Archive for the ‘Study Abroad’ Category

Should have warned you….

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

So, I feel I should have warned anyone who may actually be checking this blog that I fail at keeping up with these things. I’ve never been able to keep a diary/journal or even my own blog… so I don’t really know why I though I could keep up with one this time. So, I’m sorry to anyone who has checked back here only to find nothing new for months. As my new years resolution, I will try to better next semester…

But, on to my life in Paris. Our 3 months here flew by. Classes finished on the 8th, and we had an official “graduation ceremony” on the 11th. Good news is we all passed- yea! Mel left on the 14th (to go home to get married), and Jamie left this morning. It’s going to be a tad lonely around the apartment now. Even though I know that staying here over Christmas will ultimately help my language acquisition, and not having to go through culture shock twice in a month is a good thing, but I still wish I could have gone home. Its hard to be so far from family and friends over the holidays. The city is beautiful though. There are lights everywhere, and most places have trees up. I even bought a small tree for the apartment.

The hardest thing about the winter here is seeing all the homeless. They are here all year round, but in the summer, they  can be almost anywhere in the city (parks, benches, sidewalks…) but now that its freezing outside, they tend to congregate in the metro stations since they are heated. I have decided that living in a big city, and seeing homeless people daily can really turn you into a cynical person. It’s so hard to know who really needs your help and who is trying to scam you. In the States, I would have said I’m a compassionate person, but being here has brought out a side of me I never knew existed. It takes conscious effort to feel sympathy for most of the people here asking for handouts. It can be so hard to feel bad for the half-drunk men peeing in a corner of the metro station. But, as difficult as it is, it is what we are called to do. It is not our job to judge them, to judge their mistakes and blame them; while their problems may be of their own doing, that is not what God told us to do. He told us to love them, and have compassion on them; to help those who (for whatever reason) are in need. what would happen if we stopped looking past them, and started looking at them? What if I stop assuming that my money will go towards alcohol and instead leave that between them and God. Someone once told me, when I asked how he could just hand someone 20 bucks and not assume it will go towards drugs or alcohol, the we will each be judged by our hearts and actions- you will be credited for your goodwill and generosity, and the receiver will be judged by how the money is spent; but that should never be a reason not to give. That doesnt mean go around handing out money willy-nilly, but you should also never ignore the prompting of the spirit. Sorry if this is a bit heavy, and rambling- they are thoughts that have been floating around my head for the past few weeks, and they have been a bit hard to pin down.

Anyway, I hope all the Gracies have a wonderful Christmas break. Rest up and get ready for the new semester. I don’t know if I will write again before the new year, but if not, I will let you know when I get settled into Dijon (I leave Paris at the end of December).


Internet…por fin.

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Buenos tardes de Madrid! My name is Alison Spahr and I’m currently spending my junior year in Madrid, Spain learning the language and culture in order to be a teacher some day.  I’m from Huntington, Indiana so coming to a city this big has been quite the culture shock, even aside from the language difference.  I have been here for a little over a month so far, and I have about two more months to go until I’m back in the States for Christmas.  I apologize for the super long delay in me getting this first post up here:  I am not the most intelligent person in the world when it comes to computers, and we have not had wireless internet here for the past couple weeks…thank goodness for signal from the neighbors from time to time 🙂  Hopefully I will soon figure out what the problem is with my computer not uploading pictures on here and I can show you all the fun we have been having!

Just to give you the summary of all summaries of my life thus far in Madrid, I am living on the fourth floor of an apartment complex on the south end of the city with my host mom (Mauri) her 18-year-old daughter (Patricia) and my fellow Gracie/roommate, Amy Messer.  Our commute to Universidad Antonio de Nebrija is close to an hour each morning, if we catch the metros perfectly.  We take classes there with international students from all over Europe, so it has been a very neat experience to compare and contrast our backgrounds…Amy and I have quickly learned that the United States doesn’t have many supporters here in Spain (or anywhere in Europe) so that gets us in some humbling situations from time to time.  Since arriving, we have already travelled to Mauri’s hometown of Huertezuelas in the mountains of Castilla La Mancha and just got back from a spontaneous weekend trip to Granada and Sevilla. There are so many differences between life here and life in the States, I don’t even know where to start…it has been a very interesting, very challenging learning experience every single day.

Well, today we don’t have classes (yet again) because of a national holiday, so it’s time for me to accomplish some major academic feats aka study for midterms. I have grown accustomed to being productive early because after almuerza (equivalent to our lunch) everyone rests for a couple hours…it has been quite contagious 🙂

Hasta luego!

-Alison Spahr, Madrid

The sounds of Paris: screaming babies, honking horns, Grèving Parisians

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

"Long live the Strike: Together, everything becomes possible"

Welcome back to the wonderful world of France. For those of you who don’t keep up with international affairs, France is going through a bit of internal upset right now. The government wants to change the retirement age from 60 to 62, and the French have, to put it mildly, freaked out. They have been grèving the change for about 2 weeks now ( grève means to strike- but not in the American sense of the word- in France, a grève includes slow or stopped public transportation (metro, trains, buses), protests in the streets (mostly in parade format), stickers and flyers posted all over the city, trains and roads blocked by people and/or car/trucks, and occasionally riots. To a lot of Americans I have talked to, it’s a bit ridiculous to protest, strike, and riot about a two year retirement difference. But, to understand their point of view,  you really have to try to understand how much the French love their “jours de congés”, or days off work. The French, unlike most work-aholic Americans, prefer to work as little as possible even if it means losing money . Most stores here are closed on Sundays and Mondays for the shop owners to spend time with their families. That would almost never be the case in America (with the exception of really small stores and the few Christian based stores who are closed on Sundays) because business owners know that every day they aren’t open is another day without profit. In the French mindset, family is more important than that small additional revenue. The French also get 5 weeks vacation every year. A few years back the government considered lowering it to 3 or 4 weeks and, just like right now, the French freaked out and started grèving. Just like with the store owners who don’t mind losing money on Sundays and Mondays, the French don’t mind leaving town for 5 weeks every year. It’s their government-given right, and they take it. In the States, I don’t know about everyone else’s families, but its hard for my family to get even 1 week of vacation (that’s not to say my dad couldn’t have more time off- he can have 2 weeks if he wanted, he just can’t stand to be away for that long). But, back to this current grève; since the French are very picky about their days off, it makes sense to me that they would panic when the government wants to make them work for two more years. Things here are getting interesting though. Apparently, the oil refineries have started striking as well, so no new petrol (gas) is being refined, so small towns are running out of petrol and it could eventually effect the airport big time. Between that and the metro strikes, truck strikes (they refuse to transport anything, and are blocking roads and train tracks), school strikes, manifestations in the road that cause the buses to be late everywhere, and the overall madness going on all over the country, I hope they vote on the issue soon so life can get back to normal.

Pac-man and Surfing

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

So this weekend has been quite unique for Karl Johnson during his stay in New Zealand. On Friday, the university he attends threw a “Tea Party” where there was live music, free food, and more costumes than you could shake a stick at. The following Saturday was spent surfing at Sumner beach near Christchurch, and napping for three hours from physical exhaustion. All in all, it was a great finish to a week of two all-nighters to complete papers.


That’s enough in the third person. The Tea Party was CRAZY! I counted close to six LEGO dudes, some Crayola girls, two sets of Power Rangers, Captain Planet, Old Gregg, twenty Goku’s from Dragonball Z, and the Cat in the Hat. It was almost as bad as a game of ‘I Spy!’ Of course, I went as Shaggy from Scooby Doo, although I had to leave Scoob at the door. 🙁  But my favorite costumes I saw at the concert was definitely the old school gamer group: four dudes had made legit Pac-man and ghost costumes, and the ghosts were appropriately chasing Pac-man around! Probably the funniest looking thing ever. Besides the blue avatars, the Avatar Airbender, and three Luigi’s, I think there were eight smurfs and some white guy dressed as an Arab carrying around a box with a cell phone and a detonator attached… Slightly disturbing. At any rate, the music was fun, the costumes even better, and the sun blistering hot. I have the tan lines to prove it. The day after, a Saturday, the other students in my program and I went to Sumner beach where we picked up rental gear that ‘our program’ had paid for. (p.s. I love how they trick you into thinking activities are free…)

Sumner beach, onshore wind, 3ft. waves

The man who owned the gear showed us the basics of surfing, and twenty minutes later, we were out in the cold, cold ocean punching into waves to get further out. It confounds me how much balance surfers must have to get up, let alone ride the waves. I am neither physically coordinated or graceful, and unfortunately, that combination does not end well. Nevertheless, I had so much fun just trying to get the hang of it! I think I swallowed close to two gallons of sea water, and by the end of the day my lips were pruned, my throat parched, and face burnt even more. I’ll tell you, the ozone Down Under really is lacking. I can sit in the shade and get goose bumps or stand in the sun and sweat profusely in the same hour. Not that I’m complaining!  It’s “sweet-as, bro!”  I can’t believe I have less than a month left in this gorgeous country. On one hand, I don’t ever want to leave, but at the same time, I cannot WAIT to see my family and friends again. I’ve learned so so so much from studying abroad, and it’s gonna be great returning. New Zealand is fantastic. Until next time,    -Karl Johnson, University of Canterbury, NZ

S’il vous plaît

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Bonjour de Paris! I know I haven’t posted in awhile, but no news is good news right? So this will be short (yay because you probably don’t have a lot of time!)  Not a whole lot has been happening in my life.  My roommates and I have found a church here that we absolutely love.  The people have welcomed us into their lives and it has just been great to get to know everybody!  The paster is 100% French and he married a woman from Kentucky (who has the best southern accent when she speaks French, it’s awesome!)

On to the title of this blog.  As many of you know, s’il vous plaît means please in English.  However, if you translate the phrase it literally means “If it pleases you”  This thought hit me like a rock.  One could say “If it pleases you, could you hand me that book”  Keep following me on this.  When we ask God for something, our attitude should be of that. “Lord, if it pleases you, could you (insert whatever you’re asking for)”  Saying please in English to me feels like saying “this is what I *emphasizes on the I* really want, can I have it??”  But instead our attitude should be “Lord whatever pleases you is ultimately what I desire.”  Hm….just think about it! This concept just came to me today.  Thank you French language!  C’est tout!  (That’s all!)


A Dane, A German, and a Thermal

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Karl here, from Aotearoa (New Zealand), and crikey, the past weekend was intense!  (I should note that New Zealanders don’t actually say ‘crikey;’ I think the Aussies make up way stranger phrases…)  Last Wednesday I went to a barbie where rather than hotdogs and burgers on buns, we feasted on sausage on toast.  At the said BBQ, I met Hauke and Soren, who are from Germany

Yes, this is Middle Earth.

and Denmark respectively.  I had planned to hike around the port hills near Christchurch by myself, but they asked that I join them on a ‘tramp’ at Arthur’s Pass, as backcountry as New Zealand gets.  Of course, I could not reject such an offer!  Much to my demise, I only packed one extra set of light clothing, minimal food, and a sleeping bag.  When we were soaked by a barely successful river-crossing, warmer clothing would have been invaluable. I spent the next three hours chattering my teeth and rubbing numb extremities.  Fortunately, my sleeping bag was dry, and we were able to sleep in a hut.  The next day we hiked up to a cable car over a stream, which was both interesting and exhausting.  While one of us sat in the car, the other had to crank a pulley to get them across.  Since the sun was out, we let our wet clothes dry, and we sorted out lunch.  Six hours, sore feet, and bruised knees later, we arrived back in Christchurch and civilization.  On our return, we stopped at Burger King, and never has a Whopper tasted so delicious! New friends and gorgeous views aside, I learned more about myself and about life on my first true trek into the wilderness than I could have imagined.  I surprised myself at how far I could push myself, physically and mentally.  I realized how much potential an individual has when he makes a commitment, and how exponentially that potential increases with the support of comrades.

Waimakariri River

I cannot lie, at home I have not been the most active, but I know my limits now.  I know that when I can’t feel my toes and fingers, I can still press towards a goal.  I know that when I am faced with a difficult river crossing, there is the promise of a warm bed and roof over my head on the other side.  I know that I cannot focus on the details, like stubbing my toe on a stone or pebbles in my shoe, or I will miss the beauty around me.  Yet, I cannot be so goal-focused that I forget to enjoy the path and camaraderie.  I think the same lessons very much apply to my spiritual life: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14, ESV)  I can’t wait to go hiking again!

Karl Johnson, U. of Canterbury, N.Z.

Listening to: Mumford & Sons Sigh No More and John Williams Star Wars OST

Just watched:  Road to Perdition and The Simpsons

The next blockbuster hit: Franglais,What Americans think they know about France

Sunday, September 26th, 2010


Have you ever watched one of those movies where they only give you a small bit of information at a time? The kind, like Inception, the Village, or Ocean’s Eleven, where you think you know what’s going on, what’s going to happen in the end, and then they completely surprise you, changing everything? Living in France (or any foreign culture for that matter) is a lot like that. It’s like being dropped in the middle of a movie and having to try to figure out what you’ve missed, and what might happen next. With that sort of story line, my movie would be called: “Franglais,What Americans think they know about France” (the word franglais, for you non-french speakers, is the word used when you mash French and English together in a sentence)

The first scene in Franglais would show that most American think that the French are pansies. According to history, it is true that the French are not always the most outgoing physically. But the truth is- they are a lot stronger and more outgoing then you think. For example, most people don’t know that the French love to strike. In the month we’ve been here, there have been two major metro/bus/suburb-train strikes. The people want more money, so everyone strikes. They cause huge traffic backups, make all the trains really late, and march down the middle of the road anytime they choose – and its allowed as long as they tell everyone 24 hours in advance. The two we’ve seen have been transportation related, but they aren’t the only ones who “grève”. Two years ago, the university teachers striked for an entire semester. While it’s not strange for American’s to strike, the French take it to a whole new level that leaves foreigners a bit stunned.

Scene two would show us looking for a church, expecting most to be extremely traditional with stiff worshipers who stare at you all snobby-like. But the surprise plot twist in this part of the movie has been how welcoming the Parisian Christians are. Although it had been hard to find a French-speaking evangelical church that is not charismatic, no matter where we have visited, the people have been so welcoming. (there’s mini-plot twist for you- I never would have expected rowdy French Christians, but of the 40-50 protestant churches in Paris, many are extremely charismatic) Most people, if you ask them their opinions of the French, usually say they are snobby, stuck-up, or just outright rude, and although this opinion is usually just a cultural misunderstanding, the French are truly more closed off to newcomers than Americans are. With this in mind, I expected the French Christians to be the same reserved, unresponsive people as the non-christians. How wrong I was. We have been to two different churches here, in two different parts of the city, and both had some of the most welcoming, joyful, open people I have ever met in France or in the States. It’s so refreshing to have brothers and sisters whose culture I may not understand, but who know the same Lord and Savior I do. And to be able to worship with them is so wonderful.

As I continue to search for new plot twists for my mental movie, I am constantly reminded how refreshing it can be to see the world from a different perspective. There is nothing wrong with being an American fully immersed in the American culture, but I am constantly reminded that “The American Way” is not the only way to do things. And we can run into trouble when we start believing our way is right and their way is wrong. Even just visiting a charismatic church has been a eye-opener. In the States, I would never step foot in such a church just because it wasn’t how I was raised. But this church, although not my style, showed us that my way is not right and theirs wrong- they are just different. Those Christians were just as in love with Christ as I am, they just choose to express their joy in a different way. If David could dance before the Lord, why can’t we?

~Michelle- Paris, France


Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The Kea, a mischievous, mountain-dwelling parrot who eats windscreen-wipers!

“Kia Ora!” or “hello” from New Zealand!  It’s Karl again, and after the craziness of the earthquake, last weekend’s high-ropes course and concert, study is finally getting back to normal.  Or, as normal as it can on the other side of the world…  =)  I have found it intriguing that so many things in this country are opposite of Indiana and North America.  For instance, the water really DOES go down the drain backwards in the Southern Hemisphere!  Just ask a physics professor if you want proof.  Most people know that Kiwi’s drive on the opposite side of the road, but few realize that means looking right THEN left before crossing the street.  I almost learned the hard way…  Even drive-thru’s are backwards, because the driver is on the opposite side of the car!!  It’s also so strange to think that I wrote this 14 hours in the future of you reading it! Oh, and how could I forget that it is nearly spring here, and quickly approaching autumn at Grace.  Fortunately, there are some things that never change: like McDonald’s.  Just kidding!  It’s not as greasy as in the states!  But seriously, it is comforting to know that snowboarding is a popular sport here, Lord of the Rings was written by Tolkien, and the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.  Unfortunately, in a country where a quarter of the population (1m) do not claim a religion and nearly 54 thousand consider themselves Jedi’s, the spiritual state of that nation is a bit shaky.  But what’s more is that Jesus doesn’t change if you change location.  Last weekend I met some dudes at the concert who invited me to their church, and they believe the same salvation message I do.  We may not see eye to eye on doctrine, but their presence and friendship is still encouraging.  And last night, I had a pretty intense conversation about the meaning of life and religion with my flatmates; it was interesting to say the least.  But to God be the glory!

Karl Johnson, Christchurch N.Z.

Listening to: Catch For Us The Foxes by mewithoutYou

Just watched: Boy (a Kiwi film!) and The Expendables

Paris, je t’aime…most of the time!

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

My and my French friends at McDonalds!! It was not my idea, it was theirs just to clarify!

Hello world wide web of Grace-ies!  My name is Jamie and I am a Junior (possibly senior…it’s a long story!)  at Grace (obviously!) and I’m majoring in International Languages (meaning I want to learn French, Spanish, and either Chinese or German.)  This is my first study abroad experience, but it will not be my last.  After I am done here in Paris, I will be moving to Madrid next semester, and after that moving to either Germany or China, and hopefully after that spending a semester in London in order that I can enjoy a semester abroad in my own language!  I’m actually not very good at learning or speaking languages, but I have a passion for missions and cultures that drives my insanity for learning 3 languages.  When I’m not studying, I love to ballroom dance and pretend that my life is a musical!  My favorite thing to do is laugh, and thanks to genetics, I cry every time (that is not an exageration!) that I laugh!  And since coming to France, my new favorite time of the day is brushing my teeth because my roommate Melody and I dance to the same French song!

Bretagne Chruch

The biggest thing that I have learned so far from being in France has been the fact that “Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way!”  Nothing is simple in France.  For example, it took me a week to switch to the class I needed to be in (something that should take a day) meaning I missed 8 hours of class.  I really had to trust that God would work it out in His timing because if I did not get switched I would have waisted thousands of dollars on a semester that would not count towards my major.  Every day is a new adventure, sometimes difficult (like the fact that our electricity cut out, after we got back from the grocery store, so everything in the fridge went bad.) and sometimes it’s amazing (a friend came from 20 minutes outside of Paris at 11:30 last night to try and fix the problem, super nice!).

Well, until next time!

Jamie Sandy (France)

Word of the Post:  Lèche-vitrine.  This literally means to lick a window, but in fact it’s the word for window shopping!

Living on French time

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Leaving from Chicago

So, this post should have been written about 2 weeks ago, but since I am trying to get into the mindset of the French, I figure being 2 weeks late is exactly on time here.

But, back to me. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Michelle Sweeten, and I am in Paris, France this semester, and Dijon, France next semester studying French (duh). I am a junior this year with a double major in French (again- duh) and Graphic Design. What, you may ask, will I ever do with those two majors? I have absolutely no idea… If you come up with something that covers both subjects, let me know.

Besides just having a different concept of time, the culture here is definitely taking some getting used to. It’s been hard to walk around with a neutral expression all the time, and receiving neutral expressions in return- smiles are not common place here. The concept of personal space is also completely different, in the fact that it doesn’t exist. Since its a big city, there are usually some pretty horrible smells, especially in the metro. But, not everything is bad. The city is surprisingly safe. I’ve seen many younger kids (10ish-15) walking home from school by themselves. If you have a problem, Parisians are pretty good at helping out- I’ve watched many people run onto the metro as the doors are closing and they get their bag or coat stuck, and everyone around them jumps up to get the doors back open. A lady even stopped to help me today while I flipped through my map book, utterly lost.

Bacon flavored chips... not really considered a French culinary masterpiece

With all their cultural oddities, the French definitely know how to do food correctly. I have yet to eat anything I didn’t like (although the bacon flavored chips are really sub-par). The bread is fantastic, the cheese- well, when your country makes 300+ varieties, it had better be good- the pastries are mouth-watering, the deserts are to die for, and it’s really refreshing to buy foods without all the preservatives that american food have. The milk and eggs are probably the most different from in the states. Milk is sold in boxes (like Silk Milk in the states) and is not refrigerated until after you open it. The eggs are also bought unrefrigerated and can be put in the fridge when you get home, or left in a cupboard. They made me nervous at first, but if the French can handle warm milk and eggs, why cant I?

Even with all their weirdness, the French are definitely growing on me. They have a pretty bad rep in the States, but they are just people, with a different  history and culture that causes them to act different then Americans.

~Michelle Sweeten. Paris, France