The Power of Transformative Travel: How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

Today I am in New York City attending the prestigious Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship — a sequel to the acclaimed White House event held in 2014. Co-hosted by Hostelling International USA (HI USA) and Partners of the Americas, this event touches on my personal passion for the transformative power of travel, and the belief that travel is and should be for everyone. The goal the conference is to inspire a new generation to study abroad and experience the transformational power of travel. I have been asked to share my own personal story and here it is. Feel free to follow the summit online and read other stories using the hashtag #studyabroadbecause.

 

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

The first time I ever left the country was at the tender age of six. I was tiny, timid and loved playing with my dolls. My family rented a station wagon and we drove south of the border of Texas, along the coast and then west into the mountainous, tropical mystery of Cuidad Valles, Mexico. On the drive, we passed people living in deplorable conditions; in homes of hand-made shacks and tarps alongside the road. I stared out the window at this strange landscape, wide-eyed with wonder.

When we arrived at our hotel, we were surrounded by the local children who came to meet the new guests. There I stood, painfully shy and in pig-tails while the children danced around me shouting, “Niña rubia, niña rubia… Quiero tocar tu cabello” (Blond girl, blond girl, I want to touch your hair). They were fascinated by my shiny white blond hair, blue eyes and nordic pale skin. They had never seen it before. This was the mid-70s a time when not many foreigners came to visit a small town in the middle of Mexico. I was equally spellbound by them. Their dark black hair, sparkling brown eyes and skin. The playful rapid-fire Spanish coming out of their mouths. It was a moment in time I will never forget, and began my life long love of travel and culture.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

The first time I went overseas, I was 13 years old. Young, awkward, impressionable and ready to find my place in the world. I had the experience of years of family travel back home under my belt. Yet going to Europe for the first time was a new kind of adventure. It was 1984 and none of my friends had ever been to Europe. It felt exotic. I was filled with a rush of anticipation of what I would discover.

The moment I road up the escalator from the Paris metro and stepped out onto the streets to see the awe and wonder of Paris for the very first time, I was mesmerized. Paris blew me away.  I made my decision right then and there, looking down the magnificent Champs-Élysées, that I would someday live in Paris and spend a semester studying abroad there. I returned home, enrolled in my first french class and continued to study french in college to prepare me for the day I’d live in France. My junior year of college, I applied to a study abroad program in Paris at the Sorbonne and was accepted. My dream had come true.

Me standing at the Cite Universitaire in Paris circa 1993

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Streets of Paris, France

The Angular Streets of Paris

In my opinion, there is no city on earth as architecturally spectacular and beautiful as Paris. Her beloved monuments, buildings, and angular streets are a living work of art that never ceases to inspire the imagination. Much of Paris’ amazing beauty can be credited to the genius work of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Paris’ city planner who was hand selected by Napoleon III to carry out a massive renovation of Paris between between 1853 and 1870. Haussmann’s renovation of Paris as it was commonly called transformed the city with its grand boulevards, elaborate parks and magnificent public works.

Although other European cities tried to imitate Haussmann’s work, no other city compares especially in regards to Haussmann’s grand boulevards that cut across the city in perfect lines and angles.

Here are some of my favorite angles of Parisian streets.

Streets of Paris, France

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Paris, France

Nighttime in France

Nighttime is the day’s way of saying goodbye. Reminding us that yet another day of our lives has passed and it is time to rest before a new day begins. I love watching the color of the clouds and sky as night begins to fall over the mountains. It is my favorite time of day and brings me so much peace and reflection.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky”. –Rabindranath Tagore

Vanoise National Park, FRANCE

Nightfall in Vanoise National Park, Savoie France.

Vanoise National Park, FRANCE

“The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.” ― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

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The Gargoyles on top On top The Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

The Best Monuments in Paris

Paris is my favorite city in the world. I love the sensational architecture, stunning monuments, fabulous culture and endless restaurants and outdoor cafes. I spent six months living in The City of Light in my early twenties as a university student studying abroad and have been to Paris several times ever since. Somehow, her grandeur never fades nor her ability to completely blow me away like no place else.

The history of Paris utterly intrigues me and can be found everywhere along her streets.  Each turn around a corner reminds you of Paris’ magnificent past and each monument marks a particular moment in time that made Paris who she is today: A vibrant, beautiful city that never seems to sleep.

Last April, I was back in Paris on a trip with my mother and sister, and I had the opportunity to capture many updated photos of this phenomenal place. Here are some of my favorite monuments that will always remind me of Paris.

The Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

The Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

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Parisian cafe

Breakfast in Paris

My favorite time of the day is morning and there is no better way to start your day at one of the many outdoor cafés in lovely Paris. Cafe culture has been an essential part of Parisian life for centuries and I can see why. What could be better than sitting outside sipping a dark, strong cafe au lait, munching a buttery, hot fresh croissant and watching the world go by? Not much in my book.

During a late April trip to France, I enjoyed my breakfast in Paris even if the weather was a tad bit cold. It brought me back to over twenty years before when I lived in Paris as a student at the Sorbonne and embraced the cafe culture with all my heart. Now, I’m lucky if I get a real french coffee and normally just enjoy my regular cup of joe.

Ahc’était ça la vie!

Parisian cafe

A votre service!

Parisian cafe

Parisian cafe

Parisian cafe

Parisian cafe

Parisian cafe

Parisian cafe

Parisian cafe

Parisian cafe

No I didn’t have this for breakfast but they were making fresh tiramisu that morning! I was very tempted to eat it for breakfast!

This post was inspired by the weekly photo challenge: Good Morning! To see more entries, click here.

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Notre Dame Gargoyles Paris, France

Protectors of the City of Light: The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

No trip to Paris would ever be complete without a visit to the beloved Cathédrale de Notre-Dame.  Built between 1163 and 1345 the Notre Dame has withstood centuries of history and is one of the most iconic cathedrals in the world. Not only is the Notre Dame a pure masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, it has also remained the city’s heart and soul for centuries of dynamic struggle and change.

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The Romance of Paris: The Hôtel de Ville

April in Paris is one of those quintessential travel experiences that any travel lover should experience. As springtime hits Paris, this sensationally romantic and beautiful city comes to life. The chairs at the street cafes are full with people, the flowers are blooming leaving a fragrance in the air, and the world of Paris comes to life with an unmatched energy that can’t be found anywhere in the world. In a nutshell, April in Paris is utterly fantastic.

An added bonus of going in April or even early May is that the hordes of tourists haven’t yet arrived. They wait until summer. That means fewer lines, more free seats at the outdoor cafes, and prime people-watching of mostly Parisians.  It also allows for great access to many of Paris’ amazing sites with less hassle and more chance at getting some great photos without having to elbow someone for the shot.

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Marseille, France

A stroll through Montmartre

One of my absolute favorite places in Paris is the lovely, picturesque Montmartre. Once a place of artistic gathering of the brilliant minds of Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso and Dali, today Montmartre is a major tourist attraction that still continues to captivate the soul with its unique beauty, charm and bohemian feel.

A walk up to Montmartre through its winding cobblestone streets with expansive views of Paris is the best way to explore this area. However, you can also head straight up via a set of steep stairs or a funnicular to the creamy white Sacré Cœur and Montmartre as well. Once on top, you have a spectacular view of Paris in all her glory.  You can take a walk inside the gorgeous Basilique du Sacré Cœur (constructed in 1919), and then walk around the Place du Tetre which has local artists and goods for sale. There are numerous restaurants, outdoor cafes and shops to keep you entertained as well as many little streets to get lost in.  You could spend hours exploring Montmartre and being seduced by her charm. Unfortunately for us, it was raining thus we had to eat inside and my photos didn’t turn out as well as expected.

Just when we reached the bottom of Montmartre, the skies began to clear up illuminating Montmartre in all her loveliness.

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Paris in Pictures: Arc de Triomphe

One cannot go to Paris without taking a stroll by all her beloved monuments.  There are so many spectacular things to see ranging from the metallic Eiffel Tower, to the numerous classic sculptures and fountains which line the parks, the gorgeously ornate churches and buildings, and of course the pièce de résistance, the Arc de Triomphe.

Commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 as a symbol of triumph and victory of his army, the Arc de Triomphe is perhaps one of Paris’ most important monuments.  Many armies have walked beneath the arch after claiming victory. Inside the arch are hundreds of names of the generals who fought and died in Napoleon’s wars. There is also The Tomb of the Unknown Solider which is illuminated by an eternal fire.  All this at the center of an enormous Parisien-style roundabout in which twelve grand boulevards come together creates a magnificent place albeit a traffic jam as well. But it is definitely worth a visit as its 284 stairs up to the top of the arch afford a spectacular view of Paris’ at her best.

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A walk through the right bank of Paris

Our first full day in Paris was spent walking. I find walking to be the best way of exploring a city old or new. I had spent six months living in Paris over twenty years ago and have been fortunate to have been back several times since then. It is a city I know and love yet there is always something new to discover and surprise. Perhaps that is why I find Paris to be one of the most magnificent, breathtaking cities in the world. You can never ever tire of looking at her gorgeous architecture, pristine parks, spectacular sculptures and delightful shops and outdoor cafes. It is a city that will never cease to captivate and stir my soul.

Here are some photos from the morning of our walk starting in the Marais and walking through the Jardin des Tuileries past the world-famous Louvre and up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe.  This was the same walk I took many years ago as an impressionable 13-year-old girl on the first time I’d ever seen Paris. I will never forget singing the lyrics of Aux Champs-Élysées…a song I learned in French class, and making a promise to myself that I would someday live in this amazing city. That promise was kept and fulfilled eight years after I laid eyes on Paris. 

A walk through Paris….starting near the Louvre

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Around le Marais

The Marais district stretching through the 3rd and 4th arrondissements has many amazing sites to see. As mentioned in my earlier post on Le Marais, this gorgeous popular district in Paris was once home to many of the aristocracy who built their famous maisons in spectacular architecture and opulence of the times. A few sites in the Marais are definitely worth your time.

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The Hôtel de Sully is a hôtel particulier, or private mansion, which was built between 1625 and 1630 for the Duke of Sully and today represents one of Paris’ finest examples of Louis XIII architecture. Although you can’t go inside, a walk around this gorgeous work of art is worth your while.

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