So, I went to Europe for a month this summer.

I never thought I’d be that person. It sounded so bourgeoisie and privileged and I suppose it was. I worked all year on several grants and several projects that ended up being connected together in a month-long trek through Europe. In essence, I worked all but a few days while I was gone, but it didn’t feel like work.

I’m 42 and had never been out of the country before this summer. Because school and jobs and kids and mortgages and growing up in a family that talked about our debt. Hey, it was the 80’s. Everyone was in debt. Money never seemed to be a problem for others, but it always was for us. So, things like travel study and going abroad just wasn’t a priority.

Last fall I sat in the office of the VP of International Programs and cried as I talked about how embarrassed I was when comparing my lack of international experience to others in my department. We have a very diverse mix of faculty in our area. About a third of our large department are from outside of the U.S. and even more have traveled extensively. I never had anything to say and it was starting to wear on me. Cue the “I’ve got to do something about this” conversation, and “where should I start?”

She suggested looking into a faculty development program through CIEE, a third-party travel and study abroad partner. I ended up choosing a week-long Inter Faculty Development Seminar in Paris, France where 30 people from various academic institutions around the U.S. met to learn more about best practices in faculty-led travel study.

Coincidentally, a few months before the trip, I was informed that another WSU faculty member had signed up for the same program: a nursing professor. I’m a reluctant traveler, so I had to check her out for myself. I arranged to meet her at her office and brought an offering of cookies as an icebreaker. I needn’t have worried because we took to each other immediately. I had no idea how parallel our lives really were until we spent a week together.

For me, traveling abroad–the actual traveling part–was exciting. The being there part was most nerve-wracking. I love to be on the move, but do not sleep well when I’m not in familiar or comfortable surroundings. I don’t like really hot weather and have to shower everyday. I am an iced tea drinker. I can’t speak a language other than English. Etc, etc, etc.

I had to learn to be comfortable with myself in order to be comfortable with my surroundings. 

 

During my week in Paris, I was surprised by many things. The sheer size of the city and beauty of its architecture, yet the ease with which we got around on the metro or walking. Don’t get me wrong, I hated every one of the 109,456 stairs we had to climb, but by the end of the week, they were easier to manage. I found myself cherishing the long walks back to the hotel, well-fed but with sore feet.  Everyone walked, so there was plenty of people watching and distractions along the route. You know, like this and this… distractions

 I learned a great deal from our new friends at CIEE Paris. How to scowl and be silent on the metro and how to move through the crowd like a Parisian –“Pardon, Pardon.” How to be aware of pick pocketing, but also manage to enjoy the city. The Paris CIEE Director, Brett, an American living in Paris for decades, gave us a unique perspective on Parisian culture–an invaluable learning experience. For example, Parisians aren’t rude, they just like to keep to themselves. It lets people be anonymous in a big city. Five words in French are pretty much all you need: bonjour (hello), merci (thank you), au revoir (goodbye), pardon (excuse me), and S’il vous plaît (please). I never had bad customer service when I used any of these simple words at first and then asked if they spoke English (parlez vous anglais?). Please and thank you go a long way. Finally, I learned how to be aware without being scared and how to blend physically without losing my own identity.  No one will mistake me for a French woman, but I also do not need to be a loud American. 

The training exposed me to places I would never go in Paris if I was merely a tourist. This is the whole point of travel study, to take students to places that are culturally and academically relevant. However, as Brett said, “Don’t take students to traditional tourist spots. They will go there on their free time.” So, we went to places I’d never go.

The Cinémathèque Française is a French film organization that holds one of the largest archives of film documents and film-related objects in the world.

The Centre Georges Pompidou is a museum with architecture that matches its modern art collection. Built as an artist’s rendering of an “inside out” building, it’s plopped in the middle of 4th arrondissement of Paris, near Les Halles, rue Montorgueil, and the neighborhood of Marais.

Video from the top of the Pompidou. My favorite neighborhood, 4th arrondissement, Marais.

This 1960 painting by Yves Klein, Monochrome Bleu, was striking. I could not stop looking. 

On business and fashion day we met with a 4th generation coutière feather and flower maker in the fashion district, Legeron House.

On health sciences day we visited the Dermatological Mold Museum (Le Musee des Moulages) at St. Louis Hospital.

Can we agree right now that I’d never go to any of these places unless I was told to, especially ^^ that one. But, here’s what I learned–I can make anything relate to business. At the Cinémathèque Française it was innovation, entrepreneurship, invention. At the Pompidou it was creativity, using color to evoke emotion (think advertising), perseverance and decision-making.  At Legeron it was entrepreneurship, quality, marketing, and networking. At Le Musee des Moulages–well–that’s a tough one. Not everything will work on an interdisciplinary front, which I learned all too well here.

Unstructured time is where I learned a lot also. I met some great gals who we hung out with during the week. I learned that I must build in free time, especially at the end of the trip because the participants are more comfortable getting around than at the beginning. By the last day we were itching to be on our own.

Basically, we climbed steps, ate and laughed together.

Hot chocolate and macaroons at Angelina’s. délicieux

Dear Paris, if you give 30 teachers/administrators/higher ed professionals three kinds of wine at every meal, we’re going to be loud and obnoxious on the metro. Just sayin’.

Street crepes. The end.

I had one awful experience and one awesome one at two locations we visited on our own. We went to the Louve on our own–about five of us. Amy and I wandered around, got tired and hangry, and had a generally miserable time. The other three (smart people) downloaded an app that showed them the 15 top things to see in the museum and they had a wonderful time.

Me and Mona only hung out for a minute before I beat feet out of that room.

Do I look tired? This was just the middle of the misery.

The pleasant surprise was the Musee de l’Orangerie, the home of Monet’s water lilies display and a lower level collection of impressionists that are, well, impressive. The space was cool and dry and not too crowded. I was moved to tears in the two rooms of large water lily paintings where Monet designed the building to bring peace and harmony for soldiers returning from war. It was art therapy and I totally got it.

All in all I came away understanding how to lead a travel study having experienced it first hand (what to do and NOT to do). I learned how to incorporate learning into any situation and how to move around a major metropolitan city without feeling like an outsider. I met 29 lovely higher education professionals who were a pleasure to get to know and Amy and I are working on a new travel study together for healthcare and business.

My final lesson: bring half the stuff and twice the money.

Coming up: My four days in London…