A shot of Notre Dame surrounded by fog.

An American in Paris

Beaver's Sydney Jean, who is studying in Paris this semester, just returned from a road trip to Brussels, where she saw buildings made of gold and ate an authentic Belgian waffle (that is, a plain waffle, just like the locals do it).

Editor's note: Sydney Jean will continue to write about her adventures abroad throughout the semester. Check back often for more posts. And don't forget to follow her on Instagram.

February 7, 2017: A break in Brussels

This past month has been insane! Every weekend I’ve been up and scrambling to a new place, and on the weekdays I’m doing the same for school. Never have I felt so busy, yet ready to join the Parisian rush! Nevertheless, I’ve had a few journeys and lots of memories gained these last couple weeks.

Once I arrived in Paris, I got a few messages from one of my former classmates. We had always stayed in touch; I saw her last summer while she was in the States and she wanted to see Hershey Park. But this time, she wanted me to see her hometown – Brussels!

I was ecstatic I booked a bus ticket – $30 roundtrip. And before I knew it, I was on my way to Belgium. It was about a 3-hour ride, but it was entirely worth it. Of course, my phone died (as per usual) and I had to look around for my friend, Marie, who was waiting for me to arrive. No worries. After about 40 minutes of panic and cursing at Apple for the phone's horrid battery life, we found each other.

She showed me an area called the Grand Place and it was phenomenal. There were buildings made of gold there! And they appeared heavenly as the sun began to set. Marie will vouch for me – I did cry. And I think the pictures, which you can see on my Facebook or Instagram pages, will give you a glimpse as to what I'm talking about but, unfortunately, won't do it justice.

Next, we had a traditional Belgian meal, and it was the best food I've had since I've been in Europe. Did you know Belgium created french fries? On nearly every block they have a french fry stand, and it's pretty awesome. Then she treated me to a Belgian waffle, which should be eaten plain. Marie says the telltale mark of a tourist is getting whipped cream, ice cream or sprinkles on your waffle, so I followed her lead.
At night, she showed me the palace. (Did you also know that Belgium has a monarchy?) It was stunning and reminded me of a grander version of the White House. We walked past the U.S. embassy and a few others and got lost – go figure.

Thankfully, we found our way back to her place. Which reminds me! Something that makes Brussels even more unique is the design. There isn't an apartment, home or townhome that looks the same. Every door is different, whether in color, width or length, and the outside could have an odd design or architecture to it, but, somehow, they all mesh together.

Being in Belgium – although it was an incredibly short trip – was one of my favorite experiences this month. Besides exploring the culture, I got to see a friend I haven't seen in ages. And that's what I learned: When traveling, it doesn’t matter where you are, whether it's in another state, country or continent, it matters who you are with. So thanks, Marie. Thank you for showing me your home, your culture. And thanks for being a friend.

After Brussels, school began. I admit, I was terrified. I had no friends and absolutely no idea what to expect from my teachers, and what they expected from me. I sat down in each of my classes, towards the front as much as possible, even though it scared me. But what I once thought of as terrifying ended up becoming really fun.

The courses I'm taking are: Art History, Economics, History of France and Islam, Intercultural Management and French101. Each have their own pizzaz and expectations. I actually don't have a favorite class just because of how different they are. My Intercultural Management professor is hilarious. She allows a very chill environment. On the other hand, I have no idea what's going on in my economics class. I loved economics at Penn State Beaver. Professor Mookerjee is one of my most memorable professors. He didn't just teach about economics, he talked about how it related to everyday life. Because of him, I jumped into an economics course in France. I'm not going to sugarcoat this: This professor isn't Mookerjee, but I enjoy the material anyway.

Last, my adventure to the chateaus! Last weekend I traveled up to Loire Valley, which is known to have a handful of old royal castles. This weekend trip allowed me to experience three of them. It's hard to truly describe my experience, but I will talk about my favorite castle/chateau that I visited. Hands down, it was Chateau de Chenonceau (mostly because I know more of the history of the people who lived in this castle, such as Catherine de Medici, King Henry II, King Francis II, and Queen Mary of Scots). It was cool seeing how royals lived back then, but, honestly, I would still rather live in my 21st century home. What they don't tell you about castles is that it’s freezing inside, at least a majority of the time. No thank you!

Well, that's all I've done these past couple weeks! As much as I enjoyed the trips, it's time to focus on my reading-intensive classes and hope I don't fail astronomically.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time in Versailles!


January 25, 2017: Two weeks in Paris


My name is Sydney Jean, and I'm an Information Sciences and Technology major with a minor in security risk analysis. I'm currently a junior at Penn State Beaver. However, I'm a part of a program (IES: Paris BIA) where I have the opportunity to study in the heart of Paris.

When I arrived in France, it didn't truly hit me that I was really there until I stood under the Eiffel Tower. I was shocked that the iron creation stood above me and was even more shaken by the view. It was freezing and it did begin to drizzle, but my father and I were mesmerized by what we had seen on every side of the grand tower. But what really made this visit memorable was when the sun set and the lights blared on. Immediately, white, shining, twinkling lights danced like stars on the tower, causing us all to gasp with excitement and enthusiasm.

Of course, all great things must come to an end; our stomachs decided it was time to leave after an hour. We found a cute restaurant that wasn't far from the tower, and here I learned how to order my own food (even though my pronunciation is horrendous).  I had salmon and pasta and my dad had a fish (head and all); we clinked our drinks – no worries, I had orange juice – and enjoyed our first night in Paris.

Once I moved into my dorm, I was officially on my own. My father left me in a place that I wasn't familiar with at all. I admit, I was terrified. I suddenly could relate to the kid from “Home Alone.” I couldn't wait for school to begin. It was a few days after when I finally adjusted to the six-hour time difference and was able to “talk” with Parisians. And by talk, I mean mumble like a two-year-old and hope that they understood what I was saying! I've had so many moments where I just blanked on the spot and it was the weirdest awkward silence. When in doubt, just say, "Parlez-Vous Anglais? (PAR-LAY-VU-UNG-LAY)" and hope they speak some English.

Nonetheless, I found one of my favorite snacks from a boulangerie called a brioche avec sucre (brioche with sugar), and it is delicious! It happens to be my go-to snack when rushing to class or studying with Rosetta Stone.

School began in late January, and to welcome all of us, my program showed us around parts of Paris and really explained the history and creation of the great city. I met numerous Penn State students and those who actually live not far from where I do in America. We shared stories of our other study abroad trips while enjoying the sites of L'Opera, Saint-Michel (MICHELLE), and Le Marais (LER-MAR-AY). Of course this wasn't done in one day, but over a course of a week.

One of my classes is to just explore and appreciate the art, architecture, history, people and culture of Paris by visiting different districts every class period. It's pretty fun and probably one of my favorite classes so far! Although I've spent about three weeks in the city so far, I can safely admit that Paris is really starting to become home.

I can't wait to see what else my classes have in store for me! I do plan to travel to Brussels, Belgium, and compare some of the similarities and differences of both France and Belgium, as well as to see more of what France has to offer! I hope you'll join me on my adventures! To see more of what I've been doing in France (and elsewhere!), follow me on Instagram @misssydneyj

A la prochaine!