Musée d’Orsay, Top of the Eiffel Tower, and the World Cup!

I was able to visit the Musée d’Orsay over the past week, which is a very unique museum. The museum itself is inside the old Paris train station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Musée d’Orsay houses several famous artworks, including an entire wing of Vincent van Gogh paintings. If you climb to the top floor of the museum, you can look out across the Seine and have a great view of the Louvre from behind the famous Orsay clock. The Musée d’Orsay was one of my favorite museums in Paris and I can’t wait to come back soon!




When in Paris, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is on everyone’s list. Unfortunately, elevator tickets sold out months in advance, which meant I had to climb the 674 stairs to the top. The climb was not bad, as I had a great view at the top of every staircase. Once I finally reached the top, the view was breathtaking! I could see all of Paris and into the hills of the French countryside. The climb was definitely worth the hard work for the amazing views! (I treated myself to some French ice cream at the top of course).


I was lucky enough to have to opportunity to study abroad during the World Cup. France has been playing exceptionally well in the tournament, which means all of Paris is constantly celebrating their victories. My group and I attended one of the World Cup watch parties on a Paris rooftop. The place was packed with French soccer fans, and everyone went wild when France scored to win the game against Australia. After the game, everyone took to the streets to celebrate the win. There was crowd surfing and free food, which made for an amazing day. The game also happened to be on the same day as Fête de la Musique, which is France’s national day of music. There were live music stages on every street corner, combined with the crazy energy of French soccer fans. This was definitely one of my top experiences in Paris!

À Bientôt!

-Alissa Smith




Claude Monet’s House and the Towers of Notre Dame!

As an avid art fan, I was super excited to get the chance to go to Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny. Giverny is a small countryside town in Normandy, France. Giverny is famous for its rolling countryside hills and impressionist art history, which was a great change of scenery from the busy streets of Paris. Monet’s estate is covered with sprawling gardens and the famous water lily garden. Walking through the gardens, I recognized several areas that inspired some of Monet’s most famous pieces. Monet’s house was filled with a ton of his artwork and sketchbooks. My favorite place was the water lily garden and green bridge that inspired Monet’s most famous painting.





After returning to Paris from Giverny, I decided to climb the Towers of Notre Dame. 387 stair steps later, I finally reached the top. I instantly recognized the amazing view of Paris and stone gargoyles from the classic Disney movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. This view was one of the best views of Paris, and I could see for miles. After climbing down from the tours, I stood at the famous Point Zero marker, which is the direct center location of Paris.


Since I have been living in Paris for the past month, something I have noticed is that Paris prides itself in being a very eco-friendly city. One of my favorite aspects of this is that almost all retail stores and grocery markets do not offer bags and expect customers to bring and reuse their own bags. I love this green idea and it is something unique to Parisian life.


-Alissa Smith

French Soccer, Versailles, and the Louvre!

With the World Cup kicking off this weekend, my study abroad friends and I bought tickets to the World Cup send-off game of France vs. Ireland at the Stade de France. As an avid soccer fan, I was super excited to see one of my favorite national teams (France, of course!) take on Ireland. European soccer games are an exciting experience in itself. Fans were singing soccer fight songs throughout the metro rides, and the crowd at the game was even more rowdy. The French fans sang the national fight song throughout the entire game, successfully drowning out the attempts of the Irish fans trying to sing. My favorite part of the night was that we took a baguette into the game and used it to cheer with (yes, you read that correctly).  France defeated Ireland 2-0, and closed with a small World Cup send-off ceremony. We did get caught in a massive flash-flood on the way out of the game, which now we look back on and laugh about; mainly due to the fact that I ran barefoot because I love my Birkenstocks too much to see them get ruined!

***Bonus points if you can spot the baguette in this photo

Later in the week for marketing class, our IES program took us to the Palace of Versailles. The palace itself is massive and covered in extravagant gold. The inside houses hundreds of famous artworks, and of course the famous Hall of Mirrors. After touring the palace, we explored the backyard gardens. The gardens cover over one mile, including sculptures, fountains, and a hedge maze. At the back of the hedge maze, I found a small café hidden in the garden. This was one of my favorite places to eat, as it was very serene and peaceful.


On the weekend, I decided to take on the true challenge of Paris: tackling the Louvre. The Louvre has over 35,000 pieces of art and several floors. I started very early in the morning and followed a plan to see the artworks I was most excited about. My favorites included the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and the Egypt exhibits. I explored the Louvre from opening to closing time, and saw everything I planned and more! I absolutely loved the Louvre, as there were so many timeless pieces of art history.


A few hours in, I found my absolute favorite piece of art. I stumbled across it on accident, and fell in love with the intricate detail. I also thought it was funny that this painting is actually a painting of other famous paintings. The piece is called Gallery Views of Modern Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini (attached below). The room this painting hangs in was completely empty, so I was able to enjoy the art peacefully which is rare in the Louvre.

After hours exploring the Louvre, I ate at Café Marley which overlooks the Louvre courtyard. The Louvre is a massive museum, but definitely one of my favorite places in Paris. I hope to come back to see even more art at the Louvre!

Au Revior!

-Alissa Smith


Latin Quarter and First Day of Classes!

Classes finally started at the IES Center! My first class is French 101 with Professor Lerouvillois. I have never taken French language before, but I find learning the language very interesting. I think the language rules are very similar to Spanish which I studied for five years, so I am learning pretty fast.  After class concluded, all of us students went down the street to a local deli.  We also put to use what we learned in class and ordered our food successfully in French! (Je voudrais un sandwich, s’il vous plaît = I would like a sandwich, please.)

The other class I am taking here in Paris is Global Marketing with Professor DeGendre. I absolutely love this class and it is super interesting. We learned about how companies change their advertising campaigns to match the culture of a country. McDonald’s was a unique example I found interesting, as the McDonald’s here in Paris has a very fancy interior, a different menu, and also serves macaroons! I hope to have a career in international marketing, so this class is great experience!

After class and lunch, our group decided to take the metro and tour the Latin Quarter of St. Germain des Prés. The Latin Quarter is the oldest area of Paris and contains all of Paris’ old universities. It is known as the Latin Quarter because the universities used to only teach classes in Latin. We also visited the famous cathedral of Notre Dame and the royal chapel of Saint Chapelle. Notre Dame is famous for its two large towers that I plan to climb to the top of sometime, while Saint Chapelle is famous for its extensive stained glass walls. My personal favorite is Saint Chapelle (bottom photo) because the intricate details on the stained glass are amazing. No two panels are alike and the glass is hand painted.


Since the Latin Quarter is famous for being the oldest area of Paris, I of course had to eat at the oldest restaurant in Paris.  I ate at Café Procope, which was established in 1686 and is still open.  I sat outside in the back alley as I was served duck and crème brûlée.  This was definitely the best meal I have ever had (and probably one of the fanciest)!


Bon appetit!

-Alissa Smith

Arc de Triomphe, Seine Boat Tour, and Champs Elysees!

What is a summer studying in Paris without a visit to the Arc de Triomphe? This was one of the monuments I was most excited to visit! Something I did not know is the only way to access the Arc de Triomphe is to cross the street through an underground tunnel because the street is so busy all the time. Once we got to the Arc, we decided to climb the tons of stairs to the top for an amazing view of Paris.


Our IES group also took a boat tour on the Seine to see all the famous locations of Paris. We learned the history of each monument, and saw all of Paris within a few hours. One of my favorite monuments is the Pont Alexandre III bridge, pictured below, which is the most ornate and extravagant bridge in Paris.

Later on, we went shopping on the famous Champs Élysées. This street houses all of the most expensive stores in Paris, ranging from Louis Vuitton, to Gucci, to Versace. We soon realized we were the most under-dressed customers, but still had a ton of fun window shopping. While on Champs Élysées, we stopped at Ladurée, the most famous macaroon store in France. I had a lavender macaroon and it was one of the best desserts I have ever had. I will definitely have to buy a box before I leave!


Bonne Soirée!

-Alissa Smith

Eiffel Tower Picnic!

After attending another IES orientation for French culture in the morning, the entire IES business group decided to head to the Eiffel Tower for a picnic. A picnic on the famous lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower is pretty high on my bucket list, so I was super excited for this! We bought some French baguettes and headed for the lawn space in front of the Eiffel Tower. After eating a freshly made French baguette, I will never be pleased with American bread ever again! Freshly made French bread is like nothing I have ever tasted, and eating it in front of the tower made it even more special!

Since we live in the 15th arrondissement and the Eiffel Tower is in the 7th arrondissement, we had to take the metro for the first time. There are multiple lines and the stops can get confusing, so the metro was very difficult to navigate. After getting lost for a few moments, we eventually found the correct stop. We are slowly getting better at reading the maps, but I think getting lost is part of the fun of discovering new places. Something unique to Paris is that each metro entrance is decorated differently depending on the area.  These are two of my favorite entrances below:

Since one can never get tired of looking at the Eiffel Tower, we decided to go back to the tower for sunset. We watched the sunset from the opposite side of the Seine River and the view was fantastic. We also stayed long enough to watch the tower light up and sparkle at night, which was definitely one of the coolest sights I have ever seen. I am in love with Paris!


-Alissa Smith




First Day in Paris!

After months of preparing and the excitement leading up to studying abroad, I’m finally here in the famous Ville de Lumiéres (City of Lights)!  After an eight hour flight, I managed to navigate the massive Charles de Gaulle airport and catch a taxi to my apartment in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.  My apartment is above a fantastic boulangerie, or bakery, where I purchased my first baguette.  French baguettes are like nothing I have ever tasted before.  Something unique to Paris that I love is that it is completely normal to walk down the street eating a giant baguette with a bottle of wine.


Photos of my apartment and room on Rue de la Convention, 15th arrondissement (the old green doors are my favorite!)

After unpacking, I headed to my first Paris outdoor café with my roommates Karlie, Ann, and Nanxi.  At first, we struggled to order food in French and were very unsure of how to politely get our waiter’s attention.  We quickly learned it is a custom in Paris to spend hours eating a meal, where the waiters will only come to the table if you call them over.  There is no tipping waiters in French culture, and the staff will get offended if you don’t finish your meal (lesson learned).  Despite the stereotype that French people often face, Parisians are some of the most polite and friendly people I have met.  Everyone so far has been completely willing to help us with our French and speak to us in English.  In fact, a few Parisians told us they were excited to meet Americans because they wanted to practice their English skills.

Later on, we had orientation at the IES center.  Meeting the rest of the students in the program was a blast and I can’t wait to get to know everyone!  After a long travel day, I am very excited to be in a place I have never been before and experience everything Paris has to offer!

Au revoir!

-Alissa Smith

P.S. I never get tired of looking at the Eiffel Tower!

Packing for a Semester Abroad

Here are a few items that I have found to be very important (but often overlooked) when traveling abroad.

  • Plug adapters for every country you plan to visit

Small power adapters allow United States-style plugs to fit into different outlets. You can invest in fancy adapters or find them on Amazon. This is something you’ll use every day so I would suggest not buying adapters under 3 dollars… I bought an extra adapter at what I can only describe as the French version of Dollar General and it broke after two days. Also don’t wait until the last minute to double-check which adapters you need for any extra trips. For example, continental Europe uses a different adapter than the U.K. or Australia.

  • An umbrella

Unless you are blessed with a sunny destination (and even so) you should bring an umbrella. Sitting on the Metro for forty minutes after being caught in the rain is not an experience I wish on anyone.

  • Comfortable shoes

Especially in Paris, people tend to dress less casually than at home. You might be tempted to bring every shoe in your closet to impress the Europeans, but in this case your comfort is more important. Bring shoes you know are sturdy, good for walking, and won’t make your feet ache after a day of sightseeing. If you are still worried about “blending in”, sneakers are actually pretty common among students in Europe – a plain pair of Keds or Vans will do just fine. Or you can put comfortable insoles in those fancy leather boots.

  • Layers

Bring clothes that will layer well together. This will save space in your suitcase but also keep you prepared for crazy weather changes. Scarves and sweaters can also serve as makeshift blankets or pillows if you’re stuck in a cold bus, plane, etc.

  • Stain remover pen

This is one of those items I never think to bring but always end up needing. I dropped Korean food on a favorite dress and had to soak it for ages to get the stain out, wondering why I had left my Tide To-Go at home. They’re not expensive and will not take up any room in your bag. Please bring a stain remover pen.



A Typical Weekday

I cannot believe I’ve been in Paris for over a month; the time has flown by and there is still so much to see. This post is long overdue thanks to cold and flu season. Thankfully I got by with lots of hot tea and Ricola cough drops, and my cold is finally gone.

Since I’ve been resting lately, I thought I would describe a usual weekday for me in Paris. Each week is different: sometimes we have class trips, excursions, etc., but here is what I do on most days:

Each morning I have breakfast at the apartment. My host mom provides breakfast for me and my housemate which is usually tea, toast, and fruit. Then I grab my books and head to class. The IES Center where I take classes is about a 20 minute walk from the apartment (or a 15 minute bus ride if it’s cold, rainy, or I’m running late).

On Monday and Wednesday mornings I get up earlier because I have a 9 a.m. class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my first class starts at 10:45, but I like to arrive about an hour early to finish up homework and catch up with friends.

My classes include the Maghreb and the Arab World, Poetics and Politics of Gender in France, French Women Writers, Immigration and Diversity in Paris, and French Language and Context. During breaks I get lunch from a nearby boulangerie. They have typical French pastries but also pasta dishes, sandwiches, and soups for under 6 euro.

After class I usually grab a snack from the same boulangerie. Depending on how much homework I have I’ll either study at my homestay or at a café if I really need to focus. There are also plenty of beautiful libraries.

This is just a brief overview of a usual weekday. Some days I’ll go sightseeing in the afternoons as well. There are so many things to see in the city and a semester somehow feels like not enough time. In March I have trips planned to Ireland and Spain as well as more excursions with the program. It seems far away but I know I’ll be traveling before I know it!




Bienvenue à Paris!

Today marks the end of my first week in Paris with the IES French Studies program. I left for France a few days before the program started to travel with my sister who studies in Menton. After three flights and a bus ride, we arrived in Menton on Saturday,  January 14.

Our view from the bus as we traveled along the southern coast of France.

Menton is close to both Italy and Monaco, with great views of the Mediterranean. On Sunday my sister and I took a short train ride to Monte Carlo. As part of the most populous quartier (administrative area) of Monaco, Monte Carlo is known for winding roads, casinos, and fantastic ocean views.

On Monday it was time to leave for Paris. I decided to take a train instead of flying because it was less expensive and offered views of the French countryside. Once I arrived in Paris, it cost me under 2 euro to take the Metro from Gare de Lyon train station to my homestay.

Many students in our program choose to live with a French family to learn about daily life in Paris and practice French with native speakers. My host mom prepares dinner for my housemate and I three nights each week. So far we have had great meals such as beef and potatoes, vegetable soup, and turkey with a mushroom sauce. I could write an entire post about food (and I will…stay tuned).

After a breakfast of tea, toast and fruit, my housemate and I left for the IES French Studies center to start orientation. The program begins with an orientation and intensive French language classes. There are also cultural activities including street art tours and food tastings.

Street art livens up buildings in the Belleville district.

The rest of our courses begin on January 30. This means we have plenty of time for sightseeing.

Outside Notre-Dame de Paris.
The beautiful stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle.

Some highlights so far include Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Conciergerie. The Conciergerie is known for detaining criminals and political prisoners (such as Robespierre and Marie Antoinette) during the French Revolution. Best of all, the student ID card provided by IES allowed me to visit Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie for free! Many tourist sites, movies, etc., are free or discounted for students and young adults.

My first week in Paris has not been without challenges. Communicating almost 24/7 in a foreign language (even one you have studied) can be frustrating when you’re a perfectionist like me. Adjusting to new time zones and new customs takes patience. But the benefits of improving my French and learning about a new culture far outweigh any difficulties so far. I cannot wait to explore more of what Paris has to offer.