Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mark in Lyon, France!

Bonjour from Lyon, France!

The last three months have been quite a whirlwind, and I can safely say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lyon is an absolutely beautiful city; in fact, I think it’s France’s best-kept secret.  For starters, Lyonnais cuisine is arguably the most delectable in the world; and, personally, I can corroborate that assertion.  Of course, French food is not the only reason to stop by Lyon.  The city hosts a number of beautiful cathedrals, monuments, museums, parks, and a charming old town.  Of these attractions, I would definitely mark the Basilique de Fourviรจre at the top of the list.  This cathedral is undoubtedly the most popular destination in Lyon, and due to its geographic position on top of a hill overlooking the city, it can be seen from just about any street.

View of the Basilique de Fourviere in Lyon

These attractions, however, do not play that significant of a role in my day-to-day life.  Instead, I like to focus on embracing French culture and getting to know other international students in my program.  As some of you may know, there is a program at Lyon 3 University that caters to English-speaking students (the SELF program).  It is through this program that I am able to sharpen my French speaking skills, while simultaneously deepening my understanding of certain topics directly related to my major at UNCG.  For example, this semester I am taking multiple courses on the European Union and comparative law, which has given me a far greater understanding of European politics.

Aside from enjoying French bread and spending time with friends in Lyon, I have been very active in traveling around France.  Fortunately, Lyon is in an ideal situation in terms of travel—I am within hours of Paris, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain.  So, for the sake of this blog post, I will briefly describe some of my favorite trips since January. 

The first trip I embarked on was to Marseille, France’s second city.  Marseille is, in all honesty, a fairly sketchy and dirty city.  For instance, it’s quite easy to walk down the wrong street and end up in a rather bad part of town.  However, the old port, calanques, and Cathedrale de Notre-Dame de la Gare are absolutely beautiful.  For starters, taking the ferry out to some of the islands off of France’s coast is quite an experience.  First, you’ll get to see the island that inspired the Count of Monte Christo, and then you might even to get to catch a glimpse of the famed calanques.  Following our ferry trip, my group went up to the summit of Marseille where the cathedral is almost perfectly placed.  It is from this point that you will see not only a beautiful church, but also some of the best views in Europe.  The sprawling mountains bordering Marseille are unlike anything I had ever seen and contributed to the many picturesque views that seem to occur at nearly every angle.  Of course, nothing can compare to the views seen from this perch at sunset; there’s simply nothing greater than watching the sun disappear over the Mediterranean on a clear night.

In Marseille

Monday, March 30, 2015

Savannah and Leonardo Miguel in Toledo, Spain!

Hey guys, my name is Leonardo Miguel and I am Savannah Smith’s dragon. She, and I are currently studying in Toledo, Spain which is right in the center of the country. Though not well known, it was the religious capital of Spain for a while and was settled by the Catholics, Jews, and Muslims at various times in its history. Where she goes, I go (I even have my own special spot in her purse) and I have gotten to experience so many adventures with her. 

My spot in Savvy's purse.
We’ve been to Madrid more times than I can count and even traveled as far south as Malaga which is on the coast of Spain where Savvy is studying. I’ve experienced long car trips, annoying plane rides, and surprisingly short bus rides. I’ve seen her laugh so hard she cried, and cry so hard that the only thing she could do was sleep. I’ve seen her so frustrated that she almost threw her phone and so excited that if she could have flown, she would be halfway to Australia. But my favorite thing I have seen is how much she has grown. When she first came, she was a shy, quiet girl who had very little confidence and didn’t think to highly of herself. Now, two months later, she is like a new person. She has finally accepted that she is an introvert and knows her limits but also knows how to fiesta. She is more confident than I have ever seen her and is finally discovering what makes Savannah “Savvy” and no one else. And I personally think it is all because she went to a country that doesn’t speak English. 

Climbing in Malaga

I feel like people are afraid to go to a country that speaks a language different than theirs because they will have to experience culture shock AND language shock but I can tell you without a doubt that it’s worth it. Why? Because I’ve seen it. Savvy couldn’t have predicted the changes that would appear in her life from this study abroad experience. When she first got here, she didn’t know if she could do it but now, she doesn’t know what life would be like if she didn’t. Sure, the first few weeks are hard. But they were more than worth it. 

A Prince in a Castle in Malaga

Here’s how she knew:
 "Before I came to Spain, I created a benchmark in my head that would say that I made it, that I was successful in Spain. My benchmark was this: to sit around a table with friends from Spain just hanging out and talking and while feeling completely accepted and at ease with them in their stereotypically closed Spanish group. On Saturday February 21, 2015 my dream became a reality. This night, though I was a sick as a dog and shouldn’t have been out, period, I knew without a doubt that I made it, made it to Spain. All it took was a month of confidence and patience to help my dreams become a reality.
I have two amazing friends from UNCG, one quirky classy gal from England, a slew of friends from Mexico, and other countries from around the world. But I don’t only have international friends, I have friends who have grown up in Spain and go to my University. I finally found a group to call home who opened up and let me into their circle of friends. I have a seat in class to call my own, a group to sit with before class in the hall or the cafeteria, a group to text if I am bored and hear about all the crazy drama going on in Spain. And the coolest thing for me is that I feel comfortable with them. All it took was for me to be really extroverted and put myself out there for them to take notice and let me in."

Lost in a Toledo Dream

I hope that if you are considering studying in a country that doesn’t speak your native language that you do and that this post encourages you to follow your heart and chase your dreams. Savvy had a lot of lessons to learn when she got here and the cool thing is that she is still learning. Each day is an adventure full of possibilities of success or failure. Don’t live life regretting things you didn’t do. Take a chance, make a mistake, and LIVE. 

Leonardo Miguel and Savannah Smith
UCLM Toledo
Toledo, Spain