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Gap Year Abroad

5 posts categorized "Juanita Garcia Gutierrez"



So, my friends and I found a café where instead of paying for everything you order, you pay per hour of being in the café and everything else is free. Further explanation: you pay 4 euros for every hour you’re here and there’s a small kitchen where you can grab food for “free.” Needless to say, on this lovely Sunday, we’ve been here from the moment we woke up to now (7:25 pm).

This might sound like a waste of a Sunday in Paris to someone sitting on the other side of the world. “Oh my God! You live in Paris, there’s so many cool things to do, you should go out and do them!”… I can almost hear it all the way over here. Not that I don’t agree, I do. This city is full surprises at every corner. It might not be as explosive as New York City in the sense that Paris’s personality is a lot more introverted. You have the Eiffel tower that’s constantly in your face, but that’s a not surprise. Everyone expects the Eiffel tower. Paris gives you surprises in places like Belleville (a neighborhood in the northeast side of Paris with a population made up mostly by immigrants). There’s a street in Belleville that has a mesh of graffiti and other types of art and it’s absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, the city wants to demolish it in order to put in newer more “useful” buildings.

Paris is subtle. But it makes strong statements.

I’ve done some of the things that are expected. I’ve been to the Louvre, went up the Eiffel tower, took a tour on the Seine, walked around the Luxemburg gardens, went to Versailles, etc. But I have to admit that my favorite pastime here in Paris is an activity that one could say is almost ingrained in Parisian culture: sitting at cafés while reading, talking, and baby sitting drinks. The Louvre is jaw-dropping, but in my opinion the Louvre doesn’t hold any authentic Parisian culture. You hear more English than French walking while walking through the museum. Some cafés are nice, others are loud, others are quiet, others big, most are small, some are expensive… but they’re all Paris. Mostly because Paris is always hanging out there.

Best, from Anticafé.


Street in Belleville




My friends at the café (right now) <3


We've eaten all day.


Jeopardy: What is a Home?

1. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.

When I was younger, this question was easy for me. Where was home? Home was in Colombia and the United States was simply the placed where I lived. As I got older, the question became more important but the answer became less clear. I was born in Colombia and my family was in Colombia but my life was in the United States. When I go through immigration in Colombia they tell me “bienvenida a casa” but my family jokes with me and calls me “la gringa” (a term used to refer to people from the United States). When I go through immigration in the United States, the immigration official tells me “welcome home” but hands me my Colombian passport along with my US residency card.

It might seem like a simple and maybe even logical answer, but it took me a while to realize and even longer to accept that I wasn’t Colombian and I wasn’t American. I was both and at the same time neither. In Colombia I’m always “de visita” (visiting), and in the US I’m “the Hispanic girl,” “the Colombian,” and “probably missing home.” I also still get complimented on the fact I don’t have an accent in English, and I’m secretly still flattered every time someone mentions it.

Okay, but where am I going with this? What I mean to say is that realizing that I’m neither Colombian nor American but that I am something has made my experience here in France easier. You always hear things about “complete immersion” and “feeling like a local” and “how to not look like a tourist.” But honestly… like… why?? I don’t want to feel like a local all the time because that means that the sight of the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t amaze me every time I see it, I must be a tourist for this to happen. Granted, I also don’t always want to look like a tourist all the time because that means that the street vendors will always come after me with their furious French or broken English. Complete immersion isn’t mimicking a French person all the time and only drinking coffee and eating tartines for breakfast. Complete immersion is understanding something and deciding why you like, why you don’t mind it, or why you dislike it.

American breakfasts are the best things on this Earth, but nothing tops a Colombian bean casserole for lunch. I celebrate Christmas on December 24th at 12 at night or on December 25th at 12th in the morning, depends how you look at it. I also celebrate thanksgiving like a true American and eat pumpkin pie with turkey as if the end of the world was near.

So, what is a home? A home isn’t a place or people. Or better said, it isn’t just a place and/or people.

2. a moment in time where the people you are with willingly and happily share or sympathize with your emotions.

In that sense, how many homes do you have?


Slow and Steady

I've now been in France for about twelve days. Not everything is rose colored and things can get pretty frustrating rather quickly. The language is my main source of frustration, I'm not sure if I had mentioned it before but I'm a true beginner in French. Almost every other word is a new word and although my host family is incredibly nice, there's still a very big language barrier... a barrier that's felt more strongly when I step out the house.

But that's what I came here for, right? As frustrating and hard as it may be, I'm determined to try. I remind myself that English is a second language to me, so why can't French be my third?

Also, today's my birthday!! Happy eighteenth birthday to me.

Just to tell you a little about my days: my days aren't very structured but I always have something to do. For example, today I had culture class at 11 am and then I had French class at 2 pm. Tomorrow we have a trip to Provins and I'm looking forward to that. Friday I have culture class again at 10pm, French class at 2pm and then it's the weekend, which is always free! Lucie, the program director here in France is the sweetest person I have met in France by far. She inspires comfort, something anyone that's in a new country yearns for. The other participants in the gap year are also very nice, it would be quite a difference experience without them.

As part of the program we're asked to volunteer in two ways. One is called Club Barbès which is an after school club for homework help. The other one is teaching a one-hour English class at a French public school. The school I was assigned is called Collège Charles Péguy. At first I was reluctant to go to both of these because neither kids nor teaching are my strong fort but after going once, I loved it. The kids are so happy to see you there that it's impossible for you not to also feel happy.

Last weekend was my first weekend here and my host parents invited me to their country house in Normandy. It was a very relaxing weekend in a beautiful place. I picked almonds off a tree with my host mother!

That's all for now. I know this post is all over the place and doesn't follow any logical order, but honestly, it's a true representation of how my thoughts and feelings are right now. I'm still trying to find my footing.


* I can't upload pictures right now, I will come back and edit this post when I'm able to.


True Religion

I haven't even left the stadium. Maybe you've heard that in South America soccer is like a religion. But that's not even true, in South America soccer is the TRUE religion (most of South America anyway). Nothing unites a nation more than a soccer game. Everyone prays together, cries together, and celebrates together when their team plays. Sometimes we even take it too far and end up with ugly outcomes like Andrés Escobar's murder after his own goal in the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

I have fourteen days left before I leave and my last important deed in the States was a soccer game in Miami, Brazil vs Colombia. We (Colombia) lost 1-0, but let's not get depressing.

As far as preparations for my upcoming trip, I have to be honest and say I haven't prepared much of anything. I bought boots, and my mom has knitted some really cute winter beanies. Soon, I should start putting together all my documents and maybe contemplate the one bag or two bags dilemma I've been putting off.

Change is a'coming (;
I'm a Barça fan so I'm sure their games will transmit live in France, not so sure about the Colombia games.

This is all. Next time I check in I'll probably be in France.

Some links:

Escobar's Story

Did you watch the World Cup? If you did you probably saw the Colombia team dance it out after every goal. Wonder what song they were dancing to? This one

My parents and me.

First minutes of the game


Time to Adapt - Again

I do not speak French, do not understand French, and have never had a first hand encounter with French culture. What I do know about France comes from my history books and articles Google has oh so kindly found for me. In conclusion, I am a true foreigner to France.

Luckily enough, this “YOU’RE GOING TO BE OUT OF PLACE” emergency warning is neither something I’m foreign to nor something I shy away from. I have moved countries once, moved cities three times, and changed schools five times. When I moved from Colombia to the United States, the word “hello” made my tongue feel awkward.

Although I don’t have nerves of steel when it comes to leaving for France so soon, I feel confident that I have all the tools needed to learn the language, the culture, and the life lessons that inherently come with every new experience – all while having fun. Carpe Diem, right? 

Moving on to more current events, since my friends are going off to college soon, they got me a cake yesterday that said “Good luck in France”

The cake was a pleasant surprise and it made me realize how much I’m going to miss everyone once I leave… but it also made me realize that if I take every opportunity I’ll have in France and make the best of it, I might get a cake that says “Bonne chance en Amérique” as a farewell.

Forty-one refers to how many days I have until I leave.

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