Europe France Study Abroad

Paris: Everything I Dreamed It Would Be And More

Five days was not enough.  I fell completely in love with the city.  It was vibrant and gorgeous, and for the first time since coming to Europe I could actually communicate properly with people in their native language.  I never thought I would be excited at being able to read advertisements and other signs on the street…

Strangely enough, though, there was a little culture shock.  When I first got on the train it struck me as so inconvenient that I would have to put my ticket in the machine, since in Denmark they just assume you’ve paid.  I realized I’ve lost my ability to jaywalk.  And, as I walked by a shop, someone who worked there said “Bonjour!” and it took me an absurd amount of time to respond since Danish people would probably rather vote for a Republican than talk to a stranger on the street just to say Hi. (yes I’m totally exaggerating no Dane would ever vote for a Republican)

My first day I went to the Louvre and wandered around until I reached my daily art limit.  Then I walked through the city along the Seine and soaked up the beauty of the city.  That night, Kelcy took me to the Eiffel Tower to see the lights as they sparkled and L’Arc de Triomphe, and I could barely contain my excitement at seeing the two most iconic monuments in Paris.

The next morning, Kelcy had to go to class and so I met up with Chen He, my friend from Northwestern.  We went to some of the less touristy spots, like a taxidermy shop/museum (“Do you like dead animals?”) and France’s oldest library!  It was great to get to see some places I wouldn’t have necessarily explored on my own, and after that I met up with my Impressionism class.  We went to the Opera Garnier and got a tour of that, which was beautiful.  I wish I would have been able to see a show there!

After that, we had free time, and I had my most successful encounter in French to date.  I went to one of the really nice department stores, and went to the bookstore part because I decided I wanted another book in French.  In the mystery section, I found Agatha Christie, and figured I could get And Then There Were None.  Except it wasn’t called that, so I had to ask a sales assistant, which meant I had to give a few details of the plot so that he could tell me what the French name was.  Dix Petits Nègres, if you’re interested.  Political correctness is not Europe’s strong suit.

The next day we got a sightseeing tour and then headed to Versailles!  It was beautiful, but honestly after seeing the palaces in Russia I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be.  The Hall of Mirrors was cool, and I think the gardens would be amazing if they had flowers (that’s the struggle of visiting during November….) but overall, most of the rooms seemed fairly normal.  Later that night, I went back to the Louvre and finally saw the Mona Lisa.

The art didn’t stop there, because our next morning started with Musée de l’Orangerie, which had Monet’s water lilies, followed by Musée d’Orsay with most well known impressionist works.  It was pretty awesome to see art where I knew the pieces and their context, and impressionism is my favorite movement (based on my very limited knowledge of art).  This was followed by more free time, in which I went with a friend to the catacombs.  I’ve now seen more bones than I ever expected to, although the basement part of Hamlet’s castle was actually far creepier.  It was definitely worth the visit though!

The final highlight of the trip was our Seine dinner cruise.  Everyone got dressed up and we had three hours of floating down the Seine, with a three course meal and quite a bit of free wine.  The views were lovely, as was the company and the alcohol.  Afterwards, Alanna and I went to find a bar to experience Parisian nightlife and we ended up finding a wine bar!  The atmosphere was relaxed and the bartender recommended a very good light red wine.  We felt very classy and French, and he even gave us a 3 euro discount at the end of the night so that was exciting.  (But also confusing.)

My last morning, I went to part of the mass at Notre Dame.  The music and stained glass windows were very beautiful.  After I left, I went to L’Arc de Triomphe again to climb it, which had amazing views of the city.  I took a lot of selfies.  When I got down again, Kelcy took me to Shakespeare and Company and then I spent the rest of my time wandering around the Latin Quarter before meeting up with my class once more to head to the airport.

Everyone says Parisians are rude, that they’re the New Yorkers of Europe.  Having never been to New York, I can’t really make that comparison, but the Parisians I interacted with were not rude.  I usually spoke to them in French, and they apparently deemed it acceptable.  In fact, the one person I talked to who switched to English asked me in French first if we should switch to English (which was great since I was getting directions).

Overall, it was a fantastic five days.  Paris is my favorite place I’ve ever been to, and I know I’ll be back.

À bientôt, Paris.  Je t’adore.

Denmark Europe Study Abroad

Jyderup: Observations from an Open Prison

When you speak of culture shock, you might expect it to hit you right away when you arrive in a new country.  However, someone once told me about a theory of culture as an iceberg: you can see some of it as you walk down the street, but there’s so much more that isn’t obvious.  It only starts to become apparent later, when you learn about the underlying values of that culture and how they think about things differently than you’re used to.  For me, I feel culture shock whenever I spend time in my criminology class.

Today, we went to the Danish open prison in Jyderup and got a tour from a prisoner and a guard.  An open prison means that prisoners are often allowed to leave the grounds for work and school.  Even if they aren’t granted leave, the inmates are still allowed quite a bit of freedom.  In open prison, they are each given cell phones where they can text and call people at any time, they just can’t access the internet.  Denmark also has closed prisons, which are more similar to the type we see in the US, and are usually where prisoners with longer sentences start serving their time.  Criteria for a “long sentence” is 5 years.

We didn’t go through a metal detector or have any kind of search to enter the prison.  The inmate met us wearing regular street clothes, which is completely normal for Danish prisoners.  In the cells, most of the prisoners bring their own furniture, so the rooms end up looking quite nice.  We went inside two of them (but of course we weren’t allowed to take pictures).  The first was someone who I gather was from a rich family, as the inmate and guard warned us that most cells were not like that.  The room looked as nice, if not nicer, than my bedroom at home, with a TV on the wall and a personal bathroom.  The other cell was a bit smaller, but that one was in the drug treatment ward so it was less personalized and looked equivalent to most dorm rooms I’ve seen in the US.

When we saw the kitchen, one surprise was that there were knives hanging on the wall.  They were attached to the wall, but as the guard talked about that area of the prison she told us that she wished the knives were not attached.  It’s interesting, because Denmark’s philosophy on that is that anything can be made into a weapon if you try hard enough and so they would rather make it a little more normal for the prisoners.  Their entire criminal system is about normalizing the prisoners as much as possible.  Visitors are allowed to spend time in the prisoner’s room, and they’re allowed to cook together in the kitchen or play football in the yard.  Girlfriends or wives are even allowed to have sex with the prisoners- the guard told us it was nicer to be able to use your own bed than the one in the visiting room “that would be used probably six or seven times before you got there.”

We went to see the gym, where they told us that Denmark restricts weights in prisons.  To use the heavy weights, the inmates must have a ‘green card’ from an organization that tests for steroids, which the prison implemented to stop steroid users from bulking up and being more aggressive.

Both the inmate and the guard said that the prison we saw was Denmark’s nicest open prison, mainly due to its policies for family visits.  The prisoner talked about how it made him want to follow the rules more, because there was more at stake and he didn’t want to go back to a closed prison where he couldn’t see his wife and children as often.  He had served approximately four years of an eleven year sentence for trafficking cocaine, and also spoke about how difficult it would be to adjust to life outside since he had never known a life where his primary source of income was not criminal activity.

For me, coming from a summer of working in the District Attorney’s office, it was fascinating and shocking to see this type of system.  I’m still somewhat baffled as to how it all works, since that level of social trust is a foreign concept to me.  They have open prisons, open public transportation systems, and most of their society relies on people doing what they’re supposed to.  And people don’t take advantage of it!  I’m so glad I got to go see open prison while I’m here, since the legal system has always fascinated me and Denmark’s is so incredibly different.  Even after this, though, I’m sure my criminology class will continue to surprise me.

I leave for Russia on Sunday, so the next time I post I will hopefully have pictures and stories from that!  Vi ses!

Denmark Europe Study Abroad

Copenhagen: One Week Observations

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here a week already!  I actually know my way around the city, have managed to not reveal my American status to people on the bus, and, most importantly, have not yet starved to death.

Today we did a scavenger hunt in our suburb of Brønshøj.  It’s not the nicest area in Copenhagen, but the houses are nice, and there are several pretty lakes around here as well.  I need to wander around a little more when I have free time, because until today I’d barely spent any time outside of our main road!  I also tried a chocolate cupcake from our local bakery.  America could learn a few things from their bakeries over here, because it was awesome.

A few thoughts on culture, now that I’ve been here enough to observe some of it:

1. Bikers are scary.  I worry more about them than cars.  Getting on and off the bus puts you right in the bike lane, which can be scary.  The whole infrastructure is designed so well, with the bike lanes kept separate from the street so they don’t have to worry about cars.  And, there is the added side effect that pretty much everyone in this country seems to be in awesome shape.  Just do everything possible to stay out of their way.

2.  Strangers don’t talk to you on the street.  After a summer of random people trying to engage me in conversation in Denver, it’s incredibly refreshing that in a week of walking around here, I have not been asked for money once, and my only interactions on the street have been to ask for (or give!) directions.  Actually, one person did come up to my group of friends on Strøget, from UNICEF.  But, he simply told us about their mission and told us to have a good day instead of trying to pressure us to give money to their organization.  Pretty much the entire time he was talking I was waiting for him to tell us we should donate, but it never happened.  Thank you, Danish UNICEF, for not being obnoxious to everyone and simply talking about the good work you do.

3. There are a lot of flower shops here.  I guess people must buy a lot more flowers here than they do in the US.

That’s all I have for now.  Tomorrow begins the first full week of classes.  Although “full week” might be a stretch…Not having work or any of my normal extracurriculars means I have SO MUCH free time that I’m not used to.  It’ll be nice to have more chances to explore.