow palette, memories of when I wore it last started flooding back

There was the poppy red lipstick I wore to my first high school dance, the waterproof mascara I relied on the week all of my friends left for college, the eyebrow pencil that saved me when I over-plucked one time, the only concealer strong enough to hide the black eye I got from running into a door because I was so excited to see my best friend. I don’t leave my house everyday looking like a doll by any means, but I follow my (and probably everyone else’s) grandmother’s philosophy: Always leave the house with your face on because you never know who you’ll meet. There are days when putting my face on means spending an hour planning, priming, covering, countouring, etc, etc. There are also days when it means only swiping on some chapstick and pinching my cheeks. I like to be prepared for either situation, so I began to pack it all up thinking I would need every last lipgloss and foundation I owned. At first I packed more tubes of mascara than I had shirts. Realizing this was going to put my luggage over the 50lb weight limit, I began to take things out, leave them in my drawer, throw them away. I was only bringing that poppy red lipstick because I laugh when I think about awkwardly slow dancing with a boy I barely knew and I’ve learned to watch out for doors while running, so I won’t be needing that gorilla strength concealer.

    Little sophmore me: BP2.RedLip.jpg    The black eye in all its glory:BP2.BlackEye.jpgI’m holding onto the memories, but not the physical evidence. This is how most of my packing has been. I have spent more time trying my clothes on and thinking about the past than putting them in bags for the future. It’s hard to leave behind what feels comfortable and right. I have been anxiously waiting to leave my home for months, but now I feel like I am trying to hold onto time I don’t have. So, I will pack up my favorite clothes and I will bundle my most essential makeup brushes and accept the fact that no matter how much time I have or what I bring, it’s the memories that I’m bringing with me that mean the most. Besides, if I ever find myself in need of a new poppy red lipstick, I know I’ll find the perfect one in Paris.



                                             Whatcha know 'bout me
                                                  "Whatcha know ‘bout me?" -Lil Mama

Let me start at the beginning:                                                                 I was born in Atlanta, Georgia into a family consisting of a supportive mother, a silly father and a beautiful and hardworking sister, Madison:                    

                                                         Dad, Madison, Me, Mom!

Here is a photo of Madison and me from when we were still cute:                                                                                                                               Our family band, The Cliffs. 

As a child I enjoying lip-syncing to Blondie's, "Atomic" (Let's be real, Debbie Harry is one cool cat), writing silly songs with my dad, making friends with old people (To this day I still find myself enjoying the company of senior citizens. After all, they’re the ones who have the most experience with life) and copying my sister in everything she did. Through the years our family picked up a psychotic dog named Mary, two turtles that I almost killed on multiple occasions (accidents...I swear!) and as of a couple of months ago, a puppy named for Nancy Drew's boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. 


                                                                        Nick and Jevin 


For the last few weeks, I have been watching as one friend after another leaves for college. I'm the only one left to leave and according to my countdown app I have exactly 5 days, 33 minutes and 25 seconds until my plane departs the United States and heads towards Paris, France. For the next eight months I will use this blog to document my life and the adventures that lie ahead. Check back for more soon! 


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