#FOMO

FOMO = The fear of missing out

It’s come and gone over the last few months and last night it hit me all over again. My sorority had a formal dance this past weekend and the pictures were everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat… every social media outlet that I use was a reminder that I missed out on a great time.

I was worried about this happening before I left, so I had a conversation about it with one of my friends who had previously studied abroad. She told me:

Time doesn’t stop when you’re abroad. Things happen; people change, relationships change, and unfortunately you miss that.

This couldn’t be more true. With the large role that social media plays in our every day lives, I think it is nearly impossible to be not be plagued by FOMO at some point during a semester abroad. It’s easier than ever to keep up on every single event that happens. I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to on campus but it’s hard to get rid of the nagging sense that so much is happening and I’m missing all of it. Most times its not even big things. A picture of a coffee date or a lyric posted from Chapel are instant FOMO triggers for me.

Right about now you’re probably thinking, “she’s in France! why on earth does she want to come back to Holland?!” The answer is simple: Hope is home. So many people that I love and hold dear are half a world away. The semester is almost finished (where did it go?) and as much I would LOVE to leave my life in the US and eat bread in France forever, I am ready for my FOMO days to be a thing of the past.

But today it’s here and it’s real. However, I think a pain au chocolat and stroll by the Loire River are just what I need to get me back in the moment.

-Rachael

33 Things I’ve Learned From Studying Abroad

Hi everyone! I wanted to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained this semester with you, so I created this lovely list. Some of these things apply to France, Europe, or studying abroad in general. Enjoy!

1. If I talk really fast and add the word/sound “ba” occasionally in my phrases I can almost sound like a native French speaker. Almost.

2. Celebrities are a much bigger deal in the U.S. than in France. The same goes for the Olympics.

3. The US dollar/euro conversion rate is painful for my head and my wallet.

4. French people don’t drink a lot of water.

5. Public transportation is a godsend.

7. Public transportation is a nightmare.

8. Trying and failing in French is better than not trying at all and speaking English.

9. French bread is hands down the best bread in the world.

10. The “p” in the name “Baptiste” is silent.

11. Family, politics and religion are off-limits in the work place and casual conversation. Around the dinner table, anything goes.

12. Speaking of dinner tables, French people actually use theirs.

13. French phramacies are full of wonderful, cheap beauty products.

14. Escargot is delicious.

15. French students talk loudly and constantly in class.

16. A surprising number of people think Chicago is in Michigan.

17. The local university is only for taking classes. School spirit and clubs are virtually non-existant.

18. How I Met Your Mother might be the most popular American show in France.

19. You’re never fully dressed without a scarf.

20. Speaking only one language is not normal.

21. Paris is truly magical.

22. Not every European has liberal political views. The West of France is well known for being conservative.

23. Attending mass each week in a 1000 year-old church is as normal as going to the farmer’s market.

24. Some showers don’t have a shower curtain or sliding door.

25. WiFi is faster in the US.

26. Despite the exclusiveness and ticket-only entry of Paris Fashion Week, it is possible to attend a show (or 6).

27. French is anything but a dying language.

28. Driver’s Education in France is more expensive and time-consuming than in the US.

29. The free newspapers given out at tram stops in the morning are good for keeping up on current events and playing sudoku.

30. Political correctness has not yet made its way here.

31. Sadly, neither has Jif peanut butter.

32.The vast majority of people are kind and willing to offer help when needed.

33. Study abroad is life-changing.

My Experience at Paris Fashion Week

If you read my last post, or if you follow me on Twitter or have talked to me in some other capacity, then you probably know that during my vacation last week I went to Paris. My four days in the City of Lights coincided very purposefully with one the biggest events in the fashion world, Paris Fashion Week. The eight days of designers presenting their collections for the Fall/Winter 2014 season comes at the end of a month filled with other fashion weeks in NYC, Milan, and London. Paris Fashion Week is arguably the biggest in terms of importance and attracts fashion editors, buyers, reporters, photographers and bloggers from all over the world. In other words, it’s kind of a big deal.

Paris Fashion Week
Paris Fashion Week

For those who find themselves wanting to score a ticket to the hottest shows, I’m afraid I have some sad news: you can’t. Tickets are given, not sold, and only go to those who play some kind of role in the fashion industry (see list above).  So how did I, a person with no connection to the fashion world, get into six shows? Simple: I waited for the standing queue.

Every designer wants to have their Fashion Week show so packed that the only floor visible is the runway and the only ones with a decent view are in the front row. For brands like Louis Vuitton and Elie Saab, world-renowned superstars, this dream is a reality. For a lot of the smaller brands, this is not case. After everyone with a ticket is seated, often times there is space in the room. The solution? A standing queue where people can stand in the back and still watch the show. Almost every show has a line for a standing queue but not all of them let people in. Elie Saab and Chloe have standing queues but the chances of getting in are 0% because everyone in fashion shows up. The only shows left to see are the smaller ones. The best way to get a spot inside is to go to the show 30-60 minutes early and stand in line. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t; of the 16 shows I waited for, I got into 6. The waiting was probably the worst part of the whole experience for me. I spent literally all day Saturday, Sunday, and Monday standing. I didn’t have time to eat because I spent all of my time waiting or walking to shows. This method is really exhausting but is definitely worth it. Good things really do come to those who wait.

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Watching the fashion shows was beyond incredible. Each collection is like a very cohesive collection of art pieces. The designers write programs that spell out their inspiration and how it is seen in the collection. For example, Amaya Arzuaga’s theme for her Fall/Winter 2014 collection is “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” To interpret this in clothing, she used gold and black colors and reflective, bright fabrics. The lights, music, set up or the catwalk, and even make-up and hair on the models create an atmosphere that enhances the designer’s vision, much like a frame for a painting. The whole show is actually very short; the longest one I saw was around 15 minutes. The length of time depends on the size of the collection. More pieces=more models=more walking=more time. The models walk out one by one and at the end they do a final walk. After the show, the models, photographers, and other important people leave as soon as its over to rush to the next show. The most annoying part about the shows is that they all start at least 30 minutes late.

My pictures above are from some of the shows I saw. They aren’t the best due to lighting and my shaking hands but I hope they give more insight into what I’m trying to explain!

The final walk at Amaya Arzuaga

A very chic woman acting natural while everyone takes pictures of her
A very chic woman acting natural while everyone takes pictures of her

Aside from the actual shows, street style was another spectacle. Most people looked like they either just stepped off the pages of Vogue (chic) or had their three-year-old cousin dress them (crazy). There is literally no in-between. Some photographers didn’t go into the shows. They stayed outside and wait to get the best pictures of these people. They stood around and talked until someone, famous or otherwise, came along wearing something so outrageous or fashion-forward that the person would be stopped and the photographers swarmed around her until they got the perfect picture from every angle. This typically started around 45 minutes before a show and ended after everyone left the show. I was never photographed but did manage to photobomb a lot of pictures. That must count for something, right?

The back of Grace Coddington
The back of Grace Coddington

On the topic of famous people, I did see a few. While waiting outside of the Jean Paul Gautier show Saturday night, I saw Rihanna for maybe a second before she was surrounded by paparazzi and very, very loud, screaming fans. I saw Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue US, multiple times outside of shows. I saw well known fashion bloggers like Aimee Song and Susie Lau. I also saw lots of other people who I’m sure are famous in one way or another but whose names I don’t know. Unfortunately, I did not see Fashion Week’s most famous attendee, Anna Wintour. It is said that she receives invitations to every show but I heard of her presence at only the most exclusive shows.

My biggest take-away from the experience was getting to see first-hand how serious the Fashion Week is. Yes there is show, glitz and glam but at the end of the day Fashion Week is about an interconnected web of people doing their jobs for an industry they love. Buyers from stores must pay close attention to the collections so they can provide customers like you and me with clothes that we want to buy. Designers must reinvent themselves every season by creating well thought-out and on-trend collections that correlate with customer’s needs and wants. Writers and bloggers must find a way to translate this language of haute couture into everyday vernacular for readers who want to be trendy. It’s a complicated, glamourous business.

So many things happened during my few, short days in Paris and it is impossible for me to translate them all into words. However I do hope that I was able to show you a little bit of what Fashion Week is like from the inside and what I experienced. If you have any questions or comments feel free to tweet me or leave a message!

Until next time,

Rachael

American University vs. French University

Hello dear readers!

Sorry I’ve been MIA for the last couple of weeks. Contrary to what you may think of study abroad, I am not on a four-month vacation. I take classes at the IES program center and also at the local university here in Nantes.

At the IES center, I am taking classes of art history, religion, and French language. The professors come from the University of Nantes and are used to teaching American students. They understand a little bit of how universites work in the United States and, more importantly, that we Americans are learning French and can not be expected to rattle off lengthy, well-thought out answers on the spot. All of the classes at IES consist of one mid-term, one at-home assignment and one final exam.

My classes at the University of Nantes are very similiar, except that I do not have mid-terms and both of my professors are not used to dealing with American students. My two university classes, psychology and biology, are difficult but enjoyable. Yes, enjoyable. There is something humbling and satisfying about the experience. For starters, both of the courses are what we in the U.S. call “upper-level” courses. My psychology class is for students in L3, the last year of undergraduate in France, while my biology course is for L2, or second year, students. In both of the courses I am the only American student. This has been tough at times but also extremely rewarding. I understand most of the material just as well as the other students and have improved greatly in my listening skills. The real test will of my knowledge will come during the finals, which are in a little less than a month.

Luckily, I was able to take a little pause from all my school work during our winter break which was last week. I went to Rome, Milan, and Paris for Fashion Week. Check back soon for details!

Until next time,

Rachael

An Open Letter to My Host Family

Dear host family (or famille d’accueil as the French say),

Can you believe it has almost been a month since I started living with you?! It seems like just yesterday IES sent me the email I had be not-so-patiently waiting for, telling me that you would be my host family. From that email, I knew the coming months were going be a good time; mostly from your quircky family photo, but also because of the many similarities my family has in common with you. For example, there are five kids in my family and five kids in yours. More specifically, the first three kids are boys and the last two are girls. Everyone in my family is really awesome and everyone in your (our?) family is really awesome. This was definitely the work of magic, fate, GOD.

There are some obvious difference too, like the fact that you are a modern-day replica of the Von Trapps and my family can’t sing a Christmas carol in the same key. But really, the amount of musical talent contained in all of you is astounding. All of you play instruments! You sing hymns in three-part harmonies! Do I need to continue? I think not.

On top of that, all of you are so incredibly caring and welcoming. You loved me before you knew me and share your thoughts, daily dramas, and everything else me. You are also very French; a good thing, of course! You eat three-course meals every night (shout out to ma mère d’accueil, un vrai cordon bleu). What is more amazing is that you have chosen to do this for nine others before me. The 10 of of us are very, very lucky ladies.

The upside of our time together? It’s only February! The downside? It’s already February. Though we have three more months together, I can feel the time slipping from my fingers like a dropped ticket on the tram. I don’t want to think of the day when I will no longer paint the fingernails of les filles, avoid questions about boys from les garcons, and have deep conversations about religion and politics with mes parents. When I leave, there will no doubt be a crepe-shaped hole in my heart that only you can fill.

So let’s make the most of the time we have left together. I have no doubt that it will only be the best of times.

With lots and lots of love,

Rachael

A Weekend in Paris

I went to Paris last weekend, and it was kind of awesome.

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All my life I’ve heard that Paris a majestic, beautiful paradise, and I can now confirm this to be true. The “City of Lights” really is all its hyped up to be, and more. Unfortunately, I only went for the weekend and was unable to explore all it has to offer.

I was struck by how nonchalant all the Parisians seemed to be. I understand that it’s their normal, but seeing the Eiffel Tower in one direction and the Arc de Triomphe in another was breath-taking every single time.

Friday night, I hopped on a bus with Caroline, Ann, Emily, and Emily’s friend Jill, to walk around downtown Paris. Downside: We stayed in a hostel that was a bit of out of the way, so the bus ride took a while. Upside: We got a bus tour of Paris. We got off the bus at the end of the Champs-Elysées and that’s when it hit me. I was standing in the middle of Paris living every French major’s dream. And of course, my dream. I will never forget that feeling. We wandered for a bit before making our way to the main attraction.

Le Tour Eiffel
Le Tour Eiffel

We spent Saturday doing and see as much as we possibly could, which unfortunately was not very much. We took pictures at Sacré-Cœur, climbed to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe, and ate macarons at the world-renowned Ladurée on the Champs-Elysées.

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Louis Francois Bertin
Louis Francois Bertin by Ingres

Two of the biggest highlights for me were the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. I went to the Louvre on Saturday and absolutely loved it. I saw some old Egyptian artifacts and several statues before making my way to the paintings. I recognized several pieces of art, like the painting to the left by Jean Ingres, because I had studied them in my art history class just days before. #OnlyinFrance

The Musée D’Orsay was just as incredible. There really are no words to describe seeing famous, beautiful, mesmerizing paintings in real life. If you’re ever in Paris, it is definitely a must see.

I realize that this post is pretty short, but there is not much I can say in words to describe how utterly amazing Paris is. It really was my dream to go there for most of my life and did not fail to live up to my expectations. Now, I want to go everywhere in France! I think it is safe to say that I have officially caught the travel bug.

-Rachael