A view of the memorial at the American Cemetery at Normandy.

An American in Paris

This month, while studying abroad in France, Beaver student Sydney Jean splashed in a freezing ocean, went on a quest for bubble tea and visited the place she believes "every American has to see within their lifetime" - the American Cemetery in Normandy.

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.

March 31, 2017: The American Cemetery

This month, I have been incredibly busy! I've traveled out of Paris, I've been working on my book, I've had midterms, and I've been getting lost in the arrondissments (air-on-deez-monts) or districts in Paris.

To begin, I visited Normandy with a few classmates and it was breathtaking! First, the beaches were stunning and incredibly calming. I had just finished midterms the day before, so my stress levels were through the roof. The area was charming. Every province in France has its own set of culture and tastes. For example, Normandy is known for its wine apple cider and cream. After having dinner near the beach, I can conclude that the wine was the best I've ever had!

On this trip, I met and spoke with a handful of students from other programs, who were incredibly open and funny. We all planned to watch the sunset together and watch the tide lower. It was a horrid plan, but we did it anyway. At 4 a.m., we were splashing in the water as our toes froze and watching the moon slowly lower to the horizon. We had some wine and cheese with us, but the bottle floated out with the tide and we couldn't stop laughing. We were way too happy that our $60 bottle was eaten by the ocean but, it was a good night nonetheless.

The reason for our trip to Normandy was to see where the World War II landings took place and to visit the American Cemetery. The rest of the trip invoked emotions of pride, sadness, disillusionment and heartbreak. Actually being where it all took place and listening to the facts of war was an eye-opener. I stayed in Arromanches, where you could see the engineering power of the Allies (British, mostly) during the war. I visited a World War II exhibit that was built on top of a German bunker in Caen, Normandy. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial was our final visit and the most beautiful memorial I have ever seen. Every American has to see this within their lifetime; pictures and words do no justice if you don't step foot in this gorgeous area. (It's free to enter by the way.) If you are curious, do check out my Facebook or Instagram; both have my favorite photos and videos of the trip.

After Normandy, I decided one weekend to dedicate my time to finding bubble tea. For those who don't know, bubble tea is just a cold tea beverage with tapioca balls on the bottom. It is my favorite drink and I've been craving it since I left the States. There is only one place to find it!

There is a famous district in Paris where artists, writers, intellectuals, sculptors and composers resided, collaborated, and created their best works: Montparnasse. I'm sure you have heard of Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Here was the area where many of them gained influence for their works and ate in cafes that are still open till this day! Unfortunately, I haven't been able to sit and eat at these restaurants because they are "tres cher!" (very expensive) and I'm on a student budget!

(I did, however, go to a famous ice cream shop called Amorino, famous for Italian gelato and sorbet, and they sculpted my ice cream into a gorgeous rose! It was the coolest thing I've seen so far and it was delicious.)

So as I searched for bubble tea in Montparnasse, I ran into a huge theater with kids running around with balloons and music coming from an accordion. They were playing and singing “The Bare Necessities” from the Jungle Book in French and everyone (including the adults) were dancing. I joined it for a bit. However, my mission for bubble tea was still top priority! With the help of Google Maps – because I get lost very easily – I found the shop … across the street from where I was! After mentally face-palming, I ordered my bubble tea and skipped out of the shop with the biggest grin, which is a no-no in Paris. The sun was beginning to set but, with my new-found energy I still wanted to explore.

So, I found myself in Luxembourg Gardens! This is one of my top places in Paris to relax. It was quiet, peaceful and they had chairs for you to sit in and chill. There were different trails you could take and get lost in all of the beauty. There were tons of statues that laid throughout the garden: lions, deer, past queens, actors, Gods, and walls with French decrees on them. But, what really stole my heart was the view of the palace in the garden. I've been to some chateaus but, this view is in my top five. Depending on where you stood in the garden, you could see the entire palace being graced the by warm sunlight and the giant fountain in front of it was surrounded by Parisians relaxing and watching ducks swim by and quack for bread. I made a mental note to return when everything is in bloom, which is very soon!

Well, that's all I've done this month! Just enjoying the nature, history and culture of Paris and Normandy has given me a completely new view of France. With one last month of school, I believe it's time to revisit all my favorite spots for the spring and of course, check out “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Until we meet again!

A bientot!

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!